A scout’s take with the Jim Russo Award winner

Orioles area scout Brandon Verley noted he was in a very strange position on Tuesday at Camden Yards. He’s used to sitting in the stands at ballparks for long hours watching players. He is not used to sitting in the O’s dugout surrounded by reporters and taking questions.

But there he was, talking to us about being named the club’s Jim Russo Scout of the Year Award winner.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Verley said. “You know, as a scout, we are never really in this position, in the spotlight. It’s a great honor. It feels a little undeserved because scouting is such a team effort. So for one guy to be ... to have credit like this is a little out of character for what we do. But I’ll take it, it’s pretty cool and a great honor. Really happy to be here and represent the whole staff.”

orioles-dugout-sidebar.jpgVerley has been a key member of the Orioles’ scouting operations for more than a decade, covering first the Pacific Northwest - including Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington - from 2010 to 2019. Since 2020, Verley has covered south Florida and Puerto Rico, recommending players for the First-Year Player Draft.

The Russo Award is named for the man that spent 33 years scouting for the Orioles beginning with their move from St. Louis in 1954.

In recent drafts, Verley was the area scout for catcher Adley Rutschman, pitcher Jake Prizina, infielder Coby Mayo and this year’s round 13 pick, first baseman Jacob Teter from Florida Southern University.

Rutschman was co-winner of the O’s Minor League Player of the Year Award with Kyle Stowers and this season has produced an OPS of .903 in 121 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

“He’s done everything that we hoped and thought that he would,” said Verley. “Not only on the field, but off the field. The person he is, the leader. Doing all the little things still that he does. Being himself, he’s such a genuine person that it’s really awesome to have him be so successful and doing everything we hoped he would. Happy for him.”

The O’s selection of Mayo, 19, in round four last summer, is looking pretty good. He has had one strong season, batting .319/.426/.555/.981 in 53 games with 14 doubles, a triple, nine homers and 41 RBIs between the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and low Single-A Delmarva. He produced an OPS of .963 in 27 games for the Shorebirds.

Among O’s players on the farm with 200 or more plate appearances this year, no one topped Mayo’s .981 OPS.

“He’s taken off like a rocket and he’s a great young man,” said Verley. “Awesome to see him succeeding like he is doing. Tapping into his power and continuing to develop as a player. He went through a lot of swing changes as an amateur and then as a pro coming in, and to see him succeeding through all those changes, not only to his body but to his mechanics and what he is doing is really awesome.”

The job of scout has changed and evolved a bit in recent years and for the Orioles it underwent changes when Mike Elias and his front office came in.

“I’ve been with the Orioles since 2010, the scouting department, there have been a lot of changes. Our analytics department is beefed up, you know, a tremendous amount,” Verley said. “We rely on those guys in the office a lot more and communicate a lot more on what we’re targeting and what we are trying to do. But there is still the raw scouting aspect of it and they still rely on us for a lot of that stuff. And the opinions of makeup and the player from the scout is still important. But the target of narrowing the focus on what we are looking for has changed a little bit.”

Verley said it was uplifting for everyone in the Orioles player development operation with the club ascending this year to the No. 1 farm system organizational ranking via MLBPipeline.com and No. 2 on the Baseball America ratings.

“It’s a tremendous honor and it shows with the new way that we’re doing it and the players that we’re bringing in are performing. It’s cool but also important to continue to bring in great talent. But a feather in the cap to have those rankings definitely,” he said.

Speaking of rankings: The Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson has been ranked by Baseball America as the No. 1 player this season in the Low-A East. The O’s Colton Cowser was rated No. 8 in the same league.

Baseball America this week starting rolling out its top prospects lists for each league. To make a list, a player had to have 120 plate appearances or 40 innings in a full-season league, or 50 plate appearances or 15 innings in a complex league.

Henderson had a big year between three levels, batting .258/.350/.476/.826, but he started the year with Low-A Delmarva. In 35 games there, his bat was something to watch. He hit .312 with a .944 OPS, eight homers and 39 RBIs. He moved to Aberdeen, and after a 1-for-31, start finished with an OPS of .775 in 65 games there. He ended the year with Double-A Bowie in the playoffs. Henderson was rated as the No. 9 prospect for Aberdeen in the High-A East.

We mentioned Mayo earlier and posted his great stats from 2021, and he was named by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect for the Florida Complex League. He showed the plus arm and power this year both there and at Delmarva.

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