The Orioles selected the contracts of minor-league right-handers Joe Gunkel and Jesus Liranzo on Friday.
By adding Gunkel and Liranzo to the 40-man roster – which now includes 35 players – the club protected them from the Rule 5 draft, which will be held Dec. 8 at baseball’s annual winter meetings near Washington, D.C.
Gunkel, who will turn 25 in late December, went 8-14 with a 4.02 ERA in 28 starts between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in 2016. He struck out 109 batters and issued just 21 walks in 161 innings, including only five in 61 innings in the second half for the Tides. His best month came in August, when he went 2-1 with a 3.05 ERA in six starts.
“Gunkel is able to use a three-pitch mix effectively to keep hitters off balance and has excellent command of his pitches,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said in a statement issued by the team.
The Orioles acquired Gunkel from the Boston Red Sox in the deal for outfielder Alejandro De Aza in June 2015. The 2013 18th-round selection played a big role down the stretch to help the Baysox win their first-ever Eastern League championship. He went 8-4 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts for Bowie that season.
Overall, Gunkel isn’t a guy who will overpower you. But as Duquette said, his control is an asset to the organization. He’ll improve the depth at Norfolk.
While it’s unlikely that he’ll crack the Opening Day rotation, remember that the Orioles kept right-handers Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson on the roster to begin 2016. So there’s always a chance for Gunkel, especially if they consider using him as a long reliever to eat up some innings. Plus, at this point, the Orioles can’t afford to lose any potential starters in 2017.
Liranzo, who will turn 22 by Opening Day next year, gained a lot of attention in 2016 after not even beginning the year with a full-season team. He joined Low-A Delmarva in mid-May and had a 1.05 ERA in 16 appearances for the Shorebirds before moving to Bowie at the end of July. Liranzo also pitched in one game for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League before being shut down due to a back strain.
The Dominican Republic native, who signed a minor league deal with the Orioles in July 2013 after the Atlanta Braves released him, went 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 11 games for the Baysox. Overall, Liranzo had 66 strikeouts and gave up just 20 hits in 53 innings in 2016.
“Liranzo has a power arm, as well as a sinker and slider with strikeout potential,” Duquette said. “He advanced quickly through our minor league system this past year by limiting walks and hits.”
Although Liranzo (pictured above) has only thrown 18 2/3 innings above Single-A in his career, the Orioles protected him mainly because of what Duquette said: He has a power arm. That’s something that other clubs are always willing to gamble on in the Rule 5 draft.
Liranzo had a 0.89 WHIP this past season, and opponents batted .116 against him. He’ll need to duplicate that performance in 2017 to keep the momentum going, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he has a role in the major league bullpen by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the Orioles didn’t protect right-handed reliever Jimmy Yacabonis. That’s surprising to me, especially since they still have five open spots on the 40-man roster.
Yacabonis, who will turn 25 in March, went 2-4 with a 2.64 ERA in 50 games between High-A Frederick and Bowie in 2016. The 2013 13th-round pick had better numbers with the Baysox. He was 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 34 appearances at Double-A, striking out 46 batters in 44 1/3 innings.
While he has good fastball velocity, his secondary pitches need some work. Also, the Orioles have a lot of right-handers who can fill bullpen roles, so that could have contributed to their decision, too. And Yacabonis struggled in the Arizona Fall League against some of baseball’s best prospects. He went 0-1 with an 8.53 ERA in 12 games for Peoria.
Some other Orioles minor leaguers who could be picked by other teams next month include: outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, right-hander Stefan Crichton and catcher Audry Perez.