While the minor league season is still in its early stages, it is important to not overreact to anything that is good or bad. With that being said, the Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore Orioles) have won eight of their first ten games of the season and the rotation they have is the main reason why.
After ten games, the team has an ERA of 2.15, which is the lowest in the South Atlantic League. Plus, they have the fewest walks in the SAL and their 93 strikeouts are tied with Lakewood for the fourth most strikeouts in the league.
Right now, their rotation is headlined by right-hander Michael Baumann. Baumann, who was a third-round pick in last year’s MLB Draft out of Jacksonville, had 19 strikeouts in his first two outings. At Short-Season Aberdeen a season ago, he had 41 K’s in 41.1 innings with hitters batting .168 against him.
When John did his rankings of the top Orioles prospects in the system back in January, he had Baumann as the sixth-best player in the organization. Here is what he had to say:
6) Michael Baumann, RHP, Grade B-: Age 22, third round pick in 2017 from Jacksonville University; Minnesota native posted 1.31 ERA, 41/19 K/BB in 41 innings in New York-Penn League, only 25 hits; physical 6-4, 225 pounder with 90-95 MPH fastball, along with solid slider and change-up; command needs tightening and unclear if he starts or relieves at highest levels, although he did enough in his debut to remain in the rotation for now; ETA 2020.
As John writes, Baumann can get the fastball into the mid-90’s and can even touch 97-miles-per-hour. If he can get the secondary pitches in the zone for strikes, that will only help him as a pitcher. In the small sample size last year, he got hitters to hit groundballs 47.1 percent of the time (according to FanGraphs). Here is some video of Baumann courtesy of Adam McInturff of 2080Ball.
#Orioles 3rd RD'er last year in #MLBDraft Michael Baumann's first two starts of the year: 11 IP, 19K, 3BB, 7H with a 0.82 ERA. Holding opponents to a .189 average-against with a 0.91 WHIP. #Birdland pic.twitter.com/3fbaizmPAF— Adam McInturff (@2080adam) April 13, 2018
If you are a fan of strikeouts, then Zac Lowther is the guy for you. The 21-year-old left-hander out of Xavier threw six no-hit innings and struck out 13 batters against Hickory on April 9. Last year, the Orioles took him with the 74th pick and he was the second left-hander selected behind first-round pick D.J. Hall.
Lowther showed great command at Aberdeen last year when he had 75 strikeouts to 11 walks in 54.1 innings while having a 1.66 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts). This included a 12-strikeout performance against Tri-City in his second-to-last start of the season (September 2).
In his final year at Xavier, Lowther was a big key to why the Musketeers made the NCAA Tournament as Big East conference champions. His 123 strikeouts were 71 more than the second highest on his team and 32 more than any other pitcher in the conference.
Here is what John said about Lowther:
“Fastball isn’t especially fast around 90 but it plays up due to movement, command, and solid secondary pitches (curve, change); pitchability will make short work of A-ball so Double-A will be the first real test, could be fine number four starter, maybe more, if command remains this impressive at higher levels; ETA 2020.”
Despite the fastball not being high in terms of velocity, it’s his delivery that makes the pitch harder to hit. With more on his unique delivery, Luke Siler of Orioles Hangout talked with John Calvagno from Notes From The Sally. Here is what Luke said:
“Lowther is a 6’ 2” thickly built LHP. He has an abbreviated wind-up and a quick, whippy arm action from a low ¾ arm slot. It looks a little violent at first glance but he puts himself in good position by the time his front foot plants.”
While velocity has been key in this generation of pitching, control is something that isn’t easily taught. He did have 33 walks in his final season at Xavier (15 starts), but he only had one outing last year in which he walked more than two batters (four against Vermont back on August 27). His second start will come Sunday afternoon against Lakewood.
If you throw in left-hander Cameron Bishop’s strong start to the season (six strikeouts in each of his first two starts) along with Hall, the Shorebirds have four main pieces to their six-man rotation. Bishop gave up only three runs in eight starts last year with the Ironbirds (0.78 ERA).
With all of these pitchers in their first full season as professionals, it will be interesting to track how these guys do as the season goes along. With that being said, it is going to be tough for the SAL bats to generate much contact with the confidence these pitchers have right now on the mound.