Thursday, April 16, 2009

Prospect Report: Oliver Drake

It’s great to be back doing these Prospect Reports, as this should be the first of many as we move through the 2009 season. Thankfully, Andy MacPhail has given more than enough for us to talk about given the recent drafts and pickups in trades, making this a more than fertile farm system. I’ll begin this year by profile a draftee from last season, Oliver Drake, who came from the nearby Naval Academy in Annapolis, skipping his junior and senior seasons such that he could have the opportunity to play professional baseball. He has already made a strong impression this season, pitching six innings of three hit ball for Delmarva, only allowing one run in the process.

So, who is Oliver Drake? Oliver Drake stands at 6’4”, and is a 22-year old right hander for the Delmarva Shorebirds. Prior to his drafting he pitched for the U.S. Naval Academy for two years, where in 2008 he started 13 games amassing a 6-3 record with a respectable 3.70 ERA. He accumulated a total of 78 strikeouts in 80.1 innings, although he walked 22 in the process. How he got the attention of the Orioles, however, was in his play for the Youse’s Maryland Orioles, part of the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League. Here he pitched for Dean Albany, the manager of the Maryland Orioles and one of the premier scouts for the Baltimore Orioles. In this league he made 5 starts with a 1.00 ERA and a 17-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Thus, the Orioles took a flyer on Drake in the 43rd round of the 2008 Amateur Draft and signed the young right hander with a 100k bonus. There is controversy amidst this signing, as Oliver Drake was able to avoid his military commitment by leaving the Academy prior to his junior year, meaning that he had received two years of free education only to stop short of actively serving.

Strengths: Currently, Oliver Drake relies mostly on three pitches: a fastball, which usually ranges between 89-93 mph, a changeup, and a slider. Of the three, his slider is the only one which could be considered a ‘plus’ pitch, and he can rely on that for most of his outs. Drake also commands an ideal frame for a starting pitcher, weighing in at a solid 210 pounds to complement his 6’4” frame; this should help his durability and endurance in the short and long term. The biggest complement to his repertoire, in my opinion, is the training and discipline that he learned in the Naval Academy. So many prospects are set off track by their egos and the lack of a strong work ethic, but Oliver Drake’s discipline and focus should be his greatest asset in development.

Weaknesses: Most of Oliver Drake is an unknown commodity to Orioles fans, as he only pitched limited innings last year out of the bullpens for Bluefield and Aberdeen, and has only made one start this year. The biggest concern is that he never dominated in his play for the Naval Academy, and has yet to show those dominant stretches that you look for in a top young prospect. He is still very much a work in progress, and needs to improve his changeup and begin establishing his curveball which he used sparingly in college.

Projection: This season will be crucial in gauging just what sort of a future Drake can have with the Orioles. He has a good enough arm, and an ideal physical and mental makeup for a professional starting pitcher, topping out most likely as a third starter. He should be promoted to Advanced-A Frederick later this season, at the very least following the anticipated Matusz promotion, and get a shot at Bowie next season. Given the fact that players like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman should be cracking the majors around that time, I expect Drake to stay in Bowie all of next season, and possibly arrive the following year. Oliver Drake should get a chance at the majors sometime in the 2011 season.

(Photo Credit: U.S. Navy)

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