The Orioles have plenty of pitching prospects waiting in the wings, but which players already with the team project as starters next season?
The Orioles have been borderline unwatchable in the month of August. I say borderline only because, for some reason, we’re all still tuning in.
The product on the field becomes increasingly difficult to stomach when articles suggest that the rebuild is behind schedule. Fans were warned that there would be low points in the rebuild, but the thought of prolonged suckage is enough to make anyone check out.
There is no true way of knowing whether the Orioles’ rebuild is “on schedule.” I think anyone in the game would point out that it’s a fluid situation. Some luck could expedite the process, and a few bad breaks could slow things down.
It’s much easier to determine what needs to happen before Baltimore sniffs the playoffs. It’s a long list, but improving the pitching situation sits at the very top.
Baltimore holds the highest ranked pitching prospect in Grayson Rodriguez, and several other intriguing arms that possess big league potential. Of course, the club will still need to look outside the organization for additional help, but the O’s should be in a position to do so before next season.
So that’s that, right? Develop a few prospects, bring in a mercenary or two and call it a World Series. Unfortunately, it’s not that cut and dry.
Baltimore will need a few of the prospects to hit, and it will certainly require a few free agent hurlers, but it’s fair to wonder if there are any other options already with the team.
John Means represents the only current Orioles’ pitcher thought of as a long term solution in the rotation. Unfortunately, even Means has dealt with his own share of uncertainty after a dominant start to the season. There is no reason to truly doubt the 28-year-old’s ability to take the ball every fifth day, but all parties would feel more comfortable if the lefty rediscovered himself before October.
Pickings are slim after Means. Matt Harvey will be a free agent after the season, and that’s likely okay with everyone. Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin figured to be fixtures in the rotation this season, but neither can be counted on moving forward after a massive regression in 2021.
Bruce Zimmermann impressed out of the gate and demonstrated some staying power before an injury in the middle of June. Zimmermann pitched to a 4-4 record with a 4.83 ERA prior to experiencing bicep tendonitis in his left arm. Zimmermann nearly returned to Baltimore this month but experienced a severe right ankle sprain after multiple rehab starts in the minor leagues.
At 26 years old, Zimmermann should remain in Baltimore’s future plans. The lefty pitched to a 2-1 record with a 3.94 ERA and 1.313 WHIP in the month of June before heading to the injured list. It’s too early to label the Towson product as injury prone, and he deserves an opportunity to reclaim his place in the rotation.
After those two, things get dicey. The names have been rattled off time and time again. Rodriguez, Hall, Baumann, Bradish, Lowther, Wells, Smith. All of those guys will have an opportunity to fill innings next season, but there is no guarantee that any of them will start the season with the Orioles.
Could there possibly be another starter hiding in the bullpen? Tyler Wells has exceeded expectations since Baltimore drafted him in the second round of the Rule 5 draft. Wells currently holds a 3.72 ERA and 0.913 WHIP. He’s struck out 58 batters in 46 innings, and his 3.63 FIP backs up his strong performance.
Wells started in 21 of the 22 games he appeared in during the 2018 season. The former Twins prospect made 16 starts at High-A and five more at Double-A to close the season. He pitched to a 2.80 ERA with a .888 WHIP at High-A, and an even lower 1.65 ERA and 1.113 WHIP over his final 32 innings. Wells missed all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missed out on the minors due to COVID-19 in 2020.
Despite their dire need of starters, Baltimore’s decision to keep Wells in the bullpen this season makes sense. He’s flourished in his current role, and it would be risky to change his role this late into the season. After a full offseason and spring training, Baltimore could stretch out Wells and give him a crack at the rotation. Although I’m sure former manager Buck Showalter would have something to say about robbing Peter to pay Paul.
While Wells’ strong performance has him in the starter conversation, another Oriole pitched his way out of it. Jorge López has always possessed strong stuff, but his fifth inning woes finally did him in. López staved off a trip to the bullpen as long as he could, but even this team finally booted him from the rotation.
López likely belongs in the bullpen, and it pains me to suggest this after the Orioles finally concurred, but do not put it past the club to give him another chance at taking the ball every fifth day next season.
Spenser Watkins caught plenty of attention after his first few starts, but his early success more closely resembles beginners luck after an ugly turn for the worse.
It’s difficult to see any other pitcher not already mentioned getting a crack at the rotation. Hunter Harvey almost certainly figures to stay in the bullpen, as do Tanner Scott and Paul Fry. Marcos Diplán projects as a reliever long term.
The Orioles know the current state of their starting rotation. They realize that all of the pitching prospects will not work out, and they must recognize that they need help from outside of the organization. Until all of that shakes out, only Means and Zimmermann can be counted as sure things heading into the offseason.