BOWIE – Adam Hall walked into the home clubhouse at Prince George’s Stadium Wednesday afternoon, glanced at the Bowie Baysox’s lineup card posted on the wall to his left, saw his name atop the order as the designated hitter and decided to have some fun with it.
“Are you sure you got that right?” he asked Kyle Moore, manager of the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate.
Moore hadn’t made a mistake. He’s tasked each day with rotating infielders at different positions and roles, perhaps his biggest challenge on the job.
Too many prospects on a roster won’t bring much chirping from his office, but it’s stressful.
The Orioles created a formula of sorts for Moore to ensure that Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz get consecutive starts at shortstop and then bounce to other spots. Keeping it warm for the next guy. Keeping the developmental process churning and also flashing some creativity.
Hall is more mobile, playing center and right field, and making his first 2022 start at second base on Tuesday, followed by his DH assignment and another game at second base on Thursday. Henderson was the shortstop last night, Ortiz on Thursday, Westburg on Wednesday. Lots of moving parts at Bowie.
“We have a thing called a playing time matrix, which they make available,” Moore said. “It just basically tells us what percentages per week they should play. That doesn’t tell us the specific games or when they should play those days. That’s up to me to pick who plays when. But they basically told us they want each guy to play twice a week at short, and they basically told me they want Hallsy to play left, right, center, second, and I’m trying my best to get him a game or two at third because I really think he can play there if he needs to.
“The only thing is, it’s really hard with Gunnar and Westburg. And we had (Toby) Welk, who was in the matrix for one game every now and then at third. But they just tell us, 'Hey, we think this per week,' and if you don’t meet it, they don’t blow you up. They just tell you 'Don’t mess it all up, don’t completely destroy it.'”
Moore managed the same players last year at Single-A Aberdeen, but not as a group. He remembers director of player development Matt Blood joking on a video call, “You can’t have all those guys at the same time.”
“Why not?” Moore asked. “Come on, give them to me.”
Moore’s got them in the Eastern League, where he moved up in a series of managerial changes in the system.
Be careful what you ask for.
“Now I do have them at the same time and it’s hard,” Moore said. “That’s probably the No. 1 thing that keeps me up at night is that all three of those guys have got to play short, we only have six games a week, so it’s really unfair to ask a guy to play short once here and then take a day off or two and play short again. So, I’m trying to bunch them up and give them as many days back to back. But you can’t give them more than three because then you’ve got to get the next guy in.
“They’re being champs about it and it’s certainly a luxury to have three shortstops where some only have one who can play like they can. But that is definitely my biggest challenge is, how do you continue to develop three shortstops when you’ve only got six times a week that you’ve got a chance to play one of them there?
“Hallsy’s the same way. He played second base for us (Tuesday) night. He was going to play second base for us on the rainout on Saturday in Binghamton, and he played well, so there’s another guy that really should get more opportunities in the infield, but we’re deep right now. We’ll see what happens later in the summer.”
The organization introduced Hall to the outfield last year, perhaps a bold move for a former second-round draft pick and a top 30 prospect in the organization. On occasions that he was pulled away from the middle infield with Aberdeen, he made 13 appearances and 12 starts in center and accumulated 102 innings.
“He’s embraced it,” Moore said. “I’ve had a lot of talks with him. He’s somebody I've been with my whole career, so I’ve learned from him and he’s learned from me. He’s been super open to this super-utility role, which I told him, if he’s going to play in the big leagues, that’s what he’s going to be. He’s going to be like a, come to the park and you might be in the lineup at any different spot every day, and I think he’s responded really well to that.
“He loves it. He loves the center field one day, left field, right field, second base. He never knows. He’s loving this versatility role.”
There were no closed-door meetings about the switch. No expansive explanations.
“Honestly, it just kind of happened,” said Hall, who won Thursday’s game with a 10th-inning sacrifice fly and was batting .333/.408/.381 last night in 49 plate appearances. “It wasn’t told to me that there was any for-sure plan on what we were doing. It was kind of started off like, ‘You’re going to start getting mixed in the outfield, guy gets hurt, go in,’ and it kind of went from there. I’m ready to embrace any position that there is for me to fill. I’ve accepted that and just try to become the best player at any position I can.”
