One reason that the Orioles were in the tough spot they were last year, and over the offseason, is that they have had a lack of talent to draw on from the high minors to help the MLB team. If there was even a single MLB-ready starting pitcher, they would not have had to sign three starting pitchers.
As the minor league seasons are set to get underway later this week, the break camp roster for the team’s Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, reflects this. The Tides may not be packed with top prospects from the organization, but they’re important nonetheless. The Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle has always been active during the tenure of Dan Duquette.
Tides will be summoned, either due to injury to someone on the Orioles, ineffectiveness leading to a player’s release, or just part of the routine shuffling to keep the best bullpen possible, and they will have opportunities to impact games at the big league level this year.
The Tides coaching staff, led once again by manager Ron Johnson, once again will have the primary task of working around their own roster in order to keep pitchers fresh for a possible big league emergency.
Orioles top 30 prospects on the Tides roster
Top 30 prospects list according to MLB Pipeline.
- LHP Tanner Scott (6)
- OF DJ Stewart (13)
- (when healthy) LHP Chris Lee (14)
- RHP David Hess (18)
- RHP Yefry Ramirez (19)
- C Austin Wynns (24)
Of these, the one who interests me the most might be Stewart, who is also the least likely out of this list to appear in Baltimore this season. The lefty-batting left fielder had a tough professional debut after being drafted in the first round in the 2015 draft. However, he’s improved with each promotion up the ladder in the minors, working his way up to a .278/.378/.481 batting line for Double-A Bowie last year.
For an Orioles team that’s starved for OBP, that would be significant. He has always walked a lot in the minors even when he struggled with his batting average. If Stewart can maintain that level of performance one rung higher, when facing Triple-A pitchers, some of whom have some big league experience, that would be a good sign that he might be part of an Orioles outfield of the future.
All four pitchers, Scott, Lee, Hess, and Ramirez, could end up in the Tides rotation, although nobody really knows why the Orioles are pretending Scott might be a starting pitcher. The remaining three could pitch themselves into the back end of a future Orioles rotation, if they pitch well enough.
Other than throwing 100, Scott hasn’t done much to show he could be a big league pitcher. Lee got bombed for a 5.11 ERA in the Norfolk rotation last year, and is probably closer to his last chance than he is to a big league spot. Hess had to repeat at Double-A Bowie last year after a 5.37 ERA in 2016. It went better: He posted a 3.85 ERA last season. Ramirez, added midseason from the Yankees organization, combined for a 3.47 ERA between Double-A Trenton and Bowie last season.
A midseason vacancy in the MLB rotation, if one occurs, might well be filled for a little while by one of these guys, whether or not they’re pitching well enough. As we saw last year, if things get desperate enough, the Orioles will try almost anybody in the rotation.
Other 40-man players on the roster
- LHP Donnie Hart
- RHP Jimmy Yacabonis
- C Andrew Susac
- IF Engelb Vielma
- OF Joey Rickard
Since they’re already on the 40-man roster, these guys are all basically a twisted ankle from a big leaguer at their position away from a call-up.
The Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle may be less active than the past, due to the big league roster having three Rule 5 players on it, as well as four veterans who made the team out of spring as non-roster players. That means fewer opportunities for pitchers like Hart or Yacabonis to shuffle through the bullpen. If they’re pitching well enough, they’ll probably show up.
None of these would be exciting additions to the big league roster, but if they get called up, how well they play will matter to the 2018 Orioles, so hopefully they’re capable of doing something good.
The best of the rest
- LHP Josh Edgin
- LHP Joely Rodriguez
If the spring training stories are to be believed, both of these relievers came close to earning spots in the MLB bullpen. It may be that the two Rule 5 pitchers, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Pedro Araujo, took up space that might have gone to a lefty reliever like Edgin or Rodriguez.
Just because they aren’t on the roster right now doesn’t mean that they never will be, though. If the season plays out where Richard Bleier, an optionable lefty in the big league bullpen, is struggling, and either Edgin or Rodriguez are dominating Triple-A batters while staring down an opt-out date of their minor league contracts, they could join the MLB team as soon as they can get on a flight to wherever the Orioles are at that moment.
In a perfect world, the Orioles would not need anyone from this Tides roster until September at the earliest. Everyone at the big league level would be playing well, the rotation would not be taxing the bullpen, and everyone would be healthy.
Orioles fans are well aware that where the O’s have been concerned recently, it is seldom a perfect world. Whether it’s for two months, two weeks, or two games, they will be calling on the Norfolk Tides to plug holes where there are problems. If the Orioles first four games are any indication, there will be problems and the Tides reinforcements will be needed. Hopefully, whoever gets called up is up to the task.