Whether Branden Kline becomes an integral part of the Orioles bullpen, or even an extra piece that can be tossed on the Triple-A shuttle, is going to be determined much later. No one can make a declaration in October. Don’t even attempt it.
There’s no way to construct the unit on such an early date in the offseason.
Not that it ever stops us from trying.
We don’t know whether Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro, all of them eligible for arbitration and due raises, are going to break camp with the team. We don’t truly know what kind of impression Kline made in his 34 appearances, though I’m certain that the failures created a level of frustration as the Orioles desperately sought dependable arms.
Anyone who could get three outs. Anyone who could do it without first blowing a lead.
Kline has potential. There’s no arguing that point. And his local status and comeback from Tommy John surgery and various setbacks made him a warm and fuzzy story.
Some adjustments are needed if Kline is going to become established in the majors.
A scout from outside the organization who’s watched Kline on multiple occasions noted how the right-hander has a “straight fastball” that hitters at the highest level can more easily time. There’s a lack of deception.
Also, the scout said Kline doesn’t take full advantage of his height, which is listed at 6 foot 3. The Frederick native and second-round pick in 2012 out of the University of Virginia tends to drift too far in front of his delivery with no downward angle.
Mechanical glitches that can be corrected.
The fastball touches the upper 90s and he can mix in an effective slider and changeup. And Kline didn’t give up a run in 8 1/3 innings in September while holding opponents to a .214 average.
That’s the good stuff. But there’s more to his mound story.
Kline gave up six hits last month. He walked six batters and hit one. There’s clearly work to be done.
I’m still a proponent of keeping Aaron Brooks in the bullpen as a long reliever and potential bulk guy if the Orioles choose to use an opener, which can’t be determined before spring training. No one needs to anoint a closer on a 100-loss team. Hunter Harvey is a high-leverage reliever for whatever inning.
What about Dillon Tate?
He’s also suited more for relief work, but he isn’t as advanced as Harvey.
I asked Triple-A Norfolk manager Gary Kendall for his opinion of Tate back in September. Keep in mind that Tate, who posted a 6.43 ERA and 1.286 WHIP in 21 innings with the Oroles, had been a starter before the transition to relief.
“Last year he was a starter at Bowie, and not that he pitched poorly, because he certainly didn’t, but going four and five innings I really felt just looking at his body of work, in the back of my mind I always thought if they moved him to the ‘pen that maybe his stuff might play a little better.” Kendall said.
“It was kind of interesting when they decided to do it. I saw this year, and that was in Norfolk and not really so much in big league camp, I saw his stuff play so much better. I thought his fastball played a tick up. His slider really improved, his command of the strike zone really improved.
“As far as the difference between being a starter and a reliever, I really think that he brings a little bit more stuff to the table pitching out of the bullpen. And I think he’s really progressed. (Pitching coach) Kennie Steenstra had him down in Bowie most of the year, and then he came to us in Norfolk and I was very impressed by how he commanded the ball - pitched up and down, in and out - and the quality of his slider. And I thought his fastball played just a tick up than it did as a starter. Because as a starter you can’t maintain 95, 94, 93 consistently. But it just seems like out of the bullpen he’s just a different guy.