A year ago, the Orioles’ fall instructional camp roster featured a massive group of players who were brought together to ensure they got some modicum of in-person development after a year that was spent mostly remote.
This year’s edition, announced Monday for the camp that began this week and will run for just over a month, features players who are coming off much more robust summers of baseball.
For Colton Cowser, Connor Norby, and the 15 other 2021 draftees on the roster, the instructional camp — which will primarily be a strength-based program with specific development goals for each player — will be a chance to further steep themselves in the Orioles’ methodologies and best help them prepare for a full year of pro ball in 2022. The same goes for top 2021 international signees Samuel Basallo and Maikol Hernández, whose presence at the camp signifies they could be in the Florida Complex League in 2022.
For the position players who impressed in their full-season debuts this summer, such as Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and Coby Mayo, it will be an opportunity to solidify their gains.
There’s one group in particular that represents one of the more high-priority aspects of the Orioles’ rebuild: the pitching.
Whether it’s those who had their season affected by injury like top prospect DL Hall or right-hander Carter Baumler, 2021 draftees like Carlos Tavera, or low-minors standouts like Zach Peek, Brandon Young and Jean Pinto, the 17 pitchers at camp can be rightly viewed as a fulcrum on which the balance of the Orioles’ homegrown rebuilding plan can turn.
Hall, who made seven dominant starts at Double-A Bowie before a stress reaction in his elbow ended his season, is one of the few pitchers on the Orioles farm whose major league future seems to be a matter of when, not if. Him continuing his path back on the team’s watch will give the Orioles a better sense of where he is in his recovery so they know what they can expect from his electric arm next year.
Hall is behind only fellow former top pick Grayson Rodriguez on the organization’s pitching ranks, with Rodriguez having overwhelmed two levels of hitters on his way to being baseball’s best pitching prospect and the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the Orioles.
The tier below them features a pair of right-handers in the high minors in Kyle Bradish and Mike Baumann, both of whom the team views as potential rotation pieces. The rest of their pitching prospect pool, by and large, features prospects from the last three drafts (either their own picks or the Los Angeles Angels’ selections from their bevy of trades) who had to be handled with care after missing all of 2020 but finished the year well.
Peek, Young, and Pinto were prominent in that group. Peek struck out 122 in 90 innings (12.20 per nine innings) with a 1.37 WHIP and 3.80 ERA between Low-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen in his first full season after coming over in the Dylan Bundy trade in December 2019. Young, an imposing undrafted free agent from 2020, struck out 114 in 84 112 ⅓ innings (12.17 per nine) with a 1.21 WHIP and a 3.87 ERA for those two low-minors clubs, while Pinto, acquired in the December 2020 trade of José Iglesias, was probably their most dominant low-minors pitcher.
Pinto began in the Florida Complex League and ended at Delmarva, striking out 84 in 66 ⅔ innings (11.34 per nine) with a 2.29 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP.
All three got better as the year went on, and having another year like this as they climb into the high minors could make more than just the Orioles take notice of their potential big league qualities.
Drew Rom, Kyle Brnovich and Garrett Stallings — a group of pitchers who started at Aberdeen and finished helping Bowie reach the postseason — also find themselves firmly in that next tier of pitching prospects for the Orioles. Rom might be the next-best of the bunch after another impressive season, one in which his average four-seam fastball velocity was 91 mph and touched 94 after being mostly in the 89-90 mph range in 2019.
That, and a diverse pitch-mix and better usage of them in all counts, helped him strike out 120 in 107 ⅔ innings over two levels, with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. Brnovich and Stallings, two other Angels draftees, had similar success. Brnovich struck out 11.65 batters per nine with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP, while Stallings had a 1.24 WHIP and didn’t miss as many bats.
Neither Brnovich nor Stallings has premium fastballs — each sat around 90 mph from the right side this year — but a camp like this could help them unlock a new facet of their games that can take them to the next level.
Outside the 2021 draftees and some older pitchers who missed time, the camp roster also features a pair of wild cards in vastly different senses. On one side is Baumler, a right-hander who signed for $1.5 million as a fifth-round pick in last year’s draft and was dazzling at last year’s instructional camp when he got hurt and required Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
He could have been the premium arm that led the way for this diverse group of low-minors pitchers the Orioles have compiled, one that doesn’t feature many premium talents but instead those with specific traits and weapons the Orioles hope can develop. Baumler will presumably use the camp to continue his rehab with an eye toward being at Delmarva in 2022 to begin his climb. At 20 next spring, he’ll still be on a good path age-wise.
At the other end of that spectrum is 26-year-old right-hander Félix Bautista, a physically imposing reliever who hit 100 mph as he climbed from Aberdeen to Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles moved him quickly because he dominated, and with that kind of stuff, even one little tweak at a camp like this could mean he’s back at Ed Smith Stadium next year with a chance to break camp with the major league team.
None of these pitchers, save for Hall, will be featured highly on any prospect lists this winter. Bringing them all together at the instructional camp, however, could be the first step in providing a handful of them a chance to take a leap into that conversation in 2022.
Orioles instructional camp roster
PITCHERS (17): RHP Justin Armbruester, RHP Carter Baumler, RHP Félix Bautista, RHP Kyle Brnovich, RHP Ignacio Feliz, RHP Keagan Gillies, LHP DL Hall, RHP Dylan Heid, RHP Xavier Moore, RHP Zach Peek, RHP Jean Pinto, LHP Drew Rom, RHP Garrett Stallings, RHP Adam Stauffer, RHP Carlos Tavera, RHP Brandon Young, RHP Peter Van Loon
CATCHERS (3): Samuel Basallo, Connor Pavolony, Creed Willems
INFIELDERS (17): TT Bowens, Collin Burns, Isaac De León, Anderson De Los Santos, Adam Hall, Gunnar Henderson, Darell Hernaiz, Maikol Hernández, Coby Mayo, J.D. Mundy, Connor Norby, Joey Ortiz, Moisés Ramírez, Noelberth Romero, Anthony Servideo, Jacob Teter, Jordan Westburg
OUTFIELDERS (13): Stiven Acevedo, Billy Cook, Colton Cowser, Trendon Craig, Mishael Deson, Luis González, Hudson Haskin, Ryan Higgins, Heston Kjerstad, Elio Prado, John Rhodes, Reed Trimble, Donta’ Williams