Matt Blood, the Orioles’ director of player development, was pleased with the performance of the minor league clubs this season.
High-A Aberdeen reached the South Atlantic League championship series after winning the first-half division title at 43-23. The IronBirds finished the second half 35-31, with Brooklyn finishing in first place.
Double-A Bowie finished 68-70 and was in the playoff hunt until the final day of the season.
Triple-A Norfolk wrapped up its season this past week, finishing 74-76, and was successful in sending players to the Orioles.
The international players and 2022 draft selections began the process of learning what it takes to be a professional baseball player at Single-A Delmarva.
BaltimoreBaseball.com asked Blood for his perspective on the minor league season:
Question: Most of the minor league teams played competitive baseball. Was that a byproduct of the amount of talent scattered throughout the organization?
Answer: “As the players get better, the more competitive they’re going to be. Our strategy is one of challenging players so we like to move guys up when they’re performing at a certain level above the league that they’re in. We’re never going to have dominant teams unless it gets to the point we’ve got talent everywhere and you can’t hold it down. The more success you see the teams having with wins and losses, it’s just a byproduct of having more and more talent.”
Q: How deep is the organization with position players?
A: “It’s a very deep group of players that we have accumulated. [General manager] Mike Elias and the acquisitions group have just done a phenomenal job of getting us players. Our staff has done a great job of helping them to get better. Through that, we’ve developed some real depth there and all over, too — outfield, infield, and catching.”
Q: What do you think about the depth for pitching?
A: “The pitchers that we have are exciting. Pitching can come from all different directions, whether it’s later in the draft, via trades, or even Rule 5 or waiver claims. We’ve seen a lot of production on the pitching side from all different areas. I’m very pleased and confident in our pitching development process. I think we have a lot of good people helping these pitchers get the most out of their abilities whether it’s velocity or developing specific pitch types. It’s been a lot of fun to watch some of these pitchers that many people didn’t quite know about have a lot of success due to the developmental work they’ve been putting in.”
Q: How encouraging was the performance of Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Kyle Stowers at the MLB level?
A: “Our whole plan is to prepare players to be successful at the major league level. We don’t want guys who are just able to play in the minor leagues. We want them to be major league contributors. When they go up there and play well, that’s what we want to see.”
Q: What players do you see taking the next step and competing for a major league roster spot in 2023?
A: “Joey Ortiz has had as good a year as anyone when it comes to his development and putting himself on the map for next year. Jordan Westburg, the same thing. Colton Cowser is pushing in that direction. Connor Norby, that guy has really raked in the second half of the season. Norby is going to be in the conversation. They are going to be knocking on the door.
Q: What pitchers have stood out to you and could also possibly compete for a job with the Orioles next year?
A: “Drew Rom is a pitcher who has put himself on the map. The pitching is harder to predict because of the way the current staff is built and what’s going to happen in the offseason. Rom, for sure, and obviously Grayson Rodriguez is going to be fully healthy and raring to go next year. Chris Vallimont has made some nice strides. He could be an interesting one to follow. Morgan McSweeney could be interesting. Ryan Watson [the club’s top minor league pitcher] has had a great year. There are some arms that can put themselves right in the mix.
Q: Are you happy with the progress of international players?
A: “Very much so. It takes a while for an international program to get itself off the ground because you’re signing such young players and getting into that market. [Senior director of international scouting Koby Perez] and his team have done a great job with finding players and we’ve revamped our developmental model. A lot of those players that were in Delmarva this year were challenged and stretched a little bit. It was kind of their first time playing professional baseball in the States. Next year, hopefully, we’ll see some of those guys return to Delmarva, and we’ll see the whole program take another step. We already graduated a couple of players into High-A, which is awesome, especially [JC] Cosme, [Isaac] De Leon and even Luis Valdez, who stole 71 bases this year, and Isaac Malone. They are guys making their way up and that should continue next year.
Q: Are there any areas where you want to see improvement?
A: “I don’t think there’s a specific area for improvement. We spent a lot of time on the hitting for the past couple of years. The pitching was ahead of the hitting in terms of development. And now, the hitting has sort of caught up. We’ve added some pieces on the pitching side. We’re very happy with those two realms. Our whole video review and fundamentals process that we’ve put into play this year, we’re really happy with that. Our strength and conditioning performance world was very new this year, as well. I think next year is learning from the things that went on this year and trying to solidify and improve these processes that we got going over the past couple of years.”