Normally, starting two rookie pitchers with a combined total of two Major League starts in a double header is a recipe for two tallies in the loss column. That would be the case for most teams, but after years of struggling to develop Major League ready starting pitching, the Baltimore Orioles appear to finally have developed a pair of starters who can be competent pieces in a big league rotation.
While the Orioles split the twinbill with the Chicago White Sox, thanks to Chris Sale and his 12 strikeouts in the opener, their young right-handers gave them a chance to win both games. Wilson was done in by one bad inning, but allowed only two runs and five hits in six innings. He commanded his pitches well, but got hurt by a pair of doubles after walking Adam Eaton to lead off the sixth inning.
In the nightcap, Mike Wright’s 14.1 inning scoreless streak finally came to an end after Eaton led off with a home run to left that barely squeaked over the wall. Wright would have to battle, and gave up another home run, this a two-run shot to Adam LaRoche before leaving after five innings with his team holding a 4-3 lead. The bullpen held on, and Wright received his second career victory.
For an organization that has not developed a great starting pitcher of its own in over two decades, this has to be a positive sign. The last truly good Major League starter drafted, developed, and delivered to the big leagues by the Orioles was Mike Mussina, and he debuted in 1991. Since Mussina’s debut, Orioles fans have mostly been treated to retreads and prospects who never quite panned out. Do the names Daniel Cabrera, Hayden Penn, Adam Loewen, Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson, and Bruce Chen ring any bells?
Even two of the more vital cogs in the Orioles’ bullpen, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz, were failed starters. Britton had an 18-17 record as a starter from 2011-2013 with a 4.86 ERA. He’s now gone onto great success as the Orioles closer with 50 saves and a 1.70 ERA since taking over that role early last season. Say what you will about Matusz this year, he has been a more than serviceable left-handed specialist since being taken out of the starting rotation following a 1-9 season in 2011 in which he posted a double-digit ERA of 10.89.
These two examples, like many before them, were thrown to the fire in the back end of a rotation on a lousy team. Fortunately for the recent crop of Orioles’ starting pitching prospects, the team has been able to cobble together a respectable rotation through trades and international signings. But, the fact remains, the Orioles have not succeeded in drafting and developing a starting pitcher since their return to prominence in 2012.
Wilson and Wright are the perfect candidates to finally break the organization out of that lengthy slump. Both were drafted in 2011 to very little fanfare. Wright was picked in the third round out of East Carolina, while Wilson went to the Orioles in the tenth round out of Virginia. They were both seen as low-upside college pitchers with a potential to fill out the back end of a Major League rotation if everything broke their way. At each level, they have managed to exceed expectations and improve in the minor ways that pitchers drafted out of college must.
Neither will wow you with outstanding stuff. Wilson is a low-nineties type with a good changeup. Wright can reach the mid-nineties and goes to a slider more frequently than Wilson. Both have good sinking action on their fastballs, and when they are on, will pound the bottom of the zone and induce groundballs. Wilson got ten outs on the ground in his start yesterday.
Wright and Wilson do not project to future acehood by any means, but they are a testament to the Orioles ability to finally develop Major League ready starting pitching. In the dark years between 1997 and 2012, the Orioles were forced to rush pitchers up to the big leagues before they were truly ready. I do not doubt the fact that Wright and Wilson would have struggled in the Majors last season, but they have been given an extra year of development, and seem mature enough to handle the pressures of starting for the Orioles.
This bodes well for a trio of Orioles’ prospects who do actually have ace potential — Kevin Gausman (yes, I consider him a prospect until the Orioles decide what they want to do with him), Dylan Bundy, and Hunter Harvey. This group has the potential to give the Orioles three dominant starters if they can stay healthy. In years past, all three may have been in Camden Yards far earlier than their due date, and possibly ruined forever just like Daniel Cabrera.
Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson performing well yesterday is a great sign for the Orioles and the pitchers themselves, but it also bodes well for the real future of the rotation, Gausman, Bundy, and Harvey. Things are looking up for the Orioles organization when it comes to pitcher development, and that can only mean good things for the future of the franchise.
Follow Josh Sadlock on Twitter: @JoshSadlock