As time ticks on the Orioles’ decision to retain one or both of their Rule 5 draft picks, neither is concerning himself with a choice they have only so much say in.
Right-handers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells have to remain on the Orioles’ major league roster for all of the 2021 season or be offered back to their original clubs, the Cincinnati Reds and the Minnesota Twins, respectively. With a week until the Orioles must trim their roster to 26 for Opening Day at Fenway Park, both remain in camp and, by virtue of their presence, remain candidates to be on the roster.
“The choice for me to stay is completely out of my control,” Wells said. “All I’m really able to do is give myself the best opportunity to compete for a spot and to help the team win, so I really just try and stick with what I can control and not really focus on whether stats are in my favor or against my favor.”
By stats, Wells was referencing the success rate of Rule 5 draftees sticking in the majors. The Orioles’ recent history offers a clear example all don’t even reach as far as Wells and Sceroler have.
The Orioles also took a pair of right-handers in 2019′s Rule 5 draft in the Houston Astros’ Brandon Bailey and the Chicago Cubs’ Michael Rucker. Less than a week before the coronavirus shut down spring training last year, the Orioles returned both pitchers, figuring that carrying them meant their pitching staff could not be as flexible as desired.
Both Bailey and Rucker had at least a full year of Double-A experience, while Wells’ six games at that level in 2018, his last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery, represent all of the 2020 picks’ time there or higher. Yet manager Brandon Hyde pointed to their recent outings in a game against the New York Yankees, with both pitching two scoreless innings, in explaining why the duo has outlasted last year’s pairing.
“We feel like they both have a lot of upside,” Hyde said. “They’ve both pitched very well in camp. I thought their last outing against the Yankees was very impressive. Both showed that they can throw strikes at this level in that outing. We’re going to continue to take a look at them in the next week. I like both their stuff.”
There’s also the fact teams will need as many arms as possible to navigate a season that will be nearly three times the length as the one that preceded it. Keeping Wells and Sceroler, or at least one of them, would increase the Orioles’ pitching depth, though likely at the cost of having a more experienced pitcher start the season at their alternate training site in Bowie.
Hyde said “yes and no” when asked whether the 2021 season’s circumstances play into Sceroler and Wells’ favor for making the club.
“It’s more it’s two guys that we really like their ability and we like different things that they bring,” Hyde said. “Two guys that we’re considering to keep in the organization, which means to be on our team.”
Throughout camp, the Orioles’ apparent need to add two veteran pitchers to their 40-man roster in Matt Harvey and Wade LeBlanc seemed to work against Sceroler and Wells. But Thursday, Baltimore used its one already available spot on Harvey, while LeBlanc requested his release and was granted it, suggesting the team didn’t see a spot for him on its Opening Day roster. If the Orioles decide to bring another nonroster invitee north with them, though, returning either of the Rule 5 picks would free a spot. Hyde has also said it’s possible Chris Davis’ ailing back lands him on the 60-day injured list, which could open another.
But as roster implications are sorted out, the two young pitchers are focused on improving.
They have grown close as catch partners, working on similar schedules as they’ve made all of their Grapefruit League appearances on the same day and pitched in an intrasquad together on top of that.
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“Me and him talk quite a bit each and every day about what we learned, what we’re trying to apply each day, and we really bounce a lot of different stuff off each other,” Wells said. “We also talk a lot about different pitching. We talk to each other about how we can make our pitches better, how we can execute pitches better.”
Each was adamant, though, that they don’t have only each other to rely on. Wells said relievers Shawn Armstrong, Tanner Scott and Paul Fry, the three most established members of the Orioles’ bullpen assuming LeBlanc and minor league free agent Fernando Abad don’t join them there, have been supportive in helping him adjust to a relief role. Armstrong has provided insights on the mental approach to take, Wells said, with Scott suggesting ways to take care of his body on a daily basis.
“Pretty much every guy in this clubhouse is super helpful and friendly, man,” Sceroler said. “In terms of helping each other out, whether or not we’re competing for the same position, everybody is offering their help to us, which I find really cool.”
Sceroler admitted that the mental side escaped him early in camp, saying his struggles then were the result of “trying to make all my pitchers perfect.” But the Orioles have worked closely with him and Wells after each of their outings, telling them where and how to improve, and each thinks they have.
If neither ends up on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster, they believe they’ll take plenty of lessons back with them to their former organizations. But they hope to put them to use for Baltimore.
“I’m trying to come to the field every day with one thing on my mind: to become a better pitcher,” Sceroler said. “At the end of the day, whatever happens happens. I’m just trying to control what I can control, and whether or not the situation unfolds how I want, that’s out of my control, so I’m just trying to do what I can on the field.”