Were this a “normal” baseball season, players would be getting into games on the farm and getting plenty of at-bats and innings in during minor league games. It would provide chances to improve their skills and advance their careers.
Without that this year, the Orioles have tried to develop a strong Plan B at their alternate site at Prince George’s Stadium, home of the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Players get at-bats and innings, but against players from their own farm system and organization. But with a number of coaches there, in addition to an extensive use of technology, we may be seeing that the Orioles are thriving in some respects. Even without minor league games.
Perhaps left fielder Ryan Mountcastle would not have gotten the same very targeted and focused development work he did in Bowie this year had he been playing in games at Triple-A Norfolk.
During an interview Sunday on my postgame radio show “Extra Innings” on 105.7 The Fan, O’s director of player development Matt Blood gave some thoughts on this.
“It’s definitely a unique development opportunity,” he said. “Where the players are able to do a little bit of deep learning without the pressures of a season, without the pressures of statistics that will be tied to them forever. You’re a little more willing to try things, a little more willing to fail and really do some cleaning up or improvements.
“What has been neat to see is that (even with) the difference in ages and experience levels, how everyone is working on different things. I would say our staff has learned a great deal during this time and it’s been a fantastic opportunity for all the guys. But especially for the younger guys, like Gunnar Henderson and Adley (Rutschman). Those type of guys wouldn’t be facing this type of competition yet, and they’re really getting some good exposure.”
Recently, reliever Evan Phillips spent 12 days at the Bowie alternate site before being recalled to the Orioles roster four days ago.
“Honestly, yes,” said Phillips. “You go down there and you are pitching against your teammates and it really does afford you the opportunity to get some real work in. And that is what I was able to do. I was able to pitch twice, and I feel like I knocked out a lot of things and cleared a lot of hurdles to get myself back here. I hope that continues up here.
“It’s definitely a different environment being there, and there are not fans and you are facing your own guys. You don’t really get to have that game-like experience, but it’s really more of, like, an elevated bullpen. You can get that work in on some finite things that you can’t do in a Triple-A game during a normal season.”
Phillips had specific things he could work on, while not worried that giving up runs or having a bad game would keep him from returning to the majors.
“My focus was to get in tune with my delivery again,” he said. “And get more consistency with my body. Because when things are going bad there is always a route to it. And for me, it’s from the ground up. Getting back into the balance of my body and getting to feel that on the mound in a game-like situation, where the results really don’t matter, you can make quick adjustments and see what feels good. Really, I found a couple of things that helped me get back into my delivery.”
Gary Kendall, scheduled to manage again this year at Triple-A Norfolk, and Buck Britton, who was set to again be skipper at Bowie, are leading that alternate-site camp.
Kendall said he’s seen veteran players be very helpful to very young players at Bowie. He said the camp has provided guys the chance to stay ready should they be called to Baltimore. At the same time, it’s been a real positive player-development experience for the players that need that the most.
“Everybody knows, for us to be successful, it’s going to have to come from what we reap and sow in the minor leagues,” said Kendall. “So, I think there is really good understanding of that, and these guys are open to helping each other.
“There is a lot of thought process put into our development. 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.”
It was the most runs the Orioles have scored since winning 11-4 at Philadelphia on Aug. 13. In going 8-6 against National League teams, the Orioles have scored 5.71 runs per game. In going 8-13 versus American League teams, they have averaged 4.53 runs per game.
José Iglesias went 2-for-5 and has produced six consecutive multi-hit games. He is batting .448 (13-for-29) during that span and is batting .405 on the season. Cedric Mullins reached on his majors-leading seventh bunt hit to start the game and scored on Núñez’s three-run homer. Santander produced his 10th multi-RBI game and Pat Valaika had a career-best four hits.
Movin’ on up: MLBPipeline.com released new farm system organizational rankings last night, and the Orioles have moved up from No. 13 to No. 8. All nine players the Orioles acquired during the June draft and the recent trades are ranked in their MLBPipeline top 30.
Check out the farm system rankings here.