After years of taking a back seat to the impressive collection of hitters in the Orioles’ farm system, the pitching inventory is coming into sharp focus with its quality and depth.

The same holistic, aligned developmental approach that delivered Grayson Rodriguez to the majors and polished talents such as Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano into All-Star form is developing intriguing and potentially valuable young pitchers at an unprecedented rate.

And it won’t be long until some of these pitchers are chipping in to what could be annual postseason pushes in Baltimore. It’s probably best to learn about them before that time comes.

Throughout the season, in this series, I’ll use firsthand observation, data analysis and insights from the pitchers and their coaches, along with opinions from professional scouts who cover the Orioles, to provide as much information as possible about these prospects.

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Year 2 of Arms on the Farm began in Aberdeen with Jackson Baumeister. We stay there for the second edition of 2024 for recently promoted left-hander Luis De León, who made his domestic debut less than a year ago and is one of the Orioles’ most exciting young pitchers.

Where did he come from?

The Orioles have been judicious in using their international signing bonus capital on high-priced pitchers, and part of the reason is that pitchers who are passed over such as De León can often end up just as talented.

He didn’t sign initially when eligible at age 16 — the pandemic’s impact on international signing classes likely played a role — but Orioles international scout Michael Cruz identified De León as a talented pitcher who kept getting better. De León signed for $30,000 at age 18 in a deal finalized on Dec.15, 2021.

What do the numbers say?

De León arrived in Aberdeen having dominated domestic baseball to this point. After striking out 45 in 28 innings with a 1.04 WHIP and, somehow, a 5.14 ERA in the Dominican Summer League in 2022, De León came stateside for 2023 and continued to impress. He made six starts in the Florida Complex League, striking out 36 in 27 1/3 innings with a 1.35 WHIP and a 1.65 ERA, before fanning 31 in 26 1/3 innings with a 1.25 WHIP and a 2.39 ERA at Low-A Delmarva.

“It was actually Florida when the stuff started clicking,” De León said, via Aberdeen manager Felipe Alou Jr. “The command got better, pitches got better, and I used them with more effectiveness.”

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Back at Delmarva to start this year, De León was even better, with 41 strikeouts in 28 innings, a 0.96 WHIP and a 2.25 ERA. He allowed two earned runs in his Aberdeen debut Tuesday, striking out three in three innings.

Part of his improvement comes from a reduction in walks. After walking 5.03 batters per nine in 2023, he’s cut that to 2.32 through the first part of 2024.

Outside of the strikeouts, De León is also adept at getting weak contact on the ground. In 2023, 69% of balls put in play against him were ground balls, and his 56.4% ground ball rate this year is still impressive.

What does he throw?

De León’s pitch mix is part of what makes him so successful. He throws a pair of mid-90s fastballs that were up to 99 mph last year — a four-seam and two-seam — plus a changeup, slider and curveball. His four-seam fastball is particularly effective when elevated, and it generates plenty of weak contact and awkward swings given how it explodes on hitters.

Aberdeen pitching coach Jordie Henry, who worked with De León in the FCL last year, said the fastball velocity “feels effortless” from De León, and attributes at least some of the fastball success to deception caused by his “long, lanky levers.”

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De León feels working with Henry and the staff in Florida helped him take his biggest stride as a professional.

While the organizational (and gamewide) trend is for a slower slider with exaggerated horizontal movement, known as a sweeper, De León ultimately settled on a grip change and increased arm speed to produce a tighter, more consistent version of the pitch in the mid- to high 80s.

His changeup will be a weapon to hone as opponents stack right-handed hitters against him, but when Henry says De León has “very good feel for outlier shapes,” this is quite possibly what he means. The pitch is a hard one without much separation from his fastball — often in the high 80s — but has extreme horizontal fade.

The pitch was described to me this winter as having around 20 inches of horizontal run — a movement profile that, at least in 2024, doesn’t exist in the major leagues — and when he commanded it in the strike zone in his Aberdeen debut, it looked like a potentially impactful pitch.

Compared to his time in Florida, De León is a “a lot more refined” as a pitcher, Henry said.

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“He’s got a little bit deeper arsenal now,” he said. “He stays pretty composed all the time. Pretty quiet, calm, confident kid, and it’s just fun to watch guys like that who are confident in themselves and have that elite raw ability.”

What does the future hold?

If this kind of athletic, hard-throwing left-handed pitching profile sounds familiar, it’s because, at least in terms of stuff, there are a lot of similarities with former Orioles pitcher DL Hall, who was used to acquire Corbin Burnes this winter.

Hall missed his age-21 season because of the pandemic, so it’s hard to compare their paths, but if this year’s control improvements hold, De León will have a leg up on Hall in terms of keeping this dynamic skill set on a starter’s track.

Aberdeen, though, will be a good challenge for De León. His debut there Tuesday was overall a good one, but hitters were much more discerning on his changeup in particular than they might have been at the lower levels. He still overpowered hitters when he was in the zone, though, so the natural competition jump may help him focus his pitches over the plate as much as anything else.

“You can see from the box scores he wasn’t challenged too much in Delmarva,” Henry said. “Part of it is just like getting him accustomed to having to work through some jams like he did tonight, have him be a little more fine with his execution, and his strategies against certain hitters — normal stuff that comes with the level that he hasn’t really had to work very hard at yet.”

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De León said he hopes to work on controlling both his pitches and his emotions as he continues to climb through the minors. He shared an interesting idol he’s taken to watching since he got to pro ball: reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.

When it comes to hard-throwing left-handers with starter profiles, that’s one of the better names to aspire to. De León will be challenged to stay on such a trajectory as he climbs the minors, but he’s already age advanced and has shown an ability to improve as a pro. No matter where he ends this season, De León has a chance to be the top pitching prospect in the organization by the end of the year, which is saying a lot considering the pitching talent that has emerged.