Top Prospects Continue Development in Sarasota
Each fall, Orioles Minor Leaguers head to Ed Smith Stadium – Sarasota’s crown jewel – for a month-long instructional camp focused on player development. This year, 50 baby birds – including 17 members of the 2021 draft class and 19 of the club’s Top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline – migrated south for supplemental instruction and practice.
After instructional league wrapped up last week, Birdland Insider connected with five Orioles’ staff members to discuss what they saw from baseball’s top farm system during camp.
Matt Blood | Director, Player Development
Now that the instructional league has wrapped up, how would you evaluate the progress that was made by prospects, coaches, and the player development apparatus as a whole?
The staff and players put a great deal of effort and focus into making this a productive program. We’re seeing physical and mental gains from the time spent in Sarasota from everyone in involved, as well as continued growth of our culture.
What improvements do you feel have been made to instructional league camp since you joined the organization in 2019?
We’ve spent significant time reimagining instructional league. We want it to be a fertile environment for growth. So, we are focusing on skill acquisition and the elements that go into learning. It seems to be a fun environment that has been enjoyable for players and staff.
Without a Minor League season in 2020, last year’s instructional league camp provided players with an opportunity to get more reps and make up for lost time. What, if anything, did the organization change in its approach this year after a full Minor League season?
This year we did not play any games or have any live pitching. This camp was focused more on strength and conditioning and deliberate practice. We also held daily seminars to the players to continue to provide with the players with a consistent message of what the organization values.
All six members of the Orioles’ 2020 draft class and 17 of the club’s 21 selections in this year’s draft participated in camp. What did you see from those players?
What we noticed as a whole is the talent in the organization has been tremendously improved over the past couple years. We have a physical, skilled, and highly competitive group of players who are excited about bringing a championship to Baltimore.
What went into selecting the roster for this year’s instructional league camp?
It was a combination of bringing new players, as well as veterans who needed specific work.
Anthony Villa | Complex Level Hitting Coordinator
What was the most exciting part of the instructional league from your perspective?
The most exciting part of fall camp was seeing our hitters work together to create a culture that takes tremendous pride in learning and preparing. They embodied this with daily challenging practice, that they believe will prepare them for the challenges of the Major Leagues. We talk about creating an organization driven by the players, and this camp was a strong step forward in seeing them create that, along with the staff helping facilitate that. Seeing these players push each other in their daily hitting and weight room work was inspiring and extraordinary.
Can you describe what your goals were for the hitters during camp and how the coaching staff helped them accomplish these goals? What kind of process did you implement?
Our biggest goal for camp was to teach the players how to maximize their offseason. These five weeks were a kickstart to that, and hopefully they feel armed with the understanding to head home and make responsible training decisions. They certainly did during the camp!
Our process looked like:
· Utilize all the information at hand to reflect on the 2021 season: What went well? And what do we need to improve on? Where do we see the biggest margins are for offensive production gains?
· Create an environment that is going to challenge the hitter to produce in these areas. This is where the coach and hitter get to partner together to get creative, designing a practice setting that is going to challenge the hitter with different intentions, strategies, and movements.
· Execute. Attack the few main goals with laser focus. Push through struggles, knowing that learning comes from struggling through errors, adjusting, and expanding your skill capabilities over time.
How do you feel the camp benefitted the coaching staff?
I feel this camp benefitted the coaching staff in a big way. It allowed our coaches to get creative with their offensive programming, utilizing the process listed above to create targeted, challenging practice environments. It also allowed our coaches access to hitters that they hadn’t previously worked with. We had coaches that were at all different sites working with players that were at all different levels. This created a lot of continuity in our hitting department. It was great to see those relationships being formed.
A lot has been said about Coby Mayo’s exit velocity. Can you explain why that’s an important metric for hitters, and can you speak to the power potential for someone like Mayo, who is already putting up impressive numbers at 19 years old?
Coby hits the ball HARD! That is really important, because we know that hitting the ball hard is the best predictor for batted ball success. Coby’s power potential is very exciting, seeing him as a 19-year-old hit the ball as hard as everyday Major Leaguers.
We are excited about the number of players in this org who are developing into dangerous offensive threats, and Coby certainly is making himself known as one of them.
Samuel Basallo and Maikol Hernández headlined the 2020-2021 international signing period as the club’s first-ever seven-figure international signings. Can you provide a scouting report on those two players based on what you saw during camp?
Samuel and Maikol are incredible workers and very advanced, especially considering that they are only 17 years old! There is a lot of exciting international talent coming up through this organization, and these two guys are worthy headliners. They both showcase the ability to hit the ball hard and did a nice job of driving the ball in the air. They also are continuing to refine their swing decisions. The two of them push each other in training and challenge themselves as if they were 25-year-old players instead of first year youngsters.
Dave Schmidt | Coordinator, Florida & Latin America Pitching
What was the most exciting part of the instructional league from your perspective?
Just being able to see some of our pitchers for some extra work.
Can you describe what your goals were for the pitchers during camp and how the coaching staff helped them accomplish these goals?
Our goals for this camp were to establish off season goals for each pitcher. To accomplish this, we had multiple individual meetings for each pitcher to talk about their goals heading towards Spring Training.
How do you feel the camp benefitted the coaching staff?
