Connor a top candidate for O's pitching coach
Rangers special assistant worked with Showalter in NY, Arizona
BALTIMORE -- There is nothing definite concerning the Orioles' coaching staff for 2011, but all signs indicate that the group manager Buck Showalter decides on will have a decidedly different makeup than the six men he inherited in '10.
In addition to Tuesday's published report that hitting coach Terry Crowley will return in a new role as organizational hitting evaluator, a separate source confirmed on Wednesday morning that Mark Connor is a leading candidate to become the team's next pitching coach.
Connor, a special assistant in the Rangers' Minor League operations, recently finished instructional leagues and, according to the source, has had preliminary discussions with Showalter about joining his staff. Prior to his most recent stint with Texas, Connor served as the Rangers' bullpen coach from 2003-05, and became the team's pitching coach under Showalter in '06. His history with Showalter dates back to their coaching days in New York, and Connor went with him to Arizona, where he served as the team's pitching coordinator, scouting and preparing for the expansion draft. He was the pitching coach for the D-backs from the inaugural 1998 season until 2000, and held that same post with Toronto before coming to Texas.
The Orioles' current pitching coach, Rick Kranitz, still remains a possibility to be retained, although Kranitz was told --- like the rest of the O's staff -- that he is free to explore other options while Showalter weighs his final decision.
Kranitz, who served predominantly under ex-skipper Dave Trembley and interim manager Juan Samuel, could be in the mix elsewhere with an unprecedented amount of movement this offseason in Major League managerial and coaching staff positions. Both division rivals Boston and New York are looking for a pitching coach, and Kranitz's name has emerged as an external candidate for the Yankees given his relationship with manager Joe Girardi.
Kranitz and Girardi first crossed paths when Girardi was a newly drafted player with the Cubs and Kranitz was just starting out in his coaching career. He got his first big break serving as Girardi's pitching coach in Florida in 2006 and was named Baseball America's Major League Coach of the Year that season. Under Kranitz's tutelage, the Marlins became the first staff in history to field four rookies with 10 or more wins. He was tasked with an equally young and inexperienced group of Orioles arms in 2010, a group that included Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, all under 25.
Showalter said in a text message to MLB.com on Tuesday night that there remains no exact timetable for naming his staff, and the four remaining Major League managerial vacancies are holding up things to some extent. Both Showalter and Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail will be present for the organizational meetings, which are slated to begin on Monday in Phoenix, Ariz., and although MacPhail said it would be "pretty ambitious" to reach a final decision over the weekend, he did acknowledge that the organization will have a pretty good idea where things are headed by then.
In addition to Kranitz and Crowley, Showalter inherited bench coach Jeff Datz, bullpen coach Alan Dunn, first-base coach John "T-Bone" Shelby and third-base coach Gary Allenson. It is possible Showalter keeps several of the coaches on staff, although it could require a change in roles. He has also made it clear that he wants to retain the old "Oriole Way," making it plausible to give expanded roles to former players, including Minor League offensive coordinator Mike Bordick.
MacPhail has the "right to veto" any of Showalter's final coaching decisions, although he has maintained a stance that the manager should dictate who he works with on the field. MacPhail reiterated that sentiment on Wednesday, and he added that the quicker baseball's "moving pieces" are settled, the easier it will be for the Orioles to solidify their staff.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.