Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Orioles Moving Closer to a Defined Rotation

After it was announced today that Danys Baez will not be in contention for the starting rotation, the Orioles have now focused the competition on five pitchers searching for the remaining three starting spots. Danys Baez was eliminated from contention for most likely two reasons: 1) He was relatively ineffective this spring in pitching to an underwhelming 5.54 ERA, and 2) Baez was unable to utilize his offspeed pitches due to either injury or lack of confidence (or both). It was admirable that Baez has made such a strong attempt to come back, but it simply makes more sense from the team's perspective to have him earn his spot out of the bullpen rather than putting him in a role that he doesn't belong in.

So now the final three rotation spots will be filled by some combination of: Hayden Penn, Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson, Alfredo Simon, and Brian Bass. In my opinion, none of these five qualify as a solid major league starter, but as of right now they are the best options the Orioles have without risking their young prospects. Of these five only Hendrickson seems to be a lock for the rotation in that the Orioles front office went out of their way to sign him and at the very least he is a veteran who knows how to pitch (even if he is better suited as a swingman). The next name I would guess would be Adam Eaton for the same reason as Hendrickson, in that while Eaton has pitched poorly in recent years, he is a veteran who has been around and is more likely to be a stable presence. Alfredo Simon, a relative unknown, is likely to claim the last spot if only for his somewhat impressive spring over some of the other pitchers in camp. Both Brian Bass and Hayden Penn have been given ample opportunity to succeed (particularly Penn, who has one more chance to make a statement as he takes over Baez's scheduled start on Thursday), but they simply haven't produced as others have. Furthermore, Brian Bass would have had to show a good deal this spring to change minds in the organization after he struggled mightily late last season. Hayden Penn was once a top prospect but is now out of minor league options, so it's most likely that the team will put him as the long reliever and hope that he comes around at the major league level.

So what does this all add up to? A very very frightening year for Orioles pitching. The pitching depth in this organization is excellent, but right now the Orioles are in a very "wait, wait, not yet" mode with their pitchers. Top prospects like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and others are simply too young to come up. Others like Troy Patton, Rich Hill and Matt Albers are still waiting to get over the hump coming off of injury. Thankfully arms like Patton, Hill, Albers, and Bergesen should be ready to come up at some point this year, but Orioles fans need to be understanding of this situation. The major league pitching will be bad this year, possibly historically bad at the start of the season. But patience is key, because the future is coming; it's just not here yet.

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