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Markakis was drafted in the 23rd round by the Reds in 2002, then went seventh overall to the Orioles a year later after turning down a $1.5 million draft-and-follow offer from Cincinnati. He was Baseball America's Junior College Player of the Year in both seasons, and signed with Baltimore for $1.8 million. Markakis was an outstanding two-way player at Young Harris (Ga.) JC, and scouts within and outside the organization were divided about where he should play professionally. Hitting won out, and it has looked like the right decision so far. Markakis was batting just .239 through May at low Class A Delmarva, but his swing started coming together and he got red-hot. He batted .345 and hit 18 doubles in the next two months before departing for the Olympics to play for the Greek team assembled with help from Baltimore owner Peter Angelos. Most Orioles officials regarded the trip as a great opportunity, though they were chagrined when Markakis was also asked to pitch. He made two relief appearances--touching 94 mph, it should be noted-- and he was one of the event's best hitters, going 9-for-26 (.346) with a home run. Because it was his first full pro season, Baltimore shut him down when he returned. While his arm strength is undeniable, Markakis' hands and athletic body give him a higher ceiling as an outfielder. Never a full-time hitter before 2004, he made the adjustments that could make him an ideal No. 3 hitter. As one scout said, "He gets better every second." The speed and strength in his hands make him a pure hitter, and the natural snap in his bat gives him good power that should increase as he matures. Markakis established a solid foundation for his swing by getting his lower half more stable as the year went on, giving him better torque on his swing. He already shows good control of the strike zone. His strong, sinewy body earns him comparisons to Shawn Green and Johnny Damon. His athleticism allows him to play center field in a pinch, but his speed and arm make him perfectly suited for right field. Markakis is inexperienced at the plate, so he's still trying to figure out his swing as well as understanding how to attack in hitter's counts. He came in with what the Orioles called "aluminum bat drift," meaning his body would get ahead of his hands. He's learning to keep his body back so it stays out of the way of his beautiful swing. He also needs to refine his outfield defense, improving his jumps and routes to balls. As Markakis has slowly but surely put pitching behind him, he has started to emerge as a potential premium bat and standout defender. His lack of experience as a hitter and his Olympic sojourn have slowed down his progress a bit, but the way he came on in the second half of 2004 opened eyes. He'll begin 2005 at high Class A Frederick and could arrive in the big leagues by the second half of 2006.
Penn's baseball experience and success were limited in high school because he spent a lot of time on the basketball court. He was the eastern San Diego player of the year after averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds a game as a senior. He broke out in 2004, jumping to Double- A and being named Baltimore's minor league pitcher of the year. Penn has the stuff to pitch at the front of a rotation. His plus changeup is his best pitch now, and he also has an 89-92 mph fastball that touches 94 and a curveball that's above-average when it's on. What the Orioles really like, though, is his savvy. He pitches above his experience, working inside, pitching to contact and showing a knack for reading hitters' weaknesses. Penn mainly needs innings. He pitched half a season in 2003, and opened 2004 in the Delmarva bullpen to reduce his workload. His curveball still requires work. It's early, but Penn's fast progress got the Orioles excited. He'll go back to Double-A Bowie to open 2005.
The highest-drafted Canadian ever, Loewen went fourth overall in 2002 and signed for a $3.2 million bonus as part of a $4.02 million big league deal. But Loewen was too ineffective to be considered for Canada's 2004 Olympic team, and at the end of the year was diagnosed with a torn labrum. When he's healthy and on his game, Loewen has dominant stuff. He's effectively wild in the strike zone with a 90-92 mph fastball that reaches 95, and a curveball that's a knockout pitch. He's a good athlete with fluid mechanics that give him good deception. The major concern is Loewen's shoulder, though he didn't require surgery and completed a throwing program in October. His first full season was marred by inconsistent mechanics, a loss of command and the loss of faith in his stuff. The Orioles consider all of that correctable. His changeup lags behind his fastball and curve. Loewen's contract guaranteed him a spot in big league spring training in 2004, and he never seemed to recover after getting knocked around. He'll seek a fresh start in high Class A in 2005.
