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October 31, 2007

Future Shock

Orioles Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Matt Wieters, C
Four-Star Prospects
2. Chorye Spoone, RHP
3. Radhames Liz, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
4. Jake Arrieta, RHP
5. Nolan Reimold, OF
6. Billy Rowell, 3B
7. Brandon Erbe, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
8. Garrett Olson, LHP
9. Pedro Beato, RHP
10. David Hernandez, RHP
11. James Hoey, RHP

Just Missing: Bob McCrory, RHP; Scott Moore, 3B/1B; Brandon Snyder, 1B

1. Matt Wieters, C
DOB: 5/21/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/230
Bats/Throws: S/R
Draft: 1st round, 2007, Georgia Tech
2007 Stats: .358/.480/592 in 57 NCAA games

Year In Review: Wieters entered the year as the top-rated position player in college and finished there as well, despite a junior season that was slightly below expectations. His $6 million bonus set a record for an up-front payment, and while he signed too late to make pro debut, he's currently wowing scouts with his play in the Hawaii Winter League.
The Good: Ranked by some as the best college catcher this decade. A big switch-hitter with the rare combination of contact skills and pole-to-pole plus power. Outstanding pitch recognition. Athletic behind the plate, he also has a plus arm (good enough that he also closed at Georgia Tech).
The Bad: Wieters' arm strength is cut down a bit by a long release. Some believe that it will take some adjustments for his power to translate from aluminum to wood. If big catchers concern you, Wieters is not your guy, as he's larger than Joe Mauer. He needs to work on his game-calling and working with a pitching staff, which can only be learned with pro experience.
Fun Fact: Wieters' father, Richard, was a fourth-round pick by the Braves in 1977 who pitched six years in the minor leagues.
Perfect World Projection: The rare backstop who hits in the middle of a batting order.
Timetable: Wieters' talent, combined with the pressure of being a $6 million man, put him on the fast track. The goal for 2008 is for Wieters to spend a significant portion of the season at Double-A in order to be lined up for a full-time job by the following season. He could move up even more quickly than that.

2. Chorye Spoone, RHP
DOB: 9/16/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 8th round, 2005, Catonsville CC (MD)
2007 Stats: 3.26 ERA at High-A (152-108-67-133)

Year In Review: A projectable right-hander began to meet that projection quickly by pitching well, improving throughout the year, and finishing the season with a pair of complete games in the postseason.
The Good: Already has four effective pitches and shows ability to both miss bats and rack up huge groundball totals. His four-seam fastball can touch 95 mph, and the two-seam offering features heavy, natural sink. Both his curveball and changeup are at least average, and flash as plus pitches at times.
The Bad: Spoone's thick build isn't ideal, but he's not short, has fluid mechanics, and maintains his stuff deep into games. He needs to improve his command and control. He also needs to work on his mound composure, and can get rattled at times when bloopers fall in or errors are made behind him.
Fun Fact: It's pronounced "Cory"; it's just spelled weird.
Perfect World Projection: A solid third starter in a big league rotation.
Timetable: Spoone took a larger step forward than any player in the system last year, and now he'll make the big step to Double-A in 2008. If he continues to progress at the pace he showed last year, he could be lined up for an Orioles rotation job in 2009.

3. Radhames Liz, RHP
DOB: 6/10/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2003, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: 3.22 ERA at Double-A (137-101-70-161); 6.93 ERA at MLB (24.2-25-23-24)

Year In Review: Liz is a raw, power right-hander. He was effective but inconsistent at Double-A, perhaps best reflected by his throwing a no-hitter in June that was wrapped around by a pair of starts in which he gave up 10 runs in 11 innings. He spent final month in the big leagues, making four horrible starts (11.48 ERA), but looking much better in relief work.
The Good: Liz has the best fastball in the system, varying from 93-97 mph and featuring plenty of boring action. His curveball is a plus pitch at times, and he also throws a decent slider. He's very aggressive on the mound.
The Bad: Liz' mechanics are anything but smooth, as there are a lot of moving parts to his delivery, and when they aren't all synched (which is more often than not), his control can be downright awful. His changeup needs work, and some believe that he'd be better off focusing on just one breaking ball.
Fun Fact: In four big league starts, Liz gave up 20 hits in 13 1/3 innings; in six relief appearances, he surrendered just five in 11 1/3.
Perfect World Projection: A power pitcher, with a role to be determined.
Timetable: While Liz is a sturdy pitcher with good stamina, his mechanics and limited repertoire lead many to believe that his future is in the bullpen. He'll remain a starter for now, because that's where the value is, and begin 2008 by likely working on his shortcomings at Triple-A.

