You probably have noticed that we enjoy writing about and covering the minor leagues here. So that was one of the many reasons I listened in with interest during the player development fan forum at FanFest on Saturday.
This was a chance, during a 20-minute session, for fans to address topics on the farm and question Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, along with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson and director of player development Brian Graham.
Here are a few of the topics they spoke about:
Duquette on 2017 Orioles minor league Pitcher of the Year Alex Wells and how fast he could move: “This guy throws more strikes than anyone we have - big league or minor league. He has elite control. I think he will be able to find his level pretty swiftly. But it is really about the workload. You have to keep an eye on the number of innings they get when they get started.”
Duquette on what it would take for outfielders DJ Stewart and Cedric Mullins to reach the major leagues: “Mullins is a switch-hitter and probably a true center fielder for us. He’s got all the skills to run down the ball in center. He does have some power.
“DJ really came along last year. That was a make-or-break year for him for me. We felt that would be the year he would show us he had the skills to develop into a big league player or not. He had a terrific year in Double-A and got better as the year progressed. He’s a fairly complete player.
“What do they have to do to play in the big leagues? Well, Mullins only had 300 at-bats at Double-A and he probably needs a little bit more experience. But he has the raw skills to be a good everyday player and the same with Stewart. I think when we give them the opportunity, both these guys are going to be ready to play.”
Graham was questioned about players skipping a level in a promotion, as when Mullins skipped Single-A Frederick last year and moved right to Double-A Bowie or when Austin Hays moved from short-season Single-A Aberdeen in 2016 and moved to Frederick to begin 2017. What determines why the team can make such moves?: “So many times, you see the physical talent and the ability. The difference-maker is the makeup, the toughness, the ability to compete and handle failure. The ability to handle pressure. When you know the players like DJ Stewart, Mullins, Hays and (Ryan) Mountcastle - these kids are tough and competitive kids. Kids that can compete at the highest level.”
Duquette was asked about the use of analytics in player development: “We utilize analytics to help us identify players. We use them at the entry level for scouting. We use it for our development level and use it in the big leagues.
“More and more businesses are aggregating the data and then making informed decisions on the data. And you know baseball is no different than a lot of these other businesses. We are trying to be as efficient as we can with our product and what we present to you.”
Anderson was asked if it is challenging to sell minor leaguers on being patient at the plate when they get promoted in part based on the numbers they put up and they need to swing the bat to put up those stats: “They are related. If I see a guy with big power numbers, but low walk totals in the minors, I know he’s killing himself. One of the best lessons I got was going back to the minors after 15 years in the majors - which not many players do. I was always 2-1, 3-0. Always in hitter’s counts. They just don’t have the command that major league pitchers do.
“You can be the most selfish in baseball of any of the team sports and help your team win. But if you can convince a player that the more he gets on base, the better it is for him and his teammates. Everything is related. When guys are on base, better times to hit. If a guy is on third base with less than two outs, your fly ball goes for an RBI and not an at-bat.
“That is the goal. If you can teach them the importance of getting on base, and once they get on base, their only job is to score runs. You see guys, once they get on first base, they start chatting with the first baseman and it takes them two pitches to get their batting gloves off. It’s ridiculous. They think their job is over. It is just beginning.”
During an entry Saturday, we published some of these comments, but they are worth repeating, as a fan asked Duquette if Mountcastle could be Manny Machado’s eventual replacement: “The kid has a terrific bat. We moved him from short to third and the question will be if he will able to throw (well enough) to stay on the left side of the infield. We’re going to give that a little bit more time. If Ryan can play third, there is always room for good third baseman in the big leagues.
Graham on Mountcastle: “Here is a guy with good hands, athleticism, balance and agility with quickness. He runs well and he can hit. We’re going to find a place for him. If his arm plays at third base, he’s going to be a good big league third baseman. If his arm doesn’t play there, he will still be a big league player and is a bright spot for our future.”
Anderson added this comment: “Ryan came to California (to train with me). I put ball on a tee for him and it looked like a slo-pitch softball home run derby. I never said a word to him because he’s had success and I don’t tamper with guys that have had success. If you watch Ryan compared to other minor leaguers, it sounds different. The bat speed is different. The ball jumps off his bat. There is a totally different sound to the ball off his bat from an average prospect.”