The battle for the number five slot in the 2016 Orioles rotation might be one of the most intriguing wrinkles to be ironed out on the AL East spring training schedule. With much of the prior offseason conversation surrounding potential free agent fits, it's officially time to settle in and take a look at one of the most competitive in-house names available - right-hander Tyler Wilson.
With pitchers and catchers ready to report, there's no reason to put this kid on the back burner.
Even with the potential signing of Yovanni Gallardo, there's plenty of room for Wilson to open eyes in March. Some might say his early performance on the mound could mean an immediate entry into the opening week rotation.
Either way - whether starting the year with the Birds or in Norfolk - 2016's Orioles squad has plenty of room to benefit from the services of a viable young arm like Wilson's.
When looking at the overall framework of the 26-year-old, it's important to understand what the team really has to look forward to.
Based on everything that we've seen in his five total seasons in the minor leagues (and brief stint with the big-league club last season), this kid is a legitimate starting pitching prospect, not a shaky rotation place-filler who will need to be quickly assigned to the bullpen. Even though he saw a few quick appearances out of the ‘pen in 2015, the reliever role shouldn't be one that will stick.
Though it's been done in recent O's history, a transition to a late-inning guy shouldn't be the headline that follows Wilson throughout the next few seasons.
Bottom line: his ceiling is simply too high to deny.
Take a look at the numbers from his last two seasons in the minors. Keep in mind the fact that he was hindered with an oblique injury that put him on the shelf for about a month in 2015.
Now, are these top of the rotation, perennial All-Star numbers? Probably not - no need to get too crazy here. Ultimately though, he's done plenty to prove that he could become a double-digit winner in the back end of the rotation with a full season to prove himself.
A few things that stand out from the basic numbers...
- A WHIP of 1.23 or lower in both years, aided by extremely impressive BB/9 ratios. Last year's 1.7 BB/9 number in 17 starts stands alone as an impressive indicator.
- Two years in a row of above-average HR/9 numbers. Not to mention, he surrendered just one long ball in 36 innings of big-league pitching last season.
- Run-of-the-mill hit/inning ratio in both seasons, lacking firepower and ability to miss bats on a consistent basis.
With those numbers, let's take two more from the 36 innings with the Orioles.
Per FanGraphs, he managed to put together a 52% ground ball rate and just a 17.9% number on line drives, both easily bettering the league average.
Granted, the sample size was razor thin and split over infrequent appearances - both as a starter and reliever - in five different months. But the numbers began to form an encouraging summary leading into the offseason, especially after passing the eye test in four of his five starts with the parent squad.
Don't forget - in those four starts, he managed to pitch into the sixth inning and allow two runs or less in very efficient outings. Easily overlooked, Wilson didn't at all crumble under the pressure.
Remember this late-night outing against Oakland?
For a guy who will be 26 for the majority of the 2016 season, Wilson offers a young option that shouldn't be kicked to the curb. Heading into the first stretch of the spring, he'll look to kickstart a surge of momentum as Opening Day approaches.
Isn't the potential itself worth tuning in for?
At the end of the day, you won't find an analyst, fan or likely even a coach who can determine whether or not Wilson will be the answer in the back end of the rotation. He lacks the fireworks attached to his name and like many prospects floating around in the Orioles organization, there's a giant question mark attached to his future potential.
But at the very least, let's not sell him short just yet.
There's hope to be had. At least at the onset of the spring, how about taking this one with a glass half full approach?