Spring Training Battle: Baltimore Orioles Rotation

With injuries to Kyle Bradish and John Means, the Orioles now have a battle for open spots in their starting rotation. Who will claim them?

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 10: Tyler Wells #68 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Texas Rangers during the second inning in Game Three of the Division Series at Globe Life Field on October 10, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

A couple weeks ago it seemed as if the Orioles rotation was pretty much set in stone. After making a trade for Corbin Burnes, the rotation felt filled out for the most part. It appeared that if there was to be any battle in spring training, it would be for spots behind the five in the rotation.

Now, it does not appear that way.

Following the trade for Corbin Burnes a string of bad news came through regarding the Orioles rotation. Kyle Bradish has a UCL injury and is going to start the season on the injured list. On top of that John Means is behind on his throwing program as he continues his Tommy John recovery. Means will also start the year on the injured list.

A rotation that once appeared filled, now has two gaping holes as spring training gets underway. There are no locks to fill these roles either. The Orioles have a handful of players that are looking at these rotation spots as an opportunity.

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Here is a breakdown of who to keep an eye on regarding these rotation spots.

The Orioles Rotation Favorites

There are two players that made starts for the Orioles last year that are the leaders in the clubhouse to take these spots. Both Cole Irvin and Tyler Wells had their issues last season, but are now looking to crack back into the rotation for 2024.

Cole Irvin

2023 Stats: 24 G (12 GS), 77.1 IP, 4.42 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 7.91 K/9, 2.44 BB/9

After coming over from the Oakland A’s in a trade, Irvin struggle with the Orioles. He started the year in the rotation but was eventually sent to Triple-A to work through his struggles. After his stint in Triple-A, Irvin was able to come back up and be a productive member of the pitching staff.

Looking at his splits, you can tell it was really a tale of two halves for Irvin. During the first half of 2023, Irvin threw 37.2 innings with a 5.50 ERA and batters were OPSing .797 against him. Those are numbers that you cannot live with if you are the Baltimore Orioles.

In the second half of the season however, Irvin looked like a new pitcher. In 39.2 innings he threw to a 3.40 ERA and his .673 OPS against was much improved. If you are the Orioles, you are over the moon with those numbers from Irvin.

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In his first spring training start his velocity was up quite a bit. The velocity is something to keep an eye on as we progress towards Opening Day. If you are an Orioles fan Irvin will be worth keeping tabs on when he pitches this spring.

His two seasons in Oakland showed that he can be a solid five starter in this league. If he really figured out something in the second half last year, he could lock up one of the rotation spots with relative ease.

Tyler Wells

2023 Stats: 25 G (20 GS), 118.2 IP, 3.64 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 8.87 K/9, 2.58 BB/9

Wells had a completely different experience in 2023 compared to Irvin. Wells started 2023 in the bullpen but was moved into the rotation following an injury to Kyle Bradish. After entering the rotation Wells went nuts. He was leading MLB in WHIP for most of the first half and was looking like the Orioles best pitcher.

However, as the season drug on Wells began to struggle. He eclipsed his previous career high for innings pitched and looked like he was worn out. He only threw 14 innings in the second half of the season.

Wells should be the favorite to land one of the rotation spots. His performance in the first half of last year has earned him that. Also, if the Orioles are expecting both Bradish and Means to return eventually, they could use Wells in the rotation now. Once Bradish or Means returns, Wells could be moved to the bullpen in order to limit his innings and preserve his arm and production.

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Intriguing Prospects

While Jackson Holliday is certainly the talk of Orioles camp, there are some pitching prospects that should be getting some attention as well. With the openings in the rotation, Seth Johnson, Justin Armbruester, Cade Povich, and Chayce McDermott all have an outside chance on cracking the rotation.

For more info on the prospects listed, check out our Top 15 Orioles Prospects.

Seth Johnson

2023 Stats (Minors): 5 G (5 GS), 10.1 IP, 4.35 ERA, 12.2 K/9, 4.40 BB/9

Despite being the only one of the aforementioned players currently on the 40-man roster, Johnson is the least likely to make the rotation. He is in the process of recovering from Tommy John surgery that he had in 2022. He has also only made it as high as Double-A.

