The Orioles have been great of late at developing position players. One only needs to look to the 2022 rookie class to see the effects Adley Rutschman, GUNNAR HENDERSON, Kyle Stowers and Terrin Vavra were able to have in their first season in Baltimore.
Where the Mike Elias regime has lagged behind is the development of pitching prospects. Yes, consensus top-5 in all of baseball prospect Grayson Rodriguez has made leaps and bounds in his development under the Elias-led organization. However, he and the highly touted (if sometimes erratic) DL Hall were the parting gifts of Dan Duquette’s time in Baltimore.
There are, though, a number of highly touted pitchers that we didn’t see much of in 2022 who all could help rewrite Elias’ record when it comes to adding pitching to the organization. The most highly touted of this group is right-hander Seth Johnson (currently the Orioles’ #10 prospect according to MLB.com). Johnson was the centerpiece of the package the Orioles received in the three-team trade that saw Trey Mancini head to Houston. Coming over from the lauded Tampa Bay farm system, Johnson is a former shortstop who converted to a full-time pitcher when he transferred to Campbell University (Cedric Mullins’ alma mater).
While we have yet to see Johnson’s abilities for an Orioles’ affiliate (he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after the O’s acquired him), his arsenal of pitches shows plenty of promise. His standout pitch throughout his time on the mound has been his fastball—which tops out at around 98 while sitting comfortably in the 94-95 range. He compliments that with a mid-80s slider that he’s shown the ability to command to both sides of the plate. While his other offerings—a high-70s curveball as well as a changeup—are still a work in progress, to have a four-pitch arsenal as a late bloomer is an encouraging sign.
Johnson has also begun to figure out more and more how to put that arsenal to good use throughout his first three seasons in the minors. His K/9 rate has climbed each year, starting at 8.5 in 2019 and rising all the way to 13.7 in the seven starts before his injury. Johnson still faces a big question mark when it comes to his command, though.
The command issues, combined with the fact that he probably won’t be ready for a full season’s workload until 2024, have many evaluators wondering whether the Orioles will focus on turning him into a reliever when healthy. When he returns to the mound, it’s easy to imagine Johnson taking up a similar role that we saw from DL Hall at the end of 2022.
Perhaps a pitcher with an even bigger upside—and also even more question marks—is young right-hander Carter Baumler. In many ways, Baumler is the pitching version of Coby Mayo—and not just because they were both high school stars that the O’s took at the end of the 2020 draft. The 20-year-old Baumler shows plenty of strength and athleticism while on the mound, as one might expect from a former high school football player. More than any other pitcher in the Orioles organization, Baumler feels like perfect clay still waiting to be molded.
The problem has come in Baumler’s ability to actually stay on the mound and continue the process of being molded. After missing the entire 2021 season due to Tommy John, the big righty got out to an electric start in his first several appearances for Delmarva. With 15 strikeouts over his first 8.2 innings of work, all the early signs were there for Baumler to be a fast riser in the Orioles’ organization. However, those were the last innings we would see from Baumler in 2022, as shoulder inflammation sidelined him for the rest of the season.
With a fastball and curveball that have already shown signs of being plus-offerings, as well as a decent changeup, the pitching repertoire is there for Baumler to succeed as a future starter. He should be healthy to start 2023, the question is whether he can stay that way for the whole season.
To round out the trio of injured and unproven pitchers is the lesser-touted prospect Kyle Brnovich. The former 8th-round pick out of Elon came to the Orioles in the trade that sent Dylan Bundy to the Angels. Brnovich posted a promising 3.32 ERA in 19 starts between Aberdeen and Bowie in 2021. However, the 24-year-old righty never really got things going with Norfolk in 2022, going down with an elbow injury after his second start. That injury would eventually require Brnovich to undergo Tommy John in early May.
The timing of his surgery means that Brnovich may still see the field in 2023. The soft-throwing right-hander tops out in the high-80s/low-90s with his fastball, Brnovich has shown the most promise with his curveball—while also flashing at times with his changeup. His repertoire is similar to left-hander Alexander Wells, though Brnovich only features one breaking ball. As long as he is healthy, Brnovich should get the opportunity in 2023 to impress at Bowie and potentially earn a call-up.
Should any of Johnson, Baumler or Brnovich continue to show promise when they return to the mound, it would be a big boon for this organization’s pitching depth. With Rodriguez and Hall expected to throw most, if not all, of their innings with Baltimore in 2023, Johnson becomes the highest-rated pitching prospect still in the minors. Given that he is not set to pitch in 2023, seeing Baumler and Brnovich climb the ranks next season would be a welcome sight for all of Birdland.
Previously: Fallen prospect roundup, Jean Pinto, Darell Hernaiz, Drew Rom, international prospect roundup, César Prieto, Mike Baumann, Hudson Haskin, John Rhodes and Reed Trimble, Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott, Joey Ortiz, Terrin Vavra
Tomorrow: Coby Mayo