Happy offseason, Orioles fans. Before we get to your questions, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for following along during this unpredictable, unprecedented 2020 season. Much has changed in the past few months, but not your dedication, engagement and passion, and for that I am grateful.
With that, let’s crack open the first Orioles Inbox of the offseason.
How is the move toward analytics working? Does Chris Holt’s analytics background earn him the pitching coach job?
It definitely makes him the leading in-house candidate. The Orioles have seemingly been grooming Holt for the big league pitching coach job since bringing him over from the Astros in late 2018, first as their Minor League coordinator and now under the title of director of pitching. In his two years with the organization, Holt has grown into its most influential voice on the pitching side of things, respected for both his fluency in analytics and ability to communicate that information to players, amongst other skills.
This year, Holt was supposed to have unfiltered access to every level of the organization, including the Major League side, where he’d serve as an analytical liaison between the front office, player development staff and pitching coach Doug Brocail -- who won't return in 2021. That arrangement was complicated by coronavirus restrictions; Holt did bounce between the Majors and the club’s alternate training site in Bowie, Md., serving as the primary instructor for Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, top prospects DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez and others. Giving those pitchers a top advisor at the big league level who knows them would make sense, and be consistent with the Orioles' goal of rebuilding the organization from the ground up.
Do you anticipate any changes in the front office staff this offseason, whether in terms of scouting, player development or analytics? We’ve already seen two Major League coaches let go, so I’m curious if this could extend to the other areas of the baseball operation.
I think things are really up in the air on the Minor League side, given all the uncertainty about what the Minors will look like come 2021. The Orioles believe there is a good chance they’ll have at least one fewer affiliate; that would change the complexion of the player development staff for obvious reasons.
“I can’t imagine it being more uncertain between the health crisis and also the restricting of the Minor Leagues that is going on and is not subtle,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said recently. “It is impossible to [put an] emphasis [on] how many balls are in the air regarding Minor League Baseball next year.”
As for the front office, I can’t see them adding anyone given the financial uncertainty the pandemic brought. That alone would make things different than the past two offseasons, both of which the O’s spent reconfiguring their organizational infrastructure and bolstering areas like analytics and international scouting.
Which prospects turned heads this year at Bowie? Any good buzz from the guys we didn’t get to see?
The Orioles were concerned about how the shutdown would affect some of their youngest prospects and were therefore thrilled to get their hands on Henderson, 19, their 2019 second-round Draft pick and No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline. Word from Bowie was that Henderson made big strides facing advanced pitching (more advanced than he would’ve in the low Minors) rather than what he was doing during quarantine: batting practice from a family friend back home in Alabama. Henderson also reaped the benefits of video work and feedback from K-Vest wearable motion technology that would’ve been unavailable from home.
The main return from the Angels in last winter’s Dylan Bundy trade, Bradish, 24, is significantly further along the developmental track and probably would’ve began this summer at Double-A. As it was, the O’s No. 28 prospect impressed at the alternate training site with a mid-90s fastball and power curve that some call the best breaking ball in Baltimore's system. He probably opens 2021 at Triple-A Norfolk with a chance to debut later next summer.
What is more likely for Renato Núñez? A claimed/unclaimed DFA, a trade or to hold on as long as possible (pending Trey Mancini's game readiness for 2021)?
Man, this is a tough one. It also might be the Orioles most difficult decision of the offseason, from a roster standpoint. Let’s think it through.
On one hand, Mancini’s uncertain health situation would seem to secure Núñez’s roster spot. But it’s almost negated by the O’s commitment to keep Chris Davis in the fold -- there is a crunch either way, though maybe it’s not as extreme in a world of 28-man rosters.
Hurting Núñez’s case is the fact that his main tool, power, is a cheap commodity these days. Yes, Núñez led the O’s with 43 homers over the past two seasons -- but 41 other players also hit that many across baseball. Núñez’s 106 OPS+ since the start of 2019 is nearly the same of the one produced by slugger C.J. Cron (107), whom the Rays cut ties with two winters ago when he was projected to earn about $5 million in arbitration.
Núñez would be in line for a smaller raise than that as a first-year arb-eligible player, and the O’s aren’t as historically cash-conscious as the Rays. But the purse strings are expected to be tight this winter, given the financial uncertainty brought about by the pandemic and the state of the Orioles’ rebuild. Núñez is a non-tender and trade candidate for these reasons, though his defensive warts and all-or-nothing offensive profile would appear to dampen his value on both markets.