It was a wonderful weekend for Bowie Baysox pitchers. On Friday night, Chayce McDermott, Nolan Hoffman and Easton Lucas combined for the Double-A team’s fifth nine-inning no-hitter in team history.
On Sunday, just after being elevated onto MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Orioles prospect list, Justin Armbruester lowered his ERA to 1.56 with five strong innings in Bowie’s 5-2 win over Altoona.
The Baysox haven’t gotten nearly the attention that Triple-A Norfolk has. Many of the Tides’ best players played in Bowie last year. This year, the Baysox are just 12-25, but still have some top-shelf prospects, including, first baseman/outfielder Heston Kjerstad (4th), third baseman Coby Mayo (8th), left-hander Cade Povich (11th), infielder César Prieto (16th) and left-handed starter outfielder John Rhodes (19th).
But this week, McDermott, the 17th-rated prospect, got the attention. McDermott was obtained by the Orioles from the Houston Astros in the three-way deal last August that sent Trey Mancini to the Astros. The Orioles also obtained right-hander Seth Johnson, who had Tommy John surgery last August.
McDermott was a fourth-round pick by the Astros in 2021, and after he threw five hitless innings, walking four and striking out four, his ERA was 2.62. He’s 3-2, and in his eight appearances, he has allowed just five hits per nine innings.
“He has great stuff and he’s worked really hard on his ability to execute it in zone, execute his best pitches to different types of hitters,” Bowie pitching coach Forrest Herrmann said. “You’ve seen it really come together in some great performances. You’ve also seen him figure out how to troubleshoot the situation on the mound and navigate some difficult innings, which is a lot of credit to him in his development and progress. He’s worked really hard on, obviously all those things, but also moving better in a way that he can produce his best stuff often.”
Herrmann also saw McDermott pitch twice in 2022 when he was High-A Aberdeen’s pitching coach.
Armbruester’s development: Armbruester, a 24-year-old, was the Orioles’ 12th-round draft pick from the University of New Mexico in 2021, and he’s progressed nicely.
A year ago, he was 6-2 with a 3.85 ERA in 26 games with Aberdeen and Bowie. He has good control, and he’s averaging fewer than three walks per nine innings.
“I think the thing that’s really gone well for me is just learning how to attack the zone with multiple pitches,” Armbruester said. “Being able to throw multiple pitches for strikes, which really leads me to get ahead and get to those 0-2, 1-2 counts as fast as possible. That puts the hitters on their heels, which has led to a lot of success for me.”
On May 10th, Armbruester allowed a run on three hits in five innings, striking out seven and walking one at Harrisburg, and in his first of two starts against Altoona last week, he allowed three unearned runs on four hits while throwing a season-high six innings.
“Fortunate to be in my second year getting to work with him and see him develop,” Herrmann said. “It’s an amazing growth mindset. He’s really been able to take a lot of strides on his repertoire, developing that, diversifying that, added new pitches in-season last year as well as this offseason. Obviously executes very, very well inside the strike zone.”
Armbruester has been able to transition well from High-A, where he started 12 times last season to Bowie, where he appeared in 14 games.
“The biggest thing I noticed in going from High-A to Double-A was, in High-A you can attack the zone, you can throw it over the plate, you don’t have to locate it as well,” he said. “When you get here, hitters don’t chase as much. They take better pitches in-zone and they punish pitches over the plate. You really have to learn how to set up pitches, but then also execute in-zone as well as out of zone to get them to chase, but also to swing over pitches in-zone.”
The Orioles have a defined way of teaching pitching in their organization, and Armbruester has profited from it.
“We read a lot into data analytics and building pitches on the Trackman and making pitches move on the horizontal and vertical graph,” he said. “The Orioles really like hop and they also really like vertical break on a curveball and on a slider, so the biggest thing I’ve learned from the Orioles is how to develop pitches on the Trackman, but then also take one pitch on the Trackman and turn it into three by throwing one at the top string, one in the middle just off the plate and then below the bottom string.”
It doesn’t take a special type of pitcher to succeed in the organization, Armbruester believes.
“I just think the biggest thing is being able to learn and adapt and take what they have to tell you day-in and day-out and find one thing you can learn from it because if you’re able to get one day better and learn one thing each day, you can get better as the days go on throughout the long season.”
He’s gotten to appreciate how close physically the Orioles’ affiliates are.
“It’s really nice to have all the farm clubs near each other because we’re able to see the coordinators come in and out, see different faces every day,” he said. “We have a lot of big leaguers come down from Baltimore, which has been huge for us, not only development-wise, but getting to know the big leaguers. When we turn on the game at night, it’s like, ‘I know that guy. I’ve seen that guy around the locker room.”
This year, Kyle Bradish, Mychal Givens and Dillon Tate have pitched for Bowie on their rehab assignments.
“One question that I asked Bradish was: ‘Are you more focused on the results or more focused on executing pitches on where you want to execute them?’ He said that starting in the Double-A level and going forward, everybody can hit. Everybody gets paid to hit. You’ve got to focus on executing pitches to the location you want to throw it and if you can throw it to that location, be happy with it, but if you miss your location, you’ve still got some work to do, but if the guy hits it, the guy hits it. At this level, everybody gets paid to hit as much as we get paid to throw strikes.”
Because of the depth of the Orioles’ staff as well as Norfolk’s, it’s harder to pitchers to move up.
“Everybody wants to be moving up, but at the same time, it’s out of our control, and the only thing we can control on the field is what we do every day,” he said. “Hopefully, my time will come and I’ll get called up, but for now, all I can do every day is to go out and have fun and keep working hard.”
Armbruester is from Sammamish, Washington, but he’s a quasi-Marylander.
“My mother was born in Frederick,” he said. “She grew up an Orioles fan … I was fortunate to get picked by the Orioles. A little bit of hometown here, not quite so much home for me. It’s a little bit more humid than it is back in Seattle, but it’s all right. There are a lot of things that remind me of home here, and the people are so nice out there. Everybody’s willing to help. Everybody’s got good dinner recommendations so it’s been really cool to be out here on the East Coast.”