Chris Holt with insights on two new 40-man roster pitchers

When the Orioles made their 40-man roster additions last week, ahead of the scheduled Rule 5 draft next month, they added two hard-throwing relievers. Both flew under the radar during the 2021 season, but the team was clearly watching. And the team was seeing the potential in right-handers Félix Bautista, 26, and Logan Gillaspie, 24.

Both may not yet be well-known to Orioles fans, but that could change over the next few seasons. Both could play roles in future O’s bullpens.

During an interview this week to discuss another topic, O’s pitching coach/director of pitching Chris Holt was nice enough to take a moment to provide some insights on both pitchers. Bautista is coming off a season where he pitched at three minor league levels.

Now, as part of the 40-man roster, he is protected from being taken by another organization in the Rule 5 draft.

The product of the Dominican Republic began 2021 with high Single-A Aberdeen, going 0-2 with a 1.20 ERA over 11 games. He moved to Double-A Bowie in late June and went 0-1 with an ERA of 0.68 in 12 games. He ended the year going 1-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 17 games at Triple-A. Over 18 1/3 innings, he allowed 11 hits with nine walks to 25 strikeouts for Norfolk.

For the three O’s teams combined, Bautista went 1-6 with a 1.54 ERA. Over 46 2/3 innings, he allowed just 20 hits and eight earned runs with two homers allowed. He walked 30 and fanned 77 with a WHIP of 1.071. Bautista’s fastball touched 101 mph this year.

Among all O’s farm pitchers throwing 40 or more innings this year, he led the organization in both ERA and strikeout rate at 14.9 per nine innings.

Bautista was signed by the Orioles in August 2016, after Miami released him in June the previous season.

Holt-Kneeling-at-Workout-Sidebar.jpg“Bautista has made tremendous strides since he went full-season in 2019,” Holt said. “And then jumped three levels this year. He’s really matured in terms of his ability to pitch and make pitches and not just throw 100 (mph). If you look at what he’s accomplished this year with improving his control, he has made some improvements there. He’s also improved the consistency of his off-speed pitches. I’m definitely excited that he is on the roster. Given the commitment he has made to improving himself and going out and performing with those improvements, it really lends itself well to his future.”

So how did he elevate his game this season?

“Part of it is just learning his body and learning his delivery,” said Holt. “And then still there is work to be done there as far as the consistency of his command. But just the nature of the minor league reps that he has taken, he’s had more consistent work, and he’s had the chance to work with coaches across three levels this year and learn different things along the way. Think it’s kind of the natural process of a development system, but also his commitment to working hard and staying focused with what he needs to do. It’s been really, really encouraging.

“We knew with his raw ability back in ‘19 that this was somebody that holds a lot of potential. And he has things he needs to work on, but we’ve had a really solid plan and a really solid execution about how he’s gone about that work.”

Bautista’s walk rate did improve late in the season at Triple-A, where is was 4.42 for Norfolk, but it was 5.8 per nine over the season. How can he improve that enough now to get out major league hitters?

“For a lot of guys, it’s delivery efficiency, and for some guys, it’s body control. There is the physical component and sometimes there is a mental component to it also,” Holt explained. “The willingness and the capability, if you want to call it that, to attack the zone, to attack your best quality locations. So when it comes to developing command, identifying what defines command for this pitcher is the first step. For pitchers that throw four-seam fastballs and vertical breaking balls, command is more north and south. And for a Brenan Hanifee (another O’s minor league pitcher), command is more east and west, and so defining what that means and then approaching it from a training standpoint is the first step.”

Gillaspie went 1-3 with a 4.97 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 26 games between Aberdeen and Bowie in 2021. Over 41 2/3 innings, he walked 11 and struck out 52.

He pitched also for Mesa in the Arizona Fall League and recorded a ERA of 9.00 and a 1.786 WHIP in 14 innings with seven walks and 18 strikeouts.

“I think we see a great amount of potential in his ability to be an impact major leaguer,” Holt said of Gillaspie.

I asked if Gillaspie’s strong finish at Bowie helped get him on the 40-man roster. Over his last three games with the Baysox, including one playoff game, he pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits with no walks and 14 strikeouts.

“That’s a good question, and to be 100 percent honest, you know the decision to add him is really more a question for the front office,” he said. “I think I can speak to his improvements over the course of the year. Certainly, he improved his ability to perform consistently and even at the Double-A level, you know, where he is facing better competition. And you look at what he has done in the fall league, he kept his strikeout numbers high. He still walked some guys, but guys with a higher strikeout percentage can sometimes get away with a few more walks. Overall, I think we see the real potential in him to continue to improve his consistency with his delivery and arsenal and his ability to get the best hitters in this division out. I think he has the stuff and the presence and the mentality to do that.”

In Game 3 of the Double-A Northeast championship series, Gillaspie threw two scoreless innings versus Akron with four strikeouts.

“He has a four-pitch mix. Out of the bullpen, I think you’ll see him throw a higher percentage of fastballs and breaking balls,” Holt said. “He does have a changeup and he has two breakers - a slider and a curveball. His fastball is generally mid-to-upper 90s and has a lot of lift and ride to it, so he has a lot of options where he can attack the zone and be effective. So when it comes to his total arsenal, he’s got feel for four pitches. Really honing command and using the right tool for the job and him understanding what he’s going to use and when is the goal.”

Still to come: Coming soon in this space, Holt will address a topic I find very interesting and should be a fun read for fans: Can a pitcher improve and increase his velocity over the winter? How would they do it and would the Orioles encourage this? Holt was nice enough to shoot a Zoom interview with me addressing all of that and more and you will read about it and see that Zoom here in a few days.

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