Heading into spring training, Baltimore Orioles lefty Rob Zastryzny could be a pitcher worth keeping your eye on.
Back on November 18th, the Baltimore Orioles made a total of 12 minor league signings official, nine of which were players returning to the organization, like outfielder Mason Williams, first baseman Ryan Ripken, and reliever Cristian Alvarado. Not a lot of firepower among the group, but a solid list of players who played key roles for their minor league clubs in 2019.
There were also three new guys among the bunch, including two middle infielders to fill out rosters in the upper minors and a left-handed pitcher by the name of Rob Zastryzny, who may be of intrigue to Orioles fans as spring training approaches.
With Dylan Bundy now pitching for the Los Angeles Angels and Gabriel Ynoa and Aaron Brooks leaving for Korea this offseason, the Orioles will have to replace 23% of the total number of innings pitched in 2019 with a collection of Rule 5 picks, low-cost free agent pickups, and a large collection of rookies who will be making their MLB debuts in 2020.
At least 2020 will be much more interesting than 2019, even if the constant shuffling of pitchers continues. Brandon Bailey is a very intriguing Rule 5 pick up, multiple Top 30 pitching prospects will make their highly-anticipated first trips to Camden Yards, and even a guy like Kohl Stewart will be fun to watch early on, just to see if he show any flashes of what made the Minnesota Twins use a first-round draft pick on him back in 2013.
Until Mike Elias feels confident in graduating his rookies from the minor leagues, we are sure to see a mix of holdovers from last year and minor league signings get first cracks at showing off their stuff in the major leagues. One of those arms could be recently acquired LHP Rob Zastryzny.
Zastryzny was a second-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2013 out of the University of Missouri, making his big league debut three years later with Chicago in 2016.
The 6’3″ lefty had an impressive first stint in the big leagues, giving up two earned runs in 16 innings of work, striking out 17 and walking just five in the process.
Since then, Zastryzny has logged only 18.2 innings at the major league level and did not appear in the bigs at all in 2019, his first and only season in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. In those major league innings, walks haunted his performance, something that he has struggled with in the past down in the minor leagues. Across his 18+ innings, Zastryzny gave up 15 runs on 25 hits (two home runs) and posted a 14/11 K/BB ratio.
Last season, Zastryzny struggled with the Oklahoma City Dodgers (LA Dodgers Triple-A affiliate), going 3-6 with a 6.49 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, and a .326 average against in 20 appearances (16 starts). While the Pacific Coast League is a war zone for pitchers, those still aren’t numbers you want to see from someone you expect to contribute at the major league level.
You can get a sense of his repertoire in this video from his relief work with the Cubs.
According to Baseball Savant, Zastryzny utilizes a four-seam fastball, cutter, and a curveball, with the fastball working anywhere from 90-94 mph. In his small sample size of major league innings, he’s produced a groundball rate north of 51% and has allowed two home runs in 34.2 innings.
He’s an interesting arm who appears to be a better option than most of the arms thrown out to the wolves last season in Baltimore. My viewings have been limited, but his curveball can be a swing and miss pitch and when his fastball is on, it can be an effective pitch. However, things can go south pretty quickly when he doesn’t have his command.
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Still, after watching a few innings of both his major league and minor league work, I want to see more of what he can do in longer stints during spring training. With guys like Tom Eshelman, Ty Blach, Chandler Shepherd, and Luis Ortiz, it doesn’t take very long to see all you want to see. That’s not the case with Zastryzny.
Unless Keegan Akin comes out guns blazing in spring, I strongly believe he stays in Triple-A for a few more weeks, not for service time reasons, but because Elias wants to make sure his guys are fully ready for the big leagues when they come up. Some spring training work and a few full starts with the Tides will give the organization a better sense of how Akin responded to his offseason plan and then the team can go from there.
If that is the case, Zastryzny has an opportunity to round out the Orioles rotation and eventually move into the role occupied by Ynoa and Brooks last season, that of long-man out of the pen/opener/spot-starter. Being a lefty likely gives him a slight advantage over some other options and at 27 years of age, younger guys like Kohl Stewart are sure to be sent to Triple-A before being thrown in the bullpen if they show they aren’t completely ready for a rotation spot.
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We’re just about a month away from Orioles pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training and with football season quickly moving into the rearview mirror, the excitement is starting to build, even if 2020 won’t be a lot of fun.