• Mar

    The Year of Development

    Dense fog, temperatures in the 40s, and a forecast of scattered showers... yes folks, it is opening day in Baltimore.

    Not only is the weather dreary but the outlook for this team according to most observers is dreary as well. I'm not going to lie to you, this team will need a lot of things go right in order to not to lose 95 or more games this season. In fact, it's almost a certainty that Orioles fans are looking straight into the 11th straight year of a losing record for our beloved home town team.

    So why am I not depressed?

    Really it all comes down to the direction Andy MacPhail has taken the Orioles. This organization has needed an overhaul for sometime now and the major league team was in major need of being completely rebuilt. MacPhail spent most of last season evaluating the organization from top to bottom and this off season he began to implement some real change.

    The most obvious change was dealing the Orioles top two players in Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard to Houston and Seattle for ten minor league prospects. The Orioles will open the season with five of those players acquired on their opening day 25-man roster. Adam Jones will start in center, Luke Scott will start in left, George Sherrill is the new closer, and Dennis Sarfate and Matt Albers will be in the bullpen. Although one of the crown jewels of the trades left-hander Troy Patton will already miss the 2008 season after undergoing Labrum surgery, 20-year old right-hander Chris Tillman will start the year in Double-A and has already become the Orioles top pitching prospect.

    The changes however are not just on the field. One of the biggest changes was MacPhail's emphasis on developing the Orioles Dominican Developmental program that for years has been performed with a shoestring budget. The Orioles will move into a first class Dominican complex that they will share with a few others clubs in May and they've expanded their signing budget. Already, players like catcher Dashenko Ricardo, shortstop Garabez Rosa, first baseman Elvin Polanco and pitcher Luis Noel have show great early promise and the hope is that the new facilities will encourage more high quality players to sign with the Orioles.

    The minor leagues also gives me great hope as Director of  Scouting Joe Jordan has spent the last three years adding much needed depth to the organization, especially in the pitching department. The newly acquired Tillman is probably the top ceiling pitcher in the system, but Jordan draft picks Chorye Spoone, Brandon Erbe, Garrett Olson, Pedro Beato, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and David Hernandez all have great promise on the mound. Along with Hayden Penn and Radhames Liz, the quality of the arms in the system rivals just about any top system in baseball.

    Hitting prospect have always been a weak spot in the Orioles organization but the Orioles have high hopes for several young hitters. Big six-foot-five catcher Matt Wieters is the crown jewel of the system after signing for a club record six million dollar bonus last summer. His short powerful stroke should move very quickly through the system and should end up following Nick Markakis as the next impact bat from the system. Jordan has spent all three of his initial first round picks on hitters, with high schoolers Billy Rowell and Brandon Snyder proceeding Wieters. Rowell has tremendous upside power and has started to look better at third base after spending his amateur career as a shortstop. Snyder had some injury problems and has already moved from behind the plate and settled into first base. He showed his potential by leading the Hawaiian Winter League in batting this off season and the Orioles hope that's the beginning in him fulfilling his potential with the bat.

    However, despite the first round pedigrees of Rowell, Snyder and Wieters, the talk of Sarasota was the play of 2006 5th round pick Tyler Henson. Last year Henson was a NY-Penn League all-star at just 19-years old and this spring he held his own and then some after playing with the Double-A squad. He'll start the year at Delmarva where he'll move over to third base after playing shortstop his first two seasons in the minors. The athletic Henson is as close to five tool guy the Orioles have in the system and the hope is that a big season at Delmarva will put him on the fast road to Camden Yards. Oh, and don't forget about Nolan Reimold. If he ever stays healthy for an entire year, he could quickly be in Baltimore.

    Looking at the big picture, it's easier to be excited about the 2008 Orioles. With Jones, Markakis and Brian Roberts in the lineups, Orioles fans still have some exciting players to watch this year to go along with solid veterans like Melvin Mora, Ramon Hernandez, Aubrey Huff and Kevin Millar.

    The pitching staff will be led by Jeremy Guthrie who may not be a true number one when it comes to stuff, but he's got heart and the head of a number one and his stuff is nothing to sneeze at, especially with the emphasis on throwing more changeups this year. Adam Loewen will try to re-find his form although he's struggled with his command this spring. He still has the stuff to be special which also sounds a lot like Daniel Cabrera. Their most likely inconsistencies this year will probably mean lots of work for Albers and impressive young Rule-five draftee Randor Bierd who will pitch in the long relief roles. Steve Trachsel and lefty Brian Burres will start the year in the rotations, but I'll be very surprised if they are still in the rotation by the All-Star break with guys like Liz, Penn, and Olson knocking on the door.

    So this year is about development, not only at the major league level but most importantly in the minor league level. Norfolk, Bowie and Frederick have rotations full of major league prospects and the progress of player like Wieters, Rowell, Henson, Reimold, and Snyder will bear watching very closely this year.

    Overall, this season should be fun to follow and hopefully you'll be following all the progress this year with us here at the Hangout.

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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.