Orioles: The Midseason Minor League Examination (Bleacher Report)


For a rebuilding team like the Baltimore Orioles, minor league success is crucial to the team’s future in the major league standings. The O’s have gotten great contributions from various pitching prospects like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Troy Patton, Chris Tillman, and others.

Going into the season, O’s fans took a look at the minor league starting pitchers for each team. Let’s analyze how those minor leaguers did.

The Aces

Norfolk Tides: Chris Tillman, RHP

After going 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA at Double A Bowie last season, you’d expect fans would be screaming for his name in Baltimore. However, many Orioles diehards saw he struggled with command (65 walks in 135.2 IP), and wouldn’t have minded if Tillman stayed in Double A strictly to work on command.

The O’s saw it differently. They knew he struggled with command, but they had faith that was a product of being a 20-year-old, hard-throwing prospect in Double A, and decided to move him up to Triple A.

So far, it has worked out. Tillman hasn’t won a game since May 18th, but that’s not to say he hasn’t pitched well.

In 54 innings, Tillman has allowed 48 hits, 14 runs (2.33 ERA), has struck out 63, and walked just 16. He clearly put some work in during the offseason, as his command is much improved.

Last year, he averaged 4.31 walks per nine IP, but averages just 2.66 free passes per nine innings this year. Tillman, the O’s No. 2 overall prospect, is just 5-3, but has a solid 2.33 earned run average, and hitters have a measly .232 opponent’s batting average.

Bowie Baysox: Jake Arrieta, RHP

Despite now joining Tillman in the Triple A rotation, Arrieta started the year at Double A Bowie as the ace, and the 23-year old Farmington, MO native didn’t disappoint.

In 11 starts, Arrieta went 6-3, had a solid 2.59 earned run average, pitched 59 innings, allowed just 45 hits, walked 23 while striking out 70, and posted a .208 opponent’s average.

Arrieta is a special kind of prospect. While he can blow a fastball by hitters at 97-98 MPH, he has command of all three pitches he throws, as shown by the strikeout-walk ratio of 70-23.

He was promoted to Triple A Norfolk to make a start on June 12th against the Indianapolis Indians.

While he didn’t get any run support, that won’t be an issue with the major league team. Remember, this is a Norfolk team that is missing offensive stars like Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, and Oscar Salazar—all guys who were doing very well with the Tides before being promoted to the majors.

In Arrieta’s Triple A debut, he pitched six innings; allowed just two hits, including none in the first three innings; one run; zero walks; and struck out six. However, he still got a loss for that game.

But, as I said, run support won’t be an issue with the major league Orioles.

Frederick Keys: Brian Matusz, LHP

With the fourth overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, the O’s decided to add to their pitching, selecting San Diego southpaw Brian Matusz.

What was clear about Matusz: Command and poise. He could command all three of his pitches for strikes in any count and also had great mound presence for someone so young.

The O’s signed him hours before the August 15th signing deadline, so he couldn’t get any seasoning in the minor leagues in 2008. However, he proved himself throughout spring training, and the O’s decided to start him in High Single A Frederick.

Boy, has he responded.

In 11 starts, the 22-year old lefty is 4-2, has a 2.16 ERA, has walked 21 while striking out 75, and has limited batters to 56 hits in 66.2 innings (.225 opponent’s BA).

Days ago, he earned a promotion to Double A Bowie, a very deserving one, at that. He was scheduled to make a start in the Carolina League All Star Game, but the O’s decided to give him a premature call-up and announced he’d make a start Wednesday against the Reading Phillies.

I’d say he’s done an admirable job thus far.

Delmarva Shorebirds: Rick Zagone, LHP

In the 2008 draft, the O’s selected a Missouri lefty by the name of Rick Zagone. When the pick went in, most O’s fans were scratching their heads.

This was a guy who, at Missouri, didn’t exactly blow hitters away. In fact, in his last year for the Tigers, he had an ERA above five.

However, Zagone surprised everyone at Single A Aberdeen last year. In 11 starts, he went 7-1, posted a 2.89 ERA, had a stellar 79-to-14 K-to-BB ratio, and showed he had steal potential coming out of the sixth round.

After a strong start this year, he has struggled of late. Three bad starts have basically ruined his season statistically. After getting off to a hot start, he had a horrible May 15th start against West Virginia, allowing five runs on nine hits in three-and-two-thirds innings.

But that wasn’t his worst start.

