Matt Blood just completed his third season as the Orioles' director of player development, and the minor league system he oversees is now ranked No. 1 in the majors by a few outlets.
Blood's first season included having to deal with a pandemic that caused the cancellation of all minor league baseball in 2020.
He came to the Orioles from the Texas Rangers, where he held a similar position. He previously spent three years as the director of USA Baseball’s 18 and Under National Team program and seven years before that as an area scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. With that club he worked with both Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. Now they are all together in Baltimore.
“Matt has an unrivaled network when it comes to identifying up-and-coming coaching talent, and his knowledge of the latest trends in the player development sphere will help to keep us on the forefront of this critical area,” Elias said when he hired Blood in September 2019.
I've interviewed Blood many times since he joined the Orioles, talking mostly about players on the farm. But recently we talked more about process and how the O's player development department works closely with the minor league managers.
In two parts over the next few days I'll get his insights on topics including how the Orioles try to get things done on the farm. Here is part one today, with my questions and Blood's answers.
Steve Melewski: What are some differences between how a minor league manager may handle things and run a game as opposed to an MLB manager?
Matt Blood: “Well, the major league manager’s job is to win games, do as well as he can to get the team to the playoffs and to, ideally, win the World Series. There is still development going on at the MLB level, but the strategy is to win games. In the minor leagues it’s the inverse of that. In the minor leagues, the No. 1 job is to develop players, so when they make the majors they are ready to contribute. You know winning, trying to win comes secondary to development. We definitely want competitive teams and players that are trying to win baseball games, but we’re not going to sacrifice development for winning in the minor leagues.”
SM: Do the O’s minor league managers make out the lineups or, for development reasons, is there front office input?
MB: “The manager writes out the lineup. You know, he has an understanding, though, of the org’s philosophy on development and of every expectation to provide developmental reps. So, he is not making the optimal lineup to win the game that night. He’s making the optimal lineup for development purposes within the Orioles system.”
SM: What is an example of that?
MB: “There just may be a player that has been moved up to a higher level and that level is a challenge for him. And he needs to get at-bats and it may not be what’s best for the team to win the game that night, but it’s what is best for the player’s development.”
SM: So that guy might be hitting second or third to get the reps, but if the lineup was put together specifically just to win that night he might bat him seventh?
SM: Defensively, the Orioles have shown they like versatility, and you are not afraid to move players around the diamond to get reps at different spots. How about in the lineup? Do you like a guy to hit second one time, but then also third or fifth or sixth, for instance?
MB: “That is less important. You want to give everyone the most at-bats as possible and you feel like, throughout an entire season, they are going to get all different types of opportunities.”
SM: Is the front office always looking to evaluate the coaches and staff as well? Already, under Mike Elias we’ve seen coaches move from the farm to the major league staff. Are you always watching everyone in uniform?
MB: “We are all, everyone in the org, constantly being evaluated. We all want to do a good job and push this organization forward. So that is a very competitive world and we have a very high standard for ourselves. So that is the case for everyone involved.”
SM: Is a farm team’s won-loss record a great indicator of its talent? Can you tell about how many good prospects a team has by its record?
MB: “Well, our strategy is not to stack teams to win games. Our strategy is to optimize development of the players, and a lot of times that means moving a good player to a higher level where they are challenged. And in doing so, theoretically, that weakens the team they leave and the team that they go to. They can be one of better players where they leave and a player not as experienced where they are going at a higher level. But what we are constantly striving for is to push players. Once they sort of become one of the better players in their league, push them to the next level so that they are challenged more. That is not the optimal to win games. That is the optimal way to develop baseball players.”