8 Rookies Who Could Play a Major Role in the Baltimore Orioles' 2015 Season
In 2014, only five rookies got playing time for the Baltimore Orioles: Caleb Joseph, Jonathan Schoop, Christian Walker, Kevin Gausman and Preston Guilmet.
That number pales in comparison with past seasons for the club, some of which saw more than a dozen rookies get at least one at-bat or one inning's worth of work.
The fact that the number was so low is a testament to how well-built the big league roster is. Even more impressive is the fact that of those five, three contributed in a major way.
Joseph stepped in when Matt Wieters was lost for the season and performed admirably, slugging nine home runs at the plate and throwing out 40 percent of runners from behind it. Schoop surprisingly won the second base job out of spring training and offered Gold Glove-caliber defense while slugging 16 homers of his own. Gausman made 20 starts throughout the course of the season, posting a 3.57 ERA, and was dominant out of the bullpen during the playoffs.
Chances are high there will be a handful of rookies who get significant playing time in 2015, and as such, it's time to take a long, hard look at who those players could be.
Position: Right-Handed Pitcher
Height, Weight: 6'6", 215 pounds
In many ways, the Orioles were incredibly lucky in 2014.
While several of their starters missed a few starts here and there, they still had Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Wei-Yin Chen, Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez account for 161 of the team's 162 starts.
Don't expect that trend to continue in 2015. It's rare for a starting rotation to make it through an entire season using just five or six guys. As such, a few pitchers down at Triple-A Norfolk, and possibly even Double-A Bowie, might get called up for starts throughout the season.
With 27 starts at the Triple-A level, right-hander Mike Wright might be the first to have his name called. The 24-year-old took some knocks last season, but he got better as the season wore on. After posting a 1-8 record and a 6.15 ERA in 18 starts before the All-Star break, he went 4-3 with a 1.90 mark after.
With five or six legitimate starting pitchers fighting for rotation spots this spring, Wright is definitely ticketed to start 2015 back at Norfolk, but don't discount his chances at making an impact on Buck Showalter and the front office during spring training.
Also, don't think for a second that Showalter wouldn't bring Wright up to help in the bullpen, especially if the O's let Tommy Hunter or Brad Brach walk this offseason.
Wright normally throws his fastball in the 91-94 mph range, but pitching in one- to two-inning stints, he could dial it up to 97 mph.
Position: First Baseman
Height, Weight: 6'0", 220 pounds
After an incredible season in which he led all O's minor leaguers with 26 homers and 96 RBI, Walker received a late-season call-up.
Showalter was determined to get a look at the slugger before the end of the season, especially after the season-ending suspension of Chris Davis left a gaping hole in the Baltimore lineup—both at first base and at the plate.
Walker had a few highlights, including his first hit and his first big league home run, but he also showed some weakness, striking out nine times in just 18 at-bats.
With Davis expecting an offer in line with the $10.35 million he was paid in 2014, there's the possibility that the O's choose to spend that money elsewhere and take a chance on the 23-year-old. It's been a long time since the O's gave meaningful playing time to a rookie at first base, however, and they will have an in-house replacement for Davis once they re-sign Steve Pearce.
Pearce also plays the outfield, opening up the possibility that Walker spends a solid chunk of the year in the majors, especially if he lives up to his billing as a slightly above-average hitter with above-average power.
|Career Totals (Minors)||264||1006||136||294||57||2||39||161||100||213||6||5||.292||.361||.469|
|Career Totals (Majors)||6||18||1||3||1||0||1||1||1||9||0||0||.167||.211||.389|
Height, Weight: 6'1", 195 pounds
Largely forgotten after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Dylan Bundy should finally make the leap from being a much-heralded prospect to a player who can contribute at the major league level in 2014.
Before being shut down in early August, Bundy showed that he was healthy, making nine starts for short-season Aberdeen and High-A Frederick. The results were mixed, and the 21-year-old right-hander showed some definite rust, issuing 13 walks in 26.1 innings with the Keys.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Bundy's return was that he showed good velocity and the same ability to complement his mid-90s fastball with a plethora of off-speed pitches and breaking balls.
Taking into account that Bundy has only pitched 18.1 innings above High-A ball, it shouldn't come as a shock when he starts the season back at Double-A Bowie. If he shows the same stuff and can produce better results, he might be the second or third pitcher to get the call should one of the current rotation members go down with injury.
More likely is that Bundy will spend the year in the minors—half of the season at Bowie and the other half at Triple-A Norfolk—and then come up late in the season to pitch out of the bullpen.
|Career Totals (Minors)||10||6||2.42||32||32||0||145.0||105||44||39||6||44||156|
|Career Totals (Majors)||0||0||0.00||2||0||0||1.2||1||0||0||0||1||0|
Height, Weight: 6'2", 180 pounds
Dariel Alvarez has done nothing but hit since signing with the Orioles out of Cuba in July 2013.
