The Orioles have starting pitching depth in the same way that quicksand has depth. Once you experience it, you may be about to die. Sunday’s news that Chris Tillman was shut down from his rehab program due to shoulder discomfort means the sixth starter competition for the O’s is suddenly a lot more important. Don’t struggle. You’ll only sink faster.
If you didn’t see the news on Sunday, Tillman has been shut down because he was experiencing shoulder discomfort while doing long toss before a previously-scheduled bullpen session. That bullpen had already been pushed back due to reported joint soreness as a side effect to having taken antibiotics.
Is this going to turn out to be a big deal? Overreacting to one quote isn’t a great idea, but seriously, here’s manager Buck Showalter reacting to the injury, according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko:
I’m still very confident he’s going to pitch for us at some point this year.
That sure sounds like things are going to end up getting pushed a lot farther back than just April 15, the previous hoped-for day with Tillman - that is, the first time the Orioles need a fifth starter. Who replaces Tillman now seems like more than a one start audition. Hopefully this turns out to be mistaken, but until Tillman’s back, it’s worth figuring out who’s the best of the rest.
There’s nothing quite so encouraging as turning your eyes to a possible replacement who has a career MLB ERA of 5.88. That’s the story with Wright.
Spring training is offering a story that there may be a different Wright than we have seen in the past. One way this is the case is that he’s actually throwing different pitches.
A recent MASN broadcast where Wright pitched spent a lot of time talking about how he’s now throwing a sinker, with which he is more comfortable than a four-seam fastball. That should make him more able to get grounders, rather than more homer-prone. Well, theoretically.
Wright has also been reading sports psychology books. No, really. Having watched Wright pitch, the idea that part of his problem has been mental is something I would accept.
Wilson and Wright have climbed the ladder together since both being drafted by the Orioles in the 2011 draft. As pitchers, they are very different, though, with Wilson fitting more into the control artist mold, where Wright is in the “maybe this guy should really be a set-up man” mold.
Wilson might be ticketed more for the Vance Worley type spot starter/long reliever role, where he won’t have to face up to where he struggled last season: A third time through a batting order. It’s not a glorious role, but a useful one.
What’s fun about Ynoa, aside from pronouncing his name, is that Orioles fans didn’t see him fail in an Orioles uniform last year. The 23-year-old righty, acquired from the Mets for cash considerations on February 10, struggled in limited MLB action last year but had a respectable 3.97 ERA in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League last season.
Some of the good and bad from Ynoa’s scouting capsule on MLB.com, where he’s ranked as the #12 prospect in the Orioles system:
Ynoa has long been among the best control artists in the Minor Leagues, with a career 1.5 BB/9 ratio in more than 795 innings. It helps his average stuff play up, as he'll mix his two- and four-seam fastballs -- the latter registering in the low-90s -- a pair of breaking balls and a changeup. ... His lack of a put-away pitch makes him particularly vulnerable versus left-handed hitters, and they batted .331 against him in Triple-A last season.
Ynoa struck out 17 batters in 18.1 big league innings last season, although in the minors he only struck out 78 batters in 154.1 innings pitched. A pitcher who doesn’t get many strikeouts is playing a very, very dangerous game in today’s MLB.
Quotes from Showalter in spring training, and therefore beat writer opinions, keep listing Lee among the candidates for this sixth starter competition. It would be a surprise to me if a guy who pitched only 51.1 innings at Bowie before getting hurt last year would make the jump right to the MLB rotation. He does have the bonus of being a lefty.
If Ynoa had a problem for a lack of strikeouts, Lee’s is even worse. He only struck out 19 batters in his Bowie innings last year. Small sample size or concerning trend? For what it’s worth, he has eight strikeouts in eight spring innings so far.
ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Lee as the fifth-best prospect in the system, writing of him:
He can sink the ball in the low 90s — although it can flatten out when he reaches back for 95 — and his slider is a left-on-left weapon. He may be a high-ceiling reliever, although it’s hard to turn away from a starter this athletic.
Bonus: Baseball Reference says his middle name is Ulysses.
If you blinked, you might have missed Aquino’s three games at the MLB level last season, when he pitched 2.1 innings for the Orioles and did not allow a run.
Aquino also has the advantage of being a lefty, if that’s something that might serve as a tiebreaker for the Orioles decisionmakers. The 24-year-old spent most of last season in the Bowie rotation, his first real shot at the Double-A level, pitching to a 3.90 ERA in 115.1 innings there.
One thing that’s held true across Aquino’s minor league career is that he gets a lot of ground balls. That’s always good news for an Orioles pitcher with their infield defense being what it is. As a result, Aquino does not allow many home runs. That’s something that can maybe work, although it doesn’t automatically make him the best choice.
Free agents still on the market
Kubatko said the Orioles have “memorized” the free agent market, including Doug Fister, Edwin Jackson, and Colby Lewis. Fister wasn’t good last season while averaging a fastball at 87mph. Jackson was worse. Lewis was fine, and also maybe has no chance of passing an Orioles physical.
With the understanding that none of these choices are ideal, who’s your pick for a Tillman replacement for as long as one as needed? How much more worried are you about this year’s team now?