Under team president Andy MacPhail, the O's farm system is ranked ninth in all of baseball, up from 18th just two seasons ago. MacPhail has drafted three prospects in the Top 100 prospects and acquired one.
He drafted Matt Wieters (2007, first round), Jake Arrieta (2007, fifth round), Brian Matusz (2008, first round) and acquired Chris Tillman in the famous Erik Bedard trade that also gave the Orioles young center fielder Adam Jones. What will the O's look like in say, 2012? Well, here's what I think:
C Matt Wieters
Last year, Matt Wieters hit .355 with 27 home runs, 91 RBI and a .355 batting average between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. Wieters is the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, and O's fans are freaking out about the guy.
Thus far in Spring Training, he's only hitting .500 with one homer and five RBI. He is EXPECTED to win Rookie of the Year in 2009, despite it being doubtful that he'll even start the season with the big club. He'll likely start in Triple-A and given his Spring Training performance, it won't take him very long to earn a promotion.
1B Brandon Snyder
Brandon Snyder, a former first round draft pick, is a contender for O's Minor League hitter of the year knowing that Matt Wieters is likely to leave the minors in late April—for good. Snyder hit .315 with 13 home runs and 80 RBI for Frederick last year, one of the only bright spots for the Keys.
He is the O's No. 9 prospect and barring injury, will start the year at Double-A Bowie and could earn a promotion to Norfolk. Snyder is the first baseman of the future, but depending on the development of Billy Rowell, he could switch to third base.
2B Justin Turner
In the Ramon Hernandez trade, the Orioles acquired outfielder Ryan Freel, third baseman Brandon Waring, and second baseman Justin Turner. Turner, a Cal State Fullerton alum, doesn't do anything fantastically well, but doesn't do anything horribly either.
He is a sound player who managed to hit .298 in the minors last year with eight home runs and 53 RBI. Despite being ranked just the No. 27 prospect in the O's system, he is a sleeper of a prospect and could see time in Triple-A next year. He is the second baseman of the future.
SS Blake Davis
Speaking of Cal State Fullerton alum, Blake Davis is impressing manager Dave Trembley. The manager went as far as to say: "If Blake Davis didn't have an 82 on his back, you'd think he was a big league shortstop."
Davis, a 25-year-old left-handed batter, is a sound fielder, batted .284 with 130 hits in 132 games, and tripled seven times for Double-A Bowie. He is clearly the shortstop of the future, and it will be very interesting to see the chemistry Turner and Davis have now compared to what they had in college.
3B Billy Rowell
A .248 batting average. 104 strikeouts. Billy Rowell had an awful year last year. As one of his biggest fans, I'll be the first to admit it. Rowell, three years removed from being drafted by the O's in 2006, had two solid seasons in 2006 and 2007, but his performance plummeted in 2008.
In his first two years, he batted a combined .293. Last year was certainly disappointing. But also encouraging. Through July, Rowell was hitting an anemic .213. How did he respond? By hitting .297 in August to up his average to .248 and end the year strong.
He has the strongest infield arm in the O's system and there isn't a doubt he can hit. That makes him the future O's third baseman.
LF Felix Pie
For years, Felix Pie was known as a top Cubs prospect who would never be good in the majors.
Why? Because he never got to play.
The man was backing up Alfonso Soriano. Now, he is backing up no one. He is the O's starting left fielder and is quite impressive in camp.
He's batting .273 while showing speed and great defense in the outfield. Being that he's 24, he's the O's future left fielder. Andy MacPhail has taken a chance on him, and I believe he will be rewarded greatly. Pie has all the upside in the world, it just depends on opportunities for him.
CF Adam Jones
Adam Jones was the centerpiece in the trade that sent left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard to Seattle. Jones, 23, batted .270 with nine homers and 57 RBI for the O's last year, played solid defense, and blew a bubble while doing it.
Jones needs to work on his plate discipline, but that has improved this Spring. Right now, he is second in baseball in stolen bases (four). Jones is batting .333 (3-for-9) this Spring, hasn't been caught stealing, and has walked as many times as he's struck out (two).
Two words: the future.
RF Nick Markakis
Markakis, 25, signed a 6 year, $66 million extension this offseason, and after the contract expires, he could sign another, depending on the whereabouts of the Orioles.
But that will be in 2014. No need to worry about that now.
Markakis, a Woodstock, GA native, batted .306 with 87 RBI for the O's last year while leading the majors in outfield assists (17). Markakis is Baltimore's Golden Boy and idolized in Baltimore on the same scale as Joe Flacco. Markakis development as a hitter is just maturing, and he's already an All-Star hitter. He's easily the future in right.
