Baltimore Orioles: Addressing the rotation ahead of spring training
By Tim Smart
Welcome to February, Baltimore Orioles fans! Baseball is just 23 days away
It might not feel like it, with snow showers spread across the Mid-Atlantic, but the Baltimore Orioles return in just a couple weeks. Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota in eleven days, the rest of the team will report shortly afterward, and the first spring training game is set for February 23rd against the Minnesota Twins.
To be fair, pitchers and catchers reporting is about as uneventful as events get; we’ll see some new photos and videos, and probably get a handful of generic quotes before we go back to wishing for real baseball.
But baseball is back this month! We haven’t been able to say that yet this year; get excited!
There will be more than a handful of storylines surrounding the Orioles during spring training: Where does Jonathan Villar wind up? Are Austin Hays, Mark Trumbo, Richard Bleier, etc. healthy and ready to compete for roster spots?
The one we’ll focus on today is how the Orioles address the back end of the rotation. We know that Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy, and Andrew Cashner are the top three right now, probably in that order. But will the Orioles find someone who can stick in one, or both of the remaining two spots? Will they use a six-man rotation?
I wrote in late-December about the potential for Jimmy Yacabonis to earn one of the open spots. The Orioles transitioned Yacabonis into a starting role last year, but whether the idea sticks remains to be seen. He has decent peripherals, but the main knock against him is that he has just two pitches.
Yacabonis sits 93-95 mph with his fastball and has a plus-slider that can get whiffs, but he might not be able to get through line-ups multiple times without a third pitch. He has a change-up in the repertoire but it’s more of a show-me pitch and he doesn’t look confident when throwing it.
David Hess and Yefry Ramirez have been popular names thrown around for one of the final spots.
Hess pitched well in the second half of 2018 – he pitched to a 3.81 ERA in 54.1 innings and posted a 7.5 K/9 from July on. Similar to Yacabonis, Hess is mostly fastball/slider, but he has an average curve and a change-up that he’ll mix in to keep hitters on their toes.
Ramirez struggled down the stretch, especially against left-handed (opposite side) hitters. Against righties, Ramirez posted a .694 OPS allowed with a 3.88 strikeout/walk ratio. Against lefties, those numbers cratered to .926 and 1.11, respectively.
David Hess might be in the mix, at least during spring training, as will Josh Rogers and Luis Ortiz.
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Hess had a good 2017 season but wasn’t particularly effective last year. Rogers posted a 3.54 ERA in 139.2 minor-league innings in 2018, but he got shelled in his September call-up. Ortiz dealt with a hamstring issue that was likely weight-related. Similar to Rogers, Ortiz had a 3.70 ERA in 99.2 innings in the minors, but it seems likely that both head back to either Bowie or Norfolk to start the year.
Dillon Tate is on the 40-man roster; he’s a dark horse candidate to start for the Orioles next year, but I’m not putting any money on that.
The Orioles could still potentially add a free-agent starting pitcher, but given that they passed on shortstop Freddy Galvis in part because his $5 million dollar contract was, according to MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko, “out of their comfort zone”, their options will be quite slim.
There might not be a ton of upside with this group, but however the Baltimore Orioles handle the rotation this year, it’s bound to be interesting. My early prediction: Hess and Yacabonis start the year in the rotation and Ramirez acts as a sixth starter.