Simply put, they are making the best of a rough situation. In a year without minor league baseball games, two Orioles top 30 prospect pitchers are still getting some innings in and trying to advance their careers. They have to work on their own but the Orioles are keeping tabs on them closely.
This week I spoke with 20-year-old lefty Drew Rom and 22-year-old right-hander Brenan Hanifee. The Orioles took both out of high school in the fourth round of their respective drafts. Hanifee was drafted in 2016 out of Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Va. Rom was taken in 2018 out of Highlands High School in Ft. Thomas, Ky.
At Single-A Delmarva last year Rom was 6-3 with a 2.93 ERA. Over 95 1/3 innings he walked 33, fanned 122 and gave up a .228 average against. Rom is rated as the Orioles’ No. 17 prospect by Baseball America and No. 24 by MLBPipeline.com
At Single-A Frederick last season, Hanifee was 9-10 with a 4.60 ERA. In his three-year career on the Baltimore farm, he has gone 24-19 with a 3.52 ERA and his two-seam sinker has produced strong groundball rates. He is rated No. 28 by both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com.
Another O’s farm pitcher, Reed Hayes, tipped off Rom about a high-level league that was playing games around Lexington, Ky. So he got involved and discovered he would be facing some former big league hitters. This was a nice way to make up for lost innings.
“Actually playing competitive games, having fans and being under the lights, it kind of takes me back to the season, and I am getting some innings in with the adrenaline flowing,” Rom said during a Zoom interview. “I’ve been playing with some top-tier guys that may be retired. And (former big league) players like Brandon Phillips and Eric Young Jr. Having their expertise in this league has been eye-opening. I have learned things about myself that I didn’t know. These guys are great about picking apart pitchers.
“I know it’s weird to say since I am facing them, but they are telling me how to pitch them given what I have. But also, just how to think like a hitter, almost, like a high-level hitter. They are giving me all these tips and tricks trying to see if I can deceive a hitter.”
Rom said these games have been a big help toward getting him innings he would have gotten during a normal minor league season.
“Playing in that league has helped me reach an innings limit, and combined with the lives (live batting practices), get close to a full-season-type limit. The competitive innings certainly take a bigger toll on your arm then a regular live BP. That is kind of the volume control that everyone is kind of missing.”
And while he has been doing that he is keeping in touch with the coach who would have been his pitching coach in Frederick in 2020.
“I’ve been going through Josh Conway. Text, calls, Facetime, Zoom, whatever we can. Just whenever they have a question or I check in after a bullpen or something,” he said.
He has not been pitching in games, but doing all he can to throw and build up some innings.
“Since we got sent home from camp (in March), I’ve been working out, throwing bullpens and facing some live hitters when I can,” Hanifee said. “At a facility there were some college guys that were around, obviously gone now, but we were doing live BPs every Friday. Trying to get the work in that I needed to. It is very hard to simulate a live game without being in a game. You don’t get the same adrenaline from a live BP that you would in a sold-out stadium.
“Usually Justin Ramsey, the pitching coach from Bowie, has been calling, using Facetime and Zoom. Checking in once a week to see how things are going. I send him some video on Friday after a live session or after a bullpen on Tuesday. He’s providing some feedback about how things are looking.”
That two-seam sinker is more of a feel pitch for Hanifee, and he does usually need a good number of innings to make that pitch most effective.
“For me, I tend to get better as the season goes along,” Hanifee said. “Almost feel better deeper into the season. My arm gets a little tired and that is when I pitch my best. You are not as amped up, and I try to just pitch to the bottom of the zone. Keep the ball down and get ground balls.”
So does Hanifee know about how many innings he has thrown?
“It has been tough to track the innings,” he said. “We are probably throwing more than we would in between a real start. Those live BPs were, for the most part, between 30 and 45 pitches for the majority of the time we’ve been home. It has been hard to track and you can’t really put an exact number on it. But we came up with a number that we were shooting for on the year, and I think we are pretty close to that. I’m definitely doing all I can to be ready.”
While working out at home, this duo has had time to watch the Orioles on television and see all the players who have come up from the farm. It serves as a reminder that their day could be coming at some point too.
“It is awesome to see,” said Hanifee. “I was drafted the same year as Keegan Akin and we’re pretty good friends. We talk pretty frequently, so to see him have that success is awesome to see. The other guys as well. Just to see that it is a reality, that you can get there and the success with the homegrown guys is awesome to see.”
Added Rom: “It is just exciting to see that they are taking guys from our system and developing players and using them. It is also cool to see guys you played with in spring training on TV. So, really excited for them. It is something to look forward to in our future.”
Check out the entire video interview here with Rom and Hanifee. Appreciate those guys taking the time, and they’ve clearly put in some good work this summer.