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Orioles top pitching prospects providing little certainty about rotation’s future

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The Orioles have quite a few pitchers in the spotlight down in the minor leagues. However, not everything has gone perfectly for the young group of potential future difference-makers.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles-Spring Training Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rumors continue to surface over what the Orioles will decide to do over the next two weeks, and there’s little certainty surrounding what the team truly wants to do as the MLB trade deadline approaches.

Just yesterday, reports emerged that the Colorado Rockies were interested in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, sparking plenty of conversation regarding whether or not Dan Duquette is in a position to deal away the only two arms in the current rotation with valuable long-term projections.

It’s a strange time in Birdland, one that still has young prospects playing on a nightly basis down on the farm. And should the team entertain offers for either Bundy or Gausman, a key question remains — is there any pitcher in the current system who looks to offer value that is similar to what the Orioles “hope” both young arms can bring over the coming years?

Below, an look at the pitchers ranked inside the top 15 by MLB Pipeline, keying in on their potential readiness to contribute at the major-league level. These are the system rankings from the preseason. They're expected to get a midseason update before the trade deadline.

Cody Sedlock (#2 ranked Orioles prospect)

As you might’ve heard, the Orioles’ first-round selection from 2016 is dealing with an elbow strain issue that currently has him on the DL until further notice. It’s not exactly the news the team wanted to hear midway through his first full season with the organization, but it might explain the struggles that Sedlock began the year with.

The former Illinois standout posted a 6.46 ERA through his first 13 starts of the season, allowing 78 hits in 62.2 innings and striking out just 53. Over that span, opposing hitting notched a .299 average against, inflating the ERA in part due to a .342 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Sedlock just turned 22 and did skip Delmarva following his impressive early start at Aberdeen in his rookie year. There’s obviously plenty of time to see him develop into the guy the Orioles envisioned at the time of the Draft. For the short term, it might be time to turn the page and begin to start truly judging his progress at the start of a (hopefully) healthy year in 2018.

Hunter Harvey (#3 ranked)

Yes, even following Tommy John surgery and a seriously delayed progression, Harvey still sits third on the top prospect rankings by MLB Pipeline. That’s a fairly good indicator of just how thin this Orioles organization still is.

Regardless, it appears Harvey will be returning to the mound soon enough and we’ll get to see him work competitively a bit before the minor-league season wraps up. There’s still hope within some circles that the 22-year-old will represent a key piece in the team’s future rotation — it’s a bold consideration, but one that will remain on the table until Harvey proves he isn’t the pitcher he was before the elbow issues.

Keegan Akin (#5 ranked)

It’s amazing to me that Akin has cracked the top five on this list, especially considering his rough, rough start to the 2017 season. However, when you take a look at his current 3.63 ERA through 17 starts, it’s become clear that last year’s second-round pick out of Western Michigan has nicely navigated his way through the Carolina League in his age 22 season.

Akin has been dominant throughout his last 10 outings, posting a 2.67 ERA and allowing just 34 hits in 54 innings of work. He’s holding the opposition to a .220 total batting average against on the year, truly dominating both right and left-handed hitting.

The below analysis from his scouting report on MLB.com provides even more encouragement:

One of the hardest-throwing lefty starters in his class, Akin's fastball sits at 91-94 mph and reaches 96 with late life, and he maintains that velocity deep into games. His above-average slider in the low 80s represents his best secondary offering and makes him particularly effective against lefty hitters.

Should he continue to progress nicely at Frederick, it’s realistic to believe that he could be a candidate to make the leap to the big-leagues as early as next season. That’s a best case scenario to be sure, but the fact that it’s even in the realm of possibility is exceptional.

Chris Lee (#6 ranked)

Lee, who will turn 25 next month, has not nearly had the success that Akin has during his year at Norfolk. In fact, it’s been slightly disastrous in a season that looked to be one in which he’d compete for innings in the Orioles rotation.

Through 82.2 innings, Lee has allowed 109 hits and has a 42-53 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He hasn’t provided any signs of encouragement, especially throughout his last 10 outings, games in which he has a combined 7.35 ERA.

Command troubles have seemingly followed him throughout his professional career; unless they can be remedied quickly, there’s little path for him to see the bright lights of the big-leagues any time soon.