Majewski was Baltimore's minor league player of the year and a Double-A Eastern League all-star in 2004. He made his big league debut in August, but the year ended on a down note when doctors found a small labrum tear in his throwing shoulder. Majewski's makeup is off the charts, and he's intensely focused on the things he can control. He goes to the plate with a plan and shows good pitch selection. He makes hard contact and his home run power is starting to emerge. He has the tools for right field and also has seen time in center. Majewski's swing has more holes than Markakis', and lefthanders still give him trouble at times. He also tries to be perfect with every swing, which sometimes makes him too rigid at the plate. He doesn't draw many walks. Assuming his shoulder is healthy--and the Orioles say it is--Majewski should be able to help in Baltimore soon. Scouts say he'll be a more physical version of Larry Bigbie. First, though, Majewski needs to get at-bats at Triple-A Ottawa.
The Orioles botched their first-round pick and lost their second-round pick for signing Miguel Tejada, so Fiorentino will have to carry the flag for their 2004 draft class. He looked up to the task in his pro debut, though the Orioles played him in the outfield after the scouting department viewed him as a potential catcher. Fiorentino is athletic enough to play anywhere on the field, which is why he was able to catch at Florida Atlantic and why some in the organization wanted to try him there. He also has the bat to play just about anywhere, with a smooth line-drive swing and the ability to drive inside pitches and center the ball on the bat. While Fiorentino is athletic and versatile, he doesn't have overwhelming defensive tools for any position. His build and arm worked against him as a catcher. He should be an average left fielder down the road. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts. Fiorentino moved quickly after signing, and the Orioles won't try to slow him down. He'll open 2005 in high Class A.
The Orioles moved Maine aggressively in 2004, jumping him to Triple- A after just five Double-A starts. He struggled in his first two months at Ottawa (4.99 ERA) but started to come around afterward (2.89 ERA). The Twins shelled him when he made his major league debut in an emergency start in July. Maine succeeds more with command than pure stuff. He added a slider to give him four pitches, along with his fastball, curveball and changeup. He throws 90-91 mph with natural deception, and adds and subtracts from his fastball nicely. He's not afraid to work inside. None of Maine's pitches is overwhelming, which explains why he struggles when he moves up to a new level. He also needs to refine his command and throw quality strikes after learning that advanced hitters lay off balls out of the zone. Maine has a ceiling of a No. 3 starter, and probably a No. 4 or 5 guy on a first-division club. But he's a pitcher's pitcher and should get the most out of his ability.
Ray starred as a closer in the Cape Cod League in 2002 before moving to the rotation at William & Mary and struggling in 2003. He still went in the third round and has shown more success in that role as a pro, though he'll probably go back to the bullpen eventually. Ray's fastball sits at 93-95 mph, peaks at 97 and has heavy life. He has enough power to get hitters out with heat up in the zone. He complements his fastball with a hard slider and a good splitter, allowing him to work all four quadrants of the strike zone. Ray has a maximum-effort delivery and hasn't developed his changeup much, so he probably faces an eventual return to the bullpen. He throw strikes but needs better command within the zone because he gets hit more than he should with his stuff. One scout compared Ray to Goose Gossage both in his build and the life on his high fastball. He has not only the arsenal but also the mentality to close out games. When he moves to that role will be up to the next farm director.
After a steady progression through the organization, Johnson had a disappointing 2003 season that earned him a return to high Class A. He regrouped and was the Carolina League's all-star third baseman after hitting more homers (21) than he had in 1,247 career at-bats coming into the year (20). Johnson finally figured out he could produce power to all fields by taking balls where they're pitched rather than trying to pull everything. He handles the bat well and showed a good two-strike approach. His defense at third base also has improved significantly. He has an average arm and moves well laterally. Johnson answered the Orioles' two main concerns in 2004 by hitting to the opposite field with authority and improving his focus on defense. His swing can get a little long, and he still hasn't proven himself above Class A. While some teams tend to rush players, the Orioles may have moved Johnson too slowly, having him repeat Rookie ball as well as high Class A. If he can put up numbers in Double-A, he could reach Baltimore in short order.
The Orioles drafted Whiteside as a defense-first catcher, but he showed enough offense in his first season and a half in the organization to make them think he could be more. Unfortunately, he tried to bulk up to generate more power at the plate. It not only didn't help his offense, but it also resulted in injuries and a stiff body. He missed nearly half the 2003 season, and one scout said when he did play it looked like he was walking around on stilts. He trimmed down and improved his flexibility in the offseason, then opened 2004 in extended spring training as he got healthy and worked on his batting stance. The Orioles put Whiteside in a deeper crouch and opened him up, and they were pleased with the results. He was more selective at the plate and showed more power, and fully healthy in the Arizona Fall League he had a .355 on-base percentage and .615 slugging percentage in 70 at-bats. If he puts up the offensive numbers he did in 2004 at higher levels, he will be an everyday big league catcher because he's so solid defensively. He's got the size and strength for the position, and he's got an above-average arm with a quick release. Even if he doesn't hit, his defense should allow him to be a backup. Whiteside was added to the 40-man roster and will battle for a Triple-A job in spring training. It's conceivable he could win the backup job in the big leagues, but he really needs a full season of at-bats to help his development.
