Catching up on a few recent moves

Mychal Givens smile white

A few thoughts today on some Orioles moves from over the last week or so.

The addition of Mychal Givens: I had written early in the offseason that I thought the Orioles should look to add to the bullpen. This came at a time when most of the focus was on a top starter and a big bat.

Eventually, it would be great to see the Orioles have a starting rotation like Houston's, which last year featured five pitchers throwing 148 innings or more. That led to the Astros' bullpen throwing the fewest innings in the American League while recording the No. 1 bullpen ERA. Keeping your relievers fresh and in their roles lends itself to a lot of good things happening with the ‘pen pitchers.

The addition of Givens gives the O’s another solid bullpen arm that lengthens their 'pen. The trade of Jorge López late last year that moved Félix Bautista to the ninth inning took away a setup reliever and thinned out the bullpen, which showed some wear and tear late in 2022.

While Bautista is nowhere near an established closer yet, he showed both the talent and makeup to handle the job and did it well, recording 15 saves while posting a 2.19 ERA. Now in the seventh and eighth innings the O’s will have some combination of Cionel Pérez, Dillon Tate, Givens and Bryan Baker. Joey Krehbiel could factor into that, too, as could others, including DL Hall if he doesn’t make the starting five.

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A few minor league O's that can fly under the radar

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Can a pitcher who has thrown for three of the last four seasons for the Aberdeen IronBirds - both when they were in the short-season New York Penn League and now in the full-season South Atlantic League - be considered a prospect?

OK, probably not, but he can be considered a player with a good arm that the Orioles like who clearly flies under the radar. Maybe well under it.

Right-hander Kade Strowd put together impressive stats this past season, when he was healthy and showed a fastball that can touch the high 90s with some solid secondaries. You won’t find him on anyone’s top 30 prospects list, but the scouts must have noticed the stuff and the stats this season with Single-A Aberdeen.

The Orioles selected Strowd, 25, in round 12 of the 2019 MLB Draft out of the University of West Virginia. The same school that produced their 11th round pick in the 2014 draft in lefty John Means. In three seasons with WVU as mostly a starting pitcher, Strowd went 10-16 with a 5.31 ERA.

In his first O’s season in 2019 after that draft, when Aberdeen was still a short-season club, he made his pro debut, throwing 17 innings for the IronBirds without allowing an earned run. He didn’t pitch in 2020. Nobody on the farm did, as the pandemic forced the cancellation of all minor league games. For whatever reason, Strowd took a step back in 2021, going 0-3 with an 8.05 ERA for Aberdeen.

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No. 1 on Baseball America's prospect list now, does Gunnar Henderson stay there?

Gunnar Henderson run black away

The Orioles' No. 1-ranked farm system currently features six players ranked in the Baseball America top 100 prospects list. That is a strong number. And if the O’s still have those six – and they likely should – when the publication releases a new top 100 list in January heading into 2023, that would be an Orioles first.

Since 1990, when Baseball America began releasing a top 100 list each January, the O’s have had as many as five players ranked, but never six.

Currently, they have the No. 1-rated player in Gunnar Henderson, in addition to Grayson Rodriguez (No. 4), Jackson Holliday (No. 38), DL Hall (No. 55), Colton Cowser (No. 88) and Jordan Westburg (No. 89).

Among the 33 lists Baseball America has released, only three times have the O’s had five rated, and it has happened each of the last two years and also in 2008.

In 2008, it was Matt Wieters (12), Chris Tillman (67), Radhames Liz (69), Troy Patton (78) and Nolan Reimold (91).

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A look at the Baseball America O's top 10 prospects list

Coby-Mayo

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has said the Orioles' current top 10 prospects list is about as good as any he’s ever seen. That is high praise since he was involved with Houston’s rise to the top of big league baseball and they had some pretty strong young talent there too.

Today I am taking a look at and providing a brief comment on each player on Baseball America's list of the Orioles' top 10 prospects.

These are all names that should be well-known to most Orioles fans by now. Three have already seen the majors.

The Orioles pulled off a rare feat last season when they had two different players ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America: catcher Adley Rutschman and later infielder Gunnar Henderson.

