• Feb

    A look at the 2010 Minor League Rotations


    If there is one thing that should excite Orioles fans in 2010 it's the amount of exciting young pitchers who will be in the minor league system this year. Without a doubt this organization's strength is in it's pitching prospects and there's a good chance on any given night at any affiliate you can see a major league prospect pitching for the Orioles team.

    Norfolk Tides (AAA)

    The Tides rotation will of course be affected by who doesn't make the Orioles, but there still should be plenty of quality arms in the rotation. Jake Arrieta should be returning to the Tides where he put up a 3.93 ERA in 17 starts last year. Arrieta will be competing for a spot in the Orioles rotation but unless he forces his way into the rotation this spring, he'll most likely anchor the tides rotation.

    22-year old right-hander Brandon Erbe could also be in the mix despite an injury filled season that saw him start just 14 games at Bowie last year. Erbe held Eastern League batters to a ridiculous .170 average and allowed just five home runs so the Orioles may want to see how he does against more advanced AAA hitters. Left-hander Troy Patton struggled to find his velocity and success at Norfolk last year posting a 6.45 ERA in nine starts before being shut down due to fatigue. Patton did start the year by posting a 1.99 ERA in 11 starts at Bowie so the hope is with another full year removed from labrum surgery he'll be able to regain the form that once made him the prize prospect in the Miguel Tejada trade. Jason Berken will most likely return to Norfolk after making 24 starts with the Orioles last year. He was 2-0 with a 1.05 ERA in five starts last year with the Tides.

    Veteran Chris George has a good chance to be in the rotation after posting a 1.86 ERA in five starts with the Tides after being acquired from the Red Sox. George is a former number one pick but at 30-years old, he's looking for a Chris Waters kind of resurrection. Alfredo Simon and Frank Mata could also be in the mix. Simon may not be ready by opening day after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April but he could become a factor during the middle of the season.

    Bowie Baysox (AA)

    The Baysox will feature the organization's top pitching prospect in left-hander Zach Britton. The 22-year old went 9-6 with a 2.70 ERA over 25 appearances. He struck out 131 in 140 innings and held batters to a .232 average. Most importantly though, Britton is a ground ball inducing machine using a 91-94 MPH sinking fastball to get 3.38 ground outs to every air out. His slider improved into a swing and miss pitch and his changeup became more than a show me pitch in 2009. Like Brad Bergesen, Britton is the kind of pitcher who has improved every year and next season at Bowie will be significant in determining how soon he could be ready for Baltimore. If you want to see a future Orioles starter, make the trek down to Prince George's stadium this year during his starts.

    Another exciting arm to watch is the comeback of Chorye Spoone. The 24-year old will now be a year and half removed from labrum surgery and this season should be a much better indicator of whether he can return from the injury. The former top prospect had some of the best stuff in the system before the injury. He was able to flash that stuff occasionally last season despite some serious control issues that caused him to put up a 6.37 ERA in ten starts between three affiliates last year. Spoone might be the most interesting guy to follow in 2010 because if he returns to pre-injury form he could get back into the Orioles plans quickly.

    Richard Zagone and Pedro Beato should get looks for the Baysox rotation although both most likely have futures as relievers. The left-handed Zagone who will be 23-years old this season, held left-handers to a .126 average between Delmarva and Frederick and could have a future as a LOOGY in the major leagues. He's still looking for the ability get right-handers out so the Orioles may keep him in a starter's role to develop those pitches. A former supplemental first round pick, Beato's stuff has backed up the last few years so some believe a move to the bullpen might be his best move. However, the Orioles may give him one more year to see if he can regain the stuff that once made him a top prospect.

    Tim Bascom, Sean Gleason, and John Mariotti will all compete for a rotation spot as well although Mariotti certainly seems destined for a relievers job.

    Frederick Keys (A+)

    The Keys rotation probably has the most candidates in the system with eight or nine guys who could have a legitimate chance to make the rotation this spring. Probably the top prospect in the mix is 2009 draft pick Ryan Berry. Berry, who was drafted in the 9th round due to signability concerns after an injury plagued junior season at Rice, is considered a fairly polished pitcher and could start his professional career as high as Frederick.

    Oliver Drake should be a shoe in for the Keys rotation despite faltering the second half of 2009 with Delmarva. Drake may not have the long term stuff to stick as a starter but he's another guy who could eventually find his niche in the bullpen. For now he'll be a starter though. Left-hander Cole McCurry is coming off a fantastic season at Delmarva and will look to continue that success in Frederick. McCurry doesn't have overwhelming stuff and at 23-years old he was old for his league, but if he can repeat his success at Frederick over the first half and gets a promotion to Bowie for the second half he could start making some noise on the prospect scene.

    Another southpaw Nathan Moreau will also get a look in the keys rotation. He held Sally League batters to a .245 average and struck out 9.72/9. Ryan O'Shea, Patrick Kantakevich and Luis Noel could also be in the mix as well as left-hander Nicholas Haughian although Haughian will most likely be in the Delmarva rotation.

    Delmarva Shorebirds (A-)

    You folks down in Salisbury should be getting excited because if there's one affiliate where five days a week a prospect will be starting it's going to be for the Shorebirds. There are so many good candidates for the Shorebirds rotation that the Orioles are going to have to make some tough decision on whether to go with a six man staff or put some guys in the bullpen even though they should be starting. 

    Although he will be only 19-years old on opening day, you have to imagine that 2009 first round pick Matt Hobgood will start the year at Delmarva. Hobgood didn't show good velocity or command at Bluefield last year in his debut, but most felt it had to due with the fact his legs were not in shape when he arrived. Hobgood worked out hard this off season and most believe he will be noticeably better in his first full season. A lot of publication and prospect experts have yet to catch on to right-hander Jesse Beal but he should also make the jump to full season ball. He'll be just 19-years old as well, but every scout we talked to said he was most impressive pitcher in the Bluefield rotation last year that included Hobgood and several other highly thought of pitching prospects. Beal is 6-foot-7 and has a nice clean delivery that has most baseball people thinking he's going to add velocity to his 90-92 MPH sinking fastball. He already commands two off speed pitches as well.

    2009 draft picks Jake Cowan and Ashur Tolliver seem set to take up two more rotation spots. Cowen is a big tall projectable right-hander who fell in the draft due to some injury concerns and Tolliver is a left-hander that has seen his fastball reach the mid-90s at times. Nicholas Haughian could make the jump to Frederick but he most likely will be another good left-handed arm in the Shorebirds rotation.

    Other candidates include Bobby Bundy, Justin Moore, and Vito Frabizio. Bundy was one of the bigger disappointments in 2009 when he showed up to camp out of shape and did nothing to improve that shape while in extended spring training. His stuff back up a bit at Bluefield so he'll need to come into camp this year in great shape in order to change some opinions about him. Moore put some of the best stats of any of the Bluefield hurlers last year and Frabizio has one of the better fastballs. All three will most likely start the year in Aberdeen, but good springs could change some minds.

    Rest of system

    It's too early to know where everyone else is going since the draft will effect the short season club. Bundy, Moore, and Frabizio will most likely start off at Aberdeen if they don't make the Shorebirds rotation with Daurin Tavarez and Angel Cespedes being other candidates to make the jump there. Dark horse candidates would include highly prized left-hander Cameron Coffey and right-hander Randy Henry although both most likely will be eased into their pro careers at Bluefield. Don't look past young left-hander Aaron Wirsch starting as high as Aberdeen as well. left-hander Jarrett Martin and right-hander David Baker are two more names to remember.

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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.