Thursday, September 18, 2008

Prospect Report: Ranking the Prospects

After much deliberation, I’ve settled on this ranking of the top-20 prospects (in my opinion) in the Orioles’ farm system. I was just going to give you ten, but I’ll add on 11-20 as a bonus. Each of the prospect names are linked to either this season’s minor league statistics or previous seasons (or college in case of Matusz). Enjoy.

1. Matt Wieters – People have asked me, “Why haven’t you done a Prospect Report on Matt Wieters? He’s the headline prospect!” My response is this: Prospect Reports are for minor league players, and not major league players playing in the minor leagues. I have had the pleasure of seeing Matt Wieters play in person several times and it’s clear that the reports on Matt are not in the slightest bit exaggerated. Wieters swings the bat for both power and average, while at the same time has excellent patience at the plate. Despite having a 6’5” frame he is surprisingly quick on his feet behind the plate, not to mention an absolute cannon of an arm. He is arguably the best prospect in baseball, at the very least a lock for the top three.
2. Brian Matusz – Although Matusz is unproven in the minor leagues, by all accounts he is already very close to being major league ready. He holds four plus pitches which he can throw for strikes. The only warning flag is his somewhat violent delivery, although there are differing opinions as to whether or not this will be an issue in the future. Matusz projects to be an ace at best and a number three starter at worst. A polished lefty with four plus pitches and has top-of-the-rotation potential? I’ll take that any day.
3. Chris Tillman – Tillman has been brilliant this season; everything the Orioles could have hoped for and more. You can read the earlier prospect report on Tillman here. Despite the fact that Tillman has been so effective at Bowie while being only 20 years old, he is ranked behind Matusz for the fact that his pitches aren’t nearly as far developed and is not as much of a sure thing.
4. Jake Arrieta – The Orioles are again blessed with a special arm in their system. The Orioles drafted Jake Arrieta in the fifth round of the 2007 MLB Draft, and wisely paid far out of slot to get the talented Boras client. Arrieta has a fantastic mid-90’s fastball with a vicious slider, and has dominated Advanced-A competition this season prior to his trip to Beijing with the US Olympic Team. He put up impressive performances both in the Futures Game and the Olympic Games, cementing his status as a top pitching prospect in the organization. Arrieta is coming up as a starter in the minor leagues; however there is a chance that he might eventually be suited to be a closer in the majors.
5. Brandon Erbe – I wrestled with this pick, bouncing between Brandon Erbe and Brandon Snyder. You can read Falco's ATH Report on Brandon Erbe here. I’m a big Snyder fan, but Erbe right now is the better prospect as his ceiling is far higher. Erbe has potentially dominant stuff and he bounced back very well off of a disappointing (to put it nicely) 2007 season. Brandon is a strikeout/fly ball pitcher and despite his penchant for surrendering the home run, he is only 20 years old and has plenty of time to develop. If he can continue to improve and develop the consistency he has been lacking, the sky is the limit for this kid.
6. Brandon Snyder – Brandon Snyder has been a feel-good story this year, as he has put up excellent numbers despite facing strong doubts about his status as a prospect. You can read my previous Prospect Report on Brandon Snyder here. One of the issues that prevented Snyder from taking the five slotting on this list is the fact that his bat does not currently show the power necessary to stay at first base long term. He has a short swing, solid defense, and improving power. How that power develops and whether he can build on this year’s success will dictate exactly where this former first-rounder will end up.
7. David Hernandez – Like Brandon Erbe, David Hernandez is a strikeout/fly ball pitcher. You can read my earlier Prospect Report on David Hernandez here. Hernandez grades out distinctly lower than Erbe because his stuff, while electric, is not as electric as Erbe’s, does not have as high a ceiling, and is older by three years. Hernandez bounced back strongly this year from a shaky 2007, and while that does significantly improve his standing as a prospect, how he comes out next season will be the litmus test as to how far he really has come as a pitcher. Hernandez most likely will find his niche in the bullpen in Baltimore, but as a starter he has improved his control and was the ERA and strikeout leader on a stacked Bowie rotation this season.
8. Nolan Reimold – Nolan Reimold is something of a polarizing figure among scouts, and I’m not entirely sold on what I think of him as a prospect myself. You can read my previous Prospect Report on Nolan Reimold (doesn’t this sound like a broken record?) here. Reimold will be 25 at the start of the 2008 season, so this is the time for him to make a move to the majors. Reimold’s swing holds a great deal of power, but he does not have a superior eye at the plate and has been very slow to make adjustments through both single games and the season. There is a great deal of questions as to whether or not he’ll be capable of handling major league pitching, but we’ll find out soon enough.
9. Chorye Spoone – The only reason that Chorye is so low on this list is because of his shoulder injury this past season. It is not expected to be a long-term problem, but whenever you lose a year of development (mid-season this year to approximately mid-season next year) there is cause for concern. Assuming that Chorye returns to form, he will skyrocket up this list. He holds a dominating sinking fastball, a plus curveball and improving changeup. His command has been inconsistent, but he does have the potential to be the best better than any pitcher on this list.
10. Billy Rowell – Rowell has to be in the top ten if for no other reason than raw talent. Unfortunately, Rowell has failed to significantly develop that talent (at least in any tangible way) this season. Even after a very strong finish this year at Frederick, Rowell ended the year with a .248 BA and only 7 home runs. The negatives on Rowell have been his attitude, lackadaisical defense, and a long looping swing. Billy will be 20 going into next season (presumably at Frederick again) so he has plenty of time to work on those issues. If he can correct his attitude and take coaching to correct his swing he can reclaim his status as an elite power hitting prospect. He has the frame and the natural ability to be that elite prospect, but unless he makes those corrections we could be talking about him being a big first round bust pretty soon.

