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Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill

The Orioles appointed Dave Stockstill to be their new minor-league director last week. Stockstill, who served the farm system mostly as a roving hitting or fielding instructor for eleven years prior to his promotion, is a relative unknown outside of the Oriole community but is well regarded within it. Exec VP for Baseball Ops Jim Beattie especially liked Stockstill's experience and intimate knowledge of the team's minor-league system.

"David Stockstill brings valuable experience in minor league instruction to our front office," said Beattie. "His hiring will continue the improvement in player development." (from the Orioles' Nov. 3 press release)

"He had some very good ideas. You never know what will happen when you get a guy in a new environment, but when you have people from outside, they don't give you info about your own organization. He knows all the guys in our system, so we can just get started with our feet running." (Beattie again, from Gary Washburn's Nov. 3 story on MLB.com)

"We thought about going outside the organization. Given Dave's experience within the organization -- he knows the players, he knows the things that have gone well in the organization and instead of trying to change it all around again -- we decided that he was ready." (ibid.)

A move toward stability

Beattie's comments indicate another key reason why the Orioles hired Stockstill: they wanted to avoid another drastic overhaul of the farm system like the one that occurred two years ago, when Doc Rodgers arrived and laid down the law. If Rodgers's successor had come from outside the organization, another disruptive adjustment period would have occurred. Instead, by hiring a longtime Oriole in Stockstill and retaining Tripp Norton as the second in command, the Birds are hoping for continuity in their player development practices, with perhaps a minor course change from the path Rodgers charted over the past two years. Indeed, the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post reported that the Orioles did not interview any external candidates for the position. Ultimately, club officials placed a premium on continuity by focusing on internal candidates.

Whether intentional or not, this practice of hiring from within evokes the Orioles of the '60s and '70s. In that era, the club's thriving farm system regularly supplied the big-league team with not only players, but also coaches and managers. In those days, success was expected up and down the organization. Good ballplaying principles were codified and taught throughout the system as the Oriole Way. As a result, pride in—and loyalty to—the orange and black became ingrained in the corporate culture. Why did Earl Weaver never manage any team besides the Orioles after his retirement? Why did Ray Miller, after being canned as manager in 1999, refuse offers to become pitching coach for other teams until accepting a job with Baltimore this year? In a word, loyalty.

But this home-on-the-range atmosphere began to erode with the introduction of free agency and the sale of the team from the Hoffbergers to Edward Bennett Williams in the late '70s. Since the early '80s, the club has tried various models of team-building, but none has been as successful or as enduring as the one that undergirded the franchise's glory days in the '60s and '70s.

An initial reading (stock-taking?) of Stockstill

Although Stockstill has not publicly revealed any concrete plans for the farm system, he does agree that Oriole pride is lacking, and that players need to be more serious in their approach to the game.

"The two main things we have to instill is [sic] pride in being an Oriole and the respect for each other and the main focus of baseball," Stockstill said. "What you're in it for is the game of baseball, not thinking of the money or where [you] should be. We can't get away from having the pride in the Orioles and respecting each other." (from the Washburn article)

Stockstill's background is relatively obscure, but what little is known about him is not at all discouraging. Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1978, he was a minor leaguer for eight years before starring for eight more years in the Mexican League, where he compiled the third-highest career batting average in the league's history. A story on minorleaguebaseball.com about his 1986 championship team, the Puebla Ángeles, indicates that he was a hard-hitting outfielder (30 homers in 117 games) with excellent plate discipline (78 BB/47 SO). At the end of his Mexican League career, he was a player-manager for the Unión Laguna Algodoneros.

Stockstill's post-playing career began when he joined the Orioles as a roving minor-league hitting instructor in December of 1993. He served in that capacity for eight seasons, then became field coordinator for a year, and for the last two years he was both minor league hitting coordinator and field coordinator. In addition to visiting the Birds' minor-league affiliates during the season, he has visited their Dominican complex two or three times a year.

In a break from his instructional duties, Stockstill served as interim manager of the Bowie Baysox for the last third of their 2002 season, replacing the fired Dave Cash in July after the team's horrendous 29-59 start. Stockstill made a few minor changes—reordering the lineup, emphasizing plate discipline—that made a major difference, as the team finished 26-26 under Stockstill. After such a marked turnaround, he probably could have continued managing the Baysox if he wanted to, but he decided to return to his instructional role the following season.

Other facts about Stockstill: he is on a two-year contract; his brother John is scouting director of the Cubs; he was a two-time NAIA All-American at John Brown University in Arkansas; he still holds the NAIA record for batting average in a season with 200 or more at-bats with his .512 average in 1978.

Minor league notes

The performance of the Birds' farmhands in the Arizona Fall League is nothing to write home about. The only prospect doing anything of notice is catcher Eli Whiteside, who is hitting .294/.333/.510. Outfielder Cory Keylor (.244/.292/.333) and first baseman Mike Huggins (.288/.354/.339) have struggled at the plate in what is a decidedly hitter-friendly environment. The Orioles' top pitching prospect in the AFL, left-hander Dave Crouthers, inexplicably withdrew from competition after a single appearance in which he was blasted for six runs in one inning. The Birds' other two pitchers, also lefties, have not fared any better: Richard Stahl has an ERA of 8.31 with 17 strikeouts and 14 walks in 17 1/3 innings over six starts, and Brian Forystek has been knocked around for 9.49 ERA and a 14/11 K/BB ratio in 12 1/3 innings of relief work.

Of course, not much was expected of most of these guys. Keylor and Huggins are long shots to reach the majors. Forystek, a finesse pitcher, had a poor 2004 season and is in danger of being dropped from the 40-man roster. Stahl has been injury-prone and has never pitched up to expectations since being selected 18th overall in the 1999 draft. On the other hand, Whiteside's hitting in the AFL suggests that his power spike at Bowie in 2004 was not a fluke. He likely will move up to Triple-A next season and has a chance to break into the majors next September if not sooner.

On another prospect-related note, Baseball America will name its Top Ten Oriole prospects on its web site this Friday. The AL East Top Tens will appear in its upcoming issue.

Addendum (11/16): I neglected to mention that a seventh Oriole prospect, pitcher Scott Rice, is also participating in Arizona, but for the Phoenix Desert Dogs and not the Peoria Javelinas like the other Birds. According to Gary Washburn of MLB.com, "Rice was a late addition to replace Dave Crouthers, who left the Javelinas for personal reasons after one appearance. Rice was supposed join [sic] Peoria, but eventually stayed with Phoenix because of its shortage of pitchers." Rice, like Stahl, is a left-hander and was a highly regarded draftee out of high school by the Orioles in 1999. Rice's development in the minors has been slow, although he has shown steady improvement and has not been stifled by injuries to the extent that Stahl has. This past summer, Rice enjoyed a solid season for Bowie (6-5, 3.66 ERA, 61/40 K/BB in 96 IP) that included his selection to the Eastern League All-Star team. But he has had a disastrous fall campaign. As of Monday he had posted an ERA of 12.18 for the Desert Dogs, having allowed a dizzying 55 baserunners in 17 innings of work to go with 17 strikeouts and 13 walks. At least Rice's team has a winning record at 20-13, thanks to heavy hitting from mashers like Ryan Howard and Mark Teahen and an outstanding bullpen contribution from Oakland prospect Huston Street (18/2 K/BB in 17 1/3 IP). Meanwhile, Peoria is dragging its heels at 14-20.

Comments (2)


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