Developing top starters another challenge for Orioles' Mike Elias -


Developing top starters another challenge for Orioles’ Mike Elias

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

In watching this most fascinating postseason, it’s again emphasized how important it is to have a top-shelf starting pitcher—or three—on your team.

There aren’t many premier starters, and the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals seem to have most of them.

Houston has Gerrit Cole, set to start today’s Game 3 at Yankee Stadium; Zack Greinke, who started Game 1; and Justin Verlander, the Game 2 starter.

Washington has Aniabal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and has built a 3-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. Patrick Corbin goes for the series clincher tonight.

In the Astros-Yankees series, New York manager Aaron Boone is taking a different route. He has 13 pitchers, an unusually large postseason staff, especially with two off-days.

Boone, who yanked Game 2 starter James Paxton after just 2 1/3 innings, used nine pitchers in the 3-2, 11-inning loss on Sunday night. He’s relying on a skilled bullpen that includes Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman and Adam Ottavino, big free-agent signings all, and the soon-to-be retired CC Sabathia.

Watching the machinations of the postseason managers reminds us how far the Orioles have to go to even be in contention, and perhaps how they’ll construct their team.

With a number of interesting pitchers in the minor leagues, including Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, Gray Fenter, DL Hall, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, Grayson Rodriguez, Drew Rom, Cody Sedlock, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann, general manager Mike Elias hopes that some will produce at the major league level.

The Astros, for whom Elias worked before the Orioles, didn’t develop Cole, Greinke or Verlander. They acquired them in trades. They had so many good prospects in the minor leagues that they were able to trade for each of them without depleting their farm system.


Cole, Greinke and Verlander are No. 1-type starters, and they’re rare.

Corbin, Scherzer and Strasburg fit into that category. Corbin and Scherzer were pricey free-agent signings. Strasburg was the first selection in the 2009 draft.

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is another. He was the seventh pick of the 2006 draft. Kershaw’s history of shaky postseason performances demonstrate that not even having a No. 1 starter guarantees success.

Last year, the Boston Red Sox won with Rick Porcello, David Price and Chris Sale, none of whom were developed by the Red Sox.

In 2012 and 2014, the Orioles advanced in the postseason without a top-tier starter. In 2014, they coasted to the American League East title with back-end starters Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Chris Tillman all posting ERAs lower than four.

Combined with a bullpen of Britton, Brad Brach, Andrew Miller and Darren O’Day, they had an excellent staff, but they never had a No. 1 starter.

Elias hopes that he’s able to develop a No. 1 starter from the group of minor leagues and John Means, who had an outstanding rookie year.

Without that No. 1 or multiple number 1’s, no team is likely to win a World Series.

If the Orioles don’t have that top starter, having several attractive prospects could help them deal for one when the time is right.

The Orioles are far from doing that, but they’re beginning to accumulate talent.

This year’s draft was pitching-poor. Elias didn’t choose a pitcher until the eighth round, the first time in the Orioles’ history they’d waited that long to select pitching.

Of their first 11 choices, three were catchers, including top pick Adley Rutschman, three were shortstops and three were centerfielders.

When teams are looking for prospects, they’re often looking for strength up the middle. If the Orioles develop a surplus of players in those positions, that will make them more attractive trading partners in years to come.

There are few great starting pitchers in baseball, and even fewer available in the trading market at any one time. Because of Oriole Park’s home run-happy dimensions, free agent starters have been reluctant to come to Baltimore. Developing them and trading for them are the only realistic options.

Next June, the Orioles will have the No. 2 pick, and it’s possible they could choose University of Georgia right-handed starter Emerson Hancock, if the Detroit Tigers don’t select him first.

As you watch the rest of the postseason, remember how rare these top starters are, and how difficult it is to find them, retain them, trade for them, or sign them.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. Fareastern89

    October 15, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Good points, Rich. I think we (O’s fans, myself included) tend to overrate the team’s minor-league pitching prospects, and we’re annoyed when scouts rate someone like DL Hall a number 2 starter at best, but those number 1 guys just come along so seldom. I guess it’s always a gamble when you use such a high draft choice on a pitcher — Elias struck out twice doing that in Houston — but, as you point out, a team like the O’s sometimes has to take that chance.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 15, 2019 at 8:12 am

      Thank you, Fareastern. When Brady Aiken didn’t sign with the Astros, their comp pick next year was Alex Bergman.

      • Fareastern89

        October 15, 2019 at 8:53 am

        Interesting that they took a position player with that pick instead of another pitcher, although that might simply have been a case of the best player available.

