Offseason focused on developing
Team’s main goal for roster is to improve the talent base
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.