Thursday, April 9, 2009

Prospect Report: First Thoughts on 2009

After the long offseason break, I welcome you back to Around the Harbor's weekly Prospect Report, in which I'll either profile a noteworthy player or just give some general thoughts on the state of the Orioles farm. I was hoping to give a profile of Bowie's opening day starter Jason Berken this week, but I'm going to put that off until I have a chance to see him some more. So, to start things off I would like to share some of my thoughts as to what I'm looking for this year in the Orioles minor league system.

AAA Norfolk Tides
- The starting pitching for this year’s team should be night-and-day from last year, in which the Norfolk rotation was marked by veteran retreads and borderline prospects. The Norfolk rotation this season is headlined by Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and David Hernandez, who are all coming over from last year’s Bowie Baysox team which made the playoffs. My question is, how long will pitchers like Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez stay? Certainly I expect Bergesen to be pitching in the majors in one, maximum of two, months from now. Hernandez I expect to be up sometime this year, but I suspect the Orioles organization will not bring up Tillman at any point this season.
- The bullpen should be improved, but does have its share of questions. Bob McCrory and Kam Mickolio both have the arms to be solid bullpen pitchers, but both are coming off of disappointing 2008s in which they were given chances to make it with the big club and failed. Radhammes Liz is the other big question mark, as he moves from the rotation to the bullpen. Liz has the potential to be a great late-inning reliever, as does Mickolio, but I’m going to have to see a good deal from McCrory to be convinced.
- Nolan Reimold and Luis Montanez should be a huge boost to the Tides’ offense, as both are legitimate power hitters and were able to dominate AA pitching last season. Infielders Scott Moore and Oscar Salazar are returning, but none of the position players outside of Reimold and Montanez are considered legitimate prospects. Either way, the corps of hitters are good enough such that if injuries strike the big league club there are legitimate options at AAA to go to.

AA Bowie Baysox
- Again, pitching is the main story here. Jason Berken was roughed up a bit in his first start of the season, pitching only 3 innings and giving up 3 earned runs, but he leads a very impressive rotation along with Jake Arrieta and Brandon Erbe. Jake Arrieta is the real headline prospect from this group, but he has yet to pitch a full season in the minor leagues because of his stint last year in the Olympics. I’m eager to see how long Arrieta actually stays in Bowie if he excels; the organization has long let it be known that Arrieta is on the fast track to the majors, so I expect him to be in Norfolk sometime midseason.
- Brandon Erbe will be a major storyline for this team. Erbe has struggled somewhat with inconsistency, but started to return to form last season at Frederick. His stuff is as good as any in this system, so if he can begin to harness it at this level he can reestablish himself as a top prospect in this organization. And he’s a local boy, which doesn’t hurt at all.
- Brandon Snyder is another player to watch on this team. I’ve talked extensively about Brandon in previous prospect reports, and I still believe that he can be a major piece of the Orioles future if he can develop some power. Snyder has the frame to develop into a power hitter, but already has excellent bat control and can accumulate a high average despite drawing very few walks. I expect Snyder to be tried out some at third base as well given the fact that Billy Rowell has been moved to the outfield in Frederick and Snyder’s bat would seem to play better at third than first.

Advanced-A Frederick Keys
- Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and Chorye Spoone are the standouts on yet another impressive rotation in the Orioles system. Matusz is slated to get the Matt Wieters treatment, in that he will spend half of this season getting his feet wet in Frederick before moving up to Bowie at the season’s midway point. Zach Britton is a pitcher who went largely unnoticed last year in Delmarva, but like his counterparts Sean Gleason and John Mariotti, will have a chance to get noticed this year in Frederick. Britton comes in with a ton of potential and an excellent track record, and with a good season could make a push for Bowie.
- Chorye Spoone, as faithful readers of this blog might know, is a personal favorite of mine in the system. He is a local prospect from Pasadena, MD and is currently coming off of shoulder surgery which, although it isn’t supposed to be a long term issue, is always a big concern. Chorye was a vital part of the Keys’ playoff run two years ago, and has arguably the highest upside of any pitcher in this system. A big return from him this year would be a huge win for both the Keys and for the Orioles’ long term plans.
- Billy Rowell is the main position prospect to look for in this year’s team, as he holds immense power potential in his bat but failed to produce at even an average level last season. Rowell’s attitude problems and adjustment issues were more than apparent last season as he was clearly overmatched at Frederick, and this season is vital to determining whether or not he’s a flat-out bust.
- Another note from a position perspective at Frederick: Ryan Adams’ performance at second base will be a major storyline to watch, as he set a record last season for errors at Delmarva. Adams is terrific with the bat, and supposedly the errors he makes should be correctible. Whether or not that comes to fruition will determine not only his future down the line but whether or not Keys fans are in for a very long season.

That’s going to close it up for this week’s Prospect Report. Certainly yes, there are the Shorebirds, and yes, the progression of Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes is crucial to the future of the Orioles system given the lack of quality position players in the system, but I think it wiser to save some material for later.

And a quick message to close: Why to we care about all of these players in the minor leagues. So that someday, someday, the Orioles will not have to rely on pitchers like Brian Bass.

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