Several appearances later, he allowed a whopping nine runs in just two innings of work. In his last start, he allowed six runs in two-and-two-thirds innings. As it stands early, those three starts make his stats look somewhat mediocre (4-4, 4.40 ERA).

However, the ERA shows just how great he was before. Except for those three starts, he has a 1.56 ERA on the year.

The No. 2’s

Norfolk Tides: Brad Bergesen, RHP

In 2008, Brad Bergesen won O’s Jim Palmer Award (Minor League Pitcher of the Year). During the season, he went 16-7, posted a 3.10 earned run average, walked just 33 in 165.1 innings, and pitched three complete games.

The O’s were impressed with him during spring training, but didn’t want to rush him, and started him at Triple A Norfolk. It took him only two starts to earn a promotion.

In his first start, he allowed one run over five innings, followed by another stellar six inning, two run performance.

The O’s gave him the call, and so far, he has reponded.

In 11 starts, he is 4-2, has a 3.69 ERA, and has struck out 33, compared to 17 walks. In his first seven starts, he was never really stellar. He didn’t bring anything special, but was always consistent.

He only had one real “bad” start, and that was against a high powered Rangers offense. Since catcher Matt Wieters has arrived, Bergesen has a 3-0 record, 1.69 ERA, and is easily the ace of the staff.

Before Wieters arrived, “Bergy” never pitched more than six-and-one-third innings in a game. Since the top prospect catcher has come to Baltimore, Bergesen has two eight inning games, a complete game, and one seven inning performance.

Bowie Baysox: Troy Patton, LHP

After being traded to the O’s from the Astros, Patton had a chance to be a member of Baltimore’s rotation in 2008. Unfortunately, he got injured and was shut down for the entire year.

The 23-year-old lefty had major league experience, but to play it safe the O’s put him in the Double A Bowie rotation. As expected, he has dominated. He is 6-2, has a 1.99 ERA, and has a solid 47-to-18 K-to-BB ratio. Patton, like Arrieta, has earned a promotion to Triple A Norfolk.

On Tuesday, June 16th, Patton will make his Triple A debut—well, his Triple A debut in the O’s organization, at least.

He should be expected to do just as well in Triple A as he did in Double A. After all, he’s been there before, and even has major league experience; he posted a 3.55 ERA with the Houston Astros in 2007.

I’d like to say Patton has done a remarkable job, but him dominating isn’t too much of a surprise at all, considering he’s been there before and this is basically an extended rehabilitation assignment.

Frederick Keys: Tim Bascom, RHP

After a disappointing 2008 season in which he went 6-5 with a 5.78 ERA in 19 starts, 2007 fourth round draft pick Tim Bascom would be looking to rebound in 2009.

So far, he has.

In 12 appearances for the Frederick Keys, he’s gone 4-5, has a 3.40 ERA, and walked just 13 batters. He doesn’t possess dominating stuff. He struck out just 32 batters in 53 innings, and yielded an unsatisfactory .278 opponent’s batting average.

He doesn’t have the numbers Arrieta, Tillman, Matusz, or Patton do, but he has a solid feel for pitching.

He even got the promotion to Double A Bowie. Knowing hitters in the Carolina League batted .278 against him, you wouldn’t expect he’d dominate the Eastern League. However, in his first start, he pitched seven innings, allowed just one run, struck out seven, and walked two.

He’s off to a great start for Bowie, and hopefully, he can continue to move up the ranks of a stacked Orioles pitching minor league system.

Delmarva Shorebirds: Cole McCurry, LHP

Cole McCurry is a very interesting case. Last year, he struggled mightily for Delmarva, going 2-6 with a 6.51 earned run average, and it was clear he wasn’t quite ready.

He was sent down to low A Aberdeen where he went 8-3 with a 2.51 ERA, finishing the year with a 10-9 record and 4.26 ERA, certainly an accomplishment for the abysmal way he started. The O’s decided to have him start in the Delmarva rotation, and he is 3-5 with a 3.30 ERA, certainly proving that he wasn’t ready last year.

However, he was sent down to Single A Aberdeen—again.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of the decision. He’s proven at Delmarva he’s competent at the level, and it can’t help the young man’s confidence if he gets sent down after putting in the year he did this go around, as he certainly put his team in a situation to win, and as shown by his 3.30 ERA, he certainly doesn’t deserve the 3-5 record.

