Thursday, December 31, 2009

TEAM #21 – Baltimore Orioles

Matusz should be an impact rookie in 2010

One of the systems that is sure to generate a lot of criticism is the #21 Baltimore Orioles, as most of the ‘experts’ have this system rated much higher. The difference for us comes in three main areas: 1) not believing in Josh Bell nearly as much as others; 2) the significant questions that we still have about the pitchers that you will find at #3 - #6 on this list; and 3) the lack of depth to the system, as we barely made it to fifty prospects earning a grade of ‘C’ or better. Don’t get us wrong, there is a significant gap between the Orioles and the Brewers, but when we compared the overall talent in the Orioles system vs. each of the next five teams that you will see coming up, we simply couldn’t justify placing them any higher—and we looked hard at this. This isn’t any indictment on the Baltimore management, as outside of the Hobgood pick this past June, their drafts have been solid, but after graduating players like Wieters, Tillman, Reimold, Hernandez, Bergesen and Berken in 2009, it is only natural to see a fall-off while they regroup. The good news is that there is still plenty of players that have a chance to make an impact in 2010, and there is a significant nucleus of young players already in Baltimore that should return this team to competitiveness in just a couple of seasons.

Grade A

1) Brian Matusz, LHP (2009 Performance Scores – Dominance 75; Stamina 74; HRrate 48; Control 65)

We had Matusz as the clear best pitcher available in the 2008 draft, and he has done nothing to dispel that line of thought since then, as he posted Top 5 Performance scores in both the Carolina (CAR) and Eastern (ESL) Leagues in 2009. An extremely polished pitcher, Matusz features a low-90s fastball, a plus slider, and above average pitches in both his curve and change. Most importantly, Matusz is ‘all pitcher’, commanding his entire repertoire and demonstrating tremendous pitching knowledge. We were duly impressed with his 8 start performance in Baltimore at the end of the season, and have to look hard to find any negatives. If we have to come up with one, it is that he likely lacks the ‘pure stuff’ that is usually associated with a staff ace, but we seriously don’t expect that to be a drawback to his becoming the ace in Baltimore. 2010 should find him opening up the season in the Oriole rotation, in what should be a potential Rookie of the Year campaign.

Grade A -

2) Josh Bell, 3B (2009 – Power 79; First Base Rate 50; Discipline 41; Speed 33)
I urge those of you who are regular readers of this series to read the profiles of the recently completed Brewer players…specifically those of Mat Gamel and Jonathan Lucroy before reading any further. Not that there are any playing similarities between the players, but more so how one-half of a season can create a meme that just continues to grow, and before long a player becomes larger than life, and certainly more than his play has justified. This isn’t a knock on Bell, because he has been on the radar screen for a few seasons already, and he certainly showed up in 2009 in better physical shape than he has at any point thus far in his professional career. However…at Diamond Futures, we consider an entire body of work—certainly more than Bell’s 114 At Bats at Bowie. To try to add some perspective, while Bell did post the 7th Best Performance score in his brief ESL appearance, his Southern League score ranked #16, and his work in the AZFL didn’t make the Top 20. Further illustrating our point, in 2008, he was #29 in the California League and #21 in the MWL in 2007. Bell is a legitimate prospect, but unfortunately he isn’t worthy of the post-season hype that he has been getting. All told, there were fifteen AA hitters that posted more impressive seasons than Bell in 2009. While that may make him a Top 100 prospect, it doesn’t make him a Top 50 prospect, and certainly not the Top 25 that has appeared in some places, that has been the off-season chatter. While the Orioles envision Bell as their third baseman of the future, there are still some questions as to whether he ends up there—or maybe he is better suited for an OF corner. Bell continues to switch-hit, which is adding to his perceived value, but he hits more than .100 points lower from the right side of the plate. While Bell has plus power potential, he struck out nearly 20% of the time last season, and has only average contact skills. We like Bell, hence the #2 spot on this list, but we see him as a work in progress, with a history that demonstrates he can have ‘focus’ issues. If 2010 becomes an improvement upon his 2009 body of work, we will be ‘convinced’, but for now we approach Bell with a healthy dose of skepticism.

3) Zach Britton, LHP (2009 – Dominance 60; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 43)

While there are those that will favor Arrieta in this spot, we give the nod to the 2009 Carolina League Pitcher of the year, as he faced the league nearly 9 months younger—and with at least equal success, than Arrieta had done in 2008. Also working in Britton’s favor is the fact that he is a southpaw. Britton, like Arrieta, struggles with his command at times, but he has a more complete repertoire that makes him a better bet to reach his ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. With a ton of young arms ahead of him in the system, expect the Orioles to take their time with Britton. He should spend the overwhelming majority of time in 2010 in the ESL. With continued progress, Britton is looking a shot at the Oriole rotation, sometime in late 2011.

4) Jake Arrieta, RHP (2009 – Dominance 70; Stamina 68; HRrate 48; Control 48)

Coming off of a 2008 season where he posted the #10 Performance Score in the CAR, Arrieta used his imposing figure (6’4”, 225lbs) to dominate ESL hitters before running into a bit more difficulty in AAA. He uses a low-mid -90s fastball with late movement to give hitters fits, and nicely compliments that with an above average slider. While Arrieta has a workable change, and an occasional curve, he garners his most success with just two-pitches. It is this reason, along with occasional control issues, that make people wonder if his longer-term destination isn’t the bullpen. For now, the Orioles are sold on him as a solid mid-rotation starter, who will enter Spring competing for a rotation spot.

Grade B+

5) Brandon Erbe, RHP (2009 – Dominance 59; Stamina 68; HRrate 48; Control 33)

Pitching in his 5th professional season, it is sometimes difficult to remember that Erbe is still three days younger than Zach Britton. It has been an up and down career, as exceptional performances like 2008, have been over shadowed by inconsistencies and injuries. 2009 wasn’t a lot different, as Erbe missed nearly two months with a shoulder problem. While Erbe offers a decent repertoire, including a low-90s, late moving, fastball, it has been his struggles with command that have defined his career. Despite continued struggles in 2009, he did manage to post the #11 Performance score in the ESL. Right now Erbe’s biggest hurdle appears to be the numbers game, as six young pitchers appear to be ahead of him in the system. This leads us to believe that his ticket will either be in the bullpen or with another organization. Look for him to secure a rotation spot in AAA in 2010, and he could find his way to Baltimore by season’s end.

6) Matt Hobgood, RHP (2009 – Dominance 25; Stamina 41; HRrate 50; Control 55)

We don’t like to criticize the Orioles’ drafts, because they have been excellent over the last few years, but we can’t help ourselves with the selection of Hobgood at #5 overall. At 6’4”, 245lbs, Hobgood is massive, drawing comparisons to players that have been drafted similarly high like Wade Townsend and Matt White. While he has a fastball that already sits in the low-90s, we were not tremendously impressed with either his ‘pitchability’ or his ‘projectability’ and had him rated only #31 entering last June’s draft. Equally unimpressive was his brief APY debut. While there is no question that Hobgood has the potential to be a middle of the rotation workhorse, we feel that he is only about 50/50 to ever see the Major Leagues. There were far better options at the #5 spot, but that’s not Hobgood’s fault.

7) Brandon Snyder, 1B (2009 – Power 66; First Base Rate 56; Discipline 37; Speed 37)

In a conversation the other day the topic of Josh Bell came up, and what is his upside if he doesn’t stick at 3B…our reply—Brandon Snyder. Whether that is praise for Snyder or criticism of Bell depends on your perspective. Nonetheless, Snyder has steadily re-established himself as a legitimate hitting prospect whose only real downside, although a significant one, is where on the diamond he will play. Still just 22yo (actually 10 days younger than Bell), Snyder demonstrated above average power and at least average contact skills between stops in the ESL and INT. 2010 should find Snyder back in Norfolk, with an eye on Baltimore at some point during the season. Given his lack of position, and lack of significant power for 1B or DH, it is our feeling that he ends up as a below average starter, or an above average platoon type player.

Grade B

8) Mychal Givens, SS -

Givens is that prototypical athletically gifted, extreme toolsy, type of prospect that immediately sounds warning signals for us. In all actuality, the Orioles must have been thankful that the Phillies didn’t have a pick until #74, because he is the typical type of player that they waste first and second round picks on. That said, Given’s athleticism is undeniable, and with a 97MPH fastball, he has one of the strongest arms in the system. While we felt he was a safer pick on the mound, it isn’t a real surprise that the Orioles will try him at SS. Givens’ upside is enormous, but this remains a classic ‘boom or bust’ type prospect.

