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January 5, 2007

Future Shock

Baltimore Orioles Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Brandon Erbe, rhp
2. Bill Rowell, 3b
Very Good Prospects
3. Pedro Beato, rhp
Good Prospects
4. Garrett Olson, lhp
Average Prospects
5. Radhames Liz, rhp
6. James Hoey, rhp
7. Nolan Reimold, rf
8. Kieron Pope, lf
9. Jeff Fiorentino, of
10. Pedro Florimon, ss

1. Brandon Erbe, rhp
DOB: 12/25/87
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, Baltimore HS
What he did in 2006: 3.22 ERA at Low A (114.2-88-47-133)
The Good: Prototypical power pitcher dominated in full-season debut thanks primarily to a 92-95 mph tailing fastball; Erbe touches 96-98 several occasions every time out. His projectable body has scouts putting him in the mid-to-upper 90s once his body matures. Slider has potential to be a plus pitch, and shows some feel for a change. Intelligence and maturity beyond his years.
The Bad: Slider is inconsistent, as Erbe has a tendency to overthrow it, turning it into a pitch that sweeps across the plate on a single plane. Changeup is still very much a work in progress and not a usable third pitch yet. Many scouts have expressed concerns about his mechanics, specifically how he throws across his body.
The Irrelevant: Erbe attended the exclusive McDonugh School in suburban Baltimore, the same school that produced short-lived and controversial U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A guy who racks up 200+ strikeouts annually, with dominating closer as a long-term backup plan.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - A year younger than most high school seniors when drafted, Erbe will pitch in the High Class A Carolina League at 19. The Orioles have no reason to rush him and will continue to be cautious with his workload.

2. Bill Rowell, 3b
DOB: 9/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-5/215
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, New Jersey HS
What he did in 2006: .329/.422/.507 at Rookie level (180 PA); .326/.388/.488 at Short Season (49 PA)
The Good: First high school hitter selected in '06 draft didn't disappoint in pro debut, showing a good approach and plus power, with just three home runs in 195 at-bats mitigated by 19 doubles. Massive physical presence who uses his lower half to generate tremendous leverage in his swing. Excellent hand/eye coordination should allow him to hit for average as well.
The Bad: Already huge and still getting bigger. Rowell was moved from shortstop to third base after signing, but was awful there and will likely need to slide over to first base sooner than later. Power-conscious approach leads to lofty strikeout totals, but the team thinks that just comes with the territory for a hitter like Rowell.
The Irrelevant: In his first five professional plate appearances with the bases loaded, Rowell has a walk, two singles, a pair of doubles and eight RBI.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A giant slugger. Richie Sexson?
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very high - Rowell will make his full-season debut in 2007 with some lofty expectations.

3. Pedro Beato, rhp
DOB: 10/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, St. Petersburg (Florida) JUCO
What he did in 2006: 3.63 ERA at Short season (57-47-23-52)
The Good: Big, physical righty goes after hitters with a power arsenal, starting with a fastball that he can dial up to 96 or change grips on for a low-90s power sinker. Hard curveball gives him a second plus pitch that he'll throw at any point in the count.
The Bad: Beato has a tendency to fall behind in the count and make up for it by grooving fastballs down the middle to avoid walks. Release point lowers in later innings, which hurts his breaking pitches. His changeup needs work in two areas: he needs to widen the velocity gap between his fastball and changeup, and he needs to make sure his arm action is the same on both pitches, or he loses the deception you want from a changeup.
The Irrelevant: Born in the Dominican Republic, Beato's family moved to New York in the late 90s and Beato attended Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, the same school that produced former All-Star Rich Aurilia as well as NBA great Chris Mullin.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average starting pitcher.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Beato wanted to play for the Mets, who drafted him out of high school in 2005, but the team was prevented by MLB from paying him more than $800,000. Beato got more money with the Orioles, and they're glad he was available. He'll likely start 2007 with Rowell at Low A.

