As I talked with and interviewed several hitters that were having big seasons on the Orioles farm during the 2021 season, it became clear that those players believed in the organization’s hitting program. At times, we saw that program embrace the talent it drafted and acquired and turn their program into results.
It was likely encouraging for Birdland to see this and yesterday it led to Double-A Bowie hitting coach Ryan Fuller getting promoted to the major league staff. Fuller joins Matt Borgschulte from the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A team as co-hitting coaches for the 2022 Orioles.
Both are just 31 and could have hitters on the team older than they are. But this is also true about Fuller. He seemed to be a rising star in the organization during the 2021 season and now moving forward. Some hitters that thrived on his watch this season at Bowie will see him again as they move up to the majors.
The plan is easy to decipher: Get to know them and build trust and relationships on the farm. They ride it all into the major league clubhouse.
It was clear that several hitters clicked with Fuller at Bowie this year. And the Baysox ranked tied for first in their league in runs scored, averaging 5.23 per game. Bowie ranked second in its league in homers, tied for third in OPS, and tied for fourth in OBP and slugging in a 12-team league.
Baysox third baseman Patrick Dorrian played in 112 games for Bowie and produced 22 homers, 67 RBIs and an OPS of .836. That was much improved from his .714 OPS in 2019. In a late-season interview, Dorrian told me about the strong communication he had going with Fuller this season.
Dorrian said that thoughts on hitting come to him throughout the day and he’ll reach out to Fuller to discuss them. He might watch a YouTube video or see an article that intrigues him. And Fuller, he said, is then readily available and is happy to be on the other end of the communication.
“Whether it’s one in the afternoon or midnight, you can send Fuller a text. He’ll give me what he thinks and I’ll send my thoughts. The feedback and communication is fantastic,” Dorrian said.
Some players’ OPS numbers with Bowie this year:
So when some or all of this group gets to Baltimore in 2022 or beyond, they should already have a comfort level with one of the hitting coaches.
Neustrom, who played in 62 games this year for Bowie and 64 at Triple-A Norfolk, told me after the 2021 season that there was a good energy on the farm this year, and he credited the coaches for that.
“They brought the energy every day,” he said. “As a player, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one going through the grind. But you know, realistically, the coaches are going through that same grind, too. They pushed us every day. Every day. We worked hard, and at the end of the day, it made a lot of us way better.
“At the end of the day, if you want to accomplish something as exceptional as playing in MLB, you’ve got to put in the hours and the focus. They did a great job of keeping us doing that all year.”
We heard a lot about swing decisions this season and how the Orioles provide players feedback on such decisions. On the farm, the hitting philosophy was seemingly pretty simple. Executing it well may be another thing. But the basic gist of it was to put your A swing on the ball every time and offer only at very hittable pitches. Think middle-middle. Let the pitch you cannot do damage with, that down-and-away, strike-to-ball breaking pitching, go by without a swing. Too hard to do drive that one.
Infielder Jordan Westburg also told me in one interview how much he liked the O’s hitting program and hitting coaches. And he played at three levels this year, ending it with Fuller in Bowie.
“I think our hitting staff - and this is coming from a hitter - does a great job of preparing scouting reports for us,” Westburg said in that September interview. “You can look at those and start to formulate your own plan before we even get into the game. They also do a great job of challenging us in BP. Our BP is not your average day at the ballpark where you get four rounds of five or six swings, just fastballs down the middle. You are seeing breaking balls, you’re seeing changeups. You are seeing similar pitches to what you will see that night being thrown in BP. We use the machines, too. They do a good job of challenging us so when game time rolls around you’ve seen just about everything that you might see that night, and it makes it a little easier.
“Baseball is a tough game and always very hard, but it just makes us more prepared. I’m thankful that the Orioles have implemented this new school of thought, and I think it’s shown with all our hitters. All the hitting coaches at every level I’ve been - including now Ryan Fuller - they’ve done a fantastic job with the hitters. The numbers speak for themselves. We’ve had a lot of different guys produce at a lot of levels, and it’s cool to see.”
Also during the year, I wrote this article where Fuller talked about the O’s approach to batting practice on the farm in 2021 when hitters would see much more than just slow and grooved fastballs down the middle.