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The Orioles’ rebuild has taken many cues from the Astros. How Houston built its playoff pitching staff might be another.

A banner year on the Orioles farm and all the optimism anyone can muster about their long-term rebuild is met with the same retort: What about the pitching?

It’s a fair question, considering John Means has been the only solidified name in their rotation the past two seasons and wave after wave of top pitching prospects have come and gone, either flaming out here or succeeding elsewhere.

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The Orioles have plenty of hopes strapped to a pair of potential top-of-the-rotation arms in prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, but it’s otherwise a group that raises a lot of questions, even if Baltimore doesn’t need the answers right away.

Until the Orioles have their own success stories to tell, though, and a clear and effective way of getting pitchers to the big leagues, the teams they cite as examples are all there is to go on. And even three years into this rebuild, the Houston Astros — the team executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal came from — are an interesting one to look at.

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The Astros followed largely the same principles as the Orioles as they rebuilt from three straight 100-loss seasons into a World Series champion, and the pivot away from risky pitchers at the top of the draft in favor of high-floor, potentially impactful college hitters in their place came after some disappointments on the pitching front.

Houston’s staff in the American League Division Series, where it comfortably dispatched the Chicago White Sox in four games, didn’t have a lot to do with pitchers it drafted. Of the 12 pitchers the Astros carried in that series, only Lance McCullers Jr. — the 41st overall pick in the 2012 draft — was their own draft pick.

The Astros signed reliever Ryne Stanek in free agency and acquired six pitchers — Zack Greinke, Brooks Raley, Ryan Pressley, Phil Maton, Kendall Graveman, and Yimi García — via trade. Three of those — Maton, García and Graveman — were deadline acquisitions this year to fortify their bullpen, and Houston dealt from positions of strength to get them. Greinke, the most notable of the bunch, was acquired for several former first-round picks in a star-studded, four-player package in 2019.

What’s notable, however, is the international contributors the Astros are getting on their pitching staff. Their first two starters in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox are Framber Valdez and Luis García. Valdez, along with fellow starters José Urquidy and Cristian Javier, all signed with the Astros as Latin American amateur free agents in the spring of 2015. García, who is a contender for AL Rookie of the Year, signed in 2017.

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The Orioles are probably too far away from playoff contention to know what path they’ll take when building their playoff pitching staff. But even with the prospects they have, there’s a sense inside the organization that this type of roster construction might be in their future. Drafting so many hitters, and hitters who they believe can get to the majors quickly, will naturally lead to a surplus if all goes according to plan. They can use those players to swing a big trade for a star like Houston has for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, or smaller deals for reliable relievers if they find themselves in need.

They could also be hoping for similar success with their international signings, as well as emulating the development approach of other contenders. In the past two seasons, Elias has cited both the Tampa Bay Rays — who he referred to as “transactional” in how they sustain their success annually — and the Cleveland Indians as examples for their holistic drafting and player development approach.

Both of those teams are also particularly adept at developing pitchers. They each know the traits they want in a pitcher, be it in the draft or international market, and target players with those skills in the hopes of being able to improve them in a farm system that knows how to work with that kind of talent.

The Orioles are attempting something similar with their drafts, but they’ve rarely taken a pitcher with one of their top picks since Elias has taken over. That means they’ve been taking pitchers later in the draft, and even if they’re ones the Orioles like, they know it will take longer to develop them than the type of proven college ace that commands seven-figure bonuses and high draft picks.

There are plenty of options on how to best build a pitching staff. The Astros offer one example, but unlike so many other aspects about Houston’s rebuild, it might not be the ideal one to copy.

First moves of the offseason

The Orioles announced a pair of roster moves Thursday, with right-hander Zack Burdi claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks and right-hander Travis Lakins Sr. outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.

Burdi appeared once for the Orioles after being claimed on waivers from the Chicago White Sox in August.

Lakins’ season ended in June, and he’s recovering from surgery to repair a recurrent olecranon stress fracture in his elbow that landed him on the 60-day injured list. The Orioles have one open spot on their 40-man roster.

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