The Orioles selected lefty pitcher T.J. McFarland in last week's Rule 5 draft. McFarland went a combined 16-8 with a 4.03 ERA last season at Double-A and Triple-A in the Cleveland Indians' farm system.
Ben Badler of Baseball America feels the Orioles made a good selection and he sees McFarland, a 2007 fourth-round pick out of an Illinois high school, as a player who could make the Orioles' opening day roster next April.
"I think that was a solid pickup. I think he has a pretty solid chance to stick (with the Orioles all year)," Badler said. "Often times in this draft, you take a gamble on a lower-level prospect with bigger tools or you take someone like McFarland, who has had success at the higher minor league levels.
"He's got great control and can really sink the ball. The Indians had him as a starter. I don't think he has the repertoire to have success as a starter at the big league level, but maybe they put him in the 'pen and he can stick there. I thought this was one of the better picks of this draft."
McFarland threw 163 innings last season, allowing 173 hits with 45 walks and 96 strikeouts. At Double-A, he went 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 10 starts and at Triple-A, he was 8-6 with a 4.82 ERA over 17 starts.
The Orioles saw McFarland pitch well against their affiliates this year. On Aug. 5, he threw eight shutout innings of three-hit ball with five strikeouts for Columbus against Norfolk. In three starts this season for Double-A Akron, he went 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA against the Bowie Baysox.
McFarland is 48-31 with a 3.83 ERA in 116 games, 107 starts in five minor league seasons in the Cleveland system.
Badler said he does not light up any radar guns.
"It's a lot of high 80s, but that is also as a starter," Badler said. "If you put him in the 'pen, maybe it goes up a bit. He is not going to blow the ball by anybody. In Triple-A, he was averaging a little under five strikeouts per nine innings. That won't get better as a starter in the big leagues, but in the 'pen the fastball could go up a few miles per hour. I think he could have more success out of the bullpen. He might not be a guy that would come in when you need a big strikeout, but he could come in and throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground.
"Take a guy like Tyler Clippard when he was with the Yankees. They always had him as a starter and he had some decent numbers. When they traded him to the Nationals and they put him in the bullpen, his stuff kind of jumped up a few ticks. Maybe that would happen with a guy like McFarland, too. It's not uncommon to see a guy's stuff get a little crisper when he has to go through just one inning or something like that in the 'pen."
The ability to get groundballs has been big for McFarland through his minor league career. Starting in 2008, his ground-to-air out ratio was 2.23, followed by 2.17 in 2009 and then 2.38 in 2010, 2.49 in 2011 and 1.86 at two levels last year.
"He pitches off his fastball, he moves it to both sides of the plate," Badler said. "He's got some deception, too. He doesn't miss a lot of bats, but he keeps the ball on the ground. There is heavy life on his ball with some tailing action and it's hard for hitters to get the ball in the air off him."