No. 1 – IF Gunnar Henderson: There is plenty to like here, and Henderson will likely begin next year as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect, as he is today. I mean, what is going to change between now and then? Henderson’s stay at the top, though, will end when he gets just 15 more big league at-bats and thus will no longer be “prospect-eligible,” as they say. However - and this will, no doubt, confuse some - he will still be eligible to win the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year Award.

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Discussing player development with the O's Matt Blood - part two

Matt-Blood

Recently here we discussed how the Orioles handle their minor league managers and some other topics with Orioles director of player development Matt Blood. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias hired Blood in September 2019.

On Blood's watch the Orioles have become the No. 1 farm system in baseball. He would be the first to say he is one cog in the system. But I would add he is a very important one, and some of his hires have been a big part of that ranking.

Here are some questions from me and answers from Blood on some other topics within player development for the Orioles.

Q: What are some things the Orioles have now been built up that make your pitching development and pitching program good?

A: “I would say we have a combination of talented players, very smart and hard-working coaches and really good resources from our research and development department. The coaches are provided with information as good as you can get anywhere. And they are really skilled at providing that information effectively to the players.”

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Holiday edition: A few questions for O's fans

Grayson

Whether you are having a festive day or not, or are starting to get in the Christmas spirit or not, there is always time to talk baseball and about the Orioles.

Today, as usual, you provide answers to any or all of the questions. Some of the most fun reading can be checking out reader responses to each other, so make time for that too.

Questions coming, Egg Nog not required.

Today's questions:

* How many starts will righty Grayson Rodriguez make this season, and how many innings can he throw after last year?

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Baseball America's JJ Cooper on the Orioles' Rule 5 draft selection

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A streak stayed alive recently. The Orioles have made a selection in every Rule 5 draft that was held since 2006. This time they selected right-handed reliever Andrew Politi from the Boston Red Sox. 

Now Politi, coming off a good 2022 season when he spent time at both Double-A and Triple-A, will try to first make the O’s Opening Day roster and then stick with the club all season next year, per the Rule 5 rules. A 15th-round draft pick out of Seton Hall in 2018, Politi pitched in 50 games last year, going 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA.

Over 69 1/3 innings he allowed 45 hits and just six homers, recording 22 walks to 83 strikeouts. He posted a 2.9 walk rate and 10.8 strikeout rate with a .186 batting average against and 0.97 WHIP. Some strong stats that included a 28.3 strikeout percentage in his time at Triple-A.

I recently talked with Baseball America’s editor-in-chief, JJ Cooper about this O's addition. Few know the Rule 5 draft or cover it better than Cooper. He sees this pick as a different type of Rule 5 selection for the O's. Not a pitcher that a losing team might select for future help but a major league-ready pickup that a team chasing the playoffs might take a look at.

“The Orioles were looking for a player that could fit into their 2023 bullpen, and if I were looking for a player in this year’s Rule 5 draft, Politi is one of the ones that most stands out for that," said Cooper. "He had success last year. He had upper-level success, he spent most of the year at Triple-A. It’s not a high-upside play. He’s got solid stuff. A mid-90’s fastball that plays well with a hard slider.

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Discussing player development with the O's Matt Blood - part one

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Matt Blood just completed his third season as the Orioles' director of player development, and the minor league system he oversees is now ranked No. 1 in the majors by a few outlets.

Blood's first season included having to deal with a pandemic that caused the cancellation of all minor league baseball in 2020.

He came to the Orioles from the Texas Rangers, where he held a similar position. He previously spent three years as the director of USA Baseball’s 18 and Under National Team program and seven years before that as an area scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. With that club he worked with both Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. Now they are all together in Baltimore.

“Matt has an unrivaled network when it comes to identifying up-and-coming coaching talent, and his knowledge of the latest trends in the player development sphere will help to keep us on the forefront of this critical area,” Elias said when he hired Blood in September 2019.

I've interviewed Blood many times since he joined the Orioles, talking mostly about players on the farm. But recently we talked more about process and how the O's player development department works closely with the minor league managers.

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After big 2022 season on farm, the majors await Jordan Westburg

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When we talk about some of the Orioles' best prospects, it seems we often mention a few players before we get to him. But it was infielder Jordan Westburg who last season took home the biggest honor for the O’s on the farm.

