Orioles announce 2024 minor league and player development staffs (updated)

Orioles announce 2024 minor league and player development staffs (updated)

The Orioles today announced their minor league coaching and player development staff assignments for the 2024 season. Three full-season managers return, but two move to different affiliates.

Buck Britton will return for his third season as manager of the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. In 2023, he led the Tides to a record of 90-59 as they won the International League championship and the Triple-A National Championship Game. Last year, he was the winner of the Orioles’ Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award.

Roberto Mercado moves up to Double-A Bowie to serve as manager after leading High-A Aberdeen the last two seasons. In 2022, he took Aberdeen to the playoffs and won the Ripken Sr. Award.

Felipe Rojas Alou Jr. will move up to manage Aberdeen. He has been with the O’s organization for 16 years and managed Single-A Delmarva the last two seasons.

Collin Woody will be a first-time manager, taking over at Delmarva. He served as a fundamentals coach the last two seasons in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League.

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Prospects ranking season winds down

Basallo

As yet another top 100 prospects list was published recently by a major outlet and then yet another - by ESPN.com first and then The Athletic – once again Jackson Holliday of the Orioles was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the sport.

This is long since no surprise as he ended last season atop prospects lists and will begin this year No. 1 via Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and the two listed above.

Just yesterday, Holliday was among the list of 20 non-roster invitees heading to spring training, which begins in Sarasota, Fla. next week.  

While the Orioles list of players via Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com, ESPN and The Athletic is significant, what is most impressive is that most of their top 100 players are really top 50.

Of the six Orioles that were rated top 100 by Baseball America, three were in the top 25 and five were in the top 41. They are down to five now with DL Hall at No. 93 now a Brewer. Of the six rated top 100 by MLBPipeline, five were top 32. They are down to five there with Joey Ortiz at No. 63 now a Brewer. Of the seven ranked by ESPN (six minus Ortiz), five are top 50. The Athletic lists three among the top 27. 

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Holliday, Basallo, Mayo among O's spring invites (Hays arbitration note)

Basallo

The Orioles have a star-studded prospects list and the No. 1 farm in baseball, and their top three prospects are among their list of 20 spring training non-roster invitees announced today by the club.

The Orioles report on Feb. 14 to Sarasota, Fla., with their first workout for pitchers and catchers set for Feb. 15 and with the first full-squad workout to be held on Feb. 20.

Infielder Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, gets the expected NRI along with the club's No. 2 prospect, catcher Samuel Basallo, and their No. 3 (as ranked by Baseball America), infielder Coby Mayo.

The No. 4 and No. 5 prospects - outfielders Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, who are already on the 40-man roster - will also report to Sarasota. All 40-man roster players join the club for spring training along with the NRIs.

The club recently dealt its No. 6 and No. 7 prospects, per Baseball America - DL Hall and Joey Ortiz - to Milwaukee for right-handed starter Corbin Burnes. The O's No. 8 prospect, infielder Connor Norby, is also among the non-roster invites. 

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Bobby Witt Jr. becomes latest young MLB star to sign big bucks extension

Bobby Witt jr.

The deal was announced, and the news was probably just minutes old when some around Birdland wondered whether their team might soon have interest in a similar arrangement.

Monday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals, who ranked 24th in 2023 in MLB team payroll, a few steps ahead of the Orioles, locked up one of their bright young stars to a huge contract.

When your team has its own bright young starts – players like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson and maybe soon will be adding Jackson Holliday to that list - it’s only natural to wonder and hope that they remain Orioles for a long, long time.

While the Royals extension deal with shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., 23, has opt-outs, they don’t start until after the 2030 season. He will have nine years in the majors at that point.

Signing up young talent well before free agency is a gamble when any team does it. But it is one pre-emptive strike that the so-called “small market” clubs have against losing those players later to the big spenders via free agency.

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Fondly remembering those two years I worked at the side of a baseball legend

Mike Martin FSU coach

Somebody has to be No. 1. Some man or woman has to be the one person that has more college wins than any coach ever in any sport.

