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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Denyi Reyes

Four different Orioles pitched one game last year and then were DFA’d. Denyi Reyes will be hoping not to join that club.

Orioles reliever Denyi Reyes in a spring training uniform
Denyi Reyes was something of an anonymous Orioles minor leaguer going into the season, but he did at least get a spring training photo.
Photo by Phelan Ebenhack/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

How he arrived: Minor league signing 11/29/21, contract selected from Norfolk 5/12/22

Who left: Chris Ellis transferred to 60-day injured list 5/12/22

In the 2021 season, there were four pitchers who appeared in exactly one game for the Orioles and then were never seen again. That list, in alphabetical order by last name: Zack Burdi, Jay Flaa, Mickey Jannis, Brandon Waddell. Those who always love a knuckleballer might remember Jannis for that reason. The others were not terribly notable when they arrived, nor was their swift departure a seismic roster event.

On Thursday, the Orioles brought 25-year-old righty reliever Denyi Reyes onto their 40-man roster. Needing a fresh relief option, they chose to add him rather than promote someone else. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, judging solely by looking at Reyes’s ERA across three games pitched for Norfolk: 8.25.

One might have thought if the O’s were going to plug a reliever into the gap, it might have at least been one of the guys doing well for Norfolk, like Nick Vespi (ERA still 0.00) or Cole Uvila. That was not the case when they called up Reyes, though it’s now less than a week later and Vespi has also arrived on the Orioles.

I wonder whether Reyes being called up before the other two is a sign that the Orioles are not concerned about disrupting Reyes’s development in any way. He is not a prospect, or even a fringe if you squint kind of prospect, where the team has invested time and energy into him over years. Vespi was an Orioles draft pick; Uvila was just taken as a minor league Rule 5 pick last year. Vespi was only selected from Norfolk when the Orioles designated another reliever, Logan Allen, for assignment.

Reyes had been an international amateur signing by the Red Sox all the way back in 2014. Boston protected Reyes from the Rule 5 draft in 2018 by putting him on its 40-man roster even though he had never pitched above the High-A level at that time.

Reyes posted pedestrian numbers for Double-A Portland in 2019 and was dumped from the roster early in 2020. When minor league baseball returned in 2021, Reyes was back at Portland as a minor league free agent. The Red Sox converted him to a reliever and did not move him higher. A minor league free agent again this past winter, Reyes seems to have decided the Orioles offered a better opportunity to advance.

On Friday night, the Orioles showed that Reyes made the right choice to get to MLB. He made his major league debut, pitching two scoreless innings of relief as the O’s lost to the Tigers. This was not blowout garbage time. The final score of the loss was 4-2. Fans have seen plenty of sacrificial lamb pitchers come through and stink over the past few years.

Reyes is not immediately joining that group. He did not allow a baserunner over his two innings of work, striking out two batters. As debuts go, you can’t ask for much more than that. Of course, it also came against the Tigers, who even though they swept the Orioles, still didn’t have much offense.

Being the last guy in a bullpen, especially if you have minor league options remaining as Reyes does, is often not something that comes with a lot of staying power. Sure enough, Reyes found himself optioned back to the minors the day after his debut. In his case, it wasn’t that he was shuffled for a fresh arm but instead for a fresh outfielder. The O’s needed Ryan McKenna after it became clear Austin Hays’s absence from the lineup would be stretching on for days longer but not long enough for an injured list stay. Back to Norfolk for Denyi.

Of the four one-game Orioles pitchers from last year, Burdi, Flaa, and Waddell all had ERAs of 0.00 when they were sent packing. Will we even see Reyes again? Not every guy who makes it onto a 40-man roster is in the team’s long-term or even medium-term plans. The fact that Reyes had a scoreless debut may not count for anything, any more than one scoreless outing kept those other guys in the picture last year.

It is not a glamorous life on the fringes of the roster picture. Except for this: For a career minor leaguer, getting to pitch in the big leagues even once is glamorous. Reyes will always have that. Whether we see him again may have more to do with who gets hurt, who gets traded, or who sucks in the Orioles bullpen or rotation than anything to do with Reyes’s pitching.

Still to come: Beau Sulser, Nick Vespi