When spring training begins this week, 25-year-old right-hander Michael Kelly enters camp as an Orioles newcomer that adds some pitching depth to the roster. He would like to end camp as someone that makes a strong enough first impression to get a shot at some point this year on the major league roster.
Kelly has yet to pitch in the majors. The Orioles signed him in December when he was a minor league free agent. But he got a major league contract and heads to camp as a member of the 40-man roster with three options available.
Drafted No. 48 overall in 2011 by the San Diego Padres, Kelly has gone 34-35 with a 4.96 ERA in six minor league seasons. The numbers were worse when he pitched in the more hitter-friendly Single-A California League and Triple-A Pacific Coast League. At Double-A San Antonio last year, he went an impressive 7-2 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 85 innings. But with El Paso in the PCL he was 3-2 with a 6.64 ERA an 1.74 WHIP over 42 innings.
“It was learning experience,” Kelly said of his strong Double-A performance followed by the struggles in the PCL. “There were a lot of things I took away from that and I learned a lot from it. I grew as a pitcher from it.”
After six seasons in the Padres organization, Kelly signed with the Orioles the day of the Rule 5 draft in December. He had other options, but signed with an O’s club that could use him this year at Triple-A Norfolk, in Baltimore or both.
A native of Boynton Beach, Fla., Kelly has been a longtime Orioles fan and now he will try to make the roster as a player.
“The opportunity that presents itself is the most interesting part,” he said. “Plus I’ve kind of always been an Orioles fan. I watched them growing up and that was a part of it. I have never been to Camden Yards, but I love Cal Ripken Jr. Growing up and watching him play drew me to the Orioles.”
Kelly didn’t know a single player on the team until meeting many of his new teammates recently at FanFest.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I can tell that everyone jells and they have great chemistry. It’s an awesome environment to be around.”
Ranked as San Diego’s No. 27 prospect after the 2011 season, Kelly throws a fastball that can reach the mid-90s along with a slider, curve and changeup.
He is probably a pretty extreme longshot to break north in late March in the Orioles rotation, even with three current openings. But he could be someone to watch as this season unfolds. He wouldn’t mind putting up some nice stats this spring to show his new coaches and teammates he will be someone that can help this season.
“I think we are all going into it (spring training) just competing,” Kelly said. “Competing against each other and competing against ourselves and just having fun with it.
“For me, it is about attacking the hitters. When I am going well, I have a lot of confidence and I am not scared to throw to anybody. It is about filling up the strike zone and going after guys.”
If Kelly is an in-house longshot for the rotation early this season, right-hander Miguel Castro may be the favorite among that group.
He certainly was impressive at times in 2017, going 3-3 with a 3.53 ERA over 66 1/3 innings in a role of multi-inning reliever. He had an ERA of 2.38 in early September before he appeared to tire in his final outings.
But during a FanFest interview, Castro said he doesn’t feel any pressure to make the starting five as spring training is about to begin.
“No, not really, no pressure,” he said through interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “After starting for quite some time (in the past), I’m really comfortable in that role. I will try to use that for the season.”
Among 88 career minor league appearances, Castro has made 35 starts. Now, as the 23-year-old right-hander tries to transition back to that role this spring, he’ll need to show he can get hitters out a second and third time through the batting order.
“I’m going to go out and compete,” Castro said. “I can make the necessary adjustments to be successful. I will give the best I can and whatever happens, happens.”