It is always good to see the pitchers and get to know them better. We can motivate them better as we get to know them and gain their trust.
How would you evaluate the pitching depth in the organization?
Our pitching depth is improving with each year. We have had three good drafts and some of our Latin American guys are progressing as well. We have added some free agents and Rule 5 players also.
Jean Pinto put up some very strong numbers this season after being acquired from the Angels last year as part of the José Iglesias trade. Can you provide a scouting report on him based on what you saw during camp and throughout the season?
Pinto pitched great at the Complex League so he needed to be challenged at a higher level. He had success at Delmarva as well so we are looking for him to continue his climb up the system. He was able to throw three pitches, fastball, slider and changeup, for strikes. He is fearless on the mound. Fields his position and can hold runners. His great attitude makes him a pleasure to work with.
Nick White | Minor League Strength & Conditioning Coordinator
After a long minor league season, did you have to approach instructional league camp differently than you did last year when the minor league season was cancelled?
This camp was completely different. Internally, we called it “Fall Camp” to consciously move our thought process away from traditional instruction camp itineraries of games or practices. Starting with our front office, our main goal was to move the needle on educating our players on both their development/processes and how to navigate this idea of offseason training. Most of the players in camp have never truly had an “offseason”, and this was our chance to give them vision and direction in that area. It was about building the culture, educating the players on their process (their own bodies, mental skills, nutrition/sleep, recovery, long term arm care, specific hitting movements and training), working on traditional strength/power, eliminating deficiencies, building quality movements, and gaining lean mass going into the rest of the off season.
How do you strike a balance between encouraging players to work hard while also making sure they aren’t overdoing it right before the offseason?
You can only train as hard as you recover. We worked with each player coming to camp to design an active recovery period of about 2-3 weeks directly after the season ended aimed at resetting and allowing for recovery both mentally and physically. We then had a 1-2 week onboarding of the program prior to the fall camp depending on the player to establish workload and allow for proper build up. In camp, we alternated increase in volume and intensity by week to ensure proper workloads and allowing for adaptations, especially as we started hitting and throwing ramp ups. The week the players leave camp is Thanksgiving week and will be another “reload” week allowing players to recover, while their bodies continue to adapt to the stimulus over the past 5 weeks, setting them up for another solid strength or power phase.
The front office has prioritized athleticism in the last several draft classes. Which players impressed you from a strength and conditioning standpoint?
The amount of athleticism at this camp was beyond exciting. From coaching each other, to pushing and competing with each other, and seeing guys develop and learn in such a short time I would say that our staff was impressed. From a growth perspective, owning their process, and before and after I could throw out almost any name. But to not totally escape your question, in meeting with our staff Jordan Westburg, Luis Gonzalez, Adam Hall, and Collin Burns were names that were consistently being highlighted and mentioned for their work. But overall, it was great to see the growth physically and mentally as these guys head into the rest of their offseason.
Ryan Goll | Development Coach
How were you able to ensure that all 50 players in attendance at camp got the most out of the experience and are now well-equipped to continue their training at home in the offseason?
I believe making the most of the experience at camp begins with the player to coach relationship. In recent years, the organization has introduced a lot of new staff and experienced a change in the player development culture. We utilized this camp as a way for the players and coaches to build a meaningful and trusting relationship with each other, so they will continue to be on the same page once camp departs. To expedite the player development process, we took an individualistic approach when creating the players' plans for the off-season. The players received a report outlining their strengths and weaknesses and were provided with an agenda to polish up come Spring Training.
What kinds of habits or practices did you emphasize from a development perspective?
Development in baseball starts with skill acquisition. To do so, we created a practice foundation layered with components of routines, challenge, and feedback loops. To make it a lasting product, the players need to buy-in to the training regimen. This goes back to the previous answer of the players trusting and believing in the processes the coaches created for them. Once the buy-in occurs, the developmental process will be expedited because everyone will be on the same page and understand what they need to do to get better.
Can you describe the overall attitude of everyone in camp? How has the organization’s emphasis on having a “growth mindset” benefitted player development specifically?
There is a common saying that goes, "you get out what you put in." The players and coaches showed up every day ready to get after it in the weight room and on the field. There is no right way to do things in baseball, but our staff and players have created a "rising tide" environment. This starts with the players being able to receive and provide feedback to help push the needle forward. We harp on the buzz word "growth mindset", but it is such a powerful word with great meaning. We utilize this mindset in our practice design by creating the most game-like environment, so the game becomes easier when it matters most.
Can you speak to the advantage of being able to host instructional league camp at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex?
In professional baseball, we have players from all parts of the United States and the world. Being able to bring players to Florida and train at Ed Smith Stadium in the middle of the fall/winter is a tremendous advantage, especially for our players from the north. Most of them are only able to train indoors but having the infrastructure like Ed Smith Stadium is a luxury for us as we can train outside and in a state-of-the-art facility year-round. It’s an exciting time to be an Orioles fan. There is so much talent in the organization...Birdland should be excited for what is to come!
Orioles pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to 2022 Spring Training on February 15 and the first full-squad workout is set for February 20. The 2022 season will mark the Orioles’ 13th consecutive Spring Training season in Sarasota and the club’s 12th at renovated Ed Smith Stadium. For more information, visit Orioles.com/Spring.