Recently here we discussed how the Orioles handle their minor league managers and some other topics with Orioles director of player development Matt Blood. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias hired Blood in September 2019.
On Blood's watch the Orioles have become the No. 1 farm system in baseball. He would be the first to say he is one cog in the system. But I would add he is a very important one, and some of his hires have been a big part of that ranking.
Here are some questions from me and answers from Blood on some other topics within player development for the Orioles.
Q: What are some things the Orioles have now been built up that make your pitching development and pitching program good?
A: “I would say we have a combination of talented players, very smart and hard-working coaches and really good resources from our research and development department. The coaches are provided with information as good as you can get anywhere. And they are really skilled at providing that information effectively to the players.”
Q: As a reporter, it would be rare in the Orioles clubhouse now to talk to pitcher that is not pretty well versed in data and analytics and tech. They talk a different language now than several years ago. Is that true on the farm too? Do they approach it differently than maybe they would have three, five or seven years ago?
A: “Yes, it’s very different. Between, I guess, pitched-ball characteristics and between motion capture and mechanical information, the conversations are very different than they were three to five years ago. The players have a much higher resolution and understanding to what is happening in the game than they have in the past.”
Q: Are there any players or pitchers you want to cite in the org that have most improved their game because they dove into this and it’s been a great relationship with the staff and player in improving any aspects?
A: “I would say a lot of our players are that way. I probably would not want to single out one person, but there are a lot of stories like that.”
Q: When it comes to bunting, there are some in the game that say never bunt. The data and percentages tell you certain things about the strategy. Do guys on the farm still practice bunting? Is it still considered a valuable skill?
A: “Bunting is a valuable skill. Especially bunting for a hit. And so we practice what we would most likely be trying to execute in the game. So you’ll see more bunts for hits than straight sacrifice bunts.”
Q: Does that mean Player A with speed would more practice that than Player B who is a middle-of-the-order guy that doesn’t run all that well?
A: “That is probably true, but you don’t necessarily have to be a fast runner. There are times when bunting for a hit, even if you get out, is advantageous as long as you’re still trying to get a hit and not just giving yourself up. So everyone needs that tool, or that club in their bag, regardless of their speed.”
Q: What are some ways coaches work with players on baserunning? You take a guy like Cal Ripken Jr., who never had plus speed but was often called a smart baserunner. How can coaches help players, even guys without plus speed, be better on the bases?
A: “Definitely, we can help. We have video review sessions every single day on the minor league level, and a chunk of that is on baserunning. We are constantly talking about plays that happen in the game. Or opportunities we even took or missed, and we encourage aggressive baserunning in the minors. So players are able to get exposure to situations where they can calibrate themselves and learn from mistakes that are made. Baserunning is a big emphasis in our system. A lot of it through trial and error and through review, and then we practice.”
Q: In the majors you hear that sometimes players run on a guy, like an outfielder with a not great arm. Do you need and want the minor league players to know such scouting reports as well, to take advantage of those chances?
A: “Yeah, we like to know our opponents and we look to do that. But in general, our philosophy is to be aggressive and force the other team to make the play. If they do make the play that is a learning opportunity. And that goes back to the part we talked about putting player and development over winning. If a guy goes first to third and is thrown out at third, pushing his limits, we’ll be excited about that learning opportunity versus the team might lose the game that day.”