Chris Holt was a sage to the Orioles' minor-league pitchers during the 2019 season. Now, the franchise hopes some of that wisdom can translate to the major-league staff.
Holt, who was recently promoted to the Orioles' director of pitching, will continue his work on the minor-league side, but also collaborate with big-league pitching coach Doug Brocail to make improvements with the big-league club.
"The major component of this is that I am still the minor-league pitching coordinator," Holt said. "I also have the flexibility to spend some time with the big-league club, working side-by side with Brocail and kind of bridging the gap with the new players that are either going up or down or arriving this year. I am still largely the minor-league pitching coordinator, but with the flexibility to have some continuity from the farm up to the big leagues."
Holt expects the position to evolve as the 2020 season progresses. However, he understands the balance that must be struck between the minor-league teams and the big-league club. The key is for pitchers at every level to progress and improve their overall skills.
"The priority, in my mind, is what's going on with the minor-league side," Holt said. "And then continuing to work with Brocail and the new bullpen coach to bridge the gap with what we're trying to do at the minor-league level and how we apply that development to our guys in the big leagues as well. Development is an ongoing process, whether you're a Triple-A guy making it to the big leagues for the first time or you've been in the big leagues for five years. You need development to stay ahead of the competition."
Holt's positive influence was clear throughout the Orioles' minor-league affiliates in 2019, with four teams leading their respective leagues in ERA. Overall, strikeouts among the club's minor-league pitchers improved from an average of 8.18 in 2018 to 9.26 per nine innings last season.
Holt is proud of that progress.
"It's great to see," Holt said. "There was some really good work done on the farm. The coaches put in a lot of really good, consistent work with the players. The players worked hard to perform. There were a lot of good things that happened. Ultimately, we're in the business of trying to develop major-league pitchers. In terms of making strides last year, there were many pitchers who made tremendous strides and [got] one step closer."
The Orioles are about to embark on phase two of their massive rebuilding project. They are relying on several young arms to form the future nucleus of the major-league pitching staff.
Several key prospects, like lefties Keegan Akin and Alex Wells and right-hander Dean Kremer, could get an opportunity in Baltimore as early as next summer. It would be a significant boost to the franchise if those pitchers can find success at the major-league level.
"It's hugely important to have guys in your own system to come up and contribute at the major-league level. The minor-league stats are great, but the way you quantify the contribution is developing guys to get to the big-league team and contribute. That's a very big piece of what we're working for. No question about it."
There is clear synergy among Orioles general manager Mike Elias, assistant general manager Sig Mejdal and Holt since the three of them worked together in Houston. Brocail was also a coach for the Astros from 2011-2013.
They share the same vision for turning the Orioles into a perennial contender. A rebuilding process is much simpler when everyone is pulling in the same direction.
"It's really, really excellent to be working with a group where we value the same goals, value the same means to achieving those goals," Holt said. "It's a much easier way to collaborate. We have very, very good communication between the front office and player development. And we have great communication between myself and the big-league staff. It's very open in terms of how we work together and collaborate. It's a rewarding experience in and of itself, but it allows the quality of work to continue to operate consistently well."
Many of the young pitchers in the Orioles' organization see the opportunity to make their mark at the major-league level. Manager Brandon Hyde used 38 pitchers in 2019, including four position players.
The goal now is for some of these younger players to have some staying power when they're promoted to the big-league club. Holt is confident the organization is moving in the right direction.
"Of course, there are some players who are knocking on the door and continuing to work to hone their skills to get to the big-league level and stay," Holt said. "Certainly, the work that was done in Double-A and Triple-A this year was very encouraging in terms of those guys improving and working to get to the major-league level.
"There's still work to be done. On the big-league side, Brocail is a teacher and he wants to help these players at the big-league level to continue to improve and/or get as consistently good as they are capable of being. We're both continuing to develop [players] at both the minor-league level and major-league level."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles
Issue 259: November 2019