An Organization in Need of Change Part 2

(Continued)The last example is how the Orioles handled their latest left-handed top pitching prospect. Erik Bedard had quickly established himself as the Orioles top pitching prospect going into this year.

The Orioles added him to their 40-man roster, but after finishing the year in High-A ball the year before, it was fairly obvious to everyone that Bedard was going to spend most if not all of 2002 in the minors. Instead of giving the kid a few weeks in big league camp and an inning or two in a Grapefruit League game, Bedard was kept around until late March. The problem with that is the fact that Bedard was not getting the innings in that he needed to prepare himself for the upcoming season. Instead of getting innings in the minor league camp, Bedard sat around and watched games in the major league camp, getting in just 11 innings with Baltimore, the same amount used to get situational relievers Buddy Groom and B.J. Ryan ready for the season.

Thanks to the earlier mismanagement, Bedard was put on a 50-pitch count in his opening-day start for Bowie, while the other starters were on a 75-pitch count. Bedard would spend the next month getting himself caught up, and on June 26th, he left a game after feeling pain in his elbow. Sure enough, an MRI revealed a partially torn tendon in his elbow. Instead of opting for surgery, however, the Orioles decided to have Bedard rest for six weeks, under the assumption they would take another MRI at that time, after the swelling had gone down, in order to get a better look at the injury. Remarkably, six weeks later and without getting another MRI, the Orioles started Bedard throwing again. Why the organization would have a pitcher start throwing again after receiving a partially torn tendon diagnosis is beyond the imagination. Not surprisingly, Bedard continued to feel pain and was shut down and scheduled for Tommy John surgery.

It's almost like the Orioles can write the book on how to ruin a young arm.

Scouting

The Orioles' problems in the player development side of things make evaluating the scouting during Tony DeMacio's tenure incomplete at best. However, the best indicator of his performance came when he was honored as the 2002 Executive of the Year by the Mid-Atlantic Scouts Association. The voting is done by professional scouts who live or work in the mid-Atlantic region and show the type of respect DeMacio has earned from his peers.

Looking over his four drafts, a few trends seem to stand out. First off, his record of selecting an impact player in the first round is not good. Although it's too early to completely evaluate any player in his drafts, impact players are usually pretty obvious. However, if failing to find a star player in the first round is a weakness, then DeMacio has a lot of company. Kerry Leibowitz's first round draft study determined that 33.5% of players drafted in the first round (1965-94) never even played in the major leagues and another 15.5% had only the proverbial "cup of coffee." Only 6.7% of the first-rounders became superstars and 21.7% become solid major leaguers, with the remaining 22.5% becoming journeyman players. Basically, 49% of the players drafted in the first round will never amount to anything, with only 28.4% becoming either major league starters or superstars.

DeMacio receives a lot of flak over his first round picks, so let's take a quick look at each draft's picks. In his first draft, DeMacio received four first-round picks and three supplemental picks between the first and second round. In what was considered by most experts a weak draft class, Demacio went with college pitcher Mike Paradis with his first, and 13th overall pick. Paradis has struggled during his minor league career, completing his Double-A season this year with a 8-13, 5.64 record. Jason Jennings (16th overall), who won 16 games with the Rockies this year, Matt Ginter (22nd) who has pitched 103 major league innings with the White Sox, and Kurt Ainsworth (24th), who is starting to make his mark with the San Francisco Giants this year, all were passed over for Paradis. This sounds like Monday morning quarterbacking, but in hindsight, Paradis (87K/91IP) was the only college pitcher, besides 25th overall pick Mike MacDougal (117K/120IP), taken in the first round who did not strike out at least a batter an inning in the college campaign before he was drafted.

DeMacio then went with high-school pitcher Richard Stahl with the 18th overall pick and two college outfielders from cold-weather schools in Larry Bigbie (21st) and Keith Reed (23rd). Stahl was the closest to an impact player of DeMacio's picks in this draft, but like a lot of high-school pitchers, he has had a hard time staying healthy. Bigbie may end up a solid major leaguer when it's all said and done, but Reed could end up a complete miss. With his three supplemental picks, DeMacio grabbed two left-handed high school pitchers in Josh Cenate (34) and Scott Rice (44) before nabbing college shortstop Brian Roberts with the 50th overall pick. Cenate has been hurt for the last three years, and Rice, the youngest and the rawest of the draft picks, has yet to develop. Roberts looks like he could end up a solid major league utility player, and he still could develop into a starting second baseman somewhere if given a chance.

