Minor leagues Archives

August 18, 2004

Cust's last stand with the O's?

(Note: The media series will resume soon.)

Onetime hot prospect Jack Cust, a 25-year-old hitter for the Orioles' Triple-A Ottawa farm team, has had a hot and cold season at the plate: a huge and prolonged slump at the start, followed by a gradual recovery climaxing in a hot July, then lately another big falloff in production. As of Tuesday night's game his batting line was .240/.359/.449, not horrible but well below his career averages.

Now, a story in the Washington Post indicates that his stay with the Oriole organization will almost certainly end after this season, when he will become a free agent.

'It's Been the Worst Year for Me,' Says O's Farmhand Cust” (Washington Post)

Here are Cust's quotes from the story:

On the lack of attention being shown him this year by the organization:

“[The Orioles] have no type of concern for me.... I'm just playing for next year.”

“It's been the worst year ever for me.... It's the first year baseball hasn't been baseball for me. It's just coming to the field and getting a couple at-bats.”

On his decreased playing time in the field:

“I'm not getting any better. I'm getting worse. The whole rhythm of my game has been taken away just by not being able to do what I like to do. You can't always do what you want to do, but there can be a compromise.”

Referring to a visit to Ottawa by Oriole co-VP Jim Beattie in which Beattie never said a word to Cust:

“You [Beattie] could at least say, 'Hey, I know you've had a rough year.' Whatever. Say something. You're there for three days and you can't even show your face. . . . I don't care anymore.”

Continue reading "Cust's last stand with the O's?" »

August 27, 2004

Calvin Pickering, PCL—and now MLB—masher

To follow up on another favorite ex-Oriole of mine, Calvin Pickering was finally called up by the Royals on Sunday and hit three homers in his first two games subbing at DH for the injured Ken Harvey. Despite going homerless in the three games since, his batting line still reads .263 BA/.333 OBP/.842 SLG for a 1.175 OPS. This came after Pickering put on an awesome hitting display at Omaha of the Pacific Coast League:

2004 Omaha Royals Batting Statistics for Calvin Pickering
88 299 65 94 213 12 1 35 79 0 3 7 70 7 85 0 1 8 .314 .451 .712

Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli of the weblog Rob and Rany on the Royals express mixed feelings about Pickering's promotion. While they are glad that C. Pick is finally getting his chance on the big stage, they fear that it may be too late for him to make a lasting impact on the team. Years of watching the Royals' torturous mismanagement have imbued Rob and Rany with an instinctive pessimism, and they wonder if Allard Baird and the powers that be in K.C. truly recognize the value of Pickering's bat, given how long it took them to call him up and that it took the injury to Harvey (.747 career OPS) to force their hand.

There are quite a few similarities between Pickering, who got some pub here back in April, and Jack Cust, who has fallen out of favor with the O's this year. Both are powerful hitters with lousy defensive reputations who have gotten stuck at the Triple-A level. At 27 (he'll turn 28 in a month), Pickering is about two years older than Cust, but because Pickering missed a lot of games in the past due to injury, his minor-league statistics and Cust's through 2003 look like mirror images of each other. (Click the links above and you'll see what I mean; Cust walks a good deal more, but their rate stats and games played at each level are uncannily close.)

The two sluggers' fortunes have diverged in 2004, however, as Cust has struggled to find his swing for most of the year while Pickering has been locked in launch mode. Despite Cust's relative youth, I think that Pickering is the better bet to succeed in the majors, based on their recent performance. If the Royals let go of Pickering at year's end, he would not be a bad pickup for the Orioles—or any other team in need of a DH, for that matter.

October 7, 2004

Farm director reaches the end of his row

The two-year relationship between the Orioles and their director of minor-league operations, Darrell "Doc" Rodgers, is to end this month. Last week, the team announced that it had decided not to renew Rodgers's contract for next season. The reasons cited by Rodgers and Jim Beattie were differences of opinion on the future direction of the system, particularly regarding staff and personnel.

From the Sun: “Rodgers is second member of front office dismissed

From “Notes: 'Doc' Rodgers dismissed

The Rodgers regime had plenty of positives. Shortly after taking the job in January of 2003, Rodgers implemented a total overhaul of the Orioles' farm system, installing new managers and coaches at every level. Rodgers and his staff emphasized professionalism and discipline, qualities that had been lacking prior to his arrival. Players responded surprisingly well to Rodgers's strict rules, which defined the parameters of a player's sartorial appearance and enforced nightly curfews. A more uniform code of instruction and training also began to pervade the system from the top down. The importance of on-base percentage, among other things, was highlighted to all hitters. Young pitchers received more careful treatment under the Rodgers administration, particularly at the lower levels.

Far from being a distant overlord, Rodgers also improved the communication between management and farmhands by having one-on-one meetings with players to monitor their progress. Under Rodgers, players were promoted based on performance, not hype; a player had to succeed at his current level to earn advancement to the next one. To avoid promoting prospects prematurely, veterans were brought in to plug holes in the upper levels. Perhaps not coincidentally, the combined winning percentage of Baltimore's minor-league affiliates rose markedly from .433 in 2002 to .486 in 2003, Rodgers's first year. The organization's talent level had not changed markedly in one year, but the players' attitude and dedication to the game had improved noticeably.

