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O's sign free-agent right-hander Stewart

@JoeTrezz
December 29, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Looking to replace the innings lost when they dealt Dylan Bundy to the Angels in early December, the Orioles turned to another former top pick in their first foray into this year's free-agent market. The club on Sunday agreed to terms on a one-year contract with right-hander Kohl

BALTIMORE -- Looking to replace the innings lost when they dealt Dylan Bundy to the Angels in early December, the Orioles turned to another former top pick in their first foray into this year's free-agent market. The club on Sunday agreed to terms on a one-year contract with right-hander Kohl Stewart, who spent parts of the past two seasons with the Twins.

The club did not disclose the financial details of the deal, but MASN reported it is worth $800,000 if Stewart makes the big league club. He also has one Minor League option remaining. The Orioles designated Minor League righty Marcos Diplan, who was claimed off waivers on Dec. 9, for assignment to clear space on the 40-man roster. Diplan subsequently cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.

Stewart, 25, owns a career 4.79 ERA in 17 career Major League appearances (six starts), mostly made out of the Twins’ bullpen from 2018-19. He was drafted and developed as a starter, going 39-40 with a 3.60 ERA in 131 Minor League games (125 starts) since Minnesota made him the No. 4 overall selection in the 2013 Draft. One of the country’s top two-sport prospects at the time, Stewart bypassed a football scholarship to Texas A&M, where he had a chance to replace Johnny Manziel at quarterback, to pursue professional baseball.

In Baltimore, Stewart will get what never materialized in Minnesota -- a chance to start regularly in the Majors. He immediately becomes a candidate for a rotation full of questions behind John Means and Alex Cobb. Asher Wojciechowski is also expected to compete for a job, alongside David Hess, No. 11 prospect Keegan Akin, Rule 5 picks Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker -- and possibly others.

Speaking at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, manager Brandon Hyde and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said they’d prefer to have eight rotation candidates heading into Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota on Feb. 11. Besides Bundy, the Orioles must also replace the 170 1/3 combined innings logged last season by Aaron Brooks and Gabriel Ynoa, both of whom signed deals to play in South Korea.

Enter Stewart, who elected free agency after the Twins outrighted him in early November. That ended what was ultimately a disappointing tenure in Minnesota, in which Stewart progressed up the development chain deliberately. He spent three separate stints at Double-A and two at Triple-A, where he pitched to a 5.14 ERA last season as a starter.

For his career, Stewart averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine in the Minors and 4.9 per nine in the Majors. He has historically been successful at keeping the ball in the ballpark, surrendering just 40 home runs in 723 2/3 professional innings.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.