Orioles right-hander Branden Kline missed almost three full years due to elbow surgery and the ensuing complications, but his comeback as a hard-throwing reliever in 2018 was rewarded Tuesday as the team selected his contract from Double-A Bowie and added him to the major league roster.
Kline, a Frederick native, was set to be a minor league free agent after completing his sixth full minor league season after the Orioles selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Virginia. Kline was on the verge of a breakout year in the Bowie rotation in 2015 when he first hurt his elbow, and after surgery that fall, needed two cleanup procedures to get him back to full health on the mound.
Once he did that this season, first in the Frederick bullpen and then in Bowie, Kline was nearly unhittable. He struck out 23 in 20 1/3 innings with a 1.31 ERA for the Keys, allowed two runs in his first outing in Bowie, then didn't have another multi-run outing all year. With a fastball that ran up to 97 mph along with a pair of wipeout secondary pitches in his slider and changeup, Kline struck out 48 in 45 innings with a 1.80 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP at Bowie.
A popular figure among the organization's homegrown pitchers at every level for his perseverance through injuries and his positive personality, many Orioles pitchers had hoped Kline would join the club in September when rosters expanded. However, the Orioles decided his 65 2/3 innings after so long a layoff were enough, and waited until the offseason to add him to the roster.
Had his contract not been selected, Kline would have become a minor league free agent by Friday at 5 p.m., making him free to sign with any team — and there would have been plenty of suitors. If the Orioles simply just re-signed him to a minor league contract, as they did with left-hander Chris Lee and infielder Ryan Ripken earlier this season, he would still have been required to be added to the 40-man roster by the end of November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
They had an open 40-man roster spot because veteran outfielder Adam Jones became a free agent Monday, leaving the roster temporarily at 39 players.
As it stands, the Orioles also need to add right-hander Dillon Tate in the next month to keep him from the Rule 5 draft, with several of the other players who fit that category, like right-hander Luis Ortiz, already added in September.
Around the horn
The Orioles announced 16-year-old outfielder J’Rudjeanon Isenia of Curacao signed as an international free agent. Isenia, whose signing was reported as part of their initial wave of additions in August, signed for $125,000.