Spring Training marks the return of baseball except for the fact that the baseball is fake and largely consists of players who will have little to no effect when the games start to matter. However, one way in which spring training will matter for the 2017 Orioles is the process of whittling down their relief pitchers to the seven that will ride north with them to Baltimore.
The bullpen has been critical to the team’s success under General Manager Dan Duquette as he makes minor trades, picks up minor league free agents, and acquires as many possible pitchers with options that he can. The bullpen has been marked by a consistently deep and consistently flexible pitching staff.
There are currently 11 pitchers in camp for realistically three total spots in the bullpen. Some pitchers definitely have a leg up, however you will likely hear most if not all of their names at some point during the season.
The four pitchers who have a spot on lock down are Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. That leaves 3 spots in the bullpen (although with Tillman’s injury and the early off day, I would not be surprised if we saw some Opening Day roster chicanery with 8 or even 9 relievers for the first series or two).
That leaves at least one spot open for a situational left-handed reliever, one spot open for a long reliever/spot starter, and the last spot open for a middle reliever.
The Orioles have brought in a couple of new lefties and have one standby from 2016. The new guys are Richard Bleier and Vidal Nuno. Bleier, acquired from the Yankees, is a career minor league player with a cup of coffee in the majors. He is a lefty specialist and does not bring much else to the table. But, he is left-handed and has options, so he is on the radar.
Nuno, acquired from the Dodgers, has more experience starting than relieving. He is much better against left-handed hitters and did relieve for most of 2016. His ability to start and pitch multiple innings gives him a better leg up on the long reliever role.
The dark horse candidate right now is spring training sensation Jayson Aquino who’s allegedly improving curve ball has led him to give up only one run and three hits during seven spring innings. He has struck out seven and walked only during that time as well. Showalter has even dropped his name as an option to start for the Orioles at some point during the 2017 season.
Among the lefties, the pitcher with the leg up is Donnie Hart. Hart, a homegrown pitcher, debuted last year and twirled 18.1 innings posting a minuscule 0.49 ERA. He was dominant against lefties striking out 11 of the 44 he faced and allowing only a .387 OPS.
Hart also looked decent against right handed hitters at times, but still struggled giving up a .787 OPS to right handed hitters. Hart has the experience on the Orioles and options. He is the odds on favorite for the institutional lefty role.
The Long Reliever
This competition is a little tighter with some new acquisitions and old names fighting for this spot. The Orioles have a lot of bad or failed starters on the roster and this role is perfect for them. Gabriel Ynoa, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Vidal Nuno, Logan Verrett, and Jayson Aquino all have a decent shot at grabbing the long reliever role. All of them have also gotten off to a decent start to Spring Training.
Verrett is a former Rule 5 draft pick of the Orioles whom they allowed to go back to the Mets after they decided to keep Jason Garcia on the 2014 roster. Verrett actually started 12 games in 2016 and posted a 5.20 ERA while doing so. He posted much better number as a reliever for the Mets in 2015 after a brief tour with the Rangers.
For Verrett’s career, in 57.0 relief innings he has posted a 3.16 ERA. It’s like having a cheaper Vance Worley. He also has one option remaining.
This spot could also go to one of the remaining lefties as the Orioles have indicated the desire to have two left-handed reliever in addition to Zach Britton.
I believe the odds on favorite is Tyler Wilson at the moment. Wilson has started off the spring well pitching in five innings, striking out three, and only giving up one hit (albeit a home run). Wilson again has experience with the Orioles, has started with some success before, still has options, and has shown an openness to being a reliever.
The Middle Reliever
That leaves the last spot. One of the middle reliever. The guy that comes in the fifth, sixth, or seventh depending on the rest levels of the rest of the bullpen. There are tons of options to run through at this point in Spring, but the ideal candidate can get right-handed hitters and left handed hitters out and pitch on back to back days.
Again, to me, the most likely candidate is someone with options who has pitched for the Orioles before. That is Oliver Drake. Drake has struggled to start Spring Training, but his performance in August/September of 2016 at the major league level speaks for itself. In 11.1 innings he struck out 14 batters and walked 5 pitching to a 1.59 ERA. Those kind of results get you noticed and certainly gives him a leg up on the rest of the competition.
The stalwarts of Britton, Brach, O’Day, and Givens figure to be in the bullpen for all of the 2017 season, save for injury. The last three spots will be a revolving door in all likelihood. The three names the stick out to me right now are Hart, Wilson, and Drake. What say you Camden Chat reader? Who do you think makes it? Who would you like to see make it?