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Baltimore Orioles

Even in minor league Rule 5 draft, Orioles’ holistic pitching philosophy remains consistent in pursuit of weapons

It will be a massive win if any of the three pitchers the Orioles acquired in this week’s minor league Rule 5 draft appear in the big leagues, let alone turn into legitimate contributors.

The minor league Rule 5 draft is all about depth, but in selecting Nolan Hoffman and Cole Uvila and trading for Tommy Wilson, the Orioles continued on the path back to respectability and, eventually, competitiveness.

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These picks, fringe as they are in terms of potential impact, were based on pitch traits and the potential for that to work in the big leagues, no matter the role.

After the picks, Orioles pro scouting director Mike Snyder said Hoffman “is a groundball artist with a knack for inducing weak contact” from a sidearm delivery, while Uvila “shows a real feel for pitch design” and “has a penchant for generating movement on all his secondaries.” Wilson, too, boasts a unique delivery, but has shown an ability to get outs in the minors in the New York Mets organization.

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Those might be disparate skill sets, but as Low-A Delmarva pitching coach Robbie Aviles said last summer, the point is to match traits that work in the big leagues to those in young players and build out from there.

“We’re all looking for the weapons,” he said. “I think they have a good idea of what weapons they want in their pitchers … I think they do a really good job of being talent evaluators. I think they know what they want, and I think with the philosophies in place, how we can make it better, and they can achieve that major league weaponry that we’re after.”

Whether any of that translates to success on the mound at Camden Yards remains to be seen, but it speaks to a few aspects of the Orioles’ pitching program. Because so much draft capital before executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was hired in 2018 was used on pitchers, the Orioles have focused on other positions in recent years.

With top prospects in former first-round picks Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall already in the system, plus a wave of high-minors pitchers that reached the majors in the last two years, they’ve used high draft picks on hitters and taken a volume approach to pitching in the draft and trades.

Some of the pitchers acquired in trades have been more advanced — such as Kyle Bradish in the Dylan Bundy trade and Kevin Smith in the deal for Miguel Castro — but many have traits the Orioles believe can be honed into major league weapons.

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Such an approach is risky if the hope is to turn some of those late-round arms or lower-bonus college picks into major league starters. The Orioles know that when the time comes to start trying to make the playoffs, they’ll likely need to dip into their pool of hitting prospects to acquire some major league caliber starters.

But compiling pitchers who have effective pitch traits in bulk means they’re bound to hit on some, and maybe many. And no matter how the new collective bargaining agreement changes how young players are paid, having a stable of possible major league caliber relievers or bulk pitchers who can turn a lineup over once will always be valuable.

The Orioles’ belief in their pitching program is such that they believe there’s an infrastructure in place to maximize those appealing traits and build a pitcher who can get outs at the major league level.

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Look no further than Félix Bautista, a pitcher the Orioles added to their roster last month to protect from the postponed major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. The 26-year-old right-hander wasn’t on anyone’s radar when this front office took over for the 2019 season, but his high-90s fastball was something they decided was worth their time, even if he hadn’t shown much success in his career.

A few years later, he was a dominant reliever in the high minors and will likely get a major league chance in 2022.

None of that will change the fact that the Orioles are, at least presently, woefully light on starting pitching. It might be a while before that changes, and the solutions might be outside the organization at the moment.

But there’s a value to knowing what you’re looking for in a pitcher. In something as simple as the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, the Orioles showed a consistency that can be appreciated — even if it might not amount to much down the line.


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