It really only works if Hall totally buys into it at age 22. Doesn’t just succumb to the idea. Doesn’t feel insulted. Gladly stores extra gloves in his locker.
“That definitely used to be the case. The utility position was not really the most sought-after position,” Hall said. “But I think now the game’s evolving, and you look in the big leagues and you see guys like Trea Turner, (Fernando) Tatis, those guys can play everywhere. The mentality behind that utility position is not necessarily like, ‘OK, this guy can go play any position’ It’s like, ‘This guy will go play any position so we can get the best lineup out there that we can.’”
Hall’s past outfield experience?
“Absolutely none,” he said, laughing. “I played right field for one or two innings with the Canadian junior national team when someone went down. That’s about it.
“Honestly, it wasn’t that tough of an adjustment for me. I’ve always been a guy who likes to go out and shag fly balls during BP, so just kind of going off that. The biggest thing for me was working on arm slot in terms of getting good carry on the ball and better spin. You’ve got to make longer throws, so you’ve got to keep it straight. For me, that was the biggest adjustment, but I worked really hard on that during spring training and it’s been feeling good.”
The feeling wasn’t quite the same when Hall saw the number of shortstops drafted in the early rounds, and how they might impact him.
“I think anyone’s lying if they say that doesn’t cross their mind,” he said. “Yeah, they’re your teammates, but ultimately there is competition behind it. Seeing that, not shocking. I’m pretty sure if you ask any guy that’s on a big league roster for the most part, other than some catchers and first basemen, they probably played shortstop or were drafted as a shortstop. So, in terms of seeing that, it’s like, yeah, who knows where this guy is actually going to end up playing? But the amount of talent coming in, it definitely pushes you and makes you realize, ‘Hey, I’ve got to stay on top of things here, because there’s always someone new coming.’”
Westburg, the 30th-overall pick in the 2020 draft out of Mississippi State University, was batting .282/.440/.641 with two doubles and four home runs in 50 plate appearances before last night. He played at three levels last summer, including 30 games with the Baysox, and slashed a combined .285/.389/.479 with 27 doubles, five triples, 15 home runs and 79 RBIs in 506 plate appearances. He turned 23 in February.
“He’s a super pro hitter,” Moore said. “He’s seen some really good arms and he’s gone 0-2 to 3-2 and hit a double or walked five or six times versus good starters. He’s just shown me that he’s undoubtedly ready for this level, if not more as the season goes on. He’s everything you wish for when you pick a first-rounder out of college. If it was just that easy, then it would just be like, ‘Man, that’s what you hope for.’
“Total package, makeup, tools, competitor. And he’s another one who’s going to be versatile in the big leagues. He can play short, second and third. If he continues to turn in at-bats like that, he’s going to be really valuable.”
Henderson, 20, came to the organization a year ahead of Westburg as a second-round selection out of John T. Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala. He also was exposed to three levels last season, though only for five games with Bowie, and hit a combined .258/.350/.476 in 463 plate appearances with 28 doubles, four triples, 17 home runs and 74 RBIs.
MLBPipeline.com ranks Henderson third and Westburg sixth among prospects in the system. Henderson, who began last night batting .270/.431/.351 in 51 plate appearances, is 63rd on the site’s top 100 list.
“His upside’s huge, obviously,” Moore said. “He’s the one guy in there who, he could be a household name, but he’s just so young. Players like him really got hurt not playing in 2020. Most players when they get to Double-A, they have 1,500 at-bats or whatever it is. They’ve had basically three seasons of 500-plus, and he didn’t get that. In ’20 he didn’t get anything except alt site at-bats, which were huge for him, but it was still way too early.
“I’m really impressed with how he’s handled himself in a Double-A lineup. To be 20 years old, I’m really impressed. (Tuesday) night he had great swing decisions. He went from 0-2 to a walk that ended up starting an eight-run inning. There were two outs, runners on first and third, and Gunnar goes down 0-2, and a normal 20-year-old will just give away two pitches and it will either be 1-2 strikeout or 1-2 roller back to the mound. I think Gunney is doing a phenomenal job of not giving away pitches.
