Another crop of intriguing pitching prospects is marching its way towards Baltimore, and should arrive on the scene sometime in the next year or so. Obviously, Grayson Rodriguez headlines that group, but it’s going to take more than one arm to make over the Orioles pitching staff. A pair of lefties who spent a portion of their seasons in Bowie could very well help the cause.
D.L. Hall may have the absolute best stuff in the Orioles’ system. He diced up Double-A competition this year to the tune of a 15.92 K/9 and a .145 batting average against. His fastball can flirt with triple digits on occasion and often settles into the mid-90s throughout a start. Plus, he features three other offerings (changeup, curveball, slider) that are all average or better. He has the arsenal of a big-league starter and could be getting hitters out at the highest level right now. All of that is why he is widely considered one of the “Top 100” prospects in baseball, currently slotted in at 72 on MLB Pipeline’s list and way up at 28 for FanGraphs.
As impressive as Hall was, however, there were some causes for concern this summer.
Something that has haunted Hall for much of his professional career is his control, and that was back again this season. His walk rate remained a bit high at 4.55 BB/9 in 2021, although that was an improvement from the 6.02 BB/9 he showed in High-A back in 2019. Even still, the Orioles will want to see that number come down a bit more.
More worrying is Hall’s physical health. He last pitched on June 12 after experiencing elbow tendinitis. It was later revealed he had a stress reaction in that elbow. The Orioles shut him down for the season after he tossed just 31.2 innings. If you were thinking he could make up the missed innings via the Arizona Fall League, think again. He was not included in the batch of players headed out to the desert this month.
If you need your mind to be eased at all, a fairly recent example of a pitcher who came back from a stress reaction and pitched effectively is Yu Darvish. The injury ended his 2018 season after just 40 innings. He returned to the Cubs in 2019 and threw 178.2 innings of above-average baseball (111 ERA+). It’s impossible to say how similar the two injuries are beyond the term used to describe them, but at least it gives us a reasonable understanding of the situation.
Even if Hall begins the season on time, his development has likely been stunted to some extent. He is yet to throw over 100 innings in a season. Pair that with some lingering control issues, and it feels like you are now looking at an elite reliever prospect. But the Orioles won’t throw in the towel that easily. They need to see how he bounces back from this injury.
Hall has to be added to the 40-man roster or risk being selected in the Rule 5 draft in December. Even with his injury, the Orioles will need to make that move. If healthy, Hall likely begins 2021 in Bowie with a swift promotion to Norfolk coming if/when he shows that he is back to 100%, hopefully in a starter’s role.
Another southpaw who opened some eyes this past season was Drew Rom. The fourth-round pick back in 2018 played at two levels in 2021, finishing up with a 40-inning stint in Bowie, where he had a 3.83 ERA and struck out 10.58 batters per nine innings and walked just 2.03 per nine.
Rom is a much different pitcher than Hall, falling into that “crafty lefty” bin that is always helpful to have around. His fastball sat in the upper-80s this season and peaked at about 92-93, which was a good sign for him. He saw his velocity take a dip early in his professional career, so this bounce-back is great. His ability to generate spin on the fastball allows it to play up. Then he pairs it with a really good slider and splitter with upside.
Rom is young. He turns 22 in December, and he performed admirably at Double-A Bowie, a league where he was nearly four years younger than the average player. But that isn’t exactly a surprise for this type of pitcher. He does not throw especially hard, but he knows how to pitch and can locate better than his peers. It’s not dissimilar to how the Orioles have seen Bruce Zimmermann and Alexander Wells, pitchers with comparable profiles, do well at that level before being challenged higher up.
There is some belief that Rom still has room to grow physically. He is listed at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, but those measurements are holdovers from his draft year, and reports indicate he has filled out since then. If somehow he adds a tick or two to his fastball, his name could be mentioned more widely in the prospect world. For now, scouts are viewing him as a backend starter/long reliever with upside.
Rom’s 2022 season likely begins in Bowie as well. The Triple-A staff is going to be pretty crowded, and it’s not unreasonable for the Orioles front office to want a little more tape on the Kentucky native pitching at Double-A. If he performs well, and expected promotions from Norfolk’s projected rotation for next season (Rodriguez, Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith, etc.) take place, then he should find himself at Triple-A before the end of the year and in place to compete for a big league roster spot in 2023.
Tomorrow: Samuel Basallo, Maikol Hernandez