Baltimore Orioles: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Baltimore Orioles: Scouting Reports

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, 2009.

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Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles must feel like they're running to stand still.

There are signs of hope. Catcher Matt Wieters was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year and may be the best prospect in baseball. The trade of Erik Bedard to the Mariners was a steal, giving Baltimore not only its closer (George Sherrill) and center fielder (Adam Jones) but also its best pitching prospect (Chris Tillman) and a couple of other young prospects who could contribute. Aubrey Huff had a bounceback year, and Nick Markakis looks like he'll occupy right field in Camden Yards for years.

But there was at least as much bad news. The young pitchers the Orioles were counting on either weren't ready for prime time or got hurt. Radhames Liz (6.72 ERA in 17 starts) and Garrett Olson (6.65 ERA in 26 starts) took their lumps in Baltimore. Troy Patton, a key part of the Miguel Tejada trade with the Astros, went down with a torn labrum during spring training. Adam Loewen, who signed for $3.2 million bonus as the No. 4 overall pick in 2002, officially washed out as a pitcher after continued elbow problems. The Orioles decided to try Loewen as a position player and removed him from the 40-man roster after the season, with plans to re-sign him, but he decided to join the Blue Jays instead.

And in fact, the Orioles aren't even standing still. They're dropping back, falling into the cellar in the American League East for the first time since 1988. Baltimore's 68-93 record left it 17½ games out of fourth place and marked its 11th straight losing season.

Things aren't going to get any easier in the AL East. The Rays look like they'll be good for at least the next several years, and the Red Sox and Yankees will continue to be the Red Sox and Yankees. Even the Blue Jays finished 10 games above .500 and have a farm system that's showing improvement.

The Orioles are making progress in player development as well, with an influx of top-end talent in the last few years. Wieters is a legitimate cornerstone player, and the system's top three arms (Tillman, 2008 first-rounder Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta) all look like legitimate big league starters.

If they're to make a significant jump in the big league standings, Baltimore particularly needs its young pitchers to come through. The Orioles ranked 13th in the AL in ERA (5.13) in 2008 and head into 2009 with no proven big league starters behind Jeremy Guthrie, who's better suited for the middle or back of a rotation than the front.

At least with team president Andy MacPhail now at the helm of the baseball operations, there's a feeling the franchise has a direction and someone with the patience to execute a plan. Spending $10.6 million to get Wieters, Arrieta and Matusz in the last two drafts should pay big dividends, and the trade Seattle gave the rebuilding effort a huge boost. And owner Peter Angelos has been out of the headlines.

MacPhail recognizes the Orioles don't have the depth of talent to compete in the East, but he has assembled several pieces that could help them take a step forward. Getting back in the playoffs remains a mountain that seems too high to climb right now.

1.  Matt Wieters, c   Born: May 21, 1986B-T: B-RHt: 6-5Wt: 230
 Drafted: Georgia Tech, 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Dave Jennings
Matt WietersBackground: Lots of prospects get hyped, but few deliver on their advance billing as dramatically as Wieters did in 2008, his debut season. He posted dominant performances both at the plate and behind it. He batted .355 (fifth in the minors) with a .454 on-base percentage (third) and .600 slugging percentage (10th), and his 1.053 OPS was surpassed only by two players who spent all or part of the year in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Wieters was an easy choice as BA's Minor League Player of the Year, not to mention the top prospect in the high Class A Carolina and Double-A Eastern leagues. He also ranked No. 1 in Hawaii Winter Baseball in the fall of 2007. Baltimore was hoping for a cornerstone player when it paid him a then-record $6 million bonus as the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft. Wieters enjoyed an All-America career at Georgia Tech, initially starring as a two-way player before his pitching duties dwindled as he showed his prowess as a catcher. After his first pro season, the Orioles couldn't be happier with their investment.

Strengths: Wieters is an above-average hitter with above-average power, combining patience with the bat speed to drive pitches out of any part of the park. He's an amazingly polished offensive player with great pitch recognition and a knack for getting himself into favorable counts. And don't forget he's a switch-hitter. Behind the plate, he shows agility, soft hands and the strong arm that made him a quality pitcher. He threw out 46 percent of basestealers in the Carolina League, and 32 percent in the Eastern League. He also earned high marks for his handling of pitchers and his game-calling skills. And yet people still tend to mention Wieters' intangibles first when they give their rave reviews: his quiet leadership, his ideal combination of being confident yet humble, his feel for the nuances of the game. Orioles officials note, for example, how quickly he adapted to professional breaking pitches, making adjustments not only within games but within individual at-bats.