In 2000, DeMacio went with another college pitcher with his first selection when he tabbed Texas right-hander Beau Hale with the 14th overall selection. Hale has yet to find his college velocity that used to reach the high 90's late in games. Hale has struggled to find his mechanics and arm strength since joining the Orioles system and has also battled the injury bug. He finished last season in Double-A after spending most of it with Single-A Frederick with limited success.

Expectations were high in 2001 with DeMacio getting his first top 10 pick along with a 19th pick. Despite being part of system with little power, DeMacio went with another left-hander pitcher, this time it was Chris Smith from Cumberland University. Some believed Smith, a converted outfielder who left Florida state to pitch for Cumberland U., was a reach at the number seven pick. DeMacio countered that Smith reminded him and his scouts of a young Mike Hampton. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Smith has barely pitched due to a shoulder injury that either occurred after his last pitching performance or shortly after his arrival into the Orioles organization, depending upon who you ask. Either way, Smith has undergone rotator cuff surgery and has not been a factor in the organization. With the 19th overall pick, DeMacio took LSU second baseman Mike Fontenot. Fontenot had a solid first professional season, but struggled defensively and didn't show the speed or ability to get on base that the Orioles were hoping for when they selected him so high.

In 2002, the Orioles got their highest pick ever with the fourth overall pick, and DeMacio took Canadian high-school left-hander Adam Loewen. Unfortunately, Angelos took control of the scouting budget for the first time since DeMacio took over and held the line on the bonuses. As of this date, Loewen has not signed, but the Orioles still have a chance to sign him before next year since Loewen went to a community college instead of a four-year university.

Luckily for DeMacio, the draft has 49 more rounds--so missing in the first round isn't the end of the story. DeMacio and his staff, including national cross checker Shawn Pender, have done an outstanding job of finding high-end talent after the first round. In 1999, LHP Erik Bedard was a 6th-round pick, and they found 2B Willie Harris in the 24th round. In 2000, arguably DeMacio's weakest draft so far, he took a flyer on LHP Kurt Birkins in the 33rd round as a draft-and-follow selection.

2001 looks (early on) to be DeMacio's strongest draft. After the Chris Smith fiasco, DeMacio picked up a young multi-tool prospect in SS Bryan Bass in the supplemental draft, and as usual, found his real success in the lower rounds. RHP Dave Crouthers (3rd), LHP Rommie Lewis (4th), C Eli Whiteside (6th), 1B Dustin Yount (9th) and RHP Cory Morris (15th) all have already experienced success and have shown major league tools.

It's too early to judge the 2002 draft, but OF Val Majewski (3rd), John Maine (6th) and Brandon Fahey (12th) did well in their debuts and 1B-Of Corey Shafer (2nd) and RHP Hayden Penn (5th) created a buzz with their workouts after signing late.

Overall, DeMacio's drafts have gotten better and better, with the last two drafts looking very strong. However, despite doing a good job of putting talent into the organization, DeMacio probably tends to reach a bit on his early picks. Each year the story is the same when the Orioles have taken a college pitcher with their first overall pick. The Orioles express their surprise and happiness that the pitcher they nabbed was still available; and in Paradis and Hale's case, each pitcher was rated higher before their debut season, but saw their stock drop for various reasons during the year. For some reason, DeMacio's guys either didn't see the problems the other clubs saw when they backed off, or they figured the flaws could be fixed with proper instruction. Considering the development problems in the Orioles system detailed earlier in this article, maybe DeMacio ought to stay away from "projects" until the Orioles prove they can develop one of these types of players.

Tony DeMacio and his scouts are one of the few bright spots within this organization.

Suggestions for a Better Future

When Peter Angelos bought the Orioles from Eli Jacobs, he was a conquering hero. Jacobs had shown little initiative to spend money on the team despite the fact that Camden Yards was an obvious cash cow. Angelos, a hometown guy who was already known for his generosity within the Baltimore community, immediately changed the way people thought of the Orioles. It was no longer a small market club. Angelos eventually brought in former Toronto GM Pat Gillick to run his franchise and former Orioles great Davey Johnson to manage the club. In 1996, he allowed Gillick to sign the top free agents on the market in Roberto Alomar and Randy Myers, who combined with 1994 free agent signee Rafael Palmeiro to lead the Orioles to two straight playoffs.