He found his groove at Double-A Bowie at the beginning of last season and showed little weakness when he was bumped up to Triple-A. Had the Orioles not been in the hunt for a playoff berth, there's no doubt the 25-year-old would have received a call-up at some point.
Alas, Alvarez will likely have to wait until 2015 to get his shot in the big leagues. When and where he'll find meaningful playing time is another question. The front office doesn't appear ready to hand him an every-day job, so he could be stuck in Triple-A for the majority of next season, unless he performs so well he forces his way onto the big league roster.
Fortunately for Alvarez, the Orioles used more than 10 players in the outfield in 2014, so even if he doesn't stick for good, he'll likely get a few looks at some point.
|Career Totals (Minors)||157||611||84||190||41||4||19||97||25||73||9||7||.311||.336||.484|
Height, Weight: 6'2", 185 pounds
After a sterling career at the University of Virginia, Wilson has steadily worked his way through the minor league system, culminating in 12 starts at Triple-A Norfolk in 2014.
Ticketed to start the 2015 back at Norfolk, Wilson is just a phone call away from making his major league debut. If Mike Wright doesn't get the call first, Wilson will likely be the first pitcher called up to fill a hole in the rotation.
While he doesn't blow anyone away with his fastball (88-93 mph), he locates his pitches better than anyone in the Orioles system. As a result, he's prone to some pretty awful outings when he isn't hitting his spots. When he's on, though, he pinpoints his pitches with incredible accuracy and mixes offerings with the best of them.
He doesn't walk many batters (2.3 BB/9) and actually strikes out a surprising number (8.1 K/9), given his lack of premium velocity. It's that lack of velocity, however, that will likely cause his walk rate to jump once he reaches the big league level. Also, since he doesn't throw in the mid-to-high 90s, it's unlikely Wilson finds a home in the bullpen, especially with several flamethrowers behind him in the system, should he not prove to be a suitable fit as a starter.
|Career Totals (Minors)||32||24||3.73||88||88||0||494.1||448||226||205||55||125||445|
Height, Weight: 5'11", 210 pounds
Anyone who thought Caleb Joseph, who was a seventh-round pick and made his big league debut in 2014 at age 27, was a feel-good story needs to read about Brian Ward.
Signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2009 draft, Ward is closing in on 400 minor league games, the majority of which he's started at catcher. While he hasn't done much hitting (career .237 average), Ward does offer arguably the finest set of defensive tools in the Orioles system.
Heck, he might offer the best defensive skill set of any catcher in any team's minor league system.
He's thrown out 39 percent of runners over his six-year career in the minors, including a career-high 53 percent in 2011. That number will be highly appealing to Buck Showalter should one of the O's regular catchers go down with an injury sometime during the 2015 season.
In addition to the effect he has on the running game, Ward has done some incredible work with some of the top pitching prospects in the system over his time with the Orioles.
|Career Totals (Minors)||394||1204||151||283||51||1||15||132||173||227||19||6||.237||.339||.318|
Height, Weight: 6'3", 210 pounds
A standout reliever and starter in college, where he was a teammate of fellow Oriole farmhand Tyler Wilson, Kline has started exclusively as a pro.
The results have been mixed, but one gets the sense that the 23-year-old is finally hitting his stride. After missing a good chunk of the 2013 season with a broken ankle, Kline looked strong at Double-A Bowie, posting a 3.84 ERA in 23 starts. He proved incredibly stingy with the long ball, posting a 0.6 HR/9 rate.
With just 16.2 innings above A-ball, the O's would love to see Kline log another healthy campaign before testing him with a major league call-up. However, if he continues to show an advanced feel for pitching, it might be hard to keep him in the minors for much longer.
His most likely role would be as a hard-throwing reliever. In relief appearances in college, he was able to ratchet his fastball into the mid-to-high 90s.
|Career Totals (Minors)||9||10||4.44||37||37||0||190.2||214||103||94||15||61||148|
Height, Weight: 5'11", 180 pounds
The question is on everyone's mind.
Was Yastrzemski's 2014 performance a product of facing inferior competition, or is the 24-year-old really one of the top steals of the 2013 draft?
There's no denying his 2014 campaign opened plenty of eyes and dropped jaws in the front office. He cracked double digits in doubles (34), triples (16), home runs (14) and stolen bases (18). He finished in the top three among O's minor leaguers in nearly every offensive category.
More important, Yastrzemski started the season in Low-A ball but finished in Double-A, where he'll likely begin the 2014 campaign.
The O's don't have many outfielder prospects who offer Yastrzemski's polish and ability, so the temptation to keep moving him up the chain will be enticing. Look for him to spend a good chunk of the year at Triple-A, and depending on how the big league club performs, he should get at least a brief look late in the year.
|Career Totals (Minors)||186||740||124||210||47||20||17||100||65||158||26||14||.284||.351||.470|
All statistics courtesy of MiLB.com.