When he makes his second major league start Sunday afternoon at Boston, we might be reminded that lefty John Means beat some odds to get to that mound at Fenway Park.
He was not a high draft pick, selected in round 11 in 2014 out of West Virginia University. He was never a highly ranked prospect and has never been listed among the Orioles’ top 30 prospects by Baseball America. Numerous times, he saw others rated more highly get more attention, but he slowly and surely kept moving his way up the Orioles minor league ladder.
He’s pitched at all the stops from the lowest levels on the farm on up. He’s pitched in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, at short-season Single-A Aberdeen, at Single-A Delmarva, Single-A Frederick, Double-A Bowie and last year at Triple-A Norfolk. That adds up to 114 career minor league starts over 623 innings with a 3.83 ERA.
He never put up eye-catching stats, but just kept progressing, even if it happened slowly at times. Means spent time at Frederick in both 2015 and 2016 and Bowie for parts of three seasons from 2016-2018.
He learned, kept working, developed as a pitcher and got better. He went to spring training this year, once again flying well under the radar. But now he’s in the majors and next up is a game in Boston against the defending World Series champions.
“Spending as much time as I did at every level, you kind of learn how to deal with adversity and deal with that long dragging season in the same place over and over again. I spent like three different seasons in Bowie and you learn how to grind through that,” said Means, who went 6-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 games with Norfolk last summer.
So what about flying under the radar and never getting the prospect attention of more highly rated players?
“I’d say it’s kind of hard not to notice that,” said Means. “But at the same time, it kind of helps motivate you more. Sometimes with the first- and second-rounders, there is a lot on the line for them. They get a lot of publicity. They are written about if they are doing bad or if they are doing good.
“There are guys like me and others on this team - they don’t get written about much until they make it. That is the biggest difference, I think. It’s kind of nice, but once you get here, it’s kind of a culture shock.”
By that, Means meant the heavy media attention players get in the majors after all those years on the farm, when many nights there was no one waiting at his locker after the game.
I asked Means about working with all the different pitching coaches he did in the minors. Was there a similar message he got throughout?
“We all pretty much had the same mentality and same core beliefs,” he said. “But, yeah, you kind of take what every pitching coach gives you. Kennie (Steenstra) is a lot different than Griff (Mike Griffin). Blaine Beatty is a lot different than Lordy (Justin Lord). You take what you can use. Every pitcher is different. This game is so interesting in that way. How everyone is completely different. You stick to what is good for you.”
Did he connect more with any of his coaches?
“Probably with the guys I spent the most time with I got closer to,” he said. “I didn’t have Lord or Blaine for very long. But I spent a lot of time with Kennie and Griff. We got through some stuff. That is what this game is about, getting through adversity and you build a bond with them.”
Means said he would give the O’s player development system kudos for helping him reach the majors and now he’ll try to stay there. He knows the O’s farm system gets criticism for not sending enough pitchers that have excelled to the big leagues.
“I think a lot of that, as weird as it sounds, is luck,” Means said. “I think that plays a bigger part than people realize. And developing is something that we are capable of doing. Some guys, like Hunter Harvey, fluke accidents happen. He got hit by a ball in the dugout and got hurt. It’s unbelievable what some of these guys are going through.
“It’s not really the development side of it (that is an issue), as much as its bad luck. Now that all these guys are healthy - Hunter is back and throwing well - they are really going to help this team out.”
Rodriguez shines again on the farm: Speaking of pitching on the farm, 2018 O’s top pick Grayson Rodriguez had another strong game for Delmarva in last night’s 5-3 over Lakewood that leaves the Shorebirds at 6-1. The 19-year-old right-hander threw six scoreless innings on one hit with 10 strikeouts. Through two starts, Rodriguez has pitched 11 innings, allowing no runs on three hits with five walks and 20 strikeouts. Opponents are batting .086 against him and his WHIP is 0.73.
The top three hitters in the Shorebirds order combined to go 9-for-13 with four runs and three RBIs. Cadyn Grenier finished 3-for-5 with a run scored, while Robert Neustrom went 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI, and Adam Hall was 3-for-4 with a double, run and two driven in.
Norfolk beat Toledo 6-5 and lefty Keegan Akin fanned 10 over six innings, allowing four hits and two runs. Akin threw 78 pitches and remarkably 65 were strikes. He threw 13 balls out of the strike zone over six innings.
DJ Stewart had three hits, including a two-run homer for the Tides. He is batting .444 (8-for-18) during a six-game hitting streak. Chance Sisco had two hits, including a two-run single. Norfolk’s offense produced just 10 runs in its first six games and they’ve scored 20 runs the past three contests.
Bowie lost at home 4-2 to Harrisburg. Harvey allowed a grand slam to Drew Ward, and gave up three hits and those four runs in four innings. He has an ERA of 8.31 through two starts. Yusniel Diaz went 2-for-5 with a triple.