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Orioles cultivating power arms in relief

The Orioles are quietly building up a bullpen of young, controllable power arms.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Why be subtle or crafty when you can just blow the ball by people? Power pitchers are a common component of successful bullpens across the MLB landscape.

But when looking at the Orioles’ bullpen this season, power or no power, it’s just been a disappointment overall. That’s no secret. Even Manager Brandon Hyde has been a vocal critic of the group at times this year. You can brush up on the bullpen’s ineptitude by checking out Ben Hansford’s article from a couple weeks ago.

But the pen has gotten an injection of velo in the past couple weeks with the promotions of a few high profile arms. Below you will find a chart, courtesy of Statcast, showing several pitchers’ average pitch velocity and for you analytics fans, spin rate as well.

Power Arms

Pitcher Pitch Type AVG Speed (mph) AVG Spin Rate (rpm)
Pitcher Pitch Type AVG Speed (mph) AVG Spin Rate (rpm)
D. Tate Sinker 93.8 2,130
M. Castro Sinker 97.1 2,286
MLB AVG 92.2 2,136
T. Scott 4-Seam FB 95.5 2,411
H. Harvey 4-Seam FB 98.2 2,124
B. Kline 4-Seam FB 96.4 2,188
MLB AVG 93.4 2,285

The biggest story is of course Hunter Harvey’s much ballyhooed arrival on the major league scene. And he has not disappointed, bringing a level of excitement that has been hard to find this year. With his first round draft background and a fastball touching triple digits, his ceiling could be as a high-profile closer in the future.

Somehow, 29-year-old Mychal Givens is the grizzled veteran of the group. He’s had an up-and-down season in 2019 but has come on recently. In fact, since Harvey’s promotion on August 17, Givens has thrown seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts and zero walks while allowing only two hits.

Maybe Givens has been able to relax a bit with Harvey around, now that he has a shutdown power arm ahead of him and he doesn’t have to do it all himself. Or it could be a complete coincidence.

The O’s closer had actually bottomed out back in May, when he put up a 6.39 ERA in 12.2 innings. In the three months since then, his ERA has been 3.68, 2.79 and 2.70.

Givens can reach free agency in 2022 at the earliest. But there is a chance the Orioles deal him this offseason, as his name has come up in trade rumors often over the past year plus. He is earning $2.15 million this year, making him the highest paid reliever among those mentioned in this article. So the O’s may want to send him to the highest bidder and redirect those funds somewhere else during the rebuild.

Miguel Castro is an interesting case. This is his fifth major league season yet he is only 24-years-old. He won’t reach free agency until 2023 and he is currently making $569,000. In two plus years with Baltimore, Castro has a 3.99 ERA, 1.37 ERA and 1.34 SO/W. Like most young pitchers, he’ll struggle with consistency but is loaded with potential. When he is on, he can be dominant.

With Tanner Scott being yo-yoed between the minors and the majors for the better part of two seasons now without finding any prolonged success in the show, it’s fair to wonder if he will ever harness his overpowering stuff. Control has long been the biggest issue for the talented reliever.

He was most recently added to the Orioles when rosters expanded on September 1. Before that, he had spent three different stints with the big league club in 2019, struggling to stay up. But the fact that Scott is left-handed adds even more value to his stock even though he can be a frustrating pitcher to watch often times. But the Orioles keep giving him shots because of that tantalizing fastball.

Like Scott, Branden Kline spent three different stints with the big league club this year before his most recent recall on September 1. He’s struggled with home runs, but the pure stuff is there. At 27-years-old, Kline is a bit old to still be considered a true prospect, but he still has a ways to go before reaching free agency.

Dillon Tate is one of the newest members of this young reliever group, having been converted from a starter to a reliever in the minors this year and making his major league debut just a couple weeks ago. He’s only 25-years-old and still perfecting his transition to the bullpen. But like all the pitchers in this article, he shows promising late inning upside.

While Givens and Castro have been with the big league club all year, the other four relievers have not. Kline has appeared in 26 games, Scott has been in 16, while Harvey and Tate have only pitched in six each.

Kline, Harvey and Tate do not have free agency dates listed yet because none of them have accrued the requisite 172 days on a major league active roster/injured list in order to register their first full year of service time. So it’s safe to say that these three have a better chance to be around for the next good Orioles team than Castro, Givens and Scott do.

Control and consistency will be key for these relievers in order to see who can stick with the Orioles long term.

The irony of it all is that none of these pitchers were acquired by current General Manager Mike Elias. They were already in the system when he was hired this past offseason.