The Orioles penciled Spears in for the shortstop job at Rookie-level Bluefield in 2004 after he made his debut in the Gulf Coast League, but he played his way onto the low Class A roster in spring training. He spent most of the year at second base, but the organization says he could play shortstop down the road. He earned comparisons to David Eckstein from several scouts, all of whom said he has better tools and could be much better with the bat. He centers the ball on the bat well and stays inside the ball even when pitchers pound him inside. He handles situational hitting like bunting and moves runners over well. He profiles as a No. 2 hitter and could steal 15-20 bases a year. He may not have enough arm for shortstop, but could play there occasionally even if he settles at second because he has average range and excellent hands. Like Eckstein, he earns praise for his determination and feel for the game. He should open the 2005 season in high Class A.
In an organization that needs players with premium tools, Young offers top-of-the-scale power. They grabbed him after the 2003 season when the Pirates tried to take him off their 40-man roster at the suggestion of Mickey White, who was the Pirates' scouting director who drafted Young. He showed his stuff in his first season in the organization, breaking the Bowie franchise home run record previously held by Calvin Pickering. Young earns obvious comparisons to Pickering, another giant human with plus power. While Pickering's big body proved to be his undoing, Orioles officials say Young is a better athlete and hitter who has worked hard to improve his conditioning. Aside from his power, he's a run producer who works counts and is willing to take a walk, though he has holes on the inner half. They say a better comparison might be to David Ortiz. Young also moves well around first base and has good hands, but his limited range probably will relegate him to DH. Young had a good winter in Venezuela, hitting six home runs, and if he comes to spring training in good shape he could contribute in the big leagues in 2005.
Haehnel worked out of the bullpen in his first two seasons at Illinois-Chicago and ranked as the top prospect in the Jayhawk League in the summer of 2003, then moved into the rotation as a junior and finished third in the Horizon League in ERA. The Orioles sent him back to the bullpen in his first pro experience, as much because he threw 90 innings in the spring as any decision being made about his long-term role. Haehnel's best pitch is his sinker, which he throws from 89-93 mph with beautiful arm action and good deception. He uses his height to get a good downward plane on the pitch, and it has good life. His changeup also has the potential to be a plus pitch, with good depth and fade. He's still working on his breaking pitch, which most closely resembles a slider and is merely adequate at this point. Haehnel needs to refine his offspeed stuff but has tremendous makeup and challenges hitters. He'll need innings to develop, but has one of the most promising arms in the organization. He'll start the 2005 season in low Class A, and the progress of his third pitch will determine whether he ends up starting or relieving.
McCrory signed for $310,000 as a fourth-rounder in 2003, but he didn't pitch because of elbow tendinitis. The Orioles took a cautious approach with him in 2004, having him start the season in extended spring and giving him just 63 innings overall. They're being so careful because McCrory's arm has the potential to deliver power stuff. He can throw his fastball 95-96 mph and goes to the mound with domination in mind. He also throws a power slider, and he has no changeup to speak of now. His arm draws comparisons to Dave Crouthers', and the effort in his delivery is compared to that of Chris Ray, though it's not to the same degree. McCrory struggled with his command as he worked his arm into shape, and he needs mechanical work. His mechanics are not consistent and he sometimes rushes his delivery, and he just has a thrower's approach at this point. If he can get his mechanics under control, he could be a starter, but if not he should be a good power arm out of the bullpen. He will open the 2005 season in the low Class A rotation.
Most of former general manager Syd Thrift's deals didn't amount to much for the Orioles, but the 1999 trade of Juan Guzman to the Reds has already paid dividends with B.J. Ryan, and could pay more if Sequea continues the progress he has made in the last season and a half. The progress has come after he moved to the bullpen, where his two-pitch mix has been much more effective. Sequea's best pitch is his slider, and he complements it with a fastball that has average velocity (90-92 mph) but good life. He doesn't have a power arm but he misses bats, works both sides of the plate consistently and has command of all his stuff. As a closer he has been aggressive and consistent from outing to outing. The only things he has left to work on are refinements such as holding runners better and getting quicker outs. He probably doesn't have the pure stuff to project as a major league closer, but he should develop into an effective middle reliever. He was added to the 40-man roster and will compete for a big league job in the spring, but it will be a surprise if he doesn't open the season in Triple-A.
