5 Minor Leaguers Who Could Aid Baltimore Orioles Playoff Chances

Zachary BallAnalyst IAugust 16, 2012

5 Minor Leaguers Who Could Aid Baltimore Orioles Playoff Chances

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    With their come-from-behind victory over the Red Sox, the Orioles moved 11 games above .500 for the first time since early summer. They are now in control of the first wild-card spot, and thanks to King Felix, they're positioned a full-game ahead of the Rays in the A.L. East.

    It's unlikely that either team will catch the Yankees, who have a 5.5 game lead on Baltimore and who have seamlessly transitioned to life without their ace, C.C. Sabathia. However, there is still time for the Birds to solidify their status as the wild-card front-runner, and to do that, they very well might need some reinforcements.

    And for the first time in a very long time, the O's have several pieces down in the minors capable of providing just enough to get them over the hump and into the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Joe Mahoney, 1B

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    Mahoney might actually get the call in the next few days, especially if Wilson Betemit's wrist injury proves to be more serious than first thought. He was held out of the Norfolk lineup last night, signaling that a call-up could be imminent.

    What Mahoney lacks in hitting ability (.273/.329 career), he more than makes up for with massive power. He's slugged 38 homers the past three seasons, only one of which he was healthy enough to appear in at least 120 games.

    And despite checking in at 6'6'' and 240 pounds, he's an asset on the basepaths, where he's racked up 18 triples in his career to go with 56 steals, including a career-high 29 back in 2009.

    Defensively, Mahoney is limited to first base. He's squeezed in a couple games in the outfield the past few seasons, but at his size, he's not the kind of player you break in in the big leagues (a la Manny Machado).

    Mahoney's biggest plus is his power, and if they could get five to 10 homers from him down the stretch, he might be worth the call-up.

L.J. Hoes, OF

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    Hoes is practically a shoo-in for hitter of the year honors in the organization, with his .295/.380/.392 line and 20 steals. Since he made the jump to Triple-A, he's been arguably the best hitter at that level, hitting .318 with an on-base percentage of close to .400.

    Hoes has also earned rave reviews for his work on defense, where he has grown into one of the top outfielders in the system. He doesn't offer much in the way of power (four HR this season), but he's a proven doubles and triples machine who knows how to take an extra base.

    Hoes might not be the kind of guy who will have a long-term role with Baltimore, but he could be just the right kind of guy for their bench as they head into the stretch run. He is not only an ideal late-inning defensive replacement, but also has enough hitting ability to get a few at-bats as a pinch-hitter.

Brian Matusz, LHP

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    In case you missed the story, Matusz, a big-league veteran of 68 games, has been moved to the Triple-A bullpen in the hopes of getting the lefty back to the majors in time for the stretch-run.

    Matusz could fill multiple roles with the O's, including as a long-reliever, which they haven't had all season long. In addition, he would give them a great lefty-on-lefty option.

    Despite all his struggles, Matusz has always excelled against lefties in the bigs (.173 this season, .233 for his career), and the O's happen to have a gaping hole with southpaw Troy Patton headed to the disabled list.

    As suggested in the above article, the move doesn't appear to be a permanent one, but it could be in the best interest of both parties as the season draws to a close.

Jason Berken, RHP

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    The forgotten man, Jason Berken hasn't seen action in the majors since his disastrous one-inning outing in early May. Against the Rangers, Berken gave up six hits and seven runs (two earned), including solo homers to Michael Young and Josh Hamilton.

    Since his demotion, Berken has been a rock, the one constant in Norfolk's rotation that has included nearly a dozen other arms. Despite a mediocre record (4-5), he's held down a 3.56 ERA over 126.1 innings.

    Berken could also fill numerous roles for the Orioles, including long-relief, where he excelled back in 2010 (3.03, 45:19 K:BB in 62.1 IP), and he could also be a capable substitute in the rotation should Steve Johnson, Chris Tillman or Miguel Gonzalez falter.

Dylan Bundy, RHP

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    At last, the big kahuna!

    Bundy just made his Double-A debut a few days ago, but that doesn't mean Buck Showalter doesn't have his sights set on bringing the Oklahoma fireballer up for the stretch run.

    Why else would he go out of his way to send Jim Thome down to Bowie (via Brittany Ghiroli and Greg Luca of MLB.com) to scout him? A first-hand eyewitness is always better than the usual game report.

    Bundy has looked absolutely sensational this season, posting an 8-3 record, a 2.01 ERA and a 106:22 K:BB ratio. He's approaching the 100-inning mark, and the O's have been insistent that they will shut him down shortly after he reaches the 125-inning mark.

    Interestingly enough, Bundy is currently on schedule (via Peter Schmuck of the Herald-Mail) to pitch every sixth day, which would put his last start around September 1st, the same day that major league rosters expand.

    Bundy could assist the O's in several ways, most notably as a shutdown reliever, although there's always the chance the front office could always allow him to unleash his cutter and join the rotation.

    Either way, he could be an incredible asset to a team trying for their first playoff berth in more than a decade.