As much as it’s fun to bop around outside the outfield fences and peer through the cracks of Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, there’s a need to focus on what’s really happening inside. The Orioles minor league system has gone from among the sport’s worst to ranked in the top tier and it happened rather quickly. There are so many reasons for this surge but the most responsible contributing factor is capable human beings.
Not Just the Players
Recent drafts and trades have worked in favor of the Orioles and any industry source would have to agree, uncommon for their long suffering fans. The sport’s top overall prospect Adley Rutschman is in the system. Appropriately so is the top prospect arm, Grayson Rodriguez. I’ll spare you the encyclopedia but there’s lots of names. A massive amount.
The players I’ve watched mature over the last few years are or have become excellent baseball performers. But that’s not enough and the staff on hand to make them the absolute best version of themselves has been putting in just as much work.
A few years ago there was infield coordinator named Tim DeJohn, a young baseball coach whose dad kept the Cardinals good for a large majority of my life as their farm director. Tim’s prodigies have excelled and developed their skills to a higher level so he gets a bump up. He’s now at AA Bowie guiding these guys along keeping the message consistent and the attitude upbeat. Over the course of a long hot season away from your home and loved ones, DJ is the guy who reminds you that it could be a lot worse. He’s also the expert in fundamentals that makes you aim your throws across the infield or find that perfect pre-pitch stance a little better.
A Live Look
I’ve always wondered how it feels to be playing a role as important as his has become. When asked, he said it was a mix of fit and luck. ‘I just feel extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have so much responsibility with this organization. It’s energizing to come to the facility every day and look around and see the amount of talented players we have from top to bottom. The Tide is definitely Rising’.
My very first day at camp years ago I was handed a roster but noticed there was more than one #99. In fact, there was more than two! I looked at a coach, asked him who was who and he gave me an answer that I’ll never forget. ‘If they’re a pitcher I don’t know them and don’t want to, it’s my 1st day and I do hitting’. That helped me understand the divide between the 2 groups so much better than I did. Coach Matt Packer has come a long way since then too. I’m happy to say he’ll be the skipper of one of the rookie league squads here starting in July. Watching him interact and encourage his groups at camp he’s the type of coach who is in touch with the age tier of their prospects and a great choice to argue with umps over ground rule doubles in the searing summer sun. Fans should look forward to him leading the Sarasota version of the O’s this year.
Another coach who I’ve seen for years developing his voice and style is Christian Frias. He’ll be the skipper of the other rookie league team taking on the Twins, Rays, Braves, Red Sox and (on Fridays) the other O’s version. Frias knows all the players inside and out, knows my mistakes and has helped me with IDs and judgments in my evaluation. Frias is as educated on the international prospects and their exact points in development as anyone I’ve ever talked to. He’s an asset to the young players coming up and seems to be the most natural educator of the group. Im watching a teacher at heart, the caring makes a huge difference. He yearns to see his kids excel.
Creme de la Creme
Perhaps the most impressive to me is a coach that I have yet to meet in person but have seen work regularly, rookie league pitching coordinator Adam Bleday. It’s Bleday who makes the trip to the mound in the hot when his guys are getting blown up. In 2021 his cleats wore thin from the distance. But instinct tells me that the Ivy League prepped coach was gaining in experience every trip so the next generation of arms will benefit from that adversity. Yet another example of a future baseball lifer starting out what appears to be an impressive career in the game.
There’s a minicamp going on now in Sarasota where these teachers are laying the foundation that the future will be built on. Instructing, fungo-ing, encouraging, demonstrating and BP tossing. A camp like this is the environment where they can show their instructional acumen then suit up alongside the players and a few execs who join in to get exercise in the Florida sun.
I don’t know how much fans realize the importance of these types of instructors. Watching the O’s my whole life I’ve known some of the names. Ellie, Crowley, Bosman, Perlozzo, Miller, Ripken Sr. But I’ve never known what they do day to day or over time. Following this newer generation of coaches then watching the players improve because of them has opened my eyes to the true scope of their job. Without some of these resources, a group that includes translators, trainers and medical professionals, the organization would simply not be able to rebuild. When the team is on top again and winning games that matter, please don’t forget the contributions of these Orange and Black educators giving their all to get back there. The time for their lessons to lead to wins is coming very soon.