Sign Up! Join our newsletters, get a FREE e-Edition
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. 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 base-stealers 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. 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 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. With the trade of Ramon Hernandez there's nothing standing in his way, though the Orioles may sign a veteran so Wieters can open 2009 at Triple-A Norfolk. He'll reach the majors at some point during the season, though, and it's hard to see him going back down after that.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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 firstteam 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. 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. 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. 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 performed well in the Arizona Fall League, so he could open his career at Double-A Bowie, though high Class A Frederick would be a safer bet.
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. 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. 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. 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
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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 fringeaverage pitch, and he needs to use it more. He still has some effort in his delivery and can be stubborn in taking instruction. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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). 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Spoone went from a diamond in the rough to a legitimate starter prospect in his first 2½ years in pro ball after Orioles scouts found him at a nearby junior college. He pitched 152 innings in 2007, followed by a playoff MVP award as Frederick won the Carolina League title. But he came up with a sore shoulder last spring and was never right in 2008. Baltimore tried shutting him down for six weeks after his first four starts, but after five more starts he went out again, this time for good. Doctors found a small tear in his labrum that required surgery, and Spoone isn't expected to return to action until May or June. The Orioles considered the surgery minor and still added him to the 40-man roster in the offseason. When healthy, Spoone offers a lively 93-95 mph fastball, a power curveball and an improved changeup. Control and command were never his strong suits, however. He has matured a lot since he first entered the organization, and his injury will be a big test of his ability to handle adversity. The focus for 2009 will be just getting Spoone healthy, so he'll likely spend time at lower-level affiliates when he returns to action.
For a third-round pick who has experienced a lot of success so far as a pro, Britton gets surprisingly little attention. He came out of high school with a good fastball for a lefthander, touching the low 90s but more comfortably pitching at 88-90 mph. His heater has good sinking life and generates a lot of groundballs. He learned a slider during instructional league after the 2007 season, and his sinker/slider combination allowed him to dominate low Class A hitters at times in 2008. His changeup improved as well, but it's still inconsistent and he has trouble locating it. Overall command is Britton's biggest question mark, as he doesn't throw enough strikes. Those who don't like him see him as a good stuff/bad pitchability prospect and wonder how much he can improve in that area. Britton needs to get stronger, and if he does he could add a tick to his velocity. He'll step up to high Class A in 2009 and profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter if his command comes along.
Baltimore went heavily on athleticism in the 2008 draft, and Avery was the best pure athlete of the bunch. He committed to Georgia as a football player--viewed primarily as a running back though he also played cornerback in high school--but signed with the Orioles for $900,000 as a second-round pick. His best pure tool is speed, which rates a legitimate 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Pretty much everything beyond that is open to interpretation because Avery is so raw as a baseball player. He not only split his time between baseball and football but also faced inferior competition in high school, so while he has a feel for the game, the application of his skills isn't quite there yet. Avery held his own in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and worked on the basics of his batting stance in instructional league, standing taller and focusing on bunting and taking the ball the other way. He has a knack for putting the bat on the ball and shows explosive hands, which could lead to some power. With his tools, he should be an above-average defender in center field with an average arm. The Orioles have lauded his aptitude and eagerness for instruction, and while he has a long way to go, he's often compared to Carl Crawford. Avery will take a slower path than Craword, though, and could open the year in extended spring training before heading to short-season Aberdeen.
Hoes was thought to be a tough sign going into the 2008 draft because of questions about which position he would play as a pro and a strong commitment to North Carolina. Baltimore took him in the third round with the 81st overall pick, and while his bonus was over MLB's slot recommendation, it wasn't a bank-breaker at $490,000. He made a quick impression, batting .308 in the Gulf Coast League, then earning praise in instructional league for his feel for the game as well as his tools. Hoes has an advanced offensive approach and already shows an ability to use the whole field, with good power to right field. He also has patience and a good idea of the strike zone, walking more than he struck out in his pro debut. The work will come on the defensive side. Hoes was an outfielder (as well as a pitcher) in high school, but lacks the power for a corner or the speed to play center, so the Orioles moved him to second base. He made 15 errors in 42 games and has a long way to go as an infielder, but Baltimore is confident he'll adjust because he works hard and likes being on the field. He worked on his throws and his footwork around the bag in instructional league. Because of his advanced bat, Hoes will probably jump to low Class A Delmarva for his first full pro season.
