Pitcher Brandon Bailey was in the middle of a workout at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven performance center in Kent, Wash., when one of his personal trainers approached him with news that the Orioles hadn’t been able to deliver.
It tends to travel fast and can come via anyone with access to the internet.
The Orioles had selected Bailey in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. He’d be placed on the 40-man roster and compete for a rotation spot after spending the entire 2019 season at Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros organization.
“It was pretty surreal,” Bailey said Thursday night on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
Bailey remembers the time of the conversation - 9 a.m. on the Pacific Coast - and how it unfolded.
“You just got picked, you just got picked,” the trainer said.
“By who?” Bailey asked.
Told it was the Orioles, he replied, “That’s insane.”
“It was just so shocking, but at the same time so gratifying,” he said. “It’s just so many different emotions. Obviously, a little bit sad thinking that I wouldn’t be able to play with a lot of my teammates back in Houston and be able to work with some of the coaches over there, but also extremely excited for the opportunity to potentially try to make the big league roster.”
Bailey’s knowledge of the Orioles is limited, but there’s an element of familiarity with former Astros executives Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal and director of pitching Chris Holt in the organization.
“Just super excited and anxious to get started,” Bailey said.
The Athletics traded Bailey to the Astros in November 2017, which made him a logical choice by the Orioles when they chose second in the Rule 5 draft.
“Obviously, during my time with Oakland, I didn’t have much experience working with the data and analytics,” Bailey said. “It was something where Oakland was maybe not prioritizing that as much as some other teams at that point. So when I was traded, that first spring training, I kind of got exposed to like the entire side of the baseball viewpoint and had a better understanding of what made me unique as a pitcher and what my strengths were and kind of giving me a direction of how I wanted to attack hitters, which is extremely valuable.
“I’ve never actually met Mike. I’ve had some interactions with Sig and obviously Chris Holt a lot. He was my minor league pitching coordinator during my first year with the Astros, so being able to see those guys and be able to work with Chris again, I feel like he knows me better than I know myself at times. I feel like it’s going to really help me with my transition period, make this adjustment smooth sailing and hopefully get me in the right direction moving forward to help Baltimore win some baseball games.”
So what exactly makes Bailey, 25, so unique and what are his strengths?
“Prior to being traded to the Astros, I didn’t have much familiarity with the data and pitch metrics,” he said. “When I got traded to Houston, they told me I have an elite-level fastball with a high spin rate, ... so they encouraged me to try to utilize that more so at the top of the strike zone, which was kind of mind-blowing to me because I grew up in an era where everyone’s got to keep the ball down. You’ve got to be trying to create sink and get ground balls, and for me, I just could never have a good feel for how to throw a two-seamer or a sinker or anything of that nature, so I just was like, ‘OK, I’m just going to try to throw this four-seamer as fast as I could.’ And discovering that I had that unique ability to create a high spin rate, which was probably the first thing. And combined with a solid changeup. And when I first got to Houston, my breaking ball definitely needed some work.
“Working with Chris Holt, we were able to develop a curveball and (are) in the process of trying to clean up the slider. So I think overall just having a really good fastball and changeup, and my mentality to attack hitters and just go right at them and have that bulldog mentality are things I’d say are my biggest strengths.”
Holt came to the Orioles last year as their minor league pitching coordinator, but his new title and responsibilities more easily allow him to join pitching coach Doug Brocail in utilizing the technology and data that’s become available to the organization.
Adjusting Holt’s role allows the Orioles to maintain continuity and strengthen the bridge.
“Chris is great,” Bailey said. “He’s definitely somebody who lives and breathes baseball. He shows up to the park every single day with an internal flame to try to help his players become the best that they can possibly be. And as a player you really respond well to that, when you see a guy that is at the park really early, constantly trying to figure out ways to help you perform at your highest level when it comes to competition.
“He’s just a great guy and always wants the best for his players and I think his work ethic is second to none. I just have the upmost respect for Chris and I’m excited to begin working with him once again.”
The Orioles seem intent on giving Bailey a chance to win a spot in the rotation, though they’re also trying to bring in a couple of veterans to strengthen a unit that’s low on numbers.
Bailey has made 58 starts among his 83 games in the minors, including 17 of 22 this year. He posted a 2.59 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .191 average-against in 76 1/3 innings as a starter, but allowed 12 runs and 20 hits in 16 1/3 relief innings.
Both options are in play for a club that can’t option Bailey based on his Rule 5 status.
“I just want to put myself in the best position to make the team, first and foremost,” he said. “I also want to pitch in whatever role the Baltimore Orioles feel like is going to give them the best opportunity to win baseball games. So if they feel like they would prefer me to start, I’d love to start, and if they want me to relieve, I’d gladly relieve. But at the end of the day, I definitely do have more experience starting. But I feel like over the past two seasons, working in a tandem rotation within the Astros organization, I’ve learned a lot about the process of getting my body ready to go in a relief role as well. So I think that’s one of my strengths is I can be very versatile.
“I think having a five-pitch mix benefits me as a starter, but then also I feel like being able to narrow down my arsenal to three pitches if needed in that one-inning role as a relief pitcher also is extremely beneficial. I just want to help Baltimore win as many baseball games as I can in whatever role that may be.”
There could be two Rule 5 selections vying for one job, with pitcher Michael Rucker joining the organization and the 40-man roster from the Cubs organization in the second round of the major league phase.
Rucker pitched at BYU before the Cubs selected him in the 11th round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2016. A friendship could form based on their identical predicaments and the tendency for fans and media to lump together the Rule 5 guys.
The bond between infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson formed as they became spring training roommates.
Bailey and Rucker aren’t complete strangers.
“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” Bailey said. “I’m not sure if anybody in Baltimore knows the background on Rucker and me, but he actually went to Gonzaga University where I’m a graduate of his freshman year, so he was a freshman when I was a senior in high school and he decided to transfer to BYU after his freshman year.
“When I was a junior in college and I think it would have been, I’m not sure if his redshirt junior year or exactly what year of college he would have been here, but we actually faced off against each other multiple times in the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga and BYU had some pretty good dueling matches against one another and squared off against each other in the West Coast Conference Tournament back in 2016, as well, so there’s some history there with Rucker going back all the way to college.
“I’ve never had too much of an interaction with him prior to my official visit at Gonzaga back in 2013, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity of meeting up with him again and just kind of talking about all the good times in college, but also how far we’ve come. I know he probably wants to help Baltimore win just as much as I do, so hopefully we can meet up and help you guys win some baseball games.”
Shameless plug alert: I’m appearing on “Wall to Wall Baseball” from noon-2 p.m. on MASN.