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Productive JUCO Coach Hired By Orioles

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As transactions go, it’s one that many might miss. But Monday night offered a sign of the direction the new front office is taking the Baltimore Orioles' farm system.

On Monday evening, Harford (Md.) JC head coach Tom Eller announced that he was stepping down to take a job as a hitting coach in the Orioles' system.

Eller was getting ready to enter his 13th season at Harford. He took over a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in the previous decade and got them to the playoffs in his first season. Since then, the Fighting Owls have won five region championships, made a NJCAA World Series appearance and topped 40 wins in each of the past four seasons.

But more importantly for the Orioles, Eller’s teams always hit for power and draw walks. Last year’s team hit 112 home runs in 61 games (third-best in junior college ball). They also led the country with 422 walks and led the country with 234 stolen bases.

It was no one-year fluke, either. Harford has led NJCAA baseball in walks each of the past four seasons. During that time, Harford finished first in home runs in 2017 (137 in 62 games), third in 2016 and sixth in the country in 2015. Eller’s Harford teams have consistently shown the plate discipline to draw walks at an inordinate rate, while also hitting massive numbers of home runs (and a lot of doubles).

Eller’s team’s philosophy is to get into advantageous counts and then try to do damage by hitting the ball hard in the air, which makes him a useful fit for a revamping Orioles' farm system that had only four minor leaguers who hit more than 15 home runs last season. They will trade strikeouts for home runs—they finished 176th in whiffs in 2018 and 173rd in 2017 and 2016.

When new Orioles general manager Mike Elias and new assistant general manager Sig Medgal were with the Astros, Houston was at the forefront of what has become a significant trend—hiring coaches from smaller colleges to help staff their minor league clubs.

Eller’s hire is an indication that the Orioles are making attempts to duplicate that approach.

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