Off­sea­son fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing

Team’s main goal for ros­ter is to im­prove the tal­ent base

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli

At least un­til the Rule 5 draft pro­tec­tion dead­line later this month, the Orioles’ ros­ter is prob­a­bly through its first tu­mul­tuous pe­riod of the off­sea­son, with the set­tled na­ture of the next few weeks bring­ing the Orioles close to the one-year an­niver­sary of the stew­ard­ship of ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent/gen­eral man­ager Mike Elias.

Though Elias’ work on the ros­ter re­ally got kick­ing in Jan­uary, the team’s over­all mis­sion for the ma­jor league ros­ter has been a symp­tom of the wider goal of im­prov­ing the tal­ent base in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Where that’s had the most im­pact in the past year has been on the pitch­ing side. The Orioles have cy­cled sev­eral pitch­ers off the ros­ter and re­placed them with out­side waiver claims.

That serves two pur­poses: First, it cy­cles pitch­ers onto the ros­ter from other or­ga­ni­za­tions to fill what was a pretty sig­nif­i­cant gap in the Orioles’ depth chart in terms of ma­jor league ready pitch­ing they de­vel­oped them­selves. Asher Wo­j­ciechowski and Aaron Brooks stuck.

Oth­ers, like Chan­dler Shep­herd, Tom Eshel­man, and Ty Blach, didn’t make the grade and were cy­cled back off the ros­ter. But their mere pres­ence in the or­ga­ni­za­tion at Triple-A Nor­folk, along with all the pitch­ers the Orioles out­righted in the past week, could change the equa­tion for how the team han­dles its highly touted next wave of pitch­ing prospects who are ap­proach­ing Triple-A Nor­folk, if they aren’t there al­ready.

This year’s Nor­folk staff was full of up-and-down types, many of whomw­eren’t as much in the devel­op­ment busi­ness as in the shut­tle busi­ness. It’s pretty clear there’s a dif­fer­ence. For in­stance, left-han­der

Kee­gan Akin was there to de­velop, and spent the whole year with the team with­out any real con­sid­er­a­tion to make his ma­jor league de­but.

While that’s not ideal, that’s a bet­ter fate than the or­ga­ni­za­tion shut­tling play­ers up and down, or on and off the ros­ter, as hap­pened with Jimmy Ya­cabo­nis, Matt Wother­spoon, Eshel­man, Blach and count­less oth­ers.

And that doesn’t in­clude those who re­mained on the ros­ter, like Evan Phillips, Tan­ner Scott, David Hess and Bran­den Kline. All those pitch­ers re­main likely parts of the Orioles’ plans, and are valu­able depth pieces that the or­ga­ni­za­tion believes can be part of their fu­ture.

As the ros­ter stands now, there’s plenty of op­tion­able pieces to work with on the pitch­ing side. But there will also be a group of pitch­ers in Akin’s po­si­tion at Triple-A Nor­folk who are there to pitch in the ro­ta­tion and de­velop with­out be­ing sub­ject to the ma­jor league ros­ter whims — in­clud­ing Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zim­mer­mann. Mike Bau­mann could be part of that group by mid­sea­son, if not sooner, and both Akin and Dean Kre­mer will be added to the 40-man ros­ter this month. Akin is cer­tainly an op­tion for 2020, but there won’t be any rush with Kre­mer, who the or­ga­ni­za­tion thinks highly of.

That’s what makes re­mov­ing Luis Or­tiz, Tayler Scott, Eades and Shep­herd from the ros­ter and hang­ing onto them since the sea­son ended sig­nif­i­cant. Same goes for the de­ci­sions to knock Eshel­man, Ya­cabo­nis and Blach off the ros­ter dur­ing the sea­son — and it’s prob­a­bly why some­one like Gabriel Ynoa opted to try and pitch else­where in free agency rather than stay in the or­ga­ni­za­tion this year.

While they’d cer­tainly rather be on it, it’s a good place for the or­ga­ni­za­tion to be in to be able to add those types of Triple-A pitch­ers to the ros­ter in a pinch than have to mess with one of their highly rated prospects’ devel­op­ment.

They showed no will­ing­ness to do the lat­ter in a sea­son when progress on the farm was far more im­por­tant to the Orioles than what hap­pened at the ma­jor league level, and there’s rea­son to as­sume that might be more dras­tic a di­chotomy in Year 2 un­der Elias and Co.

There will be plenty more ros­ter churn to come this off­sea­son, and with Open­ing Day, there will be a 26th ros­ter spot to play with. But ev­ery player the Orioles keep in the or­ga­ni­za­tion can still serve the pur­pose of help­ing those who can de­liver on Elias’ prom­ise of a sus­tain­able con­tender in the fu­ture.

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