Baltimore went over MLB's slot recommendations to sign several players in the 2008 draft, and Bundy was the biggest outlier of them all at $600,000, the largest bonus handed out in the eighth round. The Orioles regarded him as a top-three-rounds talent and paid him that way, expecting him to recover the form he showed as a high school junior, when he was regarded as one of the best pitchers in the 2008 high school class. Between baseball seasons, however, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a basketball game. He got back on the mound ahead of schedule and pitched with a knee brace last spring, leading Sperry (Okla.) High to a state title. Bundy's fastball velocity was down from its normal 92-95 mph to 88-91, and clubs worried about his signability because he had committed to Arkansas. Baltimore likes what it has seen from Bundy in limited action. He touched 93 mph in instructional league and should continue to regain his previous fastball. He also showed a bigbreaking curveball, though he'll need to be more consistent with it. He has a lot to work on, from his changeup to his command, and could remain in extended spring training before joining Aberdeen next season.
Hernandez has piled up more than 140 innings in each of the last three seasons, and he took a leap forward as a prospect in 2008 by shaving nearly two runs off his career ERA. He topped the Eastern League with 166 strikeouts in 141 innings, the second straight year he led his league in whiffs, and ranked fourth with a 2.68 ERA. Hernandez's fastball sits in the low 90s and can touch 94 mph, and he gets a lot of strikeouts with it because his delivery is so deceptive and hitters struggle to pick up the ball before it's on top on them. His slider is a good pitch when it's on, with two-plane break at times, but he's not consistent enough with it. His changeup is even less reliable, though it did improve in 2008. Because he isn't entirely comfortable with his complementary pitches and likes to go after strikeouts, Hernandez tends to pile up big pitch counts with two- and four-seam fastballs and can wear down late in starts. Those factors, as well as the fact he succeeds more with deception than pure stuff, lead most scouts to project him as a reliever rather than a starter. For now, he'll continue to get the chance to pitch out of the rotation in Triple-A, but his first big league opportunity probably will come in the bullpen.
Berken has made a habit of going through high peaks and low valleys. He was Clemson's top pitcher as a sophomore in 2004, then had Tommy John surgery in 2005 before bouncing back to help the Tigers reach the College World Series in 2006. He looked good after the Orioles drafted him that June, but then had a subpar 2007 as his velocity dipped, a problem that has bothered him ever since his elbow reconstruction. Berken put himself back on the radar in 2008 as part of a strong Bowie staff, showing more consistent velocity and a sharper slider. More important, he displayed much better fastball command and an ability to work the pitch down in the zone. He's a bulldog on the mound who can throw strikes with four pitches. His main two offerings are his fastball and slider, and he also owns a changeup and hard curveball that he's willing to throw in any count. None of his pitches is overpowering but when all four are working, he can be quite effective. He has good control but will have to sharpen his command in the zone because he doesn't have swing-and-miss stuff. His velocity can still waver at times, from 88-90 to 91-93 mph, but he maintained it in games much better in 2008. If Berken can pitch consistently as he did last July, when he went 3-0, 1.53 in five starts, he could be a nice back-of-the-rotation starter. He'll pitch in the Triple-A rotation this season.
