The Orioles plucked right-hander Pedro Araujo from the Chicago Cubs in December’s Rule 5 draft, making him one of three pitchers the club selected in hopes of supplementing their major league pitching staff.
But over the course of the spring, Araujo went from relative unknown, his locker in the Orioles clubhouse in Sarasota tucked into the corner, to earning an Opening Day bullpen spot.
Araujo, 24, was called into a room by some of the Orioles’ veteran relievers Friday, thinking he was in trouble, before he was told by his fellow bullpen mates that he had made the team.
“I was very surprised when I opened the door and I see these guys over here, [Darren] O’Day and [Mychal] Givens,” Araujo said through translator Ramón Alarcón. “I’m like, ‘Ok, what did I do wrong here?’ But they told me right away. O’Day said, ‘Do you remember the [pitchers fielding practice]?’ I said, ‘What, PFP? What are you talking about?’ And then he told me, ‘You made the team, congratulations,’ so I was very happy.”
Araujo, who came on the Orioles radar with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League, showed this spring that he was more than a lottery ticket, posting a 2.08 ERA over 8 2/3 Grapefruit League innings. Seven of his eight appearances were scoreless, including five outings of at least one innings where he did not allow a base runner. He also had eight strikeouts and issued two walks.
“[There’s] the body of work,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We start watching sides. You watch a lot of scouting reports, film, talking to a lot of people who have been around him. That starts out. Then you come in here, and he does real well in the drills other than throwing the baseball and that got our attention.
“Good aptitude. Tough kid. He’s very coachable, and then he takes the mound and starts throwing the ball in games, and carries it all over. Changeups. That’s a weapon for him. I don’t know what else he’d have to do for us to say, ‘OK, let’s find out if what we think he could be, could happen.’ He’s a guy that can pop for us.”
Early on, it was evident that Araujo had the power arm the Orioles could use in use in their bullpen. And then Araujo demonstrated he could keep major league-caliber hitters off balance by complementing his mid-90s fastball with a developing changeup.
Araujo’s ascension comes after spending most of last season pitching at High-A, posting a 1.76 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings. All all but two of his innings last season, his seventh as a pro, came for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
“After last year, I was not really expecting to make a big jump to the big leagues, but I was very surprised, very fortunate,” Araujo said. “I had a lot of bumps along the way. It’s been a long track for me. I had to spend a lot of time, hard work, dedication, but I’m happy to be here.”
The Orioles’ other two Rule 5 pitchers remain in limbo. Left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr., who was selected from the New York Yankees, was initially seen as a rotation candidate, but after three starting pitching acquisitions this spring, his best way onto the roster is as a multiple-inning reliever.
Right-hander José Mesa — also selected from the Yankees – was designated for assignment Wednesday. Any team can claim him and be held to the Rule 5 requirements, but if he clears, he could be returned to the Yankees.
Rule 5 picks must remain on the active 25-man roster for at least 90 days to fulfill their eligibility, and can’t be sent to the minors without being offered to the club from which he was drafted. The Orioles must carry Rule 5 carryover outfielder Anthony Santander for the first six weeks of the season for him to fulfill his requirements.