Minors matter more to Orioles during lockout

Even when Major League Baseball was fully operational and a lockout only meant that a guard needed to open the gate to the players’ lot after hours, the Orioles welcomed and encouraged the increased attention on their minor league system. The talent pumped into it via the draft and international signings, the developmental tools and personnel spliced into the organization, a modernized approach that the rest of the industry was embracing.

Can’t stand the sight of the mounting losses that attach to a rebuild, more than 100 in each of the last three full seasons? Focus on how high the Orioles climbed in the prospect rankings, talk about the No. 1 position player in Adley Rutschman and No. 1 pitcher in Grayson Rodriguez, imagine the waves hitting Camden Yards and the sustainability of the plan.

Good things are happening below. Look out.

The majors are on ice at the moment, and for an indefinite period. The minors seem more important than ever, and that’s saying a lot with the Orioles, who already preach how they can’t get back to contention without a solid foundation.

Thumbnail image for Cowser-BP-at-Camden-Yards-Sidebar.jpgRutschman and Rodriguez aren’t on the 40-man roster and can keep working out at a team facility and prepare for the minor league season. DL Hall, the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect, had to be protected in the Rule 5 draft and is shut down, but he’s followed on MLBPipeline.com’s list by Gunnar Henderson, Colton Cowser, Jordan Westburg and Heston Kjerstad.

Kyle Stowers, who joined Rutschman as the organization’s co-Minor League Players of the Year, reached Triple-A Norfolk and is expected to debut next summer. Rutschman could beat him to Baltimore, but they have an excellent chance to share space in the lineup.

Rodriguez and Hall finished at Double-A Bowie, the latter shut down with a stress reaction in his left elbow. They could be in the Orioles’ rotation later in the summer. Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith, added to the 40-man and subjected to the restrictions of a lockout, are hoping to get their first shots.

The Orioles already introduced Tyler Wells, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells, Mike Baumann, Ryan McKenna and Tyler Nevin to the majors this summer. Ryan Mountcastle followed up his August 2020 debut by placing sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in the American League. Local product Bruce Zimmermann broke camp as the No. 3 starter after only two major league appearances the previous season.

I ran prospect names past people in the Orioles organization during some recent interviews to get their reactions to the direction that it’s headed. Here are a few of the responses:

Outfielder Austin Hays
“They’ve spent the last three years really building up our minor league system and those guys that they started with are right on the brink now of making it to the big leagues, and I’m looking forward to them coming up and proving what they can do and hopefully not have to go through too many growing pains, and they’ll come up right away and have an impact. And that’s what I’m really hoping that we’ll start to see this year and next year.”

First baseman Trey Mancini
“I’ve seen all those guys play before and every single one of them has the potential to be a really good major league baseball player, and I hope that every single one of them can get called up next year at some point and I get to see it firsthand. I’m really excited about it, personally. I know all the potential that these guys have, and it’s a really exciting time when a big wave of guys like that comes up.

“Orioles fans should really be excited about that, because I know I am.”

Norfolk hitting coach Tim Gibbons
“It’s awesome. I’m happy for them, but they’ve also earned it. You can do all the right things, but you have to perform on the field. They took what the coaching staff gave them in terms of the information and being prepared, but then they go all out and are gamers. And when it comes time to play ball, they’re ready. So, it’s really exciting and I think it’s a testament to the entire player development staff that we’ve built here in the organization. Just building it from the ground up and really giving these guys a sense of, this is how we do things around here.

“It was good to see a lot of our guys have big 2021s.”

Double-A Bowie pitching coach Justin Ramsey
“You just listed 12 guys and could have maybe listed 12 more with the additions and the growth within the guys in the organization since (Mike) Elias got in, and the change in direction with what we were doing. It’s exciting. You see the success we’ve had in the minor leagues and it’s starting to work its way up as those guys kind of graduate, and hopefully the next few years here we’re talking about contending in the hardest division in all of baseball.

“You see it every day, how rough that gauntlet is, so it’s absolutely exciting to see how things are trending and ultimately where it’s going to go. The sky’s the limit when you look at the No. 1 or No. 2, depending on which (rankings) you look at, minor league system in baseball.”

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