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Top Ten Prospects: Baltimore Orioles
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Will Lingo
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.
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