It might not seem like it now, but Chris Tillman‘s arrival to the Baltimore Orioles once generated the same kind of buzz that surrounded the call-up of all-world, best-thing-since-sliced-bread then-prospect Matt Wieters.
Yes, Tillman was that good in the minors.
That initial excitement over the right-hander has been understandably muted since, with Tillman struggling at the big-league level over his first three seasons with the Orioles. He’d been rushed through the system, just as Jake Arrieta and Zack Britton would be later.
The former top pitching prospect found himself being bounced between the majors and minors from 2009-2011, and never pitching well enough to stick around at the bigs. In 2012, the team decided to start Tillman in AAA to let him work out the issues which led to his velocity dropping instead of slotting him in the rotation to open the season, which they had done in the previous year.
When Tillman rejoined the Orioles in July, he finally pitched well enough to stick around – not as just a contributor, but as one of the team’s very best pitchers down the stretch.
Sure, there were still clunkers mixed into his 14 starts last year (and he did get a bit of a break in a 0.2 IP outing in his second start that saw the 24-year old give up seven runs – all unearned), but they were the minority as opposed to the majority. The stuff – anchored by a mid-90s fastball – was back, and it showed. Most importantly for the Orioles, Tillman pitched like an ace when it counted most: his 2.25/0.75 ERA/WHIP and .162 BAA over 28 innings in five September/October starts (the first was cut short by injury) led not only the team, but placed Tillman among the very best starters in the AL.
Not that his overall numbers 2.93/1.05 ERA/WHIP were anything to complain about. This was the pitcher that the team wanted to see when they rushed him to the bigs as a 21-year old, and after years of frustration, Tillman had finally arrived.
There won’t be any talks of the minors next season. Tillman will open 2013 as the Orioles’ number-three starter; if he can definitively put his velocity and mechanic problems behind him, and keep home run rate (1.26 HR/9 in 2012) in check, there’s a decent chance that he will close the season as the number-one guy.
For the better part of the month, Tillman was one of the best pitchers in the AL. Next year, he’ll be looking to carry that success over the full season, and make good on the hype that surrounded him years ago.