One of the great resources in the Baltimore Orioles organization is AA Bowie pitching coach Blaine Beatty. The currently-recognized top pitching talent in the farm system, along with those still rising through the ranks, come through Blaine’s instruction and encouragement at some point.
It was great today to catch up a bit with my friend as he was driving from his home in Texas to Sarasota, and I got him on the phone somewhere east of New Orleans. And having known him for quite a few years now, this is the most enthused I’ve ever heard him before entering a new season.
“Oh yes, I’m looking forward to this year,” said Beatty. “I’m excited about meeting the new coaching staff. I knew Chiti briefly from way back at the end of my playing days. I’m yet to meet Wallace but have heard such good things about him. I’ve spoken with Rick Peterson, and I can see we are going to have more compatibility than ever with the whole program.”
Beatty is not completely sure about who he will be working with this year. “I expect Eduardo Rodriguez to be one of my starters, and I expect (Tyler) Wilson to be there … Zach Davies … probably Bundy at some point.” Beatty was really excited about the good fall season turned in by a number of the Orioles’ prospects, particularly mentioning Tim Berry. After Berry’s 11-7 with 3.85 ERA at Frederick in 2013, it would stand to reason he’ll be in Bowie as well.
Last year at this time, it was pretty certain that Beatty was going to be getting Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy at the outset. Of course, Bundy never got going because of the surgery, while Gausman ended up making eight starts in Bowie before being moved up the ladder. However, Beatty has worked some with Gausman on other occasions in Florida as well.
We talked a good bit about how Gausman mentions his work on his slider in every conversation these days. “Yes, he is getting a feel about how to use that pitch,” said Beatty. “When he first came to us, he didn’t have anything that went down and into lefties and away from righties. His fastball is electric, but the slider is a great put-away pitch. From the hitter’s perspective, if you can cut a guy down to two pitches, he can sit on the fastball, figuring the guy is not going to use a change or much of anything else early in the count. So you need a slider than can be used early also.”
And when asked last January about who else (beyond Gausman and Bundy) he was excited to work with he said, “Mike Wright – who was promoted about half-way through last year; he’s got some special stuff too.” Beatty would have seen that, having coached in Frederick in 2012 where Wright made eight starts with a 2.91 ERA. With a full season together in Bowie in 2013, Wright posted a record of 11-3 with an ERA of 3.26. Add a single start at AAA Norfolk, and Wright pitched 150.1 innings in 2013. He will be in big league camp and Beatty said of him, “I’m not sure if they’ll push him, but he’s earned a shot.”
It is interesting to see how many of the pitchers in the system pitched right around 150 innings last year. A year ago Beatty said that guys at the upper levels of the system need to pitch enough innings to get the feel of both going deep into games and sustaining it throughout a long season. “They need to feel throwing those innings at this level. We want to develop pitchers who will go seven innings or better. They need that experience here, learning how to adjust in the latter innings, even if it means shutting them down at some point.” Blaine identified at that point that the goal was for them to pitch around 150 innings.
“The control on innings pitched comes from the major league level,” Beatty said. “So they come up and down with a lot of instruction on how they want a player used. Griffen has done a great job with that at his level … and I have to keep an eye on innings to make sure they don’t use them up.”
Blaine and I have often talked about the mental part of pitching … about confidence in an approach to the game. And he again said, “The mental part of it is just huge. You can tell when a guy is uncomfortable. They come up having had so much success, so we’ve got to teach them how to handle adversity … to not just revert to throwing harder, but to soften the game with changing speeds … so much of pitching is about gaining an ability to change speeds, especially when not everything is going well.”
I brought up my pet peeve about the over-fascination with the closer role. “People want roles for the mentality … lots of roles have evolved,” he said. “What it does positively is set up expectation for a thought preparation as the game is going on. Knowing a role helps a player to be thinking and mentally preparing for the part he is likely to be called upon on a given day.”
There is not much about the ups and downs of minor league life that Blaine Beatty has not experienced. Drafted by the Orioles in 1986 in the 9th round, Beatty spent 11 years in the minors – mostly in AA and AAA with a combined record of 121-69. He endured all of this to pitch for a career total of 15.2 innings in 7 appearances for the NY Mets, with a 2.30 ERA. The accumulated life lessons are more than just about baseball mechanics. That is not to say that he is not a highly experienced and perceptive pitching coach. The entire package – which includes a kindly, personable, encouraging persona – is the ideal mix for honing a young man’s talents toward eventual major league success. And it is working well in the Orioles’ system.