Baltimore Orioles pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota on Tuesday in what figures to be an interesting Spring Training. With so many spots on the Orioles roster up-for-grabs, Ed Smith Stadium will not be short of competition in the next month and a half.
With that in mind, the Orioles pitching rotation might be the most stable area on the team in regards to carryover from 2018. Pending injury, three starters in last year’s rotation will return. The back end of the rotation gets dicey. However, there’s some exciting young arms in the mix that got valuable experience in the reluctantly memorable 115-loss season.
Here’s an early look at what the Baltimore Orioles 2019 starting rotation could look like:
#1: Dylan Bundy
2018: 8-16, 31 GS, 171.2 IP, 184 K, 5.45 ERA
It’s safe to say that to this point, Dylan Bundy has not lived up to the hype of being a fourth overall pick. Since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2016, Bundy has looked dominant at times and horrible at others.
Remember when Bundy started a game against the Royals last season and had to be pulled before he even recorded an out, giving up seven runs on four home runs? He followed that up by tossing seven innings of two-run ball against the Blue Jays with no home runs allowed.
In 2018 Bundy led Major League Baseball in home runs given up with 41. Meanwhile, his ERA climbed up from his 2017 total (4.24). Many have questioned if Bundy’s arm is still an issue. Given his struggles allowing the long ball, there’s no reason not to think there’s still some lingering side effects from Tommy John surgery.
Bundy is one of a few starting pitchers in this rotation that could draw trade interest if his 2019 season gets off to strong start. His title as a high-round draft pick will be an attractive stamp if he can become a more consistent pitcher.
If Bundy struggles in Spring Training, Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde could turn to a veteran starter to take the ball against the Yankees on March 28. Unless that’s the case, the Orioles will most likely name Bundy their Opening Day starter for the second year in a row.
#2: Alex Cobb
2018: 5-15, 28 GS, 152.1 IP, 102 K, 4.90 ERA
Aside from posting a 8.59 ERA in 2016, a season reduced to five starts following a return from Tommy John, 2018 was the worst season of Alex Cobb’s career. In the first three months of last season, Cobb failed to pitch past the fifth inning in six of 14 starts. His ERA at the All-Star Break was 6.53.
What’s easy to forget is that Cobb didn’t sign with the Orioles until March 20, nine days before Baltimore’s Opening Day contest against Minnesota. With a struggling rotation, Cobb was rushed to make his Orioles debut, which took place on April 14. For those counting, less than a month passed between Cobb inking his contract and making his first start of the season. No wonder he struggled early.
In the final three months of 2018, Cobb pitched at least six innings in nine of 14 starts. His ERA dropped by over a full run and he looked like the pitcher the Orioles expect him to be. With a full Spring Training this time around, Cobb should bounce back. He’s another guy who, with a strong start, could become a commodity the Orioles try to move via trade.
Let’s just hope that those pesky finger blisters don’t pop up again. Cobb dealt with the blisters a handful of times last season. They forced him to miss a few starts and be pulled from games too.
#3: Andrew Cashner
2018: 4-15, 28 GS, 153 IP, 99 K, 5.29 ERA
Like Cobb, Cashner is a veteran starter who the Orioles could shop if he delivers a decent first half. Cobb has more of a track record than Cashner, but both players carry experience that many contending teams always find attractive. Unlike Cobb, Cashner has never pitched in the postseason.
Cashner missed the final weeks of the 2018 season due to patella bursitis in his left knee. He also spent multiple 10-day stints on the disabled list last season with back and neck issues. At 32 there’s reasons to be worried about Cashner’s longevity given the recent ailments. He’s expected to be a full participant at the start of Spring Training but his health is something for the training staff to monitor.
With Texas in 2017, Cashner put forward a decent season, going 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA in 28 starts. But 2018 marked the fifth time in five seasons that his ERA crept over five runs, and he allowed a career-high 25 home runs last year.
There’s something to be said about pitching at Camden Yards being a factor in the home run department, but the Orioles should keep a close eye on Cashner’s arm this season. He’s entering the last year of a two-year deal. Given where the Orioles are, they should move him before the trade deadline if they can.
Career: 16-11, 321 K, 4.37 ERA
In-case you missed it, last week the Orioles signed the 31-year-old Nate Karns to a one-year contract worth $800K. It marked both the first major league signing the O’s made this offseason, and the first big league signing for new general manager Mike Elias.
Formerly of the Nationals, Rays, Mariners, and Royals, Karns has started 54 games in five seasons. His best year was in 2016 when he tossed 147 innings for the Rays in 26 starts, going 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA and 145 strikeouts.
Karns did not pitch in the major leagues in 2018 due to elbow inflammation. He only made eight starts in 2017 before undergoing a thoracic outlet surgery. He has also dealt with injuries to his back (2016) and leg (2013).
Despite the injury risks involved, this is a low-risk, team-friendly signing. With the Orioles expected to finish in last place in the American League East, Karns will get an opportunity to revive his career at the back of Baltimore’s rotation. If he gets injured again or struggles, the team can move on quickly and give more opportunities to young players.
#5: David Hess / Jimmy Yacabonis / Yefry Ramirez
The last spot in Baltimore’s rotation will likely come down to three players who gained experience starting in the majors last year.
Hess: 3-10, 19 GS (21 G), 103.1 IP, 74 K, 4.88 ERA
Out of the three, Hess performed the best, both with the big league club and in the minors. Hess started nine games at Triple-A Norfolk last year, allowing just 16 runs in 45.1 innings pitched. In his time with the O’s, he got better as time went on. He relies on contact go get hitters out. The key for him this spring is to develop his repertoire of pitches. Hopefully that translates to more strikeouts.
As of now, Hess should be considered the favorite to land the fifth spot in the rotation.
Yacabonis: 0-2, 7 GS (12 G), 40 IP, 33 K, 5.40 ERA
What happens do Yacabonis will likely come down to how Elias and Hyde want to use him. Yacabonis has been in the Orioles minor league system every year dating back to 2013, but 2018 was the first time that he had been used as a starter at any level.
Yacabonis’s longest start with the Orioles last year went five innings. There’s a good chance that he makes the opening day roster, but there’s also a good chance that the new regime places him back into his natural role – a reliever.
Ramirez: 1-8, 12 GS (17 G), 65.1 IP, 62 K, 5.92 ERA
Yefry, often mistaken for Jeffery, showed us some good things last season. He’s got a nasty slider at his disposal, but throwing that slider accurately became a struggle in his 2018 outings.
At this point, it’s likely that Ramirez begins the season at Triple-A Norfolk. With Hess the favorite to win the last spot in the rotation, along with starting being Ramirez’s normal role, it’s best for him to work on his craft in the minors until an opportunity arises. If Hess or Karns either gets hurt or gets blown up in Spring Training, Ramirez could sneak into the rotation to begin the season.
Featured Image Credit: The Washington Times