There are reasons to keep deflecting attention from the 2021 season and imagining how the Orioles could look further down the road. Because of the struggles that are surfacing again this summer and the promise of better times ahead with the farm system in much better shape.
Perhaps at a level that hasn’t been achieved since players with no reason to stay in the minors returned in bunches to Triple-A Rochester and waited their turns, forcing the front office into making trades in order to create space.
I’m old enough to remember.
Four of the top 10 prospects in the current system and seven of 17 are starting pitchers, as determined by MLBPipeline.com. Ineligible for the rankings are Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann, who comprise three-fifths of the Orioles’ rotation while John Means is on the injured list.
Zac Lowther already has made a couple of trips to Baltimore and received one start. He’s settled into Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation with Alexander Wells and recent addition Kevin Smith, who earned a promotion this week from Double-A Bowie.
They have something else in common besides the uniform. They’re left-handed, which brings me to this morning’s subject.
Maybe it’s more of a curiosity.
I highly doubt that this is going to happen, but the Orioles later this summer could have solid arguments for an exclusively left-handed rotation. There’s Means, of course, but also Akin, Zimmermann, Lowther, Wells and perhaps Smith if the Orioles are willing to bump him again.
They could decide to give DL Hall another full season in the minors, but yes, he’s also a southpaw and No. 4 prospect in the organization, with nothing done so far at Bowie to contradict it.
This kid is full-on legitimate. Unfortunately, he’s also hurt, with soreness behind his arm shutting him down.
The obstacles to such an oddity are numerous, including how right-hander Kremer could seize his latest opportunity rather than be, wait for it, left out of the mix.
Jorge López would have to be moved to the bullpen. Matt Harvey would have to be moved, as well, whether into a relief role or away from the club. Manager Brandon Hyde would have to resist turning Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells into a major league starter. Kyle Bradish, promoted from Bowie to Norfolk, would have to be held back until 2022.
Grayson Rodriguez, the No. 1 pitching prospect in Baseball America’s Top 100, just got to Bowie, where he started Tuesday night, and isn’t making that jump in 2021.
Finding safe assumptions on this club is a tricky endeavor, but Lowther seems assured of resurfacing this summer, however the Orioles make room for him. Whether as an injury replacement or via the changing of a pitcher’s role or professional address.
Right-handers routinely make most of the starts for the Orioles. Examples in recent years, just going back to the end of the playoff and winning-season droughts, include Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Asher Wojciechowski and David Hess among the top five in 2019, Bundy, Cashner, Alex Cobb, Hess and Yefry Ramirez in 2018, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jiménez and Chris Tillman in 2017, Gausman, Tillman, Jiménez, Yovani Gallardo and Bundy in 2016, Jimenez, Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Gausman in 2015, Tillman, Bud Norris, Gonzalez and Jiménez in the division-winning 2014 campaign, Tillman, Gonzalez, Jason Hammel and Scott Feldman in 2013 and Hammel, Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta in 2012.
You’ll also find the likes of Gabriel Ynoa, Jimmy Yacabonis, Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Jeremy Hellickson and Freddy García lurking just outside the top five during these years.
Left-handers Jamie Moyer, Sid Fernandez and Arthur Rhodes followed Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina for the most starts in 1994.
Never in Orioles history have four or more left-handers made the most starts in a season, as confirmed by STATS.
The only time that lefties occupied the top three spots in a season was 1974 with Ross Grimsley (39), Mike Cuellar (38) and Dave McNally (37).
Hall of Famer Jim Palmer made 26 - what a slacker - and Doyle Alexander 12 before the Orioles included him in the 10-player trade with the Yankees two years later.