Thursday, September 4, 2008

Prospect Report - Zach Britton

This time, let’s take a trip down to Delmarva… The Bowie trio of top-line pitchers (Tillman, Hernandez, Bergesen) have gotten the headlines this year, but Delmarva has a rising trio that’s going to be making some waves in the coming years. This trio consists of Zach Britton (12-7, 3.12), Sean Gleason (12-2, 2.63), and Luis Noel (10-8, 3.96). Of these Zach has separated himself as the premier prospect of the three due to his draft position, age, and overall effectiveness this season. In a full season at Delmarva this year, Zach has held opponents to a .219 batting average with an unbelievable groundball ratio of 2.81 GO/AO. His groundball tendencies have lead to him only giving up nine home runs in 147.1 innings pitched this season (that roughly equals one home run for every eighteen innings he pitches).

So, who is Zach Britton? Zach Britton is a 20 year-old left hander who stands at 6-2 and weighs 170 lbs. The O’s chose to draft Britton in the third round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of Weatherford High School. He has a rough start to his professional career in 2006, where he got hit around for a 5.00 ERA in going 0-4 in 11 starts for the Bluefield Orioles. Zach Britton took a big leap up in 2007 with the Ironbirds however, going 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA. In his 15 starts with the Ironbirds he also dramatically improved his K:BB rate from 21:20 with Bluefield to 45:22 with the Ironbirds. He’s continued his steady improvement this year at Delmarva, as shown by across-the-board progression in all significant statistical categories.

Strengths: Britton’s greatest strength is in his ability to induce groundballs. One of the more underrated abilities in baseball, being able to get groundballs both keeps the ball in the ballpark and erases baserunners with the potential for a double play. Britton, as mentioned before, has compiled a 2.81 GO/AO ratio at Delmarva and .5 home runs per nine innings pitched. Britton’s fastball usually stands between 88-92 mph, but he occasionally can ratchet it up to as much as 94 mph on occasion. He complements that fastball with a decent changeup which he has used extensively back from his high school days and an improving slider. While being primarily a groundball pitcher, he also has shown the ability to miss bats, as he has accumulated 114 strikeouts with the Shorebirds.

Weaknesses: While he commands a good fastball and decent change, Zach’s breaking ball is average at best. If he hopes to make it as a starter he can’t simply rely on two pitches to get by. He can get away with a few poorly thrown breaking balls at Delmarva, but when he advances to higher levels those hanging breaking balls will be hammered and reduce his pitch selection to simply fastballs and changeups. In fairness to Zach however, he has shown the dedication to improve that slider and that improvement has shown this season. Also, while Zach is able to miss bats, he also has issues with missing the strike zone. His walk rates are improving, but still not where they need to be to reach his potential.

Projection: The thing that gives the most hope for Zach Britton is that he has gotten better each time he has moved up to superior competition. This makes it easier to be optimistic in projection, as he doesn’t appear as a prospect who will get stuck in any one level for more than a year before somehow appearing with the big league club. However, keep in mind that the upper level pitchers (ideally) will be pitching at Camden Yards by the time he reaches AAA. It’s for that reason that I feel he will have a steady advance with one year at Frederick, one with Bowie, and a full season at Norfolk before getting a chance with the Orioles. Britton will stay at Norfolk after the 2011 season, but will be called up sometime in the 2012 season to pitch out of the bullpen or fill in for an injured starter.

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