Tides manager Buck Britton on Triple-A Norfolk's amazing start

We were probably impressed when the Orioles’ Triple-A Norfolk farm team scored 39 runs in their first four games. Their top prospects were spraying line drives in the gaps and hitting baseballs over outfield walls.

As it turns out, the players on the top farm club for baseball’s No. 1 ranked farm system were just warming up.

Wednesday night, Norfolk scored 17 runs from the sixth through the eighth innings at Charlotte and set several team records in a 26-11 victory.

That was a franchise single-game record for runs, breaking the mark of 23 set April 13, 1982 when the Tides were a Mets affiliate. They would not become an O’s farm club until 2007. The Tides set team records with eight homers and 29 hits and Heston Kjerstad’s 10 RBIs is a team mark, two better than any Tide ever. The nine doubles tied a club mark.

So much for some of the top prospects there being too down after not making the Orioles' Opening Day roster.

“Human nature, I think obviously they are disappointed,” Tides manager Buck Britton told me during a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “It helps that these guys are friends and push each other. Our staff has had some of these guys for a couple of years and we like to think we create a pretty good environment for these guys to enjoy coming to the yard and letting their natural skills play.

“It takes a special group of guys with high character to perform the way they are right out of the gate after being disappointed not making that club.”

The Tides’ 26 runs were the most by an International League team since Buffalo beat Syracuse 27-9 on April 18, 2013.

Heading into last night’s games, the top four players in the IL stats for RBIs were Kjerstad with 18, Kyle Stowers with 14, Connor Norby with nine and Jackson Holliday with eight.

The top four on the homer leader board were Tides: Stowers with five, Kjerstad with four with Norby and Peyton Burdick with three each. No one else had hit more than two.

Stowers, who hit three homers for the Orioles March 17 in spring training, hit three more Wednesday night, when he had 14 total bases and seven RBIs.

No one is sulking because they are not with Baltimore right now.

Britton said he almost expected some of his players to get off to slow starts as they fought off the disappointment of not being with the Orioles.

“Yeah, to be honest (I did expect that),” he said. “But you think back at who these guys are, and their mindset is it doesn’t matter where they’re at, they want to perform. They want to put up numbers and be the best and they push each other man. They are friends off the field and on the field but with that they motivate each other to be at their best.

“You can hear the banter in the dugout. If one guy is having a big night and maybe someone else isn’t its, hey let’s go. They try to match each other and it’s a healthy competition for sure. And that has been the attitude for the last few years running through this organization.”

So, through five games Norfolk led the 20-team IL in team batting (.379), OBP (.438), slugging (.772) and team OPS (1.210) with no other club topping .849.

“The sky is the limit,” Britton said of the Tides’ 2024 offense after the 2023 team averaged 5.88 runs per game. “I mean, when these guys are hot all together, it is fun to watch. I sit back and slap hands as they cross third base. Such a ton of talent. The pipeline is legit. We are starting to see the cream rise to the top and that Bowie roster is going to be fun to watch. They’ve done a great job bringing these guys in, man. We have major league players playing in Triple-A and they are doing what major league players in Triple-A should do.”

So now a challenge for Britton and his coaching staff may be to keep the players as energized and motivated as they currently are. The intensity around that club is very high right now.

“I wouldn’t call it a challenge, but that’s our task,” he said. “Because we have built good relationships with these players, I think it makes that a little easier for us. And anybody you bring into the organization that is new, they have to hop on board or get left behind.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge challenge for us but that is our main focus as a staff, making that environment is in place for these guys to perform.”

Norfolk players like Holliday, Norby, Coby Mayo, Stowers and Kjerstad are not where they had hoped to be, in the majors. But Britton said he and his staff didn’t need to get any of those players’ attitudes right to start the IL season.

“They all met with Hyder (Brandon Hyde) and Mike (Elias) before they were sent down, kind of (presented) the plan for continued development. One of the things they do well is they set expectations for these guys. They let it be known that Triple-A is a direct extension of the major league team. These guys know they are watching nightly. So, a lot of that is done before they get sent down.”

Here is more with Britton.

Britton on Stowers' big power this spring and now: “I think being 100 percent healthy has helped Stowers. But it’s a constant adjustment. And the way this guy attacks his work, he understands what his weaknesses are, and he attacks them daily. I just see a guy getting better at covering more pitches in the strikezone. And with his monster power, all he has to do is hit it at the right angles and it’s going to go.”

Is Britton already getting questions of whether Norfolk is one of the best minor league clubs ever?: “It is hard to say what the best team is ever. The roster we had early on last year was super impressive as well. Obviously, a couple of those guys now are in the big leagues as impact players. The organization has done an incredible job of bringing in talent.”

Britton on Cade Povich with six scoreless in his first game: “That was probably the best I’ve seen him. The command, that was probably the best I’ve seen. His changeup, I think when we went over the attack plan, was not the pitch he wanted as his primary weapon necessarily, but the way he was commanding it was impressive. And he’s got big-time stuff, and you are starting to see a kid mature and trust his stuff in the strikezone. That was really impressive to watch.”

Britton on Kjerstad with 10 RBIs: “Crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it. To see 10 in the box score, that’s unheard of. Sometimes you go three weeks and don’t drive in 10 runs.”

Britton said Holliday has a great outlook and attitude starting the year in Triple-A: “Absolutely. I think he is playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, no question. But he’s a pro with such maturity for a young player to handle everything as he has. Another high character, high talent guy. Fun to watch him play and it's fun to interact with him.”

Congrats to Britton and his wife Silvana on the birth of their third child and first son recently. Britton was on paternity leave until Tuesday night when he made it to Charlotte by game time after the arrival of Beau Britton. He was welcomed by his parents and sisters Giselle, who is four and Siana, who is 18 months. 

Tides won again: They gave up eight runs, but Triple-A Norfolk scored nine last night to win again at Charlotte 9-8. They are 5-1 and have scored 74 runs.

Coby Mayo's solo blast in the ninth broke the 8-8 tie.

Heston Kjerstad went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer. In three games in Charlotte this week he is 10-for-16 with five homers and 17 RBIs. And yes that is ridiculous.

Opening Night tonight: The O's affiliates at Double-A Bowie, High-A Aberdeen and Low-A Delmarva play season openers tonight with Reading at Bowie, Aberdeen at Jersey Shore and Delmarva at Fredericksburg.

Right-hander Alex Pham starts for Bowie tonight with Kyle Brnovich going Saturday and Trace Bright Sunday. Delmarva's starter tonight is Trey Gibson with Blake Money going Saturday and lefty Luis De Leon on Sunday. Aberdeen's pitcher is TBA.



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