Thursday, April 30, 2009

Developing Stories in the 2009 Minor League Season

I've decided that, mostly due to my inability to get out to some minor league games this week, I'm going to have to skip this week's Prospect Report. There have been some players who have absolutely warranted reports being done, particularly Brandon Erbe, but I want to get a longer look before I tackle some of the bigger prospects in this system. But I thought I would take this time to take a step back and look at some of the bigger storylines playing out through the O's farm system.

Brandon Erbe's surprising dominance: Brandon Erbe has absolutely exploded onto the scene this season; I won't go into too much depth, because I'd like to save it for a later Prospect Report. Erbe blasted onto the map a few years ago out of high school, but the Pasadena native struggled badly in Frederick in 2007 and had a decent, but not overwhelming season in 2008. Making the jump to Bowie this year, Erbe was not expected to be as dominant as he has been, pitching to a 0.90 ERA in four starts this season, striking out 19 while walking 8. Brandon Erbe has long been known as a pitcher with phenomenal stuff but severe inconsistency. Maintaining anywhere near this level of excellence throughout this season will be a huge storyline to follow.

Billy Rowell moving to right field: Okay, now this was a weird one entering the season. Billy Rowell was once the premier prospect in this organization, but after a horrendous year in Frederick and continuing questions about his attitude, Rowell has fallen off to the point of being considered a huge bust. Now the former third baseman has been moved to the outfield in an attempt to allow him to focus on his hitting, and it seems to be starting to work. His average has slowly climbed up after a poor start, and by many accounts Rowell has been working harder in his hitting and is consciously trying to fix his game. This is a desperate move by the organization, but a wise one; if his bat can be salvaged and the raw power can materialize, the Orioles can find a place for him at first, third, or DH. The first step for a player of his natural abilities is to get his bat in order and find a place for him defensively. But he certainly won't stay at right field forever.

Young position players struggling to take hold in Delmarva: While it's difficult to find many position prospects in the upper levels of the O's system, a number of draftees from last year are trying to establish themselves in Delmarva. Among them are second baseman L.J. Hoes, shortstop Greg Miclat, and outfielders Ronnie Welty, Xavier Avery, and Kyle Hudson. All five of these players started off very slowly, and aside from Welty, all continue to bat under .300 with zero home runs combined (Welty is batting .309 with 1 hr). While it is expected that players like LJ Hoes (.260 avg) and Xavier Avery (.180) would struggle early on because they are right out of high school, polished players like Kyle Hudson and Greg Miclat were not expected to struggle so much. This is particularly true for Miclat, who was very polished coming out of UVA as a high average hitter, but is only hitting .200 through 16 games. Expect him to bounce back strong and end with a higher average. Watching these young hitters sink or swim in their first professional season is an important storyline for the future of the Orioles down the line.

Nolan Reimold - The Man, The Legend: Okay, well he's not playing that well, but the point still remains. Reimold feels that he should be in the majors right now, and rather than raising a fuss to the media he's just going about his business and proving it through his play. Now, rather than it being just him telling the Orioles that they are making a mistake by keeping him in Norfolk, he has much of the fan base clamoring for him instead. Reimold has been on an absolute tear this season, batting .403 with 6 home runs, 19 rbis, and 4 stolen bases. He has even increased his walks and cut down on his strikeouts, with a decent 14:9 K:BB ratio. MacPhail will keep the Pie experiment alive for awhile longer, but the pressure is mounting to bring in the home prospect to replace him already. It's just important to remember that Reimold is known for being streaky; the question has not been whether or not he could hit .400 over a period of a month, but it's whether he can avoid following it with a few weeks of batting .200.

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