Baltimore Orioles Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By David Rawnsley
1. Matt Riley, LHP
Strengths: Riley has pure lefthanded power stuff. His fastball reaches 95 mph with good cutting and riding life but his strikeout pitch is a high 70s overhand curveball with tremendous bite and deception. Riley's changeup is also well developed considering his age. The Orioles praise Riley for his makeup and baseball aptitude. One development official said, "He's a baseball player, a yard rat type. He doesn't get rattled in tough situations because he's at home in the baseball enviornment." Riley is also a good athlete who will be able to help himself in the field and with the bat.
Weaknesses: Whatever weaknesses Riley might possess haven't been evident as a professional. He walked 44 hitters in his 83 innings, but given how difficult he was to make contact with, many of those were undoubtably the result of just having to throw too many pitches to a hitter or Class A umpires being overmatched by his curveball. Scouts felt that Riley became too emotional in high school and his mechanics would break down, a problem he has obviously solved in the Orioles eyes.
The Future: The Orioles are undecided on where to start Riley in 1999 but it will most likely be at Double-A Bowie. They figure there is no reason to have the 19-year-old Riley overmatch A ball hitters any longer than necessary if he is healthy and throwing well. Riley's closest comparison in baseball today is probably Rich Ankiel, the Cardinals 19-year-old lefthanded phenom.
2. Calvin Pickering, 1B
Age: 22 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt: 283
Drafted: HS--Tampa, 1995 (35th round) Signed by: Harry Shelton
Background: A native of the Virgin Islands, Pickering moved to Tampa to get drafted, though he wasn't selected until the 35th round in 1995. After skipping over Class A Frederick, Pickering won the Eastern League MVP award in 1998.
Strengths: Pickering has huge offensive potential. He hits for average and power, and draws walks. His size and raw strength are intimidating but his bat skills are those of a smaller player. Pickering showed no fear of major league pitching during his debut in September.
Weaknesses: Defensively, Pickering's hands and feet are described as plenty good enough to play by Orioles officials, but at 285 pounds he can only be so quick. Should Pickering's diet regress to his former 300-plus pound level, a new set of problems would reemerge.
The Future: The obvious comparison for Pickering is Baltimore's beloved former first baseman Boog Powell. The Orioles must decide whether to give Pickering a full shot at the first base job or relegate him to a DH role by re-signing free agent Rafael Palmeiro or acquiring another premium first baseman.
3. Jayson Werth, C
Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Chatham, Ill., 1997 (1st round) Signed by: Fred Peterson
Background: Werth's uncle (Dick Schofield) and grandfather (Dick Schofield Sr.) were big league shortstops, his stepfather (Dennis Werth) a major league catcher and his mother a world class sprinter. He excelled defensively in his first full season, and was moved up to Double-A late in the year.
Strengths: As a catcher with legitimate five-tool potential, Werth is a rare prospect. His baseball background and intelligence give him the perfect package to become a leader behind the plate. Another telling comment was that Werth "plays catcher like a shortstop." His power potential may be the last tool to develop but might have the highest ceiling.
Weaknesses: Tall hitters often struggle to shorten their swings enough to be effective hitters at the major league level, but Werth's initial adjustments have been very positive. Defensively, Werth's arm strength is probably the weakest tool in his overall package.
The Future: Although Werth finished the '98 season at Double-A, he will probably start at Class A Frederick in 1999. Baltimore's unsettled major league catching situation should guarantee Werth will move as quickly as his bat allows him.
4. Darnell McDonald, OF
Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Englewood, Colo., 1997 (1st round) Signed by: John Green/Logan White
Background: McDonald dropped in the 1997 draft because of his commitment to play football at the University of Texas. The Orioles signed him to a $1.9 million bonus--by far the largest in club history. He moved to the leadoff spot midway through the '98 season.
Strengths: McDonald has the potential to be a complete speed/power package at the plate, but was too power conscious early and developed bad habits. Hitting leadoff forced him to make better contact and take advantage of his explosive speed. Defensively, McDonald made solid strides in his routes to the ball, primarily while playing left field.
Weaknesses: Capable of throwing 95 mph off the mound in high school, McDonald saw his arm strength decrease playing everyday. McDonald also must learn the strike zone better, especially if he is to continue to hit at the top of the lineup.
The Future: The Orioles realize McDonald won't shoot up the ladder like Werth or Jerry Hairston and that his path likely will include a stop at every level. McDonald will be looking to improve his overall offensive numbers next spring at Frederick.
5. Ryan Minor, 3B
Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-7 Wt: 235
Drafted: Oklahoma, 1996 (33rd round) Signed by: Lane Decker
Background: A hoops star at the University of Oklahoma, Minor has been placed on the fast track to make up for his late start in baseball. He was jumped from low Class A to Double-A this year. The season's highlight, of course, was taking Cal Ripken's place in the Orioles lineup.
Strengths: Minor is a superior athlete who has the grace and body life of a much smaller player. At third, he has excellent range, smooth hands and an accurate arm. His offensive strength is projected to be his power and run production.
Weaknesses: Minor's future will hinge completely on his ability to make consistent contact. His height and long arms are a hindrance at the plate and he has struggled with fastballs on the fists and breaking balls off the outside corner.
