After the Rule 5 draft and a recent free agent signing, let’s take a look at the current group of Baltimore Orioles pitchers in the mix for a rotation spot.
The 2019 pitching staff for the Baltimore Orioles finished with a league-worst 5.59 ERA, gave up an MLB-record 305 home runs (35 more than the Colorado Rockies who finished with the second-most home runs allowed), and ranked in the bottom five of the league in both WHIP (1.46) and batting average against (.271).
Individually, we saw small improvements from a few different arms and the emergence of John Means, but the pitching staff as a whole was a disaster in 2019 and 2020 looks to be another rough season for Orioles pitchers climbing the bump
The most notable change to the pitching staff this offseason has been the dealing of Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels for four pitching prospects, leaving Means and Asher Wojciechowski as the only two starters with significant starts returning in 2020.
Orioles general manager Mike Elias put pitching at the top of his winter shopping list, but he’s not moving past the value bins, like those at the entrance of a Target. Still, the Orioles want to have around eight starting rotation candidates when spring training rolls around and outside of a few potential minor league signings, the Orioles have a group of starters in place to compete, so let’s take a quick look at each arm and see where the Orioles stand as the calendar turns to 2020.
John Means is a lock and is the very early favorite to be the Opening Day starter next season against Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees at Camden Yards. We already discussed Means a bit yesterday and asked whether we see Means regress a bit in 2020 or take a step forward. It’s a difficult question to answer, but it will be fun to watch as his second full season in the bigs unfolds.
Alex Cobb appears to be ready to go for 2020, year three of his four-year/$57 million contract that he signed ahead of the 2018 season. After going 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA and a career-low 6 K/9 IP, Cobb made just three starts last season (15 ER in 12 IP) before going down for the year with a lumbar strain and surgery on his hip (this after missing his Opening Day start due to a groin strain).
A healthy Alex Cobb can provide much-needed innings and a veteran presence in the rotation among a group of young and inexperienced arms, but at this point, it’s hard to imagine Cobb suddenly turning things around and becoming a hot trade chip at the deadline.
Asher Wojciechowski is one of those 2020 storylines that will be interesting to follow, at least for a few weeks. Wojo tossed 167 innings between AAA and the big leagues last season, a career-high since throwing 160 innings back in 2013, and admittedly became exhausted by the end of the season.
The journeyman doesn’t produce a lot of swings and misses, he gets hit fairly hard, and he’s far from a groundball pitcher, but Wojo still produced enough to work every five days in the backend of a 100+ loss team’s rotation in 2020 (4.92 ERA, 80 strikeouts in 82 innings, .247 average against).
Now we get to the interesting candidates. Mike Elias has already come out and said LHP Keegan Akin (#11 prospect) is going to get his opportunity in spring training. After leading the International League in strikeouts and producing one of the top overall seasons in the IL in 2019, Akin doesn’t have much more to prove in the minors, other than his long history of allowing a high number of walks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him begin the year back in Triple-A for a few weeks while other candidates get a brief opportunity to try and win a spot.
On Sunday, the Orioles signed their first major league free agent in RHP Kohl Stewart (story here). Stewart has had his ups and downs since the Twins used a first-round pick on him in 2013, but he’s just 25 and has options remaining. Unless the Orioles make another major league free agent signing, Stewart will likely slot into the 4/5 spot in the rotation.
There’s also RHP David Hess. Ove the past two seasons, Hess is 4-20 with a 5.84 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and has allowed 50 home runs in 183 major league innings. Hess is revamping his offseason training and looking to replicate some of the success John Means had last season. Reading his interview with MASN’s Roch Kubatko (check it out here) provides a bit of optimism, but will it all be enough for Hess to turn a corner?
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With an option remaining, it’s likely Hess is back in Triple-A next season where I see a lot of bouncing around between starter and reliever, just like last season.
Lastly, there are the two Rule 5 picks in RHP Michael Rucker and RHP Brandon Bailey. The Orioles used the second overall pick in the draft on Bailey out of the Houston Astros organization, is familiar with new Director of Pitching Chris Holt, and will be given every opportunity to claim a rotation spot with his five-pitch mix.
The 25-year-old has racked up 405 strikeouts in 349 career minor league innings and has limited opponents to a .208 batting average, including a .212 average against and 103 K’s in 92 Double-A innings last season.
Rucker may be destined for the bullpen, but he will have an opportunity to start in spring. He was used strictly as a reliever in Double-A last season with the Chicago Cubs, striking out 89 in 75 innings.
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The current candidates aren’t sexy, but nothing about the 2019 Baltimore Orioles will be. However, there are storylines to follow throughout spring training and beyond. Do you have any favorites among the group? Let us know!