He’s working to develop an arsenal like Kyle Bradish’s, has a delivery like Jake Arrieta’s and has the backstory of Mason Miller.

But just last year Zach Fruit was a two-pitch grad student at Troy University. Through a collaborative process in which the Orioles’ scouts, analysts and player development staff stacked a draft board full of pitchers they felt had the traits and skills to improve quickly in their system, last year’s ninth-round pick now embodies the holistic, comprehensive plan that helped the Orioles build attractive pitching depth in the minors without committing early-round resources to do so.

“Anytime a guy can go from a two-pitch pitcher to a five-pitch guy in a short amount of time, it’s hard to say we expect to be able to do that that quickly,” Orioles lower-level pitching coordinator Forrest Herrmann said.

“They really trust our coaches, they really trust our pitching department and value both scouting and development. What is this guy currently, and what do we think he can be? I think we have a really great process that allows different perspectives and different voices to be heard, where we can look at a player now and imagine what he can be in the future.”

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Any team can sell itself on the potential of a draft pick. The Orioles are proving adept at turning imagination into reality, so much so that Fruit’s fairytale ending in the majors might prove to be anything but fanciful.

Fruit is quick to point out that, like Miller, Oakland’s All-Star closer, he too was committed to an NCAA Division III school. It was a pricey one, he said, so Fruit instead enrolled at Lansing Community College, then pitched two years at Eastern Michigan. With one year of eligibility remaining, he transferred to Troy University in Alabama.

“This is my last rodeo,” he told himself, and it was there that this process — beginning with boots on the ground with area scout David Jennings and resulting a short time later in a completely different pitcher — began.

The inclusion of the player development staff in the draft process for hitters and pitchers is an ever-growing process for the Orioles, with the successful high picks on the hitting side partially attributed to that. With pitchers, on whom the team mostly used later-round draft picks until 2023, the fruits have been slower to realize.

Their process lends itself to that. The traits that make a good hitting prospect are more knowable, so those players tend to rise to the top of the draft, and the Orioles have used more high-round draft capital on hitters than pitchers. There’s often better value with hitters in early rounds, whereas upside and value can be created with later-round pitchers with the right processes.

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“When we get to that end of Day 2 and all of Day 3, and we are choosing pitchers, we have evaluated a vast, vast plethora, a number of pitchers, so that we are making decisions for the best players when it’s time to take them,” Orioles director of pitching Chris Holt said.

A pitcher’s pathway to the Orioles’ draft board could begin traditionally with an area scout turning in a report highlighting specific traits, or in the office where data analysis or video scouting may produce a lead.

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After verification and cross-checking on the scouting side to firm up that perspective, including a breakdown of the player’s delivery, player development gets involved with a broader list of checkpoints to ensure there’s a pathway for growth.

Holt said: “You can go look for the best player on the board or look for the best fit on what you can develop. I think we’re very clear on what we value. It doesn’t always necessarily mean a guy who’s a high-profile guy. We have a way of evaluating things on a very baseline level that allows us to zero in on who we like and why.”

Fruit possessed many such traits. Maybe it was the warmer weather, or the specialized weight training he was introduced to at Troy, but his average fastball velocity jumped from the low 90s at Eastern Michigan to 95.1 mph in 2023, topping out at 99.4 mph.

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He pitched mostly in shorter stints, relying on a hard two-seamer and a swing-and-miss sweeper. Attempts at a four-seamer, curveball and changeup went poorly, he said. But his competitiveness on the mound showed, and Troy coaches highlighted his work ethic and desire to improve. All that, plus his arm strength and feel for his breaking ball, was enough to put him on the radar of the Orioles’ amateur scouting group, even at age 23.

“I think we have a really great process that allows different perspectives and different voices to be heard, where we can look at a player now and imagine what he can be in the future.”

Forrest Herrmann, Orioles lower-level pitching coordinator

They also didn’t mind his unique cross-body delivery, considering his health and ability to repeat it. When player development people got involved, they viewed it as an asset, not something to be fixed.

Holt said it’s a long-held belief that “a guy who is riding across his body is something we’re going to have to clean up.” Past iterations of the Orioles’ front office did that for years with Arrieta, and the Cubs unlocked his ace potential by getting him back to his natural delivery.

“We know we need to improve the consistency of the delivery, but if we draft this guy who already does that, i.e. Zach Fruit, we know that we can improve the consistency of the timing and the nuts and bolts of the delivery over time,” Holt said. “But that’s an element that we look at, and we’re actually valuing that from how it plays with his pitch mix, in terms of his velocity and his fastball, fastball shape and his breaking ball repertoire.”


Given Fruit’s 2023 workload, he spent the post-draft summer getting acclimated to pro ball and building a routine in Sarasota, Florida, before his developmental work began in spring training. Fruit went into the draft thinking he’d be a two-pitch reliever in pro ball, considering the challenges he had throwing other pitches at every point in his career. It didn’t take long for him to trash that thought.

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Early on, he added a four-seam fastball to pair with his two-seamer. Using what’s called a Clean Fuego ball, a training tool that’s basically a baseball with two flat sides and provides immediate feedback on spin direction, he was able to add a riding fastball that plays up in the strike zone alongside his horizontal two-seamer.

He also found a grip that worked with his changeup, using a one-seam grip that helped the pitch generate deep fade out of his hand in a way he’d never accomplished before. That spring training work with Jordie Henry, Aberdeen’s pitching coach, and Andy Sadoski, the pitching coach at Delmarva, took the organization by surprise.

Zach Fruit has made 11 starts and four relief appearances for Aberdeen. (Photo courtesy of Aberdeen IronBirds)

“Every time he threw a changeup off the mound in spring training, we were able to take a look at it, see the movement on TrackMan, see how it’s coming off his fingertips in slow motion on the video, be able to make adjustments from pitch to pitch to really perfect how that ball is coming out of his hand, perfect how that ball is spinning on the way to home plate,” Sadoski said. “We’ve seen that movement increase quite a bit here in a short period of time.”

Henry said: “We went pretty hard into some pitch design things that went very, very quickly for him.”

Recognizing a “massive step forward” with Fruit’s changeup and his four-seamer, Herrmann said, the work shifted to further solidifying the curveball and creating distinctions between the two-seam fastball and the four-seam. For that, they looked at the characteristics and movement of Bradish’s sinker to “help him expedite the learning of that pitch” based on how Bradish developed and throws it,” Herrmann said.

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The speed with which Fruit took to his improvements isn’t the norm, Herrmann said. Fruit’s own aptitude had a lot to do with that. So, too, did a process in which the Orioles identified a pitcher based on what he already did well through scouting and data analysis, then recognized and planned for capturing upside through their development practices. There are examples of it at every level of their minor league system and, before long, they will likely be on display at Camden Yards.

“I think it’s possible with having really good tools, evaluation tools, and for sort of everyone being on the same page as to what is good and what is doable, essentially,” vice president of player development and domestic scouting Matt Blood said. “What is workable? What can be improved? And know exactly where to go and how. So you’ve got to have really good tools to use, really good information, and you have to have really good people who know to use that information and impact change on the player.”