While the Baltimore Orioles haven’t had a particularly active off-season, there is still plenty to be excited about for the 2014 club. However, many of the Orioles’ young pitching prospects are about a year away from big-league-ready. Let’s take a look at the current statuses of this new wave, and perhaps more importantly, the future of the Orioles young pitching:
Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris:
The current front four rotation guys for the 2014 Orioles’ consists of guys who, at this point, have relatively unclear futures with Baltimore. While Tillman established himself in 2013 and is poised to lead the rotation for the next few years, guys like Chen,Norris and Gonzalez are pitchers with various flaws that could suggest a future in the bullpen. For Chen, working deep into games; for Norris it is getting out lefties; and for Gonzalez it is a question of durability. However, even with those flaws, all three should be able to hover around major league average in 2014 if they can stay healthy. In the future, the current rotation members will likely find their spots challenged by spring training 2015.
Enter the young guys:
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Opinions on when Kevin Gausman will be ready to consistently contribute at the major league level tend to be varied: some see Gausman as ready to step up as a front-of-the-rotation starter in 2014, some see Gausman as a work in
progress who needs more work on his slider before he’s ready to consistently contribute. Either way, he should be fully ready to give the Orioles quality innings at the top of the rotation by 2015 (most likely 2014). That, in itself, should merit optimism. However, if Gausman takes that big step forward this year as young elite right-handed pitching prospects on Baseball Prospectus’s 2013 top prospect list did (Shelby Miller (16), Chris Archer (29), Julio Teheran (52)), the Orioles postseason hopes would be boosted considerably. Either way, Kevin Gausman looks like a future stud at the top of the Orioles’ rotation.
Certainly nothing is guaranteed with a young pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, but Bundy is as safe a bet as any in making a full recovery due to his youth and impressive work ethic. If Bundy returns to the mound in late June at a low level affiliate and progresses to effectiveness at anywhere between AA Bowie and the MLB level, that should be seen as a definite victory for the Orioles. Maybe Bundy can provide the Orioles with a late-season boost, either in the rotation or out of the ‘pen. Even late season experience in the minors would set Bundy up as a front-runner for the 2015 rotation.
Since 2010, Rodriguez has been developing in the Orioles’ farm system, moving up a level each year as he has gained more velocity and sharper command. Now, Rodriguez looks about a year away from truly competing for an Orioles’ rotation spot; a split year between AA and AAA seems to be in the cards for Rodriguez in 2014 with the potential for a September call-up if the Orioles’ think he is ready to contribute. Either way, a year from now, Rodriguez will hopefully join Bundy and Gausman as a very serious rotation candidate with #3, or perhaps even #2 starter upside.
While Wright has, for the most part, been outshined by his fellow Oriole pitching prospects. . There is a lot to like about this big righty, who sports at least two above average pitches and mid-to-back-of-the-rotation potential. Wright could be one of the first guys to be called up should injury or ineffectiveness strike the Orioles’ 2014 rotation (or potentially bullpen). Wright does not have much left to prove at AA, and should he demonstrate the same level of success at AAA, there is a good chance he could contribute at the end of 2014 and compete for a rotation spot in 2015.
Berry put an exclamation point on a very solid 2013 in A+ Frederick with a successful season in the AFL – success that has earned him the Orioles’ #7 prospect rank (Baseball Prospectus), a feat made even more impressive considering Berry was a 50th round draft pick back in 2009. Berry, like Wright, is a guy with solid back of the rotation potential. While Berry currently has just an average fastball, it flashes good movement, Berry’s changeup and curveball have the potential to be solid-average pitches that could play well at the big league level. Should Berry have a solid 2014 at AA Bowie, don’t be surprised if he is in the mix for a spot with the O’s in 2015.
Davies is a command first guy who scouts compare to the Cincinnati Reds’ Mike Leake. Like Berry, Davies compensates for a fastball that does not show great velocity with very good off-speed stuff that could enable Davies to compete as a starter in the MLB. Davies will likely join Rodriguez and Berry at AA in the Bowie Baysox 2014 rotation. However, like Berry, Davies could be ready to compete for an MLB job as soon as spring of 2015. Orioles Nation interviewed Davies earlier this off-season.
Additionally, none of this even considers a potential Orioles’ signing of Bronson Arroyo/Ubaldo Jimenez/Ervin Santana, nor guys like T.J. McFarland, Zach Britton or Steve Johnson. Without even including these guys, the Orioles’ could have enviable pitching depth this year. Young, strong pitching depth wins championships, just ask the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. Of course, it is always important to remember how volatile prospects can be.