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January 26, 2009

Future Shock

Orioles Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Matt Wieters, C
2. Chris Tillman, RHP
3. Brian Matusz, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
4. Jake Arrieta, RHP
5. Brandon Erbe, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
6. Nolan Reimold, RF
7. David Hernandez, RHP
8. Troy Patton, LHP
Two-Star Prospects
9. Jason Berken, RHP
10. Brandon Snyder, 1B
11. L.J. Hoes, 2B

Just Missed: Xavier Avery, OF; Brad Bergesen, RHP; Kam Mickolio, RHP

Ranking Challenges: Wieters is the obvious top prospect, but the system's incredible pitching depth creates a lot of uncertainty when trying to sort out those ranked behind him; scouts had wide-ranging opinions on the order of Tillman, Matusz, and Arrieta, though for most Arrieta ended up one notch below the other two. The unknowns about Patton following shoulder surgery provide a challenge, while the significant talent drop-off towards the bottom leaves the last three spots to be determined solely by personal preference.

1. Matt Wieters, C
DOB: 5/21/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/230
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Georgia Institute of Technology
2008 Stats: .345/.448/.576, .286 EqA at High-A (69 G); .365/.460/.625, .342 EqA at Double-A (61 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: Seen by some as the best position prospect in the draft, Wieters ended the year as the best position prospect in all of the minors after dominating at both High- and Double-A.
The Good: A monster on offense, Wieters is a switch-hitter with plus to plus-plus power from both sides of the plate, an excellent batting eye, and a fantastic feel for contact. He walked more times (82) than he struck out (76) in '08, hits to all fields, rarely chases a bad pitch, and punishes mistakes. Defensively, he's incredibly agile behind the plate, and his plus-plus arm can shut down an opponents' running game.
The Bad: Scouts had a great deal of difficulty finding any weaknesses in Wieters' game. Because he's so big, his release on throws is a bit long, but he has more than enough arm strength to make up for it. Some Arizona Fall League observers saw his play as indifferent at times, but few could blame him for being a bit bored, as it's clear that he's head and shoulders above the competition at every minor league level.
Fun Fact: The 2004 Stratford High School team in Goose Creek, South Carolina featured both Wieters and 2008 Rangers first-round pick Justin Smoak, and yes, it was a very good team.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be as good as, if not better than, any catcher in the game.
Glass Half Empty: It's hard to imagine him not becoming an impact player. Even if things go south for one reason or another, he should still be an All-Star.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Ramon Hernandez trade to the Reds cleared the way.
Timetable: Wieters is ready for the big leagues, and few think he'll have any trouble adjusting. There's a good chance that he won't break camp with the O's, but that will merely be a move to manage his service time (see Evan Longoria in 2008), and he should arrive early in the season as a strong Rookie of the Year candidate.

2. Chris Tillman, RHP
DOB: 4/15/88
Height/Weight: 6-5/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2006, Fountain Valley HS (CA)
2008 Stats: 3.18 ERA at Double-A (135.2-115-65-154), 4.79 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 2 (Mariners)

Year in Review: The top prospect obtained in the Eric Bedard trade went from stud-without-stats status to pure stud after blowing away Eastern League hitters as a 20-year-old in 2008.
The Good: Tillman's long, skinny frame is absolutely loaded with potential, which is somewhat terrifying as his right-now stuff is very good. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph while featuring a heavy boring action, and his power curveball is a true swing-and-miss offering that he's comfortable using as an out pitch. He has clean arm action, and an aggressive, fearless mound demeanor.
The Bad: Tillman still suffers from lapses in control at times, though scouts don't seem to have have much of an issue with it, noting that when he is missing, it's by inches, not feet. His changeup flashes as a solid offering at times, but is still inconsistent and often flat. He tends to take innings off when working with a big lead.
Fun Fact: The marching band in Gwen Stefani's video for "Hollaback Girl" is from Tillman's alma mater of Fountain Valley High.
Perfect World Projection: Tillman has true ace potential.
Glass Half Empty: If the control issues and mediocre changeup remain, he's still a third or fourth starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: The future members of the Orioles rotation are in the minors, and they will not be blocked.
Timetable: Tillman will begin the year at Triple-A Norfolk, and should make his big-league debut at some point in the season.

