In Baseball America’s prospect handbook, I’m especially interested in the players whom I’m likely to see at Norfolk, either for the Tides or for a visiting team. As part of the write-ups on each prospect, Baseball America projects where he will play in the upcoming season. This article will focus on the players who might play at Norfolk in 2013.
Earlier this off-season, I was emailing with the Norfolk Tides Director of Media Relations, with whom I've worked closely over the past several years. He mentioned that he's been tracking the Orioles' minor-league free-agent signings, and that he thinks there are about 86 players – he may have been exaggerating -- who could or should be on the Tides' opening-day roster. As an example, he listed eighteen pitchers who could be in the Tides’ starting rotation.
#1 Dylan Bundy is the Orioles top pitching prospect, who in 2012 raced from Low-A to High-A to AA to the major leagues. He was dominant at Low-A and High-A and held his own in limited AA and major-league action. BA states that it’s possible that Bundy will make the Orioles out of spring training, but that an assignment to AA or AAA is more likely. I predict the Orioles will assign Bundy to AA Bowie, in part because of the number of pitchers who could pitch at Norfolk, and in part because the Orioles may want Bundy to be close-at-hand both in case they want to call him up quickly and to keep an eye on him.
#2 Kevin Gausman was the Orioles’ #1 2012 draft pick, a pitcher from LSU. He’s an advanced and highly-regarded prospect, but he only has fifteen innings of professional experience. He might follow Dylan Bundy, move quickly through the system, and spend some time at Norfolk, but I think the Orioles might start him at Frederick to get his feet wet.
#3 Jonathan Schoop is likely to get a return engagement at Bowie. He’s young; he won’t turn 22 until after the 2013 season. His 2012 OPS of .710 at Bowie indicates that he still has something to prove at AA.
#6 L.J. Hoes will either make the Orioles out of spring training or start 2013 at Norfolk.
#7 Xavier Avery will either make the Orioles out of spring training or start 2013 at Norfolk.
BA states that #8 Mike Wright will start 2013 at Norfolk. I think he'll start 2013 at Bowie. He didn’t pitch well in a half-season at Bowie in 2012 and he’ll be fighting with the seventeen other pitchers. The Orioles have invested a lot in him, why rush him?
#16 Steve Johnson should, by all measures, make the Orioles out of spring training. He pitched well with both Norfolk and Baltimore in 2012 and will turn 26 in August. The problem is that he’s fighting a crowd of candidates for the Orioles’ rotation, he has options left, and the Orioles may prefer him to pitch regularly in Norfolk than as a long relief pitcher in Baltimore. The good news for him is that even if he does start the season in Norfolk, he’ll likely be an early recall to Baltimore when they need a starting pitcher.
#17 Clay Schrader is a relief pitcher who has pitched very well throughout the Orioles’ minor-league system. He had a 2.74 ERA with Bowie last season, and turns 23 in April, so he might normally be considered for Norfolk. But since he only pitched 23 innings at AA, and there are plenty of pitchers competing at Norfolk, he will likely start 2013 at Bowie.
#21 Tsuyoshi Wada is a wild card. A 32-year-old with a long career in Japan, Wada underwent Tommy John surgery and missed almost all of 2012. Depending on where he is in his recovery, he could start in Bowie, in Norfolk, in extended spring training, or on the disabled list.
#22 T.J. McFarland is a major-league Rule 5 draftee from the Indians organization. He pitched 2/3 of 2012 at AAA Columbus and, under normal circumstances, would be a candidate for Norfolk in 2013. However, as a major-league Rule 5 draftee, he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without (1) clearing waivers and (2) being offered back to Cleveland for $25,000. The Orioles obviously like McFarland, and he’ll be given every chance to win a job in spring training. The Indians don’t have a lot of pitching, especially left-handed pitching, in their organization, so I’d think that they’d take McFarland back if he doesn’t make the Orioles.
#24 Mike Belfiore, acquired from Arizona in exchange for Josh Bell, had a great 2012 after being unimpressive earlier in his career. BA thinks Belfiore will start 2013 in Norfolk, but I think he’s as likely to be a victim of the numbers game and start 2013 at Bowie. Even if he does, he’ll spend some time in Norfolk if he continues to pitch well.
#28 Oliver Drake is sort of a cross between Mike Wright and Tsuyoshi Wada – a pitcher who is recovering from surgery – in Drake’s case shoulder surgery – and who hasn’t really proven that he’s mastered AA. Although he made an emergency appearance in 2011 at Norfolk, he’s much more likely to start the year again at Bowie.
#30 Ty Kelly is an organization player who had an outstanding 2012, dominating at Class A, playing well at AA, and holding his own in a two-week stint at AAA. BA thinks he’ll start 2013 at Norfolk, and he might, but given that he has fewer than 200 AA plate appearances, it might be more prudent for him to start 2013 at Bowie. In his case, his placement may depend on positional need – if Norfolk needs an infielder, he may be assigned to Norfolk.