Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mid-Season prospect review

Now that we're about four months into the season, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the Orioles best prospects in the preseason and check in with how they're doing and what they're future looks like. I've decided to use John Sickels top 20 list found here as the reference list. I'll take a look later at some others to note who didn't make this list.

1. Billy Rowell, 3B, 2006 1st round

Rowell is the jewel of the Orioles' farm system. He tore up Bluefield in his debut hitting .329/.422/.507 in 42 games before hitting .326 in a brief trial with Aberdeen to end the season. And all of this for a guy in his age-17 season. Rowell's 2007 has been derailed by injuries limiting him to only 53 games. The .268 /.341/.405 (5 HR) line isn't exciting, but in the context of an 18 year old playing for Delmarva, it's extremely encouraging. It will be interesting to see how he progresses as he moves further away from his injury. The strike zone judgment (22/64 BB/K) is cause for some concern as are the defensive questions. It's possible Rowell ends up at 1B, but if he can play an adequate 3B, his bat becomes much more valuable. Rowell is still far away, but

2. Brandon Erbe, RHP, 2005 3rd round

Hometown prospect Erbe took the system by storm in his 2005 debut at Bluefield striking out 48 batters in just 23 1/3 IP as a 17 year old. He pitched mostly in relief at Bluefield, getting three starts before moving onto a brief stint in Aberdeen. He began the 2006 season in Delmarva and dominated with 10.44 K/9 and just 2 HR allowed in 114 2/3 IP. But after moving up the ladder to Frederick, Erbe has been hit hard. Carolina League bats have torched him with a 6.25 ERA over 19 starts. The walks are up and the strikeouts are down, though he's still getting many K's. The odd thing is that the HR rate is up so much despite an increase in G/F ratio. But that's to be expected perhaps - his G/F in Delmarva was a relatively poor 0.89. Erbe is still young though, and his peripherals suggest he isn't nearly as bad as his ERA suggests. Even if he has to come back to Frederick to start next season, he'll still be on the fast track to the bigs assuming he can work out his control issues. The Orioles need only patience and a strict limit to the workload of the not yet 20 Erbe.

3. Nolan Reimold, OF, 2005 2nd round

Reimold shot quickly out of the gate after being drafted from Bowling Green in 2005 destroying New York Penn League pitching at Aberdeen before doing the same in a 23 game test in Frederick, skipping low-A completely. Reimold played all of 2006 in Frederick and performed well despite injuries. Now 23, he's moved onto Bowie but unfortunately has played only 19 games due to injuries. He's raked so far, but he needs to get healthy and back on his way up the organization. Reimold's game is based on power and walks. He hit only .267 over his first two years but has drawn 121 BB and has 37 HR in 211 career minor league games. He's a legitimate prospect, but injuries and high strikeout totals are warning signs. He'll hopefully be in an Orioles uniform by mid-2008.

4. Garrett Olson, LHP, 2005 1st round

Olson has been nothing but dominant and reliable as he quickly climbed the organizational ladder. He dominated the NYPL in his debut before skipping right to the Carolina League where he made only 17 starts before moving to Bowie. 14 starts in the Eastern League were good enough to earn a promotion to the International League. 17 stars in Norfolk were enough to prove his worth to the Orioles as an injury-replacement starter where he performed admirably. He was considered to be a polished college pitcher out of Cal Poly and needed only 54 starts in the minors to reach Baltimore. The minor league numbers were outstanding - an ERA below 3.00, about 9.00 K/9 and less than 3.00 BB/9. His upside wasn't considered great, but all he's done is have success at every level, reaching the bigs at 23. He looks like a good bet to be a solid middle of the rotation starter as soon as next year.

5. Pedro Beato, RHP, 2006 1st round

Beato struck out 52 batters in 57 innings with Aberdeen last year out of junior college. The results have been just as good at Delmarva with a 3.33 ERA in 20 starts, but an 84/47 K/BB ratio in 108 innings is reason for pause. He's only allowed 4 HR which is a plus. Beato is just 20, and has shown a steady decline in walk rate each month since April. If that improvement continues he should be ready for Frederick next season where his career will begin to get really interesting.

6. Radhames Liz, RHP, ---

Liz is ostensibly a starter, but that will change before too long. Liz has poster better than a strikeout per inning at every single stop, but those have come with walks. Lots and lots of walks. 173 in 331 innings to be exact. He's another guy that hasn't given up many HR, just 29 in his pro career. He's 24 and still trying to master AA ball, but that's somewhat deceiving. He didn't debut until his age-22 season. But since 2005 he's moved quickly up the ladder, starting 2005 in Aberdeen and ending 2006 in Bowie. He's never been allowed to master the lower-levels completely and given his lack of pro experience his command issues are understandable. Still, Liz doesn't look to be ready for the ML rotation anytime soon, so a switch to relief might be beneficial. If that were to happen Liz might be ready in the very near future.