That man was the 40-year legendary baseball coach of the Florida State Seminoles, Michael David Martin Sr.

In his 40 years as head coach of the Seminoles under coach Martin, they went 40-for-40 in making the NCAA tourney and yes that is beyond remarkable. His 2,029 wins are more than any college baseball coach ever and more than any NCAA coach ever in any sport on any level.

The Seminoles won 19 conference titles under Martin's leadership, and he was a 13-time conference Coach of the Year. He was the National Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2019. 

Martin had 20 players selected in the first round of the MLB Draft and 60 former players reached the Major Leagues. Eight former players were named National Player of the Year with four – Mike Fuentes, Mike Loynd, J.D. Drew and Buster Posey – recognized with the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball's Heisman Trophy.

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Can Burnes be the O's Eovaldi when October arrives?

Corbin Burnes Brewers white 3

When he met with the media on Friday to discuss the Orioles' acquisition of 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias summed up the feelings of a lot of people with a few words. 

“This is a big trade and big moment for our team,” Elias told reporters. “Corbin Burnes is exactly what we needed.”

And that about sums up much of the reaction across the industry – it’s pretty positive about the big move where the O’s got their ace. One they had been seeking with, as Elias said, “dogged pursuit the entire offseason.”

He and his front office made a deal that not only elevated the team’s chances to make the playoffs and win another American League East title, but maybe make a deep run when October arrives.

"There are a lot of things to be excited about here in Birdland right now. We’ve got everything going for us right now,” Elias said summing up the feeling right now of much of the fan base. Again with a few words.

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More with Elias and the ace pitcher he traded for to lead the rotation

Mike-Elias-smile

Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias disagreed when a reporter suggested yesterday that his acquisition of ace pitcher Corbin Burnes from the Brewers may represent a shift in the O's organization.

Where once the O’s seemed reluctant to part with prospects, this time they traded two of them and a draft pick to get the 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner.

“I don’t see it that way whatsoever,” said Elias. “The methods that we have applied to rebuild the team, are being applied with all our decision making in baseball operations. The whole time, even when our team was losing a lot of games, I was talking about making decisions oriented toward enhancing our playoff possibilities. And at that time, our playoff possibilities were in the future, and now we’ve won the AL East. That front loads a lot of stuff into the present, but we’re still going to keep an eye on the future to keep the organization healthy.

“The Brewers have a good team, too, and they decided this was a trade they wanted to do. It made sense for them and is going to help their team in a different way. We’re trying to make good quality moves which give us good chances to do what we want to do."

And to be fair, Elias did trade prospects last year, once before the year to add Cole Irvin and at the trade deadline to get Jack Flaherty. It's just this time he got the most talented of that group and a pitcher to front his rotation with massive credentials. 

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New Oriole Corbin Burnes on trade, his new team and possible contract extension talks

Corbin Burnes Brewers white 2

After feeling some initial shock when he was told he was going to be traded, new Orioles right-hander Corbin Burnes is now starting to let the big news in his world settle in now.

After six seasons, 167 games, a Cy Young Award, five playoff appearances and three division titles – all with the Brewers – he’s about to get know new players and a new organization.

“Initial reaction, just shock,” Burnes was honest to tell Baltimore media during a team Zoom call this afternoon. “Being so close to spring training and what had gone down the last couple of weeks in Milwaukee, was definitely shocked, got the call from the GM and kind of set off a flurry of calls after that.

“But excited to be part of the Baltimore organization. Having won over 100 games last year it’s a good young group. I’m looking to kind of put my mark and do whatever I can to help those guys get to the World Series.”

The 2021 National League Cy Young winner got off to a bit of slow start last season. Then he posted an ERA of 2.71 his last 14 starts to finish 10-8 with a 3.39 ERA. He led the NL in WHIP at 1.069 and his .200 average against was second in the league. Since 2020, his ERA of 2.86 produces an ERA+ of 146.

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Mike Elias on the trade: "Corbin Burnes is exactly what we needed"

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Calling it a “big moment for our team,” Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, via Zoom call with the media today, discussed the acquisition of right-hander Corbin Burnes from the Brewers.

