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: Acquired from Minnesota Twins along with three other minor league pitchers for Jorge López, 8/2/22
Who left: López in the same trade, 8/2/22
Days before the 2022 season started, the Orioles traded two relievers who figured to play prominent roles - last year’s closer Cole Sulser, and perpetual dream-on-his-stuff lefty Tanner Scott. This opened the door for an almost-completely untested relief corps, many of whom were castoffs from other teams. You would not have been wise to predict sudden success from any of them. They have formed a strong bullpen anyway.
Jorge López was a waiver claim two years ago. As a starting pitcher in 2020 and 2021, he had a 6.22 ERA. Stick him in the bullpen and suddenly he was an All-Star reliever. This was fun. López being traded was an understandable disappointment to anyone hoping the team would let it ride with the players they had.
In a way, López’s success is a pillar of support for dealing him. If the Orioles could polish López, Dillon Tate, Keegan Akin, Félix Bautista, and Cionel Pérez, unheralded guys all around, maybe they can keep doing it. We are going to see whether they’re right over the next couple of years.
This brings us around to one of the four players acquired by the Orioles when they traded López: 28-year-old 6’4” Cuban right-handed pitcher Yennier Canó. The Twins signed Canó, then 25, as an international free agent in June 2019.
You do not have to dig very deep into Canó’s stats to have a negative reaction to his acquisition. He got a big league audition with Minnesota earlier this season, pitching in ten games. In those ten games, Canó walked 11 of the 70 batters he faced and he came away with a 9.22 ERA.
Walking too many dudes is something that has been a problem for him since he came to America. Last season for Triple-A St. Paul, Canó issued a walk to more than one in eight batters he faced. It’s hard to succeed like that. Relievers ideally need to keep men off base entirely. What do you do with one who keeps putting men on base? For the Twins, the answer this time was ship him to another team in a trade. He’s Mike Elias’s problem now.
Before the 2022 season, Canó was listed as the #38 prospect in the Twins system, in the 35+ tier of Future Value (FV) at FanGraphs. Those are players who have something going for them but not much expectation that it will click into a big league regular player. For the Orioles, Bautista was in this same category before the season, among others. Here’s what they wrote about Canó:
Cano was only fair at St. Paul despite sitting 94-97 mph with heavy sink and a great splitter. His fastball doesn’t miss bats, and he instead relies on that splitty and the occasional slider to garner whiffs. ... if he keeps the walks down, he could be up a lot over the next couple of years. He certainly presents an interesting look since most pitchers who deliver from this low do not have this kind of arm strength.
“if he keeps the walks down” is always a big if. Orioles fans during the Dan Duquette years probably absorbed the idea that the team was largely incapable of getting pitchers to do this, or pretty much any kind of positive development whatsoever.
The Elias-led player development group has been more successful in this way. Look no further than Bautista and Pérez to see it. Prior to this year, Pérez had 50.2 big league innings under his belt, a large chunk of a full season. He had walked 15.3% of batters in his career.
With the O’s in 2022, Pérez has walked 9.5% of batters. This transformation has made him into a strong lefty in the O’s bullpen. Bautista walked 15.4% across three levels of the O’s system last year. That’s down to 8.4% in his debut MLB season. These are huge differences! This time last year, Bautista was barely worth knowing if you went 40 deep into the O’s system.
Now Bautista has been bestowed a ferocious nickname - The Mountain, after the gigantic Game of Thrones killer - and when he comes into games at Camden Yards, they play The Wire’s Omar whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” over the PA.
The fact that the Orioles have turned some other spare parts into strong relievers doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed they can do the same to Canó, but it’s something to think about when wondering why they got this guy. He’s one more player in the mix to try to keep churning out good relievers, perhaps making their closer-to-free-agency relievers available in trades to fortify other areas of the organization.
Canó did not exactly make a great first impression as a pitcher in the organization. His first two outings with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides saw him surrender eight runs, six earned, in only 1.1 innings; eight of the 14 batters he faced got hits, including two home runs, and he handed out a pair of walks as well. If there is some kind of Orioles secret development sauce, it sure didn’t take effect right away.
The success or failure of Canó does not single-handedly dictate the success or failure of the López trade. He’s not even the headliner. That was High-A pitcher Cade Povich. Two others are deep down in the Florida Complex League - Juan Nunez and Juan Rojas, who’ve also been doing work in a starting rotation. Getting one of these guys into a future O’s rotation would make the trade a success. If Canó works out, that’s a cherry on top of a sundae.
There is work to be done to turn this guy into a reliever who’s worth keeping around. The Orioles organization of the present day has proven it can accomplish this work with others. Maybe now that they can get their hands on Canó, he’ll be the next success story.
Still to come: That’s all, for now