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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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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 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 repertoire. 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. 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.
Though he was the Mid-American Conference player of the year and led NCAA Division I with a .770 slugging percentage, Reimold had an upand- down spring that had scouts split on his value. Orioles scouts saw him early and loved him, and he sealed the deal 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 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 Class A.
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 after hitters. 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.
Olson was the top prospect in the Alaska League in 2004, and followed that with a good spring at Cal Poly. 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 Orioles admit they got a better pitcher than they expected in Olson. He'll probably open 2006 back in high Class A.
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.
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 batters. 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. 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.
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 last 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 to hitters. 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. 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.
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. 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 arm strength. 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.
Fiorentino's promising pro debut in 2004 had Orioles officials expecting him to move quickly, but not this quickly. He jumped from Class A to the big leagues in May when injuries hit in Baltimore, as the club looked for someone who could play defense and hold his own at the plate. Fiorentino, not surprisingly, quickly showed he wasn't ready to hold his own against big league pitching, and he remained in a funk even after getting sent back to Frederick. He finally came around in August, batting .347-12-33 for the month. Fiorentino has a stiff setup at the plate, but he uses his quick hands to get the bat through the hitting zone. He's athletic enough to play anywhere in the outfield, and some in the organization think he'd profile best as a center fielder. Former scouting director Tony DeMacio and his staff drafted Fiorentino with the idea of giving him a chance at catcher, where he played some in college, but he hasn't gone behind the plate as a pro. It's not clear he'll have enough power for an outfield corner, though there are some club officials who say he has the potential to have more power than Nick Markakis or Val Majewski. Fiorentino must cut down on his strikeouts, and he also needs more repetitions in the outfield to refine his routes. Fiorentino's overall package of solid tools is good enough to reach the majors, but he'll need to develop his power or prove he can play center field to be a starter.
Liz made a strong impression in his first season in the United States. He was the story of Orioles' extended spring training camp, dominating hitters with an electric fastball that usually ranges from 94-96 mph and touches 98. Baltimore instructors tried to get him to work on his curveball and changeup, but Liz was reluctant to because no one could touch his heat. So the organization sent him to low Class A, where he got knocked around a bit. Demoted to Aberdeen when the New York-Penn League season opened in June, he earned his way back to Delmarva in August. He would have finished second in the NY-P in ERA if he had enough innings to qualify and ranked fourth in strikeouts despite making just 10 starts, including a 15-whiff outing. Liz has long arms and gets a good downward plane on the ball, and his big hands make it harder for hitters to pick up the ball. His motion reminds some of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson's with the way he falls off toward first base, right foot crossing over his left. The Orioles are trying to make his delivery more fluid so he doesn't put too much stress on his arm. He learned a lot about pitching during his first stint in Delmarva, getting behind in the count and looking overwhelmed at times. His curveball and changeup made progress, though they still need work, as does his command. The Orioles say Liz has the size, strength and athletic ability to be a big league starter, but he could relieve if his secondary pitches don't develop. He'll probably go back to low Class A to open the season.
Rleal has moved exceedingly slow through the system, thanks to his slight frame and nagging injuries earlier in his career. He had a breakthrough season in Double-A last year, however, establishing himself as one of the best relief prospects in the organization and getting added to the 40-man roster. He began the season setting up Chris Ray, and he didn't miss a beat after taking over Bowie's closer role when Ray jumped to Baltimore. He shows three plus pitches at times, and his changeup is the best in the organization. It's his out pitch against lefthanders. His fastball sits at 93-95 mph and touches 96-97, with good movement and sink. He also throws a hard, late-breaking slider as an occasional third pitch. Rleal has good control and should be in line for a big league job soon. He'll compete for a spot in the Baltimore bullpen in spring training but is expected to open the season in Triple-A. It shouldn't be long before he's setting up Ray again, however.
Finch was one of the more notable failures of the psychological testing favored by former director of baseball-information system Dave Ritterpusch, who was fired after the 2005 season along with his assistant, Ed Coblentz. Ritterspusch was a huge proponent of psychological profiles, and based on Finch's, the Orioles decided he could handle a jump to Double-A in 2004, 11 months after he signed. Finch got pounded and couldn't recover, even after taking a step back to high Class A. He had to go back to Frederick again in 2005 to get himself straightened out. He did just that, earning Carolina League pitcher-of-the-week honors early in the season and then MVP honors in the league championship series. He wasn't overpowering but gutted out a win in a decisive Game Five against Kinston with five shutout innings. He showed better poise and command all season and looked much more like the pitcher who was a second-round pick in 2003. Finch has the arsenal of a middle-of-the- rotation big league starter, with a 90-93 mph fastball, a good slider and an improving changeup. He must keep his fastball down to be successful, and he's still inconsistent with his slider. He also hasn't found a changeup grip he's completely comfortable with, so there's still work to do. His control also can improve. The Orioles did him a huge favor by keeping him in one place all season and allowing him to have success. He should move into the Double-A rotation this year and could pitch in the big leagues in 2007 if he continues making progress.