Elias said trade talks with the Brewers have been ongoing since just after the World Series ended. He wasn’t sure if Milwaukee would actually deal the 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner. But the trade was finalized last night as the Orioles sent lefty DL Hall, infielder Joey Ortiz and the No. 34 pick in the 2024 MLB Draft to the Brewers get Burnes.

The 29-year-old three-time All-Star and 2022 NL strikeout leader went 10-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 32 starts in 2023. He had an ERA of 2.43 in winning the ’21 Cy Young and has a career 3.26 ERA and 1.055 WHIP.

Since the 2020 season, he has finished, in order, sixth, first, seventh and eighth in the Cy Young voting while pitching to an ERA of 2.86 in that span. That is an ERA+ of 146.

“This is a big trade and big moment for our team,” Elias told reporters. “Corbin Burnes is exactly what we needed. We were in a dogged pursuit of him the entire offseason.

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A good rotation gets better as O's add right-hander Corbin Burnes

Corbin Burnes

Outside of the excitement over the weekend of Birdland Caravan, the new ownership group news and getting an ace pitcher, anything else going on around Birdland lately?

The Orioles rotation, which was pretty good most of last year and very good in the second half, just got better for the 2024 season. Last October, it was the Rangers who had Nathan Eovaldi as a difference maker. The O’s hope Corbin Burnes could be that guy this October.

You don’t see legit aces traded very often, but Milwaukee pulled the trigger on a move that hurt them in ’24 but may be big for their future as they add lefty DL Hall and infielder Joey Ortiz. They also got the No. 34 pick in the 2024 MLB Draft.

The O’s added a true No. 1 pitcher and now their top four in the rotation features two pitchers that have finished in the top four at least once for the Cy Young voting, another that has made an All-Star team – giving them two All-Stars in the rotation – plus a young stud that was once the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball.

How do we like it? Let’s count some ways.

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Orioles acquire Brewers righty Corbin Burnes in trade

Corbin Burnes Brewers white 2

One day after the Orioles' pending ownership change was announced by the club, the team tonight announced it has acquired the frontline starting pitcher it sought all winter with a trade for Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes.

The Orioles are sending lefty pitcher DL Hall, infielder Joey Ortiz and a 2024 draft pick to Milwaukee to get the 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner. The pick is the No. 34 overall selection, a Competitive Balance Round A pick. Competitive Balance picks are the only ones that can be traded. After this deal, the Orioles would still have the Nos. 22 and 32 picks in this summer’s draft.

The last four seasons in Cy Young voting, Burnes, 29, has finished sixth, first, seventh and eighth. He is a three-time All Star.

Burnes is, at this point, a one-year addition for the Orioles. He is repped by Scott Boras and can be a free agent at the end of the 2024 season.

Last year for the Brewers, he went 10-8 with a 3.39 ERA over 32 starts and 193 2/3 innings with a 1.069 WHIP, a 3.1 walk rate and 9.3 strikeout rate.

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New O's ownership group takes over an organization that is trending up

David Rubenstein

When the sale of the Orioles, for $1.725 billion, becomes official through Major League Baseball, Baltimore native David M. Rubenstein will become the fifth owner of the Orioles in team history that, of course, dates to 1954.

It will be a new era of Orioles baseball.

Maybe the best news for the new ownership group, which will include Oriole Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., is that they take over a team and organization on the rise.

There is no rebuilding to do, it’s rebuilt.

The task now is to build on that, try to stay on top and make all of the above better. As Rubenstein stated, bringing the first World Series title to Baltimore and the fans since 1983 tops the wish list.

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Angelos family to sell Orioles to David Rubenstein, other investors

David Rubenstein

The Angelos family, majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles, has agreed to sell a control stake in the club to Baltimore native, philanthropist and investor David M. Rubenstein for $1.725 billion. The Angelos family will continue to hold a sizable investment in the Orioles, and John Angelos will serve as a senior advisor to the organization.

The transaction is subject to review and approval by Major League Baseball’s Ownership Committee and a full vote of MLB ownership.