Bergesen has moved slowly through the system, going through everything from mononucleosis in 2006 to getting hit in the head by a batting-practice liner in 2007. Because he struggled in high Class A after getting drilled, the Orioles returned him there to open last season. He quickly earned a promotion after four strong starts, and ended up winning Eastern League pitcher-of-the-year honors. Bergesen doesn't earn more accolades as a prospect because his stuff is nothing special and gives him a ceiling no higher than that of a back-end starter. He's a strikethrower who has a good delivery, repeats his pitches and keeps everything down, succeeding with command and a talent for mixing his offerings. Bergesen's best pitch is his sinker, which peaks in the low 90s, followed by a changeup that can induce swings and misses. Improved depth on his slider probably made the biggest difference for him last season, giving him three legitimate weapons. He wore down at the end of last season, compiling a 5.28 ERA in six August starts, but he still showed enough to get a shot at the Norfolk rotation to open 2009.
Henson's package of tools is as intriguing as any Orioles farmhand, but so far he has been a tease, looking great one week and lost the next. He was a three-sport star in high school, meriting NCAA Division I recruiting interest as a quarterback, and is one of the best athletes in the organization. The problem is putting those tools to use. Henson has the swing to hit for average and the bat speed to produce power, but his approach is undisciplined and leads to wild swings and lots of strikeouts. Some think if he could find a defensive home those problems would go away. Henson was drafted as a shortstop but moved to third base last year. While he has the arm for the hot corner, his throws were inconsistent and he piled up 29 errors--along with nine more in Hawaii Winter Baseball. The Orioles also have looked at him at second base but didn't like the results there, and some would like to see him back at shortstop or even center field. He could probably handle left field without a problem, but his value is greater in the infield so he'll get every chance to stay there. Henson has proven to be an adept basestealer, succeeding on 42 of his 48 attempts as a pro and further illustrating his athleticism and potential. He'll probably move up to high Class A and stay at third base for now, and he needs to put together a consistent season at the plate and in the field.
Orioles scouts viewed Angle as a legitimate center fielder and leadoff hitter coming out of the 2007 draft, and he has done nothing in pro ball to change that impression. He's a little man who embraces all that means on the diamond and knows how to play the game. He's a natural baseball player whose best tool is his plus speed, and he has the instincts to put it to use on the basepaths. A smart hitter, he has a knack for bunting and uses a short stroke to spray the ball all over the field. He even has a solid arm for a center fielder. At the same time, though, there are significant questions about Angle. His average and on-base percentage both dropped from his pro debut to his first full season. He also got caught stealing 11 times in 48 attempts in 2008, compared to just four times in 38 tries in 2007. He has to excel at getting on base and using his speed because he offers little power. Some scouts wonder if he runs well enough to be an everyday big league center fielder, which would be a problem because he's not going to be enough of a run producer to play left. Angle will move up to high Class A in 2009 and try to show he can be a legitimate leadoff man.
Signed for $1 million as a sandwich pick in 2006 after the Mets failed to sign him as a draft-and-follow, Beato is the biggest enigma in the system. He made steady progress in his first season and a half as he tried to work with a narrowed repertoire of pitches and improve his feel for pitching. But coming out of spring training last year, he lacked his usual mid-90s velocity and never found it. Baltimore shut him down for five weeks in mid-May and had his arm checked out a couple of times during the season, but found no physical problems. His difficulties may have resulted from his lower half getting out of whack in his delivery. He worked on his mechanics in instructional league and showed renewed pop on his fastball. He went to the Orioles' Dominican complex during the offseason to get a little more work and should be 100 percent for spring training. Beato mainly backs up his fastball with a curveball and changeup that have their moments but still need refinement. He's sharpening his slider to give him another breaking pitch. He could return to high Class A to open the season, and team officials hope he'll reassert himself as one of the organization's best prospects.
McCrory overcame Tommy John surgery in 2005, but ever since then he has battled nagging injuries as the Orioles try to get his body and arm used to everyday work. He was dominant last spring, with scouts issuing glowing reports on his performance, and continued that run in April in Triple-A. Baltimore called him up at the end of the month, but he got knocked around in his debut and then was used sparingly, sitting idle for nine days before getting sent back down. His arm bothered him after that, including in the Arizona Fall League, but he should be healthy for spring training. The reason McCrory remains on the 40-man roster is his pure closer stuff, highlighted by a lively fastball that can range from 92-97 mph and touch 99 at times. It's heavy and batters beat it into the ground. McCrory also shows a plus slider and plus changeup at times, and he'll even mix in a curveball once in a while. He throws across his body a little bit, but there are really no other factors to suggest long-term health problems and he might just have to learn to battle through occasional aches and pains. While he can overpower hitters, he also gets himself into trouble with walks. With a good spring, McCrory easily could win a big league bullpen job, but the most important thing is for him to consistently take the ball when called upon.