Unfortunately, Angelos would eventually become over-confident in his ability to make baseball decisions, and he would run off just about every top-quality baseball guy who helped build the team into a contender. When the Orioles finish off their season on Sunday, they will be completing their fifth consecutive losing season and second consecutive 90+ loss season. Angelos' organization is in disarray, and the fans have become more and more upset as the class and dignity of being a Baltimore Orioles fan has been put into question.

So how can he get out of this mess? I'm glad you asked. Here a list of ten steps the Orioles need to take to become the first-class organization that they once were, and (just as important) to get back to their traditionally winning ways.

The first five items address the need to revamp the organization in ways critical to the team's performance on the field, though these changes must happen behind the scenes:

1. HIRE AN INNOVATIVE GM

First things first: Syd Thrift must be let go and he must be replaced with an energetic, creative, visionary who's not afraid to try some new concepts and not afraid to step out of the norm. This organization needs a leader, a guy who can create a one-team attitude. He must be able to have full authority to run the franchise. Angelos should give him his budget, and let him shape the club as he sees fit. He must have full authority to hire and fire anyone in the system, or at least have the authority to delegate that responsibility to the Farm Director, who should be allowed to hand-pick the staff. Although Tony DeMacio has done an outstanding job, it should be up to the new GM to decide whether or not he stays on, since he has to be sure that all of his team members are on the same page and under the same philosophy. The same goes for Mike Hargrove and his staff. Finally, Angelos will be wise not to get caught in the trap of thinking that the GM needs to be a seasoned baseball man who has held every job in a professional baseball organization. The success of the Yankees' Brian Cashman and Oakland's Billy Beane is a better example and shows what can happen by giving young, smart guys a chance.

2. SAME TEAM, SAME PHILOSOPHY THROUGHOUT ORGANIZATION

Without a doubt, the new GM must have a sound and coherent baseball philosophy and be prepared to institute that philosophy throughout the system. The major league and minor league pitching and hitting coaches should be working under the same philosophy, so that from the time a player arrives in the organization until the time he steps into Camden Yards, he's been taught the same thing year after year. This is why it's so important that the new GM be allowed to handpick his Farm Director and Scouting Director as well as hiring his assistants. Everyone must be on the same sheet of music, with no exceptions, and with no behind-the-scenes power struggles.

3. BECOME TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED

The organization must think outside the box by using new technologies like collaboration software and servers, which allow multiple users to share ideas, documents, voice, and video across the Internet in a secure environment. Imagine a meeting each day with the farm director at Camden Yards, the GM on a laptop in a hotel in New York, minor league managers and scouts with laptops in their hotel rooms discussing last night's games and action. No more calling up for voice reports for the game, but an actual interactive conversation with the professionals who saw the plays happen live.

Take that information and have it entered into an online scouting service which can be accessed by anyone in the system from scout, to manager, to coach, to front office. One such system is IBM's PROS ("Prospect Reporting and Organizational Solution"), a Web-based software application that allows scouts to quickly collect, store and access information on prospects and players. The Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets already use this system.

Also, the minor league system of analyzing players' performances could be much better if more information were charted and tracked. Instead of having minor league pitchers chart the velocity and type of pitch on a piece of paper, have each use a pocket pc with pitch/bat charting software like Chartmine/E-chart from Competitive Edge Decision systems or Pro Scout from Inside Edge, Inc. This data can be uploaded into databases which can then be viewed by people within the organization as well as being shared with the players during workout sessions and pre-game preparation.

4. MAKE EVERYONE FEEL THEY ARE PART OF SOMETHING SPECIAL

Everyone wants to be part of something special. Young military men put themselves through excruciating tests of physical and mental duress to become part of the Army's Special Forces or Rangers, and Navy personnel go even further to become SEALs. Why? Because if they make it, they truly became part of a special team, a special group of individuals that have accomplished a great deal just to get where they are. That type of mentality should be instilled in every minor league player that comes into the system.

On day one the new recruits should be shown a film of Brooks Robinson throwing out Lee May in the 1970s World Series or Cal Ripken catching the last out of the 1983 Series in Philadelphia. They should be shown Jim Palmer on the mound and Frank Robinson at the plate. These future Orioles should hear past and present Orioles talk about the things Cal Ripken Sr. stood for, about what a special honor it is to put on the uniform of the Baltimore Orioles.

