Elias is following blueprint in rebuilding Orioles' talent - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Elias is following blueprint in rebuilding Orioles’ talent

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

In 2019, Orioles general manager Mike Elias was quiet at the trade deadline. His only move came earlier in July when he traded the Orioles’ most effective starter in the first half of the season, Andrew Cashner, to the Boston Red Sox for two Dominican Summer League prospects.

After last season ended, Elias got busier, peddling infielder Jonathan Villar, who was entering his last year of arbitration eligibility, to the Miami Marlins for 23-year-old left-hander Easton Lucas on December 2nd.

Two days later, Dylan Bundy, two years away from free agency, was off to the Los Angeles Angels for four right-handed pitchers — Kyle Bradish (23), Kyle Brnovich (22), Isaac Mattson (25) and Zach Peek (22).

Last month, he traded pitchers Hector Velázquez and Richard Bleier to Boston and Miami for players to be named later.

On Sunday, Elias traded left-handed starter Tommy Milone to Atlanta for another player to be named later. Less than three hours later, reliever Mychal Givens was dealt to Colorado for another player to be named later and two 23-year-old infield prospects, Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra.

When he was hired to run the Orioles’ baseball operations on November 16, 2018, Elias said his goal was to build an elite talent pipeline.

After two drafts in which the Orioles added catcher Adley Rutschman, shortstop Gunnar Henderson, outfielder Heston Kjerstad and five other infielders with top picks, fans might wonder if Elias was close to selling off veterans and soon would have the foundation to focus on winning.

“Our system has improved a ton,” Elias said on Sunday night in a video conference call. “I think, at this point, it’s a really consensus top 12, top 10 system, and arguably higher, and that’s great.”

Elias inherited some prospects from the Dan Duquette regime — left-handed pitcher DL Hall and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the top draft picks in 2017 and 2018. Both are at the Bowie secondary site.

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“We were starting where there was no talent coming from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic of any note,” Elias said. “It continues to require some catch-up, and we’ll continue to work on that.”

The Orioles were aggressive in July 2019, signing some highly regarded international prospects, but their next class will have to wait until January 2021 when the next international signing period begins.

“I think the organization has drafted well the last few years,” he said. “That goes well beyond when I started, and I think you’ve seen with some improvement in the player development approach that some of these guys blossomed and improved their stock internally, and that’s helped our system rise as well.”

Elias said that he would continue to look for deals before the trade deadline at 4 p.m. on Monday. If he can unload Alex Cobb’s salary — he’s in the third year of a four-year $57 million contract — it will likely be for more prospects.

“We’re just going to keep it going,” Elias said. “You never think your farm system is good enough.”

Fifteen of the 28 players on the Orioles’ roster were in their organization when Elias arrived.

“When we start to see we have enough building blocks on that major league roster, or at least close to it, we will start thinking of shifting our priorities to augmenting that,” Elias said.

“I don’t think we’re at that point. We’re still in a talent collection mode right now.”

Nevin and Vavra will join Bradish and Mattson at the Bowie alternate site. Elias thinks that Nevin will be Triple-A Norfolk’s starting first baseman in 2021, and that Vavra will be valuable.

“We’ve been accumulating infielders the last year or so,” Elias said. “He fits right in with that group. He gives us another really high quality guy. He can play shortstop, a really good second baseman, kind of a plus-contact bat from the left side, really good control of the strike zone, liked him coming out of the draft, gamer-style makeup.”

Nevin “has been a very attractive and very productive hitter since he signed in 2015. Really good up through the [Arizona] Fall League last year. Had a very solid Double-A at age 22,” Elias said.

Elias sent an email to season-ticket holders after he was hired, writing that he thought the team had four key pieces. Two of them, starting pitcher Dylan Bundy and Givens, have been traded. A third, outfielder/first baseman Trey Mancini, won’t play this season after colon cancer surgery. A fourth, outfielder Cedric Mullins, has been playing center field since Austin Hays fractured a rib.

Elias has affection for Givens, who was the only active member of the last Orioles postseason team in 2016 and pitched for six seasons with the club. None of the current 28 even played the entire 2017 season with the Orioles.

“Mychal’s an impact reliever, and he’s somebody who’s been an Oriole for so long,” Elias said. “As I told him today, he’s going to be an Oriole for life. He’s going to be part of this organization well after he retires. He meant a lot to our organization on and off the field for a really long time, and we’re going to miss him.”

