Nearly a year after he was fired after seven years as the Orioles’ top baseball executive, Dan Duquette’s influence remains strong. That might seem counterintuitive, especially since his successor, Mike Elias, has put a definitive stamp on the franchise.
Late last month, Elias dismissed 11 front office officials and scouts, some of whom Duquette hired, and others who predated him. That leaves few people in the front office with whom Duquette aworked.
Elias will continue his makeover after the minor league seasons end.
Still, while Elias has a manager, Brandon Hyde, who’s firmly in control and a coaching staff largely from outside the organization, most of the players were brought in by Duquette.
Of the 55 players used by the Orioles this season, 33 were acquired during the Duquette era. Three — Dylan Bundy, Chris Davis and Mychal Givens — came when Duquette’s predecessor, Andy MacPhail, ran the show.
Elias’ influence on the roster, already significant, will grow as he continues to make trades, waiver claims, free-agent signings and his amateur talent becomes major league ready.
But so will Duquette’s influence. Other than Elias’ sterling draft picks this June — Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers — all of the top prospects in the minor leagues were Duquette acquisitions.
Pitchers Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, DL Hall, Zac Lowther, Grayson Rodriguez and Cody Sedlock were snapped up in Duquette’s final three drafts (2016-18), allowing Elias to concentrate on position players in the first seven rounds of this year’s drafts.
Pitchers Dean Kremer, Zach Pop and Bruce Zimmermann, and outfielder Yusniel Diaz were part of the July 2018 deal that sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann are finishing the year at Triple-A Norfolk. Baumann, Lowther and Sedlock are pitching for Double-A Bowie, while Pop, who had Tommy John surgery early this season, is expected to return sometime next spring.
Diaz, whose season has been shortened by injuries, managed to improve while with the Baysox and is considered a prime outfield prospect.
Other promising Baysox players are pitcher Alex Wells, who was the organization’s Pitcher of the Year in 2017 at Low-A Delmarva, and outfielder Ryan McKenna.
Wells was signed from Australia and has had an excellent season for Bowie. McKenna’s offensive numbers are disappointing but his speed and defense make him a possible major league prospect.
Austin Hays, another high draft pick in 2016, could have a regular role in the outfield in 2020.
In the lower minors, Hall, who was the first pick in 2017, and Brenan Hanifee, a fourth-round choice in 2016, were at High-A Frederick this season, and Rodriguez, last year’s top pick, has enjoyed a brilliant year for Low-A Delmarva.
Other Duquette pickups have improved after their roles changed under the Elias administration.
Hunter Harvey, who had years of injuries, has finally made it to the major leagues six years after he was drafted. Harvey, whom the Orioles hoped would be a top-of-the-rotation starter, flourished when he was converted to the bullpen in June and projects as a dynamic late-inning reliever.
Dillon Tate, who was the centerpiece of the Zack Britton deal in July 2018, stumbled as a starter at Bowie and also moved to the bullpen. He’s shown potential as a future relief piece with the Orioles.
Ryan Mountcastle, this season’s International League Most Valuable Player and a late first-round pick in 2015, continued to show his offensive skills.
Mountcastle’s defensive improvement came after Elias listened to the recommendations of the minor league staff and agreed to move him away from the left side of the infield.
On the major league roster, Duquette gets credit for Anthony Santander, his December 2016 Rule 5 draft pick. Santander was recommended to Duquette by Bowie hitting coach Keith Bodie, who was managing Frederick when Santander played for Lynchburg in the Cleveland organization.
Another trade Duquette made in the makeover of July 2018, the deal that sent Jonathan Schoop to Milwaukee, was panned at first because Luis Ortiz, a former No. 1 pick by Texas, failed miserably in brief trials with the Orioles but now looks much better with the outstanding performance of Jonathan Villar.
Villar, who is certain to pick up some first-place votes in the Most Valuable Oriole voting, has outplayed Schoop since his acquisition, and is under club control for 2020.
Another overlooked Duquette pickup, Renato Nunez, a waiver claim in May 2018, has shown excellent raw power as the Orioles’ designated hitter this season.
John Means was an 11th-round pick by the Orioles in 2014 and has been the team’s most effective starter this season after pitching coach Doug Brocail helped him refine his changeup.
Trey Mancini, the likely MVO this year, was an eighth-round pick in 2013, and Duquette’s under-the-radar acquisitions of relievers Miguel Castro and Paul Fry have helped, too.
After the disaster of 2018 with its franchise-worst 115 losses, it was clear that a change was needed. Duquette and manager Buck Showalter had a dysfunctional relationship, and the current team of Elias and Hyde is a healthier mix.
Elias’ first year has absolutely deepened the talent pool, as was his goal, and the won-loss record will be somewhat better than it was last year.
He should be given credit for wise drafting and communicating well with Hyde. But as the Orioles improve over the next few years, some of the credit may also go to Duquette, another former scout, who’s currently out of baseball.