In the minor leagues, winning is not everything. In fact, it may rank a few steps down the line. You can develop players while your team wins, but it’s not a prerequisite.
You can certainly develop players on teams that don’t win. It happens often.
It’s pretty clear that the primary goal on the O’s farm again in 2020 is for individual players to get better and to try to get them to the majors. That is job one, and the rest of the tasks are down the board.
It stands to reason that on a team of 25 players, if most of them get better during the year, the team should improve.
One scout told me he believes that winning is helpful but not necessary in player development. He used the example of a team pushing for the playoffs late in the year. That team might be more focused on advancing runners in close games, holding runners on the bases, throwing to the right base and keeping the double play in order than would a club playing out the string at the end of a losing season. Retaining that focus while in a pennant race could both help the team win and help players develop.
In mid-September the Orioles hired Matt Blood as their director of player development. He’ll have a big role in their minor league operation.
I did a series of interviews with Blood that were published in October and November. We spent some time discussing the importance of winning on the farm.
Blood said: “We’re all competitive and we all want to win. A winning environment is where you are more focused and where you learn more and have more, I guess, motivation, you could say. But we’re not going to preach winning. We are going to do our best to develop players, and our hope is that we will win. And we’ll win because we’ve developed better players. That is a result of the process. It is not going to be what our coaches will be evaluated on. They will be evaluated on players getting better.
“I will say we want a winning culture. But we aren’t going to preach to our staffs that they need to try and win every game if that comes at the expense of developing a player. For example, we have a lefty hitting prospect that we want to get at-bats against left-handed pitching and we’re late in a game and the other team has a tough lefty on the mound. We could have a right-handed hitter in place of him and maybe that gives us a better chance to win that game. But we’d rather have the left-handed hitting prospect get that experience against that left-handed pitcher than potentially a better chance to win that game.”
To further emphasize his take, Blood expanded on his answer.
“Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to be a de-emphasis on playing winning baseball,” he said.” We’re going to want to play winning baseball in terms of the fundamentals and the effort that we give. It’s just, to me, winning is a result and we’re going to be more focused on the process. That process of developing players. That is, ultimately, our job. We’d love to have a winning culture and to teach these players how to win. And our hope is that will happen through development.”
In the first year under new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, the O’s did have a winning overall year on the farm.
The Orioles’ minor league record in 2019 for all affiliates was 421-393, the 10th-best mark by organizational winning percentage (.517) among all 30 clubs.
Baseball America ran this list of the clubs with the best win percentages on the farm. It included only domestic affiliates, and with this ranking the Orioles were ninth at .526.
In case you missed this: Blood told us about the organization’s move to having five coaches at each minor league club here. Each affiliate will have both a fundamentals coach and a development coach. In this entry, Blood covered several different topics.
So developing players is job one for the minor league staff, but where should winning rank in the process?