Rubenstein is co-founder and co-chairman of The Carlyle Group and will become the controlling owner of the Orioles upon the close of the transaction. He is joined in the investment by Michael Arougheti, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ares Management; Mitchell Goldstein and Michael Smith, co-heads of the Ares Credit Group; Orioles legend and baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.; former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke; basketball Hall of Famer Grant Hill; Mike Bloomberg, entrepreneur and philanthropist; Michele Kang, business leader; and other investors.

John Angelos said, “When I took on the role of chair and CEO of the Orioles, we had the objective of restoring the franchise to elite status in major league sports, keeping the team in Baltimore for years to come, and revitalizing our partnership group. This relationship with David Rubenstein and his partners validates that we have not only met but exceeded our goals.”

The Angelos family will remain a major investor in the Orioles after the close of the investment.

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Mullins' motivation for 2024 and Coulombe's new deal with team

Cedric Mullins black jersey

Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins may well be a player driven and motivated this year by what happened last year.

And I don’t mean how the Orioles’ season ended against Texas. But how his season ended and went at times – he was on the injured list twice during the year. After missing nine games total in the 2021-22 seasons, he was limited to 116 games in ’23.

Mullins hit just .198 last September and then was 0-for-12 in the AL Division Series.

During Birdland Caravan, O’s first base and outfielders coach Anthony Sanders talked about Mullins late-season struggles. In the end was he just too banged up to play?

“We as a staff, we know the vibe of the players,” said Sanders. “We know the bumps and bruises they have. You have to trust in those guys that are professionals. Even though Ced’s bat didn’t probably show up, he still brought another element to the game that this team relies on. He’s a leader of this team and I would not have done it any different way.”

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Akin on O's going from losing to winning and a coach talks about Holliday

Keegan Akin

The year that the Orioles drafted lefty Keegan Akin out of Western Michigan University, in 2016, they made the playoffs before their season ended in the American League Wild Card Game in Toronto.

A couple of years later, Akin was part of an O’s organization trending the wrong way, one that had seasons of 115, 108 and 110 losses. But within all that losing there were a few bright spots that Akin said told him better days could be coming.

“Just watching the younger guys when we drafted them,” he recalled Saturday during Birdland Caravan. “The first time I saw Grayson (Rodriguez) – I watched him pitch in Florida somewhere when he was 19. Just standing there and thinking, ‘This kid is 19 throwing 100 (mph) and he has five pitches. Where do you get these guys?’

“And then we started bringing more in and more. And then Adley (Rutschman) showed up and (Gunnar) Henderson showed up. Yeah, think we are doing OK.

“It is awesome. I was talking to a fan today about that. It’s crazy in that I’ve been in this org since 2016 and to see things change that fast. I know that was eight years ago, but in baseball terms we had some really bad years and turned it around pretty quickly. It is obviously rewarding and a heck of a lot more fun now to be on the other side and have that part behind us.”

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Do O's need more homers? Coaches weigh in, plus other Caravan notes

henderson homers v NYM

When it comes to evaluating any major league offense, we could look at a variety of stats – advanced and otherwise – but runs scored is a pretty good place to start.

The 2023 O's produced just the eighth season scoring 800 or more runs in 70 seasons of Orioles baseball. The team scored 807 runs – seventh-most in club history – and ranked fourth in the American League and seventh in the majors with 4.98 runs per game.

The late-season offensive struggles pulled the final season average under 5.00 runs per game. Just six teams averaged 5.00 or more in 2023. 

But the O’s were not a real power-hitting team, ranking ninth in the AL with 1.13 homers per game.

During Birdland Caravan Thursday, I asked two of their hitting coaches about the home run ball and if the team needs more of it going forward?

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Zimmermann and Akin say they are healthy and a full go for spring

bruce zimmermann pitches black

On the final day of Birdland Caravan and at the final event of the three-day run, reporters caught up with four pitchers who will look to break north with the Orioles in April by winning roster spots in spring training. That group included lefties Bruce Zimmermann, Keegan Akin and Nick Vespi, and right-hander Mike Baumann.

