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Orioles prospect season in review: Alex Pham and Trace Bright

Two unheralded right-handers made names for themselves at High-A and Double-A this season.

Atlanta Braves v Baltimore Orioles minor leaguers
Alex Pham very much enjoyed the switch from relieving to starting.
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Camden Chat’s annual prospect season in review series begins today, and don’t worry, soon enough you’ll be reading all about the A-list names you know and love. But first, let’s get familiar with some of the less-hyped but plenty talented youngsters in the Orioles’ system, starting with a pair of Double-A right-handers: Alex Pham and Trace Bright.

The two are recent additions to MLB Pipeline’s top 30 O’s prospects, holding down the last two spots in the rankings. It may not seem like much, but even the 29th and 30th-best prospects in the organization are capable of playing a big role in the future. Prior to the 2022 season, the Orioles’ #30 prospect was...Félix Bautista. You just never know.

Though the two right-handers’ pro careers started at different times — Pham’s late in the 2021 season and Bright’s near the end of 2022 — they spent much of the 2023 campaign as teammates. They pitched in the High-A Aberdeen IronBirds’ rotation together for the first two and a half months before Pham earned a promotion to Double-A Bowie in late June. Bright joined him with the Baysox two months later.

The duo both have October birthdays, one year apart. Pham turned 24 last week; Bright will celebrate his 23rd on Oct. 26. Both were drafted as 21-year-olds, Pham in the 19th round in 2021 from the University of San Francisco and Bright as a 2022 fifth-rounder out of Auburn.

Bright was the Orioles’ seventh selection in his draft class, and their highest-picked pitcher that year who signed with the team (they selected Oklahoma state right-hander Nolan McLean in the third round, but he did not sign). Bright was coming off a junior year in which he helped lead Auburn to its first College World Series title.

According to his MLB Pipeline profile, Bright’s bread and butter is “a curveball that’s often plus, thrown in the upper-70s with depth that he can throw to both sides of the plate.” His other three offerings include a fastball that’s average in velocity but misses barrels, along with a changeup and slider that need some work.

In his first full professional season this year, Bright spent the bulk of it with Aberdeen. While his ERA was a so-so 4.35, he opened eyes with 13.8 strikeouts per nine, a higher rate than he’d ever had in college. In a small, four-game sample size after his promotion to Bowie, Bright continued to fan more than a batter per inning while cutting his ERA to 2.12. He doesn’t give up homers — averaging less than one per nine innings — and limits base hits pretty well.

Bright’s bugaboo, however, is his inability to stop walking people. He amassed an ugly 5.1 BB/9 rate this year, worsening a strike-throwing problem that plagued him at Auburn (4.1 BB/9 in his three-year college career). It’s an issue that has torpedoed the careers of countless pitchers before him and many more to come. Still, if Bright can find the zone more consistently — a big if, to be sure — Pipeline pegs him as a “solid back-end starter option.”

While Bright has the early-round draft pedigree, it’s Pham who has put up the more eye-popping numbers so far, bursting onto the prospect scene with a breakout 2023 performance. After the 5-foot-11 righty worked almost exclusively as a reliever during his college career (67 of 73 games) and in his first two years in the O’s system, the Birds converted him to a starter this year with outstanding results.

In 12 games (10 starts) for Aberdeen, Pham posted a sensational 2.45 ERA and 1.052 WHIP, racking up 76 strikeouts in 51.1 innings (13.3 K/9). At one point in late April and early May, Pham pitched 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a streak that stretched over seven games. That included a May 12 start against Hudson Valley in which racked up 11 strikeouts and allowed just one hit in five scoreless innings — a feat that he topped on June 10 against Asheville, when he again struck out 11 in five shutout frames, this time without allowing any hits. When Pham followed that up with six innings of one-hit ball June 17, the O’s — satisfied that he’d mastered the level — moved him up to Bowie.

A year and a half young for the Double-A level, Pham just continued to do his thing, becoming even stingier with baserunners by averaging less than one per inning. In 14 games (nine starts) with the Baysox, he put up a 2.67 ERA and 0.989 WHIP. His combined numbers between the two levels: 2.57 ERA, 1.018 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9. That’ll play.

What’s holding Pham back — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — is walking too many batters. His walk rate was 4.4 per nine at Aberdeen, though he sliced that mark to 2.5 once he moved up to Bowie, which could be a sign of real progress (or a sample-size fluke). Pham’s fastball isn’t considered anything special, but Pipeline praises his secondary offerings: “His cutter and curve are his best pitches when facing left-handed hitters, and his slider can be a plus pitch to righties.”

If Pham can continue to keep his walks down, he’ll likely see a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk at some point next season, and there’s an outside chance he could make his MLB debut. Bright, meanwhile, would likely have to wait a year longer. He’ll almost certainly start 2024 at Bowie and probably spend most of the season there. Of course, neither is a sure thing to make the majors at all; their development will hinge on whether they can throw strikes more consistently. Still, they’re both intriguing arms worth keeping an eye on this season.

It speaks volumes about the strength of the Orioles’ farm system that two young arms with this kind of potential are ranked just 29th and 30th on the prospect list. Whether or not Bright/Pham are the Orioles’ future, the Orioles’ future is bright, fam.

Tomorrow: Billy Cook and John Rhodes