Before the 2019 season, former Baltimore Orioles closer Zack Britton had always been known as "Zach." The New York Yankees left-handed reliever announced in early February that he'd go by "Zack," the name that appears on his birth certificate.
He had climbed through the Orioles' minor-league system after being drafted in 2006 and had become a dominant big-league reliever as "Zach." That didn't stop Britton from joking to the world that he had #beenlivingalie.
As it turns out, his brother Buck Britton, who manages the Double-A Bowie Baysox, was surprised by the name change as well.
"The bigger question I had is why he continued to let me butcher it. Z-A-C-H my entire life," Buck Britton on
Glenn Clark Radio
May 16. "I still haven't gotten the full story. Sometimes I think it's the bright lights of New York getting to him. I think there is something on the birth certificate, but I've honestly never seen his birth certificate, so that information is still kind of fresh to me. But this offseason we're definitely going to get to the bottom of it."
Buck and Zack were in the Orioles organization together for seven years. Buck, an infielder, was drafted by the club in 2008 out of Lubbock Christian University (Texas). He first made it to Triple-A Norfolk in 2010, then spent more time with the Tides in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but he never got the chance to play on the same big-league team as his brother.
Buck played at the Triple-A level for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins in 2015 and 2016, respectively, before hanging up the cleats as a player. Britton immediately got into coaching with the Orioles, spending the 2017 season as Low-A Delmarva's hitting coach and 2018 as the manager.
Longtime Bowie manager Gary Kendall was promoted to Norfolk this season by the Orioles, leaving a void at Double-A. The club promoted Britton to Bowie.
"As far as my own journey, it was amazing," Britton said. "It was kind of unexpected when I got the phone call in the offseason. I thought maybe when Gary got the Triple-A job, they were just going to bump everybody up [one level], but for me to get the bump to Double-A was obviously exciting. It was a blessing, for sure. For the organization to trust me like that means a lot."
One of the tasks the Orioles' new leadership -- Mike Elias as general manager and Sig Mejdal as his top assistant -- is trusting Britton to oversee is the application of new data-gathering systems to help players improve. For example, the Baysox are
using bat sensors
, which Britton said are aimed to help hitters develop their swing.
"It's just gathering as much information as we can with thousands and thousands and thousands of swings to kind of see what works and what doesn't," Britton said. "… To now give maybe the player a little more trust in what the coach is saying because there are stats to back it up will be big."
Britton also broke down some individual players on his squad…
Infielder Rylan Bannon, acquired from the Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade last July, has been Bowie's top hitter this year. He's posting a .270/.340/.428 line entering play May 22 and has spent time at second and third base. The 23-year-old out of Xavier has bounced back after a tough stint with the Baysox last summer.
"Being able to play multiple positions is huge and for him to be able to play second base and third base the way he does is only a benefit for him," Britton said. "... He does have some pop. I don't know if it's going to translate to a guy that's going to hit 30 home runs, but he can run a little bit, he's got enough arm to play [at third]. He's going to be that Dustin Pedroia-type player, in my opinion: that scrappy guy who plays hard who's got the occasional juice."
Lefty Zac Lowther is another 23-year-old Xavier product. Lowther has posted an ERA of 2.00 in 220.1 innings throughout four levels in the organization since being drafted in 2017. He has a 1.91 ERA, 39 strikeouts and 17 walks in 42.1 innings at Bowie this year.
"He's got a lot of the information via TrackMan and stuff that's helped him quite a bit," Britton said. "People talk about the spin rate and the hop on the fastball, and he's a guy who has the high spin rate, so his fastball plays like it rises through the strike zone is the best way to describe it. He's really taken advantage of that, and I think with all the new information he's developing a better breaking ball, he's getting a better feel for his changeup."
Lefty Bruce Zimmermann, 24, was part of the package the Atlanta Braves sent to the Orioles for right-handers Kevin Gausman and Darren O'Day last July. A native of Baltimore, Zimmermann attended Loyola Blakefield and began his college career at Towson. He has a 2.61 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 38.0 innings for Bowie this year.
"He's another guy who's working on another weapon in a changeup," Britton said. "With all this information that's coming into the organization and really zeroing in on these pitchers and the development and the success that these guys had in Houston, you're really seeing a turnaround. You're really seeing pitchers buy into this stuff. It makes them do everything with a purpose, so they take their bullpen into the game. It's been exciting."
Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, 22, was the highest-rated prospect acquired in the trades the Orioles made last summer, but he's struggled since coming to his new organization. He hit .239/.329/.403 in 134 at-bats for the Baysox last year, and he posted a .225/.313/.338 line in 71 at-bats this year before being placed on the injured list with a groin strain.
"I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself being kind of the centerpiece for that Machado trade," Britton said. "So I think kind of taking a step back for him and kind of regrouping and just staying within himself and being the player that he is [will be] important for him, knowing that nobody expects him to go out there and be Manny Machado today. It's going to take some time for him."
Right-hander Hunter Harvey, 24, was drafted in the first round by the Orioles in 2013. He quickly became one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but injuries -- he had Tommy John surgery in 2016 -- have slowed his development. He has a 5.45 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 10 walks in 36.1 innings this year. He's thrown just 213 innings as a pro.
"He definitely has the stuff. The only thing that I can see is the inexperience that shows up for him," Britton said. "He's been hurt so much that he really hasn't had a whole lot of time on the mound, and ... he's kind of developing without any A-ball experience in Double-A. You learn real fast that it doesn't matter how hard you throw at this level. These hitters can really hit a fastball. Every outing for him, he sees things that he's never seen [before]."
For more from Britton, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Bill Vaughan/Bowie Baysox