Mike Elias’ first two years as the Orioles’ top baseball decision-maker have been eventful. His choice of Brandon Hyde as the team’s new manager was reported on MLB Network as writers sat in his suite during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
At the time, Elias said the speculation was premature. By the end of the week, Hyde was hired.
His makeover of the organization has been radical, although a number of front office officials, including Kevin Buck (director of baseball administration), Brad Ciolek (supervisor of domestic scouting pperations), Kent Qualls (director of minor league operations) and Mike Snyder (director of pro scouting), were already in the organization.
Elias’ top assistant, Sig Mejdal, has radically increased the team’s analytics department.
New department heads, Matt Blood (director of player development) and Koby Perez (international scouting), joined Mejdal.
It’s on the field where the changes are most evident. Hyde did not have familiarity with the Orioles or the American League. Only one of the coaches on staff, assistant hitting coach José Hernandez, was in the organization before Elias’ arrival.
By the time Elias signed on, the minor league staff for 2019 was nearly set. In the late summer of 2019, he trimmed the scouting staff and terminated longtime minor league personnel, including former Orioles Scott McGregor and B.J. Surhoff.
With the minor leagues still uncertain for 2021, staff positions haven’t been announced, but Elias has retained Norfolk manager Gary Kendall, who has been with the organization for two decades, outlasting six Oriole skippers.
The team’s winning percentage has slowly improved. Elias inherited a team with a .290 percentage (47-115) and has seen it tick up to .333 (54-108) in 2019 and .417 (25-35) in 2020.
“This is a process,” Elias said at his first press conference on November 19, 2018. “It’s a process that doesn’t have shortcuts, but it’s a process that works, and it’s a process that is worth it … It’s a process that I’ve been a big part of before and the fact that I have done this before, really twice across two different organizations [St. Louis and Houston], gives me a special level of confidence that we’re going to do it again and have the same type of success here in Baltimore.”
Elias’ goal hasn’t changed.
“The plan is simple,” Elias said then. “We’re going to build an elite talent pipeline that’s going to extend from the lowest realm of our minor league ladder … all the way up to Triple-A and up to the major league roster in Baltimore.”
Elias’ first draft pick, catcher Adley Rutschman, was applauded, but because of the pandemic that shortened the season to 60 games and eliminated minor league play in 2020, it’s hard to tell when he’ll be ready for the majors.
The Orioles’ minor league system is ranked eighth by MLB Pipeline, and 14 of the team’s top 30 prospects were acquired by Elias.
One of the most symbolically significant could be left-handed pitcher Luis Ortiz, who was part of the team’s first large-scale international draft class in July 2019. For years, the Orioles avoided the international market. Under Perez, they’re aiming to become a major player in Latin America.
Of the 35 players on the 40-man roster, 20 were in the organization before Elias’ arrival and 15 were acquired since then.
Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, right-handed pitcher Michael Baumann and left-hander Zac Lowther, who appear as if they’ll be added to 40-man roster by Friday’s deadline, were in the organization before Elias was hired.
“There are players, a lot of players on this team right now and in this organization, who are going to be a part of the next playoff team in Baltimore,” Elias said.
Chris Holt, who was hired by Elias, will be the team’s pitching coach in 2021 and is still the director of pitching, which will enable him to maintain a hand in minor league pitching development.
DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, who were the team’s first-round draft picks in 2017 and 2018, are the team’s top pitching prospects.
“A lot of good players and more coming,” Elias said. “There are some future stars in the system, some really good pitchers. There’s more than enough to work with. Part of the attraction of this job to me is that I know there’s already players here that we’re going to be able to lean on over the next few years and watch grow.”
At his introductory press conference, Elias was asked about Chris Davis, who still had four years and $112 million remaining on his contract.
“This lineup of this team is at its best with a productive Chris Davis, a productive Chris Davis in the middle of the lineup,” Elias said. “I want to see that happen. He had a frustrating campaign this year. I think the chances are good of him bouncing back and improving upon that.” Davis’ frustrations have gotten worse and his future is uncertain.
John and Louis Angelos introduced Elias, but it’s been Elias who has spoken for the team. Most recently, Elias sent an email to fans affirming the team’s commitment to Baltimore.
“While we know this year has brought about a great deal of uncertainty, please rest assured that there is nothing uncertain about the future of your Orioles in Baltimore, or of the organizational commitment of our Chairman and CEO, the partnership group, the Senior Leadership Team, our entire professional staff, and our 26-man team to stay the course for decades to come as we succeed on and off the field in leading the way for our Baltimore community,” Elias wrote.
In 2018, Elias was excited about the team’s chances. Two years later, it’s still too early to assess his effectiveness.
“I think very uniquely this organization has in its history, and its DNA, having at one time being considered as the smartest, the most forward thinking, most progressive thinking organization in baseball,” Elias said. “We’re here to restore that reputation.”