Taking a page from the School of Roch blog, today I’m trying to answer some of your minor league questions. Some you have specifically asked and some I’m pretty sure you may be curious about.
How did you feel about Frederick losing its O’s affiliation this week?
In a word, sad. I worked at WFMD Radio in Frederick out of college from 1982 into 1987. That was even before the Keys’ first year of 1989. I’ve been to many games there and have come to love the Frederick community and still have wonderful friends there. Frederick, and yes I am biased here, is not just a good but, I feel, a great minor league town. The Keys need to be an affiliate for someone again, and as soon as possible. I think the MLB Draft League could be fun and we could see potential first- and second-round picks play there.
But a trip to a game in Frederick, without seeing O’s prospects, will truly feel very different for me. And this will be felt by many others. I can’t help but feel that Frederick did nothing wrong - quite the opposite, really - and now this happened. The Orioles will be smart to maintain ties with the Frederick community, and they have pledged to do that. What a great community for baseball, from Little League to the pros.
So what happened with the Keys?
I guess much of this had to do with facility shortcomings. The Keys, hopefully, can upgrade or consider doing so, and maybe that will be needed to return to affiliated ball someday. For fans, though, Harry Grove Stadium must feel like a quaint and charming park, and the Keys have never had a problem with attendance. I hope the community there supports this new venture as best they can. I could foresee Frederick leading that league in attendance and doing great with this wood-bat league. All the while being a top free agent out there if and when major league clubs are looking for new minor league homes.
Will this be better for the Orioles?
Well, different for sure. Better? We’ll see. No doubt Aberdeen will be a wonderful community and site for their high Single-A club. Ripken Stadium is an awesome park and Aberdeen is important to the community in Harford County. The Orioles will still have nice homes for all their teams and players, and will remain as a club with most of its teams very close. They’ve truly had a very solid minor league situation for years, and that continues in 2021 and beyond. Birdland still extends well beyond the Baltimore beltway.
Do you have any concerns about the new arrangement?
No, not concerns. But I do wonder about young players having to now make the leap from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to low Single-A ball at Delmarva. This will be a sizable step up for players. And there is no longer a short-season buffer in the New York-Penn League. Now college draft picks will probably debut with the Shorebirds, although some will no doubt start in the GCL.
Was Frederick always going to be odd man out?
That depends on the day and which person you talked to. Right up until the night before this was announced I reached out to some in the industry who felt we could have seen a different result. And almost were expecting it.
Do the O’s truly have a top farm system now?
Well, I think it’s probably in the best shape we’ve seen it in years. I think Dan Duquette and Gary Rajsich really added some quality talent in players such as Ryan Mountcastle, DL Hall, Grayson Rodriguez, Austin Hays, John Means, Tanner Scott, to name a few. The Mike Elias front office has had what look like two solid drafts and really have fortified the infield on the farm. It should be producing results over the next few seasons. Year one of pitching development for the Elias group in 2019 was very encouraging. The data and analytics have been brought up to speed on the farm. This was very needed. If over the next three or four years the O’s start to hit on some of their international amateur talent, they truly may build that elite talent pipeline.
Which is your favorite O’s minor league stop?
Oh, no, you will not get me to answer that. That would be like asking a parent to rank their kids. OK, that might be a bit of a stretch. But I love going around Birdland - always have and always will. If I’m at a minor league park, that’s probably a pretty good day. But it’s the people I’ve met and grown to be very fond of that really make the difference. From on-field coaches to front office staff, broadcasters and those who work in the various press boxes, and even ushers and others who work at the stadiums. Always fun to see familiar faces. This is why the last few months were hard on a lot of people, wondering what changes we might see and how actual people - those that have families and bills and love their jobs - would be impacted.
Will some players skip levels after we didn’t see any minor league games in 2020?
I will imagine that answer is yes in some cases. But Elias has said it will be case-by-case, and plenty of players will no doubt start in 2021 where they would have in a normal 2020. This is not a problem, just a fact. All teams have the same deal. The O’s did right by their prospects, as best they could between the Bowie site, their instructional league, their Zoom endeavors and more. During baseball’s shutdown they even worked with players on their cooking and reading skills. Players in the Dominican Republic got to improve their English. Some players got in great work on their own and even faced former big leaguers. I think we are going to find that plenty of players took nice leaps forward even without the games. Where there is a will, there is a way. Sometimes baseball people just get it done, and this was another example.
So when will the Orioles win the World Series?
Probably 2024. Actually, I have no idea. But when the club lost 223 games over a two-year span, they had to reboot. The changes were significant and vast, and a new management team and manager took over. This had to happen because it got so bad. But the Orioles have brought in some good people and I see plenty of reasons to be confident in what they can do. I hope they are on their way to becoming one of those teams that excels in data and analytics while at the same time still employing veteran scouts who can see things that TrackMan cannot.