In recent years the Orioles have rushed their top pitching prospects, sometimes skipping them from AA to the majors. This list includes Garret Olson, Radhames Liz, Daniel Cabrera and maybe the most rushed of them all, Hayden Penn.
There has been a lot of talk about a promotion for Zach Britton, but looking at the Orioles and their history with top pitching prospects, rushing them hasn’t been the smartest idea. Out of the four players I listed in the first paragraph, not one is currently playing for the Orioles.
Daniel Cabrera registered all of 5 starts at the AA level before his promotion to the major leagues. He didn’t make a single AAA start, meaning he was basically promoted from the Delmarva Shorebirds, where he made 26 starts before his 5 at AA, to the majors. We all know how he turned out.
The Orioles continued their trend of skipping top prospects to the majors from AA when they promoted Hayden Penn to the majors after 23 AA starts. Penn immediately had trouble, walking more batters than he struck in a short 8 game stint.
The Orioles fail to realize that young pitchers need time at the AAA level. They took another top pitching prospect, Radhames Liz, and promoted him to the majors without any AAA time. Like the others, Liz struggled right away, forcing a demotion down to AAA to start the following season. The Orioles left him there for 15 starts, which still wasn’t enough, before promoting him back to the majors where, not surprisingly, he struggled again.
Starting to realize (maybe?) that young pitchers need time at the AAA level, the Orioles let Garrett Olson start 22 games there, but still gave him just 14 starts at the AA level. Olson struggled with the Orioles for 2 seasons before a trade to the Cubs for Felix Pie, and then traded to the Mariners shortly after that.
You’re probably thinking, What about Brian Matusz? What were the Orioles thinking skipping him right to the majors from AA? My simple answer to that is you have to decide on a case by case basis. Matusz was regarded as the most polished pitcher coming out of the draft, and I highly doubt he would’ve learned anything from AAA.
Beyond Matusz, the Orioles have started to take a more conservative approach with their pitching prospects. They allowed Chris Tillman 28 starts at AA and 18 at AAA before a 12 game stint in Baltimore. Tillman’s play made it seem like a promotion was inevitable, but his struggles in the majors proved he needed more time at AAA. This backs up my “Rays” theory. Every pitcher needs at least 30 games at AA and 30 games at AAA before time in the majors. Why is it called the “Rays” theory, you ask? If you check the Rays top prospect lists from the past 5 seasons, you will find very few pitching prospects that struggled in the majors like Cabrera, Liz, Penn and Olson.
Now, to get back to the subject of this article, Zach Britton. If you thought Britton should receive a promotion before reading this article, and still do, I don’t know what to say. I think it’s clear that no matter how good a pitcher is playing in the high minors, AAA time is necessary for most, unless you have a really, really special pitcher like a Brian Matusz or a Stephen Strasburg.
We can only hope that the Orioles make the right decision with Britton and allow him to finish the season at AAA. He spend half a season there next year, only then should he receive a full time job in the bigs.