4. Garrett Olson, lhp
DOB: 10/18/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Cal Poly
What he did in 2006: 2.77 ERA at High A (81.1-81-19-77); 3.42 ERA at Double-A (84.1-79-31-85)
The Good: Polished college lefthander has moved quickly through the system with two solid offerings. His 88-91 mph fastball touches 94, and gets graded a tick higher than the velocity because of Olson's ability to command it at will. Curveball is his best pitch, and one he depends on for outs, while changeup is good enough to give him an effective weapon against right-handed hitters. Clean, fluid mechanics and excellent stamina.
The Bad: Very little to project on. Physically, Olson is a mature body who isn't expected to get much better than he is now. At times, he can be guilty of nibbling around the corners when he has the stuff to be more aggressive.
The Irrelevant: Only five pitchers from Cal Poly have reached the big leagues, with the most famous being former 20-game winner Mike Krukow.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An innings-eating starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Olson will be allowed to compete for a job in spring training, but a rotation assignment at Triple-A to begin the year is the most likely scenario.

5. Radhames Liz, rhp
DOB: 6/10/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2003
What he did in 2006: 2.82 ERA at High A (83-57-4-95); 5.36 ERA at Double-A (50.1-55-31-54)
The Good: Proved 2005 breakout year in New York-Penn League was the real deal by cruising at High-A before getting knocked around after promotion to Eastern League. Dominating fastball sits at 93-95 mph and peaks at 98. Curveball has plenty of break and high velocity makes it harder to pick up.
The Bad: Command and control have always been issues, particularly with his secondary pitches. He has problems throwing the curve for strikes, and Double-A hitters were able to back off of it and sit on the heater. Changeup lags well behind other two pitches which, combined with rough delivery, has many projecting a rosier future in the bullpen.
The Irrelevant: During his 2006 Carolina League stint, batters leading off an inning against Liz went 8-for-70 (.114) with 31 whiffs.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A major league power pitcher with the exact role still to be determined.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Liz will likely return to Double-A in 2007, and the progress he makes with his breaking ball and changeup will give the Orioles a better idea of where his future lies.

6. James Hoey, rhp
DOB: 12/30/82
Height/Weight: 6-6/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 13th round, 2003, Rider University
What he did in 2006: 2.54 ERA at Low A (28.1-17-10-46); 0.64 ERA at High A (14-13-5-16); 4.00 ERA at Double-A (9-9-3-11); 10.24 ERA at MLB (9.2-14-5-6)
The Good: Power reliever came out of nowhere, shooting from Low-A to the majors by averaging 12.8 strikeouts per inning, thanks to the best velocity in the system as he returned from Tommy John surgery throwing harder than ever. Fastball sits at a whopping 95-98 mph and he hit triple-digits several times during the year.
The Bad: While it's not fair to classify Hoey as a one-pitch pitcher, the fastball is his only plus offering. His breaking ball is a slider which lacks consistency and it's his only other pitch. While he controls the fastball well, he has a tendency to work too high in the zone.
The Irrelevant: Prior to 2006, Hoey had never even pitched in a full-season league.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A late-innings reliever with closer possibilities.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Hoey's meteoric rise ended with a tough major league debut, and he'll have to fight for an Opening Day job in spring training. More likely, the organization will slow things down a little bit with an assignment to Triple-A.

7. Nolan Reimold, rf
DOB: 10/12/83
Height/Weight: 6-4/207
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2005, Bowling Green
What he did in 2006: .255/.379/.455 at High A (504 PA)
The Good: Enviable combination of size and athleticism, with at least average tools across the board, and many above-average. Plus power and patience along with surprising speed for his size give him well-rounded secondary skills. Good outfielder with a strong, accurate arm who can even fill in at center in a pinch.
The Bad: Reimold's swing has a pronounced uppercut, which leads to a disturbing number of pop-ups and lazy fly balls. Some question if he'll ever hit for enough average for all of his other skills to be worth it.
The Irrelevant: Reimold attended Bowling Green with his older brother John, who was a first-team All-MAC basketball player in his final year, leading the conference in scoring average, and is now playing professionally in Germany.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An average corner outfielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Higher than it should be - Reimold's full-season debut failed to live up to the hype, and things only get harder from here as he moves to Double-A in 2007.