Tanner Scott (#10 ranked)

You’ve likely read enough about Scott in our daily minor-league recaps to know that he’s been kept to three innings in his starts for Bowie. What you might not realize is just how well his numbers have piled up over the course of the entire year.

Scott, he of the 100 MPH fastball, has struck out 67 batters in 52.2 innings, totaling a 2.05 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP through 18 “starts”. The walk troubles are still lingering, however they’re improving alongside an eye-popping .189 average against on the year.

There’s hope for the soon-to-be 23-year-old to possibly see major-league action sooner rather than later. And if the walk numbers can continue to drop, it’s possible he can make a legitimate difference once he’s able to don the orange and black at Camden Yards.

Gabriel Ynoa (#11 ranked)

It’s no secret that Ynoa has had a rough 2017. His short stint with the Orioles didn’t go well, and despite showing flashes of promise in spring training, it’s clear that even triple-A might be too tall of a task at the current time.

In 53 total innings with Norfolk on the year (all as a starter), Ynoa has allowed 80 hits and has struck out just 28. Opposing batters are hitting .346 and teeing off in almost every situation as shown by the split stats. In a nutshell, it’s been a year to forget thus far for Ynoa.

Matthias Dietz (#12 ranked)

Dietz, the other second round pick from 2016, didn’t join Sedlock and Akin on their trip to Frederick to start the year, and it’s clear to see he’s still struggling to adjust from junior college competition to professional hitting. The 21-year-old right-hander has posted a 4.72 ERA in 18 starts this season, surrendering 96 hits in 89.2 innings tossed.

Time is on Dietz’s side as he continues this season at Delmarva. He’s one of the prospects who hasn’t had much spotlight and lacks the ability to be projected for the time being. Still, he’s worth watching as a young arm who is still growing up and adjusting in his first full year of pro ball.

Garrett Cleavinger (#13 ranked)

As a reliever, there’s been little talk about Cleavinger in MiLB discussions throughout the season. It’s easy to forget he was a third-rounder just back in 2015 and the left-hander is already in Bowie. The only issue — his 7.08 ERA isn’t going to encourage many as he moves forward.

Here’s a note from the MLB.com scouting report that sheds a bit more light on his overall game:

A stocky left-hander, Cleavinger's fastball will touch 96 mph but typically sits in the 89-92 mph range. His curveball plays as average, registering in the low 70s with good shape and depth, though at times he struggles to get on top of it. The pairing helped Cleavinger pile up 102 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings in 2016, although his control regressed with the move up to the Carolina League. Meanwhile, the development of a usable changeup should help Cleavinger avoid being relegated to a LOOGY.

Cleavinger’s 22 walks in 34.1 innings most definitely fall under the concerning category. As his career progresses, that might be the area that controls his future (no pun intended).

Jesus Liranzo (#14 ranked)

Liranzo started the year out of the bullpen but has followed the “Tanner Scott plan” since the middle of last month, starting games and working three innings in each outing (aside from 7/9). Since then, he’s allowed five earned runs in 16 innings.

Liranzo is admittedly a tricky projection. What we saw throughout spring training was a guy whose arm brings some firepower to the table and could provide some excitement with his fastball/slider combo. He’s struggled in Bowie with a 5.17 total ERA, but much of that has been due to elevated walk numbers.

At 22 years old with strikeout ability, Liranzo has the opportunity to continue to work on command and should be a name to track this offseason.

Alex Wells (#15 ranked)

He’s one of our favorite prospects here at Camden Chat, and for good reason. He has a great story and, well, his numbers are worth taking a look at — 18 starts, 102 innings, 92 hits, 10 walks, 79 strikeouts, 2.56 ERA.

Let’s fully understand that — Wells has 10 walks in 102 innings this season. Since he’s started in the organization, he’s walked just 19 batters in 164.2 innings pitched. There’s a reason he has a total 0.97 WHIP. Limiting free passes generally translates to success, especially in single-A.

Yes, Wells is at Delmarva and he has quite a long road ahead of him to make the big-leagues. But if there’s one guy on this top-15 list who is flying perhaps too far under the radar, it’s most definitely the 20-year-old from Australia.