While the Orioles have gotten off to a solid start to their season, the players not currently on their roster but on the 60-man player pool get their work in at the alternate site at Double-A Bowie. And while they wait for a call that might never come, the players there go beyond just getting themselves ready.
According to Gary Kendall, one of the managers from the O’s farm at the Bowie site along with Buck Britton, veteran players are sharing information with young players. They are trying to help them get better. They’re all Orioles and some of the younger players there are finding out if they want help, it’s everywhere they look. It’s coming from staff members, it’s coming from the club’s extensive technology on display there and it’s coming from others in uniform.
Kendall was a guest over the weekend on my “Extra Innings” postgame radio show on 105.7 The Fan.
“It’s friendly competition,” he said. “The players are trying to improve daily, and who knows what can happen (with a possible call-up). You are trying to prepare as much as you can to help the major league club. And yes, we have some veterans and rookies. We have a great catcher mix in Taylor Davis, Austin Wynns and Adley Rutschman. They are very, very supportive, and when we do catcher’s defense they are very open to sharing information. The same thing when we have a Dilson Herrera and Ramón Urías, and then we just got a (young infield prospect) Gunnar Henderson.
“Everybody knows, for us to be successful, it’s going to have to come from what we reap and sow in the minor leagues. So, I think there is really good understanding of that and these guys are open to helping each other. It’s not just the staff developing the players, but these players are about ‘What can I do to help certain guys get to their goals?’”
Kendall and Britton are joined by pitching coaches Kennie Steenstra and Justin Ramsey. Other coaches at Bowie include Butch Davis, Tom Eller, Ryan Fuller, Anthony Villa and Ramon Sambo.
Among the pitchers right now at the Bowie camp are lefties DL Hall, Bruce Zimmermann, Brian Gonzalez and Rob Zastryzny. Right-handers include Cody Carroll, Eric Hanhold, Branden Kline, Chandler Shepherd, César Valdez, Michael Baumann, Isaac Mattson, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish. Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate, on the injured list currently, are likely spending time at Bowie as well.
“There is a lot of thought process put into our development,” Kendall said. “In a rebuild with a real commitment to our future, we’ve got to get these players right and get them ready. So, (we need) to have that kind of drive to keep developing. It’s a growth mindset and we have to keep the hammer down. I do think a lot of time is spent on the process of developing these players. In this market we are not going to spend money some other clubs wave around. I think we’re committed to this, and I like the guys we see. There’s hunger, there is mindset, there is talent and ability. It is just an exciting time.”
While players are not playing in minor league games and getting that competition daily, they do play against each other at Bowie, whether it’s an intrasquad or sim game situation. The organization keeps stats and keeps tabs on how the players are doing.
Kendall said they even put some of the readings on pitches and batted balls from technology such as TrackMan on the scoreboard for players to see in real time. There are the high-speed cameras available to track individual pitches and provide data for the hurlers. The staff and players get and review the information daily.
While fans wait to see when Mountcastle might get the call, Kendall is someone well versed to talk about the young slugger. He managed him in 2018 at Bowie and again last year at Triple-A Norfolk, when he was the International League MVP.
Is he close to big league ready?
“To me, it depends on what is their need up there,” Kendall said. “He is doing a lot of good things here. He’s driving the ball out of the ballpark, hitting line drives and hitting the ball to all fields. And he’s improving in left field. We’d certainly like, in our minds, to know that when Ryan goes to the big leagues, Ryan is going to stay in the big league. That is a big thing. I don’t think it’s good to send him up and the first slump he is back down with us. So there is a process there and a mindset, and we’re all behind that and on board with that. There is no rush. But Ryan is doing a nice job and I see him getting better. He’s in the outfield grinding it out and working on his routes.
“Do I think he’s close? Based on things I’ve seen in the past and my experience, yeah, he’s close. But, I mean, it’s just about what the organization wants to do and if it’s the right thing at the time. But he’s a special guy and he brings a lot to the table.”
Kendall believes fans should know there is a lot of going on down below right now. The Orioles player development system likes to use the phrase “rising tide.”
“When I look at our players and I look where they come from, some of the colleges and some of the programs and some of the technology they have already been exposed to, when I look at these players they are more refined, more intelligent,” Kendall said. “They are ready to go. They’re ready to be challenged.
“As an organization, I think we’re closer than a lot of people think. I look at the guys we have in our system and the guys we are going to be adding to our system, some of arms, outfielders that are in the minors, and I see a lot of athleticism. I see what other clubs have in their Double-A and Triple-A levels, and of course teams can go out and buy players, but I like where we’re headed. There is a lot of ability and athleticism, and there is a lot of hunger. There are guys that want to turn this around and I think we’re closer than people think.
“Look at our bullpen. It’s a pretty good bullpen. And these guys have had some bumps in the road. Tanner Scott, it hasn’t been handed to him. So far those guys have gone out and earned it. Some of these guys like Tanner and (Miguel) Castro. I saw (Cole) Sulser last year at Durham. He’s a real polished reliever and we’ve got guys on their way. And I’m leaving a lot of names out. But I see a lot of ability and hunger and guys that want to get there.”