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It’s up or out for Triple-A Norfolk’s current rotation

This could be the last year for some prospects—especially Dan Duquette-era prospects—to make an impression with the team.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles
Cody Sedlock, being introduced to the Baltimore faithful as a new draft pick in June 2017. Four years later, is Sedlock on his way up to the big-league team or on his way out?
Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

When the Orioles selected Cody Sedlock out of the University of Illinois with their first pick in the 2016 draft, the word on the right-handed starter was as follows:

[Sedlock] throws four pitches, fills the strike zone, generates a lot of groundouts and has a strong 6’4” 210 lb. frame. ... His best pitch is his heavy sinker, which sits 91-93 mph when he starts.

Keith Law was bullish on the righty, too, ranking him as the 17th-best prospect in the draft, though he warned that Sedlock’s curveball and changeup were “works in progress.”

Well, professional sports can suck sometimes. That’s how you explain the fact that, five years later, Cody Sedlock could find himself starting the baseball season at the Double-A level. The righty has endured a bunch of elbow and forearm injuries, not to mention thoracic outlet syndrome in 2018 (the same injury that derailed Matt Harvey’s career), when he put up a 7.97 ERA in just 13 appearances with Frederick. A bounceback 2019 saw Sedlock earn a 3.71 ERA for Double-A Bowie, but in 2020 he was left off the alternate site roster and left to train on his own in Chicago.

The 2021 season has been okay for the righty but not stellar—except, however, for the fact that he finally earned a promotion to Triple-A this week. Then again, with a 4.60 ERA and 1.47 WHIP for Bowie thus far, it’s not like Sedlock was exactly breaking down the door to the next level the way the O’s No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez has been, for instance.

No, in fact, like his teammate Blaine Knight, another Dan Duquette draftee who’s failed to shoot up the minors ranks, Sedlock’s promotion to Triple-A Norfolk might be read less as “We believe you’re ready for the big show” and more “Up or out, buddy.” Knight, a third-round Orioles draft pick in 2018, has been more ineffective than injured in his minor league career, and a 5.04 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 11 appearances with Bowie in 2021 doesn’t exactly sound like he’s forcing the front office’s hand.

As it happens, several recent moves by the club make it clear that the Orioles are in the middle of cleaning house right now. On August 16, they promoted 30 MiLB players across three levels, including Knight and Sedlock. The next day, they cut six players, including one of the big-league team’s saving graces in 2019, Stevie Wilkerson, plus three pitchers drafted when Dan Duquette was the O’s GM: Jake Zebron (3rd round, 2018), Dallas Litscher (10th round, 2018), and Tyler Erwin (23rd round, 2016).

Could the same be in store for Sedlock and Knight? I hope not. Although the pair showed limited effectiveness in limiting hits and walks this season with Bowie, they put up pretty good strikeout numbers, Sedlock with an excellent 67 K’s in 62 2/3 innings and Knight with a pretty good 60 K’s in 63.1 innings. If the two can cut down on the hits and walks with Norfolk, their future with the team will be “up” and not “out.”

What about other Norfolk-based arms who might be doing the baseball equivalent of walking the plank? I’m worried about Alex Wells, Dean Kremer, and Zac Lowther, but the data isn’t clear-cut when it comes to any of them. Wells’ MLB stats have been flat-out bad in 2021, but at Norfolk, his walk and strikeout numbers are actually career-best. Ditto for Dean Kremer, whose 10.63 K/9 and 3.61 BB/9 at Norfolk are actually okay, no matter what his WHIP says. Zac Lowther has been ineffective all season, but his career MiLB numbers alone—a 2.58 ERA to go with a 1.07 WHIP—should earn him a longer look. Who knows. The Elias regime could also decide that the upside to all of them simply isn’t high enough.

There are other Norfolk pitchers who are probably under the microscope, too. The 24-year-old Ofelky Peralta has kicked around in the Orioles’ system since 2013, with a not-too-fine 4.65 career ERA. His 6.32 ERA and 10 walks in three starts at Norfolk are high, but then again, he’s only got 15.2 innings in Triple-A to judge from. Nick Vespi, similar deal. The 25-year-old righty is an 18th-round draft pick from 2015 who hadn’t pitched above Aberdeen until this year—but he’s put up monster strikeout numbers in 2021 with 36 K’s in 26 IP between Bowie and Norfolk. Both Peralta and Vespi are kind of dark horses who need more audition time, but I suspect the team is keeping a close watch on them.

A longer runway will almost certainly be given to the promising Mike Baumann, whose rehab seems to have taken a turn for the better lately, Zack Burdi, a righty reliever picked up on waivers from the White Sox literally two days ago, and the big-bodied Felix Bautista, who shot up the minors ranks this year. Their short time with the Orioles or at the Triple-A level, plus the potential they continue to flash, should keep them around a while.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think this regime plays favorites, having been pretty ruthless cutting their own guys this season. So that could mean the chopping block for limited-upside guys like Eric Hanhold (6.10 ERA in 20.2 IP), Tom Eshelman (an 8.02 ERA in 21.1 IP with Baltimore this season), or Isaac Mattson (8.10 ERA in 13.1 IP). Don’t be too concerned about Kyle Bradish or Kevin Smith, though: the two are walking too many batters, but they’re also strikeout monsters, so the ceiling remains very high.

It’s the Orioles Rebuild in a nutshell: games will be lost, and prospect heads will roll. It’s an exhausting process, and there’s still a lot more work to do.