Flashback to Memorial Day weekend 2006. The Orioles were scuffling, searching for competent starters, and dipped into the Minors to pluck a prime pitching prospect to plug a hole in the rotation. The prospect’s name was Hayden Penn, he was 20 at the time and had made only a handful of starts above the Carolina League. Predictably, Penn was bombed before mercifully being demoted back to Bowie 8 starts later.
Today’s demotion of Chris Tillman to AAA Norfolk signifies a sea change in the Orioles’ organizational philosophy and pitching depth. If this were 2006 the Orioles would have shoe-horned Tillman into the Opening Day rotation regardless of his struggles with command this Spring. The fact is that unlike seasons past the team actually had options this year. This time last season we were looking at a rotation featuring the dregs of MLB: Adam Eaton, Alfredo Simon and Mark Hendrickson.
Fast forward one year later and a young pitcher as talented as Tillman couldn’t pitch his way onto the team. He was beaten out for the 5th starter job fair and square by David Hernandez. Don’t cry for Tillman. He’s 21 years old with a world of talent and a very bright future. He can go to Norfolk, improve his command, and be in the Big Leagues this Summer. But unlike years past, and prospects past, Chris Tillman will have to earn his promotion to the Bigs.
We watched Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen struggle for years failing to show progress despite seemingly unlimited opportunity. The Orioles have stockpiled young pitching under Andy MacPhail’s leadership to the point that names like Arrieta, Tillman, Hernandez, Britton, Patton, etc. won’t be rushed to the Majors out of need and won’t be rewarded for poor performance. Tillman’s demotion is disappointing for Chris but it signifies organizational progress for the O’s.