Nothing in this era of Orioles baseball will compare to the arrival of Adley Rutschman, which changed the trajectory of the team and set it on a course for contention for the rest of this decade.

Cade Povich’s major league debut Thursday certainly won’t rise to that level. It will, however, signal the beginning of a case study in just how high this current trajectory might bring these promising Orioles.

Years of high draft picks have created a major league lineup and hitting pipeline that’s the envy of the league. The pitching side has been slower going, a deliberate process that Povich’s debut signals a new phase of. If the Orioles are going to be as good as they want to be, developing high-caliber major league pitchers is going to have to be a part of it.

Based on minor league results in the last year-plus, there’s abundant evidence that they’re on track to do that. Povich will be the first of this new wave to be tested in the majors.

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There’s been plenty of success for the Orioles from the first wave, to be clear. Chris Holt was hired from the Astros not long after Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal came to Baltimore in the fall of 2018 to help build Baltimore’s pitching development program in that mold, and there were immediate results.

One of his first hires, Justin Ramsey, helped 2018 top pick Grayson Rodriguez become a dominant pitching prospect and then the standout starter he is today and was instrumental in helping All-Star relievers Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano find their deliveries in the high minors. More broadly, that early wave helped get inherited arms such as Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann and Bruce Zimmermann to the majors with enhanced pitch mixes and attack plans.

It was Kyle Bradish, though, who was a sign of things to come. The Orioles thought more highly of him than most when he was part of the four-pitcher package acquired for former top pick Dylan Bundy, mostly because they valued how his pitches moved and how he used them. His was and is a unique cutting, riding fastball that hitters struggled with, and the rest of his mix worked well off it. They saw something they could work with, targeted it and have a top-of-the-rotation starter now because of it.

Bradish was a fourth-round pick of the Angels acquired in a trade. The Orioles under Elias didn’t take a pitcher that high until 2022 third-rounder Nolan McLean, a two-way player who didn’t sign. An analysis from found the Orioles used the second-lowest percentage of their draft signing bonus pool from 2018 to 2023 — 22% — on pitchers. Only the Red Sox spent less. Eliminating Rodriguez and some highly drafted pitchers in 2018 before Elias arrived would drop the Orioles’ percentage significantly lower.

A lot went into that: the predictability and relative stability of hitters with the high-value picks the Orioles had, the volatility and injury risks of high-round pitchers and, perhaps most important, an understanding that what the Orioles were targeting could be found in later rounds with lesser-heralded pitchers who might not have the big-school, big-stuff pedigree but boast the specific traits they’re looking for.

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In recent years, one of those traits has clearly been a four-seam fastball with hop, a movement profile that gives it the appearance of not dropping and that’s extremely effective at the top of the strike zone. They like a unique delivery with deception and athleticism to it, though that’s hard to quantify. And they’re attracted to pitchers who have demonstrated they can throw more than one breaking ball — a curveball and a slider, for instance — because it shows they can manipulate the ball in different ways and thus have the dexterity to expand their arsenal.

Cade Povich has a 3.18 ERA and 1.112 WHIP in Triple-A this season. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

They also continued to build out the staff to work with the young pitchers who boast those traits. There’s the Premier Pitching and Performance group that helped John Means become an All-Star: Mitch Plassmeyer, Forrest Herrmann and Austin Meine. There are assistant pitching coordinator Adam Schuck, biomechanist Joey Mylott and a fully aligned strength and conditioning staff that the pitching coaches are constantly praising. Ramsey remains vital at Triple-A Norfolk in keeping his pitchers singularly focused on what will work when they get to Baltimore.

The whole operation is in the service of improving a group of pitchers that in recent years has been a source of more draft investment for the Orioles, with some meaningful potential on the mound coming from their international program as well.

Povich might be a bit of an outlier because he was acquired in a trade in August 2022, and because he’s a southpaw in an organization with hardly any of them, but to watch him pitch Thursday will be to glimpse how every member of this and future generations of Orioles pitching prospects will operate. He uses five pitches, all working off his hoppy four-seam fastball that had a 30.4% whiff rate in Triple-A this year. Povich uses his cutter and changeup to attack righties and his sweeper and cutter successfully against lefties.

He has struck out 11.9 batters per nine in Triple-A with a 1.11 WHIP, and like his peers in the Orioles’ pitching program, has been trained to succeed in the strike zone. Major league hitters are discerning, so to combat that the Orioles try to have their pitching prospects develop as many quality pitches they can locate in quality spots as possible, going as far as grading individual pitches based on how well and how often they’re thrown to the specific zones that pitch type is most successful in.

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That’s not always easy to do, and Povich like many of them has been a bit volatile on the strike-zone front. It’ll be fascinating to see how he and the next man up, fellow Triple-A talent and trade acquisition Chayce McDermott, fare in keeping their pitches in the zone against major league hitters who can handle quality in the zone.

Povich will be the first test case of that in Toronto. More will follow. Given how tenuous pitcher health has been around the Orioles and the sport this year, more may follow soon. The Orioles’ Double-A and High-A affiliates are overflowing with pitchers who are thriving, and they’re organizationally near the top of the minor league strikeout charts. This is the plan they’ve committed to, and with good reason. Developing these pitchers is much more palatable than paying for them.

The Orioles are fortunate every fifth day to have Corbin Burnes on the mound, but whatever joy in the warehouse that comes from watching him is slightly weighed on by knowledge that the cost — two young major leaguers and a valuable draft pick — was steep. High-caliber free agent pitchers cost actual dollars.

The alternative is developing that pitching internally. The Orioles have been deliberate in building their philosophies and processes to produce the kinds of pitchers whose pitches best align with major league success. To go to a minor league affiliate on any given night and see the results of that plan inspires plenty of confidence, and the evidence compounds on every visit.

Povich’s debut will be another level entirely. It won’t be nearly enough to be a referendum on the program itself. His and his peers’ ability to sustain and even elevate the Orioles’ pitching staff, along with that of the levels of pitching below him, will be.

Based on what I know, they have every reason to be confident in how this is going to go.