The Baltimore Orioles are without a doubt the most surprising team in Major League Baseball this year. One might consider the success their first-year executive vice president for baseball operations has had to be just as surprising.
Dan Duquette has hit the ground running, and has Baltimore within striking distance of an AL East title or a Wild Card berth.
One Pittsfield veteran isn't the least bit surprised.
"The transition has been relatively seamless," Jim Thrift said of his new boss. "Those of us who have been around long enough know that scouting is scouting. We just make an adjustment and go on."
Thrift, a current Orioles scout who managed the Pittsfield Mets of the New York-Penn League in 1991 and 1992, is the son of former Orioles general manager Syd Thrift. Jim Thrift used to be a major league advance scout. Now he handles minor league and amateur scouting.
"[Duquette's scouting] background in this side of the business is extremely important," said Thrift. "He's got a feel for what we're doing. He also has a feel for what he wants us to do and look for. It's been seamless the whole time."
After 10 years away from the game, it had been suggested that Duquette's learning curve would be steep. Thrift said that was far from the case.
"I think he's pretty much caught up and gotten on top of things," Thrift said. "When you're out of the game and you were in it, you're never really out of it. Basically, it's just a quick refresher course. You surround yourself with people he could utilize and trust -- and got right back in full steam ahead."
This team has Duquette's fingerprints all over the roster. Much like Boston, where there was a core group of players developed by the Red Sox, it was some of the smaller acquisitions by Duquette that helped.
Like his signings of Troy O'Leary, Brian Daubach and especially Tim Wakefield, Duquette has been successful getting players off of the proverbial scrap heap to help the Birds. Nate McLouth, for example, was hitting .141 when Pittsburgh released him this summer. He's only hitting .223 right now, but has had his moments.
Part of Duquette's success in Montreal and Boston was in dealing with the minors. That's where Thrift comes in. As a scout, Thrift watches organizations to see what players Baltimore might be willing to trade for or sign.
In Thrift's two years with the Mets, he took one team to the playoffs with a 51-26 record, and then he had a 37-37 record in the second year. Thrift's second team included former big leaguers Edgardo Alfonso, Guillermo Garcia, Bill Pulsipher and Daubach.
"I think I took a couple of detours, to be honest with you. You bounce from organization to organization and you work your way up," Thrift said, during a recent conversation in New Britain, Conn., where he was scouting players from the Twins and Phillies organizations. "I spent 15 years with Cincinnati. I was able to spend time on Bob Boone's staff in 2001. Then you write a few reports, you make a few recommendations, you go out and see some players -- and all of a sudden, you're being asked to go out and scout."
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