Will he be in the Orioles’ 2013 rotation?
Although Hunter is only 26 — he’ll turn 27 in July 2013 — I don’t see him being a successful starting pitcher. Hunter has a profile that doesn’t predict success — he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters but he does give up a lot of home runs. Hunter’s 2013 season was one of 27 seasons in which a pitcher pitched 100 or more innings and gave up more home runs than walks. Obviously, having good control is a good thing; but of the 23 such seasons by a right-handed pitcher, Hunter had the 4th-worst BB/9 IP ratio, the 3rd-worst HR/9 IP ratio, and the fourth-worst adjusted ERA. That’s not a good sign for his future.
The Orioles have a lot of candidates for the starting rotation, and I wouldn’t think Hunter would be a top candidate. They’ve mentioned moving him to the bullpen. Even at his best with the Rangers, Hunter wasn’t particulary durable; he’s never made more than 22 starts or pitched more than 2013’s 134 innings in a single major-league season. The Orioles have two pitchers set in their rotation (Jason Hammel and Wei-Yen Chen), two others who pitched well in 2013 and are favorites for the rotation (Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez), three other former top prospects who were originally in the Orioles system (Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta), and a free-agent signing (Jair Jurrjens). Plus Steve Johnson pitched well in both AAA and the majors as a swingman. Hunter probably ranks ninth or tenth among the candidates.
Will he make a successful bullpen conversion?
It’s always possible that he’ll change his pitching style if he does convert. But most relief pitchers have substantially higher strikeout rates than Hunter and are substantially less vulnerable to the home run. The Orioles, right now, have a stacked bullpen and no obvious spot for him.
Actually, I really think Hunter will not survive spring training in the Orioles’ organization. He’s out of options, so he can’t be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers and being removed from the 40-man roster. He’s not going to be given a roster spot. He was acquired in the Koji Uehara trade; the other part of the trade was Chris Davis, so the Orioles don’t have to keep Hunter around to justify the Uehara trade. I think the Orioles will try to trade him during spring training; if they can’t, they may very well release him.