4. Jake Arrieta, RHP
DOB: 3/6/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 5th round, 2007, Texas Christian
2007 Stats: 3.01 ERA at NCAA (98.2-90-50-93)

Year In Review: Arrieta entered the year as one of the better righties in the draft, but his stock fell after he failed to match a sophomore campaign in which he had a 2.35 ERA and limited batters to a .231 batting average. That downturn in production--combined with Scott Boras representation--dropped him to the fifth round, but Baltimore gave him late first-round money ($1.1 million) to sign.
The Good: He has a power pitcher's frame with pretty good stuff--he pitches primarily off his fastball, which sits in the low 90s and comes in on a downward plane. It's not a pure sinker, but batters have trouble getting lift off the pitch, as evidenced by just eight home runs surrendered in his final two years for the Horned Frogs. The slider is a solid offering with some depth.
The Bad: Arrieta needs to work more on his off-speed offerings, in particular his changeup. His command could also use improvement. Scouts who saw him pitch during his final year at college attributed his troubles to mechanical tinkering.
Fun Fact: This year was actually the third time that Arrieta had been drafted. The Reds took him in the 31st round in 2004 out of Plano High School, and the Brewers selected him one year later as a junior college player.
Perfect World Projection: A mid-rotation starting pitcher and an innings eater.
Timetable: Like Wieters, Arrieta signed too late to make his pro debut, but he's been very impressive pitching against the advanced competition of the Arizona Fall League. He'll likely reach Double-A at some point in 2008, if not begin the year there, and could move quickly.

5. Nolan Reimold, OF
DOB: 10/12/83
Height/Weight: 6-4/207
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2005, Bowling Green
2007 Stats: .233/410/.433 at GCL (9 G); .306/.365/.565 at Double-A (50 G)

Year In Review: A pair of oblique injuries limited Reimold to less than half a season, but when he was healthy, he hit Double-A pitching hard, shaking off last year's disappointing showing in the Carolina League.
The Good: Reimold's above-average power and good on-base skills should make him a solid big league contributor. He crushes fastballs and destroys left-handed pitching (.818 SLG). Also has a good arm in the outfield.
The Bad: Some see Reimold as a mistake hitter who swings and misses too often at breaking pitches. He's lost more than a step since getting drafted, and profiles as a corner man at this point. His route running is poor. Two straight years with health issues is a matter of concern.
Fun Fact: Reimold is the highest-drafted position player in Bowling Green history, and will need just 14 big league home runs to top Andy Tracy for the alumni mark.
Perfect World Projection: Average corner outfielder.
Timetable: At this point, health is as important as production to Reimold. He'll begin 2008 in Triple-A, and will likely make the big leagues at some point if he can stay on the field.

6. Billy Rowell, 3B
DOB: 9/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-5/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Draft: 1st round, 2006, Bishop Eustace HS (NJ)
2007 Stats: .273/.335/.426 at Low-A (91 G)

Year In Review: Last year's first-round pick saw his full-season debut delayed by an oblique strain, and he never really got going for Delmarva.
The Good: He's a monster-sized third baseman with tremendous power potential, and he shows advanced understanding of the strike zone. Rowell surprised many with his third base play, showing good fundamentals and a well above-average arm.
The Bad: Rowell's size and lack of speed still has most predicting a slide over to first base when all is said and done. He's prone to strikeouts, and pitchers were far too successful in getting him to chase pitches. He also looked absolutely lost against lefties at times, batting just .185 with one home run in 85 at-bats.
Fun Fact: Rowell committed just one error in June, and then was charged with 19 over the next two months.
Perfect World Projection: A low-average, high-power corner infielder, maybe in the mold of a less athletic Troy Glaus.
Timetable: While Rowell's season was something of a disappointment, his tender age was a mitigating factor. He showed enough were he doesn't need to repeat the level, and he'll begin 2008 in the Carolina League in what is already lining up as a pivotal season in his young career.

