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Orioles protect pitchers Joe Gunkel, Jesús Liranzo from Rule 5 draft

The Orioles added a pair of right-handed pitchers to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.

Dan Duquette with a big smile on his face.
He’s smiling because he just saved two players from the Rule 5 draft.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Orioles stared down Friday night’s deadline to add players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft and added two prospects: right-handed pitchers Joe Gunkel and Jesús Liranzo.

It’s a bit of a surprise in the sense that the Orioles had seven open 40-man spots, so they could have added several more players if they chose. It’s not much of a surprise in the sense that there aren’t any other good Rule 5 eligible players in the entire Orioles system.

Gunkel, or “The Gunk” as he is affectionately known by some Camden Chat writers, was an 18th round pick by the Red Sox in the 2013 draft. The Orioles acquired him when they traded Alejandro De Aza to the Sox last year. Gunkel, 24, had a solid season for Bowie after last year’s trade and a solidly mediocre season for Triple-A Norfolk this year.

The Dan Duquette version of reality for Gunkel, as relayed by the Orioles PR account on Twitter:

Joe Gunkel is able to use a three-pitch mix effectively to keep hitters off balance and has excellent command of his pitches.

The bit about command, at least, is something we can judge from his minor league stat lines. In 141.1 innings for Norfolk this year, Gunkel only issued 18 walks. He is precisely the kind of guy who doesn’t have overwhelming stuff and tries to survive lots of contact with guile.

If that works out, you get a back-end rotation option. If it doesn’t, you get another Tyler Wilson. I think Gunkel was the most likely player in the system to be drafted if left off of the 40-man, so protecting him was an easy choice, despite a bit of a step back in his ERA in 2016.

You’ll be forgiven if you have no idea who Liranzo is even if you follow the minor league system fairly closely. Liranzo, 21, had never pitched in a US-based minor league prior to this season. On top of that, he’s “only” a reliever. In general, no one cares about a reliever who began the most recent season at Low-A.

However, Liranzo became interesting by striking out a ton of guys for Delmarva - 46 in 34.1 innings - and then, after being promoted two levels, still striking out a lot of guys for Bowie, where he had 20 strikeouts in 18.2 innings. Yeah, sure, he walks a lot of guys (27 in 53 innings between both levels) but you know, there’s always a trade-off.

Duquette on Liranzo:

Jesús Liranzo has a power arm, as well as a sinker and slider with strikeout potential. He advanced quickly through our minor league system this past year by limiting walks and hits.

Never mind that it’s a demonstrably false claim for Duquette to make that Liranzo limited walks in the 2016 season. Duquette does that sometimes. It’s OK. The rest sounds interesting and may even be true. The strikeout potential definitely is borne out by Liranzo’s most recent season performance, and he definitely moved quickly through the system.

Liranzo’s name came up in trade conversations back in July, so he has at least some appeal to the rest of the league. It costs the Orioles little to add him to the 40-man roster and make sure that some other team doesn’t take a Rule 5 flier on a raw reliever who can get a lot of strikeouts. That’s what the Orioles themselves would do, after all.

Left unprotected were a variety of players who don’t figure to come back to haunt the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft, including recent Arizona Fall League participants Stefan Crichton, Jimmy Yacabonis, and Adrian Marin, formerly intriguing outfield prospect Mike Yastrzemski, and Maryland-born Tommy John rehabber Branden Kline, who did not pitch at all in 2016.

The Orioles 40-man roster now sits at 35 players, meaning that they have plenty of space to make waiver claims, draft a Rule 5 player at the winter meetings, and, if they feel like getting crazy, sign a major league free agent.