2021 Orioles spring preview: 40-man roster pitchers

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The Orioles remain in the midst of a lengthy rebuilding process, but the 2021 season brings a new level of excitement as well as unprecedented uncertainty for an improving farm system.

Though a number of pitching prospects are good bets to arrive in Baltimore at some point over the next several months, a 2020 season drastically disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic leaves much unknown, ranging from the impact on veterans playing a reduced 60-game schedule to the challenges of minor-league arms not having a professional season since 2019. In other words, caution will be exercised by director of pitching — and new major league pitching coach — Chris Holt as workouts begin in Sarasota this week. It will be interesting to see how workloads and assignments look for young pitchers in 2021, another reason why general manager Mike Elias has added veteran options such as Felix Hernandez, Matt Harvey, and Wade LeBlanc on minor-league deals in recent days.

We’ll look at position players, non-roster invitees, and camp reserves later this week, but below is a look at the 20 pitchers on the 40-man roster entering spring training:

LH Keegan Akin
Opening Day age: 26
Service time: 0.108
2020 stats: 4.56 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 12.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 25 2/3 innings
Skinny: After spending all of 2019 at Triple-A Norfolk, Akin made his major league debut last August and displayed the peripherals — including a 3.27 FIP — to make him a strong bet to crack the Opening Day rotation with a solid spring.

RH Shawn Armstrong
Opening Day age: 30
Service time: 3.028
2020 stats: 1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 15 innings
Skinny: A back injury cost the veteran right-hander a month of what was a good 2020 campaign as Armstrong figures to see plenty of innings as a middle reliever in the bullpen.

RH Michael Baumann
Opening Day age: 25
Service time: none
2019 stats (Double A/Single A): 2.98 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9, 124 innings
Skinny: One of the organization’s top 10 prospects, Baumann is expected to start the year at Norfolk, but how his development was impacted by a summer at the alternate training site compared to a normal 2020 season will be interesting to monitor.

LH Paul Fry
Opening Day age: 28
Service time: 2.096
2020 stats: 2.45 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 11.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 22 innings
Skinny: Fry’s ability to get right-handed bats out makes him another solid middle-relief option with the potential to draw some modest trade interest by the deadline this summer.

RH Ashton Goudeau
Opening Day age: 28
Service time: 0.092
2020 stats: 7.56 ERA, 2.04 WHIP, 2.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.2 HR/9, 8 1/3 innings
Skinny: Selected off waivers in December, Goudeau made his major league debut with Colorado last season and pitched well enough as a starter at the Double-A level in 2019 to make him a deep sleeper candidate, but he has a steep path to make the club and has minor-league options remaining.

RH Hunter Harvey
Opening Day age: 26
Service time: 1.047
2020 stats: 4.15 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 2.1 HR/9, 8 2/3 innings
Skinny: There’s no doubting Harvey’s talents, but the forearm strain limiting him to 10 appearances in 2020 was the latest example of why it’s tough to get too excited about the former first-round pick who has the ability to pitch in the late innings if he can finally stay healthy.

RH Dean Kremer
Opening Day age: 25
Service time: 0.053
2020 stats: 4.82 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 5.8 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9, 18 2/3 innings
Skinny: Kremer showed his potential last September with impressive outings against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay, making him another good bet to be part of the Opening Day rotation if he pitches well and limits walks — something that wasn’t a problem for him in the minors — this spring.

RH Travis Lakins
Opening Day age: 26
Service time: 1.054
2020 stats: 2.81 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 25 2/3 innings
Skinny: A waiver claim last winter, Lakins was quietly one of Baltimore’s best relievers in 2020 and will have a chance to compete for an Opening Day roster spot, but having minor-league options may hurt his cause.

RH Jorge Lopez
Opening Day age: 28
Service time: 2.102
2020 stats: 6.69 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.6 HR/9, 39 innings
Skinny: Lopez brings more experience than other starting candidates on the 40-man roster, but he’s out of options and pitched poorly last year, meaning the recent veteran signings on minor-league deals weren’t a great sign for his chances.

