The Most Interesting Pitcher In Orioles Camp

The Baltimore Orioles recently signed Josh Banks to a minor-league contract. You might not know who Josh Banks is, but Josh Banks is absolutely fascinating.

The headline written above is unconfirmed hyperbole. Brian Matusz is very interesting. Zach Britton is very interesting. Dylan Bundy is very interesting. I don't know who Miguel Socolovich is, but he's probably very interesting -- if not as a pitcher, then as a person. People tend to be more interesting than we think. But the Orioles have Josh Banks now, and Josh Banks holds a special place in my heart.

The Orioles' acquisition of Banks didn't exactly light up the Twittersphere. It happened on Tuesday, when the Orioles signed Banks to a minor-league contract. He isn't expected to compete for a major-league job, which is what you'd figure given the late date of his signing. He's minor-league depth, and a solution only in the event of an emergency. That Tuesday Josh Banks news was about as big as this Tuesday Josh Banks news:

That's a different Josh Banks. Apparently that's another very interesting Josh Banks. But we're here to talk about the Josh Banks who just signed with Baltimore.

One thing that's interesting about Josh Banks is that he was born in Baltimore, and went to high school there. So this is a homecoming of sorts, even though Banks probably won't ascend the mound at Camden Yards. He's joining his hometown organization.

Another thing that's interesting about Josh Banks is that he's represented by Gary Sheffield, who it turns out is an agent now. From the Baltimore Sun:

Former major league star Gary Sheffield is in Orioles training camp this morning, hoping to sell the team on former Severna Park star Josh Banks, who has pitched for the Blue Jays, Padres and Astros.

But the thing I find most interesting about Banks, and the whole reason I'm writing this article, is ... well, let's put it this way. According to FanGraphs, here's a complete list of guys who've thrown knuckleballs in the major leagues since 2009:

Seven guys. Inglett is a utility player who pitched once in 2010 in a game his team lost by eight. Wakefield recently retired. Haeger's active, but he's going to miss the entire 2012 season after hurting his elbow. Franklin's retired.

The knuckleball is an endangered species, and there's a very small pool of people trying to keep it alive. Josh Banks is one of them, and while he's an extraordinary long-shot, he's not a zero-shot. He is an active pitcher -- just 29 years old -- who is known to throw the knuckler.

Banks isn't a knuckleballer in the way that Dickey is a knuckleballer, or in the way that Wakefield was a knuckleballer. I guess I should've said that there's another interesting thing about Josh Banks: his repertoire is extensive. This is from an interview from 2008 that I think remains relevant today:

Q: Let's start with the basics: List your eight pitches.

A: Two-seam and four-seam fastballs, curve, slider, split-finger fastball, cutter, a change-up that is different to left-handers and right-handers, and a hard knuckleball that I throw like a fastball, although I can throw a regular knuckleball.

Q: When I list all that, I come up with 10 pitches.

A: The change-up is a variation. And I don't use the slower knuckleball. The hard knuckleball I used to throw as my splitter.

Mariano Rivera basically throws one pitch. A lot of relievers throw two pitches. Most starters throw three or four pitches. Josh Banks mixes eight pitches. One of them is a knuckleball, and it isn't a fluttery knuckleball; it's a hard knuckleball, frequently faster than Tim Wakefield's fastball. Here's a glimpse:


Clearly, there's a lot that's interesting about Josh Banks. Now he'll try to work his way back to the majors. He should be thankful that the Orioles are giving him an opportunity. He ended last year with the independent Long Island Ducks, who also featured Lew Ford and J.R. House. Earlier, he was released by the Giants after posting a 7.27 ERA with triple-A Fresno. Banks was better in triple-A in the years before, and he made 14 starts for the major-league Padres in 2008, but he's made only seven major-league appearances since.

But while Banks should be thankful, we should be thankful, too. Given his knuckler and the breadth of his repertoire, Banks is one of the more interesting pitchers in any major-league organization, and it's good to know he still has a shot, even if it's among the slimmest of shots. Banks isn't a guy you want to see disappear from the ranks too soon. Banks is a guy you want to see become a late bloomer.

Josh Banks isn't going to make the Orioles out of camp. Odds are he's not going to make the Orioles all season long. But here's hoping he takes some kind of step forward. Because Josh Banks is weird, and baseball needs more weird.

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