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Orioles organizational depth report: Tanner Scott makes big leap to lead class of relievers into 2018

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

With baseball transitioning into the offseason this month and the hot stove season beginning to simmer, it's time to revisit the Orioles' organizational depth across the diamond as a means to establish where they're strong and which areas they'll need to address, both this offseason and going forward.

Last week, we assessed the position player depth with the catchers, corner infielders, middle infielders, and outfielders. This week, we'll assess the Orioles' present and future on the mound, continuing with the relief prospects — or at least those ticketed for the bullpen long-term.

A strength for the last half-decade as the Orioles rose back to relevance, injuries and inconsistencies across the team made the bullpen a bit diminished this season. Closer Zach Britton missed over two months with a forearm strain and Darren O'Day battled shoulder issues for parts of the season. Brad Brach built on his All-Star nod in 2016 as the team's stand-in closer and Mychal Givens showed he'll likely hold both titles — All-Star and closer — before long.

The present

At least for 2018, the Orioles bullpen will return largely intact for one final run. Such consistency in personnel and performance is uncommon for relievers. But with Britton and Brach entering their last seasons of salary arbitration, plus O'Day locked up long term and Givens still waiting to hit arbitration, the core of the bullpen will return as strong as ever.

That wasn't always going to be the case, as the team explored dealing Britton and Brach at the trade deadline, and it could change if the team's fortunes go south. But between that group and the emergence of left-hander Richard Bleier as a long relief option, the Orioles have plenty of major league depth in the bullpen.

Donnie Hart, Jimmy Yacabonis and Stefan Crichton will also be back. The team could use Mike Wright, Miguel Castro or Gabriel Ynoa in relief next year, as they'll all be out of options if they don't make the rotation out of camp.

The future

The Orioles have at least one future relief arm who can challenge the idea that there's no such thing as a relief pitching prospect — even if they aren't using him as such this year. Left-hander Tanner Scott and his high-90s fastball pitched every fifth day as a starter on three-inning limits this season for Double-A Bowie. His slider turn into an above-average pitch, which helped him to a 2.22 ERA with 87 strikeouts and 46 walks in 69 innings. He pitched twice in September for the major league club, too.

While Scott has cleaned up his delivery some and made it more repeatable, his success will depend on him throwing quality strikes and possibily developing a changeup, which he doesn't throw often. No decisions have been made about his short- or long-term future, but Scott could be back on the starter schedule next year to continue to develop and still be a reliever long-term.

His teammate in Bowie, Jesus Liranzo, was put on a similar schedule as Scott, but didn't have similar success. The 22-year-old right-hander had a 4.85 ERA with 75 strikeouts and 43 walks in 65 innings. His control and execution need improvement for his mid-90s fastball to play in the majors.

While those two are the premier relief candidates, there are other interesting arms in the high minors. Right-hander Mark Wotherspoon has an effective fastball/slider mix and pitched well for Triple-A Norfolk after a July trade from the New York Yankees. Richard Rodriguez and Andrew Faulkner both pitched well for the Tides, too, but are now minor-league free agents.

For Bowie, 2017 was a breakout season for right-hander Lucas Long. His fastball was around 93 mph in a long relief role this year, and his three-pitch mix and idea of how to use it give him a major league relief future in many scouts' eyes. Right-hander Ryan Meisinger is a more traditional right-hander reliever with a fastball-slider combo.

In the lower levels of the minors, relievers are particularly volatile, but one to watch at High-A Frederick is left-hander Luis Gonzalez. He's old for the level at 25, but runs his fastball up to 94 mph and hasn't allowed a run in 6 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League.

Steven Klimek and Tyler Erwin each had strong seasons for Low-A Delmarva, and in Short-A Aberdeen, the most effective reliever was Brandon Bonilla, who fanned 33 in 18 1/3 innings with a 1.89 ERA. William Reed Hayes has a fastball that reaches 100 mph out of the Aberdeen bullpen as well.

What now?

Considering how the Orioles' present bullpen is constructed and how they cycle through Triple-A starters as long relievers, the only ones to truly watch in 2018 are Scott and Liranzo. Additionally, this comes with the caveat that every promising starter in the high minors and low minors could end up making an impact in the majors as a reliever as well.

Everyone else can crop up on the radar in times of need, but the only way to follow along with the relief talent is to watch the player movement. Scott and Liranzo moved quickly within seasons when the team saw potential in them. Anyone who follows a similar path in 2018 or any other year is clearly on the major league radar in some form.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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