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Top Ten Prospects: Baltimore Orioles
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Will Lingo
January 4, 2006


Chat Wrap: Will Lingo took your Orioles questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.

Are the Orioles the team that was 14 games better than .500 on June 21, or the team that collapsed in the second half of the season and finished with four fewer victories than in 2004?

Are they the team that featured promising young pitchers like Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera and an improving farm system, or the team that ran has-beens like Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa onto the field?

Are they a step or two from being a legitimate contender, or would they be better off unloading their veterans and building with young players? In short, where are the Orioles going and how do they intend to get there?

The 2005 season, their first with new neighbors the Nationals just down Interstate 95, started with great promise as Baltimore spent 62 straight days in first place in the first half. While that was probably better than fans should have expected, the rest of the season was much worse. There were injuries, with Brian Roberts’ breakout season ending in August with a torn ligament in his elbow. There were veteran busts, and plenty of scandal and dissension. Palmeiro created the biggest distraction, getting suspended for a positive steroid test in August, soon after his 3,000th hit. Sidney Ponson got arrested for the third time in nine months—his second alcohol-related offense—after which the Orioles terminated his contract. And there was a negative clubhouse atmosphere to go with all the losing.

The combination cost manager Lee Mazzilli his job in August. He was replaced by Sam Perlozzo on an interim basis, and Perlozzo eventually was given the full-time job. Co-general manager Jim Beattie also was forced out after the season, leaving that job solely to Mike Flanagan. Flanagan hired former Mets GM Jim Duquette as his new right-hand man.

After the season, as free agents spurned Baltimore’s offers, shortstop Miguel Tejada expressed his frustration with the franchise’s direction. Baltimore looked into trade possibilities, but a deal looked unlikely because they wanted superstars in return. While trading one of the game’s best players might seem like the last thing the Orioles need, it might make sense if they got formidable young talent in return. The first half of 2005 notwithstanding, the team is more than a player or two away from the playoffs. At least its once-barren farm system has improved considerably.

Baltimore has several intriguing pitchers who already have reached the big leagues. The big league lineup has fewer young impact players, but the system should contribute several outfielders over the next couple of years, led by top prospect Nick Markakis.

The 2005 draft provided an infusion of talent, with four players from that crop figuring into the top 10. Past Orioles drafts had been damaged by severe budget limitations and/or meddling from owner Peter Angelos, but scouting director Joe Jordan said he had no financial restrictions or interference with his first draft. He even got extra money to sign two late-round picks, righthander David Hernandez (16th round) and outfielder Danny Figueroa (43rd round), who showed promise.


1. NICK MARKAKIS, of      Born: November 17, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 175
Drafted: Young Harris (Ga.) JC, 2003 (1st round)    Signed by: Dave Jennings

Background: The debate regarding Markakis being a hitter or pitcher is officially a footnote to history now, after he put up gaudy offensive numbers in his first complete minor league season. Managers rated him the top hitting and power prospect in the Class A Carolina League in a midseason survey, and he won the home run derby as well as MVP honors in the California-Carolina League all-star game. His numbers improved after a promotion to Double-A Bowie. Markakis was Baseball America’s Junior College Player of the Year in both 2002 and 2003, and he turned down the Reds in the draft twice, declining a $1.5 million draft-and-follow offer shortly before the 2003 draft. Most teams preferred him as a lefthander, but the Orioles liked his potential with the bat more and signed him for $1.85 million The debate flared again briefly in 2004 when Markakis pitched as well as hit for the Greek team in the Athens Olympics. But his aptitude as a hitter and rapid development leave no doubt that he’ll reach the major leagues as an outfielder, and he should be an all-star once he gets there.

Strengths: Markakis has adapted to professional baseball faster than even the Orioles expected. He has all the physical tools for success—the ability to hit to all fields with power, and the speed, instincts and arm to play anywhere in the outfield. His aptitude for the game is what makes him a premium prospect. “His intangibles are every bit as good as his ability,” one scout said. He has shown the ability to make adjustments to better pitching as he has moved up through the minors, and shows outstanding bat control in the zone. He has established a firm foundation at the plate, where before he would slide through the ball rather than turning on it, and it has allowed him to wait on pitches and read them better. Most scouts think he could play center field in the big leagues, but the Orioles regard him as a prototype right fielder because of his arm and instincts.