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. millboy

    August 31, 2020 at 7:25 am

    Hopefully next year we’ll see some of these young pitchers with clearly defined roles. When you constantly shuttle some of these guys back and forth, it’s got to have a negative impact on their confidence and regimen. Thanks Rich for the great articles as always.

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 31, 2020 at 11:37 am

      Thank you, Millboy.

  2. mlbbirdfan

    August 31, 2020 at 8:55 am

    We’re better than expected, even though we probably won’t finish with 20 wins. Player development is key! We’re showing improved plate patience, and defense when Iglesias and Hays are healthy. Like that we’re stockpiling pitchers!

  3. Bancells Moustache

    August 31, 2020 at 9:49 am

    The team isn’t as bad as every proclaimed, so that’s a victory in and of itself. Like I said yesterday, the recipe is good, it’s just they are using cheap ingredients right now. What’s important is that Elias feet are held to the fire. The expectation for next year should be at or approaching .500 baseball, then in the Wild Card conversation for 2022. Continuous improvement. This lose 100 games for a top pick stuff is over.

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 31, 2020 at 10:01 am

      Steve, I think you may be optimistic. Because the team still lacks starting pitching, and the lack of a minor league season set them back, I think 2021 will be challenging, too, more than I would have thought without the pandemic.

    • CalsPals

      August 31, 2020 at 10:21 am

      Luckily they can’t lose 100 games this yr, may still have a top pick…go O’s…

  4. Boog Robinson Robinson

    August 31, 2020 at 10:01 am

    This all sounds like a great foundation for coming years .. sincerely it does … but it also is sounds to me like he’s setting expectations for 2021 to be another lost season on the major league level. Sooner or later, you need to breed a winning mentality into these guys.

    Losing is a disease … as contagious as __________.

    • Hallbe62

      August 31, 2020 at 10:36 am

      I’m afraid it will take people other than Elias & Hyde to “instill that winning mentality”.

      They may be adequite in building up the talent in the O’s system, but it will take another pair to take us to the promised land.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        August 31, 2020 at 11:54 am

        I agree, I’ve lost confidence in Hyde. To be fair, he’s been dealt a losing hand, but that’s not going to save his job for long. Elias on the other hand is in like flint. He’s the Elias boys man and his rope seems to be endless.

        I believe the winning needs to begin in the minor leagues. The Delmarva gang experienced some of that last year. Now that group of young men need to start filtering that success into the high levels as they progress. Yes, it’s a shame this year was lost, but it needs to start next year at A and AA levels. It would also help set an example, if the mother club weren’t such a joke. I think this is where Elias is missing the boat. He just doesn’t care, and is more than willing to lose to get ahead. And losing breeds losing.

        • Rich Dubroff

          August 31, 2020 at 12:04 pm

          Ken, I think that’s a little harsh. Buck always liked to quote George Steinbrenner, who insisted that winning in the minors was an effective player development tool. I think he does care about winning, and I think he does care about winning. The club is paying the price of poor drafts, especially of pitchers and infielders over the years.

          I would have liked to have seen Mountcastle earlier and some of the young starters earlier, but I don’t think he’s aiming for a top draft pick this season. I think he’s actually tired of losing. This is a competitive person, and next year, it will be interesting to see how they’ll play it because I think they’ll still lack quality starting pitching and infielders.

          • Boog Robinson Robinson

            August 31, 2020 at 1:18 pm

            OK Rich, I respect that. You’ve talked to the man, I don’t know him from Adam. But for his entire tenure here, all he’s done is set us up to expect losing seasons, and it sounds no different in this piece of yours today.

            ” We’re still in a talent collection mode right now.” Heck Rich … Everybody is in the talent collection mode. It would just be nice if he were to collect a little major league talent. A couple more Tommy Milones and I think this team is capable of a winning record next year.

