While the signing of Matt Weiters late Wednesday night overshadowed everything else going on in the Orioles’ system as Baltimore fans released a collective sigh of relief, there are also several other reasons for optimism:
Radhames Liz, rhp, Double-A Bowie: Liz struggled with his command and didn’t show his usual velocity early this season, but has come into his own since May. It’s easy to point to the 24-year-old Dominican’s nine-inning complete game no-hitter on June 1 as the beginning of the turnaround, but Liz’s emergence actually started four outings earlier.
In April, Liz’s fastball was sitting in the low 90s, and the command of his secondary pitches–a hard-breaking mid-80s curveball and two variations of a changeup–were erratic at best. Liz went 1-2, 5.40 with 13 walks and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings in the season’s first month, but Bowie manager Bien Figueroa witnessed something different in Liz in his May 11 start against New Hampshire. "His velocity was up and he was really settling in, getting comfortable," Figueroa said. "I knew he’d come around, and when he’s on, he’s unhittable. All his pitches have such tremendous movement." Liz’s fastball velocity spiked to 95-97 mph consistently, touching 98. He gained confidence in using his breaking ball more often and early in counts, and his changeup has also made major strides. "He’s improved all year long," farm director David Stockstill said. "Not only has everything in his arsenal gotten better, but his knowledge in using them to attack in certain situations has come a long way also. He was still a little bit of a thrower (last year), but he’s done a lot of growing up this season." Liz hasn’t lost since June 20 and nearly added a second no-hitter to his resume this season (he was part of a combined no-hitter last year at high Class A Frederick) on Tuesday, allowing just one hit and whiffing 14 over eight innings against Harrisburg. Overall this season, Liz is 11-4, 3.29 with 155 strikeouts in 134 innings.
Nolan Reimold, of, Double-A Bowie: The Orioles’ 2005 second-round pick missed a huge chunk of the season due to an oblique strain he sustained at the end of April. Reimold was sent to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League but didn’t play for nearly two months. Even after the O’s fired him back up again in early July, the injury lingered, and he missed another two weeks in Florida before he made his way into the GCL lineup for a week and then re-joined the Baysox July 31. "We really just wanted him to get some at-bats in a structured environment before sending him back out again," Stockstill said. "With this type of injury, it’s so easy just to tweak it again. He’s had to make some adjustments in his swing that I think are going to help in the long run." Reimold had major holes in his swing last year at Frederick, which led to many scouts questioning his ability to hit for average at higher levels of the minors. The 23-year-old outfielder has huge power to all fields, but pitchers could exploit him with fastballs in on his hands. The O’s backed Reimold off the plate more, allowing him to turn on balls over the inner half while maintaining plate coverage with his long arms. "We backed him off some, but really what you want is to salvage what’s left of the season and get some quality at-bats,"Stockstill said. "He’s doing that right now." And doing it with that trademark power. Through 49 August at-bats, Reimold is hitting .327/.377/.633 with four homers.
Brandon Erbe, rhp, high Class A Frederick: Judging simply by Erbe’s numbers, 2007 appears to be a lost season for the 2005 third-rounder. Through 112 innings in the Carolina League, the 19-year-old was 6-7, 6.45; had allowed 121 hits, walked 60 and threw 10 wild pitches. He maxed out the organizational single-inning pitch limit of 30 pitches five times, and has given up a whopping 13 home runs. But hold the phone. Despite the growing pains, Erbe has struck out 104 this season and his fastball has been up to 96 mph regularly. Throw in the fact that the teenager is being forced to make adjustments faster than he’s ever had to before in the eight-team league, and there are plenty of reasons to believe in Erbe despite what his stats might say. "Sometimes he wants to do a whole lot more than he’s capable of right now," Stockstill said. "He”s still learning how to stay focused, stay within himself on the mound. "He’s got good command of all his pitches–it’s just when he starts to get careful . . . that”s when he gets in trouble. His stuff starts flattening out a little bit and he’ll leave pitches up, leave pitches in the middle of the zone. He”s 19. Going through what he’s gone through this season is good for him developmentally. He’s had some failures, but he’s also had a lot of successes–a lot of positives. And he’s learning to build on those positives."
Brad Bergesen, rhp, high Class A Frederick: A fourth-round pick in 2004, Bergesen repeated at low Class A Delmarva this season and is one of the more intriguing arms in the system. After going 7-3, 2.19 in 94 innings with the Shorebirds this season, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound righthander was promoted to Frederick, where things haven”t gone quite so well. Despite rolling up a ton of ground balls (2.03 GO/AO), Bergesen has been hit hard in the CL, giving up 52 hits in 36 innings. But that’s not the worst part. Three weeks ago, Bergesen was hit in the head during batting practice in a freak accident but was able to recover and only missed one turn in the rotation. "That was extremely unfortunate,â€ Stockstill said. â€œWe were all very lucky he came out of that OK.â€ When he’s on, Bergesen has quality stuff, beginning with a sinking fastball that touches 93 mph. â€œHe really does a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone," Stockstill said. â€œ(He’s got) a pretty good sinker, pretty good slider and his changeup has made strides to be at least an average pitch."
Tyler Kolodny, 3b, Rookie-level Gulf Coast League: While there are other high profile prospects in the system–Bill Rowell and Brandon Snyder at Delmarva immediately spring to mind–Kolodny is opening some eyes in the organization. A 16th-round pick this year out of El Camino Real High in Woodland Hills, Calif., Kolodny is hitting .333/.416/.556 with six homers and 30 RBIs in 144 at-bats. While most of that power has been to the pull side, Kolodny has shown the ability to go the other way at times as well. "He hits with some authority," Stockstill said. "He”s kind of a throwback kind of guy. He plays extremely hard and works extremely hard to get better. He gets a little too pull-happy sometimes, but he’s a high school kid in rookie ball. You expect that." Defense has been the area where Kolodny needs the most work. He’s committed 15 errors in 39 games, despite showing decent range with an above-average arm. Because of his arm strength, Kolodny might wind up in right field down the road but should have enough power to play either position. "He’s got a line-drive stroke and handles the bat very well," Stockstill said. "There are going to be times when he struggles defensively, but that’s all part of the learning process. We”re not looking to move him (off third base) anytime soon."
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