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Orioles Rule 5 pick Brandon Bailey is an undersized overachiever

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As someone who enjoys the Orioles process of player elimination, Brandon Bailey has the chance to do what few earned the right to do a season ago...stick around.

New York Mets v Houston Astros Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I’m not sure when December became “Orioles Hate Month,” but it seems that a lot of folks in the media are having selective amnesia when it comes to exactly what executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the Orioles were going to do.

Just over a year ago, when Elias was hired, he told the world that the O’s first priority was to build an “elite talent pipeline.” Fast-forward to now, and the inner-workings of such a thing are in the midst of taking place. The Orioles have invested in Latin America with an unprecedented commitment. The franchise has brought the minor leagues into the 21st century by upgrading an infrastructure in desperate need of catching up, and there’s this Rutschman guy waiting in the wings...

To some, that doesn’t translate to watchability as the Orioles have sacrificed winning now for winning later. And I get it. Trading Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy doesn’t exactly improve a 108-loss team. Even so, we knew this was going to happen. There was no hidden agenda. What the Orioles are attempting to do, hate it or love it, was the plan all along.

And that plan, for better or worse, has and will give a lot of different players the opportunity to belong at the highest level of baseball in the world. There are not a lot of teams that can offer such a thing. Maybe I’m wired different, but I’m far more intrigued by the unknown than I am by the status quo, and that’s what this process allows. Discovery.

Brandon Bailey, a 25-year-old who’s never pitched above Double-A, is among those hoping to take advantage of what the Orioles are offering.

The second overall pick in last week’s Rule 5 Draft, Bailey is a familiar commodity, as he was plucked from the Houston Astros organization. Bailey was brought to Houston in the winter of 2017, as he was traded straight-up for 2019 darling Ramon Laureano. After the 2019 season, Bailey wasn’t on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 list, while Fangraphs had him at 21st entering last season.

That had a lot to do with the top-heavy right-handed pitching depth that the Astros still have despite the losses of J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin, but the guys at Fangraphs have been particularly complimentary of Bailey in spite of not knowing what his future role might be.

“His fastball has premium life, his once-stigmatized stature helps create a flat approach angle that enables his fastball to play at the top of the strike zone, and it helps set up his knee-buckling, 12-6 curveball. His changeup will flash plus and he can vary his breaking ball shape with a slider and relatively new cutter to give hitters different looks. All of these components allow Bailey to strike out lots of batters without big velocity, but his approach to pitching is not conducive to efficient strike-throwing.”- Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel

At about 5’10, Bailey’s “once-stigmatized stature” was obviously a point of concern, considering the extra effort a smaller framed pitcher has to utilize, and the lack of a downward plane that a shorter guy is unable to create. But what we’ve learned about Bailey is that hasn’t ever really mattered. The dude knows how to pitch.

With two seasons of conditioning at both of his High-A and Double-A stops, his results improved from season one to season two.

Brandon Bailey 2017-19

(Fangraphs) IP K% BB% HR/FB ERA xFIP
(Fangraphs) IP K% BB% HR/FB ERA xFIP
2017 (A+) 34.0 33.3 % 7.1 % 9.3 % 4.24 3.54
2018 (A+) 97.2 28.2 % 10.7 % 5.5 % 2.49 3.56
2018 (AA) 24.2 22.1 % 8.7 % 17.2 % 4.01 4.18
2019 (AA) 92.2 26.7 % 10.6 % 15.0 % 3.30 3.87

Bailey never had massive struggles at any level, where his 4.24 ERA in his first stint at High-A was his highest figure at any of his minor league stops. Even then, he was striking out one-third of the batters he faced. What’s so impressive is that he isn’t a big velocity guy in an era where massive heat is more important than ever. I think that’s because of a couple of things, one being an incredibly repeatable delivery.

That’s as simple and efficient as it gets folks. Bailey stays very narrow and compact, with little wasted motion. His height actually works in his benefit in that regard, because the longer the levers, the greater chance there is for mechanical breakdowns.

When you think of a pitcher whose velocity isn’t the overpowering kind, you’d like to see his secondary stuff flash. Bailey’s does.

The one pitch that really jumps out is the big curveball. You can see the kind of spin and spike that the pitch has, and is often referred to as his go-to out pitch. The changeup really flashes two-plane movement down and in to righties, and looks like a real threat to lefties because of its depth. The slider is capable of working a couple of ways, and while it isn’t necessarily a plus-pitch, it’s yet another offering that he commands well.

And while some may harp on the lack of velocity, it’s incredibly clear how his fastball rides through the zone. In that minute-long clip, there were a handful of hitters swinging underneath his fastball, a testament to the spin-rate reputation he’s created. It’s even more impressive when you actually see it.

When you look at Bailey’s numbers and see the somewhat inflated walk totals, the concern is understandable, but I think it speaks more to the fact that he knows what he wants to do on the mound.

After watching Orioles pitching just this past season, you saw a lot of guys who had no trouble issuing walks, but were also incapable of extinguishing a free pass. Bailey has a track record of striking guys out. His minor league resume shows that balls in play are not often damaging. He plays around the edge of the strike zone, not something a lot of Orioles pitchers did a season ago.

Whether or not he’s used as a long reliever, occasional opener or even gets extended as a starter in 2020, I’m not really sure it matters. The Orioles got better by adding someone who has an idea of how to pitch, and that’s something this franchise is in desperate need of.