Robinson was a 45th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2000, after playing for his father Dennis Sr. at Lakeland High in Putnam Valley, N.Y., but he decided to attend North Carolina instead. He transferred to Jacksonville in 2003 for his junior season, sat out the year, and ranked second in NCAA Division I with 13 wins while posting a 2.85 ERA in 2004, but he wasn't drafted because scouts said he lacked a plus pitch. So Robinson went to the Cape Cod League to pitch instead, and he impressed scouts in compiling a 2.31 ERA for Orleans while showing better stuff than he did in the spring. The Orioles signed him in August and put him right to work, and he was impressive in two minor league stops as well. Robinson usually pitches at 88-90 mph, but he touched 94 on the Cape. Regardless, he succeeds with command over velocity and has a great feel for pitching. He's always around the plate, doesn't waste pitches and consistently keeps his pitches down. His curveball should be at least an average pitch, and he needs to work on his changeup. Robinson should open the season back in low Class A, where the Orioles will see if his stuff matches what he showed last summer.
After Rodriguez had a breakout season in 2003, he made his major league debut in 2004 and spent a good part of the year in Baltimore, making his first appearance against the Red Sox at the end of May. He remained in the Orioles' bullpen until the end of August, when he was sent back down while the Orioles gave Bruce Chen an audition. Rodriguez has a 91-93 mph fastball that's made more effective because of its movement and his deceptive delivery, and solid-average slider. He doesn't have the stuff to close but has both the pitches and the mentality for big league middle relief. He still needs to improve his command to stick in the big leagues for good because big league hitters tended to wait him out. He had one five-walk, four-strikeout performance against the Phillies, throwing 63 pitches in three innings, though he gave up just one hit and no runs and picked up his first big league win. He'll have to be sharper than that to succeed long term, and will compete for a big league job this spring.
Deza has made a slow progression through the organization, but there are some who expect him to have a breakout season in 2005, calling him the organization's next Daniel Cabrera. Last season was really his first full year. He pitched just 49 innings in 2002 because of elbow tendinitis and was brought back slowly in 2003, opening the season in extended spring. But he started in low Class A last year and showed occasionally dominant stuff, holding batters to a .226 average even though he had a losing record. He's a sinker/slider pitcher and opinions vary about which of those pitches is better. His fastball is 92-94 mph, but some say his quick slider is his best pitch. He's still developing his changeup. Deza is a strike-thrower with a loose arm and compact delivery. He's thin and wiry now and could add velocity as he fills out. As it is, his arm is plenty strong and he goes right after hitters. He does have to work to keep the ball down. Deza is very much a work in progress, but the raw material is there for a quality pitcher. He'll begin the season in high Class A.
Johnson has been a project who has been brought along exceedingly slowly by the Orioles, and he was held back in extended spring to open 2004 because he had mononucleosis. He eventually joined a Delmarva staff that was home to many of the organization's most promising arms at one point or another during the season, but team officials said he had the best arm on the staff by the end of the year. He won three of his last four starts, going at least six innings in each outing and allowing a total of four earned runs in 26 innings. He throws his fastball at 90-91 mph now and could add velocity as he fills out his big frame and continues to get experience. His curveball might be his best pitch, and he's a strike-thrower who likes to go right after hitters. His changeup is a work in progress. Johnson will be a long-range project because of his size and lack of amateur experience, but he started showing flashes of brilliance last year. He'll open the season in the high Class A rotation.
Rakers (pronounced "rockers") finally earned his first big league callup in September, getting promoted after leading Ottawa in appearances in 2004. It continued a slow but steady progression he has made through the organization, though it seems he might have reached the big leagues sooner based on his performance. As a 23rd-round pick out of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (where he was a teammate of former Orioles pitcher Dave Crouthers), however, Rakers has had to prove himself every step of the way. He has done that in spite of a fastball that's average at best, usually coming in around 90 mph. His out pitch is his split-finger, however, which has made him effective against both lefthanders (.245) and rightanders (.220). Rakers has proven all he's going to prove in the minor leagues, so he'll compete for a big league bullpen spot in spring training.