    • CalsPals

      August 31, 2020 at 4:13 pm

      To win you cannot just collect talent, at some point you’ve got to put the talent on the field…go O’s…

    • Ekim

      August 31, 2020 at 6:33 pm

      Rich… It pleased me to no end to see you put in actual words “the club is paying the price of poor drafts, especially of pitchers and infielders” after you got on my case for being so critical of DD through the years. I’ll stop there but there is more I’d like to say about the damage that man did to this franchise. (Say “Thank you…” Rich… just saying…

  5. Birdman

    August 31, 2020 at 10:39 am

    I think the key quote from Elias is the following: “When we start to see we have enough building blocks on that major league roster, or at least close to it, we will start thinking of shifting our priorities to augmenting that,”

    Elias is acknowledging that its unlikely the O’s will achieve a playoff caliber team based solely on minor league player development and waiver acquisitions. As Elias indicates, at a certain point, they will need to “augment” the roster (i.e., spend some money). That will be crunch time for the franchise. Once Elias has assembled enough “building blocks,” will ownership be willing and able to step up with the financial resources needed to augment those building blocks?

    • willmiranda

      August 31, 2020 at 11:50 am

      Thanks for picking out that quote, Birdman. I enjoyed it , too, but could not make sense of it. Did you find an antecedent for “it” in the phrase “or at least close to it” or for the final “that”? I also could make no concrete sense out of “we will start thinking of shifting our priorities to augmenting that.” I love Rich for reproducing Elias’s quotes. They’re a gas! Overall, I think his blueprint is to drag this out as long as possible for the sake of his own job security. I also wonder who formed the “consensus” that considers the O’s one of the top 10 organizations in baseball.

      • Rich Dubroff

        August 31, 2020 at 11:59 am

        Will, Mike was responding to my question, which was did he feel the team was getting close to where he felt trades like this would no longer be necessary. His answers are always long, and thoughtful.

        As for rankings, MLB.com ranks their farm system 13th, Baseball America ranks them 12th and Bleacher Report 11th.

        • willmiranda

          August 31, 2020 at 12:45 pm

          Thanks for the specifics, Rich. I did think he was talking about the whole organization, not merely the farm system. Even with the specification, they are not 10th or “arguably higher.” And I believe a good chunk of the high farm rating is based on the perceived potential of recent top-5 draft picks. I have no problem with making trades; they’re essential to success. When you say “trades like this,” I assume you mean trading away journeymen for question marks. I agree we should all look forward to the day that the return in our trades will help the major league team in the foreseeable future.

  6. Orial

    August 31, 2020 at 10:44 am

    I have no complaint about what Elias has done so far. A little frustrated in the makeup of the MLB roster and it’s “mental/physical” bonehead tendencies but I realize all eyes are on the young players drafted and aquired. Now that being said having no Minor Leagues and watching this young talent be pretty much shelved is frustrating and has to be holding development back at least 2 years. My minor(very minor) knock on Elias is that he still leans toward these HR first defense second type players(I.e. Kjerstad over Austin Martin). I know,I know money talks.

  7. AZ ORIOLES Fan

    August 31, 2020 at 10:55 am

    I think all agree Sulser is not the answer at Closer; that being said options are limited right now. Yes we could have kept Scott in to start the ninth and then went to Castro or Sulser. Given the new rules either one (Castro and Sulser) issue to many free passes for the closer role.
    We are growing and improving which Is a good thing

  8. Bhoffman1

    August 31, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    A little disheartening to hear your thinking that next year could be very challenging because of the starting pitching. If a couple of the young guys are given a chance and pitch well the rest of the team I feel is competitive. It may take another manager though. Hyde’s a great guy but so many simple fundamentals are going wrong and to lose two out of three on the last out it may not be his fault but someone’s got to take the blame even though the manager is not throwing the ball.

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 31, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Bruce, I would be more optimistic if there had been a minor league season. I would have liked to have seen more of Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, though he recently had a groin injury. Zac Lowther, who wasn’t invited to camp, had an oblique injury.

      The young pitchers need to grow, as you surmise, but DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez were hindered this year.

      I very much like Brandon personally, but he’ll be tested once there’s more talent. He’s a good motivator and deals with diverse personalities well.

    • Bhoffman1

      August 31, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      Good to hear you know him better then me obviously. I would like to see him succeed. I’m from another generation when a kid had a lively arm and good mechanics they didn’t need as much minor league experience.

  9. johninbethany

    August 31, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    Another trade, not surprised.

    Someone needs to keep a spreadsheet of everyone that Elias has traded for and say whether it has improved our overall talent or not. I understand the need to trade so we can rebuild, but are the trades really helping the our talent pool? Maybe they are and I am to depressed to see it.