He was named the Brooks Robinson Award winner as the club’s Minor League Player of the Year. Gunnar Henderson might be Baseball America’s No. 1-ranked prospect in its top 100, but Westburg got that huge honor from the Orioles in late September.

He absolutely filled up the stat sheet during a 2022 season when he played 47 games at Double-A Bowie and 91 at Triple-A Norfolk. And while he posted a strong .817 OPS with the Baysox, that number got better when he moved up. His OPS was .869 for the Tides of the International League.

Between the two clubs he batted .265/.355/.496/.851 with 39 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 96 runs scored, 106 RBIs, 70 walks and 12 stolen bases in 138 games.

He led all O's minor league players in doubles, extra-base hits (69), total bases (270) and RBIs. He also finished second in the organization in hits and home runs. After being promoted to the Tides on June 6, he led the league with 74 RBIs and tied for the league lead with 25 doubles, while also ranking second in the IL with 46 extra-base hits, 184 total bases and 64 runs scored through the end of the season.

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The free agent pitcher market continues to dwindle

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It’s not even Christmas and the shelves are not nearly as stocked as they were not long ago. And no, we are not talking about a run on a popular kid’s toy, but free agent starting pitchers.

They went fast. Of the top nine pitchers, as ranked among the top 50 free agents by MLBTradeRumors.com, just one remains. And that is one of the biggest fish in lefty Carlos Rodón, rated as the No. 6 overall free agent, but tops among the pitchers.

Where does that leave the Orioles? Well, with a much smaller pool of decent hurlers to pick from and try to sign. Barring a shocker with Rodón. 

Righty Noah Syndergaard is still out there for now. Over a seven-year career he has gone 57-41 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.176 WHIP. That is a 116 ERA+.

After rejecting the Mets' qualifying offer after the 2021 season, Syndergaard signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels for $21 million. But then they traded him to Philadelphia on Aug. 2 at the trade deadline.

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When is the right time to trade prospects?

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There is a segment of Birdland that seems to get uncomfortable when the conversation turns to the possibility of the Orioles trading some of their prospects. No doubt there are good reasons for those feelings some fans may have on this topic.

For one they get attached to players, even players on the farm they have heard about even if they have yet to see them play in the majors. For two they are worried the organization may be trading away a future star. This is a valid concern when dealing any prospect and no doubt the front office doing the trading for any organization has some of the same concerns and feelings. 

Yet they can’t be afraid to act, and prospects may have more value in the sport now than they have at any time. Young talent is coveted and a team with a fertile farm like the Orioles attracts attention. Many teams will have interest in their minor league players.

There are those in Birdland that want the Orioles to “see what they have” in such players before trading them. The only issue here is that a prospect on the rise, but not yet in the majors, can keep building value as they get closer to the majors. But if they get to MLB and don’t perform to expectations it doesn’t take long to lose some of that value. Before their MLB debut they are that shiny new toy and after, if they don’t look good initially, it’s on to the next for some.

Birdland knows all too well about a player losing value and, in this case, I will discuss a player with just one MLB at-bat. No, it’s not Moonlight Graham, but it is Cuban-born outfielder Yusniel Diaz. He was the center piece of the five-player package the Los Angeles Dodgers traded to Baltimore to get Manny Machado on July 18, 2018.

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As O's may be searching for more bats, where does Kyle Stowers fit in?

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The Orioles have added some left-handed batters on minor league deals in recent days. But the search for a quality lefty bat to place somewhere in the lineup may well still be ongoing.

But is a potent lefty bat already on the roster looking for more playing time? And is Kyle Stowers that bat?

Yes, to the first question and I think yes to the second also.

O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias talked at the Winter Meetings about being careful not to make acquisitions that block prospects. Stowers already is partially blocked on the roster with Austin Hays in left, Cedric Mullins in center and Anthony Santander in right. Colton Cowser is another outfield prospect charging toward Baltimore. The DH spot is open, but he might already be a bit squeezed in outfield at-bats.

But Stowers, who hit one of the most dramatic homers of the 2022 season, has big-time power, cut down on his strikeouts on the farm last year and features a decent glove with a plus arm. He’s big and strong, was the O’s co-Minor League Player of the Year with Adley Rutschman in 2021 and will turn 25 on Jan. 2.