Finch had a promising start to his professional career in 2003, after the Orioles made him a surprise second-round pick, and the outlook was even brighter after he got off to a dominant start in low Class A in 2004. A promotion to high Class A made sense, but the organization's psychological testing indicated he could handle a jump to Double-A, so he went to Bowie. He got his head handed to him there, finally getting sent back to Frederick after 48 rough innings. By then, his confidence was shattered and his arm was tired, so he put up bad numbers there as well. When he's right, Finch is a power pitcher who throws from 91- 96 mph with good sink, with a power curveball and an average changeup that he doesn't use enough. His stuff is not a concern, however; his state of mind is after his difficult 2004 season. He could go back to high Class A in an effort to rebuild his confidence, and the organization will hope he can regain his previous form as a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter.
The Orioles made Rice a supplemental first-rounder in 1999 with a pick they received as compensation for the Rangers signing Rafael Palmeiro, and in his first three and a half seasons in the organization he didn't show them much. Even though he grew up in California, Rice spent more time playing basketball as a youngster and was relatively inexperienced on the mound. The Orioles considered him a projectable lefty and he finally started fulfilling those projections after they moved him to the bullpen in 2003. He had to start 10 games for Bowie in the middle of the 2004 season, so he was tired in August and in the Arizona Fall League, and got hit hard. Rice is a sinker/slider pitcher who pitches at 88-90 mph from a low three-quarters delivery. He has a nice changeup that still isn't consistent. None of his offerings is a true out pitch, so he relies more on deception and location. His command still needs refinement, however, as Double-A hitters showed a willingness to lay off his pitches out of the zone. Rice's body suggests he should still be able to add velocity. He'll compete for a bullpen job in Triple-A during spring training and will have to get hitters out there before getting consideration for a big league job.
The Orioles drafted Rine out of West Virginia and signed him for $70,000 on the recommendation of scout Marc Tramuta, who now works as an area scout for the Blue Jays. He shared Big East Conference player of the year honors with Notre Dame righthander Chris Niesel in 2003 after a breakout year when he batted .418. His only above-average tool is his speed, but scouts say he's the kind of player who grows on them after extended viewing. He's a lefthanded hitter with strength, but he'll have to refine his swing to become a better offensive threat with a wood bat. That would also allow him to add power. He has shown good plate discipline but could actually stand to be more aggressive. His speed not only allows him to steal bases, but also allows him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield. He also has a good arm and can definitely handle center field. He'll move up to high Class A in 2004, and his bat will determine if he's a potential starter or an extra outfielder.
The Orioles have had more than their share of disappointments with their premium draft picks in recent years, but they've also had unheralded, later-round picks emerge as surprise contributors. Brown, who was a senior sign out of Western Kentucky, is another to keep an eye on after he built on his strong 2003 debut with a solid season in low Class A. He had a 13-game hitting streak in 2003, then put together an eight-game and 10-game streak in 2004. Brown isn't outstanding in any particular area, but he can run and throw and he's athletic in addition to being able to swing the bat. He has played mostly at shortstop in his first two stops but also saw brief action at second and third base in 2004 and probably profiles as a utility player down the road. But he has already exceeded expectations, so he could continue to boost his stock in 2005 in high Class A.
Whether Scott becomes a major league baseball player remains to be seen, but there's no doubt he's an outstanding athlete. He was an outstanding linebacker at Ball State, leading the team in tackles in his first three seasons. He returned for his senior season after playing a summer in the Orioles organization, finishing second on the team in tackles and winning all-Mid-American Conference honors. The 2004 season was his first concentrating solely on baseball, and he made progress in his transition from football but still has a ways to go. He looked great on some nights, and like he just walked off the football field on others. He has a strong body, good quickness and excellent bat speed, and perhaps more important he has strong makeup and plays with passion and energy. He'll need a lot of at-bats to develop his hitting, however, and he needs to improve his angles and reads in the outfield. The Orioles should disregard Scott's age and just put him in a situation where he can be successful and get lots of at-bats. That likely will come in low Class A in 2005.