All four spent some, or in one case, a lot of time in Baltimore during the 2023 American League East championship season, but Zimmermann and Akin are coming off injuries. They pronounced themselves to be healthy and a full go when spring training starts in a couple of weeks.

Zimmermann, who had a 4.73 ERA in seven O’s games last year while pitching most of the season in Triple-A, had core muscle surgery Oct. 19 in Philadelphia.

That was about three weeks after he pitched two scoreless innings versus Boston for the O’s in Game 161 at Oriole Park.

“The surgery went real well,” the Baltimore-area native said of the October procedure. “Really grateful I had one of the top doctors that has worked on a few other guys on the team. Rehab went really well. Been down in Florida for about two weeks now to get an early start and get in front of the training staff and that has been going really well. I should be full go when pitchers and catchers report.

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Ortiz shows he is more than a glove-first prospect, plus other Birdland Caravan notes

Joey Ortiz greys

Orioles infield prospect Joey Ortiz, who made his major league debut in the 2023 season, may have finally shed that “glove-first” label. While his glove is still strong and he gets 70 fielding grades and 55 for arm strength by Baseball America, he also produced an .885 OPS in 88 games at Triple-A Norfolk last summer.

“Yeah, definitely, I feel like my whole career I’ve been labeled as glove first,” Ortiz said Friday at the Warehouse during Birdland Carvan. “Now for my bat to finally come through is nice. Been a lot of work, trusting in the coaches and what they are helping me with and me believing in myself as well.”

Ortiz hit .212 in 34 plate appearances over three stints with the Orioles. A true shortstop who has also played some second and third base, he said he’s up for it if the club needs him in a utility role this coming season.

He put up a batting line of .321/.378/.507/.885 for the Tides with 30 doubles, four triples, nine homers and 58 RBIs.

Rated as the No. 95 prospect in the 2023 debut of the Baseball America top 100, he is now the O’s No. 7 prospect. They have six players in the new top 100, so Ortiz just missed making the list.

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Birdland Caravan notes with Means, Mountcastle, Cowser and more

John Means

On the first day of Birdland Caravan, where reporters got the chance to interview some players and coaches at the Warehouse, lefty John Means pronounced himself healthy and ready to take on a full season innings load in 2024.

Means returned from Tommy John surgery to get back on a big league mound on Sept. 12 and went 1-2 with a 2.66 ERA in four starts down the stretch. He pitched a huge game Sept. 23 at Cleveland allowing one hit and run over 7 1/3 innings. But he missed the AL Division Series when his surgically repaired left elbow became sore leading up to the series with Texas.

“It was just tight (then), and they looked at the MRI and they told me to take a break on it. Build up in the offseason and be ready to go. I feel really good, really good (now). Had a nice build up this offseason and should be ready to go.”

After throwing 45 1/3 innings in 2023 counting minor league rehab games, can he take on a full-season innings load this season?

“Yeah, I’m ready to go. I’ll be ready,” Means said.

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It will be something front and center throughout spring training

Jackson Holliday futures jersey

It will be, barring a real surprise, the most interesting aspect to track in spring training. And that is, can Jackson Holliday, who turned 20 on Dec. 4, make the O’s Opening Day roster?

Not only can he, but I would put the odds now in his favor.

Before an interview session during the Winter Meetings, I would have probably called it 50-50 at the very best, but then there was the quote heard ‘round Nashville and the one that got all Baltimore reporters’ attention at that event.

"It's definitely a very strong possibility,” Elias said during an interview session in Nashville when asked directly if Holliday could make it on OD? “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but he had a historic first full season in the minors. Probably, you have to go back into, like, the '80s or '90s to find something similar to that, in my opinion, for an American kid out of high school. Got to Triple-A. Wasn’t there a huge amount of time, didn’t tear the cover off the ball, but he more than held his own and did well.”

And everyone who said he didn’t tear up Triple-A, it was just 22 games counting the playoffs and his .796 OPS was solid. Make no mistake, he more than held his own and looked like he belonged.

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