In Miclat, the Orioles got an unheralded player who they believe is a legitimate shortstop--just what the organization sorely needs. He had a sore shoulder for most of last spring at Virginia after having surgery following the 2007 season, and his performance suffered on offense and defense. Baltimore still drafted him in the fifth round and signed him for an above-slot $225,000 bonus after he spent the summer in the Cape Cod League. He got his feet wet after signing and really made an impression during instructional league, where a small change in his approach at the plate made a big difference in his ability to drive the ball. He already shows good plate discipline, has quality at-bats and plays to his strengths by getting on base as a switch-hitter. Some already regard him as the best infield defender in the system, a legitimate shortstop with good range, hands and footwork. The big question is whether his arm will come all the way back after shoulder surgery, but the Orioles are encouraged by what they've seen so far. Miclat has a tremendous feel for the game with enough speed to steal bases, so if his shoulder recovers fully and he shows a little more pop in his bat, he could move in a hurry.
The Orioles got plenty from the Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade--Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill and Kam Mickolio--so if Butler pans out, that would just be icing on the cake. His performance was all over the map in his year and a half in the Mariners system, but it's hard to deny the intrigue of a 6-foot-7 lefthander whose fastball touches 92 mph. He battled a dead arm and wasn't always in top shape with Seattle, and the same problems bothered him after the trade. He had a sore shoulder and pitched just 55 innings, getting shut down for most of May and then for the rest of the season in mid-June. No structural problems were discovered and he didn't require surgery, so Butler is expected to be healthy for spring training. At his best, he shows an 88- 92 mph fastball with late life and natural sink, a curveball that's a plus pitch at time and a changeup that should be effective as well. Because of his limited experience and big frame, repeating his mechanics and commanding all his pitches are Butler's biggest issues. Staying healthy and getting in innings would allow him to work those problems out. A full season of steady performance in 2009 could rocket Butler up this list.
If you're looking for an Orioles breakout prospect for 2009, Cooney could be your man. He was drafted by the White Sox in 2004 (33rd round) out of Broward (Fla.) CC, then again by the Cardinals in 2006 (20th round) after he had moved on to Florida Atlantic. He again decided not to sign, hoping to better his position as a senior, but his ERA ballooned to 7.36 in 2007 and he fell to the 30th round. After he signed, he eventually was diagnosed with a shoulder problem that didn't require surgery. Rehab and a summer in the bullpen seem to have done the trick. Cooney showed a mid-90s fastball and touched 97 in 2008, and he also flashed a promising slider. He was on a tight leash, as Baltimore monitored his innings and didn't allow him to pitch on consecutive days. The results were so good that he'll stay in the bullpen. Cooney will pitch without restrictions in 2009 and probably will open the season in low Class A. He could move quickly if he continues to perform well.
When the Orioles decided to clear Matt Wieters' path to the big leagues by trading Ramon Hernandez in December, they received Waring and second baseman Justin Turner from the Reds. Waring has established himself as a good power prospect by hitting 40 home runs in his first season and a half since being drafted. He was the South Carolina 4-A high school player of the year in 2004 and then headed to Wofford, where he finished second in NCAA Division I with 27 homers as a junior in 2007. He then led the Rookie-level Pioneer League with 20 bombs in his pro debut. Waring has a long swing but generates a lot of bat speed and shows power to all fields. He could add even more pop as he fills out his big frame. He tends to get pull-happy and chase pitches out of the zone, leading to big strikeout numbers. Waring started off as a skinny second baseman in high school, but as he has grown and filled out, he moved first to shortstop and then to third base. He also played some first base and may move there or to an outfield corner down the road because of concerns about his footwork and range at third. His arm is slightly above average, while his speed is a tick below. Waring will start off in high Class A with his new organization. His power potential is a needed commodity in the organization.
