• Feb

    Breaking down the rotation candidates

    With the first exhibition game under the Orioles belt I guess it's time for me to come out of my self-imposed hibernation.

    The Orioles have some questions that need to be answered this spring, especially when it comes to the make-up of their pitching staff. Let's start with the rotation where only Jeremy Guthie and Koji Uehara have guaranteed spots.

    There are plenty of candidates to fill out the last three spots in the rotation so let's break each of the candidates down and give my prediction on who will win those coveted roles.

    Rich Hill - (1-1 odds of making the rotation) - This soon to be 29-year old lefty is just two years removed from being fourth in the National League in strikeouts with the Cubs and will have to completely implode this spring not to make the rotation. He has the biggest upside of any pitcher realistically in the mix and is out of options, so the Orioles would have to risk losing him on waivers if they tried to sneak him through.  Last year Hill suffered a lower back injury that he said forced him to alter his delivery and caused him to lose his command. So far this spring his stuff has looked dynamic, but the real key will be can he regain his command once he gets on the mound? If he does, Hill will fit very nicely as the number three starter.

    Hayden Penn - (3-1 odds) - Penn has long been a guy the Orioles had high hopes for but injuries have curtailed his once promising future. However, at 24-years old and out of options, the Orioles will need to give him a long look this spring and in my mind, if he pitches decently he's a got good shot at winning one of the rotation spots. Penn was inconsistent last year at Norfolk mainly due to injuries again, but he did flash a fastball that touched 94-95 MPH and an improved curveball to go along with the solid change he always had. The question remains is he durable enough to stay as a starter or will he need to move to the bullpen?

    Radhames Liz - (5-1 odds) - Liz has one of the best arms of any pitcher in camp, but his inability to repeat his mechanics causes him to go through bouts of wildness and there remains some very real concerns that the rotation may not be his best role in the major leagues. Liz's fastball can consistently sit in the 94-96 MPH range and his curveball and change can be swing and miss pitches when he's commanding the fastball.  With options available, Liz may also end up back in Norfolk if out of options pitchers like Penn, Hill, and David Pauley, or non-roster pitchers like Brad Hennessey or John Parrish  pitch well this spring. However, there's a very real upside to having him in the rotation and the Orioles do need to see if he can make it as a major league starter.

    So those are my top three guys to make the rotation. Each of them have the biggest upsides of any of the other realistic candidates, but as we know, spring performance and injuries will end up playing a role. So let's look at the next batch of candidates.

    David Pauley - (5-1 odds) - Probably has the same chance as Liz of making the rotation because he's out of options and the Orioles would have to risk losing him on waivers if he doesn't make the team.  His first appearance yesterday did nothing to help him though as he didn't throw enough strikes and he got lit up for four runs on five hits and walk while retiring just one batter. That's certainly no way to win a rotation spot, but manager Dave Trembley chalked it up to nerves.  Either way, he'll need to be much better in his next few outings or so bad that the Orioles don't have to worry about getting him through waivers. At worse Pauley is good depth at Triple-A and at best he could be a innings eater in the 5th spot.

    John Parrish - (7-1) - The former Oriole remade himself into a starter in Triple-A last year with Blue Jays before getting si x starts in the majors last year with mixed results. Parrish is no longer the strikeout machine he once was, but he appears to have better control as a starter and if he can give the team 5-6 innings he might end up a decent fifth starters option.  He's a non-roster guy so he could easily be stashed at Norfolk is he's beaten out.

    Brad Hennessey - (7-1) - Made a good impression during camp but had to come out of his first start with elbow and forearm stiffness.  A former first round pick who has pitched the last three years with the Giants in various roles, struggled mightily last year and ended up released. He had a pretty realistic chance of making the rotation but will need to be more effective and hope his arm problems are just early spring soreness and nothing serious.

    Mark Hendrickson - (10-1) - The Orioles want this six-foot-nine left-hander as the swingman on the team pitching out long relief and filling in for emergency starts. However, he did make 19 starts last year for the Marlins so if he pitches effectively and an opportunity opens up, he could slip into the equation.

    Chris Waters - (10-1) - Waters is a guy the Orioles saw come out of nowhere last year and at least showed them he can have some success at the big league level. Waters doesn't have overwhelming stuff and is nothing more than a 5th starter at best, but he can battle and showed enough pitchability last year to merit a look this spring. He's got options available and needs either injuries or serious ineffectiveness by the above pitchers to make the club. He could also fill in as the swing man if something happened to Mark Hendrickson.

    Danys Baez - (10-1) - Baez's odds are only this good because the Orioles owe him so much money that they will want to try and find a role for him after he missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Baez has talked about coming back as a starter, but the chances of a fairly ineffective reliever over the last few seasons reinventing himself as a starter seem remote. Call me skeptical, but I just don't see Baez making the rotation.

    The next group of guys are the real, real long shots and would need to be just about unhittable this spring and have the above pitchers be seriously ineffective to have any shot.

    Troy Patton - (15-1) - I just don't see Patton being given much of a chance to make the rotation after coming back from labrum surgery. The Orioles will send him to Norfolk or Bowie to get some innings but don't be surprised if Patton ends up with the Orioles before the year is out.

    Matt Albers - (15-1) - I think the Orioles like Albers in the long relief role so I'm not sure he's got much of a chance for the rotation, especially with as many candidates in front of him and with him coming off the labrum injury.

    Brad Bergesen - (15-1) - Bergesen is a guy who could surprise some folks if he pitches well this spring, but he's scheduled for the Norfolk rotation. He's another guy though who could log some innings with the Orioles this year before the season's out.

    Jake Arrieta - (20-1) - As good as his stuff is, I can't see the Orioles jumping him from A-ball to the majors. He's scheduled to pitch at Bowie this year and only completely dominating the minors coupled with major league ineffectiveness or injuries this year will get him a look with the O's.

    Chris Tillman - (20-1) - He'll only be 21-years old this season and still needs to work on his command a bit despite his outstanding stuff.  He would need blow everyone away to be given a real look since he's scheduled to pitch at either Norfolk or possibly back in Bowie if the Tides rotation bogs down with guys who didn't make the Orioles rotation.

    David Hernandez - (50-1) -  The strikeout machine will get a few innings, but it's doubtful he's in the conversation for  a starter's job in Baltimore this year.

    Brian Matusz - (500-1) - As good as Matusz is supposed to be, there's no way the Orioles give him a chance to jump from college straight to the rotation.

    If the Orioles come out of spring training with a rotation of Guthrie, Uehara, Hill, Penn and Liz, there's enough upside to that rotation that the Orioles may just surprise some teams this season. Granted, a lot of things would need to go right to have all of that potential in the rotation, and the team might need to keep Hendrickson, Bass and Albers in the bullpen just to eat up all the innings the bullpen would most likely need to eat up, but it certainly would be interesting rotation to watch.

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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.