SARASOTA, Fla. - Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has, to no one’s surprise, been a very busy man in Florida. He’s checking out the O’s spring roster and watching the team play often. He’s swung a couple of trades since camp started and has taken time to do some amateur scouting as well.
Yesterday, when the Orioles beat the Twins 9-4 in Fort Myers, he took some time to hang out with me during the live-streamed audio-only broadcast of the Birds on Orioles.com. Elias sat in during the second inning and we touched on various topics. Here are some of them.
Elias said Richie Martin has had a solid camp.
“He really has made a great impression. When you take somebody with the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft, you have some high hopes. So far he’s lived up to that. I saw him in college and in high school as an amateur and his defense looks like it’s come a long way since then, so we’re really excited about him being here.”
In terms of the camp overall so far, what are you most pleased with?
“Well, the fact that our infield defense looks to be moving in the right direction. As I understand, it was a frustration with this club last year. And stepping into the role in November, we didn’t have a lot of great options available to us, but I think through the Rule 5 picks we’ve made with Martin and Drew Jackson and some of the waiver claims we made and some of the minor league signings, we’ve got a lot of options out on the field right now. So, I’m really hoping that we’re able to uptick our defense even though these were fairly modest acquisitions.”
When you start to set the final roster, how will service time considerations come into play, particularly concerning outfielder Yusniel Diaz?
“We want to put the best team on the field. In our situation, though, we have to prioritize the individual development of the players and probably err on the side of development. Just because there is no hurry to get these guys up when we are looking long-term, big picture with them.
“In the case of Diaz and some of the guys here that have had a tremendous camp, you look at what they’ve done in the minor leagues so far. And Yusniel struggled a bit when he got to Bowie. He’s young and he’s yet to spend any time at Triple-A, and you could argue he’s yet to really graduate Double-A. So, we’ll see how it shakes out. I can tell you, I’m extremely excited to have him in the organization. I think he’s legit and so we’re going to do the best thing for his future and our future.”
Some of the young outfielders may be making it so that some tough decisions are ahead for the Orioles.
“It’s good to have this talent in the system. (Austin) Hays, (DJ) Stewart, Diaz that we mentioned. These guys are coming. They’re close. Some of them may even break camp with the team now, but if they don’t I know that they are going to be up in the very near term.”
Chris Davis has started 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts. Do you have any concerns about that?
“Well, he’s in great shape. The work that he did this winter seems to be the right stuff to work on. He had a bad season last year, but we’re not dwelling on spring training results yet. But we’ll keep an eye on it. If a time comes to intervene and change direction with the work that’s going on, we’ll be ready to do that. But right now it’s very early.”
Elias said he loves the energy the new coaching staff brings to camp.
“When we went out to put this staff together, the two of us (to include manager Brandon Hyde), we were targeting guys whose backgrounds and priorities and passions were in individual player development. I think we’ve gotten great results, especially considering how late into the winter we were doing this process and many staffs were already set. So far, so good.”
Dylan Bundy allowed 41 homers last year. Could analytics help him there?
“I think a lot of his home run totals were just weird luck, digging into things a little bit. But certainly he’s got a repertoire and a fastball that lends itself to fly balls. So, the amount of fly balls that leave the ballpark can be somewhat luck-driven, and I think that’s a big part of it.
“But just overall, he’s one that we’ve already sat down with and suggested some differences in mixing his pitches, against what he was doing last year. And he took to it very well. He’s a guy that has always had a tremendous feel for pitching, even going back to high school. He was one of the more advanced pitchability high school pitchers that anyone had seen in a while. So, I think his ability to absorb and deploy that type of information, I think we’re going to see a very strong season from him.”
Elias said as a whole the O’s players are embracing analytics and data.
“When we started utilizing advanced information in Houston, six or seven years ago now, it was still somewhat - I don’t want to use the word ‘experimental phase,’ but it hadn’t been really implemented at the major league level. The players were acting on faith and it took some convincing, and it took years, really.
“Now players look around the league and hear their buddies on other teams talk about all the information available to them. And how much it’s helped them. And now they are hungry for it. So it’s a different environment in that regard. But the flip side of it is everyone else is using it too, so it’s a challenge.”
Thanks to Elias for taking time on Monday to sit in on Orioles.com. We’ll have another broadcast today at 1 p.m. on Orioles.com and the MLB At Bat app as the Orioles (6-3-2) host the Pirates. The Orioles’ assistant general manager for analytics, Sig Mejdal, will join us during the game, as will Jim Duquette from MLB Network Radio.