The overall fate of the Orioles has changed a lot since the Dark Days (c. 1997-2011). And the overall fate is what really matters, of course. The Orioles have posted three straight above-.500 seasons, with two playoff appearances, and that's pretty cool (unlike the Royals, who are Not Cool). But while the team has developed a stable offensive and defensive presence and shown a real knack for bullpen acquisition and management, one thing has not changed: The franchise as a whole is still abysmal at developing starting pitchers.
During the Dark Days, it was Hayden Penn, Matt Riley, Adam Loewen, Radhames Liz and Matt Hobgood. And even as the team moved into its sudden and unexpected winning ways, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton failed to become part of the "cavalry" they were destined to be, although Britton appears to have found a contributing role as a closer now (at one point, you could say Matusz had found one as a LOOGY, but let's be honest, that ship has sailed, hit an iceberg, been salvaged and repaired and then hit another iceberg). And in recent days, there have even been stumbles in the development of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, who you could've called "can't miss," except that There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect (TINSTAAPP). Even Hunter Harvey is already hurt now, with the Orioles deluding themselves into thinking that platelet-rich plasma and voodoo will somehow forestall the inevitable Tommy John surgery.
Some will probably interject here and point to Chris Tillman, but I'll respond to that in two ways: First, that the Orioles acquired Tillman as a AA pitcher just one year before his major league debut, so they didn't truly develop him from the cradle. Second, that Tillman was marketed as a high-90s potential ace when he was acquired -- and even though he's become a proven major-league pitcher, and that's no small feat, he's a low-to-mid-90s #3-type pitcher. Of course, the mere fact that Tillman has been thoroughly useful, combined with Adam Jones's entire career output to date, all in exchange for a couple injury-plagued years of Erik Bedard, still merits a hearty chuckle in its totality. But the Orioles don't get full credit for Tillman's development, is my point.
And so, that's an impressive run of pitching development failure for the Orioles as an organization. TINSTAAPP aside, it's become increasingly hard to believe that it's merely a run of bad luck that's befallen the Orioles, and one begins to wonder whether they have a serious problem in pitching development philosophy. I'm too much of a layman to definitively say either way, but man, I look at the way that Kevin Gausman gets moved from the rotation to the bullpen, and from Baltimore to Norfolk, every couple weeks, and I think "You know, I bet that there's a better way to do that."
All of which brings us to Mike Wright. Let me fend off the inevitable counterargument here: Mike Wright could still flame out, get injured, etc. Mike Wright is not a proven success story. But the early success of Mike Wright got me to notice something that the Orioles did with him, but have not been good at with some of their failed prospects: They committed to his role and allowed him to develop at a set pace.
Perhaps it helps that Mike Wright was never billed as a franchise savior or part of a cavalry. He was drafted in the 3rd round in 2011, and was never considered a future ace, although he was obviously viewed as a useful prospect. But avoiding the billing as a "savior" or even a member of a "cavalry," what you see is that Wright moved through A, AA and AAA baseball at approximately one year per level, and all as a starting pitcher -- the same kind of philosophy that has allowed organizations like the Rays and Cardinals to produce a parade of effective but seemingly unknown young starters at every turn.
Of course, even the Rays have been willing to take an exceptional talent like David Price and rush him up in an unfamiliar role every now and again. And maybe the Orioles saw Gausman and Bundy as those kinds of talents. Hell, maybe they were right, and the injuries and struggles were just things that were going to happen no matter what. But let's say (again, we don't know that this will happen) that Mike Wright is the first real homegrown Orioles pitcher to achieve lasting major-league success in over a decade. Perhaps there will be something there for the Orioles to learn.