Throughout a 2023 season when the green shoots started to sprout for the Orioles’ minor league pitching operation, there was always a rather exciting caveat.

“I know that we had a lot of pitching talent and we had some really good systems and people in place to foster and grow that talent,” said Austin Meine, the Double-A Bowie pitching coach who joined the organization for the 2023 season. “And then, even hearing about: ‘We still have these guys.’”

Those guys were the host of pitchers who represented the first wave of promising talent this front office brought in early but who were rehabilitating long-term injuries — Kyle Brnovich, Brandon Young, Seth Johnson, Zach Peek and Trey McGough.

Now, they’re all under Meine’s supervision at Bowie, showing increasingly encouraging signs that they’re back to full health and back to being potential major league arms with unique questions ahead in their future.

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Outside of Johnson, who is on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, the rest are eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft — along with top pitching prospects Cade Povich, Chayce McDermott and Justin Armbruester, to say nothing of hitters such as Coby Mayo and Connor Norby.

Those pitchers at Triple-A can impact the Orioles in the near term. Below this Double-A group, there’s plenty to like from the international program and the 2023 draft. But there’s a lot of intrigue around the development of the group in Bowie, too.

That’s why it’s not just the Orioles who are watching the progress of this group — sans Peek, who is on the long-term injured list with a shoulder injury — closely. It’s other team’s evaluators, too, and what they’re seeing is that this group has a lot of value hidden within it. Here’s why.

Kyle Brnovich

One of four pitchers acquired in the Dylan Bundy trade with the Los Angeles Angels in December 2019, Brnovich was in Triple-A when an elbow injury required surgery in 2021. Without an apparent spot for him to return to the rotation there this year, he’s been dominating in a bulk role at Bowie while he waits.

After striking out eight in three scoreless, hitless innings Friday, he has a 0.93 WHIP and a 3.10 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings over five outings for the Baysox. His fastball still lives in the low 90s, but Brnovich got whiffs with his other pitches too — his improved mid-80s changeup, his curveball and his more horizontal slider.

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“His ability to attack the strike zone and his overall feel to pitch is really impressive,” Meine said. “He’s a guy that works quickly on the mound, he has a great pace and tempo, and he continuously puts pressure on batters to hit his best offerings, plain and simple.”

His command of all four pitches allows him to get quick outs in the strike zone or force chases out of it, at least at the level he’s at. Although a promotion to Norfolk is warranted from a statistical standpoint, it’s unclear whether that pitching staff has any bulk openings — and whether Brnovich is far enough along in his rehab process to handle a full workload. Challenging his stuff at that level should, at some point, be a priority for the Orioles.

Brandon Young

An undrafted free agent after the shortened 2020 draft, the hirsute, imposing right-hander has long been an internal favorite on the pitching side for the Orioles. He began 2021 at Bowie before injuries kept him out for the better part of two years.

He missed a short spell this year with an oblique issue but has 19 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings over four appearances, with a 4.22 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. On Friday, his fastball — which sat at 93-95 mph early — showed a particular ability to miss bats in the strike zone, and he demonstrated a consistent quality changeup in addition to his slider and curveball.

“We’re seeing him obviously get a lot of confidence in the fastball, and his ability to locate it and move it around the zone is pretty impressive, to say the least,” Meine said. “He’s really good at it. So far on the year, been up to 96 [mph], which is a really great indicator. Definitely seeing him have a lot of success with the fastball, and to have that as a staple to his identity is really assuring and adds a ton of confidence in his work and preparation and overall resilience throughout the rehab process.”

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Young might be in Bowie longer than Brnovich based on his lack of experience at the level but, given his size and fastball quality, he can also be an intriguing bullpen option and move quickly in that role if the Orioles decide that’s his best path to the majors.

Trey McGough

That’s what has happened thus far with McGough, a minor league Rule 5 pick from 2021 who has come back as a reliever and is dominating for Bowie. The 26-year-old left-hander has a 0.57 WHIP and 1.29 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 14 innings, using a fastball in the low to mid-90s and a pair of breaking balls to attack both sides effectively.

“We’re seeing some outstanding stuff from Trey,” Meine said. “He’s absolutely filling up the strike zone. You look at some of the basic indicators of success, he is getting ahead of guys at an extremely high clip. … For Trey McGough to come out and establish pitch one and be able to embrace a different role and come into a new organization for his first full season with us, it’s pretty impressive what he’s doing. He’s making a very solid impression.”

Seth Johnson

Johnson is in a different spot than the rest of the group for a couple of reasons. First, he’s on the 40-man roster, albeit with his second of three option years being used in 2024. He’s also inexperienced, having converted to pitching in college and missing meaningful development time due to the pandemic and injuries in pro ball.

Through five starts with Bowie, he has a 4.60 ERA with 17 strikeouts but also 12 walks for a 1.98 WHIP in 15 2/3 innings. Meine said Johnson has “obviously been very impressive just from the quality of his stuff and the quality of his offerings,” though he noted the work has been focused on gaining experience at this early stage of the season.

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“It’s more about attacking the intangibles of the game right now and executing in the game and executing his stuff. Stuff-wise, it feels like he’s in a really great spot and we’ve certainly seen flashes of what he can do when it’s all clicking and firing together for him. So, really, it’s just a matter of putting together the big picture for him, and keeping it focused on him, attacking to his strengths — because his strengths are really good.”

Johnson will be given all the time he needs to develop, though being on the roster adds urgency. He can still be optioned in 2025, but the Orioles will be watching carefully and potentially need to decide a long-term role that can ensure they get the best out of Johnson within the window where they don’t have to make any tough roster decisions for him.

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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