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Orioles add potential rotation piece, sign former top pick Kohl Stewart to major league deal

Minnesota Twins pitcher Kohl Stewart against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 21, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Minnesota Twins pitcher Kohl Stewart against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 21, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) (Jim Mone/AP)

The Orioles snuck in a major league free agent signing before the year closed, signing former Minnesota Twins first-round draft pick Kohl Stewart on Sunday to represent their first such acquisition of the offseason.

Stewart, 25, was selected fourth overall in 2013 by Minnesota but struggled to live up to that promise with the Twins. He made his major league debut in 2018 and made 17 appearances (six starts) for Minnesota in the past two seasons, with a 4.79 ERA and a 1.435 WHIP without many strikeouts.

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While he came out of St. Pius X High School in Houston, Texas, with a dominant fastball and the potential for four above-average pitches, the ability to miss bats largely eluded him in the Twins’ system.

In parts of three seasons with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester, Stewart struck out 7.6 batters per nine — the highest he has at any full-season level in his career. Over parts of seven minor league seasons, Stewart has a 3.60 ERA with a 1.374 WHIP.

Under the Orioles’ new pitching system with director of pitching Chris Holt having his role expanded to include the majors, Stewart could benefit from changes in pitch mix, sequencing or usage. Getting him away from his favored sinker could be part of that plan.

Adding Stewart represents the first major league free-agent addition to an Orioles club that has done more subtracting since the season ended. Earlier this month, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias put the team’s rebuild into the next gear by trading infielder Jonathan Villar and right-hander Dylan Bundy to the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels, respectively, for young pitching prospects.

Before this, a pair of Rule 5 picks in the Houston Astros’ Brandon Bailey and the Chicago Cubs’ Michael Rucker were the team’s primary additions to a pitching mix that features All-Star John Means, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski returning to the rotation and an already thin bullpen.

Stewart, who still has a minor league option remaining, took the 40-man roster spot of reliever Marcos Diplán. Diplán, 23, is a well-traveled young reliever the Orioles claimed off waivers during this month’s winter meetings.

The Orioles claimed him from the Detroit Tigers, and being designated for assignment continues a year in which Diplán was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Twins in July, claimed off waivers by the Tigers in September, and shuffled off the roster by the Orioles in December.

He can remain in the system if he passes through waivers in the next seven days.

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