As Brandon Bailey gets settled in the spring training clubhouse and begins the bonding process by meeting his new Orioles teammates, he’ll be able to find a familiar face and voice to offer comfort and the type of instruction that could lead to a spot in the 2020 rotation.
The Rule 5 pick knows and respects Chris Holt, the former Astros minor league pitching coordinator who’s been promoted by the Orioles from the same role to director of pitching.
“When I first spoke to him after the Rule 5 draft, that was one of the first points we spoke about,” Holt said earlier this week. “Obviously, we have some experience working together and there’s no real learning curve there. He knows that we have things that we need to work on, things that he’s already good with, and then we can kind of pick up right where he’s left off from his offseason and from where the relationship left off when we were both in Houston.”
The Orioles made Bailey the second-overall selection in the Rule 5 draft after he posted a 2.59 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .191 average-against in 76 1/3 innings this year as a starter.
“There’s a lot to like,” Holt said. “Obviously, he has a solid five-pitch mix. He’s constantly refining and working to improve every pitch that he has, so when it comes to the development side, it’s not usually me going to him. It’s usually us just being on the same page. And in certain cases me telling him like, ‘Hey, this is actually pretty good already. I don’t think you really need to overdo it on these one or two things right now.’
“He might have to work on a lot of things, and making the first things first a priority is really where we come in. So in terms of liking him, the pitchability, the pitch mix, the delivery he’s really worked on the last couple years to repeat his rhythm and his tempo, and you can see that work play out in his games. At least in the footage I’ve seen since I was no longer around him after ‘18.”
Holt can’t pick out a “best pitch” for Bailey. It’s more the body of work.
“He’s legitimately working for five best pitches,” Holt said.
“There’s a lot to learn about his four-seam fastball. He spins it well, and the velocity range plays just fine. The changeup is really, really effective versus both bat sides. He’s refining the slider. Working for a swing-and-miss slider, something he can consistently rely on has been a part of his work. I think he would tell you the same thing. Overall, it’s a solid pitch as is. I think getting the consistency is more what it’s about instead of trying to get a better one. And in terms of the curveball, I think he’s starting to reopen the usage of that. He’s got a really solid curveball.
“I like all of his pitches. I think that the degree to which he’s going to continue to refine those will be the point.”
No matter how many starters are acquired via trade or free agent signing by spring training, the Orioles will give Bailey a chance to earn a job in the rotation before slotting him into the bullpen if deemed worthy of keeping in the organization. They also have a second Rule 5 pick, right-hander Michael Rucker, to consider for the 26-man roster.
How will Bailey handle the pressure of trying to make the leap from Double-A to the majors?
There’s only one way to find out.
“Everybody who gets there at some point has to get challenged by the major league environment. I think that this guy has the tools, the makeup and the tools to navigate that just fine,” Holt said.
“In terms of having to come in and compete next year, he would argue that he would have liked that opportunity where he was previously and would have taken on that challenge had he been given the opportunity somewhere else. He just happens to be doing that with us, and I think he’s ready for it. No question about it.”