4 takeways from Orioles' first Birdland Caravan

February 10th, 2020

FREDERICK, Md. -- The Birdland Caravan rolled through downtown Frederick for its final stop Sunday, and with it, the last wisps of winter melted away. All told, the Orioles hit 12 cities during their inaugural 15-stop tour through greater Baltimore, engaging communities in ways they haven’t in some time.

The next destination: Sarasota, Fla., where pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report under the sun on Tuesday for Spring Training.

Here are four takeaways from the final day on the road:

1. Analytics are all right
Gone are the days when the Orioles lag behind the rest of baseball in analytics. After 14 months of prioritizing growth in that department, the Orioles now have 10 full-time staff members, according to assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal. Mejdal said the club also employs 12-13 interns, which swells its effective workforce to roughly two dozen people daily. That’s believed to be roughly average among MLB organizations.

When Mejdal and executive vice president/GM Mike Elias were hired in November 2018, the Orioles’ analytics department consisted of one full-time analyst.

“That’s pretty quick,” Mejdal said. “I don’t think it’s going to double by this time next year, but there will be a few more [added].”

The influence of analytics extends to other departments. The club’s wide-scale shake-up in player development was conducted with a focus on analytics, as the O’s targeted instructors in tune with the game’s shifting technological landscape and the instruments used within it. Mejdal said the organization would utilize bat sensors, body sensors and force plates at both the Major and Minor League levels this season, the latest strides toward modernizing the way it views both pitching and hitting development.

The Orioles did use Blast Motion bat sensors at some Minor League affiliates last year, but the K-Vest body sensors and force plates will be new for the organization. The force plates are biomechanical tools that measure the efficiency with which hitters shift their weight during swings.

“If we are going to gain on our rivals in our division through player development, it’s likely doing something a bit different than we had in the past,” Mejdal said. “The best way to introduce that is. ‘Welcome to pro ball; this is the way the Orioles do things,’ and have them without thinking twice, this is the way pro ball is. The earlier the better. It’s a full-court press as soon as they arrive.”

2. The numbers are translating
Just ask right-hander , ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club’s No. 2 prospect. Rodriguez, 20, made nine professional appearances after becoming the organization’s first-round pick in 2018. Then the regime changed.

“Being with the organization for half a season, we didn’t really use technology. Then coming into Spring Training last year, we had hour-, two-hour-long classroom sessions about what this stuff meant,” Rodriguez said. “Being able to use that has really helped me.”

Rodriguez cited Edgertronic cameras as being especially useful in developing his changeup, which he began throwing last season. He called the tools “a game changer” in the development of that pitch and also lauded Class A Delmarva pitching coach Justin Ramsey’s influence for encouraging buy-in.

“He really figured that stuff out, not just to teach it but for us to really live and breathe it,” Rodriguez said. “We really invested our time in that stuff, and it really paid off. And I think this year will be the same.”

Rodriguez is ticketed for Class A Advanced Frederick after dominating in his first full season in pro ball, going 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA last summer at Delmarva.

3. Eddie is still “Steady”
Perhaps the biggest applause of the day came at Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick for , who also participated in two events in Westminster, Md., earlier in the day. One of those stops came at a practice with the Winters Mill High School varsity baseball team. Murray provided hitting lessons alongside current Orioles and .

“You hope you can keep some of what we were trying to give them,” said Murray, who serves as a special adviser and community ambassador for the club. “Mostly, we were just talking about hitting. I think there were some things they didn’t know they were doing.”

Afterward, Murray joined the rest of the Orioles’ contingent at Flying Dog Brewery, playing guest bartender. He was able to draw a parallel between baseball’s current numbers-heavy culture and his days playing for manager Earl Weaver.

“What Earl had was stats. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it looked that way, and he stumbled upon lefty-righty splits,” Murray said. “And it worked out. After that, it still goes back to just being baseball. The pitch with the highest batting average -- forever -- has been the first pitch. You can stand up there and take the first pitch if you want to, but when you have those big gorillas in the bullpen throwing 104? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. You try to get the job done before.”

4. Hays, Mountcastle happy to be at spring’s door
For and , two Florida natives and the Orioles’ No. 4 and No. 6 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, the opportunity of Spring Training can’t come soon enough. They are both driving down to Sarasota with an eye toward grasping it.

“Last year, I went into camp thinking I had a shot at making the team at some point in the year,” Mountcastle said. “Didn’t happen, but this year I am feeling the same. I’ll play hard and play my game.”

Hays, who got married and went on a honeymoon to Thailand this offseason, said his goal is to do what he did last spring, when he excelled in Grapefruit League play. Hays also said he altered his workout and diet this winter to get as strong as he could “at a light weight,” hoping to avoid the type of injuries that have cut into his career.

“My body feels good,” Hays said. “I’m healthy, rested. I’m just ready to compete again, to see a pitcher on the mound.”