The Orioles system is incredibly top-heavy, with a big drop-off after the top three prospects: righthander Dylan Bundy, shortstop Manny Machado, and infielder Jonathan Schoop. While Machado and Schoop will be making the jump together to Double-A Bowie, the nod goes to low Class A Delmarva, where Bundy will make his professional debut as the Shorebirds' Opening Day starter. Bundy is clearly the headliner, but the pitching staff will also feature righthander Parker Bridwell, the organization's No. 4 prospect, as well as lefthander Tim Berry, who had a 5.17 ERA for the Shorebirds last year in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Among hitters, Delmarva will feature corner infielder Nicky Delmonico, a sixth-round pick last year who signed for $1.525 million, and third baseman Jason Esposito, a second-round pick out of Vanderbilt, to headline a group that includes eight of the Orioles first 10 picks from last year's draft.
Leap of Faith
In the last year, the Orioles have tried to be less aggressive with their promotions, making players earn their way to the next rung in the system. So you see very few players skipping levels and more players returning to places where they finished last season. The only player moving up who has not shown mastery of his previous level is outfielder Xavier Avery, who will be the center fielder at Triple-A Norfolk after batting .259/.324/.343 at Double-A Bowie last year. As those numbers would indicate, Avery has premium leadoff tools but has not proven he can hit advanced pitching. Two college pitchers taken early in last year's draft, righthander Kyle Simon (Arizona, fourth round) and Mike Wright (East Carolina, third round), will open in the Frederick rotation. Both made cameo appearances in Delmarva last year.
Where Is That Guy?
Rather than getting his career moving again on Opening Day, it looks like righthander Dan Klein will be resting his shoulder. Klein had shoulder surgery in college and again last August, but he has continued to have discomfort in spring training and is scheduled to see a shoulder specialist in mid-April. It may be precautionary, as the Orioles want to be careful with Klein, who has a 0.93 career ERA but has pitched just 39 innings since getting drafted in 2010. Most of the team's premium draft picks from last year made full-season rosters (see Delmarva, above), and the highest-ranking player not to make a team for reasons other than injury is outfielder Roderick Bernadina, who batted .239/.341/.413 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year and will likely open the season at short-season Aberdeen.
Time is Running Out
Setting aside Billy Rowell's continued presence in the organization—the 2006 first-round pick has apparently been asked to consider pitching after failing to get past Double-A in six years as a hitter—the Norfolk roster is a veritable last-chance saloon for Orioles prospects. Most notably, righthander Chris Tillman is back with the Tides after continually failing to establish himself in the big leagues. Once considered alongside Brian Matusz as one of the organization's best prospects, Tillman has split the last three years between Baltimore and Norfolk, compiling a 5.58 ERA. One other player worth noting is righthander Matt Hobgood, who had shoulder surgery this week and will miss the entire season. Hobgood, the Orioles' 2009 first-round pick, has a 4-15, 5.48 career minor league record.