Salisbury, MD - Shorebirds radio announcer Bret Lasky recently caught up with MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski, who covers the minor leagues very closely. In part one of the interview, Melewski talks about the 2013 season, winning in the minor leagues and the potential that Orioles top draft pick Hunter Harvey starts 2014 with the Shorebirds. Part two of the interview will come out next week.
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Bret: In general, what was your take on the entire Orioles minor league system in 2013?
Steve: Well, I think it was probably a solid year. If you look at just wins and losses, the higher level teams held their own well and it was a nice thing for Aberdeen to finally make the playoffs for the first time ever. Their (Aberdeen) franchise has been doing a good job for a long time - they have fans that pack the place every night so that was nice for the people of Aberdeen. Even though it was very brief, it was nice for them to have a winning team, a playoff team and a division champ.
I think some guys took steps forward. We saw Mike Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez do some nice things, just to name a few pitchers. I think there were a lot of pitchers who took some steps forward. You guys (Delmarva) saw Matt Hobgood be healthy in Delmarva and then went onto Frederick and that was big for him to have a year where he got some of his velocity back and was healthy.
I like a lot of the things Brian Graham was doing in his first year of his new role as Director of Player Development. I know he was very happy when he was going around to all the teams. The people that work closely to him (Brian) are doing a good job - the hitting coordinator Mike Boulanger and Rick Peterson with his pitching program.
So, it was a solid year. The Orioles don't have many elite prospects since they graduated guys like Gausman (Kevin) and Manny Machado to the major leagues. But, they will probably be in the middle of the pack in all these rankings when the analysts rank the organizations and the farm systems.
Bret: The Shorebirds haven't had a playoff team since 2005. Is that a legitimate concern for the Orioles organization?
Steve: I feel for the fans of any team that hasn't won in awhile and that's why it was so great for Aberdeen because I've been going there for years - it's the closest affiliate to my house. I can get there a lot easier than the other affiliates so I've seen a lot of losing baseball over the years. I know the Shorebirds have great fans that support the franchise.
In some respects, it's tough when you group the two A-ball teams, Delmarva and Frederick. The Keys have made so many playoff appearances, but there are fewer teams in the Carolina League (six fewer) that I think just by the math that helps Frederick have a better chance when the season starts.
In the big picture, I always think that the most important thing in the minor leagues is developing players. The Dan Duquette of every team, if you give them truth serum, will tell you that they want to win and they hope they can provide fans of each affiliate some excitement, but the biggest factor for the minor leagues is developing players to eventually get to the major leagues.
I think Dan Duquette has been aggressive in the minors - and what I mean by that is five years ago there might have been a player that the Orioles started in extended spring training, but now they're going you know what, that kid has a live arm, let's start him in Delmarva and let's see what he can do. So, sometimes that 20 to 22-year old kid who may have started in extended, the Orioles are pushing him now. I think that's Dan philosophy. Let's see what he can do in Delmarva rather than have him pitch in front of nobody in Sarasota for three months. Who knows which plan is right, each kid is different. We've seen it with some player promotion. Some of this filters down to the Single-A level where sometimes they start players that could use a little more seasoning, but they want to see what these kids can do and sometimes that translates into losses as they learn what these kids can do.
Bret: Will Hunter Harvey (Orioles top draft pick in 2013) start with the Shorebirds in 2014 and what have you heard about him?
Steve: I would think there is a very good chance he starts with the Shorebirds. If you look at his age and the fact that he pitched a limited amount of innings this year it seems a natural that he is going enough to start with a full season team and because of his youth you don't want to bump him to Frederick too soon and let him establish himself in Delmarva. It seems to be the place that makes the most sense for him.
He could go fast again because he is really talented. I got to know him a little bit and see him a few times this year and he is a very polished kid. He is kind of a shy and reserved kid during an interview, but on the mound that's home for him. You can tell that he is a natural out there (on the mound). He is not afraid - he pitched five no-hit innings in a playoff game for Aberdeen in front of a big crowd and he handled it.
Harvey pitched to pretty much rave reviews this year in a short time in the organization and I would think there is a definitely a good chance he is one of the Shorebirds' rotation guys come next April.