The Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds will very likely have more starting pitchers than rotation spots when the season begins next month. The Orioles have to be excited about a group of seven young and talented pitchers that project to pitch in either a five- or six-man Shorebirds rotation.
The Orioles could use one or more pitchers in piggyback situations, when they pitch as part of the rotation yet follow another starter into the game somewhere in the middle innings.
The group of seven currently slated for Delmarva’s rotation include 2017 top draft pick left-hander DL Hall along with fellow 2017 picks Zac Lowther, Michael Baumann and Cameron Bishop. They would be joined by 2016 draft picks Matthias Dietz and Brenan Hanifee and 2015 selection Gray Fenter, who returned to pitch last year after Tommy John surgery. That’s an impressive array of young arms to take on hitters in the South Atlantic League.
Dietz, the club’s second-round pick (No. 69 overall) in 2016, has been a standout in minors camp at Twin Lakes Park. He went 3-10 with an ERA of 4.93 last season for Delmarva. But he has shown increased velocity and excellent fastball command so far in camp, looking like a very different pitcher from last season.
Hall, taken No. 21 in the first round last June, has been ranked as the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect by Baseball Prospectus and No. 5 by Baseball America, ESPN and MLBPipeline.com.
ESPN’s Keith Law has been particularly high on a few of the pitchers slated for Delmarva. He ranked Hall No. 5, Hanifee No. 6, Bishop No. 7, Lowther No. 15 and Baumann No. 17 on his list of the top O’s prospects.
A couple of injury updates: Right-hander Branden Kline, who has not pitched since the 2015 season, reported to Twin Lakes healthy and ready to pitch when the regular season starts. Kline’s long road back began with Tommy John surgery in October 2015 and included a couple of setbacks and follow-up procedures along the way.
But knock on wood now that the right-hander, who went 3-3 with a 3.66 ERA in eight Double-A Bowie starts in 2015, could return to Bowie in the bullpen next month. Reports from Twin Lakes Park indicate Kline has been healthy and throwing the ball well throughout camp.
Right-hander Christian Turnipseed may miss most or all of the 2018 season. He had labrum surgery in December. Last year, he went 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA in 13 innings at Single-A Frederick. He saved 17 games for Single-A Delmarva in 2016. A 28th-round draft pick in 2015, Turnipseed began his pro career with 33 2/3 scoreless innings. The streak began in short-season ball in 2015 and carried into early the next season with Delmarva.
Defense, defense: Orioles manager Buck Showalter has cited improving the club’s defense from 2017 as a priority this season. That has filtered down to the farm, O’s director of player development Brian Graham said.
“We are reemphasizing the importance of defense,” Graham said. “Defense is so darn important. I feel good about our hitting program and our pitching program. We have had an emphasis on fastball command and times to the plate. Those are the two things that really stand out right now with the pitchers. But it’s individual attention on defense. It’s about putting an importance on it.”
The Orioles have about 155 players in minors camp and more than half are pitchers. The minor league games begin March 14 with opening day set for Thursday, April 5 for some clubs and Friday, April 6 for others.