Baltimore Orioles: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Andy MacPhail
Farm Director: David Stockstill
Scouting Director: Joe Jordan

FanGraphs’ Top 10 Prospects:
(2009 Draft Picks/International Signees Not Included)

Even with the graduation of quite a few pitchers in ’09, the organization is top heavy in pitching prospects. There are some hitting prospects, but their ceilings are more modest for the most part. With that said, Josh Bell could displace veteran Garrett Atkins at the hot corner before the 2010 season is up.

1. Brian Matusz, LHP, Majors
DOB: February 1987 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Signed: 2008 1st round – University of San Diego
MLB ETA: Now 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2
Repertoire: 88-94 mph fastball, plus curveball, slider, change-up

Matusz reached the Majors in his first full pro season and showed that he belonged, thanks in part due to a 4.08 FIP and a walk rate of just 2.82 BB/9. He also struck out his fair share of batters with a rate of 7.66 K/9. Matusz struggled a bit with his command – especially with the fastball – and he allowed too many hits (52 in 44.2 innings), as well as a high home-run rate at 1.21 HR/9. The lefty needs to improve his ground-ball rate of 31.2% if he’s going to keep the ball in the yard. Batters made below-average contact against Matusz in ’09, which bodes well for his future. Once he improves the command of his pitches, he could develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter. He joins Chris Tillman at the top of a young, exciting starting rotation.

2. Josh Bell, 3B, Double-A
DOB: November 1986 Bats: Both Throws: Right
Signed: 2005 4th round – Florida HS (Los Angeles NL)
MLB ETA: mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3

With the loss of incumbent third baseman Melvin Mora, Bell has an outside chance of breaking camp with the club in 2010. That likelihood diminished, though, with the club’s acquisition of long-time Rockie Garrett Atkins, who is expected to keep the hot corner warm until Bell is ready. After a solid showing in double-A this past season, it should not be long for the former Dodgers prospect. Bell hit .296/.386/.497 in 334 at-bats after coming over from LA. He also posted a solid .201 ISO (.281 in the LAD system), so he has the power that most teams covet at the position. With modest speed, Bell has produced rather high BABIPs in the minors, so he may not be a .280-.300 hitter in the Majors like he was in the minors. Despite that fact, Bell has an intriguing mix of power and patience (13.0% walk rate).

3. Brandon Erbe, RHP, Double-A
DOB: December 1987 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Signed: 2005 3rd round – Maryland HS
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-94 mph fastball, slider, change-up

When he was healthy in ’09, Erbe produced some interesting numbers. In 73.0 double-A innings, he was almost un-hittable by allowing just 44 hits. Erbe was particularly tough against right-handed hitters, who managed a batting average of just .150. However, he did struggle with his control and posted a walk rate of 4.32 BB/9. His strikeout rate was OK, but not great, at 7.64 K/9. The young right-hander is still learning how to pitch and develop his secondary pitches, so he has yet to take full advantage of his stuff, which is electric at times. Some doubt whether or not Erbe will be able to refine his secondary pitches enough to remain in the starting rotation. If he does head to the bullpen, he could develop into a solid late-game option.

4. Jake Arrieta, RHP, Double-A
DOB: March 1986 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Signed: 2007 5th round – Texas Christian University
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 87-93 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Arrieta split the ’09 season between double-A and triple-A and posted solid numbers overall. The right-hander posted a 3.08 FIP and strikeout rate of 10.68 K/9 in 11 starts in the junior league before moving up to triple-A, where he posted a 4.15 FIP and strikeout rate of 7.66 K/9. His control actually improved with the promotion and dropped from 3.51 to 3.24 BB/9. Arrieta also did a nice job of keeping the ball in the park, although it rose a bit upon his promotion (from 0.61 to 0.88 HR/9). The right-hander projects as a solid No. 3 starter.

5. Zach Britton, LHP, High-A
DOB: December 1987 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Signed: 2006 3rd round – Texas HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, slider, curveball, change-up

This left-hander is quietly developing into one of the best young pitchers in the minor leagues. Britton posted a solid 3.26 FIP in high-A in ’09 while also allowing just 123 hits in 140.0 innings. He also posted a solid strikeout rate of 8.42 K/9 and an OK walk rate of 3.54 BB/9. He allowed just four homers all season and posted a crazy ground-ball rate of 65%. Britton did a nice job of battling both right-handed (.229 average allowed) and left-hander (.232) batters, although he showed a better strikeout rate (10.98 K/9) against the latter. He could develop into a No. 2 starter if he can keep the ground balls coming and retain the fastball velocity.

