Any team in the middle of a rebuild will enter the season with a series of roster questions. After all, if it didn’t have at least a question mark or two, the team would be a contender. The 2020 Orioles certainly have their fair share of questions, and no one will dispute the rebuilding tag.
Of course, there’s a spin zone for any situation. Baltimore will serve as the land of opportunity next season for players looking to break into the big leagues, establish their career, or squeeze out the final ounce of baseball they have left. No spot will better exemplify the opportunity than the Birds’ bullpen.
While the Orioles starting rotation leaves a lot to be desired after John Means and a potentially healthy Alex Cobb, there are only so many players that can start at the Major League level. The Orioles have been willing to utilize an “opener,” albeit out of necessity, so there’s a chance Brandon Hyde leans on his bullpen to work all nine innings at times next year.
It will take an army.
The Orioles bullpen can largely be broken into three categories. There’s a few potential trade chips, players still developing, and pitchers that are clinging to a Major League roster spot. All three types of arms can help the O’s this year.
Potential Trade Chips
There are no surprises in this group. The 2020 Orioles, now lacking Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy, do not have a surplus in talent. It is not uncommon for contending teams to overpay for relief help at the trade deadline, so Baltimore having an arm or two to offer could really pay off in July.
Mychal Givens is no stranger to trade speculation, and there’s always a chance he could be dealt before the season begins. Givens delivered a sub-four ERA during his first four years in Baltimore before posting a 2-6 record and 4.57 ERA in 2019. Still, his career 1.142 WHIP and 3.15 SO/BB ratio make him an attractive option. Last season, Givens appeared to shine when asked to retire three batters or less. The righty could fit in nicely as a seventh or eighth inning arm.
Miguel Castro, like Givens, gained momentum early in his tenure in Baltimore only to hit a road block last season. Castro appeared in 65 games in 2019 posting a 4.66 ERA and 1.418 WHIP. After last season, fans calling for Castro to get a chance to start in 2017 and 2018 feels like a distant memory. Still, Castro is only 25 years old. It’s certainly possible that Castro has more to give, and another club may be the one to pull it out of him.
Richard Bleier and his career 8-1 record and 1.216 WHIP also fit the mold. Bleier struggled last season, but had posted three consecutive season of sub-two ERA baseball. He’s left handed, has a proven track record, and is making less than $1 million dollars next season.
This group is the fun one. There should be at least one player here that pitches for the next winning O’s club. Hunter Harvey took Baltimore by storm last season with seven strong outings from the Orioles bullpen. The Orioles often-injured, former first-round pick made waves with his right arm and his hair. Harvey picked up a win, posted a 1.105 WHIP and struck out 11 during his seven outings. Everyone is excited to see how Harvey follows up his brief debut in 2020.
Dillon Tate appeared in nine more games than Harvey last season, but his ERA sat over five points higher than his fellow rookie. Tate flashed plenty of potential, but allowed three runs in three different appearances that spiked his stats. Tate may never live up to being the fourth overall selection of the 2015 draft, but 2020 will serve as a telling year in his development at the Major League level.
Tanner Scott lives in the high 90s and keeps a devastating slider in his back pocket. If the 25-year-old can solve his control issues, he holds just as much potential as any reliever on the roster. Paul Fry and Branden Kline will also look to log more consistent seasons in 2020.
The opportunities on a rebuilding club are not just for developing players. There are several guys looking to reestablish themselves, and career resurrections are not uncommon in the bullpen.
David Hess has failed as a starter and reliever in Baltimore. There’s a chance that current circumstances provide him another shot at each, but Hess’s best shot at success likely resides in the ‘pen. Shawn Armstrong, now 29, may not be a veteran, but he’s running out of time to show value in the Major Leagues. The Orioles signed Cesar Valdez to a minor league deal after the 34-year-old flourished in the Mexican and Dominican leagues. This may be his final shot to get back to the bigs.
The Orioles may not hold the lead late in many games next season, but their bullpen will certainly be put to the test. While a few players may return a prospect or two in July, success next year will be largely measured by the development of Harvey, Scott and Tate.