Could a pair of former first-round picks elevate the O’s ‘pen?

They are two young guns who were once starting pitchers but now could be valuable to improvement for the Orioles bullpen. They were both drafted in the first round.

Both now enjoy pitching out of the bullpen, and next season 24-year-old Hunter Harvey and 25-year-old Dillon Tate could help improve an O’s bullpen that posted a 5.63 ERA last year. That ranked last in the American League, well below the league average of 4.41.

Harvey-Looks-Up-White-Sidebar.jpgHarvey, the Orioles’ top pick (No. 22 overall) in 2013, was called up late last season. He went 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in seven games. Over 6 1/3 innings he allowed three hits and one run with four walks and 11 strikeouts. So he got strikeouts for 11 of the 19 outs he recorded and averaged 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

It was a stunning display by Harvey, who pitched a combined 82 innings between Double-A-Bowie, Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore - his most since the 2014 season. Harvey was moved to the bullpen in mid-June while at Bowie. Between Bowie and Norfolk he pitched to a 2.81 ERA out of the ‘pen with 33 strikeouts over 25 2/3 innings.

The Orioles shut Harvey down late in the year. He didn’t pitch after Sept. 13 due to mild right biceps soreness, which doesn’t figure to impact him at all this winter or going into next year.

Harvey got our attention with a fastball that averaged 98.6 mph. His outing on Aug. 27 against eventual World Series champion Washington on the road was a wild one. Brought on to protect a 2-0 lead, he got an out and then Trea Turner tripled. He fanned Adam Eaton on a splitter. He then pitched very carefully to both Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto and walked both. With the sacks full with two outs, he blew away Asdrúbal Cabrera with a 1-2 heater at 99 mph.

Said manager Brandon Hyde: “I just think he challenged him (Rendon) but didn’t challenge him in the middle, which was fantastic. Did the same thing with Soto, who is another superstar player that is swinging the bat really well now too. Love the fact that after those walks, bases loaded, crowd’s loud, to be able to compose himself and make pitches to Cabrera shows a lot of maturity.”

When the Orioles called Tate to the majors for the first time on July 26, he became the seventh of 15 players acquired in the July 2018 trades to make his way to the Orioles. He followed Jonathan Villar, Breyvic Valera, Cody Carroll, Josh Rogers, Evan Phillips and Luis Ortiz.

Tate was drafted No. 4 overall by the Texas Rangers in 2015 and signed to a $4.2 million bonus. He was ranked No. 69 in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects at the end of the 2015 season. He was acquired by the Orioles on July 24, 2018 when Zack Britton was dealt to the Yankees for Tate, Carroll and Rogers.

In two stints in Baltimore, Tate went 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA. Over 21 innings he allowed 18 hits with nine walks, 20 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.286.

From 2015-2018 on the farm, Tate was a starter, but the Orioles tried him in the ‘pen last year. Pitching in relief, he went 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA and 0.85 WHIP at Double-A Bowie and 2-0 with an ERA of 2.00 and WHIP of 0.89 at Triple-A Norfolk.

Tate had his ups and downs while learning about life in the big leagues. But he averaged 94 mph on his fastball, touching 96, and also featured a solid slider and changeup.

After one of his first major league outings, manager Brandon Hyde was impressed.

“Dillon Tate’s the highlight of the game for me,” Hyde said. “I thought he threw the ball great. That was really good stuff. That was three pitches - 95-96 mph sinker. Left the slider in the middle part of the plate to Vlad (Vladimir Guerrero Jr.), but this guy threw 41 pitches (Monday). He had two days off and then today, so he threw two innings, two days off, and then today, extending him way further than I wanted to. But we had multiple guys down in the ‘pen today, so he picked us up big time. I loved the stuff that I saw.”

Tate gave up a .192 average against left-handed batters and .250 versus right-handers. He got 17 of his 20 strikeouts facing righties.

Both of the young hurlers showed some real potential, and they should have as first-round picks. Both may have moved to the bullpen for good. For now, as the Orioles bullpen looks to start trending up, having them around for most of 2020 could be the start of such improvement.

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