A look at pitchers that could be part of next wave of rebuild

As the Orioles look to put together a starting rotation for 2020, one question will be how soon will some of their homegrown prospects get their chance at the starting five.

When will some of the up and coming pitching prospects - homegrown or not - get their shot?

Based on how executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and his staff ran the minors and promoted players in 2019, it is probably likely that they won’t often have prospects skip levels or more as fast through the system as some fans might like.

Rushing pitchers seems to not be part of any current plan and unless you have that rare young stud that can do it, why make such a move? Not with a rebuilding team. Perhaps the days of a young talent like Kevin Gausman going back and forth constantly between the minors and majors are over.

Akin-Throws-Orange-Bowie-Sidebar.jpgIn 2019, just three of the 13 pitchers in the latest Baseball America Orioles’ top 30 rated prospects even reached the Triple-A level. Lefty Keegan Akin was rated No. 11 at mid-year by Baseball America and is No. 11 on MLBPipeline.com. Lefty Bruce Zimmermann, a Baltimore native, is rated No. 17 by Baseball America but is not ranked by MLBPipeline.com. Righty Dean Kremer, who has pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, is No. 9 on Baseball America and No. 8 by MLBPipeline.com.

Akin was at Triple-A Norfolk all year last season and, in terms of experience at that level, is the closest to the majors. He went 6-7 with a 4.73 ERA. That ERA ranked sixth in the league among qualifying pitchers which tells us that not only was offense up in that league in using the major league ball, but there were not many qualifying pitchers in the International League. Akin didn’t set the world on fire but you have to figure he’s going to get a crack at some point during the 2020 season. Barring him lighting it up in spring training, he’ll probably need to go back to the Tides to start the year and either pitch his way to the majors or wait for something to happen to provide him his shot.

Zimmermann, acquired in a deal with Atlanta on July 31, 2018, pitched to an ERA of 2.58 in 101 innings at Double-A Bowie and 4.89 in 33 innings at Triple-A. He probably also goes back to Triple-A but could pitch his way into a chance to make some starts for his hometown team.

Kremer has gone 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA with four walks and 23 strikeouts in 19 innings in the Arizona Fall League. In four starts late in the year with Norfolk, he went 0-2 with an ERA of 8.84. He pitched well for Bowie but he also saw his strikeout rate fall from 12.2 in 2018 (when he led all of the minors in strikeouts) to 9.7 last year. He’s still got the solid curveball and he is clearly on the radar. He likely starts the year in the Triple-A rotation. His time will come when either he pitches his way up or the organizations deems he has enough experience under his belt at Triple-A and there is a need for a starter.

If those three begin the season in the Triple-A rotation, that leaves only two other spots, barring the club using a six-man rotation and/or some piggyback situations. But surely the O’s will find a way to get Triple-A starts in 2020 for the trio of Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alex Wells, who were outstanding for the Baysox. And some more to follow. Then we’ll find out how they will handle Triple-A hitters and pitching with the MLB ball, barring any changes to it before opening day.

Lowther and Wells, both lefties, pitched all year at Bowie, so you have to figure their Double-A days are over. Baumann threw 70 innings at Bowie. “Big Mike” is ready to move up but he could potentially be at Bowie for at least a short time when 2020 begins.

The O’s top two pitching prospects, in some order, are Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. Barring something unforeseen, they won’t be in the majors in 2020, but Hall should move to Bowie and Rodriguez to Single-A Frederick. Both could pitch their way to a level above that during the year. Their day is coming.

Akin, Kremer and Cody Sedlock should be additions to the Orioles’ 40-man roster in advance of this year’s Rule 5 draft. Righty Gray Fenter will also be Rule 5 eligible. After he went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA at Single-A Delmarva, the club will have to take a long look at adding him. He had Tommy John surgery in April of 2016, but finally looked all the way back last season. He had one of best seasons of any O’s farmhand in 2019. Now that he is healthy, he could begin the year at Frederick and end it at Bowie. No need to rush him but they could look to move him a bit faster than some others, especially if he does get added to the 40-man.

So the Orioles have a bunch of pitching prospects that are in the mix now. We haven’t even discussed here yet pitchers such as Drew Rom, Blaine Knight, Brenan Hanifee or Ofelky Peralta, who are also top-30 rated pitchers.

A 21-year-old right-hander from the Dominican, the O’s Leonardo Rodriguez, was ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the New York-Penn League by Baseball America. That was very encouraging for an international signing that came at a time when the club was not very active in that marketplace.

By the way, Akin was ranked No. 20 in the International League, Baumann No. 15 in the Eastern League, Hall No. 1 in the Carolina League and Rodriguez No. 3 in the South Atlantic League.

The Orioles are building a nice number of pitching prospects throughout their system from the lowest levels to the top. They need to keep that coming and the results from pitchers taken in the 2019 draft was promising. But remember former O’s general manager Andy MacPhail used to say something like, “if you have 10 pitching prospects, you have three or four and if you have 20 you have six or seven.” Pitchers get hurt and some don’t progress as you would like. What looks good at Delmarva or Frederick may never make it even to Bowie.

But the Orioles need some of this group to make it. They need to develop some homegrown, top-of-the-rotation talent. If they can find an ace or two, the rebuild timetable moves up.

The next phase of the rebuild gets more interesting when the Orioles start to find out if some of their pitching prospects can help the major league team win. Some of them should start making their way to Baltimore during the 2020 season.

That was fun: Thanks to some our readers here for joining me last night for some great baseball talk in Bel Air. Had a blast. Thanks to Erin for organizing.

I will be part of an Orioles fan forum at the Babe Ruth Museum from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. today. Come by and talk some baseball then, too. The program is free with admission to the museum, which is $10/adults, $8/seniors, $5/kids. You can get more info at 410-727-1539 X3033 (speak to Katie), or baberuthmuseum.org.

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