He was not a high draft pick, but maybe Double-A Bowie right-hander Justin Armbruester, their Opening Day starter, was the perfect pick for the Orioles organization and its pitching development program.
He entered an organization that under the Mike Elias front office has become heavily data and technology driven. In Armbruester, they added a cerebral pitcher who loves to soak up the data and analytics. He seems to want to use every advantage and resource available to him that he can get his hands on. Beyond the technology the Orioles provide him, he even keeps his own notebooks on opponent hitters and even makes notes on ballpark factors everywhere he goes.
Last year we started to see where a pitcher driven to get better, started to indeed do just that. Between High Single-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie, he went 6-2 with a 3.85 ERA over 117 innings. He walked 34, fanned 126, posted a 1.07 WHIP and opponent batters hit just .213 off him.
That was a solid year that landed him at the No. 20 spot on the latest Baseball America O’s top 30 prospects list. He is still sort of flying under the radar a bit, but less than he was. On Opening Night for Bowie at Hartford last Thursday, he threw five scoreless innings on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
Then no doubt he went back to work in his between starts bullpen sessions, using everything around him to try and keep getting better.
“The Orioles have every gadget we could ever want,” Armbruester told me during a spring training interview in Sarasota, Fla. at Twin Lakes Park. “They allow us to use it every day. It’s super helpful for me just to really take what I’ve always felt throwing the pitch because I am a big feel guy. The Edgertronic (high-speed) camera that they have gives me the ability to then take that feel and shows me what I’m actually doing. Because I can’t see my hand and what it does at release. But now I can look at the camera and have the ability to see, ‘OK, if I just move my hand this little bit, the pitch does this much more.’ It is super helpful to get that instant feedback.”
“I’m looking at all sorts of things," Armbruester said. "I’m looking at spin rate, spin direction, tilt. How much it is moving certain ways, how much vertical and horizontal break. All these different components that go into the formula. One little thing can turn it blue on a data point (showing it is an MLB grade pitch).”
Armbruester, 24, was selected by the Orioles in round 12 of the 2021 draft out of New Mexico. In the draft the Orioles seem to be looking for something specific in each pitcher they take, and they may not tell us what that is exactly, but they can have very specific reasons for taking certain pitchers.
With this guy it may have been his thirst to take the data and tech and turn into a better pitcher.
He told me in a March interview that he both sharpened up some pitches this winter and basically added a new one.
“I continued to work on the cutter that I developed right as I made the transition from Aberdeen to Bowie last year. Then also implemented a curveball. Needed something that kind of helps me play to a lefty. I put a lot of work into it and hopefully it plays well this season,” he said.
Armbruester can sit 93, 94 mph with his fastball touching 95-97. Baseball America provided him 55 grades for his fastball, cutter and control and graded his slider plus at 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Armbruester really seem to click with his pitching coaches last year – Forrest Herrmann in Aberdeen and Josh Conway in Bowie. They worked hard with him on what they call attack plans and he learned how to work on developing a solid pitch mix. He is reunited with Herrmann this season in Bowie.
“It was a huge development process for me last season,” he said. “They sit us down and say ‘Here is what you do real well. Here is what you don’t do so well, but here is also where you can improve.’ They also tell us about times where we may overuse a pitch, so if you use this pitch less it could actually become more effective because the hitters now see it less. It may actually work out better. The process we go through is really intense, but I like that. I try to learn as much as I can.”
And that extends to the notebook he keeps with his own notes and observations.
“I take notes on every hitter I’ve ever faced. I started that my senior year of college. Started to take notes on what their lineup is, what tendencies they have. And then look at the data we get before the game to see, OK, this guy doesn’t hit a certain pitch very well and this guy likes these certain locations.
“It is mostly notes on hitters but also about the atmosphere at the ballpark. Let’s say I’m starting on a Thursday, then on Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll watch the hitters and maybe pick one or two hitters out. But also look at the stadium. Where do the fans like to sit, where does the wind blow, where does the ball fly well or not fly well? Take in all aspects of the game and the park.”
The Orioles have a starting rotation at Triple-A Norfolk filled with pitchers on their 40-man roster. Behind them at Bowie is another talented group and Armbruester is among those leading the way there.
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