“I’ve been really proud of him for that. And again, his upside is just enormous. I still think it’s super early, though. He’s so young, he has so few professional at-bats. He just needs to keep doing exactly what he’s doing, putting his nose in there every day, play third, play short, try to get as many Double-A at-bats as he can, and see where he’s at when he’s 21 years old.”
Ortiz, a fourth-rounder in 2019 out of New Mexico State and the system’s No. 15 prospect, was limited to a combined 35 games with Aberdeen and Bowie because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He made a couple of spectacular defensive plays this spring, and The Athletic’s Keith Law wrote that Ortiz could be the Orioles’ starting shortstop later this summer.
“Defensively, 100 percent, he’s as close to ready as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Moore said. “The ball comes out of his glove elite, arm plays on every angle on the throw from shortstop. I don’t think it’s too much of a reach to say he could play shortstop at Camden Yards at some point this season. I don’t think you’ve got to dream a whole lot to say that. But offensively, we’ve got to get him right and we have to keep him competitive as far as, when you see top-end pitching that he would see if he were to get called up, he’s got to be able to compete, and I think he can.
“But I think he's another one of those guys where he just needs to stack up Double-A at-bats, as many of them as he can. It’s the best pitching that we can possibly put him up against, and he needs to learn how to make really good swing decisions no matter what the count is. If it’s 0-2, 1-2, guy’s got nasty stuff, umpire screws him on the first ball, can he turn that into a pro at-bat? And if he can, he might be a shortstop.”
There are lots of them jockeying for the position – at Bowie and other levels. As if the Orioles are hoarding them.
“A great problem to have,” said Moore, an Alabama native who played in the system from 2010-11. “I remember a time in this organization where we didn’t have a lot of shortstops, and it’s no disrespect to anyone. It’s just that, we were as thin as you could possibly imagine in the minor leagues at shortstop, and now it seems like we have a whole bunch of them. So, who knows who’s going to emerge? Whoever it is, he’s going to be impressive because they’re all competing with each other.
“Every day, they come in here not just competing with Akron, but they know the guys in the clubhouse could be their closest competition.”
Somehow, through it all, Hall became the veteran at 22.
“It’s a bit of a strange thing,” he said. “I remember last year was kind of the first year that I really started to feel that way a little bit in the clubhouse. Most of these guys are older than me, but I’ve been here since 2017, so there’s that little bit of, ‘Oh, he’s the vet.’ It’s like, no, I’m actually your age.’ But it’s not a bad spot to be in.
“I know the workings of pro ball a little bit better than some of these guys, just through experience, so being able to help guys with whatever situation it may be and being a guy they know they can turn to for that, it’s nice.”
Hall isn’t a scout, but he knows talent when it sees it. Turn in any direction. The Baysox clubhouse, with music cranked before a recent game – guys who can time fastballs happily singing off-key – looks like a storage facility for highly rated prospects.
“It’s pretty insane what it’s come to from the time I was drafted here to what we have now,” Hall said. “It’s eye-opening, for sure. It’s so much different that it almost feels like a new start for me.”
“This is a blast,” Moore said. “I’m so fortunate to be sitting here. We truly are blessed. I’ve been with the organization for 13 years now and never seen anything like this.
“I was in the cages in spring training and (Colton) Cowser was over there and (Heston) Kjerstad was over there, and Gunnar, (Adley) Rutschman, Kyle Stowers was there. Westburg, (Hudson) Haskin, Hall. A bunch of our best minor league players were there, and one was in the cage and one was waiting to go in the cage. I’m looking around and it’s just all first- and second-rounders, and I’m just thinking to myself, ‘I’ll never see this again.’ Just the amount of talent. Super athletic.
“I remember a day not that long ago, this was not what it looked like. I’m fortunate. I’m in a great spot and I love being here.”
Even as he fills out another lineup card and figures out where to put his shortstops.