Every addition the Orioles make to their pitching staff this spring in the form of veterans on minor league contracts makes things harder for two of the first pitchers they added to their spring training mix — Rule 5 draft picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells.
Those two were plucked from the fringes of the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins organizations, respectively, and need to be kept on the active roster for the entire season for the Orioles to keep them.
That’s a tall task in normal circumstances, and even more so when the Orioles could have to add Félix Hernández, Matt Harvey and Wade LeBlanc to the roster for Opening Day and are limited in terms of bullpen flexibility.
All these two newcomers can do is pitch well in the chances they get. Early in camp this week in Sarasota, Florida, manager Brandon Hyde said they’ve done just that.
“I like their arms,” Hyde said. “They’re big, physical guys. Wells is a big boy. It’s downhill, it’s every bit of [6-foot-6], big body, with a great arm. We’re going to take a long look at him. Sceroler is a guy, he’s bigger in person to me than I saw on film in a good way. I actually talked to [Sceroler’s uncle Ben McDonald, a former Orioles pitcher and current broadcaster] about him a couple nights ago.
“I watched his bullpen and gave Ben a little bit of an update. I really like his arm. Also, his pitching mix. He’s going to be a strike-thrower.”
Sceroler, the Orioles’ first of the two picks, had a good season in 2019 with High-A Daytona in the Reds organization, striking out 127 batters with a 1.11 WHIP in 117 innings. Wells missed all of 2019 with Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery but had a 1.09 WHIP and struck out 10.1 batters per nine innings in two-plus seasons before that.
Neither got much organized baseball in 2020 without the minor league season, though Wells would have likely been rehabilitating for the most part anyway.
That means that even with a normal offseason, an intensity will be expected of them this spring that they haven’t had to hit in a while. In addition to the nonroster options, they’re in the mix with returning arms like Bruce Zimmermann and Thomas Eshelman as swingman options for the Orioles out of camp who can start or relieve.
While shortstop Richie Martin and utility man Joey Rickard spent the entire year in the majors with the Orioles as recent Rule 5 picks who stuck, it’s more difficult for a pitcher to make that jump. The Orioles have tried and struggled to keep pitchers Jason Garcia, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Pedro Araujo in recent seasons.
Last year, the Orioles’ knowledge that they had minor league invitees they’d need to add to the roster in LeBlanc and Tommy Milone meant that team returned Rule 5 pitchers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker midway through camp. Rucker, especially, had pitched well to that point in camp. And in hindsight, the shutdown coming just days after they were sent back to their original clubs meant if the Orioles had held out they could have maybe kept them in the system with expanded rosters in 2020.
All that means for this year’s crew is if they’re going to make an impression, they’d better do it quickly. Before long, Hyde will want to use what could be scarce spring innings to ensure there’s enough built-up pitchers to get through the early portion of the regular season.
“It’s two really interesting arms that we’re going to get a long look at this spring,” Hyde said.
Key dates for the Orioles’ preseason preparations in Sarasota, Florida:
Monday: First full-squad workout
Feb. 28: First exhibition game vs. Pittsburgh Pirates