The Orioles need to overhaul their starting rotation in 2018.
That’s not a radical statement. I’m not breaking any news. Everyone knows it.
Based on starting rotation ERA, the 2017 Orioles posted the worst mark in the modern-day history of the franchise – dating back to when the team moved to Baltimore more than six decades ago. The club’s starters combined for a 5.70 ERA, easily destroying the previous worst mark of 5.51 in 2008.
Unless plans change as the offseason progresses, the Orioles likely won’t bring back four of their six primary starters from last season – Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson. Those four pitchers accounted for more than half – 86, to be exact – of the Orioles’ starts in 2017. But they also combined for a 6.76 ERA and averaged less than five innings per start. That’s horrendous.
Right-handers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy will hold down the first two spots in the 2018 rotation. So, as my colleague Dan Connolly noted in a recent Q&A on BaltimoreBaseball.com, that means the club needs to add three starters in less than five months before Opening Day.
But the Orioles have a couple of problems…
For one, as Dan mentioned in the Q&A, the club isn’t going to win a bidding war for a top-of-the-rotation starter. And thanks to Camden Yards’ reputation as a hitter-friendly ballpark, you’re probably not going to see many mid-level starters picking the Orioles if other teams are interested. While the Orioles could deal from a position of strength – their bullpen – to acquire some new starting pitchers, that would leave them thin in that area if the rotation reinforcements don’t work out.
No matter how they do it, one simple fact isn’t changing: The Orioles need to replace more than half their starts in 2018. With that in mind, we created a list of internal candidates who could fill the void. We’ve ranked these pitchers from most likely to least likely to help the major-league rotation in 2018.
Based on that criterion, you’ll notice that several of the club’s top pitching prospects aren’t on this list.
Left-hander Alex Wells, who won the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year award after going 11-5 with a 2.38 ERA in 25 starts for Low-A Delmarva, will need more time in the minors next year. The same goes for the Orioles’ 2016 first- and second-round picks – right-hander Cody Sedlock and left-hander Keegan Akin – who battled injuries throughout the 2017 season and didn’t dominate at High-A Frederick the way that they did with Short-A Aberdeen during the previous summer.
Since he’s only 19, last year’s first-round selection, DL Hall, will progress slowly through the system. And a handful of other lower-level pitchers may be on the right path – but won’t provide immediate help.
Let’s take a look at the internal possibilities, listed in order of potential help each can provide for the 2018 season. Warning: It’s not an encouraging list. You may want to shield your eyes occasionally.