Despite the fact that we’re still over a week away from actual baseball, the Baltimore Orioles season has officially started. Let’s take a look at a few pitchers who could surprise us during spring training
We did it, Baltimore Orioles fans. We made it through another offseason and we’re heading into 2019 with a strange sense of optimism, considering that the O’s lost 115 games last year.
Some of our excitement and optimism is solely due to us missing baseball, but it’s at least in part due to us being genuinely intrigued by several players on the Orioles’ roster. And since pitchers and catchers reported on Tuesday, that’s where we’re heading: which pitchers will surprise us the most in spring training.
I wrote on Monday about the battle that’ll take place for the fourth and fifth rotation spots in 2019. The projected front-runners right now are Nate Karns and David Hess, but we’ve got roughly six weeks for other Orioles pitchers to include themselves in the conversation.
Like the rotation, there seem to be two or three pitchers locked into bullpen roles. Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier will pitch in Baltimore next year, and we can assume that Miguel Castro will have a place in the bullpen for much of 2019. But it feels like the remaining spots on the pitching staff are up for grabs.
At least one or two pitchers will come out in spring training and be impressive enough to get our hopes up for their success in 2019. Who will they be?
The first is Hunter Harvey. The past four years have been a nightmare for Harvey, who’s entering his age-24 season having pitched just 176 innings for the Orioles since being drafted in 2013.
Harvey once possessed elite tools on the mound, working his way to the top of Orioles’ prospect lists with a mid-to-high 90’s fastball and a plus-curveball. He’s flashed above-average strikeout potential (he has a 35.7% strikeout rate in those 176 innings) and if he can get the change-up working, he’ll have three plus-pitches.
But the intrigue with Harvey is as much about whether he can stay on the field, as it is with his talent. If he’s healthy, he could finally make his major league debut this year. Given his history, it’s tough to believe that Harvey will stay healthy, but if he does, he’s going to be a surprise candidate to land a spot at the back of the rotation.
Scott has elite fastball velocity and a wipeout slider, but he’s struggled with his command since the Orioles drafted him in 2014. In just over 53 innings in Baltimore last year, Scott posted an 11.7% walk rate, well above the MLB league average of 8.2%.
Along with the fastball velo, Scott has elite spin-rates on both the fastball and the slider. He has as much talent as any of the Orioles’ relievers but the fastball has to be better if he’s going to be a contributor in 2019.
The difference between Scott’s two pitches is stark: batters hit just .156 against the slider, and the pitch generated a 55.7% whiff rate, and a 60.8% strikeout rate. In contrast, the fastball came with a .369 average against, with just 17.4% whiffs and an 8.7% strikeout rate.
Scott has one of the best sliders in baseball, but he desperately needs that second pitch to be there. I’ve got a feeling that the fastball is there in spring training, but whether that translates to the majors this year remains to be seen.
Pop is a relief prospect who was a 7th round pick for the Dodgers in the 2017 draft. He advanced through three levels last year, starting at Single-A Great Lakes, before being promoted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga in mid-May.
He came over in the Manny Machado trade last July and spent the remainder of 2018 in Double-A Bowie, pitching to a 2.53 ERA with an absurd 69.1% groundball rate.
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Pop throws a two seamer that has wicked arm-side run and touches 98mph, and he has a good slider; both pitches help him drive the groundball rate. He doesn’t have extreme strikeout rates but he’s shown an ability to command both pitches and throw them for strikes.
While I wouldn’t bet on him making the roster out of spring training, Pop is a candidate to make an appearance in Baltimore this year and stick in the majors. He has the raw talent to make it happen, and as a relief-only prospect, can be fast-tracked to the majors.
The Orioles’ decision to bring Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal to Baltimore to rebuild the front office has been lauded across the baseball industry, and all signs point to the O’s being headed in the right direction.
However, it’ll be quite a while before the Orioles get to the point where they’re competing for division titles again. Elias has his work cut out for him, and the next step involves getting this Orioles team through spring training and finding a roster that he and Brandon Hyde are comfortable with.