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 31, 2020 at 8:25 pm

      John, these trades can’t be judged for several years. They’re acquiring many players, and not all, or maybe most, will not work out. Maybe many will, but it will take three or four years to see. Elias knows that they need a large group of prospects because it’s such a crapshoot.

  10. Massmonster

    August 31, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    no matter how you spin it management sends a message they don’t believe in current group , morale is broken, players start throwing the ball around,a maybe fun exciting season is ruined.You couldn’t have waited. 26 games, given the fans something to cheer in this year of pandemic, Mr. Elias, thanks for NOTHING!! THIS WAS THE ORIOLES BEST CHANCE FOR A TASTE OF PLAYOFFS PROBABLY FOR THE NEXT 3 to 5 years.

  11. Bhoffman1

    August 31, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    Castro gone but for who

    • Birdman

      August 31, 2020 at 4:29 pm

      Kevin Smith, LH Double AA pitcher, ranked by Baseball America as Mets 9th best prospect coming into 2020.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        August 31, 2020 at 4:35 pm

        Hate to see Castro go. What an arm, but a bit more than inconsistent.

        Looks like Kevin Smith has some promise. A starter .. lots of strikeouts. Big kid and a lefty.

  12. Massmonster

    August 31, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    Depresses me teams like the MARLINS adding players and Orioles holding a fire sale so long M. Castro !!

  13. Bhoffman1

    August 31, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    I think all the trades made sense and can hopefully workout. Hate to see. Castro go but the potential of a big kid starter I like. To bad no one wanted Cobb. Way to expensive for what you get even if we chipped in. What happened to Davis isn’t the 10IL up. Hard to believe we gotta deal with him again next year

  14. Birdfaninva

    September 1, 2020 at 10:18 am

    My concern is simply this.
    Baltimore is a small market team with limited resources, they play in a brutal division with other teams that have unlimited resources.
    Let’s say that a lot of these prospects do develop into quality major league players.
    What chances do the Orioles have in retaining their services after their walk year occurs?
    Or are we just going to serve as a long-term farm league team to the big market franchises?

    • Rich Dubroff

      September 1, 2020 at 10:51 am

      That’s why they have to accumulate lots of players for their farm system. They have more resources than the Rays, who manage to contend. It will be interesting to see how they manage in the next few years.

      • Birdfaninva

        September 1, 2020 at 6:47 pm

        From a pure economic view I believe that the Tampa organization is ahead of Baltimore.
        The Orioles are “land-locked” to the south you have the defending World Series Champions Washington.also a very well-run franchise)
        To the north a big-city market in Philadelphia. The city of Baltimore is losing population by the thousands yearly. (Check the 2018 census, and compare to 2016)
        The MASN TV deal is now going to cripple the organization. The Oriole franchise has a 20 year WOEFUL track record, save a few years when both Boston and New York were “rebuilding”.
        Meanwhile down in Tampa…. If the municipal government can somehow get a new stadium deal done (it’s closer than you think) then Tampa has the entire gulf coast of Florida at its doorstep. The closest “competition is Miami which is a 4 hour 300 mile nightmare drive.
        Now the Marlins franchise is resource challenged . No one cares about baseball in south beach.
        The facts: The Orioles are teetering on a disaster. I can easily see that when the elder owner passes the boys either relocate the team or sell them. Hopefully to someone willing to keep them in Baltimore, but don’t bet on that!
        Baltimore is quickly fading into the sunset on major-league baseball. Sometime has to be done to fix what is destroying “Charm City”before it’s too late.

  15. OriolesNumber1Fan

    September 1, 2020 at 11:29 am

    Right on Rich!!! We do have more resources than the Rays but we need to do better at having guys blossom on the first full year to take advantage of the 6 full years we currently have guys on the roster!!! Mountcastle is the perfect example so far. This kid can certainly hit but was learning to play left field for the first time when he never even played the outfield before!!! And so many complained on this site regarding infielders playing in the outfield, I was hoping he wouldn’t get his confidence torn down. My motto is “better to bring a guy up a little later than expected than too early to ruin his confidence. It still is a big jump to the Major Leagues than most people think!!! And as far as winning goes, the better the talent on offense and defense and pitching, the more a team will win. The Orioles had 3 winning farm teams in the minors prior to this lost year.

  16. Bman

    September 2, 2020 at 12:40 am

    Prob trade Cobb over the offseason. Maybe a few others. Stop winning so much!! We need one more stellar, high pick draft! LOL

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