According to stats on FanGraphs.com, Orioles pitchers collectively averaged 93 mph with their fastball velocity in 2021. At one time, that number may have been among the best in the majors, but it only ranked tied for 20th last season. The New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox tied for the major league lead, averaging 94.7 mph per fastball.
Among O’s pitchers throwing 20 innings or more last season, just four averaged 95 mph or more.
As the Orioles look to build a bullpen with more flamethrowers - a big trend in recent years in the majors - they added a big, hard-throwing right-hander to their 40-man roster and to the bullpen mix in November in Félix Bautista.
This time last year, we would not have projected this happening, but Bautista, 26, pitched at three levels last season on the O’s farm and put up very good numbers.
In fact, among all O’s farm pitchers throwing 40 or more innings in 2021, he led the organization in both ERA and strikeout rate. That is a nice one-two punch. Yes, he has control issues, but he also has an electric arm with a fastball that has touched 100 and 101 mph and a slider in the low 90s.
Rodriguez, baseball’s No. 1 pitching prospect, had a strikeout percentage of 40.5 and Bautista was at 39.7. Rodriguez posted a Fielding Independent Pitching number of 2.67 and Bautista was at 2.91. There was some surprise when the O’s added Bautista to the 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft, but there also would have been surprise had they let a pitcher with that arm and coming off a season like he had in 2021 get away.
Bautista was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Marlins in November 2012. He pitched two seasons for them in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, then missed the 2015 season. That year, the Marlins released him. The Orioles signed him on Aug. 4, 2016 and he pitched two more years in the DSL and then in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2018 at 23. His career was not exactly zipping along.
But he 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 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. He walked 30 and fanned 77 with a WHIP of 1.071.
In November, when I interviewed O’s pitching coach/director of pitching Chris Holt, Bautista was among the players and topics we discussed.
“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. 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.”
Bautista improved his walk rate late in the season. It was 4.4 per nine innings with Norfolk, but 5.8 overall for the 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.”
The Orioles hope to continue to unlock Bautista’s potential while further harnessing his control and command next season. If they do, that will allow him to become another fireballer in the Baltimore bullpen.