It’s a small ripple in a very large pond but the Baltimore Orioles front office made another astute move involving a lesser known prospect.
I originally complimented the organization back in the spring when it signed former Arizona Diamondbacks catching prospect John Hester (who was later released and is now playing at the big league level with the Angels) and then again when the club acquired former Boston Red Sox catching prospect Luis Exposito (an admitted upgrade over Hester). Both Exposito and Hester represent excellent, cost-efficient second-string catchers for a club that features a strong starting option like Matt Wieters.
The Orioles’ latest move saw the club receive pitching prospect Mike Belfiore – again from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The left-hander is the return that Baltimore receives for former third base prospect Josh Bell who fell out of favor with the organization (for good reason) and was traded to Arizona for a player-to-be-named-later back in late April. Although I favor Belfiore, 23, by a wide margin it’s a decent trade for both organizations as Arizona adds some corner infield depth and can afford to part with a B-level arm thanks to a minor league system that boasts plethora of top-shelf arms such as Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin, and Archie Bradley. Baltimore, on the other hand, desperately needs the pitching depth.
Prior to 2012 Belfiore was an underperforming prospect in Arizona’s system. He was originally a supplemental first round pick (45th overall) of the Diamondbacks out of Boston College in 2009. I thought so highly of the prospect that I ranked him ninth on the organization’s pre-2011 Top 10 prospect list at FanGraphs. He failed to make the Top 15 list prior to the 2012 season.
Belfiore spent the first two years of his pro baseball career balancing decent strikeout rates with solid ground-ball numbers. He was a little too hittable but that tends to happen with ground-ball pitchers in the low minors (thanks to poor defenses and inconsistent fields). The wheels came off in 2011 when he reached the potent California League; his command and control both deserted him while his ground-ball rate settled at an average level causing him to allow 17 home runs in just 79.0 innings (after giving up just six in 126.1 in 2010).
Move to the bullpen in 2012, Belfiore once again found his footing. The southpaw returned to the California League and worked 19.0 innings in 12 appearances prior to the trade. He struck out 28 batters and walked just five. His ground-ball rate, though, continues to sit at an average level.
Belfiore is definitely best suited for bullpen work. He was a closer in college and never fully took to pitching every fifth day. Working out of the ‘pen also allows him to focus on two pitches. He’s a fastball-slider pitcher with a repertoire that also features a changeup and a curveball – both of which show promise but are inconsistent. In terms of velocity, his fastball is slightly-above average for a lefty. If he can find a way to get a better plane on his fastball and command the lower half of the strike zone, Belfiore’s value will increase even further allowing him to possibly see some high-leverage situations.
As mentioned Belfiore’s acquisition is by no means a significant one as far as the average prospect watcher is concerned. Baltimore currently features one of the best bullpens in the Major Leagues – but it’s also over-performing and due for some regression. The organization lacks pitching depth in the upper levels of the system and Belfiore could eventually become a very useful arm in the bullpen – and it cost the organization little to nothing to procure his services. This exactly the kind of low-risk move that Baltimore must make as it rebuilds itself from the ground floor up in the tough American League East division.