The 2016 MLB Draft has come and gone, and the Orioles weren't shy about what they felt they needed to acquire for the franchise to improve. With rather shaky pitching options down on the farm, the O's went heavy after arms of all kind early and often, selecting pitchers with 16 of their first 19 picks.
Some will step right in and contribute, others will fail to make an impact and a few may not even sign with the club. But one thing is certain - Dan Duquette and company are insistent on developing pitching across the organization.
And while the young arms begin their quest to rise up the ranks, immediate focus can turn to the arms ready to take the next step in the coming weeks - particularly at the AAA level.
It's well-known what is available within the starting group, but conversation regarding the potential talent out of the ‘pen has been lightly touched.
But fear not! With the T.J. McFarland and Brian Duensing's of the world crumbling in front of our eyes, let's see if there is any hope lingering with the Tides.
Zach Phillips, the 29-year-old lefty who is in his 11th season of minor league ball, has certainly qualified for a spot in the ugly category. He's struck out 36 in 28.1 innings of work, but his 1.73 WHIP speaks nicely to the overall performance he's put together this season.
Unable to shake his walk issues, problems that have followed him throughout his lengthy journey in pro ball, Phillips doesn't seem to be an option with the O's any time soon. Throw in his .299 average and the recipe doesn't add up to a spot with the big-league club.
Perhaps Edgar Olmos should be in the "maybe/gotta' pick it up" category here, but we won't make a new group just for him.
He's been impressive with his strikeout numbers (35 Ks in 26 innings thrown), but he too has been riddled by poor ability to keep runners off the basepaths. The opposition is hitting a whopping .305 against the former Cubs prospect this year.
He's only 26 and still has a bit of time to improve his game; unfortunately, his 1.77 WHIP isn't exactly boding well for his future with the O's.
These are all names you'll be familiar with and just roll your eyes and move on, so we'll keep it short here. The club has to at-least consider the possibility of moving one of these guys up - but we're all pretty confident about how potential trips to the MLB level will turn out...
Chaz Roe - or, "the mustache" - is performing about how you'd expect a journeyman AAAA player to play. He's worked 30.2 innings with 39 strikeouts and 22 hits allowed. He's not walking hitters, reflected in his 0.98 WHIP, and has kept runs from scoring fairly well with a 2.93 ERA. It's the classic case here: he's pitching well in triple-A, but can he really work out consistently in the bigs?
Pedro Beato is in the same boat with his 2.30 ERA over 31.1 innings of work. Amazingly, he's pitched 757 innings of minor-league work in his career and is having the best season with an opposing average of .198. There's promise, in this his 10th year of bouncing around, but it seems to be the same narrative over again.
Oliver Drake provides a bit of intrigue with the totality of his results this season, with 32 strikeouts in 22.1 innings and a .202 opposing average. He's followed a steady ladder of success since drafted in the 43rd round in 2008, seeing time with the Orioles last season. After performing well in his limited stint with the big-league club, it'll be interesting to see how his next steps are guided by the organization.
As far as Norfolk goes in 2016 production, only two names really pop with impressive potential, and one of them is currently taking the reins as a starter.
Richard Rodriguez, the seldom talked about right-hander, has been dominant out of the back end of the ‘pen for the Tides this season. At 26 years of age, Rodriguez has worked as a middle-inning arm, effectively acting as a reliable stopgap for a struggling Norfolk team.
Here's a look at his line through 20 appearances this season:
Thus far, Rodriguez's production has been intriguing and encouraging ... it's the projection of how he'd fare if he got the call from Buck Showalter that leaves plenty of question marks.
Finally, there's Joe Gunkel. The 6'5" righty has made eight starts (2-4, 3.80 ERA) in Norfolk after receiving an early-season call from Bowie. He won't strike many out and lacks an overall overwhelming ability to mow down hitters, but he does one thing very well - avoids baserunners via the free pass.
Gunkel has only walked 11 hitters in 67 total minor-league innings in 2016, a trend that has been steady since being drafted by the Red Sox in 2013. Remember, after being acquired last season, he made 17 starts in Bowie with a 2.59 ERA. He allowed just 85 hits in 104.1 innings, keeping his WHIP down to 0.96.
So, is there hope for the future of the Orioles bullpen? Of course. Very simply, it's up to management to decide how they'd like to proceed with the available options.