With Chris Tillman injured, the Orioles had an open competition this spring for their fifth-starter spot, which wouldn’t need to be filled until April 15.
Well, April 15 is today, and the guy who claimed the spot start today against the Toronto Blue Jays didn’t join the Orioles until late March.
The Orioles acquired 25-year-old Alec Asher from the Philadelphia Phillies on March 28 for cash considerations.
He made one scoreless appearance in the spring for the Orioles, was reassigned to Triple-A Norfolk and made one start there – pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out six, allowing four hits and walking none. Meanwhile, the other starting candidates at Triple-A – Mike Wright, Jayson Aquino, Gabriel Ynoa and Chris Lee – struggled in their first outing for the Tides. The other candidate, Tyler Wilson, currently an Orioles’ middle reliever, has had mixed results in his two appearances this year.
So, Asher got the call. And, frankly, he’s a bit of a mystery for the Orioles and their fans; he’s been in the system for fewer than three weeks.
Here’s what we know: Asher, 25, has made 12 starts in the majors, all for Philadelphia. He was 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA in seven starts in 2015 and then 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA in five starts with the Phillies in 2016.
Yeah, exceptionally mixed results.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Asher has a bit of a pedigree. He was selected in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft by the San Francisco Giants out of Lakeland (Fla.) High School, but went to college. In 2012, he was drafted again, this time by the Texas Rangers in the fourth round out of Polk (Fla.) Community College, a perennial junior college power.
He’s had a solid, minor league career — 32-33 with a 3.36 ERA in parts of six seasons — and was traded in July 2015 by Texas to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels deal that netted the Phillies six prospects. Asher was widely considered the fourth or fifth best in the package.
Although he showed some promise, especially after developing command of a two-seam fastball, the Phillies were stocked with upper-level prospects on their 40-man roster and needed to create room for non-roster invitees for their 25-man roster this spring.
Asher also has some baggage. He was suspended for 80 games in June when he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug – a synthetic testosterone — while in the minors.
To provide a little more insight on Asher, I contacted a veteran scout from another organization who has seen Asher pitch a lot in the majors and minors over the years. He discussed his observations on the condition of anonymity, since Asher plays for an opposing team.
The scout’s not particularly impressed, but does think Asher has the potential to be a viable fifth starter/long reliever in the majors if he can throw strikes. Here’s his take on Asher and the Orioles’ fifth-starter possibilities:
“If you really like him and everything works, he’s maybe a fifth starter. His stuff is average. He does not have an above average pitch, so he’s gonna have to command the ball, which he has never done consistently,” the scout said. “He’s a bit of an oddity in that he’s a kid that got busted for steroids, yet his velocity never went up. He doesn’t have a great body, so it makes you wonder how hard he works at his job. That’s one of the questions in my mind. But on a big league staff, if he works at it, he’s a swing guy, fifth starter.”
Asher throws four pitches; all can be effective, but none stands out.
“He has a little curveball, he’s got a little cutter that he uses. Nothing jumps out at you, it’s kind of vanilla. It’s average. He’ll throw a good curveball occasionally and guys will swing and miss at it. But he doesn’t miss a lot of bats,” the scout said. “He does sink the ball, but it’s an average sinker. I saw him throw (this spring for Philadelphia), and he was mostly fastball, curveball, changeup, but I do think he does have a little cutter he uses some times. He’s 89-91, 92 (mph with his fastball), but he does hold his velocity (in later innings). But it never spikes up to a higher plus-fastball.”
The scout has seen Asher have some success, but he’s also seen him be prone to lapses once an outing is teetering.
“One of the things that always bothered me with him is that he’s a guy that the wheels could fall off and he can’t stop the bleeding when they do,” he said. “He’ll be cruising along and then, all of the sudden, he’ll have an inning where he’ll give up a five spot.”
Overall, the scout believes all of the Orioles’ candidates for the fifth starter spot are just that, fifth starters. If it were up to him, he would have given today’s assignment to Wilson, because he thinks the 27-year-old right-hander has done enough as a long reliever to fill in when necessary.
The scout’s no longer a believer in Wright – “he gets worse every time I see him” — and thinks Lee, the 24-year-old lefty, needs more seasoning: “Lee has the highest upside, but I think he also might be the furthest away from being actually impactful as a major league starter. He might be able to pitch out of the bullpen and out-stuff some guys, but I think going out and starting in the majors now, he’s just not quite ready.”
He hasn’t seen enough of Aquino to form a definitive opinion, but, “I’ve always liked Ynoa. I think he knows how to pitch. I think he has some deception. And he’s always seemed to have a very calm presence as a pitcher. I know he didn’t throw well his first outing at Triple-A, but I don’t think any of them did (besides Asher).”
All that said, the scout thinks Asher could be fine with the Orioles, especially if all the club is expecting is a guy who can eat some innings and be competitive for a spell.
“He is an average vanilla guy, but if he throws strikes and commands all of his pitches, he’s gonna go out and get into the fifth or sixth inning and give up three runs or so,” the scout said. “And I guess that’s what they call quality starts now, right?”