Buck Britton, Kyle Moore went through education process to become managers of Baltimore’s top league affiliates – Boston Herald
Buck Britton doesn’t consider himself a reader, and the nine books he went through last year while managing the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate did little to change that self-perception.
But each one provided him with something he believed will benefit him through this year as Triple-A Norfolk’s manager. At the recommendation of Ryan Fuller, then his hitting coach with Bowie and now one of two in the majors with Baltimore, Britton read several books on leadership from Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL. Simon Sinek’s “The Infinite Game” discussed how life, unlike baseball, does not have winners and losers, but simply ahead and behind. “The Coach’s Guide to Teaching” by Doug Lemov, a favorite of Fuller’s, further emphasized the importance of Britton’s role shaping players and how to go about doing so.
“Just kind of getting new tools in my toolbox, if you will, to be able to help these guys and hopefully guide these guys along in their career,” Britton said.
In Britton and Kyle Moore, who moved up from High-A Aberdeen to replace Britton at Bowie, the managers of Baltimore’s two highest minor league affiliates played, coached and managed under previous Orioles front office groups. Although the organization has seen plenty of change since Mike Elias became executive vice president and general manager in November 2018, Britton, 35, and Moore, 36, have only seen their roles within it grow.
“Obviously, the Orioles are in a rebuild, and you see a lot of turnover among staff,” Moore said. “So when the front office says that they trust me and believe in me enough to let me go lead their Double-A team, I think that it speaks volumes. That’s just sort of a little bit of a tip of the cap or a vote of confidence in me that really gives me some fire to go embrace this opportunity.”
Those opportunities have come by showing a consistent willingness to grow and desire to learn from those around them who perhaps had a better understanding of the organization’s methodologies.
Like Britton, Moore prepared to teach by going through an education process himself. He managed Aberdeen when it was the Orioles’ short-season affiliate in 2018, but as he got set to lead Low-A Delmarva in 2019 under the new front office, Moore realized that as he looked at analytics material from the organization, he didn’t understand some of the numbers or even their associated abbreviations.
With help from assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal and Delmarva technology coordinator David Barry — who now serves as a player development analyst for hitting — Moore worked to understand the new information so he could properly disseminate it to players.
“I think it was a lot of just taking those first few steps to put yourself out there and say, ‘Look, I know I’m behind the curve, and I know that I don’t really understand a lot of this stuff, but I would love for you to just explain it to me as many times as you have to before I can understand it,’” Moore said. “Fortunately for me, there are people around that were able to do that.
” I like to think that I’ve become just far more educated on a modern school of baseball and how technology and data is used to teach. I’ve always considered myself a teacher ever since day one. My parents were teachers. I’m a teacher; I just happen to be teaching baseball.”
That viewpoint, along with the organizational prerequisites of humility, collaboration and growth mindset, defines what the Orioles are looking for in their minor league managers, director of player development Matt Blood said. He noted how both Britton and Moore have consistently shown an openness to the changes in approach this front office has brought with it.
“They aren’t just wishy-washy, just do anything and everything that you just throw against the wall,” Blood said. “They still very much have a backbone, but they have the ability to listen and to consider new ideas that they see as, ‘OK, this might help me. Let me learn about it.’
“They’ve both adopted many of the new ideas that this group has brought to them, and they’ve also been willing, to their credit, to work closely with their staffs to learn from the people that are around them and just continually get better.”
Blood pointed to the organization’s philosophy on swing decisions as an example, where hitters are trained to emphasize pitches they can do damage on, even if it leads to an increase in takes on borderline offerings that might be called strikes. Entering Sunday, both Norfolk and Bowie ranked second in their respective leagues in walks, a partial byproduct of not chasing pitches that won’t lead to productive results anyway.
Britton and Moore are leading those teams at a time they’re vital to the Orioles’ plans for success. Britton is looking forward to getting to tell players they’ve been promoted to the majors, and the hope is he’ll get to do so with top 10 prospects Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Kyle Stowers, Kyle Bradish and others in the coming months. Moore has to balance playing time among infielders Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz, any of whom could be Baltimore’s shortstop of the future.
That they’re in the positions to have those responsibilities is a credit to how they’ve handled, and embraced, change over the past three years.
“There’s been so much more information thrown at me, learning a lot of the data, learning different ways to coach and teach, maybe a different language to help players understand things,” Britton said. “I think the fundamental ideas are still the same, but it’s just opened the door for so many different ways to attack different problems, looking at the game through a different lens, getting some of these other coaches’ perspectives with the guys that this organization has brought in. Just a lot of information.
“You get people from different backgrounds that have been exposed to different things and different ideas, and through conversation, it leads you to more conversation, to deeper conversation.”
What’s to come?
After their week in California, the Orioles get a fortnight in the Eastern time zone, visiting the New York Yankees for three games before hosting the Boston Red Sox to start a 10-game homestand.
With the Orioles having won a home series against the Yankees on April 15-17, Baltimore is going for consecutive series victories over New York for the first time since claiming their final matchup of 2016 and first of 2017. The Orioles also won the series in their most recent visit to the Bronx in September, meaning they’ll have the chance to win back-to-back series at Yankee Stadium for the first time since 2014.
Baltimore has also won the series in its first meeting with Boston the previous two seasons, though both of those came at Fenway Park.
What was good?
By closing out the Orioles’ three victories last week in impressive fashion, right-hander Jorge López became the first Baltimore pitcher in almost five years to record three saves in a four-game span, with Brad Brach the most recent to do so in May 2017.
Across those three appearances, López struck out more than half the batters he faced, allowing two hits and no runs. In the Orioles’ lone victory in Oakland, he entered with runners on the corners, one out and Baltimore clinging to a 1-0 lead, then retired the next five batters with three strikeouts.
After consistently running into trouble in the middle innings as a starter in 2021, López has found a home in the back end of the Orioles’ bullpen. His sinker is averaging nearly 98 mph, and against his secondary pitches — each of which has also seen an uptick in velocity — hitters are a combined 2-for-16 with eight strikeouts, according to Statcast.
Ever since the Orioles said John Means left his April 13 start with left forearm tightness, the news that came Saturday that he will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery felt like a possibility, with any peek at search engine results for the original diagnosis showing a connection with the procedure. It’s a brutal blow to Means and to the Orioles, but also to their fan base.
The left-hander’s starts have become known as “John Means Day,” a moniker associating their occurrences with a holiday. It’s not an uncommon practice for a team’s top starter, but in the Orioles’ case over the past few seasons, it was often the one turn through their rotation where it felt guaranteed they would at least be competitive.
The pitching staff left in the wake of Means’ exit has largely thrived, though Chris Ellis exited his second start as Means’ replacement Sunday with right shoulder discomfort while not recording an out. The Orioles are only 16 games into their season, and the last 90% will have to come without any more John Means Days to celebrate.
On the farm
With Rutschman set to join High-A Aberdeen on a rehab assignment this week, as much as two-thirds of the IronBirds’ lineup could be composed of players who rank in the Orioles’ top 25 prospects. Among them are a pair of infielders not known for their power but who showed it off last week. César Prieto homered in three straight games with a two-homer game Friday, his first since signing as part of the Orioles’ international class this winter. Second baseman Connor Norby, Baltimore’s second-round pick in 2021, hit a pair over the fence a day later, with his four total home runs coming in 20 fewer games than the three he hit last year between the Florida Complex League and Low-A Delmarva. The pair have combined for 10 of Aberdeen’s 18 home runs thus far.
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