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Will a rookie start meaningful games for the Orioles this season?

Baltimore has yet to add another starting pitcher. Could a rookie fill the final spot in the rotation at any point this season?

Baltimore Orioles v Texas Rangers Photo by Bailey Orr/Texas Rangers/Getty Images

The Orioles are not legally required to add a starting pitcher this offseason. What once appeared as a foregone conclusion now feels like a coin flip at best. The rotation could use an upgrade, but the Orioles don’t need to be a finished product by Opening Day.

Mike Elias appears unwilling to surrender monetary or trade capital that would exceed the value of the player joining the team. It’s a practical approach, but one that limits the options for a fifth starter this April.

The current candidates have been well documented. The Orioles need to replace all of those innings that Kyle Gibson ate last season. A healthy John Means should go a long way, but Cole Irvin and/or Tyler Wells could be counted on to take the ball every fifth day.

The O’s have yet to label DL Hall as a full time reliever. The odds point to the lefty beginning the year in the bullpen, but Hall still has a better shot than Bruce Zimmermann or Keegan Akin.

Hall has one major league start under his belt, but the Orioles have yet to give the once heralded prospect a true crack at the rotation. Hall appears to be the only candidate with little-to-no starting experience. Baltimore does not have a highly-regarded prospect expected to fight for a spot in Sarasota.

Grayson Rodriguez just missed the Opening Day roster last year, but he was always expected to join the club early in the season. Kyle Bradish debuted at the end of April in 2022. Unfortunately, even with a spot up for grabs, the Orioles do not have a starter on pace to break down the door this spring.

Chayce McDermott, Cade Povich, Seth Johnson and Justin Armbruester will all have an opportunity to debut this season. McDermott, Povich and Armbruester should all begin the year at Triple-A with Johnson expected to return to Bowie. MLB Pipeline ranks all four pitchers as Top 20 prospects in Baltimore’s system, but no one from the group carries the same expectations that once accompanied Rodriguez or Hall.

The Orioles named McDermott their Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award at the end of 2023. The righty pitched to a 3.10 ERA and a 1.151 WHIP between Bowie and Norfolk.

McDermott made six starts with the Baysox before taking things to another level with the Tides. He limited opponents to only two runs while striking out 27 batters over a four start sequence. The stretch led to back-to-back International League Pitcher of the Week awards and a bit of buzz in Baltimore.

McDermott struck out 152 batters last season, but a 13.8% walk percentage prevented any talk of a September promotion. McDermott pitched in 10 games at Norfolk last season. For comparison, Bradish made 27 appearances with the Tides before his MLB debut. An early season appearance seems unlikely, but McDermott could be the leader for any mid-year opportunities.

Povich slots right next to McDermott with Triple-A experience. Unfortunately, his ERA sat higher at 5.36 over 10 games. Povich especially struggled with runners on base. Opponents saw their OPS jump 143 points last season with ducks on the pond. The lefty could stand to add a tick or two on his low 90s fastball, but he holds a starter’s arsenal on the mound.

McDermott and Povich were both acquired via trade and both slot as mid-tier prospects. Many will link the duo together like Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin back in 2020. Kremer holds a comfortable lead for those keeping score at home.

If McDermott and Povich resemble Kremer and Akin, Armbruester trends more toward the Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, and Alexander Wells type. He could make a spot start or bring a fresh arm to the bullpen, but the 6’5 righty needs an impressive year to prove his worth as a rotation candidate. Armbruester mastered Bowie, but his WHIP jumped to 1.466 at Norfolk.

Johnson holds the highest pedigree of the group but figures to be a full year away. The former Top 100 prospect worked his way back from Tommy John and ended the year with his first start at Bowie. The Orioles will ask Johnson to prove it with the Baysox before a potential summer promotion to Norfolk.

Baltimore’s lack of action would make more sense if they had a rookie ready to take the reins. Maybe Elias still snags Dylan Cease or another starter on the market. Until then, the Orioles should not expect any reinforcements from the farm this spring.