And now the bonus 11-20!
11. Troy Patton – He could end up being a top-10. I don’t personally know what to expect, all I know is that he was the centerpiece of the Tejada trade and was a much talked about prospect before his shoulder surgery. He should be ready for Spring Training next year; about that time we’ll see where this guy really projects.
12. Brad Bergesen – Fantastic year, set the Bowie record for wins and providing the one bright spot pitching-wise for the Baysox during their disappointing playoffs this year. You can find my previous Prospect Report on Brad Bergesen here. He’ll start next year at Norfolk, and we’ll see whether his style (location rather than pure stuff) will succeed against superior bats.
13. Zach Britton – Britton has shown steady improvement and thus is steadily rising in the ranking of prospects in the Orioles’ system. You can read my Prospect Report on Zach Britton here. There’s a lot to love about this 20 year old groundball southpaw, but he still struggles occasionally with command, particularly with his breaking pitches.
14. LJ Hoes – LJ Hoes is a personal favorite of mine. A local product of Bowie, Maryland, LJ was drafted out of high school in the third round of the 2007 MLB draft. You can read the Prospect Report (written by Expatriate) on Jerome ‘LJ’ Hoes here. He had an excellent professional debut with the GCL Orioles, showing a surprisingly advanced knowledge of the strike zone and plate discipline. Complement that with his superior athletic ability, and you set the foundation for a lot of future success. He is still very young so you certainly cannot rank him any higher, although I’m certain that others reading this will object to my putting him as high as I have.
15. Greg Miclat – An excellent pick by the Orioles in the fifth round of the 2008 MLB draft, Miclat took a long while to sign but stepped into an excellent situation. The Orioles needed a legitimate shortstop prospect, and Miclat has provided them with one as all reports are that his shoulder injury suffered in college has fully healed. Miclat is a plus defender and has often been compared to Brian Roberts in his ability to spread the ball to all fields and dominate on the base paths. He won’t ever hit for power, but as a leadoff man he has what you would look for in average, plate discipline, and speed.
16. Bobby Bundy – Bundy was a key sign for the Orioles, who selected him in the ninth round of the 2008 MLB draft. Bobby Bundy is out of Sperry High School in Sperry, Oklahoma and was considered one of the better high school pitching prospects in this year’s draft. His mechanics are solid, and has an excellent breaking ball to complement his low-90’s fastball. Where he is in relation to professional competition is as of yet undetermined, and we’ll see next season where he’s at by how he performs.
17. Garabez Rosa – I wish I had more information on this little-known prospect. He smashed pitching in the Gulf Coast League, although he does not know the meaning of the word ‘walk’. A free swinger, Garabez does an excellent job of making contact and has shown some power. Again, statistics can be deceiving in rookie ball, but he’s gained enough intrigue to sneak into the top-20.
18. Jim Hoey – This has been a lost year for Jim Hoey, but assuming he comes back from strongly from his injury this season (and he is on track to do so), he can be an excellent future late reliever. I do not believe, based on previous performance, that he has the mentality to be a closer despite having the pitches to do so. This 6’6” right-hander has the high-90’s fastball and biting slider you look for in a late reliever, so his name is one you don’t want to forget moving forward.
19. Luis Noel – Luis stormed onto the map this year at Delmarva. He was inconsistent, particularly down the stretch, but he showed flashes of what could be a very good arm in this system. Noel, a 20-year old right hander out of Haiti, needs to improve his command because when he loses games it is by the walk. He showed the ability to beat any team in the South Atlantic League when he didn’t beat himself.
20. Blake Davis – Blake Davis will never blow you away with his bat or statistics, but he is a slick fielder who plays hard every play. He draws rave reviews from his manager this year at Bowie, Brad Komminsk, and might find time in Baltimore this year. After watching Blake at Bowie this season I can say that he is an excellent fielder, but I do not believe that he’ll be able to make it long-term in the major leagues at the plate.

(Photo Credits: Wieters/Snyder (Doug Koontz), Brandon Erbe (, Chorye Spoone (The Examiner via Frederick Keys))

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