Although the 2022 Orioles flashed tons of promise and plenty of signs of turning a new corner, this offseason has felt a lot more Groundhog’s Day than a “new beginning.” Mainly this is because the biggest question entering next season is the same one it always is: Will the starting rotation be good enough? The same roster hole that always needs fixing—a solid rotation anchor, not to even speak of a bona fide ace—is still gaping. Kyle Gibson’s 1-year, $10 million deal, finalized on Dec. 16, 2022, certainly isn’t convincing anybody otherwise. Especially not with GM Mike Elias saying, on the day Gibson signed, that the Orioles’ “wish list” definitely included another veteran starting pitcher.
So far, nothing doing on that front. Yes, the team is prospect-rich and could pull off a late-minute trade. I wouldn’t rule it out. But at this point, with pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month, and given the market-proven price of good pitching, maybe you, too, are starting to get the sense that the best rotation this team can buy might be the one built in-house?
A week ago, CC’s Alex Church put together a list of five rotation locks, and it seems like a good one: Gibson, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells, and a new addition, Grayson Rodriguez. As Alex noted, G-Rod has yet to throw a pitch for Baltimore, but after striking out 97 hitters in 69 innings with a 2.20 ERA and .857 winning percentage in Triple-A last season, he has exactly nothing left to prove in the minors. All Rodriguez has to do to crack the roster (and probably the rotation, too) is finish camp healthy [knocks on wood].
Short on experience, long on talent: meet the Orioles’ starting rotation right now. At this point, even if the team signs another veteran, it won’t change the fundamental fact that the 2023 O’s will be leaning on a mostly unproven cast to give them production over a full season. They’ll need a bunch of youngsters to rise to the occasion and pitch to their potential.
But given what the current Orioles coaching regime managed to do last season with the likes of Austin Voth and Spenser Watkins, I’m actually not mad at this idea. Kremer took big strides with the team and is predicted to make more, Bradish flashed ninja-worthy stuff at times, Wells has earned a spot with his stuff and control, and Rodriguez is MLB’s No. 2 righty pitching prospect. Gibson is Gibson—but he could get a big boost from Mt. Walltimore. A team with the Orioles’ payroll (not saying it couldn’t be bigger) needs to take risks in roster construction, and that includes rolling the dice on talented youngsters. Another that fits into this profile is one of the most exciting arms in the organization, one Dayton Lane Hall.
Hall is raw, nobody’s denying that. At 24, he’s a year older than Grayson Rodriguez, but G-Rod is undeniably more game-ready right now. In their recent rankings, Baseball America gave Rodriguez a solid 65 for control, but Hall got a below-average grade of 40. Hall had a very bumpy rookie season in 2022, making one start—it was a mess—before getting bumped to the bullpen, where in 10 appearances he mixed gallant, swashbuckling things with maddening ones. Overall, that worked out to a 5.93 ERA and a garish 4.0 walks per nine innings, although 12.5 strikeouts per game were pretty sweet.
Lots of peril, but so much promise: exactly why he’s too exciting to give up on as a starter. You can’t watch Hall pitch and not see it: one of the most electrifying arms in the organization, he is the exotic species of left hander who can hit 100 mph with his fastball. Even with his control issues, Hall came in this week at No. 4 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 10 LHP prospects list, the heater getting special mention from Jim Callis as one of the best in the game, period. Hall also clocked in at No. 75 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list. For what it’s worth, last year he placed No. 52. But for all the bumps, Baseball America gave Hall not just a top-of-the-scale 80 fastball grade, but a solid 70 for his slider. Meanwhile, MLB Pipeline gives Hall’s fastball a 65, his curveball a 55, his slider a 50, and his much-improved changeup a 55. There is a starter’s arsenal here, and signs of maturation.
You could see them in game situations, too. After a rocky first three outings, Hall pitched to a 1.04 ERA over his last eight, allowing just one run in 8 2/3 innings with two walks, 11 strikeouts and a .543 OPS against. On Sept. 30, Brandon Hyde used Hall in a save situation at Yankee Stadium. Thrust into pressure, Hall pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning, drawing a pop-up and fanning two.
It was a strong finish for the lefty, and soon we’ll find out if he can build on it. At present, it seems there are three probable courses of action for the Orioles with Hall: (1) Send him to Triple-A for more seasoning as a starter, (2) Keep him with the team in a reliever role while continuing to groom him as a starting pitcher, (3) Keep him and convert him to a full-time reliever. We’ll soon find out which the Orioles are choosing, but I hope it’s No. 2.
I’m not saying he’s ready to crack the roster immediately, but seeing what the Orioles did with Cionel Pérez and Félix Bautista last season, former “wild things” whom they’ve honed into game-changing relievers, I wonder if Hall couldn’t experience the same turnaround. The best-case scenario I’m hoping for is that Hall pulls a Tyler Wells this year, honing the pitch mix of a starter with regular appearances out of the bullpen before he gets a midseason promotion to the rotation—and stays there.
No doubt, DL Hall has plenty to prove in 2023, but I believe in this team’s potential to help him hit his ceiling.