8. Kieron Pope, lf
DOB: 10/3/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 4th round, 2005, Georgia HS
What he did in 2006: .341/.411/.585 at Rookie level (151 PA); .107/.160/.107 at Short season (81 PA)
The Good: High-risk/high-reward player started to transform some tools into skills during second season. Plus-plus raw power thanks to big time bat speed, as barrel gets into the hitting zone quickly and stays there a long time. Above-average runner.
The Bad: Pope is still extremely raw in nearly all facets of the game. His pitch recognition is virtually non-existent, which led to his miserable showing in the New York-Penn League when opponents threw him a steady diet of breaking balls. A below-average arm and poor jumps limit him to left field.
The Irrelevant: You gotta put him in the field: when used as a designated hitter in 2006, Pope was 1-for-17 with nine strikeouts.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A run producing outfielder, but the kind that likely hits fifth or sixth as opposed to third.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High - Pope made great strides in 2006, but he's still light years away from his ceiling. He'll get his first taste of full-season ball in 2007, and he'll need to continue adjusting quickly.

9. Jeff Fiorentino, of
DOB: 4/14/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2004, Florida Atlantic
What he did in 2006: .275/.365/.413 at Double-A (450 PA); .256/.375/.308 at MLB (50 PA)
The Good: Solid all-around prospect suffered through season plagued with minor injuries, but finished well with strong second half and a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League. Good understanding of the strike zone, accompanied by good contact skills and average power. Well-skilled defender who can play all three outfield positions and is at least average in center.
The Bad: Doesn't have the power to project as an everyday outfielder. Does not hit lefties well.
The Irrelevant: Despite being a low-publicized third-round pick, Fiorentino was the first position player from the 2004 draft to reach the majors.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A fourth outfielder/occasional starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Fiorentino is back on track and will begin 2007 at Triple-A, at the top of the list of players to call should a need arise at the big league level.

10. Pedro Florimon, ss
DOB: 12/10/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/165
Bats/Throws: S/R
Signed: 2004, Dominican Republic
What he did in 2006: .333/.456/.425 at Rookie level (150 PA); .248/.336/.305 at Short Season (119 PA)
The Good: The Orioles rarely have toolsy Latin American position players, but Florimon gives the system hope. Long, loose body and fluid actions in the field, with plus range and hands. Switch hitter with patient approach. Plus runner.
The Bad: Florimon has virtually no power, and his impressive walk totals will go down once pitchers start challenging him more, knowing he can't hurt them. Patience becomes passivity against lefthanders, who Florimon struggles against, therefore making a walk his primary goal. Can get out of control on the base paths and in the field.
The Irrelevant: After going 1-for-17 in his first five New York-Penn League games, Florimon hit .279 the rest of the way.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A big league shortstop who bats second in the lineup.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High - Florimon will get his first taste of a full season in 2007 at Low Class A, and the Orioles would simply like to see more consistency, both at the plate and in the field.

The Sleeper

A sixth-round pick in June, righthander Jason Berken combines average stuff with outstanding pitchability. The Orioles are already talking about him as a potential back-end starter who could move quickly.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Nick Markakis, of
2. Brandon Erbe, rhp
3. Adam Loewen, lhp
4. Chris Ray, rhp
5. Bill Rowell, 3b
6. Daniel Cabrera, rhp
7. Pedro Beato, rhp
8. Hayden Penn, rhp
9. Garrett Olson, lhp
10. Radhames Liz, rhp

For the first time in quite a while, the Orioles have built themselves a young nucleus. Markakis looks like a future star after batting .311/.364/.532 after the All-Star break, while both Loewen and Cabrera have impact potential if they can find any kind of consistency. Ray gives them a dependable closer who is still years away from needing to get paid a real salary. Penn is a frustrating one, as his two-year pattern of good minors/awful majors is creating some makeup questions.

Once one of the more embarrassing minor league organizations out there, the new scouting administration, led by Joe Jordan, has done a nice job in refurbishing a once barren system. There is, however, a gap between where the team is now and when some of their top prospects will be ready to contribute.

When it comes to pitching/hitting combinations in the minors, the conversation usually starts with Phillip Hughes/Jose Tabata of the Yankees or Homer Bailey/Jay Bruce with the Reds. By this time next year, Erbe/Rowell have a nice shot of entering the picture. There's room for optimism in the land of John Waters.

Next: The Boston Red Sox

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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