In an organization with big-name prospects, some unsung Norfolk Tides players are hoping to make their mark – The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK – In the 2019 and 2020 major league drafts, a combined 1,377 players were called up.

Dylan Harris was not one of them.

An outfielder at the University of North Carolina, Harris waited after his two seasons with the Tar Heels, only to be disappointed when he was not selected.

Harris signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles and embarked on a professional career against the odds, devoid of the second and third chances guaranteed to players with big draft bonuses and high expectations.

After just two pro seasons, the 25-year-old Harris is at the forefront of the major leagues. And in an organization littered with big-name prospects, he’s not alone among the unsung.

The Orioles recently promoted big-name prospects like receiver Adley Rutschman, infielder Tyler Nevin and outfielder Kyle Stowers to the major leagues, giving Baltimore fans their first glimpses into the heart of the ongoing rebuilding of the league. crew.

Even among likely future stars, there’s room for unlikely stars like Harris. No one understands this better than Norfolk Tides manager Buck Britton, a former 35th-round pick from an NAIA school who enjoyed a nine-year career in the minor leagues before becoming a coach.

“There are still a lot of opportunities in this organization,” Britton said. “Obviously there are guys who are making a name for themselves in the big leagues. But we’re still in a situation where they’re looking for someone who can help them start turning things around and winning games. .

Harris hit .315 in 20 games this season at Double-A Bowie, earning his first promotion to Norfolk in mid-May. He joined a handful of picks low on the list in hopes of making a name for himself as well.

At times, Harris has found himself on the same roster as Rutschman, who was selected No. 1 in that 2019 draft. Rutschman has spent his entire pro career among the game’s most elite prospects, but that doesn’t mean Harris and the others don’t stand a chance.

“I think your chances are maybe a little less, but the odds are there,” said Harris, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee. “Just jump on it and be ready when your number is called. I know you hear these things growing up and all, but here it means the most. There are high draft picks and all that, and they’re going to come and play. But when you get the chance, if you take control of them, you’re right there with them.

Tides right-hander Morgan McSweeney was a 2019 17th-round draft pick from Wake Forest, picked 297 spots past Rutschman.

The 24-year-old Massachusetts native McSweeney struck out 23 in 18 2/3 innings at Bowie this season before joining Norfolk earlier this month.

Despite his lower-round status, McSweeney said the Orioles gave him every chance to succeed.

“Oh, absolutely,” McSweeney said. “I think kind of from top to bottom of this organization, they give you all the tools you need to be successful and all the opportunities in the world. And then at that point it kind of depends on your performance and keeping your head down and working hard. They have been great with me.

In gaming lingo, “sponsored” players are those who received large draft bonuses, such as Rutschman’s record $8.1 million from Oregon State. For obvious reasons, organizations tend to stay with these players longer than those that haven’t commissioned large investments.

This does not prevent the Orioles from turning over other stones in search of help.

“Yeah, your best prospects will get every opportunity, and often those guys have tools coming out of the draft,” Britton said. “But I think our development system has improved a lot. I think that’s something that we’re going to start to be proud of is having these guys who are maybe undrafted free agents or lower level guys who blossom into being league players major capable.

“Deep down, I really want these guys to succeed.”

A former utility who did everything he could to get on the court as a player, Britton cites the Orioles’ John Means as the epitome of success without a prospect.

Means, an 11th-round pick from West Virginia in 2014, was a pretty obscure southpaw with the tides in 2018 before edging his way to a major league shot.

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Since then, Means finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, threw for a hit, made an AL All-Star team and became Baltimore’s ace. He suffered a season-ending elbow injury earlier this year.

“Who was John Means? said Breton. “And all of a sudden he becomes John Means, doesn’t he? I think that’s the beauty of this game…it’s not always what you expect.

Both Harris and McSweeney said they felt like they belonged where they were. Even though they saw their teammates leave for Baltimore and every player’s ultimate goal, the impostor syndrome never set in.

Triple-A is Triple-A no matter how players got there. The next step is what they really hope to do.

“I think that’s what helps the most is seeing these guys go,” Harris said. “When you’re in Double-A and all that, you’re like, ‘Man, I feel far away. But honestly, my girlfriend, my dad and all that reminds me every day how close I am. I think it’s helpful for someone to put things into perspective for you, because you’re really only a good few weeks away or injury, of course.

David Hall, [email protected]

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Aubrey L. Morgan