As the Orioles look to build what executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has called an “elite talent pipeline,” the minor leagues and player development obviously will be critical.
On Sept. 16, the Orioles and Elias hired Matt Blood, 34, as their new director of player development. Last November, the Texas Rangers hired him as the club’s director of player development. He moved to the role of director of baseball innovation in August. For three years before joining Texas, he was the director of USA Baseball’s 18-and-under national team.
For seven seasons, Blood was an area scout with the St. Louis Cardinals, working with Elias and Orioles assistant general manager Sig Mejdal. Before he joined the Cardinals, Blood spent a brief time as a prospects writer for Baseball America. He is a 2007 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Recently in this story, Blood told me about the club’s plan to have five full-time coaches on the farm next year. I can’t remember a time when the O’s had so many.
Today, here’s a question-and-answer session with Blood from that recent interview. We’ll have even more with him later.
What drew you to the O’s? The obvious assumption is your previous relationship with Elias and Mejdal?
“That is what it was. I get excited about culture and vision and trying to do something as well as possible. And I’m aligned with Mike and Sig. I’ve learned a lot from my interactions with them and that has ultimately helped me develop who I am and things that I believe. We all have our differences and are very comfortable discussing ideas. But ultimately, we all want the same thing and have a similar idea of our vision. So the opportunity to come on board with them, it’s basically a blank slate. To create this with them is really exciting. That is why I left Texas. I didn’t want to leave there so soon, but this is a unique opportunity.”
In terms of running the minor leagues, the Orioles have pretty much always had a director of player development. But in the chain of command, that person is under the GM. So when it comes to specifics like promotions, staffing rosters, how to use specific pitchers and so forth, does most of that fall to you? Will Elias still have his say as well?
“Yeah, Mike is involved in everything as the general manager. We do our best to handle decisions that need to be made that he doesn’t necessarily need to be involved in, but we also have the feel of when he needs to be involved. Ultimately, it’s his vision and organization. I’ll run just about everything through him that I feel is important for him to know. Also, Kent Qualls (director of minor league operations) is here and Kent is a very big part of all that as well. He and I work just about hand in hand on everything. I would say it’s a combination of all three of us. Mike ultimately has the final say.”
Let’s talk about promotions. Generally speaking, what kind of things will you look at? Do young guys move slower early and faster later? How important is the stat sheet and age? What are some thoughts on promoting players?
“Well, each player and situation is different so it’s hard to give a blanket statement. But then again, my answer is going to be we are going to try and be as systematic about it as we can. So we’re going to use data, we’ll look at performance, we’ll look at age, we’re going to look at trajectory. Also years in the minors to Rule 5. All of that goes into it. Also who is in front of and behind that player.
“The answer there is we want to put our players in position to develop as well as possible. That is a combination of challenging them just enough at just the right speed. So I don’t think there is a blanket answer, but we want to continually challenge our guys. We don’t want them to get complacent. We don’t want them to be in a situation where they are not getting better. I don’t know if that answers your question totally. It’s a combination of aggressive and calculated and careful as well. We want to do things for a reason and not just on a whim.”
Hey, it’s a complex thing. You may have one plan for a player and find out by May he’s come much faster or not as fast as you expect. I’m sure being willing to go to Plan B or C may also be a part of this.
“Totally. Exactly right.”
Matt, do you plan to be out often watching teams or are you a guy who should be in one central spot in the office getting reports? How much do you have to be in the field, so to speak?
“I want to get out and be with our coaches and players as much as I can. I have a lot of people and players to meet and get to know. During the season, I imagine I will be very visible at affiliates. But also I will be here in the office, too, trying to set up processes and the future. In will be a combination of both. I definitely want to leave our coaches alone to do their jobs, but also want to be in touch with what they need to do the job as well as possible.”
Technology programs are a big part of this. It was mentioned in the press release announcing your hiring. We saw more technology with the Orioles in 2019 than before. Where do the O’s stand today in terms of where you want them to eventually be? Is a lot already in place?
“The overarching answer is we want to deliberately practice. And to do that, you need evidence-based reasons and feedback and focus. So we want use data and technology that allows us to know what and why we are working on. That is the beauty of technology. Is that it’s validated, and if you use it correctly, then you can know exactly what needs to be improved and then you can know exactly how well it is being improved.
“That’s why we use data and technology. Any technology that allows us to do that, we’re going to find and we’re going to use. We’re not going to just do it for the sake of using technology. We need it to be validated and we need to know why we are using it. There is a bit of give and take there. But that is probably the best answer I can give you without giving you the whole farm as to everything that we are doing.”
Some of this is no doubt proprietary and you don’t want to say much about because not everyone in baseball needs to know what you are doing, I would guess?
“That’s a good way to put it. No, I mean all teams are doing this. But we’re going to try the way we’re going to try and see how it goes.”
You were not here yet, but maybe Single-A Delmarva pitching in 2019 is a good example of this. New pitching coach Justin Ramsey is clearly versed in technology in addition to being a good coach. The 2019 Shorebirds set a South Atlantic League strikeouts record, led the league in ERA and WHIP, and yielded the fewest homers. Is this the kind of result you’d like technology to help produce organization-wide?
“Yeah, players just want to get better. If they feel like you can get them better and the technology can improve them, they will buy in and that is what it’s really about. Just being able to show them why we want to do what we’re doing with the coaching.
“Sometimes it is a little different then the coaching they have been receiving for a while. But it more focuses them in on the why. And then they can get feedback on how they are doing and progressing. And you can tailor and tweak your technique very specifically to see this is not getting him better in the area where he needs because the numbers and technology is telling us that. So you need to tweak it. This allows the players to understand the why and to get feedback to fully buy in. It also helps the coach know what works and he’s being held accountable.”
Coming soon in this space, more with Blood. I asked this question: Amid all the data, technology and analytics, where does winning fit in on the farm?