7. Brandon Erbe, RHP
DOB: 12/25/87
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 3rd round, 2005, McDonogh HS (MD)
2007 Stats: 6.26 ERA at High-A (119.1-127-62-111)

Year In Review: Entering the year as the pride of the system, Erbe completely crashed and burned in the Carolina League, giving up six or more runs in eight of his final 18 outings.
The Good: On a stuff level, Erbe is still very much in the discussion as a top-flight arm. His four-seam fastball sits at 92-95 mph, and he can ramp it up to 97 when needed. His slider has late, hard bite, and his changeup has advanced to more than just a "show me" pitch.
The Bad: Erbe's struggles were directly related to his command problems, and a change to his style of pitching. He seemingly stopped trusting his stuff, pitching backwards by starting with off-speed offerings, putting himself in hitters' counts, where they would then dial in on his fastball. He also mixes in a sinker and curve, and most feel he'd be better served at this point by just focusing on three pitches. If the changeup doesn't continue to improve, he'll likely end up as a reliever.
Fun Fact: One way to get a six-plus ERA: Leadoff hitters had a .424 on-base percentage against Erbe in 2007.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average starting pitcher, but the gap between what he is now and what he can be is significantly greater than it was a year ago.
Timetable: Always young for his level, Erbe can afford a hiccup in his ascension to the big leagues. He'll likely repeat at High-A, and will still be only 20 years old during the entirety of the 2008 season.

8. Garrett Olson, LHP
DOB: 10/18/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: R/L
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Cal Poly-SLO
2007 Stats: 3.16 ERA at Triple-A (128-95-39-120); 7.79 ERA at MLB (32.1-42-28-28)

Year In Review: The top left-hander in the system was one of the International League's top arms, but his big league debut was downright horrible, as hitters reached base against him at a .444 clip.
The Good: Olson has three solid pitches with an average (89-91 mph) fastball, power curve, and decent changeup. He throws strikes and mixes up his pitches well. He's proven to be very durable since signing, staying healthy and pitching deep into games.
The Bad: Olson got too cute in the big leagues, trying to paint corners and fool hitters by changing speeds; he needs to bring his more aggressive minor league style to the majors in order to succeed. He lacks the one true plus-plus offering to be a star.
Fun Fact: At least he gets off to a good start--Olson didn't allow a hit in the first inning in any of his seven big league starts.
Perfect World Projection: A back of the rotation left-hander.
Timetable: Despite his nightmarish big league debut, Olson will go into spring training with a solid shot at earning the job as fifth starter. He has nothing left to prove in the minors, but much to prove in Baltimore, and his spring training performance will be vital to his season as a whole.

9. Pedro Beato, RHP
DOB: 10/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-6/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2006, St. Petersburg College
2007 Stats: 4.05 ERA at Low-A (142.1-139-59-106)

Year In Review: The supplemental first-round pick from the previous summer had a middling full-season debut, pitching consistently well, but rarely blowing away scouts.
The Good: Beato's fastball touched 94-95 mph at times, while sitting in the 90-92 range on most nights. Scouts generally prefer his slider over his curve at this point, as he throws it hard and it breaks strongly across the plate. Frame-wise, he's almost ideal, and his mechanics are solid.
The Bad: Beato's stuff was not nearly as good as advertised, as his fastball fell a solid two or three ticks below what he showed as an amateur. This velocity drop complicated Beato's changeup issues, as the pitch already lacked a big velocity gap from his heat. Some attributed the problems to some weight gain, as a bigger model of Beato lacked the looseness in his arm from last year.
Fun Fact: While 33 pitchers have been drafted out of St. Petersburg junior college, not one has pitched a single big league inning.
Perfect World Projection: A number three big league starter, with an outside shot of becoming something more than that.
Timetable: Beato definitely took a step backwards in 2007, but with better conditioning he has the ability to snap back. His progress will continue in the High-A rotation at Frederick.