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Looking at scout's winter work, a note on the bullpen, pitching market and more

Tyler Wells pitching gray

In this space in the last week we took a look at what the winter might look like for an Orioles area scout. There are few, if any, games to scout this time of year and individual players are mostly focusing on their individual workouts.

So this is a time of year, Orioles director of draft operations Brad Ciolek told me, that his scouts do a lot of work on player makeup. That is, learning about the guy inside the uniform. How is his work ethic and attitude toward the game? Is he considered coachable? Will he be a good teammate?

The Orioles try to leave few stones unturned here in scouting. And while they have become an organization heavily reliant on data and analytics and one the produces its own draft models, the human element is still vital.

“We do a lot of Zoom calls,” Ciolek told me. “If there is one silver lining from the pandemic, it is the ability to connect with anyone across the country, or the globe, for that matter. So, we do take full advantage of the opportunity to get on Zoom calls with these guys. Talk to them and see how things are going before we talk to them next spring.”

I asked Ciolek if most of those Zoom calls take place between players and area scouts. Or do members higher up in the O’s front office take part?

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The arrival of Grayson Rodriguez should be a real 2023 highlight

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While we await further news about any additions the Orioles might make for their starting rotation, we can also take a minute to let this news sink in: It is news we’ve known for a while, but baseball’s top pitching prospect in right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is set to make his major league debut in 2023.

He very likely could break north with the Orioles for Opening Day after a strong but injury-interrupted season. It’s Grayson time for the pitcher who turned 23 last month, a month when he was added to the 40-man roster for the first time.

It was on June 1 last season, while pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, that Rodriguez seemed poised to make his big league debut. It could be coming at any time, we thought then. But it was then that he walked off the mound in the sixth inning with what we would later learn was a Grade 2 right lat strain.

The injury would rob him of about three months of his season, but at least he made it back healthy to pitch on the farm in September, and now he has Baltimore in his sights after the 40-man ascension.

“Obviously, it’s an honor to get put on anybody’s 40-man, especially ours,” Rodriguez said last month. “So, pretty excited, pretty pumped up for it. Can’t wait for spring training. And really just looking forward to what this year has in store. Just getting back out there and throwing the baseball.”

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A closer look at Kyle Gibson's late-season strikeout surge

Kyle Gibson throw white Phillies

We’ll see how newly signed Baltimore right-hander Kyle Gibson does on the field for the Orioles. The club hopes he’ll provide some quality while on the mound and some leadership while off it. But after his first Zoom press conference with local media, it's clear his interview game is very strong.

And I don’t mean that he is boastful or cocky in any way whatsoever. Quite the opposite was true during his Zoom call Thursday. He was modest and respectful of his previous teams and even to reporters, to the point it seemed he wanted to start to learn our names and get to know some people he will be seeing a lot of during the 2023 season.

But Gibson was impressive.

He said during his talks with the Orioles that he “meshed well” with pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes. Pretty apparent he is well versed in the data and analytics in the game now. He is all in there, and so joining a team that feels the same way was something he liked about the club.

He was very high on the Orioles' play in 2022 and talked about joining a good, young team on the rise. He even said that he liked pitching at Camden Yards and playing in Baltimore while on other clubs. He loves Little Italy too.

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A look at the remaining pitching market, plus other notes

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In case you missed it, Aaron Judge re-signed with the Yankees. It got pretty extensive coverage. And yes, most of the non-Yankees fans in the game are ready to move on to something else now.

As it relates to the Orioles, they added right-handed pitcher Kyle Gibson in recent days, but their search for a pitcher they can slot toward the top of their rotation is ongoing. Their choices are lessening.

The biggest pitching fish, or one of the three when free agency began, lefty Carlos Rodón is still out there. It would be a surprise if he ends up with the Orioles, but what a surprise it would be. Other pitchers that might have been in play for the Orioles have come off the board.

Right-hander Taijuan Walker signed with the Phillies for four years at $72 million. Right-hander Jameson Taillon joined the Cubs for four years at $68 million. José Quintana is joining the Mets and Andrew Heaney is headed to Texas.

