Welcome to Overreaction Of The Week, my over the top, uninhibited, Baltimore sports-fan takes on this week’s Orioles activity.
On May 12th, David Hess made his major league debut in a start against the Tampa Bay Rays. He struggled early, giving up a three-run home run in the first inning, but settled down to turn in a quality start over six innings. Hess was a welcome addition to the starting rotation that has had its ups and downs so far in 2018. As the 26th man in the first game of a double header, Hess showed his ability to mix pitches and battle a big league lineup, but has since been sent back down to Norfolk.
Due to his strong performance, Hess has established himself as a viable starting pitching option for the rest of the season. The word ‘option’ in this case is a dangerous one, as Hess could be optioned between the majors and minors several times this year, joining the proverbial Taxi Squad. Though being on the Taxi Squad gives young players an opportunity to play in the major leagues, it often results in sporadic appearances and makes gameday preparation difficult. We have seen this be detrimental to player development, namely with another starting pitcher, Kevin Gausman.
The Orioles have utilized minor league options quite frequently, they’re generally at the top of the league in official team transactions each year. These moves have mostly been to keep bullpen arms fresh, yet another way in which the starting pitching hasn’t helped this team for a long time. Kevin Gausman was a resident member of the Taxi Squad from 2013 to 2015. In those three seasons, he was sent to the minors and recalled 13 times, by far the most in the organization. In my mind, this activity has hampered Gausman’s development because he wasn’t allowed to get into a routine. Everyone knows pitchers are creatures of habit, and next to the definition of ‘creature of habit’ is a picture of Kevin Gausman. He is the same guy that ate powdered donuts between innings in college and started each inning of warmups like this:
Earlier this year, Gausman even chose to change his delivery on a whim, pitched well, and has been sticking to it ever since. Gausman has show flashes of brilliance, but his issues in consistency mirror his sporadic introduction to the league. He was willing to do whatever required to help the team, but the team did not do him a service by shuttling him between the Orioles and their minor league affiliates. While pitchers “figure it out” at different rates, I can’t help but believe the options to the minors delayed, or even stunted, his development. The Orioles should not do the same to Hess.
Hess is 24 years old and still developing his secondary pitches. His performance so far should earn him some consistency and a real shot at the starting rotation. He pitched well in the minors in 2017, has impressed so far this year, so he should be considered a legitimate candidate. He and reliever Miguel Castro seem to be the best fits to take the fifth rotation spot at this point, but Castro has yet to fully test his mettle as a starter. I would rather Hess continue to either consistently get innings at Triple-A and polish his game, than get the Taxi Squad treatment.
Hess may not be as highly regarded as Gausman, but he is capable of providing valuable innings this season. After all, it can’t get much worse than Tillman has been. On Wednesday, Miguel Castro will make a spot start in Tillman’s stead. Castro’s longest career outing is 6 innings and was very effective in 4.2 innings last week, but neither were starts. He is worthy of an opportunity, but Orioles need to be sure to maximize his talents as well. The Orioles need to be sure to not mess with his mentality the way the Yankees messed with Joba Chamberlain. David Hess’ four pitch mix and ability to execute all four pitches will make it tougher for teams to learn the book on him. The Orioles need to have a clear role and plan defined for their developing players and especially this year, they need to given a fair shot at the available spots on the roster.
We have seen first hand, that the Taxi Squad approach doesn’t work. The Orioles cannot afford to stunt their young pitchers’ development, especially with a rebuilding period on the horizon.
P.S. – On a related note, the Orioles and fans may have gotten a glimpse of the near future with their three pitchers on May 12: Hess with the start, Tanner Scott the bridge, and Mychal Givens notched his first career save. Big time win for the Orioles farm system.
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