The obsession with how the 2020 season impacts the Orioles’ rebuild is understandable. The process already is challenging on many levels. Reducing the schedule to 60 games and eliminating the minor league side is downright cruel.
No one said life is fair, and that’s certainly the case in a pandemic, where perspective is needed on a daily basis within the sports community.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is moving forward with his vision for the organization. Improving the level of talent and having it flow freely through the system remains the priority.
Catcher Adley Rutschman was the first overall pick in last year’s First-Year Player Draft and now he’s joined by outfielder Heston Kjerstad, chosen second last month and tabbed as the eventual right fielder and middle-of-the-order bat.
And that’s just scratching the surface - though they create two really deep ruts.
There’s also the growing number of pitching prospects and young infielders to address a significant area of need.
“We’re trying to accumulate as much impact talent as we can,” Elias said yesterday in a Zoom conference call with the media. “The high draft picks that we’ve had the past couple of years are a big part of that and the draft picks from the years prior are out pitching well in the minor leagues, or they were until the shutdown.
“We’re trying to bring in talent from all angles. We’ve activated our international market in a way that the organization has never done before. We’ve improved our player development capabilities and we’re doing our best to maximize the opportunities presented to us with each and every draft pick. So we’re really excited about what’s shaping up.
“There’s a lot of work left to do. We’re in a tough division. The other teams are drafting and signing players as well. This is really competitive. But I really feel that things are right on track in terms of us accumulating a talent pipeline.”
Elias and his scouting staff have been fishing in the bigger collegiate ponds by reeling in Rutschman from Oregon State and Kjerstad from Arkansas, which also produced pitcher Blaine Knight, who was selected in the third round in 2018.
“Coming from Arkansas, as Blaine Knight did as well, you know that these players get a tremendous coaching experience,” Elias said. “It’s a first-rate program. They’re used to the rigors of a competitive environment and the SEC. I say this a lot, but it’s the best conference in college baseball. And it’s a very difficult conference to succeed in.
“Similar to how Heston’s dominance in that conference means a lot to his success going forward, I think what Blaine Knight did there, as well, helps prepare him for pro ball. So a big part of our evaluation with these guys is looking at where they came from.”
* Kjerstad will be exposed to the latest hitting technologies and advanced statistics now embraced by the Orioles, but they aren’t total strangers. He comes from a university that views the game through an analytic eye.
“Luckily, being at Arkansas, they provide all of that, whether it’s Rapsodo, TrackMan, Blast. Anything and everything, they were giving us access to all of it,” Kjerstad said.
“It was definitely really cool because we were able to kind of learn it, and being in college we really don’t have legit analytics dudes, so quite a bit of it was on your own trying to figure out how to work the systems and stuff like that. So it really gave you a good understanding of the numbers. You can analyze your own stuff whenever you wanted, so that was really handy being around it.”
“I’m trying to save as much as I can because once in a lifetime I’m going to get paid whatever it is and you don’t know when your next paycheck’s going to come,” he said.
“I definitely want to do something for my parents, but don’t know what, and they also told me they don’t want a penny because I earned it and they’re good enough. But everything they’ve done for me, that’s my thing, which is really cool of them. But we’ll see what happens.
“I’m pretty happy with what I have in life. I really don’t need too much materialistic things or anything like that.”
* Major League Baseball’s vision for the abbreviated season is coming more into focus, but there are some remaining details that need to be worked out.
Elias said yesterday that he doesn’t know whether fans will be allowed inside Camden Yards.
The expectation for the immediate future is that gates will remain closed.
“I think that’s something that will be continually assessed as circumstances in the world allow,” Elias said. “Right now it’s not on anyone’s mind, and I’m speaking in terms of all 30 teams. We’re trying to focus on getting the players playing safely first.”