It’s no secret that the Baltimore Orioles need pitching. While GM Mike Elias and company work on building a development pipeline, the O’s are spending a lot of time scouring other organizations for excess talent to skim off the top.
Take 30-year-old right-hander Cole Sulser. Baltimore’s waiver claim in early October doesn’t jump out as an impact move, but there’s potential beneath the surface for Sulser and the birds. Before digging into Sulser’s prospects, let’s cover the backstory.
In December of 2018, the Indians, Mariners, and Rays engaged in a three-way deal that shuffled around first baseman candidates. In this rare three-way challenge trade, each team came away with a major-league first baseman. The Rays chose Yandy Diaz, the Mariners Edwin Encarnacion, and the Indians actually snagged two first basemen in the deal: Jake Bauers and Carlos Santana. Tagging along, Sulser went from the Indians to the Rays, for whom he made 7 scoreless appearances last season. But the Rays are no longer in line to be the beneficiaries of a potential Sulser breakout.
Granted, it’s suspect that the Indians and Rays – two organizations with strong reputations for identifying and developing pitching – both passed up on the opportunity to roster Sulser. Sulser isn’t locked into a roster spot with the Orioles either, but he should have an easier time carving out a role with the pitching-needy Orioles than he did with either of his previous organizations. The short season very well may expand rosters, too, giving Sulser a greater opportunity to toe the rubber in Baltimore.
So where does the optimism for Sulser come from? Last year Sulser made 49 appearances (4 starts), spanning a robust 66 innings with a 3.29 ERA. His peripherals look good with a 12.1 K/9 to 3.3 BB/9. He put together similar numbers the year prior while in the Indians system (3.86 ERA over 60 ⅔ innings with 14.1 K/9 to 2.5 BB/9). Those numbers were helped by including a 9-inning scoreless stint in Double-A, without which a 4.53 ERA in Triple-A doesn’t look quite as impressive.
It is, however, a positive sign to see Sulser improve year-over-year when repeating the level. The Dartmouth grad doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but he’s made himself into a double-digit strikeout-per-nine guy over the last couple of seasons. Sulser could yet turn himself into a late-blooming bullpen piece. He’s probably not Nick Anderson, but there’s value to unearth from an arm like Sulser. Breakouts for players on the wrong side of thirty aren’t exactly commonplace, of course, but late bloomers often emerge in the bullpen. Sulser doesn’t have to become the next Kirby Yates to add value to the O’s organization. With 5 appearances in spring training with a 1.53 ERA and 8 strikeouts in 4 ⅔ innings, he was off to a good start.
The Orioles may not have a lot of crucial innings to lockdown, but if they can help Sulser establish himself as a reliable arm, he could become the type of cost-controlled asset teams in contention ask after. For the Orioles these days, that’s more-or-less the goal.