74 days until the baseball season begins and the Baltimore Orioles are in a tough spot as they play in one of the toughest divisions in the major leagues. The A.L. East for years has always been difficult to compete in especially if the pitching isn’t consistent. The Orioles have lacked in that category as they have finished 13th or worse in the American League in ERA since 2005. They also could use some young positional talent to build around Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.
The minor leagues are the backbone to the future of any organization and the Orioles are no different. According to Frankie Piliere’s top farm rankings at the beginning of last season, Baltimore was ranked 25th. It also didn’t help that the top prospects in the organization were in the lower end of the minors last season. Manny Machado, Jonathon Schoop, Bobby Bundy and L.J. Hoes among some of the better prospects started in Class-A or below in 2011.
The question is where do you begin the top positional prospects in 2012?
Machado showed promise in his rookie season as he homered 11 times and played exceptional defense at shortstop. He won the MVP of the Mills Cup championship for the Class-A Frederick Keys after he homered and drove in four runs in the clinching game.
The Orioles currently have J.J. Hardy at shortstop, who homered 30 times last season and showed power from the lead-off spot. There is no reason to rush Machado through the system into Camden Yards. Spring training will dictate where the Orioles place the 19-year-old prospect. It wouldn’t surprise me if he starts with Frederick again to get him off to a hot start and then promote him to Bowie. Similar to Hoes as he started in Frederick, got on a roll and was called to Bowie.
Schoop, 20, had a solid 2011 season between Delmarva and Frederick. He was a big part in the championship run as he hit .271/.329/.375 with five home runs and 37 RBI in 77 games with the Keys. The Curacao native primarily played second base for Frederick with Machado at short. Schoop played well there as he committed only seven errors in 63 games. It can be argued that he is a better second baseman with a better overall percentage there than any other position. Expect Schoop to follow with Machado and start with Frederick.
Bundy had his best numbers in 2011 as he posted a 12-8 record with an ERA of 3.51 in 25 starts. 20 of them were in Frederick as he won 11 of 12 there before he was promoted to Double-A Bowie. The former eighth round selection struggled in his time with the Baysox as he didn’t pitch well consistently. He was rocked early in games to the tune of a 9.60 ERA in five appearances (four starts) that totaled 15 innings. The Orioles know what they have in the 22-year-old from the Class-A level so they want to see gradual progression. Expect him to start with Bowie in 2012.
Hoes, 21, was promoted to Bowie last May and never looked back. He was eager to get the promotion to his home town and prove that he could take the next step and he did just that. A .305/.379/.413 line in 95 games showed consistent progression that Baltimore hoped. The key is to start off the ’12 season well and continue the road to the big club. It wouldn’t shock me if he starts at Bowie so he can get off to a hot start and then get the call to Norfolk. If everything goes well for the 21-year-old he could see a cup of coffee at Camden.
Last but certainly not least is the Orioles first round pick a year ago Dylan Bundy. The Orioles rushed top prospect pitchers to the majors before so they don’t want to make the same mistake with him. He touts a four-seam fastball that has reportedly topped 100 in high school. Also a cutter, curve ball and change-up. He shouldn’t see a major league mound until September of 2013 at the earliest and even that is pushing the button. If the 19-year-old can keep the ball down he will find success early and often. The lower minor league levels won’t even catch up with his heater as long as he puts it in the right location. Expect him to start with Delmarva in 2012.
The Baltimore Orioles are on the way to improving their minor league system. Another opportunity approaches them in 2012 with a top five selection in the June draft. General Manager Dan Duquette and Manager Buck Showalter know the minor league system is the key to starting the Ferrari. Now it’s time for Baltimore to go down the road of improvement and put together a winner.
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