SARASOTA—This spring, most of the talk has been about DL Hall, Grayson Rodriguez, the offseason pickups, Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, the uncertainty about Tyler Wells’ role and Dean Kremer’s upcoming absence due to the World Baseball Classic.
Kyle Bradish has been quietly coming into the Orioles’ clubhouse and working toward a spot in the Orioles’ rotation once the season starts on March 30th.
Bradish should have an advantage based on his strong second half last season. The 26-year-old right-hander was 3-3 with a 3.28 ERA in 13 starts and allowed just six home runs in 71 1/3 innings.
After missing five weeks because of right shoulder inflammation, Bradish returned on July 29th and reduced his ERA from 7.38 to 4.90 by the end of the season.
Gibson and Irvin have spots in the rotation based on their work elsewhere. The Orioles hope that Rodriguez, their top pitching prospect, gets a place, too.
Kremer and Bradish are the favorites in what looks to be a tough competition for the other rotation spots.
“I’m not really thinking about that too much,” Bradish said. “All the guys in the rotation, they’re all my friends, just going out there and compete, and whatever happens, happens. I trust the work I did this offseason and going off what I did in the second half.”
Bradish had some excellent starts late in the season. On August 26th, he allowed just two hits in eight scoreless innings against the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros. On September 22nd, he stopped the Astros again on two hits in 8 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10.
“I proved what I can do,” Bradish said. “I don’t know if I fully proved myself. There’s still stuff I need to work on, but definitely improved a lot from that first outing.”
In his major league debut, Bradish gave up two earned runs on five hits in six innings in a 3-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Two starts later, he recorded his first win, striking out 11 in seven innings in a win at St. Louis.
It took him 13 starts for that win at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. After the end of the season, he decided not to change his offseason routine.
“Nothing different. I knew what I had to do to get ready for this full season, to be healthy and on the pitching side,” Bradish said. “Just know I have a better idea of how to attack hitters and what I need to do to get ready for that.”
Bradish got to the major leagues ahead of Hall, Rodriguez, Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, and he sees more talent on the way.
“It’s awesome. When I first got here, I was with most of these guys in the minor leagues, so just seeing that talent grow over these past two years, it’s awesome to see people in big league camp competing for those jobs,” he said.
“There’s a lot of good energy. We have a good group of guys that have been here last year and experienced that that are young and we brought in good veteran players as well to cap that off. I think the atmosphere that we have even after the first week is awesome.”
Cowser looks to shine: Colton Cowser, the Orioles’ first-round draft pick in 2021, is one of three recent top picks in his first camp. Heston Kjerstad (2020) and Jackson Holliday (2022) are the others.
Cowser, baseball’s 40th top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, hit a combined .278 with 19 home runs and 66 RBIs at High-A Aberdeen, Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.
The outfielder expected to begin the season back at Norfolk, where he hit .219, five homers and 11 RBIs in 27 games.
He’s optimistic that 2023 will be the year he reaches the major leagues.
“I think about it a little bit. Ultimately, it’s not really up to me,” Cowser said. “It’s up to the [organization] and whether they think I’m ready. I trust that I’m going to go out there and play and play my game and whatever happens, happens.”
Cowser was part of a small camp last month with some other top prospects that offered intensive instruction.
“It was good to get out here. I already knew the big league coaching staff. Getting to spend time with them 1-on-1 was really good,” Cowser said.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with [first base and outfield coach] Anthony Sanders, pretty much just slowing down whenever you get to these bigger stadiums. You’ve got to slow down because the ball’s a little harder to read. You play a little deeper, you’re not going to throw as many guys out. You’re going to try and throw as many out as you can, so it’s a good balance.”
Cowser has seen Henderson and Kyle Stowers already make the major leagues.
“It gets you a little bit antsy,” he said. “I’m just going out there and continue to play and if they think I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.”