Bowie skipper has O's future in his hands

Club couldn't ask for more from Britton, whose players have thrived under his guidance

July 27th, 2021

BOWIE, Md. -- With a disproportionate number of eyes on the Orioles’ Minor League system this summer, much of the attention has focused on Double-A Bowie. That’s where top prospect Adley Rutschman (No. 2 overall per MLB Pipeline) and top pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez (No. 19 overall, No. 2 club) and DL Hall (No. 53 overall, No. 4 club) are forming one of the Minors’ best super-batteries. It's also where 2019 third-round Draft pick Kyle Stowers (No. 22 club) and breakout prospects Patrick Dorrian and Kyle Brnovich are turning heads, and where the cumulative progress of the Orioles’ rebuild is most plain to see.

It’s all occurring under the supervision of second-year manager Buck Britton, who, all told, has been tasked with overseeing 10 of the club’s Top 30 prospects at one point or another this season.

“When your top prospects enjoy coming to the yard, it definitely makes it a lot easier to pencil them in there,” Britton told recently. “You want them to have success. If they don't have success while you're at the helm, [the front office] is probably going to look at that and go, ‘Why? What was going on? Was there something else besides the on-field stuff that he was worried about?'”

That hasn’t been an issue. Players, coaches and executives alike credit Britton with fostering a winning culture, and his results back that up. After reaching the Eastern League finals in 2019, Bowie is 41-29 this year, good for second place in Double-A Northeast’s Southwest Division.

That success makes Britton, 35, the most obvious rising star in a player development system that was entirely revamped under general manager Mike Elias. He’s young, with strong baseball bloodlines and an upbeat style. And he not only has an appetite for analytics but the ability to blend them into traditional coaching techniques. If there were an official checklist for what makes a modern big league manager, that would cover most of it.

“He’s a learner, and driven to be as good as he can be and provide what the organization wants him to provide,” Orioles director of player development Matt Blood said. “From the beginning, he’s listened and made an emphasis to seek out and learn the things that we value and want to do.”

Britton’s managing instincts were being honed early, even if he didn’t know it. His grandfather was an old fishing buddy of Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog who became friendly with Herzog in the St. Louis area. Buck’s father maintained the relationship, passing down his own passion for the game as the family moved to California, then Texas.

“We have pictures of us sitting on Whitey’s lap when we were in living in California and he was managing the Angels,” Britton said. “We have pictures of us eating donuts on his lap before the game.” (Herzog worked on the Angels' coaching staff in 1974, managing two games on an interim basis.)

Buck, the middle of three brothers, became an Orioles 35th-round pick out of Lubbock Christian University in 2008. He played nine seasons in the Minors for three organizations (seven in Baltimore's system, including parts of four at Triple-A), and he joined the Orioles' farm system as the hitting coach at Low-A Delmarva in 2017. His brother Zack, who is two years younger, grew into a two-time All-Star reliever and one of the best closers in Orioles history.

By the time Buck Britton got the Bowie job in 2019 at age 33, he’d collected myriad influences over more than a decade in professional baseball. His references are a hodgepodge of managerial minds spanning generations. He came up under Buck Showalter and played winter ball for four seasons for Mets manager Luis Rojas. He managed the Escogido Lions of the Dominican Winter League following the 2019 season along with Jayce Tingler, shortly before Tingler became manager of the Padres. He also credits Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde and the current Orioles front office for helping mold his approach over the past few years.

“There have been a lot of people that have kind of shaped me, I guess,” Britton said. “I came up more old school, but being young, I love the analytics. I love being a part of that stuff, too. … As you get older, you learn a lot about what you like to do. But you also learn about some things you don't want to do.”

Said Rodriguez: “He can be a player’s coach. Buck is a blast to play for. He’s a little bit different than any manager I've had. He takes this seriously, really fights for his players. But it's also a lot of fun. The locker-room atmosphere is phenomenal.”

On the field, the Baysox lead Double-A Northeast in walks, on-base percentage and OPS and rank second in total bases and third in slugging. Their pitching staff ranks second in strikeouts and opponents' batting average. Much of those results are tied to the development of Rutschman and Rodriguez, which the organization considers a priority. Britton came into the year already familiar with both, having played an integral role at the club’s alternate training site in Bowie last summer.

"The staff as a whole is awesome, and Buck is the guy who leads,” Rutschman said. “He sets the example and does a great job. I think all the guys love him, love the way he goes about his business. What he preaches, he acts on it and he demonstrates it. He's all about working hard and about the process and about getting better. That's what he preaches, and that's what he's about. I think guys really respect that.”

Said Britton: “I think the pressure was just making sure we had an environment that [Rutschman] was going to thrive in. … I think the best thing that we can do as a staff is give him an environment and everybody an environment where he wants to come here and he wants to get better, and he wants to be challenged. Nobody here is a finished product.”