O's admire Twins' structure

Homegrown players a reminder of team's development plans

April 03, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN REPORTER

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Orioles management considers last night's season-opening lineup at the Metrodome, there's a sense of accomplishment that three of their key starters -- pitcher Erik Bedard, second baseman Brian Roberts and right fielder Nick Markakis -- are homegrown.

By looking across the field at the Minnesota Twins, though, there's also the acknowledgment that the Orioles have plenty of development work to do if they want to be consistently competitive.

That's what happens when you start a season against the Twins, an organization that is continually thick with prospects and almost devoid of multi-year free agents.

"I think they are the model, or one of the models, when it comes to scouting and developing your own and having them help the major league club," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said.

The Twins' Opening Day lineup of 10 includes four homegrown regulars, and two others, pitcher Johan Santana and shortstop Jason Bartlett, who were drafted elsewhere but have only played in the majors with Minnesota. A seventh, Jason Kubel, likely would have started at designated hitter if the left-handed Bedard hadn't been pitching.

"If you look at [the Twins], they have continuity, and they have a plan from the very low minors all the way to the major leagues," Duquette said. "And that's the way to do it."

Overall, nine of the Twins' 25 are from their system -- including American League batting champ Joe Mauer, AL Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau and perennial Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan, maybe the best in baseball, acquired the rest from trades (six), the Rule 5 draft (one), waiver claim (one) and free agency (eight).

Of the eight free agents, only one, reserve catcher Mike Redmond, is on a multi-year deal. The rest signed one-year contracts, which keeps the future payroll down and the current one under $70 million.

In contrast, the Orioles have seven homegrown players, one Rule 5 draftee, one waiver claim, five from trades and 11 free agents, six on multi-year deals. With a payroll of about $86 million, the Orioles can afford to mix and match. But that doesn't mean they aren't trying to develop more stars of their own.

"We want the best of both worlds if we pay attention and don't blow our future by trading off prospects," executive vice president Mike Flanagan said. "The Twins and Terry Ryan have been very successful and they don't sign a lot of high-priced free agents. Once you have a commitment to doing that, and it takes a while to get it up and running, it can be a wonderful thing."

That's a place the Orioles want to be. During their current nine-season losing streak, only three other times have they had three or more homegrown players in their Opening Day lineup -- 2005, 2004 and 2001. And they haven't had such a promising trio as Bedard, Roberts and Markakis since 1995, when system products Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Mussina and Jeffrey Hammonds were part of the Opening Day lineup.

Still, the overall numbers pale in comparison to past Orioles teams. From 1966 to 1983, the Orioles' glory years, they had at least five homegrown players in each Opening Day lineup. The high-water mark came in 1973, when eight of 10 starters were either signed or drafted as amateurs by the Orioles and one other, center fielder Paul Blair, joined the organization just 16 months after being signed by the New York Mets.

That was when the Orioles had baseball's best farm system. It also was an era before free agency and before expansion to 30 teams watered down the draft.

"If you go too far back, there was no other choice but to develop your own players," said hitting coach Terry Crowley, who was the starting designated hitter in the 1973 Orioles opener. "You had no other choice other than trade, and it's pretty hard to make trades that make both sides happy."

The Orioles -- or any team, really -- will never likely return to eight homegrown starters on Opening Day. But the goal is to ratchet up that number in the near future.

"We're committed to getting our minor leagues back on track," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We signed a bunch of guys to give us some depth to give our young kids -- who we feel are going to help us out in the future -- some time to get up here. But we are definitely on the right track to getting that done."


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