O's problems produce busy season for Thrift

MINOR-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

September 13, 1995|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

The buzzwords in Syd Thrift's first year as the Orioles' director of player development were change and movement.

Players shifted classifications rapidly. The major-league team's problems with injuries and ineffective play forced a steady stream of personnel moves within the system.

It was not an ideal situation, this lack of stability at the three highest levels of the minor-league ladder, as Thrift scrambled to plug with free-agent signees and jumped (forward or backward) players two levels at a time to fill holes.

"Our goal is to be loaded in a couple of years," said Thrift. "So we have to keep working harder and smarter. We want to be a position like Kansas City, which brought up young players who were forces. Johnny Damon didn't just come parachuting in. He was ready."

Thrift confronted a number of difficulties that complicated his task. The Orioles' poor season. The club's stand against replacement players. A system with two high Single-A teams and not enough quality personnel to stock them.

Now he faces the chore of refurbishing a system in which the best prospects to help the big club are right-handed pitchers (Rocky Coppinger, Jimmy Haynes, Billy Percibal) and infielders (Matt Howard, Kim Batiste, Eddy Martinez).

"We need players with more power potential and left-handed pitchers," said Thrift. "And it wouldn't hurt to have a little super-speed, a guy who can steal 90 bases in the minors."

He said he will be better prepared to handle the Frederick-High Desert Single-A situation he inherited because the Rookie-level clubs at Bluefield and Gulf Coast were well-stocked this year.

"That's where the highest percentage of our prospects were," he said.

Thrift said he plans to accelerate teaching and conditioning programs, use technology and visual systems more extensively and study how injuries can be prevented.

"The thing is, the better the team gets in the big leagues, the more consistent the rest of the organization will be," Thrift said. "But we're in transition right now, constant change. That won't go on forever."

Thrift made some good acquisitions from other organizations -- Howard and Jarvis Brown come to mind -- and sent 17 players from the minors to the majors this year. It was a start.

"I feel good about what we've done so far," he said. "But I'm not satisfied. This is no time to feel sorry for yourself. We've got to stay focused and get better."

Red Wings

In its final full season at Silver Stadium, Triple-A Rochester had its second-highest attendance (402,127), won the regular-season title in its division with a 73-69 record and was a team in constant flux.

The 62 players and 134 personnel moves were team records and neither of the club's International League all-stars, outfielders Mark Smith (called to Baltimore) and Alex Ochoa (traded to the New York Mets), were on the roster when the Red Wings lost to Ottawa in a five-game divisional playoff.

Bright spots were pitchers Haynes (12 wins, tying for the league high; league-leading 140 strikeouts) and Coppinger (who rose from Rookie ball to go 17-3 at Frederick, Bowie and Rochester), four pitchers (Haynes, Jimmy Williams, John DeSilva and Kevin McGehee) with at least 11 wins, and second baseman Brad Tyler, who led the team with 17 homers and the league with 71 walks.

Baysox

Bowie was a rousing success at the box office, breaking the Double-A Eastern League attendance record with 463,976 fans (a 6,925 average). The team had 12 crowds of 10,000 or better and averaged 9,128 in August.

But except for a 21-5 stretch in midseason when they gained the division lead, the Baysox were a mediocre team on the field thanks to 107 moves involving 62 players (compared with 32 in 1994), injuries to key people and the collapse of the bullpen in the stretch.

There were no Baysox on the league all-star team and only third baseman Scott McClain (61 RBIs in 259 Bowie at-bats, system-high 21 homers for Bowie and Rochester), first baseman Billy Owens (91 RBIs), shortstop Howard (.303 average) and catcher B. J. Waszgis seem assured of promotion.

Keys

It was a bad year all around for Frederick, which had the worst record in the Carolina League (58-79), finished last in batting, hits and home runs, did not make the playoffs and lost general manager Larry Martin to a new position at Towson State.

Emerging as the leading prospects were pitchers Rachaad Stewart (8-8, 3.64, 140 strikeouts), Carlos Chavez (5-5, 2.55, 107 strikeouts) and Calvin Maduro (8-5, 2.94), infielder Tommy Davis (.268, 15 homers) and catcher Jim Foster (.261, 55 RBIs).

The new GM is Joe Preseren, who spent 12 years in the front office of the Double-A Tulsa Drillers.

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