Part of December's Ramon Hernandez trade with the Reds, Turner played with Blake Davis on Cal State Fullerton's 2004 national championship team and could team with him again to form the double-play combination in Norfolk this year. Turner is a baseball rat who has a feel for the game and a competitive drive that ensures he gets the most out of his limited tools. He has a line-drive swing with gap power that has allowed him to hit .310 with a .377 on-base percentage during his minor league career. But there are some concerns as to how well his swing will play in the big leagues. His stroke could be more direct to the plate, and he employs an inside-out approach instead of using the entire field. Turner is a solid second baseman with excellent instincts that make up for his adequate range. He's a tick below-average runner. He'll never be a star, and his lack of arm strength may make it tough for him to fill a utility role in the big leagues, but his ability to hit for average and get on base will get him there.
The Orioles drafted Adams as an offense-first middle infielder, but until 2008, he hadn't put up the numbers to back up that projection. In his first taste of full-season ball, he delivered by far the best offensive performance of his career. He showed good bat control and a knack for making solid contact, the ability to put a charge into the ball at times and even the speed to steal the occasional base. The problem has been defense. Adams made an astounding 52 errors last season, including 46 at second base. That gives him 70 in 187 career games there, so it might be time to try another position. The problem is that he hasn't shown much aptitude at shortstop or third base either, and he doesn't profile for an outfield corner with the bat. His arm is strong enough for short or third, but his footwork is lacking and his throws are erratic. Adams also has drawn criticism for an inconsistent mental approach and stubbornness in taking instruction in the past, but Baltimore was impressed with his makeup in 2008, as he continued to hit in spite of his defensive struggles. He'll move up to high Class A to open 2009, and the Orioles will continue to experiment with his position in spring training.
The Orioles were just looking for extra hitters to bolster the top of their system when they signed Montanez after the 2006 season, but he has shown enough that he now might be able to find a major league role. He won the Eastern League triple crown and MVP award in 2008, made his major league debut in August and homered off Nick Blackburn, Ervin Santana and James Shields. Baltimore kept him on its 40-man roster after the season. Montanez (then known as Luis) was the third overall pick in the 2000 draft coming out of high school, as a shortstop, but he never put it together with the Cubs. He struggled in the infield and didn't enjoy the defensive demands of playing there, so he moved to the outfield in 2004. He loves to hit and has shown the ability to hit for average and use the entire field against advanced pitching. He added power to his game last season, too. While he has the physical skills to play any outfield position, not to mention the infield, he's essentially limited to left field. He's a useful extra bat as an outfielder, but to be a big league regular he would have to move back to the infield, something that isn't happening. He should earn a spot as the fourth or fifth outfielder in Baltimore in spring training.
Joseph had a standout career at Lipscomb. He earned all-Atlantic Sun Conference recognition in both his sophomore and junior seasons, as well as A-Sun tournament MVP honors in 2008 as Lipscomb won the title and reached NCAA regional play for the first time. He also got scouts' attention as a fill-in player in the Cape Cod League in 2007, eventually earning a spot in the league's all-star game. A seventh-round pick last June, he signed for $125,000. Joseph always has performed with the bat, showing good hands and the potential for above-average power. He can drive fastballs to all fields but still is learning to handle breaking stuff. Joseph is athletic and wiry and surprisingly strong, but he'll have to bulk up a bit to handle the rigors of a full pro season behind the plate. The Orioles would like for him to stay at catcher because he moves well and has good hands, and he's also bilingual and has a knack for working with pitchers. His arm is average and he erased 43 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. If he has to find a new position, he's athletic enough to handle second base, third base or left field. He impressed club officials in instructional league not only with his performance but also his work ethic. He'll open the season as the starting catcher in Delmarva.
In order to access this exclusive content you must have a Baseball America Account.
Login or sign up