Orioles’ pitchers and catchers report Tuesday at the club’s spring training camp in Sarasota, Fla., and they’ll begin official workouts Wednesday.
I’m going to make two predictions before a pitch is thrown this week:
One: The Orioles’ No. 3 starter isn’t in the group we expect to report Tuesday. He hasn’t been signed yet. I’m firmly of the belief that the Orioles will sign at least one veteran starter at some point before Opening Day, March 29. Who will it be? Not quite sure (wish I could be a little more definitive, but I don’t think the Orioles are positive of the identity of their No. 3 yet, either).
Here’s my second prediction: Mike Wright is with the Orioles on Opening Day, likely as the fifth starter (though he could be in the bullpen to begin 2018, until a fifth starter is needed).
Regardless, I think the big right-hander gets one more opportunity to stick in the Orioles’ rotation — and that he makes some starts this April.
The former third-rounder in 2011 is 28 now. He has pitched 43 games – 21 starts – for the Orioles in the past three seasons and has posted a 5.86 ERA.
Last year, he didn’t start a game in the majors; he had a 5.76 ERA in 13 relief appearances that were sandwiched around a shoulder injury that forced Wright to miss more than a month. He had a 3.69 ERA in 16 starts at Triple-A Norfolk.
This year, he is out of minor-league options. If he can’t make the team this spring, he’ll have to be exposed to waivers and some team somewhere will take a chance because Wright has a strong arm, is cheap and relatively young.
Those are three reasons the Orioles don’t want to give up on him despite the maddening inconsistency.
But there are other reasons, too.
For one, Wright has worked out with club vice president Brady Anderson in the past, they’ve formed a bond and the former Orioles star outfielder turned executive believes in the right-hander. That goes a long way within the organization.
Nolan Reimold and Brian Matusz, for instance, received extended looks in the majors at least partially because Anderson felt like they had what it took to succeed. Ultimately, those types of players have to prove their worth, and when they can’t continually, they are jettisoned. But having Anderson in your corner doesn’t hurt.
Secondly, the organization does not want a Jake Arrieta 2.0.
We all know the deal with Arrieta. Tremendous talent, couldn’t harness it in Baltimore. Traded away in 2013 and ended up as a Cy Young Award winner with the Chicago Cubs.
Wright’s not an Arrieta, in my opinion. There’s a talent gap there. Plus, theirs are completely different situations. Arrieta, for several reasons, lost all confidence with the Orioles and couldn’t pitch here. A change of scenery was imperative for his growth.
Wright’s not lacking in confidence; he needs to control his emotions and focus even more intently when things go wrong. He doesn’t necessarily need a change in scenery as much as an attitude adjustment when adversity strikes.
But Wright is a guy who, if he figures it out, can make his mark in the majors. And the Orioles – or at least some within the organization – absolutely don’t want that mark to be made elsewhere.
It would provide even more ammunition to those who criticize the Orioles for not being able to develop their own pitchers. Arrieta is Exhibit A, but there are others.
The Orioles don’t want to add Wright to that list.
So, he is going to get every opportunity to succeed in spring training and, so long as he produces some solid results, during the regular season, too.
Personally, I’d love to see the Orioles trash the starting role for Wright and put him toward the back end of the bullpen. Let him air it out for the seventh inning once every few days, and I bet you he excels once he embraces the role. I’ve been beating that drum for a while now.
Of course, starters are more valuable than set-up men and rotation help is the Orioles’ biggest need right now. You may not like it. You may have felt like you’ve seen that movie before. A couple times before, really.
Knowing the way this organization operates, however, I see Wright getting the ball every fifth day in April. Maybe with his back against the wall in Baltimore, this will be the time it clicks.
The talent is there. And I’m betting the opportunity will there again, too.