Orioles Top 10 Prospects
By Will Lingo
A fifth straight losing season in Baltimore. The worst attendance in the 10-year history of Camden Yards. The lowest minor league winning percentage in baseball. A farm system that's seeing its most talented players either stall in development or get hurt.
And that's not to mention the end of a 42-year affiliation with Triple-A Rochester, the longest partnership between a major league club and its top affiliate. Goodbye, Orioles. Hello, Twins.
The stories are numerous, but none illustrates Baltimore's problems better than the case of lefthander Erik Bedard. The organization's most prized prospect, he was having a terrific 2002 season at Double-A Bowie and looked on his way to a rotation spot in 2003.
But in a June game against Akron, Bedard was sent out to pitch the eighth inning even though he had reached his prescribed pitch count already. He recorded two outs, then grabbed his arm on a pitch and the trainer led him straight to the clubhouse. He had Tommy John surgery in September and won't pitch next season.
Bedard's injury wasn't an isolated event. Other promising pitchers such as Josh Cenate, Beau Hale, Matt Riley, Luis Rivera, Chris Smith and Rich Stahl have dealt with serious arm problems.
It's in this atmosphere that Orioles owner Peter Angelos continues to take his time in looking for a general manager to replace Syd Thrift. Franchise icon Cal Ripken said he didn't want the job, so the hunt for a dynamic new leader continues. The farm system and the front office isn't completely bereft of talent, but that which does exist is lost in a morass.
The underlying problem remains that this once-proud franchise simply has no direction. Baltimore has produced one significant position player (Jerry Hairston) since Ripken in 1982 and one pitcher (Sidney Ponson) since Mike Mussina in 1991. On several occasions in 2002, the Orioles played games without using a single player drafted and developed in their system. And members of the major league staff have said they're doing more teaching than anything else because players aren't learning the skills they need in the big leagues.
"If I was to point my finger, I think the player-development system is brutal, brutal, brutal," one scout told the Baltimore Sun. "I've seen their teams, and you never see their players working on things before games. I see the guys making the same mistakes year after year, and I don't see anyone developing. I think it's really a mess."
Position: Pitcher. Age: 24. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. B-T: L-L. Drafted: Norwalk (Conn.) CC, 1999 (6th round). Signed by: Jim Howard.
Background: How obscure is Erik Bedards hometown? It doesnt even exist. Noted in the Orioles media guide as hailing from Naum, Ontario, Bedard is actually from Navan, a small farming community just east of Ottawa thats renowned for its vegetables. Bedard didnt start playing baseball until he was 13, his high school did not have a team, and he never made a youth traveling squad. He walked on at Norwalk (Conn.) CC as a tall, skinny guy who could throw a curveball. He ate a lot and worked out a lot, adding strength and velocity, and got noticed at the 1999 Junior College Division III World Series. After the Orioles signed Bedard, he pitched well at every stop and was at his best in 2002, dominating at Double-A Bowie. After nearly making the big league club out of spring training, he made his major league debut April 17, becoming the 200th Canadian big leaguer. His dream season came to a sudden end June 26 when he blew out his arm in a game against Akron after he exceeded his mandated pitch count. Baysox manager Dave Cash and pitching coach Tom Burgmeier were reassigned shortly thereafter. Bedard tried rest but had Tommy John surgery in September when the pain persisted.
Strengths: When healthy, Bedard has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. His fastball sits at 92 mph, and his snappy curveball is his best pitch. It was how he got hitters out as a youngster, when he was considered a runt. He pitches well to both sides of the plate and shows no fear of hitters. The first big leaguer he faced was the Yankees Jason Giambi, and though Giambi got a hit, Bedard broke his bat. His changeup is solid and he throws all of his pitches for strikes.
Weaknesses: After shoulder problems bothered him in 2001, Bedard faces a much bigger challenge. He is unlikely to get back on a mound in the 2003 season. If his arm is sound, Bedard will need more experience in how to get better hitters out.
The Future: Bedard was on a path toward starting 2003 in the Baltimore rotation but now is on the list of Orioles pitching casualties. While Tommy John surgery shouldnt threaten his career, it does significantly alter his timetable. If everything goes well, hell be back in 2004.
Click here for prospects 2-10.
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