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November 9, 2009

Future Shock

Orioles Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Brian Matusz, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
2. Josh Bell, 3B
3. Jake Arrieta, RHP
4. Zach Britton, LHP
Three-Star Prospects
5. Matt Hobgood, RHP
6. Brandon Erbe, RHP
7. Brandon Synder, 1B
8. Mychal Givens, SS
9. Caleb Joseph, C
Two-Star Prospects
10. Brandon Waring, 1B/3B
11. Cameron Coffey, RHP

Four More:
12. Steve Johnson, RHP: Along with Bell, Johnson was also acquired from the Dodgers in the George Sherrill deal. The Baltimore native has good velocity, but his secondary pitches come and go. He tends to work high in the strike zone.
13. Kam Mickolio, RHP: Mickolio is a massive righty who dominated at times out of big-league pen, but he was inconsistent and suffered from "dead arm" at the end of the year.
14. Troy Patton, LHP: His comeback from shoulder surgery looked good on paper, but his already marginal velocity took a step backwards, leaving even less of a margin for error.
15. Michael Ohlman, C: The 11th-round pick in June got nearly a $1 million bonus. He has tons of raw power and a big arm, but questions about his pure hitting skill and ability to stay behind the plate remain.

1. Brian Matusz, LHP
DOB: 02/11/87
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of San Diego
2009 Stats: 2.66 ERA (66.2-56-21-75) at High-A (11 G); 1.55 ERA (46.1-31-11-46) at Double-A (8 G); 4.63 ERA (44.2-52-14-38) at MLB (8 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: The 2008 first-round pick began the year in High-A, and he worked his way up to the big leagues after allowing one run or less in seven of eight Double-A outings.
The Good: Matusz has as much polish as any pitching prospect in the game. He's a heady, intelligent pitcher who not only throw strikes, but throws good strikes, working both sides of the plate, hitting his locations with ease, and mixing his pitches very effectively to throw off a hitter's timing. Beyond the guile, his stuff is above average as well, with a 90-92 mph fastball that can get up to 94, two quality breaking balls in a curve and slider, and an outstanding changeup that is a true big-league swing-and-miss offering.
The Bad: There are really no strong knocks against Matusz. His breaking balls flatten out at times, causing him to rely mainly on a fastball/changeup combination, which got him in trouble in the big leagues. His stuff isn't elite quality, so his ceiling falls below ace level.
Ephemera: While the University of San Diego boasts a solid college baseball program, Matusz became the first pitcher drafted from the school to earn a big-league win when he allowed one run over five innings against Detroit in his Orioles debut.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a consistent 15- to 18-game winner and an occasional All-Star.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Orioles have needed pitching for years, and Matusz is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle when it comes to their rotation of the future.
Timetable: Matusz's minor league apprenticeship is done, and he'll begin 2010 in the Orioles' rotation.

2. Josh Bell, 3B
DOB: 11/13/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/235
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2005, Santaluces HS (FL) (Los Angeles Dodgers)
2009 Stats: .296/.386/.497 at Double-A (94 G, Dodgers' organization); .289/.346/.570 at Double-A (33 G; Orioles' organization)
Last Year's Ranking: 8 (Dodgers)

Year in Review: Bell is a toolsy third baseman who was making big progress in the Dodgers' system; he took an even bigger leap forward following his trade to the Orioles.
The Good: Bell is a prototypical third baseman with plus power who has shown the ability to hit for average, that despite taking an aggressive hack. His plate discipline is solid, and he's become more adept at using all fields over the past year. As much as Bell improved at the plate in 2009, he made even larger strides defensively. Once seen as a future first baseman, Bell has made significant improvement in his instincts and footwork at the hot corner, while his arm has always been a plus. In an age where many players focus solely on the batting cage, Bell's commitment to defense also speaks to his makeup.
The Bad: While Bell is a switch-hitter, he still struggles against left-handers, as hit he just .193 with one homer against them in 2009. He's done an excellent job maintaining his condition over the last two years, but it will always be something that needs attention for him to stay at third base. He's an average runner at best, and he will likely be a tick below average by the time he gets to the big leagues.
Ephemera: Bell was taken just three picks after Matusz in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, as the Angels selected Matusz out of St. Mary's high school in Arizona that year.
Perfect World Projection: Bell could be an above-average everyday third baseman.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Orioles declined Melvin Mora's 2010 option after the season, while the Triple-A Norfolk squad used a cornucopia of minor league vets at the hot corner, none of which really have a future in the organization. In other words, the path is clear.
Timetable: Bell will get a close look this spring, but the Orioles would like to seem him get some more seasoning at Triple-A first. He'll likely reach the majors at some point during the season, looking to stake his claim for the everyday job in 2011.

3. Jake Arrieta, RHP
DOB: 03/06/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2007, Texas Christian University
2009 Stats: 2.59 ERA (59.0-45-23-70) at Double-A (11 G); 3.93 ERA (91.2-97-33-78) at Triple-A (17 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: The power right-hander's express trip through the minors hit a bit of a bump in the road when he struggled at times during the second half of the year at Triple-A.
The Good: Arrieta has arguably the best fastball in the system. It sits at 92-96 mph, with a bit of natural boring action, and he tends to throw strikes with it while challenging hitters with relish. He's a big, physical presence on the mound who maintains his velocity late into games.
The Bad: Arrieta's secondary pitches are all works in progress, which leads to an overreliance on his fastball, a habit that had him getting punished at times in the International League. He has a tendency to overthrow and flatten out his slider, while his curveball and change are average at best, and he has trouble commanding anything but his fastball. He works a bit high in the zone, and he can be prone to giving up home runs.
Ephemera: Arrieta was drafted three times as an amateur, including in the 31st round by the Reds in 2004 out of high school, and in the 26th round a year later by the Brewers out of a Texas junior college.
Perfect World Projection: Arrieta could be a high-quality mid-rotation innings-eating starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: While he's behind Matusz and Chris Tillman on the depth chart, there's an open path for any talented pitching to Baltimore's beleaguered big-league staff.
Timetable: While Matusz and Chris Tillman have likely reached the big leagues for good, Arrieta still has a bit of work to do. He'll begin 2010 back at Triple-A, but he could be up as early as midseason if he makes the necessary progress.

4. Zach Britton, LHP
DOB: 12/22/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/172
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2006, Weatherford HS (TX)
2009 Stats: 2.70 ERA (140.0-123-55-131) at High-A (25 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The unheralded lefty continued to put up big numbers while earning glowing scouting reports.
The Good: Britton's sinker is among the best in all of the minor leagues. Sitting at 89-92 mph, it features a powerful dropping action that led to a 3.4-to-one ratio of ground-balls to flies that improved to a remarkable 4.8 ratio in 12 starts after the All-Star break. He can dial the pitch up to 95 mph when he's willing to sacrifice movement, while he has a solid slider to add a horizontal aspect to his game. He's long and loose, with clean mechanics and an easy, repeatable delivery.
The Bad: Britton's changeup is still a work in progress, and it's no more than a show-me pitch at this time. He has occasional trouble controlling his pitches, as he likes to work down in the zone, leading the sinker to end up too low. He'll need to mix his pitches more as he moves up the ladder.
Ephemera: Weatherford, Texas is known as the Peach Capital of Texas, and is home of the annual Parker County Peach Festival every July. Britton's ERA in July 2009 was 4.05, his highest single mark during the year. Homesickness? You make the call.
Perfect World Projection: Britton draws some wide-ranging views from scouts, as there were some who felt he should be three spots higher or lower than this ranking. There are many who think he has true star potential.
Path to the Big Leagues: By the time he's ready, the Orioles should already have a solid rotation, so his arrival should coincide with much less pressure on him than what's being experienced by the current crop of young arms.
Timetable: Britton will begin 2010 in Double-A, and probably won't see Baltimore until 2011.

5. Matt Hobgood, RHP
DOB: 08/03/90
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Norco HS (CA)
2009 Stats: 4.73 ERA (26.2-32-8-16) at Rookie-level (8 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: While Hobgood was generally seen as one of the better high school arms in the draft, Baltimore still raised a lot of eyebrows with their selection of him with the fifth overall pick in June.
The Good: Hobgood is a prototypical power pitcher, with a low-90s fastball with sink than can get up to 96, a power curveball with heavy break, and an impressive changeup for his age. His body is built for eating innings, his command is above average, and he's an intelligent, humble kid who takes well to coaching. He's a good athlete for his size, and he hit cleanup for his team in high school.
The Bad: There are concerns about Hobgood's body, as those who saw him in the Appalachian League and instructional league say he was already significantly larger than his listed weight of 245 pounds. That factor, combined with the stress of a long year, saw his velocity dip into the 87-91 range during his pro debut. Conditioning will likely always be an issue with him.
Ephemera: While Appalachian League hitters hit .305 against Hobgood over eight starts, 28 of the 32 hits he allowed were singles.
Perfect World Projection: Those that saw him in high school saw at least a third starter, with possible projection for more.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, he has a path to a full-season debut, and that's about it.
Timetable: People will be watching Hobgood's weight as much as his ERA, as he'll likely spend all of 2010 at Low-A Delmarva.

