The top four prospects in the organization will make you drool a little bit, but the system drops off significantly after that and lacks depth. Injuries have also taken quite a toll on a number of players in the system – especially pitchers.
Obtained from Seattle for Erik Bedard, Chris Tillman‘s results finally matched up to his stuff in 2008. The 20-year-old right-hander allowed just 115 hits in 135 Double-A innings. He posted rates of 4.31 BB/9 and 10.22 K/9. Once he improves his control, Tillman could establish himself as a solid No. 2 starter in the Majors with a repertoire that includes an 88-94 mph fastball, curveball and change-up.
Jake Arrieta has been a pleasant surprise for the Orioles and could develop into a reliable No. 3 starter. The right-hander fell in the 2007 draft after signability became a concern but the Orioles got him with a hefty deal for a fifth-round selection. He signed late and did not make his regular season debut until 2008 and he spent the entire year in High-A, although he deserved a promotion after about two months. Arrieta, 23, allowed just 80 hits in 113 innings of work and he posted rates of 4.06 BB/9 and 9.56 K/9. His fastball can touch 97 mph, and he also utilizes a slider, curveball and change-up.
I like David Hernandez more than most. He has the potential to be an excellent No. 4 starter. In 2008, the right-hander allowed just 112 hits in 141 innings in Double-A. He struggled with his control and posted a walk rate of 4.53 BB/9, but he also struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings for the second straight year: 10.60 K/9. Hernandez will open 2009 in Triple-A but could see the Majors sooner rather than later given the state of the Orioles’ starting rotation. He features a fastball that can touch 93 mph, as well as a slider and change-up.
After the Bedard trade, Kam Mickolio went from seldom-talked-about sleeper to Major Leaguer and intriguing prospect who could play a key role in 2009. The 6’9” pitcher played at three levels in 2008 and posted a 4.70 ERA in Double-A, a 1.80 ERA in Triple-A and a 5.87 ERA in the Majors (in 7.2 innings). The right-hander struck out a total of 71 batters in 66 innings and allowed 60 hits. Mickolio threw his fastball almost 82% of the time in the Majors and mixed in his slider. He can touch the mid-90s with the heater and could be in line for a set-up role in 2009.
The top player in the system and the best catching prospect in all of baseball, Matt Wieters is ready to play everyday in the Majors, even though 2008 was his first season in pro ball after signing late in 2007 as a first round draft pick out of college. He split the 2008 season between High-A and Double-A and dominated both levels with the bat, while showing above-average potential behind the dish. Wieters hit .365/.460/.625 with 12 homers in 208 Double-A at-bats. In total, he slugged 27 homers and drove in 89 runs in 437 at-bats. In order to delay his arbitration eligibility, Baltimore is expected to send Wieters down to Triple-A to begin the 2009 season but he should be back in May and could be a candidate for Rookie of the Year in the American League.
Brandon Erbe has had an up-and-down career so far, but the good news is that he is just 21, despite beginning his fifth pro season. After a disappointing 2007 (6.26 ERA), Erbe returned to High-A ball in 2008 and pitched well. He allowed 120 hits in 150.2 innings of work and posted rates of 2.99 BB/9 and 9.02 K/9. He did, though, allowed 21 home runs, which was seven more than he allowed in 2007 (although he threw 31 more innings in ’08). Erbe needs to improve his change-up. He also features a fastball that can touch the mid-90s and a slider.
Bill Rowell was drafted ahead of fellow prep star Travis Snider in the first round of the draft in 2006. However, while Snider was making his MLB debut in 2008, Rowell was riding the buses in High-A ball. Overall, the 20-year-old hit just .248/.315/.368 with seven homers in 375 at-bats. Rowell has massive power potential but it has yet to show up in game situations. He has shown a lack of dedication to the game at times, which has hurt his development. Rowell needs to have a good season in 2009 and remain injury free.
Brandon Snyder’s prospect standing took a hit when he was unable to stay behind the plate and moved to first base in 2008. The 22-year-old former first round pick (2005) showed a little more power in 2008 than what was expected, but he still projects to have average-at-best power for a corner infielder. He spent 2008 in High-A ball and hit .315/.358/.490 with 33 doubles and 13 homers in 435 at-bats. Snyder is not a great defender at first base and he could end up in the outfield.
Nolan Reimold recovered from two sub-par seasons to have a very nice year in 2008 at Double-A. The power-hitting corner outfielder had a line of .284/.367/.501 with 25 homers in 507 at-bats. Reimold posted rates of 11.1 BB% and 16.2 K%%. Already 25, he will have a hard time breaking into the talented Orioles outfield, although he could take advantage of struggles by recently-acquired Felix Pie.
Brian Matusz was the club’s first pick in the 2008 draft and he was considered one of the top two college pitchers available. The southpaw has yet to make his pro debut but he should begin 2009 in High-A ball. Matusz features a low-90s fastball, plus curveball, slider and change-up.
L.J. Hoes was another 2008 draft pick, although he was taken out of high school. The second baseman had a nice debut with the bat and hit .308/.416/.390 with 10 stolen bases. He posted rates of 15.9 BB% and 13.8 K% and could move quickly for a prep draft pick.
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