Holt: “If we can compete in this division, we can smoke anybody”

A big chunk of the early offseason work being done by the Orioles involves the construction of the minor league coaching staffs. A task that already was in motion long before the Red Sox’s walk-off win on Sunday.

Making outside hires and reassigning individuals to a higher or lower affiliate. Changing a few roles in order to keep people in the organization while also making room for others or eliminating the job as it previously had been defined.

Sean Berry is expected to come back to the organization and fill his previous role as Triple-A Norfolk hitting coach. He held the job from 2015-17, spent the 2018 season as Marlins minor league hitting coordinator and was the Double-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s hitting coach this summer.

Prior to his stint with the Tides, Berry served as Astros minor league hitting coordinator and hitting coach and Padres minor league hitting coordinator.

Berry would replace Butch Davis, who’s joining Double-A Bowie’s coaching staff after spending the past two seasons with Norfolk.

The Tides need a pitching coach, with Mike Griffin expected to replace Scott McGregor as pitching rehabilitation coordinator down in Sarasota, Fla. The Orioles could decide to move up Bowie pitching coach Kennie Steenstra and hire someone for the Baysox’s staff.

Meanwhile, Chris Holt just completed his first season as Orioles minor league pitching coordinator and spent the weekend on the major league coaching staff.

Will he hold the same title in 2020?

“I can’t speak to anything along those lines,” he said Saturday while meeting with the local media outside the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park. “It’s just not time yet. I don’t have any other information, other than I’m the pitching coordinator at this time.”

chleborad-tanner-pitches-orange-spring-sidebar.jpgA pitching coordinator who’s proud of the work done this summer and the results that are evident statistically or in a more subtle manner.

“The first thing that we wanted to establish coming into this year was getting the players to understand how to do better work on a daily basis, and also to have them work with coaches on a daily basis with better information,” Holt said. “We were able to achieve that largely this year with everybody from the (Dominican Summer League) all the way through Triple-A and in the big leagues.

“It’s going to be a process that continues to work over time. The goal right now is to have the guys in the minor leagues be working with this process and the improvement and development over time so that they learn how to learn, learn how to work and continue to manage their own careers on a daily basis. They can do the same thing once they get to here.”

Do the goals take on a different form in the second year?

“We’ll continue to build on the process,” Holt said. “This year was foundational, and so getting a process in place whereby the players were able to understand what it is we’re working with and then building on those from a skill-level standpoint in Year Two is the goal. So without getting into specifics, it’s really more about ‘How do we take what they’re able to do this year, continue to have them build on it individually and as a group at large?’”

There’s a steady, consistent message that Holt wants delivered to his pitchers. No need to read between the lines. It’s direct and to the point.

It also serves as a warning.

“I’m quite straightforward with the minor league guys,” he said. “You’re going to compete to be in the toughest division in baseball, so we need to develop our skills, our weapons to be the best pitchers we can be to compete in the best division in Major League Baseball. If we think the things we’ve been doing at A ball are going to work at Double-A and also in the big leagues and we’re not getting better from those levels on up, then you’re not going to be able to compete in the big leagues in the toughest division in baseball.

“So the overall message is we need to develop to be the best pitchers in the game, not just to get better a little bit. Understanding the scope of where we’re at and what it’s going to take to compete against the Red Sox nightly, the Rays, the Yankees. This is a tough division, so if we can compete in this division, we can smoke anybody.”

Nothing important to the rebuild can happen overnight beyond the hires. But Holt can count the increase in strikeouts throughout the organization without having a math degree. He sees progress made by former first-round picks and pitchers much further down the prospect chain.

“I like the work that was done this year,” said Holt, who joined the Orioles in November 2018 after serving as the Astros’ assistant pitching coordinator last summer. “There’s still work to be done. No question about it. But in terms of Year One and getting some foundational pieces in place and getting the players and the coaches on-ramped with everything, I feel like we’ve made tremendous strides in Year One, especially coming into Year Two, which we were just talking about building on it for Year Two.

“Everything’s in place. So in terms of catching up, it’s tough to know where everybody else is at. Obviously, we want to get our players, our coaches the best possible information to work with, but also develop our guys as quickly as we can to be as good as they can as fast as they can. We’re in a position after Year One to continue to build that process.”

The slew of pitchers who rode the shuttle this season between Triple-A and the majors received messages similar to those delivered to the lower-level guys. But there are the obvious differences based on where these pitchers stand in their professional careers.

A major leaguer one minute, part of a minor league staff the next. But the learning and tweaking and refinement don’t stop.

“They’re a little bit of both at times because they come up here and they’re competing against guys on TV but they still have development yet to be had,” Holt said. “And so in terms of what we’re doing here, the way I think about this is, you look at guys like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, they never stop their own development process. We certainly don’t need to approach Triple-A guys as though they’re development is done and they’re going to go pitch in the big leagues now. We always need to be working to get better and improving our game, no matter which level we’re at, especially once we get to the big leagues.”

Holt preferred to speak in more general terms rather than single out pitchers who made the biggest strides this summer.

“It’s tough for me,” he said. “We have a thousand guys in the organization. When you start talking about guys before this year, just didn’t know how to utilize their stuff, basically, and now they’re starting to get results in games and they get themselves to where they’re now a factor and helping out on a daily basis.”

The improvement in pitching depth isn’t based strictly on the number of arms pumped into the system. It’s the increase in production from guys who already were here.

“I think that we’ve been able to develop some guys that perhaps maybe weren’t on the map before,” Holt said. “We also were able to get guys who were quality pitchers when we got here, and they were able to improve what they were doing on the year as well. I think overall we were able to reach a wider scope of players with what we’re doing.”

The hands-on instruction doesn’t cease now that everyone has scattered for the offseason. Holt makes certain that this is understood.

“In pro baseball it’s one of the most difficult things we encounter,” he said. “Over the course of this offseason we will be in constant contact with players. Each coach will have continual contact, at least once or twice a month. But we also have all the pitchers from this organization going home with an individualized player-development plan, so they have a reference, a way to continue to work on the things coming into the next spring training that they were either able to continue to work on during this past season, but they also are using that time to continue that development process.

“We also have a handful of guys that will go to places such as Driveline (Baseball) or other facilities to do work on their own. Simply put, the development process really needs to continue during the offseason after they’ve had the proper rest time.”

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