Thursday, October 22, 2009

Arizona Fall League Gives O's Fans Glimpse at the Future

This morning, in reading the box scores for the Arizona Fall League (a bye week for the Ravens will do that to you) a thought popped in my head. By mid-season next year, the Orioles could have the following position players: Matt Wieters (C), Brandon Snyder (1B), Josh Bell (3B), Nolan Reimold (LF), Adam Jones (CF), Nick Markakis (RF), and veterans Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis in the middle infield. Add in Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen, and Brian Matusz into the starting rotation and this is a team well deserving of the oft-used “Baby Birds” moniker. I know that management has stated that both Snyder and Bell could use another year in the minors, given what transpired over the past season I would not be surprised at all to see either or both of them in the starting lineup in June. This of course will pose its challenges for manager Dave Trembley, but what else is new? Whatever you give the man, he will have to produce wins. After all, he is the one controlling the hitters and pitchers… or something like that.

Given the free agent pool out there, the kind that makes Russell Branyan seem like a decent investment, it is more than likely that whoever the Orioles put on the corners will struggle, be he Ty Wiggington or some other low cost veteran. This will push the battle at the corners into the season, and if the O’s stand mired 10 games below .500 in June, count on the Orioles to call up a couple young bats.

However, Bell and Snyder are giving management some reasons for optimism. Josh Bell has been on a tear from both sides of the plate (historically the switch hitter has struggled against lefties), going 12-20 in 5 games with the Phoenix Desert Dogs. He is hitting for power, as expected, but has put up good results against both righties and lefties. Of course, the sample size is small, but he will need to learn to hit better against southpaws if he is going to avoid matchup problems in the majors. This deficiency has been in his scouting report since he was a 2005 high school pick, and will always be there- but it would be good if the O’s can help him narrow this somewhat.

Brandon Snyder got hot late in Norfolk, but it couldn’t keep his average above .248 at the O’s Triple-A affiliate. He is finding his power in a smaller ballpark in Arizona, but he is going to need time to adjust to AAA pitching. Snyder has taken a long road through the minors, and apparently has improved his defense at both 1st and 3rd to make him more versatile for the Orioles- he began his minor league career as a catcher before a host of surgeries forced a move. Looking back, I am certain he’s glad not to be stuck behind Matt Wieters at this point in his career.

The foundation of this team will still be pinned on the development of Tillman, Matusz, Bergesen, Hernandez (wherever he ends up) and the not-yet-arrived Brandon Erbe’s and Jake Arrieta’s of the farm system. Pitching is how you win in the AL East or any other division. But if Snyder or Bell can become protection in the lineup for Nick Markakis, this team could solve one of their biggest problems from within, even if it might take a little longer than plucking a free agent bat out of the bargain bin.

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