Fall League Ends For O’s Invitees

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As teams close out their hitting camps and the Arizona Fall League concludes, the next item on the baseball calendar is June’s amateur draft. Months of waiting and roster reorganization will take place as executives determine who will be part of the chase to a championship.

The Fall League represents a different or specific challenge for every player there. Some are making up for lost time. Others are showing their skills to potential employers knowing that their current team has soured on them. The league is perceived as offense-heavy and the onus is on the pitchers to avoid big innings and blowouts.

2021 O’s

This year the Orioles sent OFs Yusniel Diaz and Kyle Stowers, catcher Ramon Rodriguez, infielder Greg Cullen and arms Nick Vespi, Cameron Bishop, Conner Loeprich and Logan Gillaspie.

Lefthanded slider/cutter specialist Vespi made the Fall-Stars team where he ended his appearance by getting righty Cards prospect Juan Yepez swinging for a big strikeout. In the championship game, Vespi had another very strong appearance backing up untouched starter, Cub Caleb Killian. Contributing to both a win and league title Vespi this time closed out his frame with a more traditional K of a lefty, Yankees prospect Austin Wells. Without any question Nick did his job in the desert going 3-1 with a 2.51 ERA, 17K in 14 IP.

During the Fall campaign, the Orioles in a confounding decision declined to retain Vespi by adding him to their 40-man roster and made the call to add Gillaspie. Spit out by Milwaukee, the righty with a 98mph heater seems to have found his home in Baltimore’s pitching development program. Mesa was not the statistical success for Logan with a 9.00 ERA and 18 Hits in 14IP. However his finishing pitches were on and he got 18 K’s to prove it.

From The Ground

Talking to players who have both pitched with and faced Gillaspie, I got a bit of a scouting report. Getting to 2 strikes and knowing his riding 4-seamer is coming at 98 is a very low percentage play. Confident hitters don’t stand a chance in unfavorable counts. Gillaspie can get to those counts with either a curve or a nasty split too and hitters remember facing his stuff at extended spring training this past season and not enjoying the occasion. Based on the circumstances behind his acquisition and the Orioles rostering him last week, the signs show that the club is high on him.

Also added to the Orioles 40-man roster were infielder Terrin Vavra, lefty top of the rotation arm DL Hall, and righties Felix Bautista and Kyle Bradish and lefty K specialist Kevin Smith. Both Smith and Bradish represent players the front office has received back in trades for vets, the lifeblood of a rebuild.

After an outstanding season where his prospect star shined even brighter, the big swinging OF Stowers got hurt and had to cut his Fall short, opting to rest and prep for the 2022 season that essentially starts in February at minor league camp. His 2021 included an award for being the organization’s co-offensive player of the year with catcher Adley Rutschman. Over Stowers’ 538 AB this season, he had 51 XBH and a .900 OPS adding in a .98 fielding % as a RF. The fact his Arizona trip was cut short after feeling a pull in his lower lumbar was not the end of the world, he’ll be fine to swing that bat skyward in a few weeks.

The other outfielder Yusniel Diaz has given us little reason to think he’ll follow a similar course back to health. Since being acquired by a previous front office in a deadline deal for O’s darling Manny Machado Diaz has shown flashes of being a high level hitter and defender. Unfortunately, those glimpses have come sporadically and the big outfielder is developing a reputation as someone who is tough to keep off the trainer’s table. Lower body strains and pulls have marked Diaz’ career to this point. I’m estimating the rapidly improving Orioles are going to give him one more year to show he can play and stay on the field.

Others Playing Well

Catcher Ramon Rodriguez also went west to rep the Orange and Black. Catching pens and finding playing time can be tough for a catcher in Arizona. Rod got 11 ABs before his wife gave birth so his 3 hits won’t stand out as much as his family milestone. Catching depth in the Orioles system has been a priority behind Adley Rutschman and Ramon has made his case to compete since coming to Baltimore from the Dodgers.

Righties Bishop and Loerprich appeared to have run out of gas after long minor league years, and the Arizona offenses had them scuffling. 26 earned runs and 30 walks in a combined 28 innings shows that the pair has some parts of their game to work on. Hitters obviously were not fooled this time around.

Finally, a player who scouts began to ask me about as the FCL season waned got hot and even had a clutch game winning homer late in the season. Infielder Greg Cullen was acquired for Tommy Milone in 2020 and has shown a strong on-base foundation offensively. In his 1st 1000 minor league ABs his % is .393 and appropriately in Arizona he reached at a .400 clip. The pop is a bonus, but if he’s spitting on non-drivable pitches he has a better percentage chance at hitting the right pitches. Also, Cullen brings a trusty glove to the table going error free in Arizona.

It seems that the interest around Cullen from months ago was for a real reason so we should expect he and the near-ready Vespi to be selected by other clubs at Rule 5, whenever the CBA permits the process.

Cody’s Sedlock(P) Roberts (C)are available for the taking. Outfielder Robert Neustrom and corner Pat Dorrian both off hot 2021’s are too. If defense is your thing pick Cadyn Grenier the glovey infielder who fields like Roberto Alomar. Or if speed from the position is your thing, Adam Hall’s available and unprotected. Blaine Knight the slender righty and Brett Cumberland the catcher who boosts his on-base by getting plunked a lot are there too. Tell Cumberland to take a step back, in 402 games he’s been hit an impossible to comprehend 105 times in the box.

Tough to see another club having 40-man space for Lamar Sparks, Adam Stauffer, Doran Turchin or Ignacio Feliz. David LeBron and Diogenes Almengo, hard throwing righty relievers seem slightly more ready to be rostered.
For those concerned about the Orioles climb toward contention being a rudderless ship, it’s time to reflect on some serious positives.June’s draft starts with them as they pick first. It’s probable that after a few sizzling draft classes that this one will be led by the field’s best player. Baltimore’s minor league system was named #1 recently. Their top future battery consists of the game’s best overall prospect, Adley Rutschman and his ace, righty Grayson Rodriguez.

We’re on the right track in Birdland.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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