Added pitching depth could make Twins’ Bailey Ober odd man out to begin season
In 31 career starts, Ober has a 3.82 ERA.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Shortly after the Minnesota Twins swung a trade last month for starting pitcher Pablo Lopez, a move that, should everyone remain healthy, looks as if it will push Bailey Ober out of the Twins’ rotation, the 27-year-old right-hander received a call from manager Rocco Baldelli.
“Just that I don’t need to worry about anything,” Ober said. “Everything is going to work itself out and just try to focus on what I’ve got going on, try to get better and try to be as good as I can.”
That’s what he’s been doing, reporting to spring training camp early to get to work, even as he faces uncertainty about what his role will look like this upcoming season.
In all likelihood, the Twins will rely upon Ober plenty. But if they plan to start the season with five starting pitchers, Ober, who posted a 3.21 earned-run average in 11 starts last season, could be on the outside looking in, with Lopez, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda and Joe Ryan all slotted into rotation spots.
The Twins had 14 different pitchers start a game last season and seven start more than 10. Adding Lopez helps build much-needed depth to a group that was at times ravaged by injuries in 2022. It also pushes Ober and those behind him — Josh Winder, Simeon Woods Richardson and Louie Varland, among them — down a rung on the depth chart.
That could mean a return trip to Triple-A St. Paul for Ober, who hasn’t pitched in the minor leagues, aside from rehab, since June 2021, as the Twins plan to keep him stretched out to start.
“I would say we’ll progress him like normal and hopefully he can find a way to impact us over the course of the year,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “If he ultimately ends up being in the bullpen, we’ll make that decision later. He’s a starter, and we’ll treat him that way.”
And so Ober will do the only thing that is within his control — compete as hard as he can to force his way onto the roster. In 31 career starts, Ober has a 3.82 ERA. He has, he believes, put together a decent body of work in the major leagues. But his 2022 season was marred by a groin injury, requiring two separate stints on the injured list and keeping him shelved for most of the year.
As a result of the limited innings he pitched last year, Ober started throwing a bit earlier this offseason, focusing his attention on cleaning up his mechanics and working on his slider and change-up. A move back to his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., from Colorado, as well as the arrival of twins Kollins and Olivia, punctuated a busy offseason for Ober, who arrived at camp feeling like he had something to prove.
“I always have a lot of motivation. I’ve always got a lot of stuff for why I’m playing this game,” Ober said. “I’ve got a family behind me that supports me every step of the way, and I’ve been doubted every step of the way, too. I’ve never been a prospect. It’s been there.”
And whether it’s in early April or later, the opportunity will come.
“He’s working his butt off,” Gray said. “I saw him here last week, over in minor-league camp. I feel like he’s in a great spot. He feels like he’s in a great spot. I would just say that nothing’s set in stone, just put your head down and work. We’ll see what happens in a month and a half.”
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