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Which Orioles pitching prospects are close to contributing?

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Already out of contention, the Orioles should use the remainder of 2018 to determine which young pitchers could contribute in the future.

MLB: Game One-Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With the Orioles already out of contention this season, the primary focus should be on the future. As Baltimore’s early season woes have shown, a team can only go as far as its pitching will take it. The Orioles should use the 2018 season to determine which, if any, of the young pitchers in the system can contribute moving forward.

Looking ahead to next season, barring any trades, a large part of the rotation will return. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will still be under team control. That’s a good thing! The former top prospects have shown flashes of dominance at times, and both could enjoy success in the rest of the 2018 season. Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner will also be back, and it’s far too early to determine if their time spent in black and orange could be considered a success.

Yes, those four names make up 80 percent of a rotation. But there’s still room for a fifth. On top of that, no team should ever enter a season with only five starting pitchers capable of contributing at the major league level. Injuries happen, and players regress. If the Orioles plan on even attempting to compete next year, they’ll need to add several starting pitchers to the crop of four that they already have.

So what can the 2018 Orioles do about that? They can use the season to determine if any of those additional starters can come from within. The Orioles have a crop of young pitchers that are either ready or close to being able to pitch in the major leagues. Baltimore must determine if any of them can be successful in the bigs, or if their names only exist on this list by default. Here are the usual suspects.

Miguel Castro

Castro was scheduled to start his first game of the year today against the Phillies. Last night’s rainout could impact that decision. The 23-year old has impressed with a plethora of long-relief performances when an Orioles starter has underperformed. Castro served as an integral part of last year’s bullpen, and has held the same role so far this season. He did not allow a run in 4.2 innings of relief in his last outing against the Royals.

Castro did make one start at the end of last year, and it left little to be desired. But the former Colorado Rockies pitcher has certainly earned another chance to show if he can perform as a starter. The downside to starting Castro now is stretching him out in the middle of the season. The Orioles will not just be evaluating his talent, but also his stamina. Castro will have to prove that he can consistently handle the work load of a starting pitcher.

David Hess

David Hess has already taken his first test of 2018, and the righty passed. He made his major league debut in a 6-3 victory of Tampa Bay on May 12. The 24-year-old worked six innings and threw 78 pitches while allowing three runs. All three of those runs came in the first inning, and Hess showed a great deal of poise to settle into a nice groove for the remainder of his outing.

Hess, the Orioles’ 16th-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, held a 2.12 ERA in six games at Triple-A Norfolk before getting the call. He may have been selected to pitch today if he would not have been starting on short rest. The Orioles will certainly send Hess out again in 2018, and he’ll have a chance to prove he belongs in Baltimore’s future plans.

Tim Melville

Tim Melville is 5-0 with a 2.97 ERA at Norfolk. An undefeated record with a sub-three ERA is going to turn some heads, even if Melville is not on the Orioles’ top prospect list. Yes, he is 28 years old. But the beauty of a losing season is there is nothing to lose. The Orioles can find out if Melville finally figured out how to be a legitimate MLB pitcher.

The righty has had only a handful of appearances for the Reds and Twins in his career. Baltimore signed Melville as a minor league free agent, and he’s produced major results. Why not give the old man a chance? They certainly would not be rushing a young arm along too quickly.

Hunter Harvey

Speaking of rushing along young arms, that’s not something the Orioles should be doing in 2018. There’s not going to be a dire need for the Orioles third-ranked prospect to make it to Baltimore by a certain date. After missing nearly three seasons due to elbow issues, the 23-year-old is finally healthy. Why put unnecessary pressure on an arm still recovering from Tommy John surgery?

Unlike the other hurlers on this list, the Orioles know what they’re expecting from Harvey. While the name and potential are enough to make Baltimore fans antsy, the organization should be patient with Harvey. The Orioles would be best to delay Harvey’s first start until September or 2019.

The Others

Jayson Aquino has flashed potential in the minor leagues this year. The 25-year old should be physically prepared to pitch at the major league level, and the Orioles should find out once and for all if he has the talent to do so. They’ll also have the chance to see if Tanner Scott, currently a rookie in the Orioles’ bullpen, can perform in pressure situations.

Michael Baumann, despite a tremendous start to 2018 in the minors, is still far away from the major leagues. So are DL Hall and Keegan Akin. The potential is there, but the Birds will have to wait and see with their young guns. As for the pitchers ready for the show, it’s officially audition time in Baltimore.