Tip of the spear: How Buck Britton learned and grew as a manager through this Orioles rebuild
From Low-A in 2018 to now the Triple-A job in 2022, Buck Britton outlines the growth that makes him a valuable piece of the Orioles' minor league setup.
Buck Britton has never asked why he went from being a first-time manager at Low-A Delmarva in 2018 to the Double-A manager in Bowie a year later, or why he’s one of a handful of coaches who after this years under this new Orioles front office have stuck around as new faces and voices have taken over every level of player development.
The 35-year-old former Orioles farmhand instead chose to try to go unnoticed and give his best to his players, a course that has him managing their Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk in 2022 and being responsible for the last piece of minor league development for their top prospects before the big leagues come calling.
Were he to get a private moment with his bosses of the last three-plus years, however, his own thoughts on the chance he’s gotten to stick around might sound a lot like why the organization has been so comfortable entrusting him with more and more responsibilities during this rebuild.
“I’ve done everything I can to try to learn as much as I can about everything – how the game is trending – but still holding onto the values I had coming up,” Britton said. “The fundamentals of the game are super important. Knowing the game is super important, and using the information to help – I’ve run across a lot of really cool coaches in my time here, guys that they brought in – probably none more impactful than the guys I had in Bowie last year. Just opened my eyes to a whole new perspective. I’ve been reading a lot of books, taking in a lot of information, just to make sure I’m more well-rounded. For them to see or trust that I’m the guy to go to Triple-A and kind of be the tip of the spear with what’s going on down here, it’s awesome.”
That Double-A staff included pitching coach Justin Ramsey (who is joining Britton in Norfolk), hitting coach Ryan Fuller (who was promoted to the major league staff), development coach Grant Anders (who took on the newly-created role of major league development analyst for 2022), and fundamentals coach Jeff Kunkel, who will be coordinator of instruction.
Such a group being together might, in a few years’ time, look like a who’s-who of high-ranking Orioles coaches and officials. But Britton believes he’s part of that group because of how they helped him get up to speed on the new way of the world.
He cited an example of how the Orioles use a dot system to illustrate pitch movement profiles, which inform how they formulate attack plans for hitters and pitchers alike. He said it “the hardest thing to learn” for him.
“Sometimes it’s through the view of a hitter, sometimes it’s through the view of a pitcher and the way the dots move it, tells you the movement profile: if a guy has got a lot of hop, a lot of sweep,” Britton said.
He leaned on Anders to help him interpret the data and learn it, which in turn allowed him to be more part of the daily game-planning than he would have felt comfortable with if he’d just been going off what he saw.
“I can be part of that conversation now to help build attack plans for hitters,” Britton said. So, when Fuller came to me and was like, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ I was able to tell him something a little more concrete than what my eyes said. ‘This guy looks like his fastball is hoppy, i don’t know.’ This was a little more concrete, so we could have a conversation about it as opposed to this is what we should do.”
For a player who spent most of his own minor league playing career in the Orioles organization when such data and information weren’t available, that’s been an area where Britton knows he had to get up to speed or get left behind. He learned from a different generation of baseball men than he’s surrounded by now, and tries to reconcile his fundamental beliefs through a more modern lens.
“The old school guys aren’t necessarily wrong, but the data now helps back up what they’re saying,” Britton said. “A lot of those things it gets misconstrued because a lot of the old-school guys talk, especially the hitting stuff, like what that guy was feeling in the batter’s box, what he felt. What you feel a lot of times isn’t exactly what’s going on so a lot of stuff I feel like got lost in translation. But now, the data is there to support what you see and maybe help you realize you’re not seeing it through the lens you need to, and it changes your perspective.”
Having a manager steering the ship who is able to blend those two perspectives will help a Triple-A roster that could include top prospects Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, and Kyle Stowers at the beginning of 2022, all with an eye toward major league debuts. So too will the knowledge he gained playing 320 games over six seasons at the level.
“I understand what it’s like to play GM or play the what-if,” Britton said. “I’ve seen guys do it and I’ve seen guys get sent down and really struggle to get back on track because they can’t get past the ego hit, or the fact that ‘What am I doing down here? I have nothing else to prove.’ It’s part of what I’ve tried to sit down and do here now, what’s my message going to be to these guys? I think what I've come up with is just be present, man, where your feet are. I know that’s probably a cliche, but you’re down here, you want to get back, and the only way to get back is to prove you’re capable. Let’s do everything you can so that next opportunity, you can have an impact and create a path for yourself to have a career in this.”
Britton will have to practice what he’s preaching, given how his rise has created speculation that more and better roles in the organization could come his way in due time. He’s confident the responsibilities of his job will keep him on track there.
He wants to prepare the players for the pressure and competition that awaits at the higher level, but also feels a responsibility to big league manager Brandon Hyde to ensure they’re truly ready. Britton looks forward to a role that has more direct connection to Hyde and his staff, and badly wants to create a circumstance where the players he’s sending up are able to make life better for he and his staff.
“I think that what’s going to be most exciting is I’m going to have a direct line with Brandon Hyde and maybe feel a little more a part of what’s going on in Baltimore,” Britton said. “I think there’s more expectations – I’m sending guys up there that hopefully are going to help them compete a little bit, understanding where we are in the rebuild, obviously, but that Triple-A job is an important role, to make sure that guys are ready to go up there and help the major league team compete. I don’t think they expect anybody, unless possibly you’re Adley, to go up there and carry the team, but go up there and not lose games for them.”