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What are realistic expectations for top Orioles pitching prospects?

You know the names, but what should we be expecting in 2018 from the top pitching prospects in the Orioles system?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the honest truth about the 2018 Orioles season — tracking the prospects might just be a bit more fun than in recent years past. That isn’t necessarily because the prospects are that much more skilled either (as a whole, they probably aren’t). Unfortunately, the big-league team just isn’t at the contending level that we’ve been used to seeing in the Buck Showalter era.

With that, keeping tabs on the prospects offers somewhat of an oasis. With minor-league analysis, the “ideal world” always exists. Everyone can be a superstar in the minors, even pitchers — yes, even in the Orioles organization.

As the minor-league season starts to roll along, it’s probably the time of the year where we want to dive into deciding somewhat realistic expectations for some of the top arms in the Orioles system. We’ve been familiar with these guys for a while now, but what should we expect over the course of 2018? It’s easy to want everyone to pan out immediately with a major league team that is struggling so greatly, but we must keep the realistic nature of expectations at the forefront.

What we want to see and what we should reasonably expect to see is quite different, especially for some arms that have significant question marks attached to them.

Hunter Harvey

Let’s start with Harvey, who is ranked the Orioles fourth-best prospect on MLB Pipeline.

What you’d expect, and this is somewhat difficult due to the injuries he’s accumulated in the past, but is a year where he starts putting everything together. It’s understandably challenging to work a full, effective season when you’ve been battling big-time injuries throughout your rise up the ranks, but Harvey must start at least showcasing big-league potential here soon.

He doesn’t have to be perfect, nor would you expect him to be. But a reasonable expectation is that he stays healthy and does enough to warrant a look at a call-up by the end of the year. Now at Bowie, you’d like to see him at the very least having regular successes in Norfolk by the end of the year.

Tanner Scott

We’ve already gotten a glimpse this season at Scott, who is ranked eighth in the Orioles system.

It’s no secret what he brings to the table as a live arm. His blurb on MLB Pipeline says about everything you need to know about the upside he brings:

Scott’s elite fastball gives him closer potential, as he’ll routinely hit triple digits while sitting comfortably at 97-99 mph. His low-90s slider has improved to where it’s an above-average pitch, and its combination of sheer velocity and late break helps Scott pile up whiffs on both sides of the plate. His changeup represents a distant third pitch, one he threw sparingly even when working as a starter in 2017. The Orioles have worked with Scott to simplify his delivery to improve his strike-throwing ability, though realistically, his control might never be better than below average.

Command, command, command.

If the team sees that he’s able to throw strikes consistently and stay away from dangerous situations via the free pass, there is no reason why Scott shouldn’t be with the Orioles by the end of the year. It’s still very reasonable that the Orioles would like him to start down the road, so that’s something to track — usage. At some point, the team has to take a chance on a guy with plus stuff and attempt to put him in the rotation.

If Scott showcases continued development, he might just be that guy.

Keegan Akin and Cody Sedlock

I wanted to add the two top picks from the 2016 class for two reasons. First, they’re ranked 9th and 12th respectively on the top prospects list, so they deserve looks. But second, because their paths have been somewhat different and 2018 acts as a significant year for guys who were thought of highly out of college.

For Akin, 2017 was a bit of a breakout season. He compiled 111 strikeouts in 100 innings, allowing a .240 average against with just 89 hits. He’s struggled with command over his first two starts this season, but his arrow is pointing upward. With a plus fastball/slider combo, there expectations should be simply to build on last year’s performance and continue to generate swings and misses.

Sedlock’s difficulties have been well-documented, and unfortunately they are continuing with the onset of 2018. Over his first eight innings (two starts), he’s allowed 13 hits and five walks, coughing up eight earned for a quick 9.00 ERA out of the gate. Overall, that’s a 5.47 ERA and .288 opposing batting average in his first 125 innings in the Orioles organization — not exactly what you’d call ideal.

In terms of expectations for Sedlock, it’s all about keeping bats off the ball in Frederick, something he just hasn’t been able to do. Last season in 90 innings, he allowed a total of 119 hits. That’s not going to cut it. Certainly the offseason brought some changes, ones that the Orioles can only hope will iron out the wrinkles that exist in his game. If not, his stint in the system might be a rather quick one for a first-round selection.