Weaknesses: Wieters is a below-average runner, but he's athletic enough not to be a baseclogger, and he's plenty agile behind the plate. If you really want to look for negatives, you could wonder how long he'll stay behind the plate because he's so big. He clearly can handle the position, but if physical problems were to push him to first base, then his value would dip. But there's no reason at this point to think he won't spend at least the first five years of his big league career as a catcher.

The Future: The Orioles have done all they can to keep Wieters under wraps, eschewing a September callup for example, but Baltimore fans are well aware of him and anxious to pin their hopes for the future on his broad shoulders. Ramon Hernandez is under contract for one more year (with a club option for 2010), so Wieters may open 2009 at Triple-A Norfolk. He'll reach the majors at some point during the season, and it's hard to see him going back down after that.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Frederick (High A) .345 .448 .576 229 48 79 8 0 15 40 44 47 1
Bowie (AA) .365 .460 .625 208 41 76 14 2 12 51 38 29 1
2.  Chris Tillman, rhp   Born: April 15, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—Fountain Valley, Calif., 2006 (2nd round)Signed by: Tim Reynolds (Mariners)
Chris TillmanBackground: By just about any measure, the deal that brought four prospects and George Sherrill from Seattle for Erik Bedard was a steal for the Orioles, and Tillman could be the biggest prize of all. As the youngest pitcher in Double-A to start the season, he not only succeeded but at times dominated, and he ranked as the Eastern League's top pitching prospect.

Strengths: Tillman fits the pitching prototype, with a long, lean body, a smooth delivery, mound presence and three good pitches. He throws consistently in the low 90s, peaking at 94 mph, and showed an improved ability to keep his fastball down this season, though he has the stuff to pitch up in the zone at times. His curveball is also an above-average pitch.

Weaknesses: While Tillman shows the ability to throw strikes consistently with all his pitches, he still needs to sharpen his command. And while his changeup has become a usable pitch, it's still clearly No. 3 on his list and he needs to go to it more.

The Future: Tillman's overall package and early success at a high level make him the best bet among the Orioles' three prized pitching prospects. He should at least pitch in the middle of the Baltimore rotation and has the potential to lead it. He'll open 2009 in Triple-A with an eye toward moving to the big leagues in 2010.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Bowie (AA) 11 4 3.18 28 28 0 0 135.2 115 10 65 154 .227
3.  Brian Matusz, lhp   Born: Feb. 11, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-5Wt: 200
 Drafted: San Diego, 2008 (1st round).Signed by: Mark Ralston
Brian MatuszBackground: An unsigned Angels fourth-round pick out of an Arizona high school in 2005, Matusz went on to star at San Diego for three years. He went 12-2, 1.71 as a junior to earn first-team All-America honors, establishing himself as the top pitcher available in the 2008 draft. The Orioles got him with the fourth overall pick and signed him at the deadline for a major league contract worth $3,472,500, a relative bargain.

Strengths: Few pitchers come into professional baseball with better secondary stuff than Matusz's. His best pitch is probably his curveball, a plus pitch that he commands to both sides of the plate. His changeup is also an above-average pitch, and he leans on both pitches almost to the detriment of his fastball, which sits in the low 90s and touches 94 mph. Matusz also has an average slider, and he spots all his pitches well.

Weaknesses: Matusz will have to rely on his fastball more as a pro pitcher. His mechanics also could use some cleaning up, as he lands on a straight front leg sometimes.

The Future: For the second straight year, the Orioles appear to have hit paydirt with their first-round pick. Matusz should move quickly and profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter who could be a No. 2 if he can dominate with his fastball as a pro. He'll probably open his career at high Class A Frederick.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed Late
4.  Jake Arrieta, rhp   Born: March 6, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 225
 Drafted: Texas Christian, 2007 (5th round)Signed by: Jim Richardson
Jake ArrietaBackground: Though he didn't perform well as a college junior, Arrieta had shown first-round stuff during his amateur career, so the Orioles gave him $1.1 million as a fifth-round pick in the 2007 draft. He looked well worth it in his 2008 pro debut, finishing as the Carolina League's ERA leader, pitcher of the year and top pitching prospect despite dealing with an oblique injury in June and departing early to pitch for the U.S. Olympic team. He made one start in Beijing, pitching six shutout innings with seven strikeouts against China.

