Digging into the rotation depth

While the Orioles are figuring out who’s going to replace Wei-Yin Chen in the rotation, they’re also measuring the starting depth in the organization.

It’s hard to project the rotation at Triple-A Norfolk without knowing the entire composition of the Orioles bullpen and whether they’ll go in-house with Chen’s replacement.

T.J. McFarland could start at Norfolk if he doesn’t break camp with the Orioles, who appear to have one spot open in the bullpen with Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, Brian Matusz, Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy penciled into it.

Chaz Roe is out of options. I’ll mark him down as the seventh reliever, though he’s far from a lock. This is being done for the sake of argument as I try to toss out a few possibilities for Norfolk’s rotation.

I’m putting Vance Worley in the Orioles rotation for the same reason. He’s out of options and signed for $2.6 million.

Tyler Wilson back gray.jpgMcFarland could be stretched out as a starter with the Tides and ride that shuttle as one of the few optionable pieces for the Orioles bullpen. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson also would start for Norfolk if they don’t break camp with the Orioles.

Left-handers Chris Jones and Chris Lee and right-hander Terry Doyle also should compete for spots, which could force Parker Bridwell, Joe Gunkel and Ariel Miranda to make return stops at Double-A Bowie.

Gunkel, 24, was 8-4 with a 2.59 ERA and 0.958 WHIP in 17 starts with the Baysox after being acquired from the Red Sox on June 3 for outfielder Alejandro De Aza. He’s earned a promotion to the International League, but there may not be a spot for him in April.

Lee, 23, could stay with Bowie after going 4-2 with a 3.08 ERA in seven starts. He registered a 3.07 ERA in 14 starts at Single-A Frederick before his promotion to the Eastern League.

Lee could move quickly, with one scout from outside the organization predicting that the left-hander will be in the Orioles rotation by the summer.

“He’s got a power arm,” the scout said. “He’s effectively wild and he flashes you a plus changeup. He will come fast when he improves his fastball command. He’s got upside.”

Lee came to the Orioles in a May 18 trade with Astros for two international bonus slots. His velocity increased from the low to mid-90s and he emerged as one of the better prospects in the organization. Baseball America ranked him eighth in December.

“I’d say a big part that played into it was my mechanics. Less erratic and more athletic going down the mound,” Lee said at last month’s minicamp.

“Alan Mills and Rick Petersen helped polish my delivery. It took a little time and after a while we finally got it. We saw what was working right and kept on moving forward from there.”

Lee-Throws-Bowie.jpgThe Orioles put Lee, who also credits Single-A Frederick pitching coach Kennie Steenstra for his improved mechanics and confidence, on the 40-man roster to protect him in the Rule 5 draft. They wanted him to attend the minicamp, though they wasn’t scheduled to throw a bullpen session.

“We saw some video of him, and talking to some of the guys that had him, he’s got a good arm,” said pitching coach Dave Wallace. “Someone said, ‘Oh, he’s real lean.’ I pointed to Ramon (Martinez) and said, ‘That guy’s pretty lean, too, and I had him when he was a kid.’ So right now, we’re OK. He’s got a good arm. Real loose, ball comes out.”

As for Lee’s jump in velocity, it helped that he no longer was piggybacking in his starts. The Astros limited his innings. The Orioles were more inclined to turn him loose.

“I’m not going to reflect on how somebody else did it,” said manager Buck Showalter. “Did you ask him why he thought he made the big jump? Obviously, it’s better coming from his mouth than mine. I know very firmly what happened.

“A lot of guys are like that, but mostly you see it in high school from the 10th grade to the 11th grade to the 12th grade. You don’t see it at - how old’s Chris now, 22 or 23? You usually don’t see it that late.”

Maybe we’ll actually see Lee at Camden Yards this summer. In the meantime, the Orioles will decide whether he’s back at Bowie or in Norfolk’s rotation.

“I’m really excited,” Lee said. “I’m ready to see what I have in store this year. I’m ready to move forward and my main goal is to make it to Baltimore.”

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