Start­ing pitch­ing looks good for next year

Baltimore Sun - - MLB PLAYOFFS - By Jon Me­oli With the 2016 sea­son fin­ished, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to take stock of the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at ev­ery po­si­tion. We’re break­ing down po­si­tions in­di­vid­u­ally and sep­a­rat­ing the play­ers all through the sys­tem into t

The men: A pat­tern is emerg­ing in play­off sea­sons for the Ori­oles. In 2014 and this year, the ro­ta­tion stum­bled through the first half be­fore kick­ing it up a gear down the stretch.

The 2016 ro­ta­tion be­gan with Chris Till­man, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yo­vani Gal­lardo as fix­tures, and with Mike Wright, Vance Wor­ley and Tyler Wil­son also in the mix be­fore Kevin Gaus­man came back from shoul­der ten­dini­tis. The ro­ta­tion didn’t look that way for long. Till­man was the only con­stant, as Gal­lardo dealt with shoul­der prob­lems for two months, and by June, Jimenez had pitched him­self out of the ro­ta­tion and the league had fig­ured out Wright and Wil­son.

By the time the sea­son ended, the Ori­oles ef­fec­tively had a six-man ro­ta­tion. Till­man fin­ished the sea­son with a 16-6 record and a 3.77 ERA, sec­ond only to Gaus­man’s 3.61 among Ori­oles starters. Dy­lan Bundy joined the ro­ta­tion in the sec­ond half, go­ing 8-5 with a 4.52 ERA as a starter. Gal­lardo and Jimenez fin­ished the year with ERAs of 5.42 and 5.44, re­spec­tively, with Jimenez re­join­ing the ro­ta­tion in Au­gust and pitch­ing well down the stretch.

The team’s ma­jor trade dead­line ac­qui­si­tion, Wade Mi­ley, went 2-5 with a 6.17 ERA as an Ori­ole. The al­ter­na­tives: For this pur­pose, we’ll con­sider Wil­son, Wright and Wor­ley the al­ter­na­tives. Each had his mo­ments this year, but fin­ished the sea­son more as depth op­tions. Wor­ley was used in ev­ery role — long re­lief, short re­lief and starts — dur­ing the year, fin­ish­ing with a 3.53 ERA.

Wright and Wil­son each earned a Chris Till­man was the only con­stant in the start­ing ro­ta­tion, fin­ish­ing with a 16-6 record and a 3.77 ERA. spot on the team com­ing out of spring train­ing, but Wright was sent down in mid-June with a 6.12 ERA, and Wil­son joined him at Triple-A Nor­folk a few weeks later. Wright ended the year with a 5.79 ERA and Wil­son with a 5.27 ERA, each pitch­ing out of the bullpen in Septem­ber. The fu­ture: Any con­ver­sa­tion about the Ori­oles’ ro­ta­tion depth for the fu­ture starts with Wright and Wil­son, but it cer­tainly isn’t a long talk. With Bundy fi­nally in the ma­jor league ro­ta­tion and 2013 first-round draft pick Hunter Har­vey on the shelf af­ter Tommy John el­bow re­con­struc­tion, the most promis­ing pitch­ing prospects prob­a­bly come from this year’s draft class.

Head­lined by first-round pick Cody Sed­lock, the Ori­oles’ 2016 draft class fea­tured three col­lege play­ers who im­pressed at Short-A Aberdeen. Sed­lock struck out 25 bat­ters in 27 in­nings with a 3.00 ERA for the IronBirds. Sec­ond-round left-han­der Kee­gan Akin didn’t al­low a run in his last 18 in­nings and fin­ished with a 1.04 ERA in nine starts. Sec­on­drounder Matthias Di­etz also showed prom­ise, as did19-year-old Aus­tralian left-han­der Alex Wells. Wells struck out 50 with a 0.91 WHIP while post­ing a 2.15 ERA in 13 starts.

Do­mini­can right-han­der Ofelky Per­alta, a hard-throw­ing 19-year-old with a good changeup who struck out 101 in 1031⁄ in­nings this past sea­son, head­lined the ro­ta­tion at Low-A Del­marva. The Shore­birds’ most con­sis­tent pitcher, how­ever, was left­hander Brian Gon­za­lez, who re- peated the level at age 20 and went 10-8 with a 2.50 ERA.

Jhon Peluffo, a 19-year-old Colom­bian righty, briefly ap­peared in Del­marva but did best in the Gulf Coast League, where he had a 1.89 ERA with 40 strike­outs in eight starts.

Right-han­der Matthew Grimes and left-han­der John Means be­gan the year at High-A Fred­er­ick and dom­i­nated there. Means was pro­moted to Dou­ble-A Bowie af­ter go­ing 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA in nine starts for the Keys, and Grimes went 8-4 with a 1.45 ERA in 14 games be­fore he moved up. Each found the Eastern League a bit more chal­leng­ing, with Means post­ing a 4.69 ERA and Grimes a 4.68 for the Baysox.

There was plenty of prom­ise in the Bowie ro­ta­tion early in the year, with Parker Brid­well, David Hess, Chris Lee, Joe Gunkel and Ja­son Gar­cia back there this spring. Brid­well was de­railed by a frac­tured rib, then con­verted to a re­lief role, while Lee, an ath­letic left-han­der, didn’t pitch af­ter May 23 be­cause of a shoul­der in­jury.

Hess had a 5.37 ERA in 25 ap­pear­ances, while Gunkel prob­a­bly had the best year of the bunch with a 4.02 ERA be­tween Bowie and Nor­folk. Gar­cia, a De­cem­ber 2014 Rule 5 draft pick, had a 4.73 ERA as he re­turned to start­ing. The skinny: The thin start­ing depth in the mi­nors likely won’t be a con­cern in 2017, with Till­man, Gaus­man, Bundy, Jimenez, Gal­lardo and Mi­ley re­turn­ing, plus Wil­son, Wright, and Wor­ley in re­serve. There’s only enough space for five in the ro­ta­tion, though, so the Ori­oles are guar­an­teed to have some in­trigue there come spring train­ing.

That means, for the first time in seem­ingly ages, bring­ing in a start­ing pitcher isn’t a man­date for the front of­fice this off­sea­son. Don’t ex­pect that to last, as the con­tracts of Till­man, Jimenez, Gal­lardo and Mi­ley ex­pire af­ter the 2017 sea­son.

It’s rea­son­able to ex­pect some im­prove­ment from the back end of the ro­ta­tion next year, and more im­prove­ment from young stars Gaus­man and Bundy. It will be best for the Ori­oles if those two con­tinue to evolve into bona fide front-line pitch­ers next sea­son, as they’ll be the only con­stants in the ro­ta­tion go­ing for­ward.

KARL MERTON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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