Strengths: The Orioles thought Arrieta could get his velocity back with minor mechanical adjustments, and they were right. His fastball peaked at 96-97 mph in 2008 and showed explosive late movement, and he got stronger with more work. He shows good fastball command and isn't afraid to pitch inside, and his big frame should allow him to eat innings.

Weaknesses: Arrieta could have as many as three plus pitches to go with his fastball, but they all need work. His slider has the most potential, but his changeup should also be a good pitch as he uses it more. His curveball is a slow, big breaker that he'll need to tighten up.

The Future: Some observers believe Arrieta will be better than both Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz, and the Orioles will be happy if they can build their future rotation around the trio. Arrieta will move up to Double-A Bowie to open 2009 and should be ready for a big league opportunity the following year.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Frederick (HiA) 6 5 2.87 20 20 0 0 113 80 7 51 120 .199
5.  Nolan Reimold, of   Born: Oct. 12, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 207
 Drafted: Bowling Green State, 2005 (2nd round)Signed by: Marc Ziegler
Nolan ReimoldBackground: After two injury-marred seasons, Reimold went back to Double-A Bowie, stayed healthy and got himself back on track. His 25 home runs tied for second in the Eastern League, and he was among the league leaders in slugging (.501) and OPS (.868) as well.

Strengths: Reimold has the raw power to compare with just about anyone's in the minors, rating a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He crushes mistakes and should be an average overall hitter if he continues to make adjustments and shows the ability to consistently handle secondary pitches. He's athletic and has average speed and a plus arm.

Weaknesses: He's a big guy with long levers and an unconventional setup who is starting to figure out his swing, though Reimold realistically is a one-zone hitter who always will strike out a lot. He can be too patient at times and wants to do too much at others. He's not an instinctive defender and doesn't always take great routes, so he fits best in left field, especially with Nick Markakis ahead of him.

The Future: Reimold's strong season will earn him a spot on the Orioles' 40-man roster and a look in left field in spring training. The Orioles could use his power, but they have seen that rushing players to the big leagues has not served them well in recent years, so some Triple-A at-bats probably would be a better idea.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Bowie (AA) .284 .367 .501 507 87 144 29 3 25 84 63 82 7
6.  Brandon Erbe, rhp   Born: Dec. 25, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 180
 Drafted: HS—Baltimore, 2005 (3rd round)Signed by: Ty Brown
Brandon ErbeBackground: Erbe went back to high Class A after making mechanical adjustments in instructional league following a rough 2007 season. He cut two runs off his ERA and led the Carolina League in strikeouts (151) and baserunners per nine innings (1.2), though he also topped the league by giving up 21 home runs.

Strengths: Erbe showed progress in just about every aspect of pitching and became more consistent with his smoothed-out windup. His fastball still touches the mid-90s, though he usually works in the low 90s, and his slider was more consistently a plus pitch. His two-seamer showed better sink and life and allowed him to work down in the zone more. He finished second in the CL in innings and learned how to pace himself better.

Weaknesses: While Erbe has improved his command, it's still not where it needs to be, and he too frequently leaves the ball up, as his home run total and 0.8 groundout/airout ratio show. His changeup has improved but still is a fringe-average pitch, and he needs to use it more. He still has some effort in his delivery and can be stubborn in taking instruction.

The Future: Erbe will have two plus pitches if he continues along his development path. If he can bring his changeup along with them and improve his command, he's a big league starter. If not, he should be a late-inning reliever. He'll get every chance to remain in the rotation, moving to Double-A to open 2009.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Frederick (HiA) 10 12 4.30 28 28 2 0 150.2 120 21 50 151 .216
7.  Bill Rowell, 3b   Born: Sept. 10, 1988B-T: L-RHt: 6-5Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS—Pennsauken, N.J., 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Dean Albany
Bill RowellBackground: Rowell had an inconsistent season as the youngest regular in the Carolina League, injuring his ankle in the first game and missing most of April. He struggled for long stretches, bottoming out at .213 in early July, but bounced back by batting .297 in August. The first high school hitter selected in the 2006 draft, he signed for $2.1 million.

Strengths: Rowell has the highest ceiling of any hitting prospect in the organization, though he still has a lot of work to do to develop his bat. His smooth swing and bat speed should allow him to hit for average and give him the power to drive the ball, and he can generate easy pop even when he shortens his swing—which he needs to do more often. His arm is his best defensive tool.

Weaknesses: Put simply, Rowell needs to grow up. He still has his own hitting coach, meaning he and the Orioles often are working at cross-purposes. He's still helpless against lefthanders, batting .187 against them in 2008. He has lost a lot of his speed as his body has matured, and his hands and feet don't work together well, raising questions about his ability to stay at third base.

