Inbox: What might the O's '20 rotation look like?

The news never ends, does it? Not even in the offseason. While the rest of Major League Baseball focuses on the playoffs and plays managerial music chairs, the first few weeks of winter for the Orioles brought coaching turnover, one high-profile promotion and an exciting partnership with one of the more innovative companies in player development.

What’s on the horizon? More changes, more movement, more reconfiguring for an organization very much embracing the winds of change.

Until then, let’s dive back into the Inbox to answer some of your most burning questions. Thank you, as always, for sending them in.

What's your best guess for the starting rotation next year (in order)?
-- @OsFarmUpdates

I’ll assume you mean to begin the season, because as we saw this year, lots can change by the end of the summer. But that said, I expect the Orioles to report to Sarasota with a pretty good idea of what four of their rotation spots look like. Assuming Alex Cobb is healthy -- and the Orioles expect him to be fully recovered from hip and knee surgery – the top four likely looks like this:

1) John Means

2) Alex Cobb

3) Dylan Bundy

4) Asher Wojciechowski

After that, it gets interesting. The Orioles opted not to push No. 11 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) Keegan Akin to the Majors despite their considerable rotation issues last year, partly because his development stalled a bit and partly because they knew he’d be added to the roster next month. Their hope now is Akin impresses in camp and wins a back-end rotation job.

Will he have competition besides Aaron Brooks, Gabriel Ynoa, David Hess and perhaps Dillon Tate? I think so. I think there is a good chance the Orioles take fliers on at least one low-risk veteran free agent, like they did last winter with Nate Karns, and then later with Dan Straily. Maybe that means a guy like Jhoulys Chacin, Marco Estrada or Trevor Cahill – older pitchers coming off down seasons looking for a team to take a chance on them. The Orioles aren’t going to play even close to the top of the market here, but bringing in a few of those types could go a long way given their lack of pitching depth.

Will the Orioles look to acquire more international pool slots this offseason to go after some bigger fish in that market next time around?
-- @Mattbollinger18

It's possible. There is definitely an increased emphasis on the Latin American market under Mike Elias and new international scouting director Koby Perez, and while the Orioles aren't ready to play at the tippy-top of the market just yet, things are trending in that direction. Elias was repeatedly realistic during the year that doing so will take time, given how the best amateur prospects often honor verbal commitments given to teams years before they are eligible to sign. The Orioles remain in the process of building the infrastructure necessary to establish those relationships, with an eye toward being able to benefit from them more consistently in the future.

For now, though, it'll be telling how Elias utilizes the upwards of $2 million remaining in the Orioles pool this winter. If you remember, he spent considerable energy this year siphoning away the excess pool money (for 2018-19) he inherited, which was the largest in MLB after uber-prospects Victor Victor Mesa and others signed elsewhere. Elias instead used that “money” (international bonus slots are actually the right to spend that money, not actual cash) in several trades to improve the margins of the big league roster and add minor league depth.

The Orioles have already turned down multiple opportunities to do that with their remaining pool for the current (2019-20) period, with an eye toward possibly pouncing on late bloomers or perhaps a Cuban defector before June 15, 2020. $2 million won't net them a prospect of Mesa's caliber, but it would still constitute a record investment on one player for an organization that largely eschewed previously.

(For reference, Cuban shortstop Yolbert Sanchez, who the Orioles scouted last winter, eventually signed with the White Sox for $2.5 million).

More likely is the Orioles spread that money out and sign multiple lower-level targets. But if the market changes and they can capitalize, there is at least a chance they look to bolster their pool to do so.

Who's your pick for biggest surprise in the O's Minors this upcoming year? Two years ago maybe (Ryan) McKenna, this year maybe (Michael) Baumann. Who's your under the radar pick for 2020?
-- @SchoopCity6

Let’s go with No. 19 prospect Drew Rom, who simply had an underappreciated and overshadowed -- but excellent -- 2019 season. Part of that was he shared a rotation with No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who headlined a truly dominant staff at Class A Delmarva. Part of that was how pitching breakouts were the story of the Orioles’ system this year, from Baumman to Alex Wells to Zack Lowther and Cody Sedlock and others.

Still, the 19-year-old lefty largely breezed through his first full season of pro ball, going 6-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 21 games (15 starts) for the Shorebirds. He punched out 11.5 batters per nine, and allowed just five homers in 95 1/3 innings. Those peripherals suggest Rom has a chance to continue to succeed at the next level, especially if he further slices his already-good walk rate (3.1 per nine in 2019).

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