I guess we'll have to take a wait and see approach with this year's pitching staff. Most experts and O's fans expect, and rightfully so, that the starting pitching will be the demise of the 2009 version of the Baltimore Orioles. But some really good things could happen along the way with this starting rotation and it doesn't necessarily mean the additions of Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz or Chris Tillman.
We all know Guthrie is a number 3 pitcher at best on good staffs, but he is capable of 12 to 15 wins with the 2009 Orioles solid offense and much improved defense. We have heard that Koji Uehara would be no better than a number 3 or 4 also. But Uehara has added a pitch (changeup) to his arsenal and may be more effective than most people think. From what I saw of him this spring, he was quicker to the plate and a little more deceiving with his delivery than meets the eye. Rich Hill has some nasty stuff and if he gets physically healthy and doesn't pull a Rick Ankiel on us, he may be the biggest surprise of the staff. Adam Eaton was very good at one time in his career until injuries took their toll on him. He does have a lifetime record of 68-63. Staying healthy for an entire season and playing with less pressure to perform in Baltimore, perhaps he can find the overwhelming stuff that made him the Phillies number one pick (11th overall) in 1996. He's only 31 and can lend a veteran presence to a young staff. I'm not big on Alfredo Simon or Mark Hendrickson (although both of them are pretty big), but both will keep the seat warm for the young arms that are coming. Simon reminds me of Daniel Cabrera and his numbers miiror D-Cab's too. In 16 innings this spring, Simon struck out only 8 batters and walked 6. Hendrickson didn't give up a free pass this spring in 12 innings but struckout only 4 batters.
My guess is that the Orioles rotation will have a new look each month of the season. With an anticipated rotation of Guthrie, Uehara, Eaton, Hendrickson and Simon to start off with, it won't be long (sometime in April) that the injured Hill returns. In May, the first of the baby Birds will begin to appear beginning with Bradley Bergesen. Bergesen had a terrific spring and probably would have won a spot in the rotation if he had pitched beyond Class AA ball. In June and July there are at least three pitchers who will make their bids for prime time. First, there is Jason Berken (the 25 year old right hander) who went 12-4 for Class AA Bowie last year. He had a remarkable 2008 season in which he pitched 145.2 innings and struck out 125 batters while giving up just 38 free passes. He is 21-13 over the last two seasons. Second, there is David Hernandez (a 23 year old right hander) who will also make his bid. If David can build on a 2008 season that saw him go 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA in Class AA Bowie, then the Orioles will have to consider a promotion for this young talent as well. And third, is the 28 year old lefty, Chris Waters. Waters does not have an impressive professional resume, but showed signs of potential this spring and in his brief stay with the Orioles last season.
If the Orioles show confidence in some of these pitchers and the big three stud prospects are progressing well in the minor leagues, it would not surprise me if the O's traded Guthrie and Hendrickson among others to create roster space. With Chris Tillman all but ready now, the O's will probably give him a second half audition. Matusz may follow in August along with Arrieta, and Troy Patton could get time with the Orioles in a September call-up. And if all goes well in Bowie again this year, perhaps we can even get a glimpse of the next stud baby Bird, 21 year old, left hander, Zach Britton.
The future is bright for the Orioles rotation. We've mentioned Tillman, Arrieta, Matusz, Waters, Bergesen, Hernandez, Patton, Hill and Britton, and have two more Baseball America's previous top 100 in Brandon Erbe and Chorye Spoone who are developing a little more slowly. With this kind of pitching depth, the O's will be able to trade from their strength to fill position voids at the major league level. And with young stars already in place in all three outfield positions and catcher, a nice mixture of talented veteran players like Brian Roberts already on the roster, and a deep bullpen that will include young stars like Chris Ray, Jim Miller and Jim R. Johnson, the O's future looks bright. There is no reason to think that the Orioles can't overtake the Red Sox, Rays and the Evil Empire and reclaim the title of the "Beasts Of The East" that we once held for nearly three decades.