The No. 3’s

Norfolk Tides: David Hernandez, RHP

Last year, David Hernandez was one of the brightest spots in the O’s farm system, going 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA, 166 strikeouts (led Eastern League), and a .217 opponent’s batting average.

The hard throwing right hander was 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA for Triple A Norfolk before getting the call-up to Baltimore.

He had a solid major league debut (5.2 IP, 1 ER), then a bad start against the Seattle Mariners (5.1 IP, 5 ER), followed by a solid relief appearance (2.2 IP, 0 ER), and was then demoted back down to Triple A.

The decision made me scratch my head, especially knowing the O’s opted to keep Jason Berken, who allowed nine runs the same day Hernandez followed with two-and-two-thirds innings of scoreless relief, in the rotiation.

In his last start for Norfolk, Hernandez struck out seven over four innings of work, allowing two runs. We could see him again in Baltimore.

Bowie Baysox: Brandon Erbe, RHP

What Orioles fans saw from Brandon Erbe early in his career is power. They saw he had an electric fastball, but had some trouble commanding it. He improved last year (10-12, 4.30 ERA, 151 K, 50 BB), but as shown by his ERA, was still very hittable. \

However, this year, he has been virtually unhittable. In 20 innings, he allowed just 11 hits (.153 opponent’s average), and two runs. In four starts, he was 1-3 with a 0.90 ERA. If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.

After an April 29th start against Erie, he went on the disabled list, and hasn’t returned. It’s certainly a shame, knowing he was on pace to have a career year. He was beginning to put up big numbers on the hill, and hopefully he can return strong.

The 2005 third round draft pick has potential, and was putting it into his numbers, and it was a shame to see him go down with an injury.

Frederick Keys: John Mariotti, RHP

It is my opinion that John Mariotti is one of the most underrated prospects in this stacked Orioles system. Overshadowed by the Arrieta’s, Tillman’s, and Matusz’s of the world, Mariotti gets it done without heavy praise.

So far this year, he has a 3.64 earned run average between Frederick and Bowie. He struggled at Frederick, going 1-2 with a 4.37 ERA. However, he began to come on towards the end of his run, and earned a promotion to Double A.

So far, he has responded. In 22-and-two-thirds innings of work, he has a 3.24 earned run average. He has some control problems, with 43 strikeouts and 29 walks, but has a .236 opponent’s batting average, and has allowed 56 hits in 64.1 innings.

Mariotti doesn’t project to have a huge role on the team in the future—if he has one at all—but could be a good bullpen specialist.

Delmarva Shorebirds: Tony Butler, LHP

So far in his O’s career, Butler is the only player coming out of the Seattle Mariners trade who hasn’t yet panned out. Kam Mickolio did a solid job last year in relief for Norfolk, Chris Tillman has future ace potential, Adam Jones is an All Star center fielder, and George Sherrill made the All Star Game last year.

However, Butler’s injury troubles have bitten him. In 11 starts last year, he went 3-4, had a 4.42 ERA, walked just 11 while striking out 44, and had the potential, as he was listed as one of the O’s top pitching prospects.

However, after those 11 starts, he went down with an injury.

The 6’7″ left hander projects to play a role as a set up man in the future. However, he has lots of troubles staying healthy.

On top of the injury last year, he hasn’t even stepped on the mound this year, and with the way O’s young minor league pitchers are emerging, time is running out for Butler.

The No. 4’s

Norfolk Tides: David Pauley, RHP

In one of the more under-the-radar trades in the offseason, the O’s traded relief pitcher Randor Bierd to the Boston Red Sox for 25-year old right handed pitcher David Pauley.

Pauley struggled mightily during spring training, losing a chance to win a spot with the major league rotation, and would instead start for Norfolk. So far, he has done a respectable job.

In 10 starts, he is 5-4, has a 3.75 ERA, has struck out 37, and walked 14. Pauley’s Triple A starts are not a special moment in Orioles fans hearts, but with the 2010 rotation unclear, he could star in the back end.

However, it’s doubtful he will for long. Pauley doesn’t have the upside that guys like Arrieta, Matusz, Tillman, Patton, and even Hernandez do. It’s for that reason Pauley’s future with the team looks to be as a reliever.

He needs to prove himself during the 2010 version of spring training, as he didn’t in this past one.

Bowie Baysox: Jason Berken, RHP

After going 12-4 with a 3.58 ERA for Bowie in 2008, I can’t say I expected Jason Berken to again begin the season for the Baysox. However, since he had injury troubles, the organization decided to start him there.

