When you look at the various lists of Orioles top prospects, most of them will have more hitters than pitchers among the top 10. That is certainly true of MLBPipeline.com, which ranks hitters as six of its top nine prospects for the Orioles, and Baseball America, which ranks hitters in six of the top eight spots.
And these include high draft picks the club has made since executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and his staff took over before the 2019 season. He has been here for three years of drafting, including one draft that was just five rounds.
His first three picks in the 2019 draft were catcher Adley Rutschman, infielder Gunnar Henderson and outfielder Kyle Stowers. The first two are top 100 players and the third led the organization in homers and was co-Minor League Player of the Year with Rutschman for 2021. Elias' fourth pick in that draft, outfielder Zach Watson, was a 20-20 player (homer and steals) this year and the fifth, infielder Joey Ortiz, was having a solid season until he got hurt.
And while there are just three pitchers among the top prospects on the those two lists, the three include two top 100s in Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall and a third in Kyle Bradish that the organization is quite bullish on.
It was a year when several hitters had very solid seasons, several of whom played at two or even three different levels. For the most part they kept hitting as they advanced, or they at least were holding their own when moved up and challenged further.
Here are the top OPS stats on the farm in '21 (min. 300 plate appearances)
.925 - JD Mundy
.899 - Adley Rutschman
.897 - Kyle Stowers
.868 - Jordan Westburg
.826 - Gunnar Henderson
.815 - Patrick Dorrian
.806 - Andrew Daschbach
Two of the O's four full-season teams, at Double-A Bowie and low Single-A Delmarva, had particularly strong offensive years. Bowie led its 12-team league in runs scored (5.23 per game) and Delmarva ranked third (6.00).
We wrote several times this summer about the organization's focus with the minor league hitters on making good swing decisions. Players would get daily grades about the pitches they swung at and if they were chasing the right pitches and offering at the most hittable pitches. Find a pitch in the middle of the zone and do damage with it was the mantra. Put your A swing on every hittable pitch and don't chase pitches that would be difficult to drive.
Easy to say, hard to do.
Especially when pitchers are trained to throw pitches that would work strike-to-ball. Pitches that remain in the hitting zone until they break to the corner or out of the zone completely. They are trained to get hitters to do exactly what they don't want to: chase pitches out of the zone.
In November we learned that Bowie hitting coach Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte, coming from the Minnesota Twins organization, would serve as co-hitting coaches on the 2022 Orioles coaching staff. Both are just 31.
The Orioles are going in a direction that several big league clubs had already taken: working with co-hitting coaches. And in this case, neither has coached in the majors before and both may be younger than some of the players they will work with.
We can also see that the Orioles promoted Chris Holt from minor league pitching coordinator to major league pitching coach, and now Fuller moves up from Bowie, where he also served as hitting coordinator for the club's full-season teams in addition to his Bowie duties.
It's clear the club hopes this makes for a more seamless transition when young talent makes it to Baltimore and that trust that is already there, gleaned from work on the farm with these coaches, carries over into the big league clubhouse and dugout.
The minor league hitters I talked with at Bowie this past season were big fans of Fuller. Third baseman Patrick Dorrian had an OPS of .714 in 2019 and improved that to .836 with 22 homers in 112 games at Bowie. He said "the feedback and communication is fantastic" with Fuller.
Outfielder Robert Neustrom had an .831 OPS in 62 games at Bowie before he moved to Triple-A, where he had an OPS of .748 in 64 games. He said the hitting coaches he encountered were very important to his strong season.
"They brought the energy every day," he said. "As a player, it's easy to feel like you're the only one going through the grind. But you know, realistically, the coaches are going through that same grind, too. They pushed us every day. Every day. We worked hard, and at the end of the day, it made a lot of us way better."
As the Orioles look to begin to bring young hitters to the majors, the clear hope is that relationships built on the farm carry over and so do some of the stats too.
New O's radio home: The Orioles announced Wednesday a multi-year partnership, naming Hearst's 98 Rock FM and WBAL NewsRadio AM/FM the new flagship stations of the Orioles Radio Network. The six-year deal also includes unique cross-promotion on WBAL TV.
Beginning in 2022, fans can hear all 162 regular season games, select spring training contests, and extensive Orioles programming on Hearst platforms, including 98 Rock (97.9 FM), WBAL NewsRadio AM 1090 & FM 101.5 (& FM 97.9 HD 2), and across the seven-state, 40-station Orioles Radio Network. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network will continue to serve as the club's exclusive home to all television game broadcasts.
You can read more here.
We are excited to announce Hearst's @98Rock & @wbalradio as the new flagship stations of the Orioles Radio Network! The partnership also includes unique cross-promotion on @wbaltv11. pic.twitter.com/fTXalMY8uH-- Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) January 5, 2022