Matt Blood sees an opportunity to build something special in Baltimore.
That’s one of the reasons he joined the Orioles as their new their new director of player development in September. In his new role, Blood will recruit new staff, help develop technology programs and implement player development strategies throughout the organization.
Blood, 34, also was attracted to the position because of the opportunity to reunite with Orioles general manager Mike Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdal. The three of them worked together in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, where Blood was an area scout.
“The opportunity and the situation with Mike and Sig I would say was a large part of it. Just getting the opportunity to build something, to hire a lot of staff — we just hired upward of 25 staff members — and really to create something was really exciting,” Blood told PressBox. “Working with Mike and Sig — guys I really trust — was really appealing.”
One of the keys for this new era of Baltimore baseball is a shared vision. One of the goals is to keep everyone throughout the organization on the same page, so when players rise through the system, they’re being taught an “Oriole Way” rather than trying to figure out the best ways to perform independently.
Blood already has a strategy for implementing that dynamic.
“It starts with the coaches,” Blood said. “If the coaches are on the same page, speaking the same language and are qualified and capable with the resources they need, then the players will understand there is a plan, a process and the coaches can help them. Players buy in when the coaches can help them. If we set up the set the staff and processes properly, the players will buy in.”
For the first time in several years, the Orioles have a deep pipeline of prospects throughout their minor-league affiliates. In recent months, they traded several veterans, such as Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Villar and Andrew Cashner, to add some intriguing young talent to the organization.
Several Orioles prospects, most notably Ryan Mountcastle, could be ready to make the transition to the major-league club this upcoming season. Blood’s goal is to maintain a firm balance when it comes to promoting prospects through the system.
“It’s a case-by-case basis, but ultimately growth happens through the challenge and struggle,” he said. “We want our players to show they’ve reached the level where they’re at and it’s time to be pushed to a new level. I wouldn’t say we’re recklessly aggressive. But I wouldn’t say we’re conservative. I’d say we want to challenge our players and provide them with opportunities to improve.”
Blood also has to ensure that he has the best personnel in place to help these young players continue to develop. The team will be looking for well-rounded, smart and talented coaches to fill out its minor-league staff every year.
Each Orioles’ minor-league affiliate will have a five-person coaching staff after the addition this season of a fifth coach at each stop. There will be 19 new coaches in the Orioles system, spread out through the eight affiliates.
The Orioles had some talented coaches already in place last year with Buck Britton (Double-A Bowie), Kyle Moore (Low-A Delmarva) and Alan Mills (GCL Orioles), all three of whom were named Manager of the Year in their respective leagues. Britton and Mills will return to their posts in 2020, while Moore was bumped up to High-A Frederick.
Delmarva pitching coach Justin Ramsey, who was named South Atlantic Coach of the Year in 2019, will team up with Britton at Bowie as the new pitching coach for the Baysox in 2020.
“We’re looking for coaches who are intrinsically motivated. They have a growth mindset, are humble and want to collaborate,” Blood said. “That’s the gist of it. The understanding of technology and data, that just comes organically with this type of person, who is staying up-to-date with the available tools that can make you a better coach. We’re looking for people who want to be great with technology because they want to be as good of a coach as possible.”
The Orioles have already been creative with some of their hires. Late last year, the club looked to the commercial training ranks to find support for player development, hiring Tim Gibbons from Be Elite Sports Training to serve as the hitting coach for Bowie and Ryan Fuller from Power in Training to be the hitting coach for Delmarva.
Both Gibbons and Fuller underscore the commitment of coaches to buy into the overall vision of the franchise.
“I don’t think it’s outside the box. I think these guys are very talented and smart and have been coaching hitting for a long time,” Blood said. “Ryan Fuller played minor-league baseball. Gibbons has coached professional players. These guys are just good hitting coaches. They’re highly capable and great people. I wouldn’t say it’s outside the box; they are just great hires.”
Blood also has extensive experience working with young players. He served three years as the director of USA Baseball’s 18-and-under national team. Blood won three consecutive gold medals and compiled a 25-1 record in three international tournaments.
“USA was a phenomenal experience for me,” he said. “I was able to connect with really great coaches and really great players. I was just able to see and be around people I was able to learn from. The experience was putting elite teams together, identifying talent and developing that talent so they could come together and achieve a common goal: winning an international competition. It was very rewarding.”
Now, his focus is helping turn the Orioles into a perennial contender. However, Blood understands that success will not happen overnight. The key is to stay patient and make the solid, everyday decisions that are a building block for a brighter future.
“The first goal is to compile an impactful staff and provide them with resources and create lines of communication so they can do their job really well,” Blood said. “And then just create baseline processes for our department. I wouldn’t say we have overly ambitious goals. We really want to make sure we do the little things well and get the foundation set.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles