22 April 2016

Clogging The Pipeline

The opening-day roster for the 2016 Norfolk Tides - the Orioles AAA affiliate - was, if not unique, certainly unusual. No one on their roster was a prospect promoted from AA. Oh, infielder Ozzie Martinez and relief pitcher Jason Stoffel spent 2015 at Bowie, and swingman Terry Doyle wasn't promoted to Norfolk until the end of July. But those three players all had significant AAA experience before 2015 and were playing below their level because of organizational need. Those weren't "promotions"; they are more accurately described as "restorations." Not until Game 5 was a player promoted from AA to the Tides - 27-year-old Cuban pitcher Ariel Miranda.

What does this mean? First, the Orioles are as willing as any team to promote a top prospect directly from AA, bypassing AAA. In the Showalter Era, the Orioles promoted Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, and Kevin Gausman from Bowie to Baltimore (Gausman was later optioned to Norfolk.) Jonathan Schoop was the only comparable prospect who played at Norfolk before being promoted to the Orioles.

Bowie is closer to Baltimore than is Norfolk, and it's easy for the Orioles administration to keep track of AA players at Bowie. They probably have a better sense of whether and when a top prospect can handle the jump to the majors than other teams. Also, it's easier to call a player up from Bowie if he's needed for a tryout in case of injury or doubleheader. So it makes sense for the Orioles to keep a good prospect at AA rather than promoting him to AAA.

It's also obvious that more than almost any other team, the Orioles stash players on their AAA roster to extend the major-league roster. (I was listening to a Detroit Tigers radio broadcast, and their announcers commented that the Orioles routinely shuttle players to and from Norfolk.) This trend is most evident with the bullpen arms as the Orioles often promote pitchers for short stints when the bullpen has been overworked. By stockpiling experienced pitchers on the AAA roster, that keeps other pitchers - who may otherwise be promoted to AAA - at lower levels.

Equally apparent is the fact that the Orioles don't have many good prospects, and most of their better prospects are at lower levels. There was really only one prospect at Bowie who mastered AA in 2015. One of the reasons the Orioles didn't promote anyone from AA to AAA is that there weren't many who deserved it.

But it's possible that the Orioles use of the AAA roster is becoming counterproductive. The one prospect who did enough at AA in 2015 to warrant promotion to AAA was first baseman Trey Mancini. Mancini, who turned 24 in March 2016, hit .359/.395/.586 in 84 games after being promoted from Class A Frederick. Even though Christian Walker would likely return to Norfolk, Mancini could also have been promoted as a first baseman/DH, especially after the Orioles decided to move Walker to the outfield.

Instead, the Orioles have loaded the Norfolk roster with AAA veterans taking Mancini's spot. Right fielder Dariel Alvarez remains a legitimate prospect. And Henry Urrutia, whose chance at becoming a major leaguer disappeared when he missed most of 2014 with a sports hernia, is still around. But the Orioles added two corner players from other organizations - Joey Terdoslavich and L.J. Hoes. Both those players have spent many years at AAA and have failed chances to establish themselves in the majors. It makes no sense to me why you would clutter the AAA roster when you have a prospect ready for the move. I hope that these decisions don't harm Trey Mancini or the Orioles in the long run.


Roger said...

I'm not sure the pipeline is all that clogged because of just what you mentioned - not enough prospects to clog. The only significant example is Mancini and, I too, find that to be a head scratcher. I am familiar with Terdoslavich and he did have potential (probably once a Christian Walker type), but he is past that and using him at Norfolk over Trey defies logic. Maybe they're waiting to use Terdoslavich as a PTBNL..... In other cases, I'm not sure I see any blockage. I have always had the impression that many clubs keep their best prospects, i.e. the youngest ones with the most upside, at AA. I think the O's do this to an exaggerated extent due to the state of the farm system and, if they had more prospects, you might see it balance out more.

Jon Shepherd said...

Teams do not keep their best prospects at AA. That is merely a perception because once a guy can perform well at AAA, he gets into the majors. At AA, there is still some doubt, so players will sit there longer. The immediacy is simply not present there as it is in AAA.

Jon Shepherd said...

Spoke to a couple of my contacts. They said there are only a few, very few, cases where they keep a guy on a lower level and those cases depend wholly on wanting someone immediately ready for MLB club. Both never had actually seen an organization that keeps guys at AA. They also said it would be foolish to do so because AAA is much closer to MLB ball than AA is. AAA time makes for an easier transition. Excellent talent largely skips AAA or plays minimally there because they are ready to be decent MLBers at that point.

Pip said...

Speaking of AA-Bigs transitions, The only one I can think of that worked well is Caleb Joseph. Having the other players made that leap and been significant contributors?
Caleb was in line to be the starter if Matt Wieters had departed, and to the best my knowledge he never sniffed a day at Norfork.

Jon Shepherd said...

Some dude back in 2012. Orioles had an issue at 3B and the club decided to take Bowie's SS and make him into a 3B. I think he still plays for Baltimore.

Unknown said...

#Pip - Caleb Joseph was promoted from Norfolk, not Bowie. He started 2014 at Norfolk and played 22 games there before being promoted He also played at Norfolk in 2012.

Roger said...

Jon, LOL on the last comment but it kind of proves my point. Your prior statement sort of contradicts itself. When we're talking about the "pipeline", we're talking about excellent talent. Change my semantics a little and let's say clubs don't "keep" their talent at AA, but they promote their best talent from AA. Not only Joseph and Machado, but there's also Givens. Gausman's been to AAA but everyone has felt that was a big mistake. It's the lesser talent that gets promoted to AAA to really see what it can do before coming to the majors (Walker, Wison, Wright, etc...). I still agree that forcing Mancini back to AA is a big mistake especially to hold on to a guy like Terdoslavich. But I don't see any other big mistakes like that in the Orioles system right now. The rest of the Orioles pipeline is either too young or not good enough. By next year, we might be having the same discussion about catcher as 1B with Pena and Sisco maturing.

On a side note, every time it's mentioned, I can't believe anyone might be serious about moving Machado back to SS. He is one of the best if not the best 3B in the game whereas he would not be the best SS in the game. A 3B talent like Machado or Donaldson does not come along every day, but slick fielding SS are all around (though they may not hit). ARod and Cal were both moved FROM SS to 3B for that reason.

Jon Shepherd said...

Teams do not hold guys in AA. Elite prospects when ready to leave AA sometimes go straight to Majors because they can immediately contribute. There is nothing contradictory there.

Roger said...

And there we go. Mancini and Terdoslavich swap teams today and rightfully so.