    • douglasmintz

      October 15, 2019 at 8:32 am

      If ball panned out as a number two that’d be a huge success!!

  2. DevoTion

    October 15, 2019 at 10:07 am

    Yes this post season is definitely showing how important multiple good starters are needed. It would be great if the O’s could develop a top starter or 2, but that doesn’t happen often. Therefore the free agent/ trade market would be the best bet, but with the price of top starters extremely high will the owners be willing to put up the cash?

  3. Chuck in Edgewood

    October 15, 2019 at 11:24 am

    Rich: We all know Elias’ roots in Houston, but I think the O’s are more likely to follow the Rays model…using openers for 2-3 innings, young closers throwing @98-100, no position players with long term contracts, trading our marqee players for prospects. As he said, a continual flowing pipeline of young talent. As a fan, i’d be ok with that plan. Keep up the good work, Rich!

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 15, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      Thank you, Chuck.

  4. mlbbirdfan

    October 15, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Way too soon to figure out pitcher quality. Minor league talent sometimes develops, not always. Continue drafting college hitters! And, stock pile talent, like Houston. The Astros rarely trade prospects, and have not traded top prospects, only those rated 3rd/4th or below

    • Jbigle1

      October 16, 2019 at 12:27 am

      The Stros have earmarked prospects as untouchable throughout their run. But they’ve dealt plenty of highly regarded ones. They just happened to have a lot of guys who were well thought of.

  5. John in Cincy

    October 15, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Good article on a vital need, Rich. As you say, getting those type starters will come primarily through trades and the draft. While I agree that in general that it’s difficult to sign free agent starters to pitch at Camden Yards as their home park, there can be the exception of a pitcher who gets a ton of ground balls, or is so dominant that he can pitch anywhere and have the advantage. Such signings are rare.

    The good news is that the Orioles already have taken one of the right steps in developing top starters, and that’s having had Chris Holt , who Mike Elias brought with him from Houston, as this year’s Minor League coordinator.

    The following comes from an article by Joe Trezza on the Orioles’ official website:

    “Holt was credited with helping develop John Means’ changeup, which became the lefty’s signature pitch as he emerged into a surprise All-Star. He was also integral to the many of the Orioles’ prospect success stories down on the farm, from No. 9 prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) Michael Baumann to No. 17 prospect Cody Sedlock and others.”

    This is very encouraging. So, without Holt’s guidance, it’s quite possible that Means doesn’t end up the O’s top starter, Baumann doesn’t pitch his no-no, and Delmarva’s rotation isn’t quite so phenomenal.

    The article announced that Holt recently was promoted to a newly-created position, director of pitching, in which he will also be involved at the organization’s Major League level, as well. So, along with some of the minor leaguers you name, I’d say the future is looking bright for the Orioles in the pitching department. Granted, trades will be needed down the road to fill out the rotation, when the club is ready to contend again, but it looks like some solid building blocks are already starting to move into place.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 15, 2019 at 3:38 pm

      Thank you, John.

  6. OriolesNumber1Fan

    October 15, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    Excellent point John in Cincy. Elias other big addition was bringing along Chris Holt from Houston and now promoting him to help the major league pitching roster as well as he did for the minor leagues. But one other point everyone seems to say is that no number 1 starters will come to pitch at Camden yards for the Orioles because of the dimensions of the ball park. Which is true, so then why not just change the dimensions??? I know they did tried that by moving home plate back a few years ago but that ruined the view for the fans throughout the park. My idea would be to just move back the fenses in left field and center field without touching the bullpen. Say from the WB Mason sign to the bullpen 15 – 20 feet back. And then say making the “Backdrop” in center field be the fence or just pushing back the fense in center 10 – 12 feet also. That would certainly help 2 fold with the pitchers coming up!

    • Jbigle1

      October 16, 2019 at 12:32 am

      I’m not typically going to be one to correct someone’s grammar but “fence” is a word that I believe every human being should know how to spell. I honestly couldn’t take any of your post seriously after seeing it twice.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 16, 2019 at 8:00 am

      Jbigle, sometimes I misspell, too. In a comment above, I wrote Bergman when I meant Bregman. Yes, it could have been autocorrect, but if I corrected everyone’s grammatical and spelling errors, that’s all I’d be doing.

      But, I appreciate your comments.

    • CalsPals

      October 16, 2019 at 9:58 am

      Lookout…go O’s…

  7. OriolesNumber1Fan

    October 16, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    Sorry, damn spell check jbigle1. Had too long of a day! Had to re-type your “name” three times so it wouldn’t change it to j bugle.

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