Dan Duquette is pleased to see the strides made recently by young Orioles he acquired while he was the executive vice president of baseball operations in Baltimore, but he believes the best is yet to come, even comparing one pitcher in the system to Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Mussina.
Duquette and then-scouting director Gary Rajsich drafted a number of players currently playing significant roles for the Orioles, including pitchers Keegan Akin, Hunter Harvey, John Means and Tanner Scott, catcher Chance Sisco and outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle and DJ Stewart.
Duquette also acquired outfielder Anthony Santander in the Rule 5 Draft, traded for pitchers Dean Kremer and Dillon Tate and claimed designated hitter Renato Nunez off waivers. Though the Orioles’ rebuilding process still has a long way to go, many of the players Duquette left behind for GM Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde have taken steps forward in their development.
“I think we left them a pretty good core. When we had to rebuild the ballclub, my belief is that you don’t renovate the house. You tear it down and you build it up,” Duquette said on a Zoom video with Stan “The Fan” Charles and Ross Grimsley. “And so when it was time to trade a number of those veteran players [in 2018], they all got traded the same time.
“I think it’s fair to the fans to signal, ‘OK, we’re going to change direction. We’re not going to tread water. We’re going to swim in this direction.’ I think that was the right thing to do for the Orioles at the time. We gave them a pretty good, solid foundation.”
One player in particular who looks to have a bright future is Kremer, whom Duquette acquired as part of the trade that sent star infielder Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018. Kremer, 24, posted a 1.69 ERA, 20 strikeouts and nine walks in the first three starts of his career (16 innings), though he got hit around at Fenway Park Sept. 23.
Duquette said he saw Kremer pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2019. He struck out 23, walked four and recorded a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings last fall. Duquette liked what he saw.
“He looked even better when he came up to the big leagues,” Duquette said. “He had a little bit more life on his fastball, good breaking stuff, looked like he had come up with another pitch — a cutter. And this kid is a smart cookie, man. He knows what he’s doing. He understands pitching. He understands himself. He knows all the little things that he has to do to win a game.”
Kremer will likely enter next spring as part of the Orioles’ 2021 rotation along with Akin, Means and veteran Alex Cobb. Baltimore has several starting pitching prospects who could join the rotation in the coming years, including Michael Baumann, DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez. According to Duquette, it’s Rodriguez who has a chance to leave the most significant imprint out of any of the arms.
Rodriguez, 20, was taken No. 11 overall in the 2018 MLB Draft by Baltimore with Duquette still in charge. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander posted a 2.68 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 36 walks in 94 innings (20 starts) at Low-A Delmarva last year. Rodriguez has been working at the alternate site at Double-A Bowie this summer.
“This kid Grayson Rodriguez is as good a pitcher as the Orioles have had in their minor-league system since Mike Mussina,” Duquette said. “He’s got some serious, serious talent. He’s got that kind of talent. He’s a bigger and more physical kid than Mike was, and of course he’ll have to show that he can be durable and withstand pitching in the big leagues. But that’s the kind of stuff and the kind of control that he could have.”
Duquette also touched on several other topics …
On the difficulties the team had developing starting pitching during his time in Baltimore:
“I think we could’ve done a much better job in terms of player development because you see all these players that left the Orioles organization and went on and did well with other organizations, particularly a lot of the pitchers that we had. And then those two top picks — [Dylan] Bundy and [Kevin] Gausman — the organization thought a lot of them, right? They wouldn’t have drafted them No. 1. The question is why couldn’t we develop them to get the results in Baltimore that they’re getting with those other teams? I think we could’ve done a much, much better job on player development. I’m talking about the whole organization — not just in the minor leagues, but when you get to the big leagues, of course player development continues. We could’ve done a better job in the big leagues, too.”
On his disappointment in not being able to be a player in the international market:
“Just signing players domestically and not signing them on the international market, that’s like going into a fight with one hand tied behind your back. … That’s one of my core competencies, and that was a big disappointment for me when I got to Baltimore. I thought that we’d be able to convince the ownership of the merits of going out and signing players on the international market. … I don’t know how a team can compete with just the talent that’s in the U.S. There’s not enough players to staff the teams with just the players from the U.S. Look at where your star players are coming from. Forty percent of them are coming from international markets.”
On whether he would’ve preferred to direct resources to scouting and player development rather than pay big money to Chris Davis, Darren O’Day and Mark Trumbo:
“Of course, because if you’re going to put resources into your player development system, if you’re going to put resources into your international recruiting, it’s less risky and you get a better return. You get a more significant return for your team and your fan base. That’s in the book, OK? The teams that do that and do it well — you’ve seen one of them [with the Tampa Bay Rays], they just got done playing there at Camden Yards — they have a lot to show for it.”
On whether he wants to get back into the game again after leading baseball operations for the Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox and Orioles:
“I don’t know when it’s going to be. I love baseball. It’s been my livelihood, and I’d like another opportunity to lead an organization. If that doesn’t materialize, I’ve got plenty of things I can do. I’m doing management consulting. I’ve got some good clients. Some are in baseball, some are in other areas of sports, and some are in businesses. But I’ve got a young family. I need to keep working.”
For more from Duquette, watch the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox