Left-hander Alexander Wells will be the latest Orioles pitching prospect to get the chance to showcase his abilities in the majors.
Baltimore called up its No. 20 prospect, according to Baseball America, before Friday night’s game with the Toronto Blue Jays as part of a shuffling of its pitching staff. The Orioles also selected the contract of right-hander Konner Wade, a 29-year-old who, like Wells, has not yet pitched in the major leagues.
To open roster spots, Dean Kremer, Baltimore’s No. 9 prospect, was optioned after allowing five walks and a grand slam while recording one out in Thursday night’s start, while knuckleballer Mickey Jannis was designated for assignment after making only one appearance, allowing seven runs over 3 ⅓ innings Wednesday in what was the 33-year-old’s major league debut.
The New York Mets claimed catcher Chance Sisco, once the Orioles’ top prospect, on waivers after Baltimore designated him for assignment last week.
Wells, a 24-year-old Australia native, is the seventh of the Orioles’ top 20 preseason prospects to make it onto their major league roster this season. The other five pitchers to do so — Kremer, Keegan Akin, Hunter Harvey, Bruce Zimmermann and Zac Lowther — combined for a 6.16 ERA entering Friday. Kremer’s 7.25 ERA is the second highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 12 starts, trailing only the 7.80 mark of Matt Harvey, Baltimore’s scheduled starter Friday.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said the plan is for Kremer’s stay in the minors to be an extended one, compared with his previous two this year that lasted about two weeks each. Because the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, Kremer has made only six starts at Triple-A over the past three years compared with 16 in the majors.
“It’s extremely hard to pitch in the big leagues, and it’s extremely hard to be a starter in this division,” Hyde said. “We care a lot about Dean and we think that Dean’s gonna be good major league starter. We felt like the right thing to do is for him to go to Triple-A for an extended period, work on being consistent with his command of all of his pitches, so when he finally does come back up here, now he’s able to sustain.”
Wells has a career 3.00 ERA in the minor leagues. That includes a 5.63 mark this year with Triple-A Norfolk, though he had a 2.45 ERA in four June outings, striking out 19 while walking none in 18 ⅓ innings. He learned of the promotion when Norfolk pitching coach Kennie Steenstra called him into the coaches’ office and he and manager Gary Kendall delivered the news, which Wells said he was “a bit shocked” about.
“I didn’t get off to the best start this year,” Wells said. “This month was a lot better and finally got into a groove for the month of June and I just had the confidence and belief in myself to go out there and compete every fifth, sixth day, whenever it was, and put up good numbers.”
Known for his pinpoint command despite middling velocity, Wells has issued 80 walks in 507 career minor league innings, a rate of 1.42 per nine innings. Only three qualified major league starters have better rates this season, including stars Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole.
The Orioles acquired Wade in a late 2017 trade with the Colorado Rockies for international bonus slot money, only to release him near the end of spring training in 2018. He spent the next year-plus pitching in independent leagues before joining the Boston Red Sox organization. He signed with the Orioles in February and posted a 3.48 ERA in eight appearances, two of them starts, with Norfolk.
He was at his Virginia Beach apartment when Kendall called and asked him to make the 30-minute drive to the ballpark. He and his wife, Laura, “knew that was either really good or really bad.” They were both “speechless” when he called to tell her he was moving up to the majors.
“There was a lot of times where I didn’t know if this day would ever come,” Wade said. “I’ve been released. I’ve sat in indy ball for over a year. I played in Mexico. It’s typically roads that are difficult to get back into affiliated [baseball] and ultimately get to the major leagues.
“My wife really just encouraged me to keep pushing. I felt like I still had some good baseball left in me, and I wanted to pursue the dream that I’ve had since I was a kid.”
When Jannis made his first appearance, the Orioles tied the Miami Marlins for the most major league debuts this year with eight. An appearance by either Wells or Wade would give them sole possession of first in that category.