3. Brian Matusz, LHP
DOB: 2/11/87
Height/Weight: 6-5/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, San Diego
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: As the top college pitcher in the draft, he signed for a surprisingly in-line $3.2 million bonus as the fourth overall pick, and then had little trouble holding his own in the Arizona Fall League last year.
The Good: Matusz is a complete pitcher with four offerings that grade out as average or better. His low-90s fastball plays up because of its location and movement, while his height adds a downward plane to the pitch that induces plenty of ground balls. He generates heavy spin on a plus curveball that he uses to equal effect either in the strike zone to freeze batters, or as a chase pitch, while his best pitch is an outstanding changeup with highly deceptive arm action and significant late drop. He also mixes in a decent slider to throw hitters off balance.
The Bad: Matusz doesn't blow hitters away as much as he takes them apart surgically, limiting his projection in the eyes of some. His delivery is a bit on the herky-jerky side, but his arm action is clean and his release point is consistent.
Fun Fact: Matusz was a fourth-round pick by the Angels in 2005 out of St. Mary's High School in Phoenix, the same school that graduated Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier.
Perfect World Projection: A top-end starter and an All-Star.
Glass Half Empty: He's already so polished that it's hard to see him becoming anything less than a mid-rotation fixture. There are few prospects in the game with this kind of certainty.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Orioles have been methodically clearing out mediocre arms (like Garrett Olson) to make room for prospects like Matusz.
Timetable: He could make his official pro debut at Double-A Bowie, and it shouldn't take long for him to reach the major leagues.

4. Jake Arrieta, RHP
DOB: 3/6/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2007, Texas Christian University
2008 Stats: 2.87 ERA at High-A (113-80-51-120), 5.33 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: After a disappointing season dropped him to the fifth round in the 2007 draft, Arrieta looks to be worth every penny of his seven-figure bonus after limiting Carolina League hitters to a .199 average and striking out more than a batter per inning in '08.
The Good: In a system loaded with elite-level pitching prospects, Arrieta has the best fastball in the organization. It sits at 92-95 mph, can touch 96, and has natural movement on both planes. His big, athletic frame is built for stamina, and with his clean arm action he can maintain his velocity deep into games.
The Bad: Arrieta was able to dominate solely with his fastball at High-A, as his secondary pitches all need work. His curveball and changeup flash average at times, but they also both have a tendency to flatten out, and he rarely risks throwing them in pressure situations. He's not a strike-throwing machine, and some scouts question how well his style will work at the upper levels against more advanced hitters.
Fun Fact: Arrieta was a 31st-round pick in 2004 out of Plano East High School in Texas, the same school that produced Lance Armstrong.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average big-league starting pitcher.
Glass Half Empty: If the secondary stuff fails to develop, he'll end up as more of a mid-rotation starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: The only things in his way are other prospects.
Timetable: Arrieta will begin the year at Double-A Bowie, and if he can continue his success there, he won't need much more time in the minors.

5. Brandon Erbe, RHP
DOB: 12/25/87
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, McDonogh HS (MD)
2008 Stats: 4.30 ERA at High-A (150.2-120-50-151), 7.17 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: This projectable young arm showed significant improvement during his second go-round in the Carolina League, while continuing to frustrate with his inconsistency.
The Good: Erbe remains a young, highly promising pitcher who gets up to 95 mph with his fastball, which has a lot of carry and comes in hard on a batter's hands. His slider continues to show improvement, and is at least average, while often flashing as plus.
The Bad: He's constantly tinkering with his mechanics, leading to wildly fluctuating velocity (in some starts he sits in the upper 80s) and command that comes and goes. His changeup remains a distant third in his arsenal. He works up in the zone, and when his command is off, power hitters tee off on him.
Fun Fact: A notoriously slow starter, Erbe allowed 43 baserunners and 22 runs in his 28 first innings last year, but just nine hits during his 27 second innings.
Perfect World Projection: If you see him on the right day, he still looks like an All-Star.
Glass Half Empty: If you see him on the wrong day, he looks like a future reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: Nothing should block his way in either role.
Timetable: Erbe is finally ready for Double-A this year, as any number of pitching prospects in the system are jockeying for position to be the first called up.

6. Nolan Reimold, RF
DOB: 10/12/83
Height/Weight: 6-4/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2005, Bowling Green State University
2008 Stats: .284/.367/.501, .262 EqA at Double-A (139 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: As the top hitting prospect in the system not named Wieters, Reimold continued to put up solid numbers last season as he reached the upper levels of the system.
The Good: His tools are very good all around; he has above-average power, a good eye, makes solid contact, and is an excellent athlete for his size, with more than enough arm strength and range to play a solid right field.
The Bad: Little about Reimold's game will lead anyone to expect him to become an impact player. He's a good hitter, but not a great one; he's got a good eye, but he's not an on-base machine; and he has solid power, but it's not overwhelming. The majority of his home runs (21 of 25) came against right-handed pitching, and he seems to shorten his stroke against southpaws.
Fun Fact: Reimold is the highest draft-pick position player in Bowling Green history, and only three players drafted out of the school (Andy Tracy, Larry Owen, and Doug Bair) have ever hit a home run in the majors.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a good everyday corner outfielder.
Glass Half Empty: He'll settle for being a fourth outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: With Nick Markakis signed long-term, Reimold would move to left in the big leagues, which might make for even higher offensive expectations. For now, Felix Pie will have the first shot to establish himself there.
Timetable: Reimold will begin the year at Triple-A Norfolk. He could be ready to step in by mid-season if Pie continues to struggle, or if the team wants a peek at their future instead of Luke Scott.

