Dan Duquette was the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations when the club drafted left-hander John Means out of West Virginia in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, a decision that has paid major dividends for Baltimore since Duquette’s departure.
The Orioles did not have a first- or second-round pick after signing right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz in free agency, but they still managed to come away with four big leaguers in Means, Tennessee Tech right-hander David Hess, Howard College lefty Tanner Scott and Clemson infielder Stevie Wilkerson.
Means, 28, threw a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners May 5. He has been one of the best pitchers in the American League in 2021, and he has given up more than one run in a start just once in 11 starts dating back to September 2020.
Duquette joined Glenn Clark Radio May 10 to talk about drafting Means and watching him develop into the pitcher he is today.
PressBox: How much did you know about John Means entering the 2014 MLB Draft? He was a kid out of West Virginia, had a pretty good summer in the Cape Cod League. How much did you know about him? Did you think you were drafting a real player or a body to fill out the minor-league system?
Dan Duquette: Any left-handed pitcher with his size that can stay healthy has a shot. I think John Means had distinguished himself by having a couple good years at West Virginia, by doing pretty well in the Cape, where of course the best amateurs go every summer, then showing that he could do the job at West Virginia. Our area scout, Brandon Verley, who I went to see Mike Yastrzemski with, he liked him some. But I’ll tell you who really liked him was Danny Haas, who went in there and crosschecked him. Danny Haas really advocated for John Means in the draft room that year.
You have the quota of money you can spend for the first 10 rounds. You look for value after the 10th round. John Means was the first value for the club that year. He’s developed into a good pitcher — a great pitcher — and he had a historic performance last week. You’re talking about him doing something that no other Oriole pitcher has done since Jim Palmer. I think that says it all. John Means deserves all the credit for that. Here’s a guy that spent some time in the minors learning his craft, but he was always healthy. As a starting pitcher, that’s half the battle. If you can be reliable, you can be healthy, you can post, and John Means was all of those things at every single point of his career.
PB: It seems like the types of players who play their best baseball at the major-league level are often the ones who are toolsiest and they just need development in order to get there. How rare is it for a pitcher of John Means’ stature to have good numbers in the minor leagues but then get to the majors and do his best work? Is that as surprising as it seems?
DD: I think it speaks to John Means’ work ethic, first of all, his physical dependability. If you talk to him, he’ll tell you that he invested in a year-round conditioning program a couple years ago, and that really helped him. I think it helped him get a little bit more velocity on his fastball. He attributes the work that he did on his secondary pitches with Holt helping propel him to major-league status. I brought him up at the end of 2018 so that he could get a taste of the big leagues. He had some good years, but he didn’t have any great years.
When you have a left-handed pitcher in the American League East that’s a dependable starting pitcher, generally you have somebody you have on your team that the other clubs don’t have on their team. We brought up John Means to get a look at him but also to get a taste of the big leagues. We threw him into the fire at Fenway Park in September against probably the best Red Sox team of all time, he got a baptism under fire. I think he learned some things from that experience that he has helped propel him to be one of the top pitchers in the American League.
PB: When you brought him up in September 2018 after having him in the system for a few years — he threw a seven-inning no-hitter at Delmarva at one point — did you have a thought that this kid could still prove to be special? Or was it more that he might have a major-league arm and that’s a pretty cool thing at that point?
DD: I knew that he had the equipment. If you look at his record in the minors, he always had the good control. You’re talking about two walks per nine innings. So you’re talking about above-average control for a left-handed pitcher. He had the fastball and he had the changeup. If he could get a little bit more sharpness to his breaking pitches, he had a chance to be a major-league starting pitcher. But again, who’s to say how good these players are when they learn their trade in the minors, they have the experience and you haven’t given them a trial in the big leagues. These guys deserve an opportunity and John Means, to his credit, he earned the opportunity. He toiled in the minors for a few years and kept himself healthy, always had good command of the fastball. And what do the coaches say? That’s the most important trait of a pitcher, having command of his fastball. Didn’t he have good command the other day? It was fastball in to the righties, changeup away. Fastball in and up to the righties, changeup away.
He’s got such finesse and command of those pitches now, he can put them right on the edge of the strike zone. He pitched a perfect game. He struck a guy out and the catcher missed the ball. He pitched a perfect. He had extraordinary command of his pitches. I remember sitting in Dodger Stadium when I was with the Expos and I watched Dennis Martinez on a Sunday afternoon pitch a perfect game. I think he threw like 87 pitches. He threw the ball exactly where he wanted to on every single pitch, and it looked to me the other day that John Means had that same kind of command when he pitched his gem against Seattle. Just extraordinary command.
PB: It’s such a difficult question to answer, but is John Means the type of player that a franchise should be looking to build around when they’re going through this type of rebuild?
DD: I think so, and I’m going to tell you exactly why I think so. John Means is now a proven major-league veteran pitcher. The Orioles are trying to break in several unproven pitchers coming up through their minor-league system, and John Means can help stabilize that major-league team while the team is developing some of these other young starting pitchers. If you’re going to compete and be in the upper echelon of the American League East, you better have a pitching staff and you better have some depth to that pitching staff. And if you’re going to develop the depth to that pitching staff, the Orioles can do it with the number of young pitchers they have coming up through the minors, but John Means can not only help them be competitive but be a role model for those young pitchers that are coming up to pitch in the major leagues.
PB: It sounds like if you’re going to bring up a Grayson Rodriguez, you’d rather he be brought up to pitch behind John Means than dealing with the burden of being the guy the moment you get here.
DD: Well, I think it’s a lot easier to develop that way. I think it’s a lot easier for those younger pitchers to learn their job from somebody that’s proven on the major-league staff. You’re talking about Grayson Rodriguez, who hit 100 mph the other night, and you’re talking about DL Hall, a left-hander who’s got four pitches who also hit 100 mph the other night. You’re talking about two very, very talented young pitchers that are going to be ready to help your major-league team here in a short while. How many other teams on the planet had two starting pitchers throw 100? You’ve got some really talented pitchers right behind John Means. You’ve got [Dean] Kremer, [Keegan] Akin, [Zac] Lowther, [Mike] Baumann, DL Hall, Grayson Rodriguez. They’ve got another left-hander down there, Drew Rom. They picked up a good pitcher from the Angels in the Bundy trade [in Kyle Bradish]. He could be a good starting pitcher for the club. There’s a number of good, young starting pitchers that are making their way toward Baltimore. If the Orioles want to get back into contention, they’re going to need to develop a lot of these pitchers in the big leagues.
For more from Duquette, listen to the full interview here:
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