At 24-8, the Norfolk Tides have the second-best record in the minor leagues. Their manager, Buck Britton, is in his second season there. From 2008-2014, Britton was a utility player in the Orioles’ system, playing every position but catcher. He has been managing in the Orioles’ minor leagues since 2018 when he was with Delmarva and managed two seasons with Bowie before moving up to Norfolk in 2022.
This interview was edited for brevity.
Question: How different has this year been managing with all the great talent you have at Norfolk?
Buck Britton: “It’s been good. We’ve had a lot of this talent coming through the system, but obviously now everybody’s getting to the top of the organization here. It makes for an exciting time for us.”
Q: Looking at your roster, it doesn’t seem to have many “filler” players. Everyone is either a legitimate prospect or has had major league experience. What’s that like?
Britton: “Looking at the lineups I’m throwing out there, they’re deeper and I guess more talented overall. The acquisitions that we’ve made, the guys we’ve brought in … there’s a lot of young talent and also we have some veterans sprinkled in that help protect some of these prospects.”
Q: When you bring out that lineup card with all those prospects, what do the other managers say to you?
Britton: “They definitely see where the organization is now. I get a lot of comments on how well we’ve drafted. Most of these guys are our players, and I think that’s very unique, and people recognize it. The player acquisitions, the free agents we bring in to supplement the guys we’ve developed and come through our system. They notice it. They notice the turnaround, and they all say we’re going to be good. We should be able to sustain that for a while.”
Q: Is your message different to prospects that are going up for maybe a few games to help the Orioles fulfill a specific need?
Britton: “It’s differently different. That team’s trying to win up there. It’s important that the guys we send up are able to contribute to them winning. It’s not so much, ‘Go up there now and let’s show us what you can do and get some opportunities.’ It’s when you do get that opportunity, you’ve got to perform, and that’s something we’re really trying to preach down here right now, especially with the in-game play here.
“Our number one priority is development, but within that development, really pushing ways to win games when we have chances to win so that when they go up there, it’s something they’re used to.”
Q: Are you stealing more? Are you playing for one run more?
Britton: “We’re definitely putting an emphasis on baserunning, picking up an extra 90 feet, but when we get to the latter third of the game and we have a runner on second and nobody out, the expectation is that we’re trying to drive a ball to right-center field so that if we end up hitting the ball on the ground, we’re moving a runner up 90 feet.
“We’re putting a huge emphasis on getting runners in from third base with less than two outs. A job well done is a sacrifice fly. It’s just as good as getting that base hit for us.”
Q: Joey Ortiz is one of those guys who was recalled for just a few days to face three left-handers against the Tigers and was returned. How good do you think he can be?
Britton: “I think he’s got a chance to be a really solid infielder for us. He defends at a high level, and the bat’s really come on the last couple of years. He hits the ball as hard as anybody in the organization. It’s been really fun to watch his development track. After Covid [in 2020], he came back a different player. I think he’s got a chance to impact our major league team.”
Q: DL Hall went up to pitch in the doubleheader in Detroit as the 27th man. How close is he to being ready to help the Orioles?
Britton: “You get glimpses of it. He went up and came back after pitching against Detroit. The stuff has always been there. He’s becoming more consistent. I think he’s learning how to pitch a little more. He always had that big arm and he can rely on that fastball and now that he’s had a taste of the big leagues, I think he understands you’ve got to be able to pitch a little bit.
“I think that’s what he’s in the middle of. He’s been really good. The misses aren’t as big. He’s a lot closer to the strike zone. He’s done a really nice job. I’m excited to see him over the rest of this year and hope he get another chance up there.”
Q: What differences have you seen in Colton Cowser between last year and this year?
Britton: “I didn’t get a huge look at him last year. What’s really been impressive is that he got off to a slow start and he never panicked. He never really wavered. He stayed committed to his plan. Cowser has an elite idea of what the strike zone is, and I think at times he relies on that and he becomes a little passive at the plate.
“Him and [hitting coach Brink Ambler] have done a really nice job of saying, ‘Hey, when the ball’s out over the middle of the plate, get your best swing off. No matter what the count, get your best swing off,’ and I think he’s done that. He’s got some serious barrel-to-ball ability and if you look at his track record, the guy has really always hit. It’s just a matter of time and the good players make adjustments, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Q: What’s your read on Jordan Westburg? You saw a lot of him last year, and you have him again this year.
Britton: “We just got back from Charlotte and I even told Westburg this when we got back home, probably the most complete I’ve seen him play in a six-game span. This guy’s going to hit. He’s a baseball player. He’s smart. I think there’s some first-step quickness that he’s developed that’s helping him be a bit more rangy in the middle of the field.
“The glove has been really, really solid this year, and the offensive approach, he’s another guy. He just hits, and what’s been more impressive, no matter who goes up, who comes down, his name’s not called, he continues to be the same guy. He puts in the work, and he’s having another big year for us.”
Question: The organization is so deep that not every one of these prospects may play for the Orioles. Do you have to talk to them about that?
Britton: “You have conversations with everybody. You feel out the right time. As you get to know these guys, you get to know what makes them tick and you know when they’re having good days and when something may be bugging them.
“I think they understand that there’s a lot of opportunity and as much as we would love for them all to be Orioles, we just want them to be the best players they can possibly be because if they do that, they’re going to impact the Orioles, possibly in different ways.
“There’s talent up and down this organization. We’re just trying to do anything we can to help them become the best players they can be and see what happens from there.”
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