6. Brandon Snyder, 1B, Triple-A
DOB: November 1986 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Signed: 2005 1st round – Virginia HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3

Losing their catching eligibility can be the kiss of death for a lot of prospects (Just ask Neil Walker), but Snyder has shown that he just might survive the move. The right-handed hitter has moved to first base, where his average projects to be below-average for the position, but he has shown solid gap power and the ability to hit for a solid average. He could develop into a solid Lyle Overbay-type of first baseman. Snyder got off to a great start in double-A in ’09 and hit .343/.421/.597 with an ISO of .254 in 201 at-bats. That momentum cooled after a promotion to triple-A and he hit just .248/.316/.355 with an ISO of .107 in 262 at-bats. His true value likely lies somewhere in the middle. He does a nice job of getting on base (almost 10% in ’09), as well, but it would be nice to see him trim the strikeout rate (24.4% in triple-A).

7. Caleb Joseph, C, High-A
DOB: June 1986 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Signed: 2008 7th round – Lipscomb University
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Joseph has an up-hill climb to acquiring the starting catcher gig in Baltimore thanks to the presence of Matt Wieters, but he could develop into an above-average backup – if he’s not used as trade bait. The backstop had a solid first full year in the minors and hit .284/.337/.450 in 380 at-bats. His ISO of .166 suggests that there could be some more power to come as the 6’3” hitter adds more muscle to his 180 lbs frame. Joseph’s strikeout rate was impressive at 16.8%, but he could stand to show some more patience after posting a walk rate of just 6.4%. Defensively, he has some work to do in throwing out runners after his caught-stealing rate dropped from 43% in his debut to just 27% in ’09.

8. Kam Mickolio, RHP, Majors
DOB: May 1984 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Signed: 2006 18th round – Utah Valley State College (Seattle)
MLB ETA: Now 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2
Repertoire: 89-95 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Mickolio has come a long way in a short period of time, but the 6’9” monster is still far from a finished product. His control is mainly to blame and he posted a walk rate of 4.61 BB/9 in the Majors in ’09. He also relies heavily on one pitch (his fastball at 80.3% of the time) but his slider also has a lot of promise. Mickolio’s ground-ball rate has been all over the map. It dropped heavily in the minors from ’08 to ’09 when it went from an outstanding 58.6% to a scary 28.6%. If everything clicks – and he can get his ground ball numbers back to a reasonable rate – then Mickolio could develop into the O’s closer.

9. Troy Patton, LHP, Triple-A
DOB: September 1985 Bats: Both Throws: Left
Signed: 2004 9th round – Texas HS (Houston)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2
Repertoire: 87-91 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Patton has had some tough times and he no longer projects to be a top-of-the-rotation star like in his early Astros days. The southpaw has lost velocity thanks to injuries and he now projects as a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, if he can remain healthy. Now 24, Patton made 11 solid starts in double-A this past season and posted a 3.53 FIP. He moved up to triple-A, though, and got hit around and posted a 6.80 FIP. He allowed 62 hits in 44.2 innings and tossed up a home-run rate of 2.42 HR/9. If he cannot recover, Patton could be headed to the bullpen as a middle reliever, but he shouldn’t be written off quite yet.

10. Brandon Waring, 3B, Double-A
DOB: January 1986 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Signed: 2007 7th round – Wofford College (Cincinnati)
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Waring is a slugger. He’s hit 20 or more home runs in each of his three pro seasons. He’s not higher on this list because of a lot of people doubt his ability to hit for average at the MLB level. The right-handed hitter had a solid year in ’09 and batted .273/.354/.520 in 473 high-A at-bats. The 23-year-old third baseman posted an ISO rate of .247 and slugged 26 homers, as well as 35 doubles. His walk rate was OK at 9.7% but his strikeout rate was high – but not unexpected for a slugger – at 25.6%. Waring’s defense at third base is shaky so he split the ’09 season between the hot corner and first base. At either position, the right-handed hitter will have to balance other prospects (Bell and Snyder) for playing time.

Up Next: The Atlanta Braves

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

12 Responses to “Baltimore Orioles: Top 10 Prospects”

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  1. Paul says:

    Nice writeups. It is interesting that Jake Arrieta is listed at topping out at 93. Everytime I see him pitch, he sits 93-95 and I have seen him touch 97 on occasion. And if Matusz’s curveball is plus, then his changeup has to be atleast plus as well(I have seen some publications consider it plus-plus). I can’t wait until some of our 08 and 09 draftees start getting some more notice…..