The Future: Rowell could answer a lot of the questions about whether he'll realize his potential by returning to the Carolina League and outworking everyone else. Otherwise, he'll be an erratic hitter with no defensive position.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Frederick (HiA) .248 .315 .368 375 39 93 24 0 7 50 36 104 1
8.  Troy Patton, lhp   Born: Sept. 3, 1985B-T: L-RHt: 6-5Wt: 205
 Drafted: Magnolia, Texas, 2004 (9th round)Signed by: Rusty Pendergrass (Astros)
Troy PattonBackground: Patton was a key part of the five-player package the Astros traded for Miguel Tejada in December 2007. Patton tried to rehab a sore shoulder during the offseason but got shut down with shoulder pain early in spring training, opting for surgery to repair a small labrum tear in March.

Strengths: When healthy, Patton offers solid stuff and strong command from the left side. He throws a four-seam fastball in the low 90s, touching 94 mph, and a two-seamer in the high 80s, complementing them with a slider and changeup. He has little margin for error, but his command and moxie allow his stuff to play up.

Weaknesses: Shoulder surgery is always worrisome for a pitcher, but Patton wasn't a power pitcher and the reports from his rehabilitation have been positive. He threw off flat ground in the late summer and was back on the mound in September, first throwing bullpens and then simulated games during instructional league.

The Future: Patton's arm strength is back and Orioles officials say he looks free and easy, so he'll pitch without restrictions in spring training after taking the winter off. A successful return would be a boost for the major league rotation, though he may need some time in Triple-A first.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Injured
9.  Brandon Snyder, 1b   Born: Nov. 23, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Centreville, Va., 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Ty Brown
Brandon SnyderBackground: Snyder has proven that if he's healthy, he'll hit. After a bounce-back season in 2007, the 13th overall pick in the 2005 draft built on it in his first exposure to high Class A ball, finishing second in the Carolina League in batting (.315) and in the top five in several other offensive categories, including slugging (.490) and OPS (.848).

Strengths: Snyder raised his average by about 50 points after former big leaguer and longtime hitting coach Richie Hebner took over as Frederick's manager at the end of May. Hebner took Snyder under his wing and improved his approach at the plate, helping him stay on offspeed pitches, work counts and drive the ball better. He always has shown the ability to hit for average, but 2008 was the first year he hit the ball hard consistently.

Weaknesses: All of Snyder's value lies in his bat. The idea to put him behind the plate never got off the ground because he couldn't stay healthy, and he's a below-average first baseman because of poor range and footwork—though he's an average runner. Some think he should get a longer look at third base, while others think he'll wind up in the outfield.

The Future: Snyder has put in the work to become a better hitter, and he'll need to do the same on defense to avoid being a man without a position. He'll move up to Double-A and try to show he can do more than hit.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Frederick (HiA) .315 .358 .490 435 70 137 33 2 13 80 29 83 3
10.  Kam Mickolio, rhp   Born: May 10, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-9Wt: 255
 Signed: Utah Valley State, 2006 (18th round)Signed by: Phil Geisler (Mariners)
Kam MickolioBackground: Mickolio grew up in Montana, which has no high school baseball, and didn't play the sport until American Legion ball before his senior year. He rocketed through the minors in two seasons, having come to the Orioles in the Erik Bedard deal. He made his big league debut in August.

Strengths: Think Bobby Jenks, a big guy who came out of the wilderness with pure power stuff, only bigger. Mickolio is not subtle, reaching 96-97 mph with his fastball from an unorthodox crossfire delivery, and complementing it with a slider that's a well above-average pitch when it's on.

Weaknesses: Mickolio's delivery is all over the place, and the Orioles have worked on several tweaks to give him something more balanced and  repeatable. They won't try a major overhaul because they don't want him to lose his arm speed or risk injury. His slider is at its best about one out of three outings, and his changeup and slurve aren't effective yet.

The Future: If Baltimore is patient with Mickolio and gives him time to develop, he has the stuff to set up or close in the big leagues. He could use more seasoning in Triple-A, but his arm will be mighty tempting to the big league staff.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Bowie (AA) 2 1 4.70 28 0 0 1 38.1 39 2 22 40 .262
Norfolk (AAA)
Baltimore (ML)

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Photo Credits: Wieters (Mike Janes)
Matusz, Arrieta, Reimold, Snyder, Mickolio (Roger Wood)
Tillman (Kevin Pataky)
Rowell (Tom Priddy)
Patton (Steve Moore)