9) Brandon Waring, 1B (2009 – Power 79; First Base Rate 35; Discipline 35; Speed 46)

We have felt that Waring has been one of the more underrated prospects, ever since he was drafted in the 7th round by the Reds in 2007. Entering that June’s draft, Waring had just completed his junior season where he posted one of the 5 best Performance scores among draft eligible players. After signing, he had a superb PIO debut in 2007, but struggled mightily in the MWL in 2008. His 2009 was a far better result, as he posted an .878 OPS in the CAR. A fastball/mistake hitter, Waring still struggles mightily with off-speed pitches—chasing them out of the zone. While he has plus raw power, he will have to improve upon his 24% strikeout rate if he is to have success at upper levels. The positive for Waring is that he is one of the few players currently in the system with true ‘first base’ power. 2010 will find him back at AA, looking to make those improvements.

10) Xavier Avery, CF (2009 – Power 32; First Base Rate 57; Discipline 49; Speed 77)

The Orioles second round pick in 2008 now has a .655 OPS in two professional seasons, but is sneaking in here still at #10. This is due to his upside—not anything he has shown on the field. Avery is an electrifying, highly-athletic player, that is still extremely raw—two years into his professional career. He played the entire 2009 season as a 19yo in full season A. While Avery comes with considerable upside, his weaknesses are apparent. Avery will never hit for power, has poor plate discipline, and while he covers a lot of ground in the OF, he often takes poor routes and has only an average arm, which may lead to him eventually be considered only in LF. If that is the case, his odds become even longer. While we would like to see the Orioles return him to Delmarva to start the 2010 season, look for him to jump to Hi-A, where he is likely to continue his offensive struggles.

11) Caleb Joseph, C (2009 – Power 65; First Base Rate 41; Discipline 67; Speed 39)

Joseph, a 7th round pick by the Orioles in 2008, is another Baltimore prospect that is favored more by the conventional media than by us. While he does possess relatively average skills, for a catcher, across the board, and he has an advanced feel for handling pitchers, there are no skills that grade out very highly. When Matt Wieters is ahead of you in the organization, and you don’t have the offensive game that will play at another position, that doesn’t make for a very bright long-term outlook. Look for Joseph to begin 2010 in AA, and hoping for a deal elsewhere that might lead to Major League playing time some time in 2011.

Grade B-

12) Kam Mickolio, RP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 25; HRrate 48; Control 46)

Mickolio is a pure power pitcher with a fastball that reaches the upper 90s, and sits in the mid-90s. At 6’9”, he cuts an imposing figure that can be intimidating for a hitter to see all that heat coming from a downhill plane. At 26yo, Mickolio has little additional upside, and with only a marginal change and slider to compliment his heat, he is purely bullpen material. The certainty quotient here is extremely high—justifying this ranking, but there isn’t much upside, with the possible ceiling being a Major League closer, but for now,at least, just a set-up guy. While he still needs work commanding his fastball, it appears that Mickolio’s Minor League days are behind him.

13) L.J. Hoes, 2B (2009 – Power 34; First Base Rate 56; Discipline 66; Speed 76)
Selected by the Orioles in the third round in 2008, Hoes had a solid GCL debut last season, convincing the Orioles to send him to full-season A-ball in 2009 as a 19yo. The decision was regrettable, as Hoes struggled mightily. The problem with this is that offense was thought to be his strength. Hoes doesn’t have the defensive ability to play SS, so 2B is his make/break position, as there is almost no power here. That said, we are intrigued, as Hoes shows good contact skills and an advanced plate discipline. There isn’t significant upside here, but if the Orioles are willing to return him to Delmarva in 2010, we have a hunch that his offensive performance will be significantly improved, as there is too much to like in his approach at the plate for him to be this bad. While he will never be a star, he could be a solid top of the order contributor.

