O's break ground on Dominican complex

October 6th, 2021

The Orioles broke ground on their new state-of-the-art training academy in Guerra, Dominican Republic, on Wednesday, marking the start of construction for what will be the club’s regional home for Caribbean, Central and South American player development operations.

Once complete, the 22 1/2-acre complex will house more than 100 players, coaches and staff, three full fields, a sports turfed agility field, batting practice and pitching tunnels, administrative buildings, dormitory-style rooms and educational facilities, the team said. The Orioles view the project as integral in re-asserting their presence in the Latin American market. It is expected to take between 12-16 months to complete.

“We have made tremendous strides over the last couple of years in establishing our international presence and revamping our baseball operations infrastructure, and this project may be the most momentous step yet,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said in a statement. “International scouting and player development are critical to the future success of the Orioles and baseball as a whole. This new academy will be the Latin American home of the Orioles, and once completed we expect it to be one of the finest training facilities in the Dominican."

The Orioles spent roughly $5.75 million on their 2020-21 international free agent class, their second consecutive record class based on size and investment. Part of that was committing the first two seven-figure bonuses to amateur Latin players in club history, with No. 24 prospect Samuel Basallo and No. 19 Maikol Hernandez receiving $1.3 million and $1.2 million, respectively. Baltimore is expecting another sizable class this year to bolster its already top-rated farm system.

The Orioles’ current facility in Boca Chica has been in use since 2008. The new complex is being built to provide twice the capacity, and is modeled on the Indians’ nearby facility, which opened in '19. Baltimore chairman and CEO John Angelos and Dominican president Luis Abinader were among Wednesday’s notable attendees, along with Elias and former Orioles, including Ubaldo Jiménez, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada.

Coaching shakeup
The Orioles shook up their big league and Minor League coaching staffs following the conclusion of the 2021 season, parting ways with hitting coach Don Long, among other moves, sources confirmed. Long, 59, had been manager Brandon Hyde’s hitting coach since 2019. The team is also planning to transition assistant hitting coach José Hernandez to a different role on the staff.

MASN was first to report the shakeup, which the team has not yet confirmed. This season was Long’s 11th season as a big league hitting coach, having served in the role for the Pirates and Reds prior to the Orioles.

Additionally, the organization is replacing Triple-A manager Gary Kendall and pitching coach Kennie Steenstra, Florida Complex League manager Alan Mills, High-A Aberdeen hitting coach Tom Eller and Low-A Delmarva hitting coach Patrick Jones, sources confirmed.

A report by the Baltimore Sun said the team plans to promote Buck Britton from Double-A to replace Kendall at Norfolk, where he’d managed since 2019. Kendall previously managed Bowie for eight seasons, and is the Baysox career wins leader.

For both Kendall and Mills, the decision ends decades-long runs in the organization. Kendall first joined the Orioles’ system in 1992 and had served in various development roles since 2000. Mills is a former O’s reliever who returned as Bowie’s pitching coach in '12, spent '17-18 on the big league staff and managed in the Gulf Coast League (now Florida Complex League) since '19.

AFL rosters announced
The Orioles will send eight prospects to the Arizona Fall League for the circuit’s first season since 2019, the team and MLB announced Wednesday. The elite prospect league begins play on Oct. 13.

Highlighting the Orioles group are outfielders Kyle Stowers and Yusniel Diaz, the club’s No. 11 and No.12 ranked prospects per MLB Pipeline. They’ll be joined on the Mesa Solar Sox by left-handers Cameron Bishop and Nick Vespi, righties Logan Gillaspie and Connor Loeprich, catcher Ramon Rodriguez and infielder Greg Cullen. Stowers and Diaz’s inclusions were previously reported.

Of that group, Stowers, Bishop and Vespi raised their stock the most in 2021, mostly at Double-A Bowie. Stowers led the Orioles system with 27 homers, and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Norfolk. Vespi also finished the year at Triple-A after emerging as an impact reliever in Bowie, posting a 1.42 ERA and notched 25 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings. Bishop pitched to a 3.17 ERA and recorded 54 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings at Bowie, making nine of his 12 appearances in relief.