The Baltimore Orioles have been painful to watch this year, but there’s reason to have hope when looking at their minor leaguers.
The 2018 Baltimore Orioles season may unanimously go down as one of the worst baseball seasons for any club in major league history. It is crazy to think that such a statement could even be conceivable given the high hopes prior to the season of at least contending for a wild-card spot.
Despite this team being unbearable to watch at times, the minor leagues had provided glimpses of hope. Let’s look at the great strides that have been made in starting pitching.
The Delmarva Shorebirds
Brenan Hanifee just turned 20 years old last month but has been one of the most consistent starters in the Orioles farm system. Hanifee in 14 starts for Delmarva has generated nine quality starts with 11 of those going into the sixth inning.
The young right-hander has shown his tremendous command by only issuing 15 walks in 82 innings of work with an ERA of 2.63 and a WHIP of 1.04. Hanifee’s true weapon has been his sinker but will have to work on his secondaries as he advances further up the ranks.
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Cameron Bishop has nearly matched Hanifee’s command by issuing only 16 walks in 78 innings. The tall 6’4″ lefty has been able to go deep into games with nine quality starts in 13 starts and completing six innings in 11 of those starts.
With a 3.32 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, Bishop has taken major steps forward in improving his command from last year. Bishop was a last minute over slot signing by the Orioles who has proven to be a great sign to boost the system.
Matthias Dietz was rated as one of the top pitchers coming out of the JUCO ranks when he was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2016. In his repeat stint with Delmarva, Dietz has improved command of three pitches where he has flashes a plus fastball and an above-average changeup.
Despite his 3.56 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 65 innings, Dietz has issued 36 walks in that same duration. The power right-hander should be promoted soon to Frederick. At this stage, we should continue to give him the opportunities as a starter however with a mid to upper 90’s fastball, he could prove to be very dangerous in a bullpen one day.
DL Hall is a 19-year-old lefty that the Orioles selected in first round in 2017 and has shown glimpses of brilliance despite issues with command at times. While Hall has issued 23 walks in 44.2 innings, Hall has 39 strikeouts and a 3.43 ERA.
The Orioles have been carefully building Hall’s innings as this is his first full season. This has been a smart strategy given the history of young Oriole pitchers getting hurt. Hall already has a fastball that sits 90-95 mph and has topped at 97 along with a hammer curveball. With a solid amount of projection still left, it is amazing to think what Hall can become in the years to come.
The Frederick Keys
Christian Alvarado is one of the most underrated prospects in the Orioles farm system. Alvarado has had exceptional command throughout his career in the minors with only 14 walks issued in 84 innings this year and a 3.64 ERA.
I was able to watch Alvarado’s start on Wednesday night where he went six innings allowing only five hits, zero walks and eight strikeouts. Alvarado used his fastball and curveball well to keep a heavily talented Winston-Salem lineup with several high draft picks and top 100 prospects unbalanced. Alvarado should be moved to Bowie soon as he has succeeded in his repeat stint with Frederick.
Alex Wells was the 2017 Jim Palmer minor league pitcher of the year with a sensational year in Delmarva. The young 21-year-old lefty’s best weapon is his command which has gone through rough patches this year.
Currently, Wells has issued 24 walks in 80.2 innings, which is not bad until you compare it to only 10 walks in 140 innings last year in Delmarva. Alex Wells had a 3.29 ERA before one of the worst starts in his young career Friday night, jumping his ERA to 3.90. Despite the struggles, Wells has shown dominance when his command is on and will be a fun watch as he continues to grow.
Zac Lowther has been the most dominant of the Orioles’ pitchers as he continues to use his deception and command to baffle hitters. The thickset lefty started the year in Delmarva where he had 51 strikeouts in 31 innings and a 1.16 ERA.
In his five starts in Frederick, he has continued his conquest with a 0.77 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 25 and 1/3 innings. Lowther will truly be tested when he gets to Bowie next year but has shown why he was selected in the second round.
Michael Baumann, a power right-hander, has also joined Lowther in his rise from Delmarva. Baumann in seven starts in Delmarva had an ERA of 1.42 with 47 strikeouts in 38 innings. The Jacksonville University product just recently had the worst start of his career which inflated his ERA but has a respectable 3.55 ERA in eight starts in Frederick.
While Baumann may end up in the bullpen in the major leagues given his plus fastball and above average slider, Baumann can improve his stock with the development of his change up and curve ball.
The Bowie Baysox
Keegan Akin has been the most promising of Orioles starting pitching prospects in recent history. After having an up and down season in Frederick last year, Akin has build off of his Arizona Fall League experience to become one of the best pitching prospect in the system this year.
Akin has made the Eastern League All Star Team with a 2.63 ERA in 15 starts and a league leading 92 punch outs in 85 and 2/3 innings. Keegan Akin has some of the best repeatable mechanics on the farm along with flashes of three above average pitchers in a fastball, slider, and change up.
As a lefty performing this well at a high level, rumors have talked about Akin making an appearance in Baltimore this September. Akin should, however, continue to grow and develop in the minors and will likely be called upon in the middle of the 2019 season.
The Norfolk Tides
Yefry Ramirez was acquired from the New York Yankees cash considerations before the 2017 trade deadline. Ramirez has been a solid acquisition to the Orioles as he has battled through the minor leagues to getting solid work with the Orioles.
In 14 starts at Norfolk, Ramirez has a 3.88 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 72 innings. The young 24-year-old has been even better in his last four starts in June with a 1.59 ERA. In his recent stint with the Orioles, the right-hander went five scoreless innings against a dangerous Seattle Mariners lineup. Ramirez sports a fastball that tops at 95 mph but has one of the best changeups in the system which he has used to get a majority of his strikeouts.
John Means started the year in Bowie but slowly made his ascent to Norfolk and has shown why he is an intriguing arm to keep an eye on.
In Norfolk, Means has made eight starts and sports a 3.88 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 41 and 2/3 innings and has only issued five walks. Means is a deceptive lefty with a probable future in the bullpen but has certainly gotten himself on the radar and could be a September call up.
David Hess has been contributing at the major league level with periods of quality starts and rough starts. It is important to remember that he is a rookie and will have to learn to adjust. The Orioles have added promising pitchers in Grayson Rodriguez, Blaine Knight, and Drew Rom in the 2018 draft which proves to be another strong class.
While I did not mention him in the list above, Hunter Harvey is still an amazing arm whose future will ultimately be decided on his ability to stay healthy. Nonetheless, there is considerable growth in the Oriole farm hands and a ton to be excited about.