In winter, scout focus shifts to important off-the-field aspects

Even though they have become an organization that now has an up-to-date analytics department that has made extensive use of technology and data as they improved to become an 83-win club on the major league level, the Orioles insist the human element is very important to them as well.

They believe that the scout with eyes on the players in the ballparks has a lot to offer. Beyond data that can tell us about a player's strength, his throwing arm or his bat speed, scouts need to dig deeper than that, much deeper.

They call it “makeup.” What is the player’s makeup? How will he handle pressure? Will he continue to work hard after he makes the majors? Will he work well with his coaches? Is he going to be a good teammate? So many questions and so many answers to try to find.

Getting to know the players inside those uniforms is vital.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias seems to have an appreciation for scouts, and maybe that is because he started with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007 as an area scout. This was not long after he graduated from Yale.

Right now those area scouts are taking time during the cold winter months to scout players off the field and learn more about their makeup. This happens in phone calls, Zoom calls, in-person meetings and in any possible way they can gain more information and get a better feel for the player.

It is quiet on the fields right now as winter soon will hit us with full force in most of the country, and even warm-weather areas have diamonds that may be often empty. Players may get to fields and do some outdoor workouts and drills. But the scouts are doing more indoor work in the winter, of course.

“There is not a whole lot of activity now,” Brad Ciolek said in a recent interview. He's the Orioles' director of draft operations.  “This is more or less a quiet period for a lot of these scouts. A lot of the colleges are done scrimmaging and doing intrasquads and now they are just lifting weights and focusing on conditioning. Same goes with a lot of the high school players we have high interest in.

“There will be some sporadic events throughout the winter months in warm-weather climates. In January, towards the end of the month, guys start getting ramped up. The colleges start having their workouts in February before Opening Day. Typically, (that happens) around the second week of February. So, in terms of on the field, there is not a lot going on right now.

“It is kind of our time to exhale a bit. But we also take this time to do a tremendous amount of background work on the players. Talk to the players, see what makes them tick. What is important to them with a pro organization. Could they be a good fit for what we are trying to accomplish?”

Time to get to know these players better and leave no stone unturned in the scouting process. The scouts have the data and stats and have graded players' tools and skills, but now have to find out about the human element and things about a player, like his attitude, etc.

“We do a lot of Zoom calls,” said Ciolek. “If there is one silver lining from the pandemic, it is the ability to connect with anyone across the country, or the globe, for that matter. So, we do take full advantage of the opportunity to get on Zoom calls with these guys. Talk to them and see how things are going before we talk to them next spring.”

I asked Ciolek if most of those Zoom calls take place between players and area scouts. Or do members higher up in the O’s front office take part?

“It happens with both,” he said. “In terms of our area guys, if they don’t get all their guys on via Zoom, they’ll pick up the phone or meet with them face-to-face at their school. In terms of myself, I think thus far I’ve probably sat in on around 65 to 70 Zoom calls already this winter. And that will continue through January.

"We do make a lot of Zoom calls as a staff. It’s constant in calling coaches and teammates. If we have guys in our system that have played with them, we check in with our guys. There is a lot of heavy lifting on that front in the winter months.”

Ciolek said there is a lot to learn and gain in such meetings. For instance, two of the top players on the Baltimore farm now - outfielder Colton Cowser and infielder Jordan Westburg - are very relaxed players that seem to handle pressure well. But they do so in very different ways. Cowser is a total loosey-goosey-type player who tries to keep the mood light most of the time. Westburg is more reserved, nowhere near the loose personality that Cowser is, but is loose in his own quiet way. The Orioles developed such knowledge of these players during important pre-draft get togethers.  

“No question,” Ciolek said. “Those two guys are great examples in terms of what they have between the ears, being everything we are looking for and checking those boxes. It’s a big part of this. I think, also, what is really impressive about a lot of those guys - and sometimes we forget - they are still in school and going through classes. You have all that going on and then you have 30 different area scouts or scouting directors wanting to pick your brain.

“But in terms of the makeup, this is critically important. Just as it was 10 or 20 years ago, it is still big today," he said.   

O's agreement with pitcher: The Orioles have a one-year agreement with free agent right-handed pitcher Kyle Gibson, as The Athletic first reported on Saturday. Gibson went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA for the Phillies last year. He comes to Baltimore seemingly as a potential replacement that is likely to come via a smaller 2023 salary than Jordan Lyles got with the Orioles.

While Lyles posted a better ERA last season than Gibson, Gibson has better career numbers, with a 4.52 ERA, 4.29 FIP of 4.29 and 1.385 WHIP for his career. Lyles has a career 5.10 ERA, 4.68 FIP and 1.428 WHIP.

When last seen in the American League, Gibson went 6-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 19 first-half starts for Texas in 2021, when he made the AL All-Star team.

Read more on the deal with Gibson here.

The Orioles, per the New York Post, are among eight or nine teams with interest in top free agent starter Carlos Rodón. Yes, it's a leap from having interest in to making an offer, and another leap yet to winning a bidding war for his services.

More on that here.



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