It was not a perfect two years by any means, though. Pitchers continued to suffer arm injuries—Adam Loewen was the biggest name to fall, but Ryan Hannaman and Don Levinski also were struck down this year. Such injuries happen in every organization, but perhaps better communication and monitoring could have revealed the problems sooner. Another instance hinting at inadequate communication was onetime top prospect Jack Cust's complaint about being ignored by the organization. In 2004, several prospects fell short of expectations, including Cust, and the farm system's winning percentage dropped to .458.

Rodgers leaves Baltimore with his reputation intact and probably enhanced by his work with the Orioles. The Birds' farm system was ranked among the worst in the game by Baseball America for several years before Rodgers's arrival, but it moved up closer to the middle of the pack after his first year with the team. In many ways, 2003 was a 180-degree turn for the Orioles' player development system, and Rodgers deserves the lion's share of the credit for that turnaround. Although the organization's momentum stalled a bit in 2004, Rodgers made a net positive contribution to the Orioles' minor-league system. This came after he helped execute a similar improvement in the Reds' system during six years as their assistant general manager. He should have no shortage of offers for a high-ranking position elsewhere.

Note: I have not abandoned the Greatest O's series of articles; cranking them out is just taking longer than I expected because I have been working on more timely articles like this one. The Greatest O's positional write-ups should be finished by next week.

November 10, 2004

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

"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.)

Continue reading "Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill" »

June 30, 2005


And it's getting very hard to stay
And we're moving on to Allentown

(Apologies to Mr. Joel.)

The Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, the Ottawa Lynx, could move to Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2008, according to an article in today's Morning Call (Allentown's local newspaper):

Allentown's minor league baseball stadium — all but certain to be approved today by the state Senate — would be home to a Class AAA team, one step below the major leagues.

Legislative sources have identified the team as the Ottawa Lynx, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. If all goes as planned, the team will start playing in an east Allentown stadium in 2008.

Continue reading "A-A-Allentown" »

August 26, 2005

Short tackling the tallest of orders

Here's a pleasant story from the ex-Oriole vein: Rick Short, who toiled in the Orioles' organization from 1994 to 2000 without reaching the majors, is having the season of his life for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Les Carpenter of the Washington Post wrote a feature-length article on Short entitled “Career Minor Leaguer Is Defying the Law of Averages” that appeared on the front page of the paper yesterday. It describes Short's exceptional year and his twelve-year odyssey through pro baseball, during which he has encountered great frustration and responded to it with equally great determination.

Continue reading "Short tackling the tallest of orders" »

October 13, 2005

A minor move in the works?

On Tuesday, another obstacle was cleared from the path of the possible move of the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, the Ottawa Lynx, to Allentown, Pennsylvania. Craig Stein and Joseph Finley, the two businessmen rumored to be interested in buying the Lynx, signed a lease with Lehigh County for the property on which a new minor-league stadium is to be built.

Continue reading "A minor move in the works?" »

June 16, 2006

Lackawanna: go there?

Whither the Lynx? To update a previous story:

As was reported last year, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, the Ottawa Lynx, will move to Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2008. But it appears that the Lynx will no longer be an Orioles farm team by then. Recent reports have confirmed that Ottawa's owners-in-waiting have decided to switch the Lynx's major-league parent to the Philadelphia Phillies as soon as this September. So in all probability the club will be a Phillies affiliate when it ultimately arrives in Allentown.

Southern cross

That means the Orioles must find a new franchise to be their Triple-A extension in 2007 and beyond. The most likely candidate to replace Ottawa is the Phillies' current Triple-A outpost, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. The Red Barons are an International League club in northeastern Pennsylvania, about a four-hour drive from Baltimore. Lackawanna County, which owns the Barons, retains a Triple-A license and plans to keep a team in Lackawanna County Stadium for the foreseeable future.

But the Orioles likely will face competition for the Red Barons from other major-league teams seeking a Triple-A club closer to home. Rival suitors for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre may include the Washington Nationals, whose AAA affiliate is in New Orleans; the New York Mets (AAA team in Norfolk, VA); and the Yankees (Columbus, OH). The Chicago White Sox (Charlotte, NC) also are a possibility.

Out of the running for the Red Barons are the Pittsburgh Pirates, who recently renewed the contract with their Triple-A club in Indianapolis through 2008. Ditto for the Cleveland Indians (Buffalo, NY), Detroit Tigers (Toledo, OH), and Cincinnati Reds (Louisville, KY), all of whom have player development agreements through 2008. The Toronto Blue Jays (Syracuse, NY) and Boston Red Sox (Pawtucket, RI) already have Triple-A squads nearby, so they are unlikely to be in the hunt when their contracts come due at the end of the summer.

(Player development contracts between a major-league franchise and a minor-league affiliate are signed in even-numbered years and typically last two or four years. For more information, see the list at Mike McCann's Minor League Baseball Page.)

Continue reading "Lackawanna: go there?" »

September 26, 2006

O's are Norfolkin': Good.

The tide finally came in for the Orioles in their search for a new Triple-A affiliate. Or rather, the Tides came in, as in the Norfolk Tides of the International League. Yesterday, the Orioles agreed to a four-year player development contract with the Tides, who replace the Ottawa Lynx atop Baltimore's farm system. The Lynx, as reported earlier, will switch their parent to the Philadelphia Phillies for next season before moving to Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2008. Meanwhile, the Orioles' most advanced minor-leaguers will reside at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay from 2007 until at least 2010.

Continue reading "O's are Norfolkin': Good." »

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