The Orioles had some solid success with their young pitchers on the farm during the 2019 season. And they keep adding young pitchers to that group that competed last season.
Of the Orioles’ top six farm teams, four clubs led their leagues in ERA last summer. That was at Double-A Bowie, Single-A Delmarva, short-season Single-A Aberdeen and in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. And while it is true that Triple-A Norfolk and Single-A Frederick ranked last in their leagues in ERA in 2019, Norfolk’s pitchers did set a team record for strikeouts. Delmarva not only led its league in strikeouts but set a South Atlantic League record. Bowie posted the best WHIP (1.18) in the Eastern League since 2001.
But any executive or fan could tell you that when it looks like you might have a good stable of pitching prospects you should add more. And when done with that, add more. You can never have enough and you can never have too many.
In the last 11 days, the Orioles have acquired eight pitching prospects. They got five in trades, one via a waiver claim and two yesterday in the Rule 5 draft. All eight are between 21 and 25. Seven are right-handers.
One thing all eight have in common is solid strikeout rates. They all have averaged better than a strikeout per inning. Two have yet to pitch in pro ball, but in 2019 in college they had solid strikeout rates.
On Dec. 2, the Orioles traded Jonathan Villar to Miami and got back lefty Easton Lucas. Two days later, they traded Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels and got four right-handers, acquiring Isaac Mattson, Kyle Bradish, Kyle Brnovich and Zach Peek. Brnovich and Peek pitched in college and were drafted last June, but have yet to pitch in pro ball.
On Monday at the Winter Meetings, the O’s added righty Marcos Diplán from Detroit via a waiver claim. And in the Rule 5 draft yesterday they added Brandon Bailey from Houston and Michael Rucker from the Chicago Cubs.
Here are the career strikeout and walk rates for each pitcher in pro ball:
Mattson: 3.12 walks per nine innings and 10.94 strikeouts per nine.
Bradish: 4.72 walks and 10.69 strikeouts.
Brnovich: 4.40 walks and 11.51 strikeouts in 2019 at Elon.
Peek: 3.61 walks and 9.38 strikeouts in 2019 at Winthrop.
Lucas: 2.34 walks and 10.64 strikeouts.
Diplán: 4.93 walks and 9.14 strikeouts.
Bailey: 3.46 walks and 10.44 strikeouts.
Rucker: 2.31 walks and 9.33 strikeouts.
During spring training last year I wrote this story, in which O’s general manager Mike Elias and a couple of minor league pitchers talked about data and analytics and the new teaching that was coming to the O’s farm.
It is pretty clear that good strikeout rates are important to Elias. He was part of a front office that saw the farm system in Houston produce stunning strikeout rates. Last March he talked to me about trying to create something similar with the Orioles
“I want to see our strikeout numbers go up over time, and it’s not just going to be this year,” he said in that March interview. “Because part of it involves who you are drafting. But that was part of a four-year effort to harmonize our pitcher acquisition and pitcher development. And it’s very difficult to achieve. I don’t know if we can replicate that level of success because of the competitive environment. But we had every single pitching coach on the same page, using the same philosophy. The scouting department was doing it and the results were effusive. We have a lot of young guys here that are really eager to get better. They have a strong direction. This will help the Orioles from top to bottom.”
It takes more than strikeouts to win, and you can win and pitch well without piling them up. But the O’s minor leaguers in 2019 did put up some good strikeout numbers, and it’s clear that Elias looked to add to that over the last 11 days.