By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
7:30 AM EST, January 4, 2013
We’ve discussed pitching a lot this offseason. The Orioles have a surplus of it. Their bullpen returns entirely intact and the club’s starting rotation looks pretty solid going into the spring.
So where does Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland fit into the mix?
It’s always tough to retain Rule 5 picks – they must remain on the team’s 25-man roster for the entire season – and McFarland will be no different.
The Orioles put a lot of effort into this year’s Rule 5 draft and they were pleased to acquire a left-hander who was 16-8 with a 4.03 ERA in 27 starts last season between the Indians’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette is always eager to add pitching depth and baseball experts have said McFarland has the ability to stick on a major league roster.
And while he’s been a starter – the competition to crack the starting rotation will be tough – he could be a relief option as well.
While pitchers have always been popular Rule 5 picks, it’s difficult to keep them on a major league roster for an entire season because if they’re not entirely major league ready, it’s difficult to make necessary adjustments with them while they’re an important member of a 11- or 12-man pitching staff. Each pitching staff spot is critical, especially in the American League East.
Barring a trade that unloads some of the organization's young pitching, the Orioles will go to Sarasota with a bevy of capable arms competing for roster spots with very few openings available.
When the Orioles were able to retain last year’s Rule 5 pick, Ryan Flaherty, it was easier because he served as a utility man from Day One and emerged into a larger role later into the season. The Orioles were also able to get Flaherty some minor league seasoning when he was on a rehab assignment for a bacterial infection.
The Orioles will likely find out if -- and how – McFarland can help during the spring.
Before Flaherty, the Orioles were able to retain just one pitcher who was a Rule 5 selection over the past decade. That shows how difficult it is to retain pitchers in the Rule 5 draft for any club.
But the Orioles have high hopes for McFarland. We’ll begin to see if the 23-year-old can live up to them soon enough. Spring training is less than six weeks away.
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