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  2. Daniel says:

    Interesting to see Erbe rated that highly. I don’t know of anyone else who has him ahead of Arrieta and Britton (who I really like) – especially due to the potential move to the bullpen. Patton has completely fallen off the radar for many people, so even a mention is a bit surprising.

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    • Derek says:

      I thought the exact same thing when I saw Erbe ranked ahead of Arrieta and Britton. I’ve read a lot of projections that see Erbe as a set-up man or closer long-term. This isn’t to take anything away from Erbe as he’s still a fine pitching prospect, but it’s intriguing to see a likely reliever ranked ahead of two of their best starting pitcher prospects.

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  3. Marc Hulet says:

    I definitely thought people would be surprised with Erbe so high… I’ve always liked him a lot more than most and I am fairly confident he’ll stick in the rotation; he’s always been young for his level and can really miss bats when he’s on. For what it’s worth, I really like Arrieta and Britton too, so they’re all very close together… Great pitching depth in Baltimore, especially when you also talk about Tillman and Matusz.

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  4. woodman says:

    Imagine if Tillmann, Matusz, Erbe, Arrieta, Britton all panned out, and Romero, Rzepczynski, Cecil, Drabek and Stewart all grow to be decent-great pitchers as well. Then add in the Rays pitching prospects. Now, raise your hands if you want to be an AL East batter in 2011 and beyond. ;-)

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  5. blb says:

    I’m incredibly excited about what Matusz and Tillman for 2010. If those two progress quickly, Millwood and Guthrie toss 200 innings and put up 4.00 – 4.50 ERAs and Bergesen makes a nice comeback from his late season injury, the rotation could lead the O’s to a .500 record. After a dozen years of dreadful baseball in Baltimore, I might actually cry if that happens.

    Past Matusz, the guys I’m most excited about on this list are Britton, Bell and Waring.

    – Britton seems to have the best mix of pitches and I love the fact that he’s tough on righties and lefties. If he can maintain his ground ball rates, he’ll be a perfect fit for Oriole Park.

    – Bell looks to be that power hitting third baseman that the O’s have been looking for since… I don’t know when. The guy just needs to learn how to hit lefties.

    – In my book, Waring is the O’s true first base prospect. Snyder is solid, but his bat would have played better if he stuck behind the plate or maybe moved to the outfield. But Waring looks like a Mark Reynolds/Adam Dunn kind of hitter to me. He obviously needs to work on plate discipline, but if he figures a few things out at the plate, he could be a 30-35 homer bat in two years.

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  6. Jordan says:

    Shocked to see Erbe ahead of Britton and Arrieta. Although, one of the coaches at Bowie said he perferred Erbe to Arretia.

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  7. SoBoHoBoS says:

    Nice write-ups. Just enough “controversy” to stir the conversation (Erbe at #3), but I tend to agree with you. I’ve liked Erbe since his 2005 season with Delmarva (88 H in 115 IP with 133 K). Love Britton’s GB rate too! Glad to see Patton’s name mentioned. Though a bit of shine as worn off his projection, I think he could be a solid fill-in if needed, while still having a decently high ceiling.

    As far as pitching goes, how do you think Chorye Spoone fits in? BA rated him #8 in the O’s system in 2008 and he dropped to #11 last year, mostly because of the influx of talent brought in by the trades. Pedro Beato was #9 in 2008 and slipped to #21 last year. He didn’t have that great of a year, but at 24-years young, does he have a future? How ’bout Luis Lebron? He wasn’t rated in BA’s O’s 2009 Top 30, but he was nearly unhittable in Bowie (8 hits allowed in 27 IP with 39 K and only 13 BB). Or if you really want to deep-dive…how does Eddie Gamboa project? Granted it was only Delmarva and Bowie, but his combined numbers were…well…pretty good (50 IP, 37 H, 11 BB, 46 K).

    Guess they aren’t prospects anymore, but…how do you see Brad Bergesen fairing? It was nice to see the 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year (in the O’s system) do well in the majors, but was he flying a bit over his head? How about David Hernandez and Jason Berken?

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  8. SoBoHoBoS says:

    Ain’t it nice to have so much pitching?! Spencer Fordin reminds us in his Inbox Q&A post on of 1/4 it wasn’t so long ago that the O’s thought they had a nice bundle of pitching prospects with Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen, Hayden Penn, Garrett Olsen and Radhames Liz. We all know how that worked out. =) But, somehow I think its different this time. Only time will tell.

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  9. The information presented is top notch. I’ve been doing some research on the topic and this post answered several questions.

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  10. Steve Bats says:

    Great list of top rated bats for sure!

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  11. my wife would so much love this health blog entry

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