The Orioles have some problems developing starting pitchers. This has been a constant through many different GM regimes over the past decade-plus, even the current one, where the team has found some success at the MLB level over the past five seasons. One way this becomes apparent is the number of one-time Orioles prospects who, after being traded elsewhere, blossomed.
Jake Arrieta is presently the biggest example. You cannot fail much more thoroughly than Arrieta flopped as an Oriole, with everyone always raving about his promise yet watching that promise turn into four years of increasingly escalating ERAs. When he finally escaped the O’s gravity well, he was a better pitcher almost overnight and two years later, won the Cy Young award in the National League.
There are others. The Orioles will see one tomorrow night when they open a series against the Red Sox: Eduardo Rodriguez, traded to Boston for Andrew Miller around the 2014 trade deadline.
Although Rodriguez was a top 100 prospect before the O’s traded him, that had yet to translate to minor league dominance; he had a 4.79 ERA at Double-A Bowie at the time of the trade. Over the rest of that season, Rodriguez went on to post a 0.96 ERA in six starts with Boston’s Double-A team. He’s now gone on to pitch to a 3.96 ERA over three MLB seasons.
Maryland native Josh Hader is another one who went from Orioles prospect to top 100 prospect. It’s been a long journey for Hader through the minor leagues; traded to Houston in the Bud Norris deal in 2013, he’s now a well-regarded pitching prospect for the Brewers.
You can even count Cuban lefty Ariel Miranda in this category. The O’s thought so little of Miranda’s future worth that they traded him last July for Wade Miley, who had a near-5 ERA at the time of that trade and went on to be even worse for the Orioles. They deemed they were better failing with a known mediocre lefty than an unknown one.
Miranda never seemed to be remarkable after he joined the O’s system in 2015. At the time of his trade, he had a 3.93 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk. That’s not inspiring. If that’s the best he could do at Triple-A, how would he fare in MLB? Not bad, it turns out: Miranda has now started 21 games for the Mariners over two years and has a 3.86 ERA.
Any one of these post-Orioles success stories could have an explanation that has nothing to do with, “The Orioles are horrible at developing starting pitchers.” Yet when you take them all together it seems like more than some kind of coincidence.
The newest ex-Oriole success story
One more possible ex-Orioles prospect success story popped up on the radar just last night. Parker Bridwell was the O’s ninth round pick in 2010. He was one of these pitchers whose stuff always gets raves but the results are never there. From 2012 to 2015, he spent full seasons in rotations from Delmarva to Bowie and the best of the bunch was a 3.93 ERA in Bowie in 2015 - again, not inspiring.
Eventually, Duquette’s Orioles development crew thought they’d seen enough of Bridwell as a starter, so he got bumped to the bullpen. Despite being thirsty for pitching this season and having Bridwell with multiple minor league options remaining, the Orioles discarded him in April.
Bridwell was designated for assignment to clear roster space for lefty Paul Fry, who himself had already been designated for assignment by the Mariners. Days later, the O’s traded Bridwell to the Angels for a player to be named later or cash. Having seen what he had done in the Orioles system, I expected that I would never think about him again.
Imagine my surprise when I was scanning the baseball headlines earlier this week to see that the Angels were calling up Bridwell to start their game on Tuesday night. “Could they possibly be that desperate?” I wondered. After all, not even the Orioles had time to spend on Bridwell this year, and the O’s pitching staff, especially the Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle parts of it, has kind of sucked.
Turns out that after the Angels got their hands on Bridwell, they warmed him back up as a starter and at the time of his big league call-up, Bridwell had pitched in four games in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and had a 0.92 ERA over 19.2 innings.
Tuesday night, making his first ever MLB start, Bridwell turned in a quality start: six innings, three earned runs allowed against the Braves, and he picked up his first ever MLB win.
Bridwell having one good MLB start in Anaheim does not immediately mean that the Orioles should fire everyone who evaluates and develops pitchers in the minors. Many O’s pitchers over the years have had a good debut only to have a less than stellar career.
A couple of years ago, Mike Wright pitched 7.1 scoreless innings against those Angels in his debut, and added another seven scoreless against the Marlins the next time out. Look where that got him.
If the other team knows little about you, that’s an advantage for a pitcher. I’m sure the Braves, held to six hits and a walk over six innings by Bridwell, weren’t able to prepare to face Bridwell the way they would have a more established pitcher. A 4.50 ERA isn’t that great anyway, unless you’re grading against the curve of a pitching staff as troubled as the Orioles.
Bridwell could flame out in subsequent starts and there would be little reason to end up regretting that he was given away by the O’s. But if he doesn’t flame out, if he becomes another once-promising Orioles pitching prospect who went on to find success after being traded elsewhere, then the Orioles are going to have yet another player who should leave them asking, “What the heck are we doing wrong?”