So the question has now been asked countless times: Does the shutdown of baseball hurt a rebuilding team like the Orioles?
An obvious answer is yes, because young players, especially those in the minors, are not getting at-bats or innings right now. They’re not working with coaches and gaining information from data and analytics. They are not competing against an opponent and learning how doing the small things right can lead to big wins and big personal gains.
The good news is that no team is gaining any edge on the Orioles. They are all in the same boat and no young prospects are playing games right now.
Fans have asked if prospects should be skipped levels or moved faster whenever the games return. I certainly don’t think so or even really understand the concept. I do understand that any fan would be excited to see Grayson Rodriguez, Adley Rutschman or Yusniel Diaz, for instance, get to the majors as fast they can. But this shutdown should not, for me, alter the player development plan.
If the Orioles intended for Rodriguez to pitch for some, most or all of the 2020 season at Single-A Frederick, he should start there whenever the game returns. If Rutschman was going to Frederick for half a year and then on to Double-A Bowie for the second half, they should stick to that plan.
If they change plans now, in a worst-case scenario, it could have damaging results. Say a player is moved too fast to a higher level, struggles badly and then loses confidence. Now you may have to send that player back down a level. Down after he’s already missed however many games players miss this year. It could be a double setback of sorts.
Former O’s general manager Andy MacPhail often said it was better to promote a prospect one month too late rather than too soon. He was talking about moving a prospect to the major leagues. But I believe the same applies between levels on the farm.
The Orioles are an organization right now trying to build a long-term winner and get their rebuild right the first time. However long that takes. There are no magic shortcuts. Prospects like Rutschman, Rodriguez, Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle and many others create fan excitement. They can’t wait to see them in Baltimore. Who doesn’t understand that? But that excitement would wear off quickly if, after a month, one of those players is batting .180. Or has an ERA of 5.80.
Left unsaid - and this probably applies to all fans - is that they want to see them as soon as they can and they want them to succeed. You may not be able to get the second if you skimp on the time it takes for the first part.
The coronavirus will have ramifications for baseball that may last years. No games means no chances for the Orioles to get better and advance their rebuild right now. But there is simply nothing anyone can do about that.
Along the way, there may be rare players on the farm that can either skip a level or get through one and on to the next quickly. I’m sure the Orioles will adapt with such a player if and when the time comes.
But for now, what would seem to be the prudent thing for prospects would be to keep the plans in place for them that club management had in mind before the sport was shut down.