This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each of the 38 players currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
There is a certain archetype of player that comes to mind when discussing those “worthy” of protection from the Rule 5 draft. Most often, it’s familiar names, those that have kicked around a team’s Top 30 prospect list for years or former high draft picks that may have pedigree but lack on-field performance. Then there are players like Logan Gillaspie.
Gillaspie had a lengthy climb to even make it into affiliated baseball. He’s a product of Oxnard College, a two-year school located just northwest of Los Angeles. Undrafted out of the junior college, Gillaspie got his start in independent ball.
During the 2017 season, Gillaspie played for three different teams, one each in the Pecos League, the Pacific Association, and the American Association. In an allusion to Billy Beane’s Moneyball teams being called “a collection of misfit toys”, writers Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller referred to players at this level as “toys that got recalled because they were choke hazards.” It’s crude, but gets the point across. Clearly, there are future major leaguers playing independent ball in the far reaches of the country, but you have to dig to find them.
Over 37.1 innings in 2017, Gillaspie pitched to a 3.86 ERA and struck out 42 batters in the process. He also spent time in the field, seeing innings at first base, shortstop, and catcher. But before you start thinking the Orioles have landed themselves the next Shohei, you should know that he went 4-for-23 at the plate.
Gillaspie started 2018 back in independent ball, this time as part of the United Shore League. After 12 appearances and a 2.67 ERA, he earned a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers that July. The righty made his way into 12 rookie-level games that season and returned to the organization in 2019 to pitch in 31 Low-A games. But it wouldn’t be enough to entice the Brewers to hold onto him. Gillaspie was released in September of 2019.
That left the California native in a difficult spot. He was a minor league free agent with a limited track record, and the world was about to change. Along with the rest of minor league baseball, Gillaspie went without a 2020 season during due the pandemic. He would remain a free agent until the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal on June 9, 2021.
From there, Gillaspie’s stock quickly rose in the organization. He played at two minor league levels in 2021. Over 14.1 innings with High-A Aberdeen, he struck out 16, walked three, posted a 1.047 WHIP and 3.77 ERA. After moving up to Bowie, he saw his strikeouts go through the roof (36 strikeouts in 27.1 innings), but he also started getting hit (31 hits allowed). Gillaspie’s ERA in Double-A was 5.60 on the season.
The Orioles sent Gillaspie to the Arizona Fall League for more work. Once again, he showed overpowering stuff, striking out 18 batters in 14 innings. But he was also erratic, walking seven batters and serving up 18 hits. It was an uneven performance, one that was happening right alongside a fellow baby bird, lefty Nick Vespi, Gillaspie’s teammate in Arizona, who looked better on paper (2.51 ERA, 14.1 IP, 11 H, 7 BB, 17 SO).
But drawing conclusions on the quality of minor leaguers based solely on a stat sheet is a fool’s errand. Gillaspie was added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster just before his AFL squad took home the league championship. He showed exactly why in that game, striking out the side with a fastball that flirted with triple digits and an impressive slider.
In addition to his fastball, which tends to hit 97 or 98 miles per hour in an outing, the Orioles like Gillaspie’s tendency to meet the moment. Bowie pitching coach Justin Ramsey cited the way that Gillaspie came up huge as the Baysox chased a playoff spot down the stretch as evidence of that, saying that “you can see what’s there when he puts it together.”
The Orioles bullpen needs a lot of help. There are intriguing pieces present, but not nearly enough. That is good news for someone like Gillaspie, who will enter 2022 with all of his minor league options and without the pressure being a Rule 5 pick—which was a possibility had he not been added to the 40-man. If a big league opportunity arises, he will be one of the names to get a shot. If he does well, he will stick around for quite a while.
End-of-year prediction: It’s unclear where Gillaspie will start 2022. He is on the 40-man roster, so he won’t be able to attend spring training until a labor deal is struck. But he also may need to return to Double-A and prove he has mastered that level before he even gets a crack at Triple-A or the big leagues. That complicates matters. But the bottom line is that the Orioles will still have a boatload of innings to cover, and that is going to require an all-hands effort. He should get a chance to toss a few innings in Baltimore, but he will finish the season in Norfolk.
Yesterday: Félix Bautista
Tomorrow: Isaac Mattson