7. David Hernandez, RHP
DOB: 5/13/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 16th round, 2005, Cosumnes River College
2008 Stats: 2.68 ERA at Double-A (141-112-71-166), 4.63 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 10

Year in Review: An unheralded right-hander, he continued to convince his doubters, leading the Eastern League in strikeouts (and, unfortunately, walks) while finishing third in ERA.
The Good: Hernandez' fastball sits in the low 90s, but one scout compares it to a mid-90s heater: "You never see it coming." His natural wrist wrap keeps the ball behind his head until just prior to release, making it nearly impossible to pick up. His slider is a go-to offering with solid depth and tilt, and he throws it with equal confidence against both left- and right-handed hitters.
The Bad: There's some grunt in Hernandez' delivery, and he's often guilty of overthrowing, costing him command and producing injury concerns in the eyes of some evaluators. His changeup is a below-average pitch that scouts rarely get to see; he's clearly uncomfortable with the offering.
Fun Fact: Located in the Sacramento, California area, Cosumnes River College has an excellent baseball program, having produced former All-Stars Fernando Vina and Jermaine Dye.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid third or fourth starter.
Glass Half Empty: Hernandez receives varying reports from scouts, with some seeing him ending up as no more than a good reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: As a merely good pitching prospect, it's a tough organization for him to be in.
Timetable: Hernandez will move up to Triple-A in 2009, and while he may be ahead of others in the system as far as which rung he's on in the system, there are plenty of superior talents in his rear-view mirror who are gaining on him.

8. Troy Patton, LHP
DOB: 9/3/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws:B/L
Drafted/Signed: 9th round, 2004, Tomball HS (TX)
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The most valuable prize received from the Astros in the Miguel Tejada deal ended up missing all of last year after shoulder soreness during spring training led to labrum surgery.
The Good: Patton combines above-average stuff with above-average command. He fills the strike zone with an 89-92 mph fastball that features natural sink, and he gets solid two-plane break on a looping slider. He has good feel for his changeup, and knows how to add and subtract speed from his pitches effectively. His makeup is top notch, and scouts loves his bulldog approach.
The Bad: Patton has never been overpowering, and he can't afford to lose much as he returns from the surgery. His smallish frame has always limited his projection, and with the shoulder issues it becomes even more of a concern.
Fun Fact: Spring training and injuries go hand-in-hand for Patton, who sprained an ankle in Astros camp two years ago when he tripped over a sprinkler.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a mid-rotation southpaw.
Glass Half Empty: He'll settle in as a starter at the back end of the rotation.
Path to the Big Leagues: He stood out a year ago, but shoulder surgery, the drafting of Matusz, and some big steps forward from others in the organization make Patton just another face in the crowd at this point.
Timetable: He's expected to be 100 percent this spring, and he'll be closely monitored to determine his minor league assignment.

9. Jason Berken, RHP
DOB: 11/27/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2006, Clemson University
2008 Stats: 3.58 ERA at Double-A (145.2-141-38-125), 5.71 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: He's a polished college product who showed plenty of pitching savvy following a two-level jump to Double-A in 2008.
The Good: One scout called Berken "a pitcher's pitcher." He flawlessly spots his 88-91 mph fastball with ease, and consistently gets ahead in the count to set up his best pitch, an above-average changeup that has nice depth and fade. He throws both a curveball and a slider, and both grade as big-league pitches.
The Bad: Berken is what he is, and offers zero projection. He had Tommy John surgery in college and was already 22 years old when drafted, so he's a bit behind on the age/level continuum.
Fun Fact: One of the best all-around athletes in Wisconsin history, Berken was an All-State performer in baseball, basketball, and football as a senior at West De Pere High School.
Perfect World Projection: He's a back-of-the-rotation workhorse.
Glass Half Empty: Maybe he'll be a middle reliever instead.
Path to the Big Leagues: Very clouded in this system, but he should have some kind of a role in the end.
Timetable: Berken will be part of the Triple-A Norfolk rotation to begin the year, but he could get a big-league look as either as a starter or reliever if he continues to pitch well.

