There was once an Orioles right-handed pitcher that was a pretty decent prospect and a top 100 draft pick. But he struggled badly in his first three seasons in the majors and fans lost confidence in him.
Mike Wright? Right?
Well yes, but before him there was Chris Tillman. From 2009-11 - Tillman’s first three big league seasons - he went 7-15 with an ERA of 5.58. He allowed 205 hits in 180 2/3 innings.
In Mike Wright’s first three big league seasons, he has gone 6-9 with a 5.86 ERA allowing 159 hits over 144 1/3 innings.
A second-round pick (No. 49 overall) in 2006, in his career in the minors, Tillman went 51-49 with a 3.94 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. A third-round pick in 2011 (No. 94 overall), Wright has gone 47-33 with an ERA of 3.73 and WHIP of 1.27 on the farm.
Tillman was the higher ranked prospect. At the end of the 2008 year, he was the Orioles’ No. 2 prospect and No. 22 in Baseball America’s national top 100. But then he had three shaky seasons to start his big league career through 36 games, all starts. We didn’t know then, but the pitcher with the career ERA of 5.58 to that point would soon turn a corner and become a pitcher that would go on to make three straight opening day starts for the Orioles from 2014-16.
Wright has never been a top 100 prospect, but has been ranked by Baseball America among the O’s top 11 prospects five times. He moved to as high as No. 8 following the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.
After his early career struggles, Tillman pitched well for most of the 2012 through 2016 seasons for Baltimore. Over that five-year stretch, he went 65-33 with a 3.81 ERA. The Orioles had a winning percentage of .643 (92-51) in Tillman starts. That greatly exceeded the team’s overall win percentage of .548 in that span that ranked fourth-best in the majors. A team with a .643 winning percentage for a full year would have 104 victories. This was indeed a very solid five-season track record.
So what is the point here, that because Tillman turned it around so will Wright? That fans should give Wright more chances because Tillman went from hyped prospect not living up to expectations to opening day starter?
Well, I guess that is kind of the point. No one is projecting or even hinting that Wright is headed for such a turnaround. I don’t envision him as a future opening day starter for this club.
But he’s out of options and the Orioles need him to take a big step forward and do it now. He got his spring training pitching off to a solid start Friday in the exhibition opener when he broke out a cutter to help him with poor career numbers versus lefty batters.
Wright still wants to be a key member of the rotation as Tillman would become after three years of poor pitching. But he also could impact the Orioles in the bullpen. Wright showed some flashes of solid pitching out of the ‘pen last year, but also dealt with some shoulder issues.
While his doubters are vast, Wright can turn it around. There is a precedent in the sport of a pitcher struggling for a full three seasons and then becoming one of his club’s best starters over his next five seasons. Wright can find such a pitcher in his own clubhouse.