This is the season in which the Orioles rebuild started to get fun. We got a glimpse at the light at the end of the tunnel. And while the best is yet to come, there is already plenty to like. That includes the debut of long-haired hurler Dean Kremer.
Kremer, up to this point, had been known as one piece of the 2018 trade that sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers. While outfielder Yusniel Diaz was viewed as the “headliner” of the deal at the time, Kremer was considered an intriguing secondary piece. He had big strikeout numbers and a starter’s repertoire.
With all minor league seasons halted due to COVID-19 and the associated protocols, Kremer’s 2020 campaign was put in doubt. He was expected to open the year with Triple-A Norfolk, where he had closed out the previous season with four starts, before a likely big league debut later in the summer. That plan was going to have to be altered.
The Orioles initial 60-man roster, released in late June, did not include Kremer. But that wasn’t much of a surprise since there weren’t any prospects on that original list of 44 players. Kremer would eventually be added on July 14, but was sent straight to the club’s alternate site in Bowie.
What took place at that alternate site is a bit of a black box for Orioles fans. But whatever was done, it seemed to have worked all the the way around. Just about every player that spent significant time there, came to Baltimore better than before. Kremer included.
The right-hander only made four starts on the season, and some of his final numbers are less than ideal, but they give hope to a promising future as an O’s starter.
Kremer was promoted to Baltimore on September 6 and made his debut against the New York Yankees that day. It would prove to be his best outing of the bunch. Across six innings, he allowed one run on one hit, three walks and seven strikeouts.
The UNLV product was as good as advertised. He featured a mid-90’s fastball and a curveball that opposing hitters struggled to square up. He had a little trouble with the strike zone as only 47 of his 88 pitches ended up there, but it didn’t seem to hurt him much.
Kremer’s next two starts were more of the same. He faced those same Yankees followed by the Tampa Bay Rays. Between those two starts, Kremer tossed a total of 10 innings and allowed two runs on seven hits, six walks and thirteen strikeouts. His ERA sat at 1.69.
It was his final start of the year that really soured his stat line. Kremer took on the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park and really struggled. Over just 2.2 innings, he gave up seven runs on seven hits, three walks and two strikeouts. His ERA ballooned to 4.82, and he concluded his season on a low note.
As mentioned earlier, some of Kremer’s numbers, when viewed as a whole, aren’t great. But the one that really jumps off the page is his 5.79 walks per nine innings pitched. He can’t maintain that and expect to stick around as a starter for long. Big league hitters are too good to give them so many free baserunners.
There are some similar concerns with how much hard contact he allows. Kremer is in the bottom seven percent of the league in hard hit rate and in the bottom 34 percent in barrel rate.
But the 18.2 inning sample size is so small that it really isn’t worth examining much. Kremer typically issued between three and four walks per nine innings as a minor leaguer, and he will likely do the same in the bigs once he settles in. And many of those hard hits came in a nightmare performance against Boston. That will even out in a full season.
Four starts isn’t enough to fully grasp what Kremer is capable of in the majors. But he is on course to provide us with more evidence in 2021.
A lot can change between now and Opening Day, but there should be little doubt as to what Kremer’s role will be to begin the season. He will slot in somewhere behind John Means (and maybe Alex Cobb) as one of the Orioles regular starting pitchers.
But let’s temper our expectations a bit. Kremer is not projected as a staff ace. That doesn’t mean he can’t out-perform his projected ceiling, but we should be realistic. Most scouts few him as a back-end starter. That’s valuable. The Orioles are going to need contributors like that if they are going to get back to the playoffs, but we may still have to wait for that clear-cut “number one” to emerge.