Where does O's rotation competition stand?

March 4th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Heading into camp, one of the most interesting storylines for the Orioles this spring was expected to be the rotation competition. One week into the Grapefruit League slate, the battle for spots is living up to the hype.

General manager Mike Elias viewed it as 12 pitchers battling for five spots -- unlikely to expand to six, because the team would prefer to have an eight-man bullpen. The number of candidates appears to be down to 11, as isn’t expected to be fully stretched out as a starter by the end of camp due to his buildup being slowed by right lower lumbar discomfort. isn’t included because he won’t be back until July or August from Tommy John surgery recovery.

That’s still a lot of arms to evaluate. Each of the 11 has now pitched in a Grapefruit game after tossed two innings in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to a Braves split squad at Ed Smith Stadium. As starters begin to go deeper, it will be challenging to get them all into exhibition contests, so some will likely work in backfield games. The depth is much different from recent springs.

“The competition part is a lot of fun right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Before it was more of [being given an] opportunity, and now, it’s more they’re competing with each other to make the club, to be a part of something special.”

After one long turn through the rotation options, here’s a breakdown of where the starting-pitching picture stands:

Locks: ,
Gibson realizes his place in the starting five is assured, “barring a Spring Training meltdown.” Irvin didn’t make that type of proclamation earlier this week, when the 29-year-old left-hander said he feels his 81 games of big league experience isn’t enough to just be handed a spot.

The O’s are paying the 35-year-old Gibson $10 million this year and gave up talented shortstop prospect Darell Hernaiz to acquire Irvin from the A’s. They’re both in the Opening Day rotation.

In (as of now): , ,
These three right-handers came to camp as apparent front-runners, and they’ve each shown why. Bradish and Rodriguez (MLB Pipeline’s No. 7 overall prospect) each pitched two hitless innings in their Grapefruit debuts. Kremer allowed one run in five innings over his two outings before his imminent departure to go pitch for Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

If these three stay on the same track, there’s a good chance they could round out the rotation.

Just out/bullpen possibilities: ,
Voth is out of Minor League options and is making $1.85 million in 2023, so there’s a high likelihood the 30-year-old right-hander breaks camp with the team. He brings a ton of value as a swingman type who can pitch in relief and make spot starts as needed.

After Wells pitched in relief in ‘21 and was converted to a starter in ‘22, Baltimore will need to decide how the 28-year-old right-hander best fits in its plans for ‘23. He struggled a bit in his first Grapefruit start vs. Atlanta (three runs allowed on five hits, including a Michael Harris II homer), but he can’t be fairly judged off one outing.

Despite the uncertainty regarding his role, Wells’ attention isn’t on the camp competition.

“I’m trying to focus on what I’m doing,” Wells said.

Long shots/depth: , , ,
It’ll be difficult for any of these four to move ahead of any of the previous seven hurlers in this hierarchy. But they provide important depth, in case any injuries occur.

Hall’s situation is intriguing, because the Orioles view him as a long-term starter. The left-hander, who is MLB Pipeline’s No. 97 overall prospect, was supposed to be stretched out as such this spring -- and he still might, just not fully until after the regular season begins.

If Baltimore wants the 24-year-old on its Opening Day roster, it may have to be as a reliever. Hall thrived out of the bullpen late last season, recording a 1.04 ERA over his final eight appearances, so he could make a positive impact in relief.

But what happens when Hall’s buildup is complete? Will there be an opportunity for him to join the O’s rotation? If not, do they send him down to Triple-A Norfolk or keep him in the bullpen? All factors they’ll need to weigh at that point -- and even before that time comes.

“We’re going to build him as much as possible and then kind of decide at that point what to do with him,” Hyde said earlier this week. “Really unsure right now.”