Teams always have been tempted to use Haehnel as a starter, but he always has been successful as a reliever so he usually has pitched out of the bullpen. He was the top prospect in the Jayhawk League in 2003, the summer before his draft year, when Illinois-Chicago actually did use him in the rotation and he finished third in the Horizon League in ERA. Baltimore never has put Haehnel in a rotation. He opened 2005 as the closer in low Class A, then became a setup man after a midseason promotion to high Class A. That's the role he seems best suited for. The velocity on his fastball is average or even a tick below, sitting in the high 80s and occasionally touching the low 90s, but Haehnel gets good sink on it. He also has a deceptive delivery that throws hitters off, and his makeup adds to the package. He trusts his stuff and goes right after hitters. His secondary stuff still needs work, however. He throws a slider and changeup but hasn't used them enough to make them effective against more advanced hitters, so the Orioles are considering using him in long relief or possibly as a starter this year so he can get more innings to improve those pitches. He'll probably open the season back in high Class A, with another midseason promotion in the offing if he performs well.
Maine moved quickly through the organization in his first couple of years after being drafted, but he has stalled in his effort to break through from Triple-A to Baltimore. He made his big league debut in July 2004 and made it back last August, winning his first start with five shutout innings against Toronto and spending the rest of the season with the Orioles. Maine succeeds with plus fastball command, throwing at 90-91 mph with natural deception. He also uses a slider and changeup, occasionally mixing in a curveball as well. None of the pitches overmatches hitters, so Maine has to rely on location. He starts to struggle when he tries to get too fine with his pitches and catches too much of the plate. He also had trouble getting big league hitters to respect his complementary pitches. The Orioles tried to add veterans to their rotation in the offseason but had little success, so Maine will be in the big league mix during spring training. If he doesn't win a job in the rotation, he could pitch in long relief or go back to the Triple-A rotation.
With a solid season in high Class A, Spears continued to make steady progress through the system. He batted first or second for Frederick all season as the Keys won their first Carolina League title since 1990. He has no outstanding tool but is a complete baseball player, a slap hitter who moves runners over and does the little things to make a team better. He centers the ball on the bat well but isn't expected to produce much power. Spears has good speed and baserunning instincts, plus he's an average defender. He played most of the season at second base but can fill in at shortstop. There aren't a lot of glaring weaknesses to Spears' game, but at age 20 he already is what he is. He strikes out too much and doesn't walk enough to be a leadoff man, and unless he can add some power he'll probably end up as a utility player. He'll take the next step to Double-A in 2006.
The 2005 draft could go a long way toward boosting a Baltimore system that's already making progress. Pope is the least polished of any of the team's 2005 picks on this list, but if he reaches his ceiling, he could be one of the best. A fourth-rounder signed for $257,500 he has the body of a major leaguer right now, plus great makeup that means he'll work hard to refine his game. He's athletic, with a potent speed/power combination and the chance to have true top-of-the-scale power. He profiles as a corner outfielder, with an arm better suited to left field, and just needs at-bats. He got tired and lost his swing at Rookie-level Bluefield, and he didn't know enough yet about his approach to stop the bleeding. He has good hands, but he swings and misses too much and will need time to develop better baseball instincts. The Orioles say they'll have a better read on his true potential after a season or two of minor league at-bats. Pope likely will stay in extended spring training before joining Aberdeen or Bluefield in June.
Britton made as big a leap as anyone in the system in 2005, coming back from two major injuries to establish himself as a strong bullpen prospect. His career first went off track at the end of 2002, when a comebacker hit him in the face. He had surgery and a metal plate was put in to stabilize the area. Then he had bone chips removed from his elbow in 2003 and missed the entire season. He spent much of 2004 in extended spring as he continued to recover from his injuries, and the Orioles put him in long relief in high Class A to open 2005 so he could work back into shape. Britton took to the role, though, and had a dominant season. He finished 10th in the Carolina League in strikeouts even though he never started a game. He doesn't have dominant stuff but goes after hitters with strike after strike. He has a 90-93 mph fastball and a tight curveball, and he's working on a changeup after getting through last season essentially with two pitches. Baltimore doesn't want to mess with success and plans to keep him in a bullpen role, so the only thing Britton really needs to work on is conditioning. He has a body that can get big if he isn't vigilant. He pitched in Venezuela over the winter after getting added to the 40-man roster, and could move quickly after opening the season in Double-A.
Keefer looks like the prototype for a big league pitcher but didn't perform like one until 2005. He struggled to find his niche, working as a closer in 2001 and struggling as a starter in 2002-03. He moved into a middle-relief role in 2004 and looked better, then took a huge step forward last year because his stuff was much improved. His fastball went from the high 80s to the low 90s, occasionally touching 95 mph. His slider also got better, as he added depth to it. He showed good control and was effective against both lefthanders and righthanders. Keefer has a tremendous work ethic and always has strived to get better, even when his future didn't look very bright. He went to Venezuela to get in more innings this winter and was shut down early so he'd be fresh for spring training. Keefer no longer is flying under the organization's radar and will compete for a big league bullpen job in spring training. He'll head to Triple-A if he doesn't make the Orioles.
Acquired off waivers from the Pirates in November 2003, Young is one of the most intriguing players in the minors, if only because of his amazing size. His listed weight is always just an estimate, and fluctuates depending on how serious he's about conditioning. He let himself go a little bit in 2005 and hit just 13 home runs in Triple-A. And while he made his major league debut, he didn't show enough to get a long look in Baltimore despite plenty of job openings. Young went to Venezuela for the winter to get himself in better shape and hone his swing, which produces top-end power when he's in a groove. For his size, he's a good athlete who moves well around the first-base bag. He cut down on his strikeouts last year, but his production slipped as well. His size always will be an issue and probably limits him to part-time duty at first, so he'll have to hit enough to prove he can be a DH. Last year was his first Triple-A experience and he has an option remaining, so the Orioles will send him back to Ottawa to get more at-bats before giving him another big league opportunity.
Rakers may run for mayor of Ottawa at this rate. After spending about half the 2003 season there, he pitched effectively and led the Lynx in appearances in 2004 and made his big league debut that September. He returned to Ottawa last year and again led the team in appearances. He's the third Southern Illinois-Edwardsville player to reach the majors, joining Champ Summers and Dennis Werth. Rakers has an average fastball, sitting at 90 mph and occasionally touching 92, and uses a splitter as his out pitch. He has good command and is effective as long as he keeps the ball down. He'll open the season at 29, so there's no reason for him to continue taking up a spot on the 40-man if he's not in the majors. The Orioles gave him a 14-inning look in 2005, and with nothing left to prove in the minors, Rakers should break camp with the big league club this spring.
The Orioles long had their eye on Fahey, taking him in the 32nd round of the 2000 draft out of Grayson County (Texas) Community College, but he decided to attend Texas instead. He batted .303 for the 2002 College World Series champions before Baltimore took him again, this time in the 12th round. His father Bill spent 11 seasons in the majors as a backup catcher after going No. 1 overall to the Washington Senators in the secondary phase of the January 1970 draft. Brandon is a rock-solid defensive player with great hands who makes all the plays at shortstop. His offensive production improved in 2005 after he focused on getting stronger so he could hold up better over the course of the season. However, he's still not a very physical player and projects as a bottom-of-the-order hitter with little pop. He has average speed and good instincts on the bases. The Orioles sent Fahey to the Arizona Fall League to get some work at second base, and they see his long-term role as a utilityman. He's familiar with the role already, having played at third base and the outfield in college. Fahey is a hard worker and the kind of player managers like to have in the dugout. He'll move up to Triple-A to open 2005, spending most of his time at shortstop but also getting some work at second base.
The Padres took Spoone as a draft-and-follow in the 36th round of the 2004 draft but weren't able to sign him last spring. He didn't pitch much until April because he was suspended twice for disciplinary reasons, but he showed enough for the Orioles to take the Baltimore product in the eighth round and sign him for $75,000. Spoone didn't show much in Rookie ball but was one of the organization's best pitchers in instructional league. He has an impressive fastball, generally throwing 93-95 mph and touching 96, and a promising curveball, but he's raw and the inconsistency with his control was evident early. He also has done little work with a changeup, though he showed an interest for learning the nuances of pitching during instructional league. Spoone will compete for a spot in low Class A during spring training.
