All teams in Major League Baseball reach a point in their season when they decide to shift their focus from the present to the future.
For most teams, this is sometime in July or August, when they have fallen far enough back in the pennant race to delay their hopes at a World Series ring.
For the Baltimore Orioles, it’s almost better to start thinking about the future now. That way you can pay less attention to the present.
That may seem harsh, but it’s a sentiment that comes with fourteen straight losing seasons, and four straight last-place finishes in the AL East.
New GM Dan Duquette has had a quiet offseason, and the only significant difference between this team and last year’s team is the departure of starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie was nothing special, but by Orioles’ standards he was an experienced and successful starter, something they still desperately need.
The division has not gotten any easier, and it seems like Duquette is allowing the minor league talent to develop before he allocates any serious resources to free agents or trades. Several young players will likely get an opportunity to play for manager Buck Showalter before this season is over, as Duquette measures what he has in place and decides what the team still needs for the future.
These are the five prospects in the Orioles’ farm system most likely to get called up at some point this season. They are not necessarily the five most promising players, just the five I think you’re most likely to see at Camden Yards in 2012.
The Orioles drafted Machado third overall in 2010. Machado drew some potentially unfair comparisons to Alex Rodriguez, being a tall shortstop playing in Miami, but he does have the tools to be a terrific infielder for the Orioles.
Machado started the 2012 season as the No. 11 prospect in the league, as ranked by Baseball America. He plays the field well, has a strong arm, and shows the ability to hit for average and power.
In 2011, he played 38 games in Single-A Delmarva, and then played 63 games with the higher level Single-A+ team in Frederick. His performance was mediocre—a .257 average, 11 homers, 50 RBI and 11 steals in those 101 games—but he was battling a knee injury that sidelined him for a month.
Machado has real major league talent and he’s still only 19 years old. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Orioles bring him up this year, even if only for a few games. Machado has plenty of time to develop, and if he does come up, nobody should read too much into his performance at such a young age.
If there is one thing the Orioles need, it’s starting pitching. Brian Matusz’s disappointing 2011 season and the departure of Guthrie leaves massive holes in the rotation, which now depends on the development of young, unproven starters like Matusz, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton.
Baltimore drafted Bundy out of high school with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft as a can’t-miss pitching prospect, and he has already impressed at spring training this year.
As a senior at Owasso High School in Oklahoma, Bundy went 11-0 with a 0.20 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 71 innings. He has reportedly been clocked at 100 mph, but scouts also noticed his devastating breaking ball and his effective changeup, something you won’t often see at such a young age.
Teammates and coaches have also commented on his command of the strike zone, and even more about his poise during media-frenzied bullpen sessions. Bundy is a rare type of prospect—one that combines amazing physical ability with a tough mental approach.
The Orioles are in no rush with Bundy, but if he excels in the minor leagues it might be difficult to restrict a player that the fans might actually pay to see. They must be careful, however, not to stunt the growth of another starting pitching prospect by mishandling his development.
L.J. Hoes was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft out of St. John’s College High School in Maryland.
Hoes is an outfield prospect, currently playing left field, with the potential move to second base still lingering as a possibility. Hoes lacks experience at all of those positions, but has played solid defense to supplement is excellent offensive production.
In 2011, Hoes played 41 games with the A+ team in Frederick, then got promoted and played 95 games for the AA Bowie team. Hoes had an excellent run in AA ball, hitting for a .305 batting average with an excellent .379 OBP. He has also added power, hitting six homers and 17 doubles in Bowie, and projects to add even more as he develops.
The Orioles do not have anyone significant blocking Hoes’ path in left field, and they could use the hitting as well. At 22 years old, Hoes could work his way up to the majors soon, and if he keeps hitting well, it could be a permanent stay.
Another 22-year-old outfielder, Avery was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Orioles.
Avery is a natural athlete—he turned down a football scholarship from the University of Georgia to play baseball. He is still learning the game, but he has impressed coaches and teammates with his desire to get better through hard work. He has only taken baseball seriously since he was 16, but his athleticism and work ethic have helped him improve every year.
In 138 games in Bowie last year, Avery hit .259 with 31 doubles and 36 steals. Avery’s speed makes him more likely to get called up as a pinch-runner, and he is the type of player that will only learn and get better with more exposure in the big leagues.
Bridwell is the Orioles’ second-rated pitching prospect behind Bundy.
Drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 draft, Bridwell is another natural athlete—he had originally committed to play quarterback at Texas Tech before deciding to pursue baseball.
Standing at 6’4” and 190 pounds, Bridwell impressed scouts with his 90-95 mph fastball and complementary curveball, changeup and cutter. His fastball causes hitters the most trouble with its sinking action and heavy impact at the plate.
Despite some shaky outings in the minors in limited action, Bridwell is still developing and has plenty of room to improve.
The Orioles are more likely to slow-play Bridwell and keep him in the minors, but the lack of pitching could force Bridwell into the major league bullpen before the year is over so that Duquette can judge whether he has major league stuff.