It wouldn’t be a season of Orioles baseball without a few pitchers who spent their year being shuttled between Norfolk and Baltimore to keep the bullpen afloat when the regulars were overworked, ineffective, injured, or some combination of all three. This season, those two frequent fliers were Nick Vespi and Logan Gillaspie.
Between the two of them, they were optioned from the Orioles down to the Tides nine times and called up 11! The new collective bargaining agreement that went into place in 2022 limited the number of options of a player to five times per season, a number that Vespi (5) matched and Gillaspie (4) just fell short of.
Gillaspie and Vespi both made their major league debuts this year, but they came to their debuts in very different ways. Vespi was drafted by the Orioles in the 18th round of the 2015 amateur draft and has dutifully worked his way up the ladder of the minors. He never had eye-popping numbers, he never appeared on top prospect list. He just kept plugging along, eventually switching from a starter to a relief pitcher.
As for Gillaspie, he wasn’t even drafted. He bounced around between indy league teams in 2017 at age 20, and was then signed as a free agent by the Milwaukee Brewers midway through the 2018 season. The Brewers kicked his tires in rookie ball and A-ball in 2018 and 2019 and decided they had seen enough. They released him and the Orioles gave him new life with a minor-league deal in 2021.
Vespi began the 2022 season with triple-A Norfolk while Gillaspie started at double-A Bowie. Both pitched well and Gillaspie impressed enough that the Orioles had him join Vespi on May 3rd. They were promoted to the Orioles together on May 17th when the Orioles DFA’d Paul Fry and optioned Rylan Bannon.
Gillaspie got into action immediately, pitching two scoreless innings on the day of his promotion. It took Vespi a few days, but on May 20th he also debuted with a scoreless outing. Both he and Gillaspie pitched well in an 8-6 win over the Rays and were rewarded with their first option of the season.
From there it was up and down for them both. Vespi had an outstanding June with the Orioles, giving up just one run over his first eight outings. The run, surrendered in a blowout 10-2 win against the Rays on June 16th was notable because it was the first run he had allowed in either the majors or the minors in 2022. Unfortunately in his ninth outing in June, on June 29th, he gave up six runs in just one-third of an inning to kind of blow that fun fact out of the water.
Throughout his season with the Orioles, Vespi pitched in outings of at least one inning, often picking up three or four outs for the Orioles in middle relief. Overall he was quite effective, that one six-run game notwithstanding. And yet, as the junior guy on the staff with options to burn, he just couldn’t stay with the team for the full season.
When he was sent back to Norfolk, he continued to dominate. By season’s end with the Tides, he had appeared in 26 games without a single earned run allowed.
Gillaspie followed a similar trajectory. In the minors, he flashed a high strikeout rate but also a high walk rate, but that didn’t really translate in his limited action in the majors. In 17 games with the Orioles he walked only three but struck out only 10. You can’t tell much in a 17-game sample other than the fact that he pitched well enough to get into 17 games at all. He gave up just six runs in 17.1 innings, an ERA of 3.12.
Vespi and Gillaspie combined to provide a valuable service to the team, even if neither of them stood out as necessarily a future piece of the Orioles. They weren’t the pitchers that Brandon Hyde turned to in high leverage situations, but more often than not they kept the game right where it was when they entered.
Both Vespi and Gillaspie should be in the mix for the bullpen in 2023. Both have options remaining, so they might end both end up back on the shuttle next season. But with the late season downturns of pitchers like Keegan Akin and Joey Krehbiel, I could just as easily see one of them as a more permanent member of the crew. Which one is anyone’s guess. That’s baseball.
Monday: Spencer Watkins