On Monday, asked about the organization’s pitching depth, Orioles director of player development Matt Blood answered, “The pitchers that we have are exciting. Pitching can come from all different directions, whether it’s later in the draft, via trades, or even Rule 5 or waiver claims.” Note what Blood did not say: “We draft high-risk, high-reward guys like Kumar Rocker in the first round.”
In four years since taking over as Orioles GM, Mike Elias has not drafted a lot of pitchers, at least not in the high rounds. Instead, he has preferred to let other teams do the pitching prospect drafting and scouting, and acquire these arms via trade, or whatever. Typical of this approach was the way Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott joined the Orioles.
On August 1st and 2nd, Orioles fans’ fantasies of a sunny stroll into the postseason were rudely broken up when Trey Mancini and Jorge López were dealt to the Astros and the Twins, respectively. The trades came as gut checks for Birdland, with two beloved players leaving and the unmistakable impression being conveyed by the front office that “liftoff” for this team was coming really soon… just after the 2022 season concluded.
And yet, in exchange for López and Mancini came lots of pitching depth, six new arms in total, a big batch out of which Povich and McDermott (as well as Seth Johnson) were the headliners. As our own Mark Brown put it, Elias loves acquiring the mid-round pitchers he hasn’t been drafting. Hopefully this represents the team getting better in real time. Looking at these two pitchers’ strikeout numbers, it very well could be!
Despite a 5.06 ERA as a Nebraska Cornhusker, Cade Povich did one thing well: strike guys out (11.0 K/9). The Twins took a chance on the lefty and made him their third round pick in the 2021 draft. Povich appeared in 16 games at the High-A level, and again, the ERA wasn’t great (4.46) but he whiffed guys like crazy: 12.2 hitters per nine innings, or 107 in 78.2 innings.
A lefty who racks up strikeouts? No surprise that Elias liked him.
Once an Oriole, the 22-year-old Povich debuted for High-A Aberdeen on August 6, and it could hardly have gone better: six shutout innings, eight strikeouts. One week later, exact same result: six shutout innings and eight K’s. Welcome, Cade! Those two dominant outings alone were enough to convince the front office that Povich was ready to move up a level.
At Double-A, Povich struggled a little: he made five starts (six appearances) and allowed 18 runs in 24.3 innings. While he allowed a .143 opponent average in August, hitters averaged .344 against him in September. His walk rate also jumped up to a career-high 4.2 per game. On the other hand, 26 strikeouts in 23 innings (10.0 K/9) is more of what the Orioles signed up for.
MLB Pipeline ranks Povich the Orioles’ No. 14 prospect right now, with high marks for his “pitchability and feel,” but less confidence in his fastball. According to his report, Povich’s stuff ticked up when he first entered pro ball (specifically the fastball, which sits at 92-93 mph, but can touch 95), and reportedly that trend has continued with Baltimore. Povich also has a changeup, a cutter-like slider and a curveball, although Pipeline considers his changeup his best pitch (earning a 55 grade). They judge his ceiling to be a “mid- to back-end starter” depending on whether Povich can hone the consistency of his fastball movement and tweak his offspeed mechanics to help the heater play up even more.
Chayce McDermott, Houston’s fourth round pick in 2021, is another very Mike Elias player to acquire. Like Povich, the Ball State alum was a strikeout machine in college, fanning 12.9 hitters a game, and incredibly, that number went up over two seasons in the minors. McDermott struck out a shocking 114 hitters in 72 innings with Houston’s High-A affiliate, and he kept it up once he was traded to Baltimore.
Like Povich, McDermott debuted with Aberdeen in August and blew High-A hitters away: 10 whiffs in five innings, in fact. Like Povich, he soon jumped up to Double-A Bowie and kept whiffing guys: 36 K’s in 26.2 innings. And—last one, I promise—like Povich, McDermott too struggled with walks, 6.8 per nine innings.
Stuff-wise, MLB Pipeline is higher on McDermott than Povich, deemed the Orioles’ No. 13 prospect, grading his fastball, curveball and slider all a 55. Excitingly, they note that he added 2-3 mph of velocity to his heater in 2021, which operates at 92-96 mph and tops out at 98. Where there’s room for improvement is in his “flat approach angle,” which makes the pitch hittable when it’s not well located, and in refining and polishing his mid-70s curveball and mid-80s “changeup with modest life.”
There are things to work on for both pitchers—Povich the stuff, McDermott the feel—and we should figure that both will start the 2022 season with Bowie and, pending results, hopefully jump up a level (or two?). With luck and a little better command, both could be more than depth pretty soon.
Monday: Joey Ortiz