Johnson certainly has a lot of potential. With a strong fastball and solid slider he could make some gains this spring and climb up the ranks quickly.

While Johnson is certainly a player that you should keep an eye on this spring, he likely doesn’t crack the rotation and starts this season with Double-A in Bowie.

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Justin Armbruester

2023 Stats (AA & AAA): 26 G (25 GS), 121.1 IP, 3.56 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 3.8 BB/9

Armbruester could have an outside shot at the rotation if he shows out this spring. He pitched well last year in Double-A before being sent up to Triple-A Norfolk. When he made the jump, his strikeouts increased significantly from just over six per nine all the way up to 10 per nine.

However, the walks increased significantly and he was allowing twice as many home runs.

Historically, walks and home runs spell disaster for starting pitchers. When his on the bump this spring he is going to have to show that he can limit walks and keep the ball in the yard if he wishes to steal a rotation spot. He has the stuff to be a back of the rotation starter, it is going to up to him if he makes that jump this spring.

Cade Povich

2023 Stats (AA & AAA): 28 G (28 GS), 126.2 IP, 5.40 ERA, 12.2 K/9, 4.7 BB/9

Another real threat to steal a rotation spot from a veteran starter is Cade Povich. The soon-to-be 24-year-old enters this spring with a shot at making the rotation with a strong spring showing.

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Last year, Povich struggled especially in Triple-A. In Double-A he posted a less than ideal 4.87 ERA but a 3.80 FIP and 3.09 xFIP indicate that there was a substantial amount of bad luck. He was also striking out over 13 per nine. The walks were an issue at 4.09 per nine.

Triple-A was another story. In his 45 Triple-A innings he had a 5.36 ERA, 4.94 FIP, and 4.87 xFIP which are all less than ideal. The walks were also a real problem at almost six per nine. Povich really struggled with command. He threw 61% strikes in Triple-A which isn’t egregious (MLB average is around 62%) but the walks cannot be that bad.

Povich has the arsenal to survive in the majors but is going to have to show significant improvement with his command in order to crack the rotation.

Chayce McDermott

2023 Stats (AA & AAA): 26 G (22 GS), 119 IP, 3.10 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 5.1 BB/9

McDermott is the Orioles prospect with the best chance of cracking the rotation. After a very strong showing in Triple-A to end the season, McDermott has a strong case for being in the rotation come Opening Day 2024.

After a solid start to the season in Double-A, McDermott got the bump to Norfolk and really stepped up. He got better in almost every statistical category. His ERA went from 3.56 to 2.49, FIP from 3.82 to 3.47, the walks fell by one per nine, and his home run rate fell roughly 30%.

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Similar to Povich, McDermott is going to have to display at least moderate command this spring. The stuff is there without a doubt, his fastball and slider are both plus pitches and he has strong secondary’s as long as he controls them. His Triple-A performance last season should have the Orioles feeling pretty good about what McDermott is capable of.

Potential Outside Options

While the Orioles likely fill their rotation with internal options, I would be remiss to not mention other potential candidates. There are still a couple of free agent options available and the Orioles still have a farm system strong enough to make another trade.

Jordan Montgomery is still on the market and could potentially be at a point where he may take a higher AAV short-term deal. That could make a fit in Baltimore a little more likely.

Michael Lorenzen is likely not seeking a huge deal in free agency after struggling in the second half of last season. Lorenzen could be a potential fit in Baltimore based on the types of deals that they have signed in the past.

The Orioles could also make a trade for someone like Jesus Luzardo or Dylan Cease. They have the capital in their farm system to still complete a trade even after trading for Corbin Burnes.

At the end of the day, I think that Irvin and Wells end up with the rotation spots. They have the edge right now and it will take a great spring from one of the prospects to steal a spot in the rotation. Keep an eye on the Orioles pitching this spring as the battle unfolds.

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