When Yennier Cano was traded to the Orioles as part of the package that sent Jorge López to Minnesota, he seemed like an afterthought or a way to make the 40-man roster math fit the swap. Turns out, those of us who thought of him that way were ill-informed at best. Mike Elias saw something in him and we saw exactly what it was in Cano’s incredible 2023 season.
Cano made his major league debut with the Twins in 2022 and it had not gone well in a small sample size. Three games with the Orioles later that same year did nothing to improve his season statistics. He did not look like a good pitcher. At all. This year, he was called up in mid-April to fill in for Keegan Akin on the paternity list and was so good that he never made the trip back to Norfolk.
On April 14, the same day he was called up, Cano pitched 1.2 hitless innings against the White Sox. It was a good performance against a mediocre team and just the beginning of his dominance. He didn’t allow a baserunner until his seventh appearance when he hit Justin Turner when facing the Red Sox. He didn’t allow a hit until his 10th appearance. It was an infield single.
In his 18th game of the season, against the Blue Jays, Yennier Cano finally surrendered a run. It brought his ERA up from 0.00 to 0.40. It would be three more appearances before he issued his first walk. In 2022, he walked 16 batters in 18 innings.
He was a revelation. We all knew he couldn’t be this good for the entire season, but it was obvious that he was a better pitcher than most of us realized. From a story by Dan Connolly in May 2023, Cano had been known to Elias and his staff for some time, and pro scouting director Mike Snyder believed that the Orioles could help Cano find success with some tweaks to what he was already doing.
That success didn’t come in the second half of 2022, but in the following spring training, Cano changed his delivery and started throwing more strikes. He started the year with the Norfolk Tides but appeared in just three games before his call-up.
He had an incredible first half of the season, pitching to a 1.48 ERA in 42.2 innings. He struck out 38 and only walked six. His reward was a trip to the All-Star Game where he introduced himself to the wider baseball world by striking out Matt Olson and Nick Castellanos to start a scoreless inning.
It was right around the All-Star break, though, that things started to go sideways for Cano. July was his worst month of the season, and he started to seem a lot less reliable than he had been earlier in the year. There could have been a combination of reasons for the July swoon. For one thing, nobody is as good of a relief pitcher as Cano appeared to be to start the season. Regression to the mean is a real thing.
Also, the league had seen his stuff and had made adjustments. And he was being pressed into action a lot. You might remember that the Orioles didn’t play in a lot of blowouts. Cano’s overall July numbers were quite poor. Opposing batters OPS’d .957 against him and he pitched to a 4.50 ERA in 14 games. His BABIP was a gaudy .371.
After several months of being a lockdown reliever, suddenly Cano was getting knocked around. He didn’t feel like a reliable option out of the bullpen and fans were lamenting his fall back to earth. But before the doubters could get out of hand, Cano bounced back in a big way.
When the calendar turned to August, Cano went back to that pre-July pitcher we all knew and loved. He didn’t allow an earned run in the entire month and gave up just seven hits in 13 games. He never gave up more than one hit in an appearance. If the league had adjusted to Cano, Cano adjusted back.
Cano finished the season with 2.11 ERA in 72 games. He combined with closer Félix Bautista to be the most potent one-two punch out of the bullpen in baseball. He walked 13 batters in the season, three fewer than he did in 13 games in 2022.
Yennier Cano wasn’t a prospect when the Orioles traded for him. He was 28 years old, a relief pitcher who had clear talent but hadn’t been able to put it together. He wasn’t considered a valuable part of the López trade and he became one of the most important players on a team that won 101 games and their division.
Will he be on the 2024 Orioles?
Heck yes, he will! Not only will he be on the team, he could be the team’s closer. With Bautista being out for the season, Cano has the talent and the attitude for the job. He is more than capable of being that dude.
Even if he’s not the closer, he will be the bullpen anchor as long as he stays healthy. And if he can be as good in ‘24 as he was in ‘23, it will go a long way to keeping the bullpen in good shape.
On top of being the big name in the bullpen, Cano isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2026 and he has two minor league options remaining. He’s not going anywhere.
2023 player reviews: Ryan McKenna, Jacob Webb, Austin Voth/Keegan Akin, Adam Frazier, Jack Flaherty, Shintaro Fujinami, Aaron Hicks, Bryan Baker, Jorge Mateo, Kyle Gibson, John Means, DL Hall, Jordan Westburg, James McCann, Ryan O’Hearn, Mike Baumann, Ramón Urías, Cole Irvin, Ryan Mountcastle, Danny Coulombe, Tyler Wells, Cionel Pérez, Austin Hays
Tomorrow: Dean Kremer