Could a pitching shift give Mike Baumann a better chance at making the roster?
While spring training is a time of roster battles for all 30 teams, we also see experiments being made by teams to try to expand a player's versatility(The Boston Red Sox are trying Bobby Dalbec at shortstop). We're starting to see that with Mike Baumann and the Baltimore Orioles.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde told Baumann that they wanted to test him out in a reliever capacity, specifically a short reliever. Baumann was ok with the idea, so now the reliever experiment is on in Sarasota.
It was clear that Baumann was on the outside looking in when it came to the Orioles starting rotation battle, with guys like Austin Voth, Kyle Bradish, Spenser Watkins, DL Hall, and Tyler Wells all ahead of him with Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Dean Kremer, and Grayson Rodriguez all but locks for the rotation.
So, it's the shift to the bullpen for Baumann. It's not completely foreign, as all but four of Baumann's 17 MLB games have been in relief, save for those four starts in 2022. But it is still a fairly new venture, as 87 of his 114 professional appearances have been starts.
His first test in grapefruit league action went well. Baumann fired a 1-2-3 eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, striking out one hitter and inducing two groundouts. Baumann's fastball, which averages 95.8 miles per hour, can tick up in velocity in a short relief role, as Baumann won't have to last for multiple innings. He can also lean on his slider along with his fastball to give him a powerful one-two punch in relief.
Anthony Bemboom, who spent the majority of 2022 with Triple A Norfolk, has caught Baumann before and had this to say about his potential as a reliever:
"As long as he goes in there and throws strikes and gets ahead, he’s a really tough at-bat, for both righties and lefties. His stuff is electric. Every time I’ve been catching him, it’s been lights out. It’s been strike one, strike two, guys are on their heels. And you can tell, just really uncomfortable swings."
Despite the shift to the bullpen, it won't exactly be an easy road for Baumann there. He's still on the outside looking in. There are a host of bullpen options ahead of him, including Joey Krehbiel, Andrew Politi, Keegan Akin, Nick Vespi, the aforementioned Wells and Voth, and perhaps even NRI's Eduard Bazardo and Darwinzon Hernandez.
So it's tough to predict whether or not this switch will be beneficial for Baumann's chances at making the opening day roster. Maybe it doesn't change anything. But it does give him some clarity on what to work on for the rest of the spring and in Triple A if he doesn't crack the big club. The saying is "you can't have enough pitching" and that rings true here.