No team from the Orioles farm system won a league championship in the minors this year with High-A Aberdeen coming close and losing out on the final game of the playoffs. But it’s been a great year for the Orioles farm and one big reason is that it’s considered among the best farm systems in the sport.
That is not the Orioles saying that, but outside independent sources and three of the most well-regarded and credible. In midseason organization rankings, Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and ESPN all rated the Baltimore farm system No. 1.
Beyond that, how many farms could even boast of two players that were ranked as the No. 1 prospect from the same organization in the same year as the O’s have had in Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson? And beyond that both those players got to the majors and excelled at the big league level.
In an interview yesterday, O’s director of player development Matt Blood talked about a strong year for the Baltimore farm.
“I’m not sure if there has been another time when two players from the same draft (in 2019) from the same team were ranked No. 1 overall in the prospect rankings,” said Blood. “What we have kind of seen now after four drafts for Mike Elias is that, not only are the first picks excelling and playing well, but the second picks are, too. You look at Henderson and (Jordan) Westburg and (Connor) Norby. They are all getting out in professional baseball and performing.
“That is huge for an organization like us that is building from within through the draft and player development. For not only your first picks to succeed, but your second picks to be major league-caliber players is really exciting. And you can go past that and look at other picks down the line that are interesting and probably going to provide major league value as well like Kyle Stowers and Joey Ortiz and others. We’re excited.”
The harmony and teamwork that the Orioles have tried to create in their player development operation is apparent. From players to coaches to managers, all seem to be pulling on the same end of the rope. They seem to all take pride when a player has success and advances.
“That’s great and our philosophy or strategy as a staff is to provide the players with a clear and consistent message,” added Blood. “We want them to hear the same message in regards to our values and the way that we practice everywhere. They go from one affiliate to the next and it’s not going to change. Through that you build trust because the players know what they are being told is the truth and we sort of hold ourselves accountable to that.
“Our coaches also have done a great job of not just throwing random ideas to the players. Our coaches have real data and hard facts to back up their suggestions to the guys. I think that also creates buy in and lastly we are seeing results. And when you see results players tend to buy in as well.
“Overwhelmingly we’ve seen players have success. You know, Gunnar, Adley, Stowers and (Terrin) Vavra, they are all great examples of that. But no one is a greater example than Gunnar. He was drafted as a high school player and was very much a talent, but a developmental project as well. And he bought in as much as anyone and worked as hard as anyone and has gotten to where he is now. All those things combined lead to more and more buy in from everyone.”
It is a pretty good situation for the Orioles who wanted to build an elite talent pipeline and they’ve done it. Now maintaining that will be a huge challenge as the major league club takes players from the farm while some could leave via trades. But the O’s continued progress in their international program could help the farm stay near the top of those rankings as we are now seeing some of those international players move to higher levels on the farm.
On a few other topics: Blood said he does not expect to see top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez go to the Arizona Fall League to add innings after missing some time this year. The Orioles have a current group of seven headed to play for Scottsdale in the AFL beginning on Oct. 3. They include pitchers Noah Denoyer, Nolan Hoffman, Nick Richmond and Easton Lucas and position players Heston Kjerstad, Cesar Prieto and Reed Trimble. The O’s could make adjustments to that group, but are not likely to do so as of now.
It's too early for the Orioles to publicly release anything about their minor league coaches or staff for next season, although Blood hopes and expects there to be few changes or adjustments.
“We are hoping and planning for a lot of continuity for our staff between this year and next year,” he said.
Blood, like the rest of us, was impressed that Norby led all O’s minor leaguers with 29 homers, including hitting four in his last nine games after moving to Triple-A Norfolk late in the year. It was a season where he played at three levels and finished with an OPS of .886. Among O’s farm regulars, that was second only to Henderson at .946.
Blood said the data showed that Norby’s power was legit.
“His performance was not cheap, it was not lucky," he said. "It was legit in regards to the way he hit the ball, the angles that he hits it. His expected numbers are all very good. It wasn’t the park or cheap home runs, the guy performed and what we saw this year is indicative of the trajectory that he is on.”
Blood said he has not yet gotten any complete information on how the O’s facilities in Sarasota, Fla., came through the hurricane, but he was happy to report that several staff members in the area were all safe.
The Orioles had to shut down a camp they were holding for 17 minor league players in Sarasota. It included several of their high draft picks from 2022 like Jackson Holliday, Dylan Beavers and Max Wagner. The camp had been scheduled to run through Oct. 12.
“We are still assessing everything, but this is probably going to dramatically affect the current plan for the camps," Blood said. "We are going to have to reimagine some things. Hopefully we can be creative and figure out another way to use some of our resources."