Baltimore Orioles: Top 10 Prospects

1. Bill Rowell, 3b
2. Brandon Erbe, rhp
3. Nolan Reimold, of
4. Pedro Beato, rhp
5. Radhames Liz, rhp
6. Garrett Olson, lhp
7. Brandon Snyder, c
8. James Hoey, rhp
9. Jeff Fiorentino, of
10. Kieron Pope, of
Best Hitter for Average Bill Rowell
Best Power Hitter Nolan Reimold
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Jeff Fiorentino
Fastest Baserunner Jarod Rine
Best Athlete Nolan Reimold
Best Fastball Brandon Erbe
Best Curveball Garrett Olson
Best Slider James Hoey
Best Changeup Garrett Olson
Best Control Garrett Olson
Best Defensive Catcher Eli Whiteside
Best Defensive Infielder Luis Hernandez
Best Infield Arm Bryan Bass
Best Defensive Outfielder Jeff Fiorentino
Best Outfield Arm Arturo Rivas
Catcher Ramon Hernandez
First Base Brandon Snyder
Second Base Brian Roberts
Third Base Bill Rowell
Shortstop Miguel Tejada
Left Field Nolan Reimold
Center Field Corey Patterson
Right Field Nick Markakis
Designated Hitter Jay Gibbons
No. 1 Starter Erik Bedard
No. 2 Starter Adam Loewen
No. 3 Starter Daniel Cabrera
No. 4 Starter Hayden Penn
No. 5 Starter Brandon Erbe
Closer Chris Ray
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Nerio Rodriguez, rhp Pirates
1998 Ryan Minor, 3b Out of baseball
1999 Matt Riley, lhp Rangers
2000 Matt Riley, lhp Rangers
2001 Keith Reed, of Orioles
2002 Richard Stahl, lhp Orioles
2003 Erik Bedard, lhp Orioles
2004 Adam Loewen, lhp Orioles
2005 Nick Markakis, of Orioles
2006 Nick Markakis, of Orioles
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Jayson Werth, c Dodgers
1998 Rick Elder, of Out of baseball
1999 Mike Paradis, rhp Out of baseball
2000 Beau Hale, rhp Orioles
2001 Chris Smith, lhp Out of baseball
2002 Adam Loewen, lhp Orioles
2003 Nick Markakis, of Orioles
2004 *Wade Townsend, rhp Devil Rays
2005 Brandon Snyder, c Orioles
2006 Bill Rowell, 3b Orioles
*Did not sign
Adam Loewen, 2002 $3,200,000
Beau Hale, 2000 $2,250,000
Chris Smith, 2001 $2,175,000
Bill Rowell, 2006 $2,100,000
Darnell McDonald, 1997 $1,900,000
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Baltimore Orioles

Is it the best of times or worst of times in Baltimore?

The Orioles integrated four of the top five players from last year’s prospect list into their big league roster in 2006, led by right fielder Nick Markakis, who hit .311 with 14 homers after the all-star break, and Chris Ray, who saved 33 games. That group didn’t include righthander John Maine, who went to the Mets in the Kris Benson deal and rose to prominence during New York’s playoff run.

Baltimore also had its second straight productive draft under scouting director Joe Jordan, adding more high-ceiling talent to the farm system, starting with new No. 1 prospect Bill Rowell. The Orioles also moved their Triple-A affiliation to Norfolk after four years in exile in Ottawa, giving them perhaps the most attractive arrangement of affiliates in the game. All six of the organization’s minor league teams are within driving distance of Baltimore.

But there’s also the small matter of a ninth straight losing season at the big league level, the worst stretch in team history. The Orioles also finished in fourth place in the American League East for the eighth time in the last nine years, leading inevitably to the lowest attendance ever at Camden Yards. And the farm system still lacks depth, especially among position players, and had virtually no legitimate big league talent at the upper levels after the graduation of Markakis and friends.

The meddling of owner Peter Angelos and his sons also continues to hamper the franchise. The Orioles sought deals for its most marketable asset–shortstop Miguel Tejada, who becomes more disgruntled by the game–only to have them vetoed by ownership.

Manager Sam Perlozzo and pitching coach Leo Mazzone have stabilized things in the big league dugout, but they haven’t produced improved results on the field yet. That’s because the Orioles simply don’t have enough good players at this point.

The pitching staff is young and shows promise, with 27-year-old lefthander Erik Bedard emerging as the team’s ace and Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn trying to show they can be consistent winners. Ray has taken a stranglehold on the closer’s job, and Chris Britton and James Hoey show promise as setup men.

It’s harder to be optimistic about the team’s hitters, though. Whether he’s happy or not, Tejada was still the team’s best offensive player again in 2006, leading the Orioles with 24 home runs and 100 RBIs. Ramon Hernandez was a good signing at catcher, Markakis should be a productive player for years and Corey Patterson benefited from his change of scenery.

But the team lacks power, finishing 11th in the AL in both home runs and slugging percentage in 2006, and probably will have to go outside the organization if it wants to patch the holes quickly. The only players who look like good bets to be big league run producers in the farm system–Rowell and Nolan Reimold–won’t be ready to contribute in the big leagues until at least 2008.

So it’s no wonder Orioles fans remain frustrated. Though there are some legitimate reasons for optimism, the last decade has taught them all too well to be skeptical of whether the team has the people in place to pull everything together.