Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
There are a lot of options. Who will make it?
Everyone please welcome Scott! He will be contributing to the site this season. --Stacey
By now you have probably read more pieces than you can count attempting to identify the starting rotation when camp breaks and the Orioles head north. And they are being written for good reason. There are so many seemingly qualified candidates, it will be extremely interesting to see how it washes out. The general consensus is that barring injuries or complete implosion, two of the spots will be locked down by Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. Makes perfect sense. Chen was the only constant in the rotation last year, and acquitted himself well. He did not show overpowering stuff, but he proved to be durable, smart, and an intense competitor. This is a guy that would fit into the back-end of most rotations in baseball. As for Hammel, he was very solid, and sometimes dominant when healthy. Look for him to take the ball on Opening Day if his knee holds up in Sarasota. Two other spots seemingly have front runners - Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. Both looked like top of the rotation guys through August and September, and if they stay healthy, get their work in, and remain at least marginally effective throughout the spring, they are near locks to join Hammel and Chen.
Much has been written and speculated about the fifth spot. Based on the second half of last season, Steve Johnson seems to have a slight leg up coming into camp. You couldn't help but be impressed with his strikeout to walk ration, and his ability to get the swing and miss with a seemingly marginal fastball. But, don't underestimate the potential for one of the cavalry to reclaim a spot in the starting rotation. With a dominant spring, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, or Zach Britton could find themselves in the rotation when camp breaks. And, don't forget, Jair Jurrjens (if the contract is finalized!), who has a more distinguished track record in the National League than Hammel brought with him to Baltimore. If his balky knee holds up and he is able to regain his velocity, it will be difficult to keep him out of the rotation. And yes, I realize that I made no mention of Tommy Hunter and T.J. McFarland, who will also be in the mix.
My take is that those things will work themselves out. And, not necessarily with what transpires in the box scores. Minor league options, injuries, and even expectations can and likely will be a factor going forward. Say what you want about a level playing field, but it has to be a bit difficult to swallow that the former number 4 overall pick (Matusz) is now nothing more than a match-up specialist out of the bullpen. Brian will get plenty of opportunities to start and stretch it out this spring, and if he has success, I suspect he will leapfrog the others in the competition.
Going forward, the Orioles cannot keep all of the potential starters - even between the Baltimore and Norfolk rotations. If Arrieta, Matusz, or Britton have a lights out spring, and make their way into the rotation - that would certainly re-value them in the eyes of potential trade partners, and maybe give the Orioles some options to package a few of these high-end ceiling starters for the big bat they covet. Regardless, it will be fun to watch - and it is a huge departure from the days of the not-too-distant past, when we knew Jeremy Guthrie would be at the top of the rotation, and we hoped that the rest of the group showed enough to cobble together an actual major league rotation. This year, the options are deep, and whoever ends up in the rotation when camp breaks will, as Buck likes to say, be able to defend themselves well.
That will all work itself out, and in due time, I believe the April rotation will become obvious. The more intriguing question to me is - what will the rotation look like in the second-half of the season? There are only 5 spots. Many are of the opinion that Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will arrive in the rotation sometime after the All-Star Break. Of course, they will be limited in their innings, so that complicates matters. But, if they dominate at the AA/AAA level, it is probable that you will see them at the Major League level in the second half. Also, let's not forget about Tsuyoshi Wada. It is certainly possible that a healthy Wada could force himself into the rotation discussion in the second half. He is expected to begin ‘pitching' in May, so if he stays on track, look for him to begin working regularly in Bowie / Norfolk and stretching out his innings leading up to the break. Who knows what happens after that? And, if those things happens, who goes? What do you do with the surplus? As with Spring Training battles, much of this will work itself out due to innings limits, effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) or injury. But, these are good problems to have.
Do you ever remember feeling like you had more than 5 good options for the rotation going into a season? The old adage that you can never have too much pitching always holds true, but given the volume and the potential of this group, it is going to be an interesting ride - and almost certainly will produce a trade or two that hopefully can augment the offense. 2012 was a renaissance, and even if 2013 does not produce another playoff appearance, it is clear these are different times, this is a different Oriole team, and things are trending up.