LH Zac Lowther
Opening Day age: 24
Service time: none
2019 stats (Double A): 2.55 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 148 innings
Skinny: Lowther was at the training site in Bowie last September and doesn’t wow with his pure stuff, but he has missed bats at every level and has been praised for his makeup, making him a solid candidate to arrive in Baltimore later in 2021.

RH Isaac Mattson
Opening Day age: 25
Service time: none
2019 stats (Triple A/Double A/Single A): 2.33 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 13.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 73 1/3 innings
Skinny: Part of the Dylan Bundy trade last winter, Mattson was at the Bowie site last summer and was protected from the Rule 5 draft, but he saw limited action at Triple A in 2019 and looks like a better bet to begin 2021 with Norfolk with a chance for a summer promotion.

LH John Means
Opening Day age: 27
Service time: 2.007
2020 stats: 4.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 2.5 HR/9, 43 2/3 innings
Skinny: The start of his 2020 season couldn’t have been more difficult with his father’s death as well as a shoulder issue, but Means showed improved velocity from his breakout 2019 season and was superb over his final four starts with a 1.52 ERA, leaving him poised for a strong 2021 atop the rotation.

RH Mac Sceroler
Opening Day age: 25
Service time: none
2019 stats (Single A): 3.69 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 117 innings
Skinny: The nephew of Ben McDonald and Cincinnati’s former fifth-round pick in 2017, Sceroler will really need to impress this spring since Elias hasn’t shown the same willingness as the previous regime to stash Rule 5 picks on the major league roster.

LH Tanner Scott
Opening Day age: 26
Service time: 2.059
2020 stats: 1.31 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9, 20 2/3 innings
Skinny: Scott showed improved control and emerged as the star of the Baltimore bullpen while multiple veteran arms were dealt, making him an excellent bet to see high-leverage and late-inning situations this season.

RH Cole Sulser
Opening Day age: 31
Service time: 1.028
2020 stats: 5.56 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 6.8 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 22 2/3 innings
Skinny: The surprising choice to close at the beginning of the abbreviated 2020 season, Sulser had his moments, but his control problems made him way too difficult to trust as he seems likely to compete for a middle relief role this spring.

RH Dillon Tate
Opening Day age: 26
Service time: 1.048
2020 stats: 3.24 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 16 2/3 innings
Skinny: Though finger and elbow injuries limited Tate’s action in 2020, a mid-90s fastball and a good slider provide no shortage of upside for him to pitch in higher-leverage situations.

RH Cesar Valdez
Opening Day age: 36
Service time: 1.060
2020 stats: 1.26 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9, 14 1/3 innings
Skinny: Pitching in the majors for the first time since 2017, Valdez successfully used a changeup-heavy approach to eventually move into the closer role late in the season and was one of the better stories of 2020.

RH Tyler Wells
Opening Day age: 26
Service time: none
2018 stats (Double A/Single A): 2.49 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 119 1/3 innings
Skinny: His 6-foot-8 frame jumps off the page, but the Rule 5 pick underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and hasn’t pitched competitively in a long time, putting him in a difficult spot trying to stick on the major league roster.

LH Alexander Wells
Opening Day age: 24
Service time: none
2019 stats (Double A): 2.95 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 137 1/3 innings
Skinny: Not viewed as having as much upside as Baumann and Lowther, the Australian is a consistent strike thrower and has the kind of plus changeup Holt likes to see, making him another candidate to be promoted later in 2021 if he performs well at Norfolk.

LH Bruce Zimmermann
Opening Day age: 26
Service time: 0.031
2020 stats: 7.71 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 2.6 HR/9, 7 innings
Skinny: Between his seven starts at Norfolk in 2019 and his work at the Bowie site before debuting last September, Zimmermann probably doesn’t have much more to accomplish in the minors, but the numbers game could squeeze him out since he has options remaining.