Salas has been in the organization so long that he had to re-sign with Baltimore as a minor league free agent before he made it out of low Class A. After his 2005 performance, he finally was added to the 40-man roster. The Orioles call him a late bloomer--an understatement, considering he spent six years in short-season leagues and still hasn't pitched above high Class A. Salas has taken to the closer role, saving 29 games over the last two years. He has improved both his fastball, now pitching at 92-94 mph, and his slider, gaining trust in his No. 2 pitch. He needs to hone his slider further and improve his command of both pitches. Because he lacks an offspeed offering, he had trouble getting lefthanders out in 2005. They batted .299 against him, compared to .185 for righthanders. Salas will go as far as his fastball takes him, and his next destination is Double-A.
Baltimore was the lone team to draft a pair of brothers in 2005, taking Paco in the ninth round and injury-plagued Danny Figueroa, an outfielder, in the 43rd. A senior, Paco signed for $25,000. The Orioles don't expect him to be an all-star, but they do expect him to reach the big leagues. Figueroa stepped right into the Delmarva lineup and was one of its leading hitters, batting leadoff and playing second base as well as left and center field. He has the versatility to play all over the diamond and profiles as a big league utilityman. He's a savvy, instinctive player. Figueroa has a line-drive swing and knows what kind of player he is, putting the ball in play and showing good plate discipline so he can utilitze his plus speed on the bases. As a four-year college player, he's already pretty refined and will be expected to move quickly. He'll open his first full season in high Class A.
Whiteside made his major league debut in 2005, but he took a major step back offensively in his first exposure to Triple-A. He always has shown the defensive skills to be at least a major league backup, but the question has been whether he'll hit enough. The Orioles haven't given up on him, as they kept him on the 40-man roster. After hitting a career-high 18 homers in 2004, he lost his approach and plate discipline last year. He never will hit for average because he's stiff and has a long swing, and the best Baltimore can hope for is some occasional pop. Whiteside's defense remains strong, as he has an above-average arm and good footwork that allowed him to throw out 40 percent of basestealers in Triple-A. He has the body and strength to handle the rigors of catching every day if he can hit enough to earn such a role. He'll go back to Triple-A to open the season, trying to prove he can be more than a backup.
Rivas' performance never has matched up to his tools, but at least he showed signs of making progress in 2005. He spent the entire year in a full-season league and was named to the low Class A South Atlantic League's midseason all-star game. His production wasn't overwhelming but was relatively consistent for a notoriously streaky player. Most important, he got 434 at-bats, nearly matching his total from his first four seasons, when he constantly battled nagging injuries. Rivas is an exciting player if you see him on the right day, showing all five tools and playing a smooth center field with a plus arm. He has a nice swing with a little pop, but he too often tries to hit for power rather than putting the ball in play. He did show the willingness to take a walk last season, but he'll need to cut down on his strikeouts to hit at the top of the order. He batted in every slot except ninth at Delmarva, so he's still feeling his way. His cocky attitude also has turned off some members of the organization. Rivas' performance in high Class A this year will determine whether he moves up this list or off it.
In an organization short on power bats, particularly at the infield corners, Fleisher provides the latest hope. He was one of several seniors with strong makeup drafted by the Orioles later in the 2005 draft, a group that also included Miami infielder/outfielder Paco Figueroa (ninth round) and Texas Christian shortstop Stuart Musslewhite (24th). Fleisher was overshadowed by Coastal Carolina's Mike Constanzo (a second-round pick of the Phillies) in the Big South Conference last spring, but he was the league's second-leading hitter at .375 and hit 11 homers for a 15-40 Radford team. In addition to batting cleanup for the Highlanders, Fleisher was also a starting pitcher. His body draws comparisons to Mark McGwire's, and the Orioles think he could hit a lot of homers as he gets stronger. Fleisher has good balance at the plate and the bat speed and control to hit for both power and average. He also has a good idea of the strike zone and shows the willingness to take a walk. He'll be a solid defender at first base. Fleisher will advance to low Class A in 2006.
Johnson has moved slowly through the system since signing as a supplemental first-round pick in 2002. He has performed just well enough to tantalize the Orioles and even earned Carolina League all-star honors in 2004. But he followed that up with a disappointing stint in Double-A last year, and time may be running out on him. Defense was once the big question mark about Johnson's game, but that actually has become his strength. He has an average arm and moves well laterally. But Johnson hasn't been able to answer concerns about his bat, particularly regarding his power. Double-A pitchers exploited his long swing and his homer output dropped to 11 from 21 the year before, though he did produce 29 doubles. He performed a little bit better in the Arizona Fall League, batting .333 with two homers in 51 at-bats in a league tilted heavily toward offense, but he struggled against righthanders just as he did during the regular season. Johnson will go back to Double-A to try to prove himself again, and it may be his last chance.
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