Minor Matters: Baby Birds
You’ve got to be impressed with the turnaround the Baltimore Orioles’ organization has undergone in the last year. After failing to win even 70 games last season, the O’s are playing better than .500 ball through the first three months of the season, with homegrown talent playing a vital role in the resurgence.
Anchored by organization-developed stars like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Daniel Cabrera and Garrett Olson, a system that was in total disarray very recently is now at very least mediocre, and improving rapidly. The last three drafts have proved much more fruitful for the O’s, something that will stead this team well as it looks to make hay in the tough AL East in the coming years.
Let’s examine some of the future Orioles we’ll be hearing more about soon:
Colin Allen, a 21-year-old righty the O’s selected in the 22nd round last year, has been almost untouchable so far this season with the Rookie-level Bluefield Orioles. Armed with a go-to curveball and a 91 mph fastball, the converted outfielder has struck out 15 batters in a team-high 13 1/3 IP, limiting opponents to a BA under .175. Allen credits Bluefield pitching coach Troy Mattes with instilling in him the idea that pitchers shouldn’t give hitters too much credit – a concept that’s stead the youngster very well as he puts himself on the map as a prospect.
Lance West, a 39th round pick in last month’s draft, is proving to be a real great late-round steal so far, seamlessly making the transition to the pro game. The 20-year-old is hitting for power (four homers, .730 SLG), average (almost .300) and is showing on-base skills (with an OBP of almost .425). Coming off back-to-back multi-hit games, West is on a tear and may be a candidate to move to Class-A before season’s end.
Catcher Wally Crancer, a 12th round pick in 2007, has made great strides offensively this season. Through 45 games at Class-A Delmarva, he’s batting .296 with four homers and 16 walks. He’s been converted from the outfield to help advance his career, and so far, it has not affected his offense, a very common occurance when a player is shifted, especially behind the plate. Crancer has also played some left and right field, DH and even first base, so the team is doing whatever it takes to keep the soon to be 24-year-old’s bat in the lineup. He’ll need to move quickly to have a chance to become a prospect.
I love what I’m seeing out of Zach Britton, a third round pick in 2006. The 6’2” lefty has handled the move up to Delmarva with ease this season, going 7-5 with an excellent 2.85 ERA through 16 starts. He’s yielded just 76 hits and 25 walks in 88 1/3 IP, fanning 64. Just 20 years old, this is a kid that needs to be watched.
Jake Arrieta, the O’s fifth rounder last year, is performing quite admirably in his professional debut for the Class-A Frederick Keys. Despite some recent struggles, the 22-year-old righty is 5-4 with an ERA barely over 3.00 and 91 Ks in 89 2/3 IP. He’s allowed just 64 hits. At one time, Arrieta was expected to go in the top 20 picks of the draft, but he slipped all the way to the fifth round when he pitched very inconsistently in the month leading up to the draft. He could prove to be a serious steal, and is someone to watch in keeper leagues.
Matt Wieters, the fifth overall pick last year, signed too late to make his pro debut in 2007, but man, is he ever living up to the hype this year. The 22-year-old switch hitting catcher dominating High-A ball, batting .345 with 15 homers and 44 walks in 69 games before a recent promotion to Double-A Bowie. Clearly, the higher level is not intimidating Wieters, as he continues to wield a potent bat (.292) with power (one homer and three doubles in 24 at bats) and superior plate discipline (five walks, three strikeouts). Make no mistake: this kid is the real deal, and it wouldn’t shock me if he’s ready to challenge for a starting job in B-More as soon as next spring. In fact, I would be shocked if Wieters isn’t in the majors by this time next year. Expect to see him at the very top of most prospect lists heading into 2009.
David Hernandez, Baltimore’s 16th round pick in 2005, has arrived as a prospect this season after some very middling results his first two pro seasons. The 23-year-old righty has made the jump to Double-A – the toughest leap for a pitcher – look easy. He’s 5-1, 2.63 with 100 strikeouts in 89 innings, while limiting opponents to a .209 BAA. Hernandez has been especially untouchable in his last four starts (seven hits and two earned runs in 24 2/3 IP, showing near no-hit stuff in back-to-back starts), so if he can sharpen his control a smidgeon, we could have a serious prospect on our hands here.
Chris Tillman, Seattle’s second rounder in 2006 who came to the O’s in the Erik Bedard deal, has looked fantastic at Bowie. Just 20, this righty has a very bright future, and the fact that he’s been able to maintain a solid K rate (81 in 79 IP) despite the jump to a higher level at such a young age has me very impressed. Opponents are batting just .214 against Tillman, a name that needs to targeted in keeper leagues.
Outfielder Nolan Reimold, despite solid numbers, has been a bit of a disappointment at Double-A only because in his half-season there in 2007, he was fantastic. Still, he’s coming around of late and definitely looks to have his power mojo back with six dingers, a double and nine RBI in the last five games. If this keeps up, he could find himself at Camden before season’s end.