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Orioles need to add starting pitching for 2018 at the Triple-A level, too

When the Orioles churned the back end of their roster to add their September call-ups this year, the focus was solely on getting up the pitching reinforcements they desperately needed and later adding the top prospects who ended up getting their first glimpse of the major leagues.

Now, however, the long view of some of those moves — and particularly what they mean for 2018 — is coming into focus.

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With as many as three of their veteran starting pitchers — Ubaldo Jiménez, Chris Tillman and Wade Miley — likely leaving in free agency, it turns out that much of the pitching depth the Orioles relied on in 2017 (and that could make a run at rotation spots in 2018) could be heading out with them.

When the Orioles designated left-hander Jayson Aquino for assignment in early September — just after they did the same to right-handers Tyler Wilson and Logan Verrett — they lost the right to keep him in the organization this offseason, setting him on a path for minor league free agency.

Players with parts of seven seasons of minor league service under their first contract who are not on a team's 40-man roster are eligible to be free agents. That's where Aquino and Wilson are headed, and where Verrett already is, according to Baseball America's transaction report this week.

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While Wilson's role diminished this year after he earned a rotation spot out of spring training in 2016, Aquino, 24, made two spot starts for the Orioles and was praised as deserving of more by manager Buck Showalter after his second one in early July. He didn't get one, of course, and the Orioles designating him for assignment served as their final assessment of him.

Although the Orioles are flush with interesting arms in the low minors thanks to a pair of strong drafts, the high minors are lacking pitching prospects. The situation is exacerbated by the possibility that Gabriel Ynoa could work his way into the major league rotation and the likelihood that Mike Wright, because he's out of minor league options, will be used as a reliever.

Even with the returns of Chris Lee and Alec Asher, plus the likes of Yefry Ramírez and David Hess deserving the chance to move up to fill holes in the Triple-A rotation, it remains clear that the Orioles' task of bringing in starting pitching applies to the Triple-A affiliate as well.

Rock Hall in Kent County comes in ahead of the Orioles' ballpark.

It will be interesting, however, to see what level of pitcher ends up being an option to be Triple-A rotation depth for the Orioles. At its most basic, a pitcher wants the opportunity to ply his trade and get back to the majors. But given the Orioles' proclivity to make their Triple-A starters long relievers on a day's notice in the majors, some might end up looking harder at other opportunities.

The major attention this offseason will go to how the Orioles fill out their major league rotation, and rightfully so. But with the way the Orioles operate, the need for Triple-A pitching adds a wrinkle that will be just as important.

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