Class, hard work, hustle and dedication should be expected from each player in the system. The consequences of breaking a spelled-out code of conduct should include being benched, demoted or released, depending on the offense. In return, the coaching staff will be dedicated, hard-working men who believe in the philosophy of the organization and who want to work with the young men they are given.

5. TREAT PLAYERS AS INDIVIDUALS

Each player that comes into the organization is different. They come from diverse backgrounds and education levels, with unique characteristics that differentiate each one from another regardless of skill level. When a player is signed, the minor league staff and scouts should assess him and an individual developmental plan (IDP) should be outlined to show a player his strengths and weaknesses. This IDP should follow the player from each level so that when the player is promoted, the new coaching staff knows what the player is working on and what he does well, along with other notes from the previous coaching staff and organizational scouts who have seen him.

Just as importantly, at the end of the year, the player should be counseled on his season and his IDP should be discussed. The organization should develop an offseason program tailored to the player with such things as drills, fitness, and weight training included.

Besides the quality of the baseball organization, the packaging of the baseball product to its fans is also important. The next five items address shortcomings in this area:

6. OFFER $5 FAMILY SECTIONS

Offer one section in the stadium where seats are five bucks if they are bought with a child's ticket. Limit adult seating to two adults per child's ticket, and allow an unlimited number of children's tickets per adult. A child would be anyone under the age of 18 accompanying an adult. This arrangement will encourage families to come to the park. A family of four paying $20 to see a game is much more inclined to buy food and souvenirs then if they have already plunked down $80.

7. FANFEST CHANGES

Drop the price of the annual FAN FEST to $5 and make it bigger. Bring back more ex-Orioles and offer up more fan forums, in more intimate settings like smaller conference rooms. Fans love the ability to interact with ex-players, even the Mark Williamsons of the world. Encourage more major and minor league players to attend and allow them to mingle with the crowd. At last year's FAN FEST, players like John Parrish, Josh Towers and Matt Riley could be seen enjoying their time interacting with the fans with Parrish and Riley spending lots of time just standing in the crowd talking with whoever had something to say. The autograph sessions are fine for the people who like that kind of thing, but they allow little time for chit-chat. Also, add in more Orioles trivia with prizes, maybe even an Orioles jeopardy show with contestants picked at random. These changes will allow for the players and the fans to feel more like a community, and just might bring some of that old Orioles magic back.

8. TURN DOWN THE NOISE

For God's sake, turn down the volume of the music between innings. Why in the world a fan should have to scream to the person next to them in order to have a conversation is beyond me. A lot of people have complained about this, but apparently it has gone on deaf ears. Perhaps the person in charge of music was sitting in the upper deck near one of the speakers?

9. MORE AUTOGRAPHS AFTER GAMES

With Cal Ripken gone, it seems as though the players nowadays can't get into the dugouts fast enough after games. What's so wrong with hanging out a little while after games to sign some autographs for the fans?

10. SOMEHOW, HIRE JON MILLER BACK

With all due respect to Jim Hunter and Fred Manfra, the firing of Jon Miller may have been the worst decision Peter Angelos ever made. Miller is the best in the business because he was still worth listening to in 10-1 routs (which would have come in handy the last few seasons). I'm sure Miller is happy in San Francisco, but maybe the lure of a big payday and a lifetime supply of Maryland Blue Crabs could bring him back.

Conclusion

The one thing that I'm convinced of is that Peter Angelos is not a dumb man. He realizes his organization is in trouble, and he also realizes that he's not exactly the most popular person around town. While this article is not exactly Tony Blair's Iraq dossier, I believe we have shown clear evidence of an organization in chaos. The Orioles organization is in dire need of a change in leadership and philosophy.

This organization has a proud history, one full of fantastic moments and lifetime memories. For those of us who grew up Orioles fans, we thought of ourselves as being fans of something special. We rooted for Brooks, Frank, Palmer, Eddie and Cal, but most of all, we rooted for the orange and black.

Mr. Angelos, do your organization, the fans, and your city proud. Swallow your pride and do what's right. Make the necessary changes to bring back greatness to the Baltimore Orioles name.

This article was edited by Nowick Gray


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