Will a 100 mph fastball get this pitcher on the 40-man roster?

When it comes to some of the best bullpens in baseball, they seem to be filled with flame-throwing pitchers that can throws fastballs in the high 90s and maybe even touch 100 mph. Of course, velocity is not everything, but it sure has some importance, and teams keep rolling out those throwing some serious heat in the middle to late innings.

As the Orioles decide which players to add to their 40-man roster this week, and thus protect those players from being taken in the December Rule 5 draft, they have an interesting decision to make.

It is on one of those flame-throwers. He's 26 and has never pitched in the majors. In fact, he has just 18 1/3 innings as high as the Triple-A level during a pro career that started in 2013. Heck, through the 2019 season, he had not pitched above low Single-A ball.

Orioles bags.jpgHe is right-hander Félix Bautista from the Dominican Republic. And he posted some pretty stellar numbers pitching at three levels on the O's farm this year. His fastball has touched 101 mph, his slider can get into the low 90s and he also features a changeup to make him a three-pitch guy.

Here are two other stats to know: Among all O's farm pitchers throwing 40 or more innings this year, he led the O's organization in both ERA and strikeout rate.

Bautista was originally signed out of the Dominican by the Marlins in November 2012. He pitched two seasons for them in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and then missed the 2015 season. That year, the Marlins released him. The Orioles signed him on Aug. 4, 2016 and he pitched two more years in the DSL and then in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2018 at 23. His career was not exactly zipping along.

Bautista is listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 lbs., but looks bigger. Throughout his career, he's had trouble throwing consistent strikes and repeating his delivery. He did finally lower his walk rate with a nice finish to his season at Triple-A Norfolk.

He began 2021 with high Single-A Aberdeen, going 0-2 with a 1.20 ERA over 11 games. He moved to Double-A Bowie in late June and went 0-1 with an ERA of 0.68 in 12 games. He ended the year going 1-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 17 games at Triple-A. Over 18 1/3 innings, he allowed 11 hits with nine walks to 25 strikeouts.

For the three O's teams combined this season, Bautista went 1-6 with a 1.54 ERA. Over 46 2/3 innings, he allowed just 20 hits and eight earned runs with two homers allowed. He walked 30 and fanned 77 with a WHIP of 1.071.

Soon we find out if he did enough to warrant a roster spot.

Bautista did walk 5.6 per nine with 11.8 strikeouts in 2019 when he pitched at low Single-A Delmarva and short-season Single-A Aberdeen. He went 2-3 with a 3.44 ERA. He can sometimes get under the ball too much with his mechanics and a lot of his misses in games I saw him pitch this year were up in the zone. But the strikeouts were plentiful

O's leaders in strikeout rate on the farm, minimum 40 innings:

14.85 - Bautista
14.07 - Grayson Rodriguez
13.01 - David Lebron
12.60 - Deivy Cruz
12.20 - Zach Peek

Rodriguez, baseball's No. 1 pitching prospect, had a strikeout percentage of 40.5 and Bautista was at 39.7. Rodriguez posted a Fielding Independent Pitching number of 2.67 and Bautista was at 2.91.

If the O's don't protect Bautista, would some team take a chance on a pitcher that throws 100 with that strikeout rate? I'm guessing yes, for the low-dollar price of a Rule 5 pick that could be sent back to his original team. If the O's do protect him and he can harness his control - a big if, indeed - they would have a flame-thrower with three years worth of options.

Here is my guess at players that get protected and added to the 40-man roster this week.

They're in: pitchers DL Hall and Kyle Bradish
Almost certainly in: pitcher Kevin Smith and infielder Terrin Vavra
I would do it, but will the club?: Robert Neustrom and Bautista

If there turn out to be only four or six protected from this group, that leaves a lot of players who no doubt will get strong consideration even if not added. That partial list would include Adam Hall, Patrick Dorrian, Brett Cumberland, Cadyn Grenier, Blaine Knight, Cody Sedlock, Ofelky Peralta and Brennan Hanifee, to name just a few.

There are pitchers they like that seem real longshots, like Lebron, Nick Vespi, Cameron Bishop, Logan Gillaspie, Diogenes Almengo and Tim Naughton.

As of today, the O's 40-man roster contains 32 players.

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