The Orioles made some significant adjustments to their minor league structure last week by promoting Anthony Villa to director of player development and Matt Blood to vice president of player development and domestic scouting. Moves put into motion with Brad Ciolek vacating his position as director of draft operations.
The ensuing months will reveal more changes, with the Orioles waiting to get it settled later in the offseason, per usual.
What stays the same is the approach to developing and maintaining the pitching. The data, instruction and philosophy. Methods that carry prospects to the majors and at times allow for needed resets after early struggles.
For example, Grayson Rodriguez.
“I’d like to know what the Orioles did to him because we need to do it,” said a scout from another organization. “They sent him down and said, ‘Hey, you’re not coming back until you get fastball command,’ and he has definitely shown it. He went down with a purpose, and he was a different pitcher from when I saw him in April or May till when I saw him there in September. Much different.
“I really like him. He’s got to be your No. 2.”
That last part pertained to the Division Series rotation. Rodriguez started Game 2 and lasted only 1 2/3 innings, the same amount as Dean Kremer in Game 3.
Rodriguez went 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA in his final 13 starts. His Triple-A days should be done. He should be top three in the rotation unless the Orioles make a bold pitching move over the winter.
The Orioles gradually brought together their major league and minor league operations to get everyone on the same page. They stressed the importance of implementing the same ideas and methods from top to bottom in their system. Fixing the deficiencies and criticisms of the past, including how players would be fed different information and instruction at a higher level.
Players promoted to the Orioles this season or optioned to Triple-A Norfolk would talk about the similarities between the teams. The same culture.
“I think it just shows the value of camaraderie and how guys can be close with each other when they’re going up and coming down,” said pitcher Cole Irvin. “Everyone’s close. Everyone’s rooting for each other in Triple-A and even some of the guys in Double-A that came up and helped out with the Triple-A season. It’s a lot of fun, and there’s been guys who have had rehab outings at Norfolk and have really helped that team. It’s just a lot of positive vibes through this clubhouse, their clubhouse, and it keeps things exciting.”
Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann marveled at the level of talent in Triple-A, saying there was “no shortage” of it.
“(Connor) Norby had probably one of the more impressive seasons that I’ve ever seen put together for a full Triple-A season,” said Zimmermann, who underwent core muscle surgery earlier this month. “Kind of reminiscent of Ryan Mountcastle back in 2019, when he won the MVP for the league. Obviously, (Colton) Cowser. And Jackson (Holliday) is an impressive talent. He’s obviously young. He looks like he could still be in high school. But to see him really not miss much … he kind of slid right in. It took him about three or four games and you saw the swing come back alive. To do that at 19-years-old in that league, the sky’s the limit for him right now.
“It’s a really exciting time for the rest of the talent that’s in the organization, and to have a team like this (Orioles) go to the playoffs and knowing that you have that in your back pocket.”
To manager Brandon Hyde, the organization doesn’t need to choose between development in the minors and chasing championships. Both are attainable, with 2023 providing a shining example.
“For me, it goes hand in hand,” Hyde said.
“I’ve always been a believer that winning in the minor leagues always helps in developing a winning mindset. I think that when you’re winning in the minor leagues, that means players are playing well, also, and it’s not just maybe a couple prospects, but a collective group, and I think that helps motivate.
“Playing postseason games in the minor leagues, and I’ve managed in some, you feel pressure and you feel like you want to win, and you come to the park with anticipation. It’s not just development at that point because you’re trying to win games. All that’s been very beneficial.”
None of the changes in scouting and player development should steer the Orioles down a new philosophical path.