By Bill Sterling
Special to the Eastern Shore Post
Mike Elias was preaching patience to Baltimore Oriole fans at the Delmarva Shorebirds’ annual Hot Stove League Banquet, Thursday, Jan. 23, at the Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury, Md. Elias, only 37, was hired a year ago as the general manager of the Orioles and tasked with the job of rebuilding the franchise to its glory days when it filled ballparks and was always in contention for an American League title.
Elias said he understands the fan frustration of the Orioles losing more than 100 games the last two seasons and not likely to contend in the American League East Division this upcoming season.
However, according to Elias, help is coming to Baltimore, and some of those players will eventually be from the Delmarva Shorebirds team that had a franchise-record 90 wins last season. In 2019, the Shorebirds also boasted the manager of the year, general manager of the year, and pitching coach of the year in the South Atlantic League.
In addition, the Bowie Baysox — the Oriole’s Double A affiliate — also advanced to the playoffs, while the Aberdeen Ironbirds — the short season club — had an outstanding season.
“It’s exactly what you want to see, especially when you’re in a rebuild,” Elias said. “We’re focused on that type of success. The success of teams like the Shorebirds is really going to dictate what we do the next couple of years in Baltimore,” added Elias, who is predicting a big year for the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles’ Triple A team, as the players move up through the organization.
Elias said the Orioles have some exciting players in their farm system who are knocking on the door and stacking up well with other teams.
Delmarva fans saw top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez lead a staff that topped the league in ERA by a sizable margin. And near the end of the season, those fans had their first chance to see the Orioles’ number one pick, Adley Rutschman, behind the plate.
Rutschman led Oregon State to the 2018 College World Series title, being named the MVP after setting a College World Series record with 17 hits. In 2019, he was named the best college baseball player in the United States before becoming the top overall pick and inking an $8.1 million contract with the Orioles, the highest signing bonus ever.
Elias, a 2006 Yale graduate, made his mark in scouting and was responsible for Houston selecting shortstop Carlos Correa as the top overall pick. In addition to Correa, Elias said Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasberg were the best amateur baseball players he has ever scouted. “Adley Rutschman is right up there, however — the leadership he has shown on the field, being a switch-hitting catcher, the athleticism, playing two sports.”
Elias noted the Orioles have three picks in the top 40 in the upcoming draft, including the second overall, and he is traveling the country to interview the top prospects, some as many as five times.
Elias served as Houston’s assistant general manager and oversaw player development and minor league operations before coming to Baltimore after the 2018 season. Thus, he was part of the organization when the sign-stealing scandal occurred that recently rocked Major League Baseball, bringing a $5 million fine to the team and the forfeiture of draft picks in 2020 and 2021. In addition, general manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager A.J. Hinch were fired following a suspension handed down by the league. Boston manager Alex Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who were implicated as being heavily involved in the sign-stealing scheme when Cora was a coach and Beltran a player on that Houston 2018 squad, also were fired by their teams.
In a press conference held prior to the banquet Thursday, Elias was asked for his thoughts on the matter. “We’ve been asked not to comment, and as the general manager of another organization, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about something with another team,” he responded. “That said, in my position with the Astros, I was in charge of minor leagues and scouting, and that’s where my focus was. We did a tremendous job in that area, and I don’t think what is going on detracts from that work, and that type of expertise is what is going to be important to the Orioles right now in our rebuild. Yes, it is tough to watch, but it seems the league is rectifying and doing a good job with the situation.”
Elias added that Oriole fans can be assured the team is doing things the right way and that integrity is a core value.
Elias who obviously was on a fast track, rising from a college graduate to a baseball general manager in 12 years, was asked what advice he would give to a young person interested in baseball. “So much has changed since I got in baseball in 2006,” he said. “My path was scouting. I was interested in scouting and knew some people who helped me get into scouting. There are so many different opportunities now. I would say the best skills to have would be mastering the Spanish language, learning aspects of player development technology and having the ability to code (creating computer software for player assessment).”
The Delmarva Shorebirds will be playing their 25th season at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium when they open the season at home April 9. Frank Perdue was a driving force in getting the franchise established in Salisbury and building a park that is considered one of the finest in Single-A baseball.