Thursday, March 5, 2009

First Thoughts on Spring Training

It is that time again: the new baseball season is just around the corner and so we must start moving some attention to our beloved Orioles. Yes, they have been somewhat ignored of late and yes, this is long overdue. So, consider this the first foray into what will be a very intriguing spring for this young Orioles roster. This spring is riddled with storylines, most in my opinion centering around the uncertain rotation and the young prospects that give some hope to this long struggling franchise. Without further ado, here are some of my thoughts on Spring Training thus far:

1. Uehara has been far more impressive than I predicted he would. He has yet to allow a run thus far, most recently pitching three shutout innings against a strong Dominican lineup and showing excellent control in the process. Without a doubt he has given cause for the front office to exhale and know that they most likely have at least a serviceable No. 2 starter. Can he handle the extended workload of a starter over a long season? Will hitters catch up to him? These are serious concerns down the line, but so far so good.

2. Bergesen is showing all Orioles fans exactly what Bowie Baysox followers have already seen. Brad Bergesen is coming off of a brilliant season with the Baysox in which he set a franchise record for wins and won the Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year award for 2008. Bergesen does not project as a top starter, but he is confident and polished and should fit nicely as a back of the rotation starter who can eat innings for the Orioles. While he has turned heads with his play, I would still feel far better about him starting the year in AAA and giving Hayden Penn a chance to make it in the bigs as he his currently out of minor league options. The Orioles will need starters from the minors, and it would be invaluable to have a guy like Bergesen ready to go when called upon. A more detailed Prospect Report on Brad Bergesen can be found here.

3. Wieters has been brilliant, but not-so-fast, O's fans. Matt Wieters has, in every step thus far, surpassed the lofty expectations put upon him during his brief minor league career. While he has continued this progression through Spring Training, there is no reason for him to start the season in the majors given the fact that the Orioles have signed a serviceable catcher in Greg Zaun and Matt Wieters should not be put on the service clock any sooner than necessary. The Orioles are building for the future, not to win now. It is best for Matt to stay at a level in which he can hone his craft, particularly defensively, and work with some of those young pitchers who we hope to be mainstays of a future O's rotation.

4. Close attention needs to be paid to certain pitchers coming off of injury last season. In particular, the health of Troy Patton, Chris Ray, and Matt Albers will be crucial to this club. Thus far the news has been positive for all three; I'm looking for Patton to ideally start in AAA this year and be on the short list with Bergesen for callups, Chris Ray to be in a setup/part-time closer role, and for Matt Albers to make a push for the starting rotation. If all goes well and that comes to fruition, things would be looking significantly better for the Orioles not only in the short term, but the long term as well based on the youth of all three. On a minor league injury note, don't forget about Chorye Spoone-- he has been sidelined thus far with injury, but if he could get back on track he might just have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in this farm system.

Overall you have to be pleased with the Orioles front office thus far. They pulled off highway robbery in taking Felix Pie from the Cubs for Garrett Olson (who the Cubs then traded for, of all people, Aaron Heilmann), re-signed Markakis to a six-year deal, locked up Brian Roberts to a four-year deal, bolstered their bench with Ty Wigginton, and are exposing their young pitchers to the major leagues while keeping the pressure off by ensuring that they will start the year in the minors. Not bad at all for Andy MacPhail and this revamped O's organization.

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