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MLB Draft 2017: Orioles system pitching depth review

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The Orioles have a number of pitching prospects in their system, but for some, the chances are much greater than others. Who may help out soon?

Baltimore Orioles Photo Day
Chris Lee is one of the better Orioles pitching prospects, for whatever that’s worth.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The dream of a home-grown Orioles starting rotation has been a persistent one ever since the days of Andy MacPhail, when the reigning philosophy was, “Grow the arms, buy the bats.” This philosophy was and is a good one even if the Orioles have never quite managed to grow many arms in the way that he meant.

The reason why it’s important to develop your own pitching prospects, and why it’s a problem that the Orioles have failed at this through so many different regimes, is pretty simple. If you have to get a starting pitcher on the free agent market, he’s most likely going to be older with his best years behind him, he’s probably going to be expensive, and he might actually be bad.

One signing from this past offseason is instructive. The Dodgers gave Rich “The Blister” Hill $48 million over three years after Hill started 20 games last year and averaged fewer than six innings per start. Hill is now 37 and has started just two games this year due to that same blister problem.

You don’t want to be the team that has to spend money on free agent starting pitchers. When the Orioles have been this team in recent years, they have ended up with Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo. At least they won’t lose first round picks any more since the rules changed.

Develop pitchers and instead of spending that money on mediocre or worse starters, you can use it to, say, try to lock up Manny Machado to a new contract.

With Jimenez, Chris Tillman, and Wade Miley possibly all being free agents at season’s end, the Orioles need some starters to step up from the minors if they’re going to be able to avoid being the suckers spending on free agent pitchers. Can they get any help from the farm? Yeah, about that...

Triple-A Norfolk

Most of the Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle riders that we’ve already seen are starting pitchers. Some, like Alec Asher, Gabriel Ynoa, and Logan Verrett, have done well in their limited action. Others, like Jayson Aquino and Vidal Nuno, have been less impressive.

It’s too early to proclaim any of them successes or failures. However, we have seen enough of them collectively to know that it’s probably not great news if the Orioles have to rely on this lot for more than, say, one back-end-of-the-rotation spot, at most. Although a couple like Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright were drafted by the Orioles, most came from elsewhere.

One actual pitching prospect, or at least what passes for one in the upper reaches of the Orioles system, is actually at Norfolk: lefty Chris Lee, acquired in 2015 from the Astros. Lee only pitched in eight games last season due to a lat injury that took most of his season.

Here in 2017, Lee has started seven games, walking 18 batters in 31.1 innings. Lee is also giving up hits like they’re going out of style, adding up to a 1.934 WHIP with a 5.46 ERA. Don’t count on him keeping a 2018 rotation spot warm just yet.

Double-A Bowie Baysox

  • LHP Tanner Scott
  • LHP Garrett Cleavinger
  • RHP Jesus Liranzo
  • RHP Jason Garcia
  • LHP John Means
  • RHP David Hess

The six above names are all on the Orioles top 30 prospects list on MLB.com. Of these, only Means and Hess are starting pitchers. The others all seem to be relievers. Garcia, though he was a starting pitcher in the past, has only appeared in relief this season. Scott is starting games but only going three innings.

Both Means and Hess spent time at Bowie last season as well. Neither had great success, which is why they’re right back there. Both are now posting similar numbers: high-3 ERA, limiting the walks, picking up a respectable if not amazing number of strikeouts. Their Double-A performance may not mean they’re heading to the big leagues for sure, but they’re not failing at the moment.

That’s much better than can be said of two of the relievers, Garcia and Liranzo. Garcia, the 2015 Rule 5 pick, was designated for assignment earlier in the season, though no one claimed him, maybe because he has an ERA near 6 in this, his second year at Double-A. Liranzo, added to the 40-man this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, has walked 14 batters in 14 innings.

Speaking of walks, there’s Scott, who’s walked 16 batters in 21 innings. I don’t know what they’re doing with him with this whole three-inning start business, but the interesting thing about him is that he’s a lefty who can throw 100mph and maybe some day he’ll know where it’s going.

High-A Frederick

  • RHP Cody Sedlock
  • LHP Keegan Akin
  • LHP Brian Gonzalez
  • RHP Ofelky Peralta

Sedlock and Akin were the Orioles top two draft picks this year, so their skipping right over Low-A to debut at this level was something exciting. Maybe this could finally be the wave of O’s pitching prospects to cruise smoothly up to the big leagues?

Nothing comes that easily when dealing with the O’s and pitching prospects. Of that quartet, the lowest ERA belongs to Sedlock: 4.38. Sedlock also has the lowest WHIP: 1.24. Not exactly dominating the competition.

These things don’t mean everything is horrible forever, especially for Sedlock, who’s limited walks and gotten nearly a strikeout per inning pitched. It’s entirely possible minor league-caliber defense makes his numbers look worse than they would be at a higher level.

On the other hand, Akin and Peralta are striking out more than one batter every inning on average, but both are also walking more batters. You’re probably noticing this common trend of poor command among the O’s pitching prospects.

Low-A Delmarva

  • RHP Matthias Dietz
  • LHP Alex Wells
  • LHP Zach Muckenhirn

Here are three guys who do not have a problem of walking too many dudes. What Dietz and Muckenhirn do have as a problem are too many guys getting hits off of them, resulting in a 4.46 ERA for Muckenhirn and a 6.54 ERA for Dietz, last year’s second round pick.

Wells has had so much success that he doesn’t deserve to even be mentioned in the same paragraph as those other guys. The young Australian lefty, just 20 years old, is holding South Atlantic League competition to a .216 average against him through six starts, with an excellent 1.19 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

He may not be the best Orioles pitching prospect, but Wells is my current favorite. He’s walked just four of the 148 batters he’s faced this season. Don’t get your hopes up too high, though. Here’s the MLB.com scouting capsule on him from before the season:

Wells pitches with an average fastball, operating in the upper 80s and scraping 90 mph, but the pitch plays up due to his ability to command it to both sides of the plate. His changeup registers in the low 80s with good fading action, and he sells it with fastball-like arm action. Wells also has made strides with his curveball, a 12-to-6 downer in the mid-70s, since turning pro, giving him a quality third pitch, and his whole arsenal plays up due to his above-average control.

Although lefties can get away with a little bit less velocity by virtue of being lefties, it’s important to keep in mind how little for error there is for a pitcher who tops out around 90mph - despite how Orioles batters make these pitchers look sometimes. But for now, getting out Low-A hitters is his job and it’s what he’s doing very well.

Elsewhere

  • Hunter Harvey

I don’t even know what to write about this guy any more. Best of luck in his Tommy John surgery rehab.

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