7. James Hoey, RHP, 2003 13th round

I talked at length about Hoey in my last post. He pitched at three levels in 2006, striking out well over a batter per inning in about 60 innings spread between Delmarva, Frederick, and Bowie. He trimmed his walk rate as well and earned a call up to the majors where he was hit hard. He's been even more dominant in 2007 with a 0.89 ERA and a 58/10 K/BB ratio over 40 innings between Bowie and Norfolk. He's 24 and looks to be an excellent relief prospect. He should be called up right now.

8. Jeff Fiorentino, OF , 2004 3rd round

Fiorentino was drafted out of Florida Atlantic in 2004 and destroyed pitchers in the New York-Penn League as well as the South Atlantic League in his first season. He hit .286/.346/.508 in Frederick at age 22 in a 2005 season marred only by an extremely ill-advised promotion from A ball to the majors where, to his credit, he didn't embarrass himself. Fiorentino's stint at Bowie in 2005 was marked by a nearly 100 point drop in his isolated slugging that was offset by a great increase in strike zone judgment (53/58 BB/K). Fiorentino started 2007 at Bowie and has had a somewhat disappointing season on the whole. His power is nearly identical, but his plate discipline regressed from 2006 levels. To be fair, much of the problem came from a terrible April. He's heated up nicely over the past three months and looks more than ready for his first shot at Norfolk. Probably only a backup outfielder. His splits strongly suggest he should platoon vs. RHP, but the Orioles almost certainly will ignore that.

9. Brandon Snyder, C, 2005 1st round

Snyder was highly regarded coming out of high school in 2005, and he rewarded the team with a .271/.380/.493 line at Bluefield to go with 8 HR in 44 games as an 18 year old before hitting .393 in a brief trial in Aberdeen. 2006 was a disaster. Snyder couldn't put up a .600 OPS in either Aberdeen or Delmarva with a gruesome 14/98 BB/K ratio in 72 games before being shutdown with a torn labrum. His status was very much up in the air heading into this season, but he's responded with a .287/.356/.408 line for Delmarva. The power is still on the light side, but he's just 20 playing in the SAL coming off of a serious injury so there's plenty of optimism. His future as a catcher is questionable, and he might be blocked by Matt Weiters soon enough at that position. If he sticks as a 1B/DH he'll need to hit more to become a plus player.

10. James Johnson, RHP, 2001 5th round

Johnson is sort of the opposite of a sleeper prospect. He's always had good results (3.82 ERA through 2006) and hasn't struggled in any meaningful way at any level. By the time he got to class A, he's always been about the right age for his league. His peripherals have been solid rather than great, but they've held up well as he's advanced with a K-rate around 8.00/9 and a walk rate a shade over 3.00/9 to go with a good HR-rate. It's been more of the same in his first turn at class AAA with a 3.76 ERA in 19 starts. He's now 24 and probably too far down the organizational depth chart to get an honest shot in the rotation, but he should be looked at long and hard for a spot in the bullpen by Opening Day 2008.

11. Jason Berken, RHP, 2006 6th round

It hasn't been a great season for Berken. The 23 year old righthander out of Clemson has posted a 4.95 ERA over 18 starts for Frederick. After dominating Aberdeen to the tune of 46 K and 5 BB, Berken's rates came down to earth after the move to a more age appropriate level. It's important to remember that he completely skipped the South Atlantic League, and there are some positive signs. Berken has allowed just 6 HR so far in 96 1/3 IP. The groundball tendency will be very helpful if he stays as he climbs the ladder.

12. Chris Vinyard, 1B, 2005 38th round

Vinyard is an intriguing power prospected drafted out of junior college. After posting 8 HR and 26 2B in 73 games for Aberdeen, Vinyard retained some of the power with 11 HR and 23 2B in 94 games for Delmarva. But the drop in SLG to .431 is certainly a bad indicator, as is the 84/24 K/BB ratio. He's still only 21 so there's still time for him, but the drop in power and the poor strike zone judgment are worrisome.

13. Ryan Adams, SS, 2006 2nd round

Drafted out of high school, Adams started his career at age 19 for Bluefield. Despite hitting just .256, Adams drew 19 BB in 34 games to boost his OBP to .361. After a short stint with Aberdeen to end 2006, Adams started this season with the Ironbirds. Though still early in the season, Adams has hit just just 4 XBH (no HR) and has drawn just 6 BB in just over 100 AB. Given his status as a middle infielder, the offensive bar will obviously be lower, but a .658 OPS in short season ball isn't promising. Considering that the season is still relatively young for Adams, it might be beneficial to wait for an evaluation until after the season.

