The Orioles are converting right-hander Mike Baumann to a short relief role, manager Brandon Hyde told reporters after today’s Spring Training contest (relayed by Nathan Ruiz of the Baltimore Sun). Baumann worked one inning, the eighth, in today’s game against the Blue Jays.
Prospect evaluators have suggested for a few seasons that Baumann might be better served for a bullpen role. The former third-round selection has drawn praise for a quality fastball-slider combination at the front of his arsenal. His changeup has drawn more middling reviews, while frequent double-digit walk rates in the minor leagues have led to concerns about his command holding up out of a rotation.
Baumann had worked exclusively out of the rotation in the minors until last season. The O’s deployed him as more of a swing option last year. He started nine of 20 appearances with Triple-A Norfolk but threw 60 innings, typically working multiple frames regardless of role. It was a similar story in his big league action. Baumann started just four of 13 MLB outings but tallied 34 1/3 frames and reached or exceeded six outs in eight of his appearances.
Now it seems the O’s are planning to simplify things by deploying the 27-year-old in shorter stints. While Baumann could still work multiple innings on occasion, he’ll be no longer be in consideration for a rotation or swing role — at least in the short term. He’s down to his final minor league option year, meaning the O’s only have one more season to determine whether he can be a permanent member of the big league staff in some capacity.
Baltimore’s bullpen was strong last year. The relief corps finished ninth in ERA despite a middling strikeout rate, one of the main reasons they surprisingly finished above .500 and flirted with a postseason spot. Baltimore brings back breakout rookie Félix Bautista in the ninth inning, while free agent pickup Mychal Givens steps into a setup role alongside Bryan Baker. Left-handers Keegan Akin and Cionel Pérez are strong matchup weapons. The O’s will be without Dillon Tate for at least the first month of the year due to a flexor strain in his forearm, though, leaving some opportunity for another right-handed middle innings option.
There’s no guarantee Baumann will crack the Opening Day roster, much less jump right into high-leverage innings. The O’s will evaluate his repertoire in shorter stints over the final couple weeks of exhibition play and into the season.
Converting Baumann to relief removes one of the many options for the back of the rotation. Cole Irvin and Kyle Gibson are locks, while the final three spots have yet to be defined. Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells, Spenser Watkins and Austin Voth all took a decent amount of starting work last season. Bruce Zimmermann has done the same in prior years. The O’s have maintained that top prospect Grayson Rodriguez will be given a legitimate opportunity to break camp after a lat strain dashed his hope of making his big league debut last year.