Can the Orioles bullpen provide more relief in 2020?

Will reliever Travis Lakins break camp with the Orioles in late March, be optioned to the minors, be designated for assignment, clear waivers and stay in the organization or disappear?

Those are the choices.

How you rank them in order is entirely up to you.

Lakins is on the 40-man roster after the Orioles claimed him off waivers Friday from the Cubs and designated utility player Stevie Wilkerson for assignment. He can be viewed now as bullpen depth and a pitcher with a shot at making the club out of spring training. Opinions may change later, with no assurances that he sticks.

Being a former prospect in the Red Sox organization adds a sprinkle of intrigue and he has a five-pitch mix, though the changeup and slider don’t get heavy usage. He’s more of a four-seamer, cut-fastball and curveball guy. Plenty for a reliever.

The four-seamer averaged 94 mph with the Red Sox, according to FanGraphs.com.

Lakins (pronounced LAY-kins) received a $320,000 signing bonus as a sixth-round pick coming out of Ohio State University. Injuries led to the Red Sox moving him into a relief role in 2018.

Bleier-Deals-White-sidebar.jpgThe Orioles are expected to carry eight relievers, with off-days allowing for various adjustments. I’d categorize Hunter Harvey, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Shawn Armstrong and left-handers Richard Bleier and Paul Fry as solid assumptions to make the club.

Having two Rule 5 picks on the roster creates the possibility of one being stashed in the bullpen. Brandon Bailey will try to earn a spot in the rotation, the odds severely reduced if left-hander Wade LeBlanc breaks camp with the team and the Orioles sign another veteran, as expected.

Michael Rucker, the other Rule 5, also is lurking.

Dillon Tate appeared in 16 games with the Orioles last season and certainly has a chance to rejoin the bullpen with a good showing in camp.

Left-hander Tanner Scott was expected to make the team last spring and failed, allowing rookie John Means to head north and eventually crack the rotation. Back surgery limited Cody Carroll to two appearances with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team prior to his assignment to the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. He shouldn’t be ignored.

The 40-man roster also includes Cole Sulser, my dark horse pick, who made seven relief appearances for the Rays in September and didn’t allow a run. He’s averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in six minor league seasons.

Evan Phillips, also on the 40-man, allowed one run and struck out 11 batters in 8 2/3 innings over seven appearances in September. He could head north with a similar showing.

The camp invites include left-handers Hunter Cervenka and Rob Zastryzny, who will apply more pressure to Scott.

We also must consider how the Orioles could move a failed starting candidate to the bullpen for long relief or a swing-man role. Maybe a bulk guy if they end up using an opener, which they’d like to avoid.

The Orioles need a better bullpen in 2020, knowing again that they’re lacking starters with track records who can be counted on to pitch deep in games. Leads will be precious. Too many were mishandled last season.

A 5.63 bullpen ERA ranked 15th in the American League, but what happens with a full season from Harvey and perhaps Tate? With Bleier further removed from his lat surgery and free of the shoulder soreness that hindered him? With Givens perhaps able to work more regularly in the seventh and eighth innings?

Maybe there’s going to be enough improvement for manager Brandon Hyde to have more confidence in walking out to the mound and motioning to the ‘pen.

“I do believe that,” Givens said, “just because some guys got their feet wet last year and got to have some type of experience. I don’t think they’ll have as many butterflies now.

“I think they’ll work on what they needed to do from last year and now they’re going to have a good year and, hopefully, the bullpen will be a strong key to the team like it always has been in the past.”

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