Pondering the Relief Pitching

Upon perusing the 40 man roster, some assumptions can be made about the 2010 bullpen. We all know the Orioles like to fluctuate between a 12 and 13 man pitching staff, but I think it would be safe to say they'll start with 12. Everyone will be fresh and healthy (if they're on the 25 man) so there's no need for that extra pitcher yet (although some would argue there's rarely a need for the extra pitcher). 

Of the seven slots available in the pen there are four locked down barring injury. Mike Gonzalez, Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson, and Cla Meredith are pretty much sure things. Technically Koji, JJ, and The Claw all have options remaining but they'd have to stink up the joint something fierce to get demoted. 

For the remaining three positions there are nine pitchers on the 40 man who could possibly earn a place. I've divided those up into categories based on how likely it is that they'll get the job:

The Optionless Former Astros:

Matt Albers - After an effective 2008, Albers was diagnosed with the dreaded fabrum bear but chose to rehab it instead of trying surgery. His 2009 had ups and downs (mostly downs) as he split time between the O's and the Norfolk Tides, and he ended with some ugly numbers. If Albers comes to Spring Training healthy and looks effective, you have to guess he'll make the team because of his option status. 

Dennis Sarfate - Sarfate is another guy without options. The good news is he throws really hard! Like Albers, Sarfate had a good 2008. The overall numbers don't really reflect it, but if you take out the four games the Orioles forced him to start they look pretty good. It was revealed at the end of the 2008 season that Sarfate had been playing with a broken collarbone for much of the season and had to have surgery. He then missed a bunch of games in 2009 with a circulatory issue and when he did pitch it was obvious he didn't have it together. Like Albers, a healthy, effective Spring Training will probably get Sarfate a spot in the bullpen. 

The Favorites:

Kam Mickolio - Mickolio has two options remaining but has a promising future in the bullpen. His 2009 numbers at Norfolk were outstanding and while he only got into 11 games for the Orioles last year he looked very impressive. I know that I'd like to see him in the bullpen in 2010 and he hasn't shown any reason why he shouldn't be. The Erik Bedard trade really is the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it? 

David Hernandez - Given his tough 2009 season as a starter for the O's it's easy to forget that he had filthy numbers in the minors. He struck out a billion guys, he hardly walked any, and he didn't give up many home runs at all. Unfortunately for Hernandez he wasn't able to carry over those stats to the majors as gave up 27 HR in just 100 innings, walked 4.1 per 9 IP, and didn't strike out many guys at all. In order to secure a place in the rotation Hernandez really needed to step it up in 2009. He didn't and thus has been passed by by the bigger talent of Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. Should anything happen to either of those guys or Jeremy Guthrie, Kevin Millwood, or Brad Bergesen, Hernandez could get another shot at the rotation. 

The Long Shots: 

Jason Berken - I almost put Jason Berken in the favorites section, then I wasn't sure why. Berken was the good soldier in 2009, pitching every fifth day and getting knocked around in most of them. The nicest thing you could say about Berken in 2009 was that he didn't walk many guys. Unfortunately he got knocked around for 12.3 hits per nine innings which, more often than not, leads to some ugly results (such as a 6.54 ERA). I appreciate that Jason Berken went out and took his lumps at the ML level while the better talent worked its way through the minors, but ultimately I think Berken's fate is to be a AAA guy who gets called up to spot start when another pitcher gets injured. Honestly it could be a lot worse than having him stashed away in the minors for when the team needs him.  

Alberto Castillo - Castillo has appeared in 48 games over the past two years for the Orioles and has been pretty much a league average guy. Like Berken, Castillo is the kind of guy who's going to bounce between AAA and the majors at the will of the big club who needs a fill in lefty. I like Alberto Castillo because his first year in the minors was 1994 and he didn't make his first major league appearance until 2008. Most guys would have given up by then.

 

Armando Gabino - Gabino was claimed off of waivers from the Minnesota Twins not long after the 2009 season ended so he's never pitched in the Orioles minor league system. He has two games of major league experience, one of which was a start against the Orioles in which he gave up 4 runs, 5 hits and 4 walks in 2.2 IP. Gabino has been a reliever for most of his minor league career although he did get 7 starts in 2009, all towards the end of the year. 

The Slim to Nones: 

Wilfredo Perez - Perez hasn't pitched about AA but gets talked about a lot as a lefty with potential. He strikes out a lot of batters but his walk rate leaves something to be desired. Should the O's need a lefty in the pen in 2010 and Perez is doing well he could get the call. 

Luis Lebron - If you stand still long enough, chances are Luis Lebron will walk you. He also strikes out a ton of guys and doesn't allow many hits, so there's a lot to like about him. He split 2009 between Frederick and Bowie and had his best year yet in the minors. He'll need to learn better control and probably will not see the majors in 2010, especially out of spring training.

Don't forget about: Mark Hendrickson. The O's and Hendo both say they want to get back together for 2010 but so far no deal has been made. If he gets signed you can add him to the sure things list. 

It should be a pretty decent competition for the final bullpen spots in 2010. Hopefully the guys in the rotation will be able to put up enough innings that the pen won't be totally burnt out

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