Pitching is perhaps the Orioles’ biggest offseason need. Friday, they made a handful of internal additions that certainly could be of help in that area.
Baltimore added six prospects to their 40-man roster Friday — five of them pitchers — shielding them from the possibility of being available to other teams in the Rule 5 draft. Most notably, the Orioles selected the contracts of left-hander DL Hall and right-hander Kyle Bradish, who trail only Grayson Rodriguez, baseball’s top overall pitching prospect, in the organizational ranking of young arms. It’s reasonable that by midseason, all three — including Rodriguez, who is not yet eligible for the Rule 5 draft and thus wasn’t a necessity to add to the 40-man roster at this time — could be playing significant roles on Baltimore’s pitching staff.
The same could be true of left-hander Kevin Smith, who was also added Friday, as were infielder Terrin Vavra and right-handed relief prospects Félix Bautista and Logan Gillaspie. To be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, a player not on a team’s 40-man roster must be at least five years removed from signing as an 18-year-old or younger, or four years if they were 19 or older.
The Orioles ended Friday with one opening on their 40-man roster. By not filling all of their open roster spots, they left themselves room to make their own selection in the Rule 5 draft and add players on waivers whom other teams might have removed to make space for prospects on their own rosters.
They were already active on the latter front Friday, claiming infielder Lucius Fox from the Kansas City Royals. Fox, 24, was a top 10 prospect in both the San Francisco Giants and Tampa Bay Rays’ systems earlier in his career and ranked among Kansas City’s top 30 prospects this season, according to Baseball America. A light hitter with a solid walk rate, Fox is considered a plus runner and defender, primarily playing shortstop while dabbling at second base, third base and center field.
Hall, 23, was Baltimore’s first-round pick in 2017. His premium velocity and premier breaking balls from the left side have always made him a high-strikeout pitcher, though he hasn’t always carried the best control. He seemed to be improving in that area with Double-A Bowie in 2021 before a stress reaction in his pitching elbow cut his season short, but as the Orioles’ third-ranked prospect behind catcher and No. 1 overall prospect Adley Rutschman and Rodriguez, Hall always appeared as a lock to be protected.
Bradish, 25, earned a similar status with a fantastic start to 2021 with Bowie and a strong close with Triple-A Norfolk. He had his struggles in the middle, but the Orioles hold Bradish, Baltimore’s No. 9 prospect according to Baseball America, in high regard. He was arguably the centerpiece of the Orioles’ five-player December 2019 trade with the Los Angeles Angeles for starting pitcher Dylan Bundy, and now Bradish joins Isaac Mattson, one of the other three right-handed minor leaguers Baltimore got in that deal, on the Orioles’ 40-man roster.
Like Bradish, Smith joined the Orioles via trade, one of two prospects acquired from the New York Mets for reliever Miguel Castro at the 2020 trade deadline. Smith, 24, struggled with his command late in the year, but the Orioles like his pitch mix, and in Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells, he already has examples to follow in Baltimore of how to reach the majors despite lacking major velocity from the left side.
Vavra, too, was a trade acquisition. The 24-year-old was part of the Orioles’ three-player return from the Colorado Rockies for reliever Mychal Givens, providing even further depth in the middle infield of Baltimore’s farm system. Vavra lost some time this year to a back strain, but when healthy, he showed off a top-of-the-order profile while playing mostly second base and center field.
Each of those four rank among the Orioles’ top 20 or so prospects, but for their remaining selections, they went deeper into their system.
Bautista, 26, skyrocketed up three levels in 2021, striking nearly 40% of the batters he faced. Although he issued a concerning amount of walks — 30 in 46 2/3 innings — he posted a 1.54 ERA and 1.071 WHIP while reaching Triple-A. As a high-octane right-hander who stands at 6-foot-5, he has the type of profile that would have made him appealing to other teams in the Rule 5 draft had the Orioles left him available.
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Gillaspie, 24, was a surprise selection. He posted a 4.97 ERA between High-A Aberdeen and Double-A and a 9.00 mark in the Arizona Fall League after signing a minor league deal with Baltimore in June, though he struck out nearly five times as many batters as he walked in the regular season. He started his professional career in independent ball before signing with the Milwaukee Brewers in the middle of the 2018 season.
The Orioles had roster space for more protections but instead elected to expose several prospects in the Rule 5 draft. Left-handed reliever Nick Vespi could be logical choices for a team seeking bullpen help. Shortstop Cadyn Grenier and right-hander Blaine Knight were Baltimore’s top two picks in the 2018 draft behind Rodriguez. Outfielder Robert Neustrom, their fifth-round selection that year, broke out with 50 extra-base hits between Bowie and Norfolk — more than he had in the previous two seasons of his minor league career combined — but perhaps the Orioles’ outfield depth meant they felt they could risk another team hoping Neustrom has even more room to improve.
Patrick Dorrian was a minor league success story on the infield, while Adam Hall, picked behind DL Hall in 2017′s second round, trended the other direction. He once ranked among Baltimore’s top 20 prospects, but his struggles in High-A, three steps away from the majors, make it doubtful another organization would have him attempt that leap. For the third straight year, the Orioles left Cody Sedlock, their 2016 first-round pick, exposed.