Q&A with new O's pitching coach Drew French

January 10th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill’s Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BALTIMORE -- After the Braves’ 2023 season ended in the National League Division Series in mid-October, bullpen coach Drew French began mapping out his offseason and looking ahead to '24. The 39-year-old didn’t know he’d be leaving the organization a month later.

In late November, the Orioles hired French to be their latest pitching coach, continuing the Seguin, Texas, native’s rise up the baseball coaching ranks. French, a former Minor League coach with the Astros, was an obvious fit because of his ties to general manager Mike Elias, assistant GMs Sig Mejdal and Eve Rosenbaum and director of pitching Chris Holt, all of whom previously worked in Houston.

This week, I chatted with French about his new job, the O’s pitching staff and more.

MLB.com: First off, how excited are you for this opportunity with the Orioles?

French: Oh man, I’m elated. Quite honestly, it’s like I’ve been describing to everybody, you get a job and then you have to wait three months to do the job, kind of. My mind has gone to some weird places over the last month or two, just in terms of the things I want to be ready for and be better at when I get to camp.

But yeah, really, really, really excited, and obviously, step one is getting to know the players and the staff. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the phone over the month of December and into January and trying to get out and see some of these guys and get to know them a little bit better, because obviously, I don’t really want the first time we’ve talked ball or talked life to be in Sarasota. So, just putting a lot of effort and a lot of energy into getting to know the people that I’m going to be around the most.

MLB.com: Have you talked with every pitcher on the big league roster?

French: I have talked to everybody that’s on the 40-man at this point, minus [Félix] Bautista. That’s the only guy I have yet to get to, but I guess he should be at the [Sarasota] complex sometime early this month. So I’m looking forward to getting on the phone with him, just introducing myself. I’ve talked to everybody, and most everybody I’ve talked to multiple times.

MLB.com: What are your initial impressions of the Orioles’ pitching staff entering 2024?

French: Really, really talented. A lot of skill and a lot of ability in this group. A lot of youth, a lot of energy, a lot of guys that you’ve seen grow and develop. I remember falling in love with Tyler Wells in 2021, watching him as a reliever when [the Braves] were at Camden [Yards]. Watching him warm up, watching the ball come out of his hand and watching his demeanor and things like that, you didn’t really understand at the time how young he was.

But yeah, just the youth and the energy, and then the strides and the development, the process that they’ve gone through to get to where they are now. And yet, they’re still an unfinished product. There’s definitely room to grow, but you’ve seen guys take some really massive, massive steps over the last couple of years.

MLB.com: Atlanta was a strong team during your three-year stint there. What did you take away from that time?

French: It was a blessing and a pleasure. Showing up in Spring Training of '21, obviously, by a significant margin, I was the youngest guy in the coaches room. So just kind of sitting back and shutting up and listening and watching and observing guys like Snit [manager Brian Snitker] and Kranny [pitching coach Rick Kranitz], who are baseball lifers, [former third-base coach] Ron Washington. [I've been] trying to be as observant as I could to see how these guys operated, to see how they developed their relationships, how they went about their day-to-day with players and their prep leading up to being with players and the game.

It was a really, really awesome situation, just to be a young guy in the room and bring my energy and my enthusiasm, but also to be around a lot of baseball lifers who have seen it done a number of ways. And they’ve kind of made it through the technology boom and the information boom, and [it helped] to see how they capitalize on those types of things and leverage those things in their coaching and in their conversations.

MLB.com: How are you going to approach your first opportunity as an MLB pitching coach?

French: My general philosophy is this is a servant type of role and you have to try to be everything to every individual. I think that’s where learning the players and the staff and building those relationships are really going to help sort of guide you and be kind of your north star to what every individual needs.

But ultimately, as you look at things on a staff-wide component, you see things from 2023 that they were obviously very, very good at, and elite at. And then you see some areas that you might want to improve or bring some general or specific focuses to Spring Training to influence how we work and what we work on. But a lot of it is just going to be individualistic, and we want to look at it from a standpoint of each individual player and what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. How do we grow those weaknesses, and how do we leverage our strengths?

MLB.com: You’ve been part of a World Series-winning squad before with the Braves in ‘21. How can the Orioles’ pitchers help the team reach that level in '24?

French: Everything is built around what kind of depth you have, and it seems to me like this organization and Mike, he’s doing a really good job of starting to enhance that depth. You kind of smell that he might not be done this offseason, doing some things like that. But I think for a pitching staff to succeed, you have to have eight to 10 starters that are going to make starts for you, that you’re going to want to count on those guys to help you win games. And then, from a bullpen standpoint, you’re going to need 15 or more guys to contribute at some point.

I think the experiences that I’ve had before -- seeing a rotation hold up all the way through the year versus having some bumps in the road -- you know that you’re going to have to win in various ways. That’s what the staff in Baltimore, as well as the Minor League coordinators and pitching coaches, we’re all fighting for: to develop as much depth as you possibly can.