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Orioles prospect season in review: Branden Kline

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Finally recovered from arm issues that plagued him for multiple years, Branden Kline re-established himself in 2018 with a strong full season in relief.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Right-handed reliever Branden Kline, a native of Frederick, MD, was drafted by the Orioles in the second round of the 2012 draft — 65th overall — out of the University of Virginia. Originally, he was drafted out of high school in the sixth round of the 2009 draft by the Boston Red Sox, but chose to go to college instead.

Kline is currently the number 24 ranked Orioles prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

After his first professional season in 2012, he was ranked the Orioles ninth best prospect by Baseball America. MLB Pipeline had him ranked as the O’s ninth best prospect after the 2014 season and he was number 20 at the start of 2017, per MLB.com.

When on the mound, Kline has produced mostly positive results. The only problem has been staying healthy. He is currently 26 years old — soon to be 27 — but has missed considerable time during his minor league career due to injury.

After signing with the Orioles, Kline’s first stop in professional baseball was at short season Single-A Abderdeen. He made four starts there, tallying a 4.50 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 12 innings with 12 strikeouts and four walks.

In 2013, the right-hander was a member of the Delmarva Shorebirds, putting up a 5.86 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. He pitched 35.1 innings over the course of seven starts with 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.6 walks per nine. He missed the last three plus months of the 2013 season due to a broken right ankle/fibula.

Kline had a poor showing that year in the Arizona Fall League, pitching to a 10.54 ERA in 10 appearances.

It was an uneven year in 2014, with Kline faring well for the majority of the season in high Single-A but showing poorly in a brief stop at Double-A. With the Frederick Keys he had a 3.84 ERA in 23 starts. But with the Bowie Baysox he had a 5.94 ERA in three starts. Overall, those two stops came out to a 4.08 ERA.

He started the 2015 season with Bowie well enough, pitching to a 3.66 ERA over his first eight starts with a 1.37 WHIP. His SO/9 and BB/9 were not up to his usual standards though, at 6.1 and 4.3, respectively.

Kline went on the disabled list in late May of that year and underwent Tommy John surgery after the season ended. He wound up missing all of 2016 while recovering from that surgery and also missed all of 2017 due to a couple of additional elbow clean-up procedures.

Kline began his professional career as a starter and it took four seasons for the O’s to realize he was more suited for a relief role in the best interest of his health. His innings totals for the first four years of his career were as follows:

  • 2012: 12 IP with short season Single-A
  • 2013: 35.1 IP with low Single-A
  • 2014: 143.1 IP with high Single-A and Double-A
  • 2015: 39.1 IP with Double-A

After a protracted layoff from mid-2015 until 2018, he burst back onto the scene this year as a reliever, accumulating a 1.64 ERA in 44 appearances over 65.2 innings covering two levels. With Single-A Frederick, he had a 1.31 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 23 strikeouts versus only three walks over 20.2 innings. With Double-A Bowie, he had a 1.80 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 48 strikeouts and 15 walks in 45 innings.

In five minor league seasons, Kline has a cumulative 3.71 ERA and 1.34 WHIP while averaging 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.0 walks per nine.

Kline has something you can’t teach — size — standing 6 foot 3 and weighing in at 210 pounds. According to MLB.com’s scouting report, he works mostly in the low to mid 90s with his fastball and has the ability to touch the upper 90s. He also possesses a slider that is an especially strong weapon against right-handed hitters and a changeup that he uses infrequently.

It’s safe to assume that Kline will start next year in the minor leagues as he continues to re-establish himself after injury. But its also not a stretch to anticipate his major league debut sometime next season.

As the Orioles sift through relief options during the rebuilding process, Kline is a prime candidate to have a role at the back-end of the bullpen in the not too distant future. His mainly two-pitch mix could work well in short bursts in the seventh, eighth or even possibly the ninth inning.

In 2018, Kline was 17-for-18 in save opportunities, including 2-for-2 at Frederick and 15-for-16 at Bowie. He showcased an ability to miss bats and limit the long ball, striking out 71 batters in 65.2 total innings across two levels with only three home runs allowed. Overall, he had a .217 opponent’s batting average.

Mychal Givens has gotten the majority of the save opportunities this year since the Zach Britton trade, but it’s not a sure thing that he will keep that role going forward. Kline has the stuff and the upside to potentially slot into that role too. And he has shown the ability to get the job done, albeit in limited exposure. At the very least, he could challenge for a set-up role when he finally reaches the majors.