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What Can Orioles Take From Astros' Success On The Mound?

October 18, 2019
Many observers predict the Orioles will follow the Astros' blueprint to build a perennial contender.

That makes sense because Orioles general manager Mike Elias helped build the foundation in Houston.

If that is indeed the plan, Elias might need to look outside the organization for top-tier starting pitching. The Astros' core rotation for this year's postseason -- Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke -- did not come up through the franchise's minor-league system. 

Cole was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz, Colin Moran and Jason Martin in January 2018. The Astros managed to obtain Verlander from the Detroit Tigers at the waiver trade deadline in 2017 for minor-league prospects Franklin Pérez, Jake Rogers and Daz Cameron.

Greinke was acquired at the 2019 season's trade deadline for four more prospects -- Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas, Seth Beer and Joshua Rojas, in addition to cash considerations, from the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

All of that has worked out pretty well for Houston, which leads the Yankees, 3-1, in the American League Championship Series.

Cole is 3-0 with 0.40 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in the playoffs, while Verlander is 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Greinke has struggled in his three appearances, going 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. However, he allowed just one run with four hits, five strikeouts and four walks in 4.1 innings in the Astros' 8-3 victory in Game 4.

Houston did try to build the foundation of its starting rotation internally, but that strategy did not work.

The Astros also took Stanford right-hander Mark Appel with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. However, Appel never made an impact for the team. He was later traded to Philadelphia before injuries forced him into retirement.

In 2014, the Astros took left-hander Brady Aiken from Catholic High School in Southern California. He never signed because of a disagreement regarding his bonus and some health issues. Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015. He reentered the draft in 2015 and was selected by the Cleveland Indians with the 17th overall pick.

Houston had better luck with everyday players, selecting shortstop Carlos Correa with first overall pick in the 2012. He developed into the AL Rookie of the Year in 2015 at age 20 and played a key role in the Astros' run in the 2017 World Series.

The Astros finished 51-111 and 45 games out of first place in 2013. Four years later, they went 101-61 and won the first World Series in franchise history. That title-winning team was the culmination of a complete rebuild.

The Orioles are confident they struck gold with the selection of catcher Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's MLB Draft. Rutschman could make his major-league debut as early as next year.

Elias and his staff have the No. 2 behind Detroit in the 2020 draft. Emerson Hancock, a right-handed pitcher for the University of Georgia, has emerged as a top prospect. If Hancock is taken by the Tigers, the Orioles could grab Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who is viewed as the best player available at that spot. Torkelson hit .353 with 22 home runs as a sophomore this past season and could be a long-time fixture in Baltimore. Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin is also a possibility.

However, there are several top-tier pitching prospects that will be available, most notably, another Georgia right-hander Cole Wilcox, Mississippi State right-hander JT Ginn and Jared Kelley, a right-handed pitcher from Refugio High School in Texas

The Orioles have plenty of time to do their research on these players. However, everyone in the organization agrees any future success hinges on effective pitching. 

"Everybody knows that to be competitive in this league, in this division, you have to have pitching and you have to have guys that are able to throw strikes," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. "You have to have bullpen guys be able to come in and shut the door down, hold leads and keep you in the game. I feel at some point we will get to that."