Can O’s use “secret sauce” to get more strikeouts from farm pitchers?

LAS VEGAS - If new O’s general manager Mike Elias can get Orioles minor league clubs to play as well as the minor league clubs of the Houston Astros system played in 2018, then fans of O’s affiliates might be quite pleased.

And the Orioles may be developing some talented young pitchers.

Houston’s Triple-A Fresno team finished in first place in 2018, going 82-57. The team ERA ranked sixth in the Pacific Coast League at 4.27 and Fresno pitchers led that league in strikeouts. Double-A Corpus Christi was in first place at 82-56, led the league with an ERA of 3.44 and was first in strikeouts.

High Single-A Buies Creek was in second place in the Carolina League at 80-57, led the league with a team ERA of 3.07 and was first in strikeouts. Low Single-A Quad Cities was in first place at 81-59, paced the league with a 2.86 ERA and was first in strikeouts.

That is three first-place teams, and four teams that led their respective leagues in team strikeouts, in some cases by big margins.

Can the Orioles replicate that pitching success with Elias and company?

“We’re very much hoping to replicate even a semblance of that success here,” Elias said during his media session Wednesday. “And the fact we have Sig (Mejdal) here and we have Chris Holt here now, who was our assistant pitching coordinator in Houston, makes me feel really good about our chances of doing so. But there is a little bit of a secret sauce behind that, and I’m not going to explain it fully here. But we had a great program there. We took a lot of time developing it, and we really want to get that in place here as well.”

Were all those strikeouts more about developing pitchers or drafting good ones?

“It’s a combination of both, and I think it is the end result of achieving synergy between those two departments,” Elias said. “And with your (research and development) department and really pulling all that stuff together. It took a lot of work. It wasn’t an overnight thing. But I think the results were pretty special, and it’s because we did such a good job of getting all those functions on the same wave length.”

The Rule 5 draft is today: The Rule 5 draft takes place this morning at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. It’s the last event of the Winter Meetings.

The order of the draft is the same as for the First-Year Player Draft in June. The Orioles have the first pick today. With two open spots on their 40-man roster, they could make two selections.

Rickard-Slide-Gray@TB-sidebar.jpgIn 2015 there were 16 players taken in the Major League phase of the Rule 5, and the Orioles selected outfielder Joey Rickard. A year later there were 18 picks, and the Orioles took outfielders Aneury Tavárez and Anthony Santander. In 2018 there were 18 players taken, and the Orioles drafted three of them. They selected pitchers Nestor Cortes Jr., Jose Mesa Jr. and Pedro Araujo. Only Araujo remains in the organization.

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper produced this excellent preview of today’s draft. The first three players listed on his board that the Orioles could select are right-handed pitcher Sam McWilliams, now with Tampa Bay, right-handed pitcher Riley Ferrell with Houston and shortstop Richie Martin with Oakland. Even though he lists two pitchers first, Cooper tweeted yesterday that he thought the Orioles were leaning toward taking a position player with the No. 1 pick.

Late last night, Cooper said he felt the Orioles would take Martin with that pick.

The 23-year-old Martin hit .300/.368/.439 last season at Double-A with 68 runs and 25 steals, but he’s not going to provide much pop with 15 career homers. He’s currently ranked as Oakland’s No. 12 prospect by He was ranked by Baseball America as the A’s No. 5 at the end of 2015, No. 9 at the end of 2016 and No. 23 after 2017.

He’s considered a good defender with a strong arm, rates his arm tool at 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale and he’s a 60 defender. Drafted in round one (No. 20 overall) out of the University of Florida in 2015, Martin signed with the A’s for $1.95 million.

Often, what turns out to be a good Rule 5 pick was not a player taken No. 1 in this draft.

“Generally, that has not been the case,” Cooper said earlier this week. “If you look at the great Rule 5 picks, Josh Hamilton was a great selection and not the No. 1 pick. Johan Santana, not the No. 1 pick. The guys that have been the home runs of the Rule 5 have usually not been taken at No. 1.”

Orioles fans were sometimes frustrated that an O’s team bent on contending took a Rule 5 pick every year in recent memory, but the rebuilding Orioles certainly should make a selection this year. Especially when they have the top pick.

“Absolutely,” Cooper said. “But I’ve always said: Don’t draft a Rule 5 player with the thought that you will keep him that year and then send him back to the minors the next year. That usually doesn’t work. But you can find guys that can help out and be productive role players. And again, when you are talking about a team with a lot of needs, that can fill a need here and there.”

Elias said yesterday the Orioles will use their No. 1 pick. With a current total of 38 on their 40-man roster, they could make a second Rule 5 pick. Elias said the team would consider doing so if a player on their list is still available.

Here is a partial list of Orioles who are Rule 5-eligible today:

Cristian Alvarado
Martin Cervenka
Tanner Chleborad
Pat Connaughton
Drew Dosch
Gray Fenter
Jay Flaa
Wilson Garcia
Brian Gonzalez
Luis Gonzalez
Corban Joseph
Chris Lee
Lucas Long
Reid Love
Kirvin Moesquit
Ofelky Peralta
Jomar Reyes
Ademar Rifaela
Nick Vespi
Mike Yastrzemski

Cooper has on his list of players who could be chosen in today’s draft two names from the above list of Orioles. They are lefty pitcher D.J. Snelten and right-handed pitcher Diogenes Almengo. Snelton was claimed on waivers by the Orioles from San Francisco in June. For Triple-A Norfolk, he went 2-2 with a 5.52 ERA in 22 games. Almengo, who can touch the high 90s with his fastball, went 1-4 with a 3.86 ERA between short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva.

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