Weaknesses: Though Markakis’ power started to emerge in 2004, it still has a ways to go. At the beginning of his pro career, he tried to yank everything out, but now he’s willing to hit the ball the other way. Eventually he should be able to hit those pitches over the fence consistently and should start to pull the ball out again. Markakis is fast enough to steal 20-25 bases a year, but he hasn’t worked on it much. If he can improve his baserunning and basestealing, it would add another dimension to a well-rounded game.

The Future: In a perfect world, Markakis would get another season to put the finishing touches on his game before he moves up to the big leagues. But there should be plenty of job opportunities in the Baltimore outfield during spring training, so he’ll get a long look in big league camp. If he doesn’t set the world on fire, he could open at either Double-A or Triple-A Ottawa, with a likely promotion to Baltimore by the second half.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Frederick (Hi A) .300 .379 .480 350 59 105 25 1 12 62 43 65 2 1
Bowie (AA) .339 .420 .573 124 19 42 16 2 3 30 18 30 0 1


2. ADAM LOEWEN, lhp        Born: April 9, 1984 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt: 215
Drafted: Chipola (Fla.) JC, D/F 2002 (1st round)   Signed by: John Gillette/Dave Jennings

Background: Loewen’s $3.2 million bonus and $4.02 million big league contract were the biggest deals ever given to an amateur by the Orioles. He was ineffective in 2004 and came down with a small tear in his labrum, which he rehabilitated without surgery. He was inconsistent in 2005 but came on strong late in the summer and led the Arizona Fall League with a 1.67 ERA.


Strengths:
Loewen has the stuff to pitch at the front of a big league rotation, with a 92-93 mph fastball that touches 94 with life and finish down in the zone. His curveball is also a plus pitch. He was dominant at times late in the season as his pitches and command came together.

  

Weaknesses:
Mechanical problems have caused Loewen to struggle with his control, but he made improvements with high Class A Frederick pitching coach Scott McGregor. His changeup is still a step down from his fastball and curveball, and his curve is inconsistent.

  

The Future:
Loewen got better by working harder and improving his concentration. His contract means he has to stick in the big leagues by 2007, which is realistic if he continues the progress he made late last season. He’ll open 2006 in Double-A.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Frederick (Hi A) 10 8 4.12 28 27 1 0 142 130 14 86 146 .245


3. HAYDEN PENN, rhp        Born: October 13, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195
Drafted: HS—Santee, Calif., 2002 (5th round) Signed by: Ray Krawczyk

Background: Penn had made fast progress but wasn’t ready for the big leagues when he got an emergency callup at the end of May. Injuries to the Baltimore staff kept him there for almost six weeks. Because of his big league struggles and mention in midseason trade rumors, he lost focus when he first returned to Double-A, but recaptured his form in August.


Strengths:
Three plus pitches that he throws for strikes give Penn a strong foundation, and he complements his stuff with strong aptitude and the attitude that he always can beat the hitter. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 96, and his changeup is his second-best pitch. Polishing his curveball filled the missing piece in his repertoire.

  

Weaknesses:
As big league hitters showed him, Penn needs to improve his fastball command. He tends to leave too much of the ball in the hitting zone. He tried to overthrow when he was in Baltimore.

  

The Future:
Like Nick Markakis, Penn could use more seasoning but may be the best solution to filling a big league hole. Even if he doesn’t break camp with the team, he’ll be in Baltimore sometime in 2006.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Bowie (AA) 7 6 3.83 20 19 1 0 110 101 11 37 120 .248
Baltimore 3 2 6.34 8 8 0 0 38 46 6 21 18 .295


4. NOLAN REIMOLD, of        Born: October 12, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 207
Drafted: Bowling Green State, 2005 (2nd round)   Signed by: Marc Ziegler

Background: Though he was the Mid-American Conference player of the year and led NCAA Division I with a .770 slugging percentage, Reimold had an up-and-down spring that had scouts split on his value. Orioles scouts saw him early in the spring and loved him, and he sealed the deal by showing off his tools in a predraft workout at Camden Yards. He rated as the top prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League.


Strengths:
Reimold instantly became the Orioles’ best power prospect, but he also showed a surprisingly well-rounded game. He’s an above-average hitter who can drive good fastballs, and he runs well enough to play anywhere in the outfield. His plus arm and offensive profile fit best in right field.

  

Weaknesses:
Reimold just needs experience. He has huge holes in his strike zone, at times taking too many pitches and other times getting impatient and hacking. He also needs to adjust to offspeed pitches.

  

The Future:
He fits the prototype for the hitters new scouting director Joe Jordan wants to bring in—athletes with size, speed and a passion for baseball. He’ll open the season back in high Class A.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Aberdeen (SS) .294 .392 .550 180 33 53 15 2 9 30 29 44 2 0
Frederick (Lo A) .265 .371 .554 83 17 22 6 0 6 11 12 27 3 0


5. CHRIS RAY, rhp       Born: January 12, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200
Signed: William & Mary, 2003 (3rd round)  Signed by: Marc Tramuta

Background: A starter in his first season and a half as a pro, Ray moved to the bullpen in 2005—the role that always seemed to be his destiny—and rocketed to the big leagues. He dominated in Double-A before making his debut in June and holding his own in middle relief.


Strengths:
Ray has the stuff and attitude to be a closer. His heavy fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 96-97 with good movement. He complements it with a hard slider, and he has a plus splitter that he occasionally throws as well. He likes the ball at the end of the game and goes after hitters.

  

Weaknesses:
Most of Ray’s weaknesses were eliminated when he moved to the bullpen and no longer needed a changeup. He needs to refine his command, and he can’t throw the splitter more often because it puts too much torque on his elbow.

  

The Future:
In Double-A at the outset of 2005, Ray could enter spring training as the Orioles’ top closer candidate after they declined to match Toronto’s huge contract offer to B.J. Ryan. Ray probably will compete with LaTroy Hawkins, with the loser setting up the winner.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Bowie (AA) 1 2 0.96 31 0 0 18 37 17 3 7 40 .140
Baltimore 1 3 2.66 41 0 0 0 41 34 5 18 43 .222


6. GARRETT OLSON, lhp      Born: October 18, 1983 B-T: R-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Drafted: Cal Poly, 2005 (1st round supplemental)   Signed by: Gil Kubski

Background: Olson was the top prospect in the Alaska League in 2004, and followed that with a good spring at Cal Poly to position himself as one of the best college lefthanders in the 2005 draft. He jumped all the way to high Class A in his first summer and emerged as Frederick’s best pitcher in the playoffs.


Strengths:
Olson showed three good pitches with plus command at Cal Poly, and his stuff was better at Frederick than any of the Orioles scouts had seen in college. He pitched in the low 90s more consistently and also showed a power curveball that runs away from lefthanders. All of his pitches have so much life that it’s hard for hitters to square the ball.

  

Weaknesses:
Olson still needs to refine his changeup. Counting the playoffs, he logged 200 innings between college and pro ball. That workload might raise eyebrows, but Baltimore kept a close eye on his pitch counts, usually limiting him to 50 per outing. He worked so efficiently that he was able to get a lot of innings out of his pitches.

  

The Future:
The Orioles admit they got a better pitcher than they expected in Olson. He’ll probably open 2006 back in high Class A.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Aberdeen (SS) 2 1 1.58 11 6 0 1 40 22 1 13 40 .164
Frederick (Lo A) 0 0 3.14 3 3 0 0 14 10 0 7 19 .192


7. BRANDON SNYDER, c       Born: November 23, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205
Drafted: HS—Centreville, Va., 2005 (1st round)   Signed by: Ty Brown

Background: Snyder is the son of former big league pitcher Brian and a baseball rat who has played with strong competition most of his life, including the standout Midland Redskins summer team. He was the 13th overall pick in June, signed for $1.7 million and finished the summer rated as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.


Strengths:
Snyder is a polished offensive player who uses the whole field and already shows power. He has an efficient swing and takes the barrel straight to the ball with a consistent approach. He’s not afraid to take pitches and work counts.

  

Weaknesses:
While he has the tools to be a good defensive catcher, Snyder hasn’t played there much. He played all over the field in high school before settling behind the plate late in his senior season. He has a plus arm but will need time learning the nuances of the position.

