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.
November 17, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 175
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)
Frederick (Hi A)
April 9, 1984 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt: 215
Chipola (Fla.) JC, D/F 2002 (1st round) Signed by: John
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
October 12, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 207
Bowling Green State, 2005 (2nd round) Signed by: Marc
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.
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.
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.
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
2005 Club (Class)
Frederick (Lo A)
January 12, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200
William & Mary, 2003 (3rd round) Signed by: Marc
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.
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
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.
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.
Cal Poly, 2005 (1st round supplemental) Signed by: Gil
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HS—Endicott, N.Y., 2001 (5th round) Signed by:
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.
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
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.
HS—Baltimore, 2005 (3rd round) Signed by:
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.
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
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)
June 19, 1981 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200
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.
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
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)
Did not play—Injured
Johnson: Rich Abel
Erbe, Markakis, Ray: Mike Janes
Loewen, Olson, Reimold, Snyder: Rodger Wood