10. David Hernandez, RHP
DOB: 5/13/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/214
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 16th round, 2005, Cosumnes River College (CA)
2007 Stats: 4.95 ERA at High-A (145.1-139-47-168)

Year In Review: The impressive right-hander proved that last year's equally impressive showing was no fluke, leading the organization in strikeouts and finishing the year on a very high note with an 18-strikeout performance in his final regular season start.
The Good: Hernandez is a true power arm with a low-90s fastball that can get into the 94-95 mph range at times, and a hard slider. He's a big pitcher and a good athlete who has proven to be highly durable so far in his career. His changeup is at least average, giving him a solid three-pitch mix.
The Bad: Hernandez needs to find more consistency with his breaking pitches, as he'll often drop down on his slider and turn it into a sweepy, ineffective pitch. Focus can be a problem with him at times, as he's prone to big innings, as reflected in the disparity between his ERA and his peripheral numbers.
Fun Fact: Hernandez had eight starts in which he allowed five or more runs, and seven in which he allowed one or zero.
Perfect World Projection: A big league starting pitcher.
Timetable: Hernandez really could be just a few adjustments from taking off, but there is no guarantee that those adjustments will be made. The Orioles will have a much better feel for his long-term future once they see how he does in Double-A in 2008.

11. James Hoey, RHP
DOB: 12/30/82
Height/Weight: 6-6/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 13th round, 2003, Rider
2007 Stats: 0.00 ERA at Double-A (18.2-13-4-28); 1.33 ERA at Triple-A (27-15-10-41); 7.30 ERA at MLB (24.2-25-18-18)

Year In Review: The Tommy John survivor began season with 20 straight scoreless appearances in the Eastern League, and was nearly as impressive after moving up to Triple-A. He spent the final six weeks of the year pitching out of the Oriole bullpen, where he struggled mightily.
The Good: Some argue that he, not Liz, has the best fastball in the system; Hoey's sits at 94-97 mph, and has touched triple-digits on numerous occasions. The pitch is made all the better by Hoey's tall frame and long arms, which provide a difficult angle to opposing hitters. He goes after hitters and mixes in a decent slider.
The Bad: Hoey's fastball doesn't have a lot of movement on it, nor does he command it especially well. His slider is good at times, but also inconsistent, leaving Hoey at times as a one-pitch pitcher, which led to his getting hammered in the big leagues.
Fun Fact: Left-handers facing Hoey in the minors this year went 11-for-83 (.133) with 33 whiffs.
Perfect World Projection: A late-inning reliever, with some possibility of growing into the closer role.
Timetable: The Orioles enter 2008 without a closer, and while Hoey has the stuff to compete for the job, he'll need to show that he can throw strikes in the spring before given the opportunity. In any case, he should spend 2008 in the Baltimore bullpen

The Sleeper: An obscure 16th-round pick this June, third baseman Tyler Kolodny hit .318/.406/.530 in his pro debut for Baltimore's Gulf Coast League squad, and while his athletic ability doesn't impress anyone, scouts are true believers in his bat.

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

1. Nick Markakis, OF
2. Matt Wieters, C
3. Chorye Spoone, RHP
4. Radhames Liz, RHP
5. Adam Loewen, LHP
6. Jake Arrieta, RHP
7. Nolan Reimold, OF
8. Billy Rowell, 3B
9. Brandon Erbe, RHP
10. Garrett Olson, LHP

Markakis' game took a step forward in nearly every respect last year, and at 24, there's more to come; 2008 could be the year when he goes from exciting young player to the face of the franchise. Despite his struggles on the mound and in the trainer's room, Loewen is just 23 years old, and talent evaluators still have faith in him, as his combination of size and stuff is exceedingly difficult to find in southpaws.

The Orioles system is on a bit of an upswing as they nabbed a pair of big prizes in the 2007 draft. One negative was the number of big-league ready arms who flopped when they actually reached the big leagues. The good news is that there are more pitchers coming up behind them, the bad news is that Wieters is the only sure-fire position prospect in the system. Rowell has plenty of time to rebound, but after that, the hitting class is quite thin.

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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