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.
The Orioles have spent the last few years trying to develop their pitching staff by bolstering their stock of prospects, and there was a time when Dean Kremer was right at the top of that list of pitchers leading the new wave.
Kremer was never the most talented of those young pitchers, but he did seem to be one of the furthest along in his development. In 2020 he was 24, he was putting some impressive outings under his belt, and it looked like he was poised to usher in the bumper crop of young, talented Orioles hurlers.
And then the plan fell apart like a Griswold turkey. Kremer struggled mightily from start to finish in 2021, and found it hard to get batters out at both the major and minor league levels.
Now, for what we hope will be a 2022 baseball season, the question becomes: Can the 26-year-old be salvaged?
Ever since coming over from the Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade in 2018, Kremer has been billed as a potential foundational piece of future good Orioles pitching staffs. A 14th-round pick out of UNLV in 2016, Kremer pitched to a 2.58 ERA over eight starts at Double-A Bowie the rest of that 2018 season, and then in 2019 went 9-4 with a 2.98 ERA with the Baysox.
In 2019 he was the ninth-ranked prospect in the organization according to MLB Pipeline, and he fell to 10th in 2020 only because of the drafting and arrival of that Rutschman guy. He made his major league debut during the pandemic-affected 2020 season and immediately showed he belonged, holding the Yankees to one run on a single hit in six innings while striking out seven in his debut, and compiling a 1.69 ERA over his first three starts. Sure, he struggled mightily in his fourth start, but what does one game matter?
Or so we thought.
The 2021 season began, Kremer started the season in Baltimore and...well, it got rough. In three of his first four starts, his runs allowed matched or exceeded his innings pitched. He was 0-5 with a 6.87 ERA through nine starts and began moving back and forth between the majors and Triple-A, and never got going. He finished 0-7 with a 7.55 ERA at the big-league level, and 1-5 with a 4.91 ERA in Norfolk.
So that’s the history lesson. Now the question, can he turn it back around?
He certainly has work to do. Nothing about the 2021 struggles was a fluke; as the Baltimore Sun’s Nathan Ruiz pointed out, Kremer was among baseball’s hardest-hit pitchers, and his woes weren’t due to seeing-high singles and tight strike zones, but because he kept finding the barrels of bats.
Ruiz also mentioned, however, that as discouraging as the 4.91 Norfolk ERA was, he had a 2.35 ERA over his last seven Triple-A starts. His WHIP in Norfolk of 1.299 was a drastic departure from his 1.640 figure in Baltimore, and was more closely in line with the 1.228 and 1.213 marks he had in Bowie in 2019 and ’18, respectively.
Kremer needs to find that ability to miss bats again. In 2021, he was in the eighth percentile for hard-hit percentage, according to MLB’s Baseball Savant. He was in the 1 percentile, rock bottom, in terms of average exit velocity, barrel percentage and chase rate. He got hit, and hit hard, all the time, and any improvement starts there.
Fortunately, this isn’t a situation where he’s coming back from injury or something and trying to gain snap back to his pitches. His fastball velocity (92.6 in 2021 to 92.8 in 2020) is almost identical, so the arm talent is there. He did go from throwing a curveball on 27.2 percent of pitches to 15.8 and abandoned his sinker, so maybe an adjustment in the pitching arsenal is the key.
End-of-season prediction: Whether Kremer is still with the big club at year’s end is entirely in his hands and entirely unpredictable. With no locks in the pitching rotation outside of John Means, and with his experience to date in the Orioles organization being entirely as a starter, he’ll get his chances to make the rotation.
Whether he stays there is another question, and if he’s off to the same start as he was in 2021, the hook will be quick. Given the importance of this year in his career — and the low bar set a season ago — expect Kremer to make improvements across the board, though hopes for him to look the way he did in 2020 are probably far-fetched.
Previously: Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Isaac Mattson, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Rougned Odor, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, D.L. Hall, Jahmai Jones, Bruce Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, Ryan McKenna
Monday: Keegan Akin