6. Brandon Erbe, RHP
DOB: 12/25/87
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, McDonogh HS (MD)
2009 Stats: 4.61 ERA (13.2-13-2-11) at Short-season (4 G); 2.34 ERA (73.0-44-35-62) at Double-A (14 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: When not sidelined by a bout of shoulder soreness, Erbe was downright outstanding in his first year at the upper levels, limiting Eastern League hitters to a .170 batting average.
The Good: Erbe is a live-armed right-hander, sitting at 91-94 mph with his fastball and the occasional 95 or 96 thrown in for good measure. His hard slider flashes plus, and he's made excellent strides with his changeup, which rates at least average.
The Bad: Erbe has a history of arm problems which, along with his complex delivery, leave many projecting him as a reliever. He's a bit of a tinkerer whose mechanics can look different from one day to the next, leading to occasional bouts of command problems.
Ephemera: While former Mariner Ken Cloude is the only player drafted from McDonough to reach the big leagues, the private school's alumni include many Beltway power brokers, including recent UN ambassador John Bolton.
Perfect World Projection: While there are still plenty of people who think he can be a solid third or fourth starter, many think he profiles better as a eighth-inning reliever who is usable against both sides, but who absolutely shuts down right-handers.
Path to the Big Leagues: We're talking about the Orioles. They need arms.
Timetable: Erbe will remain a starter for now, beginning 2010 at Triple-A Norfolk, but he will likely see the big leagues at some point during the year.

7. Brandon Snyder, 1B
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2005, Westfield HS (VA)
2009 Stats: .343/.421/.597 at Double-A (58 G); .248/.316/.355 at Triple-A (73 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 10

Year in Review: The former first-round pick was having a breakout season at Double-A Bowie, but as good as he was in the Eastern League, that's how bad he was following a promotion to Triple-A.
The Good: Snyder is an adept hitter who works the count well, makes consistent hard contact, and can drive the ball into the gaps with regularity. He has no platoon issues, and earns high praise for his makeup, as he's made great strides after a shoulder surgery that cost him nearly a year.
The Bad: Snyder doesn't profile well at his position, as he lacks plus power. While his defense has improved at first base, he's still below average there. A steady diet of breaking balls exposed the holes in his offensive game at Triple-A, and he'll need to make adjustments to have any kind of major league career.
Ephemera: Part of one of the most successful drafts in recent years, Snyder (13th overall) and Wade Townsend (8th overall, Rays), are the only two players from the first sixteen selections of the 2005 draft who have yet to reach the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: Snyder's a second-division starting first baseman at best.
Path to the Big Leagues: His path to a job is wide open, as the Orioles don't have any obvious candidates for the first-base job.
Timetable: While Snyder will be given a chance to win the job in the spring, it will take a monster performance to convince Baltimore that he doesn't need more seasoning back at Norfolk.

8. Mychal Givens, SS
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2009, Jefferson HS (FL)
2009 Stats: Did Not Play
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Seen as a first-round talent heading into the spring, one of the best two-way players in the country slipped a bit due to an inconsistent senior year, and he signed late after contentious negotiations.
The Good: Givens certainly has the tools to impress. He's a loose, wiry athlete with above-average power potential for a middle infielder, speed that's a tick above-average, and an absolute cannon for an arm, as he was consistently clocked in the mid-90s on the mound. Employing a slightly open stance, he has a quick, compact stroke that already generates good leverage.
The Bad: Givens still has a long way to go. He has a tendency to lunge at the plate, and while his arm is strong, it's inaccurate due to a slingy throwing motion and a tendency to throw off his back foot.
Ephemera: Plant High School's most famous alumni is Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs.
Perfect World Projection: Givens could develop into an outstanding shortstop, but there is a massive gap between what he is and what he can be.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Orioles don't have an established shortstop, nor any good ones ahead of him, so while the path is long, it's at least clear.
Timetable: Givens will need to prove this spring that he's ready for a full-season league; the chances are good that he'll begin 2010 in extended spring training before reporting to a short-season squad.

9. Caleb Joseph, C
DOB: 06/18/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 7th round, 2008, Lipscomb University
2009 Stats: .284/.337/.450 at High-A (104 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Joseph's a mid-round catcher who built upon an impressive pro debut with an excellent showing in the Carolina League, earning prospect consideration for his effort.
The Good: He's an excellent hitter with good barrel manipulation and some of the best plate coverage in the system. He has at least gap power and can punish mistakes over the fence. He's a good athlete for a catcher.
The Bad: Joseph's long, skinny build leaves many wondering if he can stand up to the rigors of catching full-time, a concern that gained more steam when he just .132 in his last 26 games. His receiving is average at best, and opposing teams ran wild on him, amassing 110 stolen bases in just 98 games behind the plate; he threw out 27 percent of stolen-base attempts.
Ephemera: Joseph was the highest drafted player out of Lipscomb until the Rockies selected Rex Brothers with a supplemental first-round pick in June.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an offense-oriented catcher with enough defense to stay there.
Path to the Big Leagues: Catcher is one of the few positions where the Orioles are set for a while.
Timetable:Joseph will get his first taste of the upper levels in 2010 by beginning the year at Double-A, with a chance to end it as one of Baltimore's best trade chips.