14) Troy Patton, LHP (2009 – Dominance 40; Stamina 69; HRrate 48; Control 63)

Patton’s was one of the true ‘feel-good’/comeback stories of the first half last season, before a jump to AAA, and recurring shoulder problems, tempered our enthusiasm. The key Oriole return in the Tejada deal, Patton missed the entire 2008 season, after the trade. His 2009 ESL performance gave hope that he would regain his form, but after a June promotion to Norfolk, he posted a 6.45 ERA and opposing hitters knocked him around to the tune of .337. He once again developed shoulder soreness and the Orioles shut him down for the year in early August.

15) Michael Ohlman, C

Players #13 thru #18 in this organization are virtually interchangeable, which made this a tough organization to order. Ohlman comes down right in the middle of that pack. A prep catcher, Ohlman signed too late to show anything significant, but the Orioles liked what they saw in instructionals. This is a player with raw power as his calling card, and his real value will be determined by his ability to stay behind the plate. While he has the power, and likely the athleticisim, to play a corner, his other skills just aren’t that eye-opening for him to become a significant player anywhere else. One of the keys that he will need to correct though is the tendency to chase breaking balls out of the zone. His upside is that of an above average Major League backstop, but there is a long ways between reaching it and where he is now.

16) Luis Lebron, RP (2009 – Dominance 76; Stamina 29; HRrate 49; Control 47)

This is a pure ‘stuff’ pitcher that used a low-mid 90s fastball and a plus slider to whif nearly 1.5 batters per IP over 60 innings in 2009. His Winter League performance has been nearly equally as impressive. The downside is that Lebron walked nearly 5 batters per 9IP, and he doesn’t score highly in ‘pitchability’. Lebron will turn 25yo before the season begins in 2010, so we aren’t talking about a player with tremendous upside. That said, there is every reason to believe that he can be a significant back-of-the bull pen contributor—perhaps as early as the second half of this season.

17) Tyler Townsend, 1B (2009 – Power 76; First Base Rate 20; Discipline 25; Speed 35)

Townsend is an intriguing one-tool player, with that one-tool being tremendous raw power. Selected by the Orioles in the 3rd round after a monster season at Florida International, Townsend struggled badly in his NYP debut. That said, there is reason to believe that he could have enough athleticism to play in the OF, and enough power to make the Orioles give him plenty of chances. The odds are that he ends up peaking as LH platoon 1B/LF/DH type player, but there is enough of interest here to keep an eye on. Expect Townsend to begin 2010 in full-season A-ball.

18) Ryan Berry, RHP -

There are mixed opinions on Berry, who the Orioles drafted in the 9th round last June and signed him for what was essentially 3rd round money. On the downside is the fact that he is an injury-riddled pitcher, from a college with a history of overusing pitchers (Rice), whose best pitch is a knuckle-curve. He also isn’t very big, and doesn’t have a lot of projection left in him. The positives are that, when healthy, he posted some of the best production in college ball in 2008, and finished the year, despite various injuries, with a Top 25 Performance score. Berry pitches off of his aforementioned curve, complimenting it with a fastball that sits right around 90MPH. He’ll also occasionally show both a slider and a change, but both of these offerings are below average at this point. Berry signed too late to make his debut in 2009, so look for him to begin his pro career in full-season A-ball. While there isn’t tremendous upside here, there is enough to potentially become a mid-rotation starter. For now the health question marks are significant.

Grade C+ Prospects –

19) Cameron Coffey, RHP; 20) Justin Turner, 2B; 21) Vito Fravizio, RHP; 22) Ronnie Welty, RF; 23) Jesse Beal, RHP; 24) Bobby Bundy, RHP; 25) Pedro Florimon, MI; 26) Billy Rowell, OF; 27) Pedro Beato, RHP; 28) Tyler Henson, 3B; 29) Tyler Kelly, 3B.

Grade C Prospects –

Ryan Admas; Matt Angle; David Baker; Jake Cowan; Justin Dalles; Eddie Gamboa; Randy Henry; Ryne Hughes; Brett Jacobsen; Tyler Kolodny; Kevin Landry; Jarrett Martin; Cole McMurry; Greg Miclat; Scott Moore; Luis Noel; Garabez Rosa; Ashur Tolliver; Robert Widlansky; Aaron Worsch; Richard Zagone.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions

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