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Five takeaways from the Orioles' three-day pitching minicamp

The Orioles' three-day January baseball tease, in the form of their pitching minicamp, is wrapped up for another year, and a few days around the club illuminated several things ahead of the 2018 season.

It provided a glimpse into the minds of manager Buck Showalter and Roger McDowell on how they plan to improve the game's worst rotation despite not knowing who will be staffing it. It provided a look at some of the team's most interesting pitching prospects, as well as an idea of where the club believes they'll be in 2018.

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It also provided a chance to assess some newcomers who the Orioles hope they can turn into household names come March.

Here are five takeaways from the just-wrapped minicamp, including some standouts from the event, the Orioles' pending spring training roster battles and what to do with Hunter Harvey.

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Orioles Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. believes he's ready for his chance to make the major league roster, and he'll get a chance with the pitching-needy club.

1. The Hunter Harvey situation is going to be problematic

There's a good reason Showalter is going to have to fight the urge to have highly rated prospect Harvey pitch in the majors this year despite three years of mostly inactivity while injured — because Harvey is tremendously talented.

The 23-year-old right-hander has a big league fastball, a plus breaking ball and attacks hitters. It's not complicated. But where and how he's used this year will be a constant source of discomfort if the Orioles stay on the track they're on now.

In a vacuum, it would be hard to fault Showalter for looking at the landscape, seeing Harvey as one of his best options and going for it. But Harvey is not Dylan Bundy, and shouldn't be treated as such. Both physically matured over their three years spent mostly off the mound while rehabilitating injuries, but Bundy's frame was much sturdier when he needed to make his big innings jump. And just because things worked out reasonably well when the Orioles were backed into a corner and had to use Bundy in the big leagues doesn't mean that's a precedent they have to follow.

The Orioles have gone pretty far down the recovery road and been cautious with Harvey at every step of the way. Pushing him too hard this year could undo a lot of that.

2. Nestor Cortes Jr. is interesting

When choosing an extra prospect for the Baseball America handbook after the Rule 5 draft, the obvious choice was Cortes because of his track record and standing in his new organization. The more I researched, the more interested I was. Statistics can be misleading, but there was something about how he pitched on video that made it seem like it wasn't an accident. All of that was backed up at minicamp, at least to the Orioles coaches, who were excited about the idea of Cortes being a part of the major league equation this year.

The Orioles' love for the Rule 5 draft creates difficult roster situations and has yielded only sporadic production for those troubles. But provided Cortes can get major league hitters out the way he did in the minors, the Orioles will have no trouble finding a role for him.

3. The Opening Day roster might not be as unclear as people make it out to be

There's still a month left to add players before spring training and over two months before Opening Day, but the idea that the roster battles in camp are going to be wide open might be proven false. Free agency will erase a few of those questions, such as a utility spot or a veteran starter. In an organization that likes to hoard as many assets as possible, that facet of roster construction needs to be taken into account.

The team has let roster status dictate camp decisions before, so it should be no surprise if come March 27, some of the spots up for grabs go to the likes of Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa, who are out of options and would likely be claimed off waivers. Combine that with keeping some Rule 5 players such as Anthony Santander and Cortes, and the Orioles can probably get to 25 easily.

4. Expect more flexibility on the pitching staff this year

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Last summer, the Orioles' financial commitments to veteran starting pitchers who couldn't get the job done made for some real headaches and ultimately torpedoed their season. There was a trickle-down effect to all of that, though, and it was that they didn't really get the chance to give any of their young arms an opportunity. That most of the younger pitchers struggled statistically at Triple-A and were used as relief depth complicated that, but when they did get chances, they weren’t in a position to succeed.

The right-hander has hardly pitched in three years, but on talent alone, manager Buck Showalter believes he could handle being in the majors in 2018. Whether he does so has a complicated precedent with the club and Dylan Bundy.

That should change this year. With the bevy of young options the Orioles have for a few rotation spots and the fact that there's not much separating them in terms of quality, the thing that was missing in 2017 could cause things to ramp up in 2018. Instead of big league pitchers knowing their job was their own because of their salary and minor league pitchers knowing they wouldn't get a chance, the ones who do make the rotation will be motivated by how fungible their spot is, with those chasing them seeing jobs as easily attainable. It could make for an interesting dynamic that brings competitiveness up a notch this year.

5. The Orioles have drafted pitching better, but it's not showing up yet

Seven of the participants in this week's minicamp were drafted by the Orioles, but just one — Mychal Givens — is guaranteed to make an impact at the major league level. That's not a knock on the system, as the minicamp list is just a sampling of it. But it goes to show that for all the capital the team has spent on starting pitching in the draft, it's all still percolating in the low minors.

It's going to be a stacked set of rotations at High-A Frederick and Low-A Delmarva with the likes of Alex Wells, Michael Baumann, DL Hall, Cameron Bishop, Zac Lowther, Brenan Hanifee, and possibly Cody Sedlock and Harvey. That'll make next year's minicamp more of a showcase of their investment. It just didn't pan out as one this year.

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