The Future: Scouts watching the Arizona Fall League were surprised by the depth of Minor's struggles, but Orioles officials were writing it off to the physical and mental fatigue that September caused. Ripken will likely have one more year at third base while Minor tries Triple-A pitching in 1999.
6. Jerry Hairston, 2B
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-10 Wt: 172
Drafted: Southern Illinois, 1997 (11th round) Signed by: Fred Peterson
Background: Hairston's father, grandfather and uncle all played in the major leagues. A shortstop in college, he was drafted as a 21-year-old sophomore eligible out of Southern Illinois University.
Strengths: With Hairston's background, it shouldn't be surprising that he has outstanding instincts and knowledge of the game. He shows alert baserunning, bat control and quick decisions on defense. His best physical tool is his short swing and ability to drive pitches all over the field, though he has also shown excellent hands at second base.
Weaknesses: Hairston's arm strength and quickness are adequate at second base, and his speed and power are just a notch below average. The formula is consistent, just-below-average tools, excellent knowledge and makeup.
The Future: There has been plenty of talk of Hairston taking Roberto Alomar's place at second in 1999 despite having less than 750 minor league at-bats. With the Orioles "win now" attitude, it is doubtful they would decide to put two rookies (along with Pickering) on the right side of the infield.
7. Chris Fussell, RHP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200
Drafted: HS--Oregon, Ohio, 1994 (9th round) Signed by: Earl Winn
Background: Fussell was perhaps the Orioles top pitching prospect before midseason elbow surgery in 1996. His 8-9, 4.20 year in 1998 was deceiving, as he threw very well during the second half, made a positive impression in his major league debut and enjoyed a solid Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Fussell's strikeout pitch before his elbow surgery was a sharp curveball, and his confidence in it has slowly returned. A key to his late 1998 success was the addition of a good slider, which gave hitters another look. Fussell's fastball is solid average and he has developed increasing confidence in his changeup.
Weaknesses: Although Fussell mixes four pitches very well for his age and experience, his 80 walks in 152 minor league innings show he needs to improve his command. His elbow history and breaking ball style raise a question mark about his future endurance.
The Future: Based on his second-half performance, mature pitching style and the Orioles lack of starting pitching depth, Fussell should get a long look in spring training for a rotation spot.
8. Ntema Ndungidi, OF
Age: 19 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 165
Drafted: HS--Montreal, 1997 (1st round) Signed by: Wayne Norton
Background: Ndungidi (pronouned ENN-teema DOON-gee-dee) was born in Zaire but moved with his family to Montreal when he was 3. His high school didn't have a baseball team but "Pappy," as he is known, played for the Canadian Academy of Baseball select team.
Strengths: As a raw athlete, Ndungidi has exceptional potential. His speed, arm strength and raw power/bat speed are all above average. Depending on how much he physically matures, Ndungidi could end up in either center or right field.
Weaknesses: Ndungidi's biggest weaknesses are with the basic fundamentals: routes to the ball in the outfield, footwork on throws and running the bases. Though he hit well at Rookie-level Bluefield in 1998, he must repeat the feat at higher levels to show he is a baseball player and not just a great athlete.
The Future: The Orioles were thrilled with Ndungidi's 1998 season. He drew walks and made consistent contact, all while learning how to play the game. Much like fellow outfield prospect Darnell McDonald, Ndungidi's progress will likely be measured one level at a time.
9. Rick Elder, OF
Age: 18 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-6 Wt: 230
Drafted: HS--Marietta, Ga., 1998 (1st round) Signed by: Lamar North
Background: Elder immediately impressed the Orioles development staff with his offensive ability and maturity. A first baseman/lefthander in high school, Elder made a smooth transition to the outfield.
Strengths: Elder was drafted on his potential as a lefthanded power hitter. He has the strength to take the ball out of every part of the park, but also showed an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and mature approach for his age. Thought by most scouts to be a one-tool player, Elder showed average speed in the field and on the bases.
Weaknesses: After throwing a lot of innings during the spring and switching positions after signing, Elder came down with a sore elbow and had to be shut down before the end of the '98 season. The Orioles were cautiously optimistic that it was simply fatigue and tendinitis.
The Future: The Orioles have been aggressive with high ceiling players and think they may have scored with Elder's hitting skills and athletic ability. They would like to keep Elder in the outfield as long as possible, but first base is always a viable option.
10. Gabe Molina, RHP
Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 190
Drafted: Arizona State, 1996 (21st round) Signed by: John Green
Background: Molina is a short, squat, short-armed righthander with a history of elbow problems. But somehow he has emerged as the leading closer candidate in the Orioles system.
Strengths: Molina has a lightning quick arm and a 92-94 mph fastball. He has always had a hard-breaking slider but made great strides in controlling the pitch and spotting it where he wants. Molina has used both pitches to strike out 227 hitters in 183 minor league innings.
Weaknesses: The stigmas of size and draft status are real in professional baseball up to a point. Molina's role will definitely be in the bullpen, as he has not developed an effective offspeed pitch and has never started a game as a professional.
The Future: If he can continue to throw strikes with his two quality pitches, Molina has a shot to make the Orioles bullpen out of spring training as a set-up man. His stuff is unlikely to get any better, so his ability to make the mental adjustments to pitching at the major league level will determine Molina's eventual role.
Rest of the Best:
11. Luis Matos, of
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