When news broke yesterday that Dylan Bundy was traded to the Angels, one door closed while another opened. Yet another hole was punched in the rotation, which someone will have to fill. Knowing GM Mike Elias’ short and long-term trajectory for the club, the answer(s) won’t be anyone high-profile.
But what kind of guys do the O’s have in the farm system who could walk through that door next year and take a newly available back-end rotation spot?
There were 18 different pitchers, including openers, who made at least one start for the major league club last season. Removing a solid innings-eater like Bundy gives a bigger opportunity for guys like Asher Wojciechowski and even David Hess.
Still, there’s a handful of minor league pitchers yet to make their major league debut who could potentially jump to the Show and into the Orioles’ rotation. Left-handers Bruce Zimmermann, Alex Wells and Zac Lowther, along with right-handers Dean Kremer and Michael Baumann, all have an outside shot to start next year for the O’s.
Two of the aforementioned players participated in the Arizona Fall League with the Surprise Saguaros recently and performed well, raising their respective profiles.
Dean Kremer, well-known for his inclusion in the 2018 Manny Machado trade, threw great in Arizona. He notched a 2.37 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over the course of 19 innings while continuing to rack up the strikeouts (23, versus four walks).
Kremer has shown the ability to miss bats at every level that he’s pitched, averaging well over a strikeout per inning, with 431 in 356.2 minor league frames. He made 15 starts with Bowie last year, pitching to a 2.98 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and .239 BAA. But the jump to Triple-A was not kind. Kremer allowed 19 earned runs in 19.1 innings. But he did still strike out 21 batters while only allowing four walks.
Left-hander Alex Wells, who pitched 137.1 innings in Double-A in 2019, had a 0.57 ERA in 15.2 innings for the Saguaros. With 15 strikeouts and only two walks, he had a 7.5 SO/W ratio and 1.09 WHIP in the fall. In the regular season, Wells made 24 starts for the Baysox while putting up a 2.95 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .236 BAA, 24 walks and 105 strikeouts. Across the length of his four-year minor league career, the lefty has a 2.82 ERA.
Maryland-native Bruce Zimmermann, along with the previously mentioned Dean Kremer, is the other pitcher in this group to have played in Triple-A this past season. He started the season in Bowie and blew away the competition, striking out 101 batters inn 101.1 innings with a .227 BAA, 2.58 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Once promoted to Norfolk, the left-handed Zimmermann showed some growing pains while adjusting to the higher level of competition, allowing 21 earned runs in seven starts covering 38.2 innings. That came out to an ERA of 4.89, while opponents batted .291 and Zim’s WHIP was 1.60. The lefty has a 3.20 career minor league ERA.
Zac Lowther pitched the entire 2019 season at Double-A Bowie and opened some eyes in the process. In 26 starts covering 148 innings, the left-hander had a 2.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .197 BAA and 154 strikeouts. On the downside he did allow a lot of walks (63). After four seasons in the O’s minor league system, Lowther has a 2.26 ERA overall.
Michael Baumann split his 2019 season between Frederick and Bowie, performing even better once be was promoted to Double-A. He had a 3.83 ERA in 11 starts at Frederick, striking out 77 batters in 54 innings with a .203 BAA and 1.19 WHIP. The right-hander made 13 appearances in Bowie, including 11 starts. In that time he threw 70 innings with a 2.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, .186 BAA and 65 strikeouts. Baumann’s career ERA is 2.82.
Seeing a pattern yet? Young, mostly homegrown pitchers who are stacking quality seasons at the minor league level. And not just one or two seasons of production, but four or five seasons.
Mike Elias is keeping costs as low as possible, so the fact that these starters are young and controllable means that one or more could stick. In a way, the Bundy trade could be seen as a vote of confidence in young pitchers like the ones mentioned above. They move up to fill his spot and you never know what you might find. Maybe even the next John Means.