  

The Future:
Short-season Aberdeen manager Andy Etchebarren, a longtime big league catcher, jump-started Snyder’s progress at the position. His bat should play even if he has to move to third. He’ll open the season at low Class A Delmarva.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Bluefield (R) .271 .380 .493 144 26 39 8 0 8 35 28 36 7 2
Aberdeen (SS) .393 .419 .464 28 4 11 2 0 0 6 2 7 0 0


8. J.J. JOHNSON, rhp      Born: June 27, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 232
Drafted: HS—Endicott, N.Y., 2001 (5th round)   Signed by: Jim Howard

Background: The Orioles were very patient with Johnson, not exposing him to full-season ball until his fourth pro season and even then holding him back in extended spring as he recovered from mononucleosis. He broke out in 2005, winning Carolina League pitcher-of-the-year honors, leading the league in strikeouts and pitching in the Futures Game.


Strengths:
While Johnson doesn’t have one dominant pitch, he has three solid pitches with good command and a body that should allow him to be a workhorse. His fastball ranges from 90-93 mph, and his curveball is also a plus pitch. His changeup is a good third pitch. He’s not afraid to work inside and led the CL with 19 hit batters.

  

Weaknesses:
Because he can’t overpower them with his stuff, Johnson needs to refine his command as he faces more advanced hitters. He also is learning to use his curveball and changeup more often.

  

The Future:
While Johnson has just burst onto the prospect scene, he should move more quickly from here. He’ll open the season in Double-A and could be in the big leagues by 2007.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Frederick (Hi A) 12 9 3.49 28 27 2 1 160 139 11 64 168 .231
Bowie (AA) 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 7 3 0 2 6 .136


9. BRANDON ERBE, rhp       Born: December 25, 1987 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 180
Drafted: HS—Baltimore, 2005 (3rd round)   Signed by: Ty Brown

Background: Because of his commitment to Miami and an inconsistent senior season, most teams weren’t sure where to draft Erbe. The Orioles had a good feel for him because he played for a summer travel team coached by area scout Dean Albany, so they took him in the third round and signed him for $415,000. He emerged as the best pitching prospect in the Appalachian League.


Strengths:
After seeing Erbe pitch this summer, the Orioles feel like he might have the best pure stuff in the 2005 high school draft class. He threw his fastball from 94-98 mph most of the summer, and the ball explodes out of his hand. He has the long, lanky pitcher’s body that scouts love, and a funky delivery that makes him deceptive to hitters.

  

Weaknesses:
Erbe’s secondary pitches need work. His breaking ball is above-average at times and is usually in the zone, but it’s inconsistent. He shows a feel for a changeup but never has had to use it much.

  

The Future:
Erbe has an incredible amount of ability, and the next couple of seasons will show his ability to harness it. He’ll open the season in low Class A and will play all of 2006 at age 18.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Bluefield (R) 1 1 3.09 11 3 0 1 23 8 1 10 48 .103
Aberdeen (SS) 1 1 7.71 3 1 0 0 7 6 0 4 9 .261


10. VAL MAJEWSKI, of       Born: June 19, 1981 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200
Drafted: Rutgers, 2002 (3rd round)    Signed by: Jim Howard

Background: In a season with plenty of big league opportunity, Majewski couldn’t take advantage because a labrum tear in his throwing shoulder kept him out all season. He had surgery in spring training after rest and rehab didn’t work, and he didn’t return until instructional league. He went to the Arizona Fall League and headed to the Dominican League to continue to make up at-bats.


Strengths:
Majewski is a professional hitter who makes hard, consistent contact when he’s healthy. He has a strong approach at the plate and should hit for power and average. His makeup is off the charts, so there was no doubt he would work hard to rehabilitate his injury.

  

Weaknesses:
The shoulder injury is Majewski’s only remaining question mark. His swing looked slow early in the fall but came around by the end of the AFL season. Previously seen as an ideal right fielder, he could move to left if he doesn’t recover his arm strength.

  

The Future:
Majewski worked hard this offseason to make up for lost time, and he’ll start 2006 in Triple-A to get more at-bats and get his arm back in shape. If he’s healthy, he could be called up quickly.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Did not play—Injured


Photo Credits:
Johnson: Rich Abel
Erbe, Markakis, Ray: Mike Janes
Loewen, Olson, Reimold, Snyder: Rodger Wood

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