Luis Gil carved up the Orioles on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in a pitching debut the visitors can still only dream of.
The Orioles have pitching prospects, to be sure, and opposite Gil was one of six rookies to start a game for them this season. In so many facets, none was like the hard-throwing, 23-year-old right-hander the Yankees threw at them to replace Gerrit Cole on the mound.
For starters, there’s the velocity: Gil averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball and was up to 98.5 mph, getting nine swinging strikes on the pitch to help him strike out six. That kind of velocity is represented by only a handful of pitchers on the Orioles farm, with top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez capable of that but not exactly available for selection at the major league level.
Right-hander Mike Baumann can bring his fastball like that at his best, though he’s only really just getting back up to speed after his elbow injury from last summer lingered into spring training. He’s only now just getting to Triple-A Norfolk, and can still debut with the Orioles this year. If he does, his velocity and power alone will create a buzz for Orioles fans who are hoping for pitchers like him to come through the system.
Also at Norfolk, right-hander Kyle Bradish has a fastball that can reach the mid-90s but has struggled after his quick promotion from Double-A Bowie.
Gil’s path to the big leagues is also one the Orioles haven’t been able to fully replicate. He was a signed by the Minnesota Twins for $90,000 in 2015 as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic, a market the Orioles are finally getting back into under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and senior director of international scouting Koby Perez.
The Orioles’ international program in the decade or so before Elias took over was nontraditional at best and fallow at its worst, but they did spend money on older players from Asia and Cuba, including Cuban left-hander Ariel Miranda and Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Yin Chen.
Before Wells, the most recent Orioles debuts when it comes to international pitchers signed as teenagers were Yefry Ramirez in 2018 and Richard Rodriguez in 2017. Ramirez was originally signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks as an infielder, and Rodriguez signed with the Houston Astros in 2010 and came to the Orioles in a trade.
Boston Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez was the last pitcher the Orioles signed internationally as a teenager who made the majors in 2015. Radhames Liz was the last pitcher to debut after joining the Orioles as an amateur free agent before that.
At Norfolk, they have a rare signee from the Dan Duquette era in Ofelky Peralta. He has a big fastball as well, and has come so far in the new pitching system, but he might not be a long-term starter candidate because of his struggles with command.
The Orioles have some Latin American pitchers they’ve signed performing well domestically. Venezuelan right-hander Raul Rangel, 18, has 23 strikeouts with a 1.171 WHIP and a 2.37 ERA in six games in the Florida Complex League, though other members of that 2019 July 2 class aren’t having as much success.
Another, 20-year-old Venezuelan Jean Pinto, was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for shortstop José Iglesias in December and is already at Low-A Delmarva and pitching well.
Gil, of course, wasn’t even signed by the Yankees. He was traded there in the spring of 2018 for surplus outfielder Jake Cave, and he’s already blossomed into one of the Yankees’ top prospects and performing well in the big leagues.
The Orioles made some trades in 2018 as well, and the seven pitching prospects they targeted who were all performing well in the high minors or otherwise had high pedigrees — Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann, Dillon Tate, Luis Ortiz, Evan Phillips, Cody Carroll and Josh Rogers — have contributed 0.6 wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs. Only Kremer, Zimmermann and Tate remain in the organization.
There have been better trades of late, with the Orioles’ most recent Baseball America top-30 prospect list featuring five players acquired by Elias from other clubs. The Orioles have gotten at least one international signee in many of their recent trades to help reinforce that talent pipeline as well.
Gil’s one start against the Orioles isn’t an indication his whole career could be like this. He, too, could be searching for it the way so many of the Orioles’ rookie starters are this time next year.
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It was, however, in many ways a reminder of just how many avenues top talent can come to the big leagues. The Orioles are endeavoring on all of them, but at 38-68 with a tough schedule ahead, the results can’t come soon enough.