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Will the Orioles keep any Rule 5 players this year?

The Orioles have a pair of right-handed Rule 5 pitchers currently vying for a spot on the 2021 Opening Day roster.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles-Media Day
Orioles Rule 5 pitcher Tyler Wells.

In what has become a yearly tradition during Orioles spring training, fans wait with bated breath to see if a Rule 5 draft pick from the previous December will make the 26-man roster. This year, they’ve got two young pitchers to keep an eye on in that regard.

No, it’s not the sexiest competition to monitor as spring training unfolds, but come on, it’s the Orioles. Dabbling in the Rule 5 draft is what they do. And not just the current brain trust led by GM Mike Elias, but previous administrations too.

I’ll admit that I personally had become jaded about the efficacy of the Rule 5 process, having witnessed so many players come and go with the O’s; players being hidden on the active roster, shuffled onto and off of the injured list, and then ultimately disappearing into baseball oblivion.

But then Anthony Santander had his breakout season in 2020, proving that the investment of time and energy in a Rule 5 guy could actually pay off. Granted, Santander did not make an immediate impact by any means.

The switch-hitting outfielder was snatched from the Indians back in 2016, and he only appeared in 13 major league games in 2017 due to a right forearm injury. That injury meant the Orioles could keep him in the organization due to a loophole that allows a Rule 5 draftee to be stashed on the IL.

Santander was a part-timer in the big leagues the following two seasons before his excellent yet injury-shortened 2020, when he registered an impressive .890 OPS and was a Gold Glove finalist in right field.

So here we are, more than halfway through spring training 2021, and there are still two Rule 5 pitchers in Orioles camp. Based on Grapefruit League numbers alone, one stands a much better chance of heading north with the O’s than the other.

Let’s start with the good. Tyler Wells is a right-handed pitcher who checks in at 6 feet 8 inches tall and 255 pounds, according to Baseball Reference. The 26-year-old has had limited spring action (three games).

In four innings pitched in Florida, Wells has allowed five hits, one earned run, hit one batter, walked two, and struck out three. That shakes out to a 2.25 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, and .294 BAA.

The Twins drafted wells in the 15th round of the 2016 Draft, and he’s been a starter over the course of three minor league seasons (50 appearances, 46 starts), compiling a 2.82 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9, 10.1 SO/9, and 3.84 SO/W.

The highest level of the minor leagues for Wells is Double-A, where he’s thrown 32.2 innings while putting up a 1.65 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 0.3 HR/9, and 10.7 SO/9. A bit prone to allowing walks, he did average 3.9 BB/9 over that time as well.

Now for the not-so-good side of this Rule 5 competition. Mac Sceroler, a right-handed pitcher drafted by the Reds in the 5th round of the 2017 Draft, has a 19.29 ERA, 3.86 WHIP, and .364 BAA in three games this spring. He’s pitched a total of 2.1 innings, allowing four hits and five earned runs (including two home runs) to go along with a 1:5 SO/W ratio.

Over the course of three minor league seasons, Sceroler has a 4.07 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 1.0 HR/9, 9.5 SO/9, and 3.36 SO/W. He pitched in high Single-A in 2019, putting up a 3.69 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and a strong 4.38 SO/W in 117 innings.

The O’s roster crunch is a fluid situation, as evidenced by the recent injuries to a couple of prominent pitchers. Felix Hernandez is on the shelf with a sore elbow, and with his age and the number of career innings on that arm, it’s unsettling to see such an injury with spring training more than halfway over.

Hunter Harvey is another pitcher who has succumbed to the injury bug. In fact, the Orioles placed him on the 60-day injured list due to an oblique injury, which is always hard to judge in terms of recovery time.

This brings us back to the two young right-handers. It’s hard to imagine the Orioles will keep more than one of their Rule 5 players based on spring performance. And it’s easy to see which one has performed better. While both guys have been starting pitchers during their brief minor league careers, neither has toed the rubber to start a game yet this spring and so their best chance is probably to catch on in the bullpen.

But with the way the O’s work the injured list and the possibility for a lot of work to go around for the pitching staff this year, the Rule 5 decision is far from being settled. So stay tuned.