10. Brandon Waring, 1B/3B
DOB: 01/02/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 7th round, 2007, Wofford College (Cincinnati Reds)
2009 Stats: .273/.354/.520 at High-A (128 G); .292/.414/.542 at Double-A (8 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Acquired from the Reds at last year's Winter Meetings as part of the Ramon Hernandez deal, the power-hitting corner infielder led the organization with 27 home runs, while leading the Carolina league in slugging.
The Good: Waring's power is the best in the farm system by a wide margin, as his bat speed, strength, and leverage all earned praise from scouts. One of the biggest improvements for Waring in 2009 was his plate discipline, as his walk rate was up, while his strikeout rate dipped significantly. His footwork and hands are good at third base, while his arm is above average.
The Bad: Waring is a below-average athlete, and his range at third base is a bit short, so there is an open debate as to whether he can stay at the position. He still has a tendency to look foolish against breaking balls, and as he turns 24 in January, he's a bit old for the levels he's played at.
Ephemera: In 128 Carolina League games, Waring's OPS was 246 points higher with runners on base (.320/.398/.604) than with them empty (.230/.313/.444).
Perfect World Projection: If he stays at third, he could be a Travis Fryman-type, at least offensively.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, he's behind Bell at third and Snyder at first, so while his value dips significantly with a move to the right side, it might be his better bet to make it to Baltimore.
Timetable:Waring will face a big test at Double-A Bowie in 2010, and he needs to keep hitting to maintain his prospect status.

11. Cameron Coffey, LHP
DOB: 09/20/1990
Height/Weight: 6-5/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 22nd round, 2009, Houston Christian HS (TX)
2009 Stats: Did Not Play
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: One of the fastest rising high school arms in the draft, Coffey went down with Tommy John surgery early in the year, but the Orioles took a chance on him late, signing him for a bonus just south of $1 million.
The Good: Scouts who evaluated Coffey early in the year saw a potential front-end starter. He's a big, powerful southpaw who was sitting at 91-93 mph prior to the surgery, occasionally touching 95. His control is solid for his age, and his changeup is advanced.
The Bad: That kind of velocity out of Coffey was never seen until this year, so some see him as a fluky with an elbow surgery who has yet to throw a pitch professionally. He mixed in a slider in high school, but it was a raw, sweepy offering.
Ephemera: Coffey was the 656th pick of the 2009 draft. Only one player signed out of that slot, former Marlins reliever Matt Mantei, has reached the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: Texas area scouts were talking about Coffey potentially moving into the first round before the injury, so his ceiling is significant.
Path to the Big Leagues: Coffey is still on a path to 100 percent health first.
Timetable: He will be a year removed from the surgery late in spring training, so it's expected that he'll be able to participate in limited fashion. The Orioles will take their time with him, likely delaying his pro debut until the short-season leagues kick off in June.

The Sleeper: A fifth-round pick last June out of Oklahoma City College, lefty Ashur Tolliver brings plus velocity from the left side despite a small frame, and could end up as a late-inning southpaw out of the bullpen.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Matt Wieters, C
2. Adam Jones, CF
3. Chris Tillman, RHP
4. Brian Matusz, LHP
5. Felix Pie, OF
6. Josh Bell, 3B
7. Jake Arrieta, RHP
8. Zach Britton, LHP
9. Matt Hobgood, RHP
10. Brandon Erbe, RHP

The top of this list is the first exhibit for why the Orioles are a team on the way up, as that top three competes with any team in baseball's list of under-25 talents. Wieters hit .301 during the second half of the year during his big-league debut; you can expect that to happen with regularity, and the power with it. Jones is still just scratching the surface of his abilities; for me, he's Mike Cameron with five times the pure hitting ability, and that's a perennial All-Star. While Tillman struggled in his Baltimore debut, his stuff remains outstanding, and it's easy to forget he's more than a year younger than Matusz. I've always been a believer in Pie, so I believe in what we saw during the second half of 2009. Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez both earned consideration, but would you trade either for Erbe? Bergesen's 3.43 ERA last year was pure smoke and mirrors, unsustainable with a strikeout rate under five per nine innings.

Summary: The Orioles' system is no longer elite, but it's for all of the right reasons, as they've graduated the type of talent to the big leagues that could potentially change the direction of the franchise. As a snapshot in time, however, it is an average system at best that is highly unbalanced in favor of pitching.

Next up: 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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