With the 2016 season finished, there's no better time than the present to take stock of the Orioles' organizational depth at every position around the diamond.
We're breaking down every position individually and separating the players all through the system into three categories: who was the man there this year, who else was in the picture, and who is working through the minors to join them. With all the hitters out of the way, we shift to the starting rotation, where for now there's plenty of major league depth but the next best hopes for young players who can contribute are far away.
The men: A pattern is emerging in playoff seasons for the Orioles. In both 2014 and this year, the rotation stumbled through the first half before kicking it up a gear down the stretch and helping the team secure a spot in the postseason.
The 2016 rotation began with Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo as fixtures, with Mike Wright, Vance Worley and Tyler Wilson also in the mix before Kevin Gausman came back from shoulder tendinitis. The rotation didn't look that way for long. Only Tillman was the constant, as Gallardo dealt with shoulder problems for two months, and by June, Jimenez had pitched himself out of the rotation and the league had figured out Wright and Wilson.
By the time the season ended, the Orioles effectively had a six-man rotation. Tillman finished the season with a 16-6 record and a 3.77 ERA, second only to Gausman's 3.61 ERA among Orioles starters. Dylan Bundy joined the rotation in the second half, going 8-5 with a 4.52 ERA as a starter. Gallardo and Jimenez finished the year with ERAs of 5.42 and 5.44, respectively, with Jimenez rejoining the rotation in August and pitching well down the stretch.
The team's major trade deadline acquisition, Wade Miley, went 2-5 with a 6.17 ERA as an Oriole.
The alternatives: For this purpose, we'll consider Wilson, Wright and Worley the alternatives. Each had his moments this year, but finished the season more as depth options than anything else. Worley was used in every role — long relief, short relief and starts — over the course of the year, posting a 3.53 ERA.
Wright and Wilson each earned their spots on the team coming out of spring training, but Wright was sent down in mid-June with a 6.12 ERA, and Wilson joined him at Triple-A Norfolk a few weeks later. Wright ended the year with a 5.79 ERA and Wilson with a 5.27 ERA, with each pitching out of the bullpen in September.
The future: Any conversation about the Orioles' rotation depth for the future starts with Wright and Wilson, but it certainly isn't a long conversation. With Bundy finally in the major league rotation and 2013 first-round draft pick Hunter Harvey on the shelf following Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, the most promising pitching prospects the team has probably come from this year's draft class.
Headlined by first-round pick Cody Sedlock, the Orioles' 2016 draft class featured three college arms that impressed at Short-A Aberdeen. Sedlock fanned 25 batters in 27 innings with a 3.00 ERA for the IronBirds. Second-round left-hander Keegan Akin didn't allow a run in his last 18 innings to finish with a 1.04 ERA in nine starts. Second-rounder Matthias Dietz also showed promise for the IronBirds, as did 19-year-old Australian left-hander Alex Wells. Wells struck out 50 with a 0.91 WHIP while posting a 2.15 ERA in 13 starts.
Between those major league-ready players and those who haven't even made their full-season debuts in the minors, there's promise scattered throughout the system.
Dominican right-hander Ofelky Peralta, a hard-throwing 19-year-old with a good changeup who struck out 101 in 103 1/3 innings this past season, headlined the rotation at Low-A Delmarva. The Shorebirds' most consistent pitcher, however, was left-hander Brian Gonzalez, who repeated the level at age 20 and went 10-8 with a 2.50 ERA.
Jhon Peluffo, a 19-year-old Colombian righty, briefly appeared in Delmarva but had most of his success in the Gulf Coast League, where he had a 1.89 ERA with 40 strikeouts in eight starts.
Right-hander Matthew Grimes and left-hander John Means began the year at High-A Frederick and dominated there. Means was promoted to Double-A Bowie after going 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA in nine starts for the Keys and Grimes went 8-4 with a 1.45 ERA in 14 games before he moved up. Each found the Eastern League a bit more challenging, with Means posting a 4.69 ERA and Grimes only slightly besting it at 4.68 for the Baysox.
There was plenty of promise in the Bowie rotation early in the year, with the likes of Parker Bridwell, David Hess, Chris Lee, Joe Gunkel and Jason Garcia all back there this spring. Bridwell was derailed by a fractured rib, then converted to a relief role, while Lee, an athletic left-hander, didn't pitch after May 23 because of a shoulder injury.
Hess had a 5.37 ERA in 25 appearances, while Gunkel probably had the best year of the bunch with a 4.02 ERA between Bowie and Norfolk. Garcia, the former Rule 5 pick, had a 4.73 ERA as he returned to starting.
The skinny: The thin starting depth in the minors won't likely be a concern in 2017, with all six of Tillman, Gausman, Bundy, Jimenez, Gallardo and Miley returning, plus Wilson, Wright, and Worley in reserve. There's only enough space for five of them in the rotation, though, so the Orioles are guaranteed to have some intrigue in that department come spring training.
That means for the first time in seemingly ages, bringing in a starting pitcher isn't a mandate for the front office this offseason. Expect that to be a fleeting condition, as Tillman, Jimenez, Gallardo and Miley all will see their contracts expire after the 2017 season.
It's reasonable to expect some improvement from the back end of the rotation next year, and more improvement from young stars Gausman and Bundy. It will be best for the Orioles if those two continue to evolve into bona fide front-line pitchers next season, as they'll be the only givens in the rotation going forward.