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Orioles101′s Baltimore Orioles Spring Training Preview Part Four: Battle for Fifth Spot

February 12th, 2014 at 9:55 AM
By Josh Michael

Our final pitcher focused part of our ten-part Baltimore Orioles Spring Training preview hones in on the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation and the competition is very heavy.

The candidates are a plenty when it comes to the battle for the fifth spot in the Orioles starting rotation, and barring a free agent signing, the fifth spot appears to be wide open.

'Brian Matusz' photo (c) 2012, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Baltimore is highly involved in attempting to acquire Korean pitcher Suk-Min Yoon and Yoon even tweeted a picture of him in an Orioles hat, but the team has not confirmed any type of deal and our sources are unaware of any type of agreement as of yet. Even if the Birds sign Yoon, it is not a certainty that he will immediately be thrust into the rotation, although many feel it would be likely.

As of now, Yoon is not on the roster and even if they agree to a deal, he would of course have to pass a physical, so right now we will focus on the guys we know will be reporting to Sarasota tomorrow and battling for that fifth spot in the rotation.

Oddly, one of the most talked about candidates for the fifth spot is one of the Orioles best relievers in Brian Matusz. Over the past season and a half, Matusz has found a real niche in the Orioles bullpen as a lefty specialist and one of Manger Buck Showalter's favorite options out of the pen. Matusz still believes he can be an effective starter in this league despite struggling when he had several opportunities earlier in his career in the rotation. Ultimately, we believe this Spring Training will go much like it did last season for Matusz, he will get his chance to start a game or two, but will end up back in the bullpen as his value to the team is much greater in that role, than as a starter. Let's not forget either that it has been almost two years since he has been worked as a starting pitcher and you would have to be pessimistic about his durability as a starter now.

Another left hander in the mix is Zach Britton and he is quite an interesting case as he too as struggled for the most part when given the opportunity in the rotation. The downside for the Orioles however, is that Britton is now out of Minor League options and thus would either have to remain on the 25-man roster, or be outrighted and there is no chance he would clear waivers. Many feel that Britton could be the Chris Tillman of 2014 as Britton finished the year healthy and has been able to do his full offseason workout plan and expect that to have a big impact for him. We do believe that Britton will initially get the fifth spot in the rotation barring a free agent signing or one of the other candidates performing so well that the job has to be his. If he struggles, Baltimore would likely put Britton in the bullpen as the left handed long reliever, especially with Troy Patton beginning the season serving a 25-game suspension.

'Kevin Gausman Rookie Pitcher - Baltimore Orioles' photo (c) 2013, Austin Kirk - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There is little debate as to who the fans want to have the fifth spot and that is highly touted prospect Kevin Gausman. He made his Major League debut last season and ended up appearing in 20 games, including five starts and posted a 3-5 record with a 5.66 ERA in 47 2/3 innings pitched. Gausman struggled a bit as a starter last season, which was his first full professional season, but showed some signs of excellence. The big issue with him is the fact that he is still a young guy and what would the team do to his confidence if they give him the fifth spot in the rotation and he struggles again and the team is forced to send him to AAA? We feel, and believe that Gausman will begin the year in Norfolk to fine tune some things with his mechanics, work on his slider and gain some confidence against AAA hitters before calling him up.

Another returning candidate is local product Steve Johnson, who dealt with some injuries in 2013 and ended up appearing in just 9 games for the Orioles, while also pitching in Norfolk. Johnson made one start and eight relief appearances for the Birds in 2013 and went 1-1 with a 7.47 ERA in 15 2/3 innings pitched. He is an easy guy to root for and has had some good outings for the Orioles, but we believe he will end up in the bullpen or continue as a starter in AAA to begin the season.

T.J. McFarland is another guy that will be vying for that fifth spot, but the Rule-5 pick from a year ago would have to put up some really nice numbers in Spring Training to get a spot in the rotation. McFarland showed in 2013 that he could be a viable long reliever as he posted a 4-1 record with a 4.22 ERA in 38 appearances (one start), but the ultimate goal of selecting him in the Rule-5 draft was to get a starter, and now that he can be sent to the minors, we see McFarland starting the year in Norfolk's rotation.

Now the dark horse candidate of the group, Alfredo Aceves. Baltimore inked him to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite, and despite the fact that most of his big league appearances have been as a reliever, 100 of his 107 minor league appearances have been as a starter. Aceves is one of the more interesting guys in camp as he has experience as a starter, middle reliever, set-up man and as a closer, so it is highly conceivable that he will find a way on the roster. The odds of him doing that as the fifth starter is slim, but he did post a 2.57 ERA in two starts in the Carribbean Series this winter.

Who do you think will get the fifth spot in the rotation? Do you agree with us that Britton gets the initial nod? Let us know by posting a comment!

Be sure to check back tomorrow as we will post part five of our ten-part Orioles Spring Training preview!


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Tags: Alfredo Aceves, Baltimore, Baltimore Orioles, Baseball, Brian Matusz, Kevin Gausman, MLB, Steve Johnson, Suk-Min Yoon, T.J. McFarland, Zach Britton

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