Huggins has won more recognition for his off-field achievements, which have included community service work at every minor league stop he has made, than for his accomplishments with the bat. After an encouraging year in 2003, Huggins took a step back in 2004, due mainly to an appendectomy that knocked him out of action for almost two months. He went to the Arizona Fall League to make up at-bats and overcame a slow start to hit .273 in 77 at-bats. Huggins is a blue-collar player who plays above his tools, which are not going to wow anyone. He has a solid approach at the plate and a good idea of the strike zone, and he's a good defender who makes all the routine plays. The main knock against Huggins is that he has average power at best, which won't be enough to make him a full-time player on a first-division club. But with no glaring weaknesses and strong makeup, he could be a useful reserve. He likely will return to Double-A to open the season.
After Forystek had a season that was disappointing from beginning to end (including a 9.49 ERA in the Arizona Fall League), there was speculation that he would be dropped from the 40-man roster. He opened the 2004 season in Triple-A but went back to Bowie at midseason, where he emerged in 2003 after spending most of his career in the bullpen. His breakout was predicated on pinpoint command, and he got away from that in 2004. He depends on his command because he lacks a plus pitch. His fastball is 88-89 mph, with good sink, and he complements it with a slider and changeup. Forystek had used his changeup effectively against righthanded hitters in 2003, but he could not find a way to get righthanded hitters out last season. They batted .322 against him, while lefthanders batted just .225. So it wouldn't be a surprise to see Forystek go back into a bullpen role in 2005 because as a starter he needs to be perfect every outing because his raw stuff isn't overwhelming. He'll open the season in Triple-A, with his role likely determined in spring training.
Back and arm injuries have sapped much of the promise that once made Stahl the organization's top prospect, but the Orioles are encouraged that he has stayed relatively healthy the last two seasons--though he has been used very carefully and has still battled nagging injuries like a bad groin--and anxious to see what he can show in 2005. Stahl was said to be disconsolate at one point during the season as he struggled at high Class A, a level he dominated in six starts three years earlier. But he has persevered and his fastball is back into the 89-92 mph range, occasionally touching 93 or 94. He also throws a power slider, as opposed to a curveball that he used to throw, and changeup. It's not likely he'll get back to the easy mid-90s velocity he used to show, and his arm is not as free and loose as it was several years ago. That he has made it this far back is a tribute to his work ethic. Stahl will try to win a Double-A rotation spot and prove his stuff is continuing to approach its previous form.
Finan was an unheralded draft pick who showed Orioles officials something with the bat and his approach to the game in his professional debut. He was all-academic and third team all-Southland Conference player at Lamar in 2004, when he batted .289-8-43 and drew 52 walks, then was the all-star first baseman in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in spite of missing a good portion of the season with an infection in his knee. Finan showed the same plate discipline at Bluefield that he did in college, and he showed a smooth swing with power potential as well. He also proved to be good defender at first base. Finan's baseball IQ made the biggest impression on the organization, however. Officials noted several times when he, rather than a coach or the catcher, would go to the mound to settle pitchers down in tight situations. He will have to prove himself at higher levels after succeeding as a 22-year-old in Rookie ball, and he could jump to high Class A to get his chance.
Smith was a sixth-round pick by the Pirates as a draft-eligible sophomore, and he boosted his stock a bit with a good summer in the Cape Cod League in 2003, when he tied for the league lead with 17 extra-base hits. Tall and wiry, Smith generates good bat speed and shows some power now, with the potential to hit for more in the future if he makes adjustments to his swing. He has added at least 15 pounds of muscle to his frame in the last couple of years, and scouts compare his build to that of Paul O'Neill. He plays with enthusiasm and is a good athlete. He played both first base and in the outfield in college, though he spent all of his time in Aberdeen at first. He has poor actions around the bag at first, and his arm would limit him to left if he moves to the outfield. He showed poor plate discipline in his first pro experience, but he could jump to Frederick to start his first full season.
Neal missed a year at South Alabama after having Tommy John surgery in February 2002, but by March 2003 he struck out 15 Jacksonville State batters in eight innings. The Orioles took him as a senior bargain pick and have been pleasantly surprised with his progress. He opened 2004 in the Delmarva bullpen but moved into the Frederick bullpen in May out of necessity. He struggled at first but became the Keys' closer by the end of June, getting hitters out with a 90-93 mph power sinker and a plus slider. He gets even higher marks for his feel for pitching and makeup. He doesn't have anything beyond his sinker/slider combo, but that has been enough to make him an effective reliever so far. Neal will have to work to keep his body in shape. He's already 24, so the Orioles will push him to Bowie to open the season. He'll likely close there but projects as a middle reliever in the big leagues.