The team that signs Rodón will lose a draft pick, as he rejected a qualifying offer. Same applies to Chris Bassitt and Nathan Eovaldi. Kodai Senga, with no draft pick attached, could be signing soon, per reports, while lefty Sean Manaea and righty Noah Syndergaard are still out there.

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Draft notes, plus a look at the bullpen and Boras' comments on Baltimore

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They had the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1989, 2019 and 2022 but the Orioles will not have that pick next summer in the MLB Draft.

The first six picks were determined for next year's draft in last night's draft lottery at the Winter Meetings. The Orioles had a very small chance at the No. 1 pick or to be among the top six, but they didn't land there.

They will hold the No. 17 pick in round one of the next MLB Draft. The last time they picked that far down the board or lower, they selected lefty DL Hall No. 21 overall in 2017.

In the last four drafts, the Orioles selected first, second, fifth and first. 

Pittsburgh was the big winner and has the No. 1 overall pick next summer with Washington to pick No. 2 and Detroit No. 3.

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Notes on expensive pitching, Hyde honored, Taillon talk and Elias' comments

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Yes, free agent pitching is expensive. Very expensive.

For Jacob deGrom, a pitcher that has made just 26 combined starts the last two years, a $185 million dollar deal with Texas that averages $37 million a year over the next five years. For Justin Verlander, a pitcher that will turn 40 in February, a contract that will average $43.3 million over the next two years from the New York Mets.

Both can be among the most dominant pitchers in the sport. deGrom has a 2.23 ERA since 2019. Last year, Verlander posted a 1.75 ERA over 175 innings. Wow, what a season.

Of the two deals, I think the Mets have more of a chance to get good value of their two-year deal than the Texas Rangers do for five years of deGrom.

But consider how coveted pitching is right now. So much so that top pitchers are getting $37 million per year. Contrast that with the American League MVP Aaron Judge and the fact that just two teams – the Yankees and Giants – seem serious about signing him. And he can play every day and not just once every five days. At least yesterday, finally, there were rumblings of a so-called mystery team or teams involved for Judge.

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As Winter Meetings start, more on Gibson agreement and a take on deGrom deal

Kyle Gibson throw white Phillies

As the MLB Winter Meetings begin a three-day run today in San Diego, the Orioles continue their search for starting pitching. The weekend agreement with right-hander Kyle Gibson is expected to be a starting point but not the end point. They are not done.

Now we await the next rumor and/or dispatch from San Diego that could give us a clue which free agent pitchers the Orioles are truly “in on” and how high they may be aiming in bolstering their starting rotation.

Is it possible that Gibson will not make the Orioles rotation and will pitch out of their bullpen? I would say yes possible, but it seems unlikely. Just as now former Oriole Jordan Lyles was for Baltimore, Gibson is an innings eater and 98 percent of his career MLB appearances have come as a starter. He has thrown 150 or more innings seven times and 180 or more three times. His career-best is 196 2/3 in 2018.

Gibson went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA last year for the Phillies and actually pitched better at home despite pitching in such a hitter-friendly park. His ERA was 4.57 at home and 5.79 on the road in 2022.

If Gibson is essentially a replacement for Lyles, he could also be, as Lyles was, a clubhouse leader. He was said to be that for the Phillies last season and was the team’s nominee for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award. Gibson was involved with several charities in the Philly area, raising $108,000 thousand dollars during his time with the club.

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In winter, scout focus shifts to important off-the-field aspects

Mike Elias OPACY suit

Even though they have become an organization that now has an up-to-date analytics department that has made extensive use of technology and data as they improved to become an 83-win club on the major league level, the Orioles insist the human element is very important to them as well.

They believe that the scout with eyes on the players in the ballparks has a lot to offer. Beyond data that can tell us about a player's strength, his throwing arm or his bat speed, scouts need to dig deeper than that, much deeper.

They call it “makeup.” What is the player’s makeup? How will he handle pressure? Will he continue to work hard after he makes the majors? Will he work well with his coaches? Is he going to be a good teammate? So many questions and so many answers to try to find.

Getting to know the players inside those uniforms is vital.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias seems to have an appreciation for scouts, and maybe that is because he started with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007 as an area scout. This was not long after he graduated from Yale.

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