14. Val Majewski, OF, 2002 3rd round

I'm a bit surprised that Majewski even made a preseason prospect list. At one time Majewski certainly was a decent prospect, hitting well enough in Bowie to get a cup of coffee in the bigs in 2004. But then a shoulder injury wiped out his entire 2005 campaign. Majewski got his first shot at class AAA upon his return but slugged just .381 for Ottawa. Demoted to Bowie to start 2007, Majewski hit just 3 HR in 91 games for the Baysox. The shoulder injury seems to have zapped his power almost completely. He was never going to be a power hitter, but he had enough to make it as a backup outfielder for a while. Majewski recently, er, earned a promotion to Norfolk, but it's unlikely he makes it back to the Show.

15. Kieron Pope, OF, 2005 4th round

Pope struggled mightily in his first shot at Bluefield in 2005. Still 19, Pope got another shot at the Appalachian League and didn't waste it, hitting .341/.411/.585 in his second year in the league. That was enough to earn him a promotion to Aberdeen where Pope had a dismal 20 game stretch, hitting .107 with no XBH and a disastrous 33/2 K/BB ratio. Pope has been sidelined all season with a shoulder injury so he hasn't gotten his second shot at Aberdeen yet. That's unfortunate. Pope has intriguing upside, but he's clearly very raw (see: 131 K in 98 pro games) and in need of experience. He'll have to work hard to get back on track as a prospect.

16. Zach Britton, LHP, 2006 3rd round

Britton struggled at Bluefield in 11 starts, posting a nearly identical number of strikeouts and walks. But for a high school pitcher getting his first taste of pro baseball, a little over 30 innings isn't the end of the story. His season just recently started at Aberdeen. He's given up just one HR in 11 starts, and sports a sub 4.00 ERA. The K/BB numbers still aren't exciting, but at least they've improved a bit. Another prospect to check in on after the season after he logs a more meaningful number of innings.

17. Brian Burres, LHP, 2001 31st round (Giants)

If all #17 prospects were this useful, the Orioles organization would be in fine shape. A nifty waiver claim from the Giants before the 2006 season, Burres had a fine year for Ottawa before getting his shot in Baltimore in 2007 after a rash of injuries. He's responded well, posting a 4.33 ERA split between the rotation (11 starts) and the pen. He has above average strikeout numbers to go with just one HR allowed every 12 innings so far this year. The main deficiency is a BB-rate above 5.00. Looking longterm, his future is probably in the bullpen with all of the starting arms in the organization, but he's done all he can to earn a slot. As a swingman, he'll be a nice use of a roster spot over the next few seasons. Hopefully.

18. Brett Bordes, LHP, 2006 9th round

An odd sort of selection for the list. Drafted out of Arizona State last year, Bordes posted a nice 2.02 ERA in 28 relief appearances for Aberdeen. Of course he was 22, and even worse, he averaged over 4.5 BB/9 and only a bit over 7.00 K/9, hardly dominant numbers. He advanced to low-A to pitch with Delmarva this year, and he's again had good results with a 2.45 ERA. But he's also walked one more batter (26) than he's struck out (25) so far in 29 1/3 IP. What is nice is his ridiculous 4.17 G/F ratio, a touch lower than last year's 4.79 G/F ratio. 60 innings into his pro career, and opponents still haven't homered off of him. The control obviously needs a massive amount of work, but the groundballs and strikeouts mean the Orioles might have a useful bullpen arm in three years.

19. Brian Finch, RHP, 2003 2nd round

Finch put up good ERAs as a starter in Frederick in 2005 and Bowie in 2006, but his peripherals had never been good throughout his minor league career. They collapsed at Bowie, but were masked by, well, it wasn't a lucky BABIP (.283 for Bowie), but it was something. A torn rotator cuff ended his 2007 before it could begin, and that might be the death knell for Finch's status as a prospect.

20. Blake Davis, SS, 2006 4th round

Davis was drafted out of Cal State-Fullerton last year, two rounds after Ryan Adams, but Davis started two levels higher at Delmarva due to his collegiate experience. He only managed a .670 OPS with 3 HR in 49 games, but that was enough to promote the now 23-year-old to class A. Davis hit .282 with just 1 HR though he did show good gap power (19 2B in 67 G). Davis was recently promoted to Bowie where he has struggled with a .195 average in 24 games. He's been aggressively promoted, and at only 23, there's still plenty of time for him to develop into a major leaguer.

Looking at the list, the one thing that sticks out the most is that every player but Liz was drafted. Liz was the only one of the Orioles Top 20 prospects from Latin America. It's a sad commentary on the state of the organization's Latin American scout that their only international prospect is one that was signed at 22. It's just another example of an underrated reason for the Orioles faults. Combine the moribund Latin scouting with no presence at all in Asia and it isn't hard to see why the team loses and the farm system was barren for so long.

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