10. Brandon Snyder, 1B
DOB: 11/23/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2005, Westfield HS (VA)
2008 Stats: .315/.358/.490, .235 EqA at High-A (116 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: The former first-round pick continued his impressive return from shoulder surgery last year by delivering his best season as a pro.
The Good: Snyder's hitting fundamentals are excellent, and he has one of the quicker bats in the system, projectable average power, and an innate feel for contact. He uses all fields and got better as the season wore on, hitting .357/.400/.568 after the All-Star break. The former catcher has taken well to his new position, showing soft hands and much-improved positioning and footwork at first base.
The Bad: While his offensive skills are quite good, there are questions as to whether they'll be enough to make him an everyday first baseman, which he's limited to defensively. At a position where power and patience are prerequisites, Snyder is a free swinger who most project to hit somewhere around 18-22 home runs annually. He's a below-average runner.
Fun Fact: He's not a major league defender at third, but in limited play there for High-A Frederick last year he went 10-for-21 with three doubles and a home run.
Perfect World Projection: A solid but unspectacular first baseman in the majors.
Glass Half Empty: He doesn't offer much value as a bench bat due to his right-handedness and defensive inflexibility.
Path to the Big Leagues: Not signing Mark Teixeira helped, and there aren't any other first baseman of note in the system.
Timetable: Snyder will begin the year at Double-A Bowie, and despite the progress he made last year, it could be a make-or-break season for his prospect status.

11. L.J. Hoes, 2B
DOB: 3/5/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/181
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, St. John's HS (DC)
2008 Stats: .308/.416/.390 at Rookie-level (48 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: This third-round pick impressed scouts with his ability to translate his tools into skills during his pro debut in '08.
The Good: Other than his power, Hoes' tools rate as average or better across the board. His approach and plate discipline are surprisingly mature for a player that many had labeled as raw, and his hand-eye coordination makes for expectations of his becoming a high-average hitter as well. He's a 55-60 runner with excellent instincts on the basepaths, and he has a plus-plus arm.
The Bad: Amateur scouts weren't sure what to do with Hoes defensively. He was a center fielder in high school, but lacks the speed to play there as a pro, or the power needed to play a corner. The Orioles moved him to second base following his signing, and he's still getting the hang of the position, having committed 15 errors in 42 games there. He's toolsy for sure, but other than the arm, none of them are plus-plus.
Fun Fact: The conference Player of the Year at St. John's this spring, Hoes also served as the team's closer, with a fastball that touched 94 mph.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a high-OBP second baseman good for 10 home runs and 30 stolen bases annually.
Glass Half Empty: He's a bench player, perhaps in a Chone Figgins role, but not quite as fast.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's too early to worry about it.
Timetable: Hoes will make his full-season debut at Low-A Delmarva.

The Sleeper: With 80 speed (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and a keen understanding of the strike zone, 2008 fourth-round pick Kyle Hudson projects at least as a bench outfielder, even if his bat doesn't come around.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Matt Wieters, C
2. Nick Markakis, RF
3. Adam Jones, CF
4. Chris Tillman, RHP
5. Brian Matusz, LHP
6. Jake Arrieta, RHP
7. Felix Pie, OF
8. Radhames Liz, RHP
9. Brandon Erbe, RHP
10. Nolan Reimold, RF

Markakis doesn't have the kind of power that one normally associates with a star corner outfielder, but he's hardly a slap hitter and does so many other things well to make up for it. He'll only get better going forward, and his long-term contract was an excellent move for Baltimore. Yes, I'm still a big believer in Adam Jones, even moreso after getting a sneak peek at what PECOTA had to say about him. Without giving away the store, I will mention that his four most comparable players listed in Baseball Prospectus 2009 combined for 13 All-Star Game appearances, 10 Top 10 MVP finishes, and 25 Gold Gloves. I'm still a believer in Pie as well, but as a left fielder there won't be enough bat there. Liz is what happens when your only real skill is the ability to throw the ball hard... albeit very hard.

Summary: The Orioles have the makings of one of the best rotations in the game, as well as the best position prospect. Unfortunately, the system lacks serious depth on the hitting side, and they are in a division that is brutally unforgiving of any weakness.


Up next: the Boston Red Sox.

---

Inaugurate another Top 11 list with Baltimore's Director of Player Development David Stockstill to break down the Orioles' top 11 prospects, a group that may include the top prospect in all of baseball as we move over to the American League's top prospect lists on BPR.


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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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