He struggled in his first two starts, going 1-1 with a 5.63 earned run average, but the team saw he was healthy, and gave him a deserved promotion. Oddly enough, after having his struggles to start the year in Double A, he dominated for Triple A Norfolk.

In five starts, he went 2-0, posted a 1.05 ERA, and didn’t even allow a run until his fourth start. Berken even earned a promotion to the majors, where he had one decent start (5 IP, 2 ER), one incredible start (7 IP, 1 ER), one atrocious start (3.2 IP, 9 ER), and one shaky start (4.1 IP, 4 ER).

To date, he is 1-3 and has a lackluster 7.32 ERA, and while he’s a soft thrower, has more walks than strikeouts. Berken doesn’t appear to have a future with the team, regardless.

Frederick Keys: Zach Britton, LHP

Left handed starting pitcher Zach Britton is a very intriguing prospect.

He struggled mightily in his first season, going 0-4 with a 5.29 ERA for rookie league Bluefield. However, he bounced back admirably for Low A Delmarva, going 12-7 with a 3.12 ERA.

And so far this year for Frederick, he’s doing even better. In 11 starts, the Panorama, CA native is 3-2, has a 1.95 ERA, and has yielded a .210 OBA, including .164 with runners in scoring position.

In his last start, the lefty pitched five innings of shutout ball, striking out six, and walking one. While he’s just in Single A, he’s one of the more intriguing prospects in the O’s system, and while it appears unlikely, I wouldn’t be surprised if this kid was a star in the back end of the O’s rotation in the future.

He’s not at Matusz/Tillman/Arrieta level just yet, but he’s a good prospect.

Delmarva Shorebirds: Oliver Drake, RHP

In a system that features four of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball, it’s not out of the question that many would be overlooked. One of the underrated prospects includes Oliver Drake.

Last year, the rookie was amazing between Bluefield and Aberdeen, going 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in 12 relief appearances, striking out 24 while walking just three. So far this year, he has done a good job as a starting pitcher for the Delmarva Shorebirds.

In 11 starts, he has pitched 59-and-two-thirds innings, allowed 51 hits, just two of them being homers, and he is 2-4 with a 3.02 ERA. As you can tell from the ERA, he gets little run support.

For Delmarva, it seems like they are in a pitcher’s duel almost every night. Outside of left fielder Xavier Avery, they can’t generate much offense.

The No. 5’s

Norfolk Tides: Chris Waters, LHP

Last year, the O’s had their own version of Aaron Small, as Chris Waters MLB debut was a one-hitter against the high-powered LA Angels lineup. Alas, it didn’t last.

Waters, like Small, is a career minor leaguer, and this year for Norfolk, hasn’t exactly dominated. In 12 starts, he is 6-3, has a 4.64 ERA, has struck out 37, and walked 32.

Not very impressive for a 28-year old southpaw who even got a taste of the majors during the 2008 season.

Bowie Baysox: Bobby Livingston, RHP

Livingston, like Waters, is another fellow who doesn’t have a future with the O’s. However, in 12 starts this year, the 26-year old has done surprisingly well.

He has six wins, just one loss, a 3.64 ERA, but, is very hittable. In 70.2 innings of work, he has allowed 82 hits (.291 opponent’s batting average), and is by no means a power pitcher, as he has struck out just 34 batters, so at best, Livingston could be a reliever.

Frederick Keys: Pedro Beato, RHP

With a compensation pick in 2006, the O’s selected a Dominican right hander named Pedro Beato. They sure wish they hadn’t done that.

Last year, Beato had an absolutely disastrous year, going 4-10 with a 5.52 ERA, striking out just 54 batters. So far this year, he has been better, but not to the point at whcih he’s done well.

In 13 starts, he is 4-5, has a 4.63 ERA, and has already allowed 11 home runs. At best, he projects as a reliever, but I don’t see him reaching the bigs anytime soon.

Delmarva Shorebirds: Ryan O’Shea, RHP

Of all the No. 5 starters in the O’s system, O’Shea, in my opinion is the one with the brightest future. In 12 starts, the 22 year old righty is 5-2, has a solid 2.86 earned run average, and has a solid 52:18 strikeout-walk ratio.

O’Shea is a 2008 27th round pick out of the University of New Orleans. I believe this kid could be a relief pitcher for the O’s in the future, possibly a set up man.

Heck, he’d be better than what they have now.

Via: Bleacher Report