DH Nolan Reimold
With the acquisition of Pie, No. 5 prospect Nolan Reimold's future in Baltimore is in question. The slugger banged 25 homers in Double-A last year, but due to the O's great young outfield, he will not see much time in the field.
Where will he then? Designated hitter. He's the ideal DH—great power, so-so fielding.
Reimold needs to work on his missed cuts, as he strikes out nearly once a game. However, he is the DH of the future.
Bench Matt Angle
Speedster Matt Angle could be a great leadoff hitter if he weren't an Oriole.
Unless Adam Jones or Nick Markakis get traded or Felix Pie fails to live up to his potential, Angle will never get considerable playing time. But, he could be a younger, healthier Ryan Freel.
Angle, 23, batted .287 with 37 stolen bases, 71 walks, and a .385 on-base percentage for Single-A Delmarva. Angle could be a mainstay as an O's pinch runner, but nothing more.
Orioles fans, meet your future pinch runner!
Bench Wally Crancer
Matt Wieters may be the future Iron Man, but we can't count on it. The O's need a future backup catcher, and Crancer is just that.
Drafted by the O's in 2007 with the 369th overall pick, Crancer could serve as a viable back up option and could be a great backup catcher if the O's want to DH Wieters and give Reimold a rest. Crancer, 24, isn't nearly the hitter Wieters is—nor will he ever be. However, he is a competent contact hitter, which is proved by his .287 average for Single-A Delmarva last season.
Bench Jerome Hoes
The O's are currently stressing athleticism, and Hoes epitomizes that. He is a speedy second baseman who batted .308 with a .416 on-base percentage last season with the Gulf Coast League O's.
Hoes, a local product, could be the O's future second baseman if Justin Turner or Blake Davis don't pan out; however, I think they will.
It is likely Hoes could be like Angle, except an infielder version. Hoes could be a great bench guy who could provide some speed, just like Angle. He does have to work on defense, but with solid tutelage, it will improve.
Bench Xavier Avery
Just like Hoes, Avery provides a very athletic presence. He even had a football scholarship to the University of Georgia as a running back. On a 20-80 scale on speed, Avery had a legit 80.
The O's decided to draft Avery in the second round, and luckily, he signed. Avery had a fair season for the Gulf Coast League O's, batting .280 with 13 steals in 16 attempts.
With one year under his belt, Avery now has some experience, which is crucial for a 19-year-old. Avery is entering his first full season in the minors and could be a future backup for Baltimore.
SP No. 1 Brian Matusz: Despite great years from Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, David Hernandez, and Brad Bergesen, 2008 first-round draft pick Brian Matusz is the O's ace of the future.
Matusz' debut is just as much awaited as Matt Wieters' arrivial. Matusz could start the season in Double-A, a phenomenal feat for any young player. Matusz is considered major league-ready by some, and he has showed poise in Spring Training with one walk, five strikeouts, and just two hits yielded over four and two-thirds shutout innings. Matusz features a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball, changeup, and slider.
SP No. 2 Chris Tillman
Chris Tillman was acquired in the famous Erik Bedard trade, and while Adam Jones was the centerpiece of the trade, Tillman is beginning to assume that role, as he is the O's No. 3 overall prospect, and he has allowed just one run in four spring training innings.
Tillman is a shaky 21-18 with a 4.14 ERA in his minor league career, but turned it around last year, going 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 135 and two-thirds innings.
Tillman and Matusz can provide an overpowering presence in the first two spots in the rotation.
SP No. 3 Jake Arrieta
Arrieta, a 6'4", 225 pound right-handed fireballer, was 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA in his first year in the pros for the Frederick Keys. Arrieta struck out 120 batters in 113 innings; opposing batters posted a .199 opponents' batting average.
The O's could have a dominant 1-2-3 in the rotation with Matusz, Tillman, and Arrieta. Matusz is the southpaw in the trio, but all three can bring the heat, with fastballs in the mid-90s. Arrieta was the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year, despite winning six games, which should say something about the team behind him.
SP No. 4 Bradley Bergesen
Just when you thought I would add another fireballer to the mix.
Brad Bergesen isn't an overpowering pitcher like Matusz, Tillman or Arrieta, as his fastball doesn't touch the mid-90s. Instead, Bergesen relies on location.
Bergesen finally put it together last year, winning 16 games between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. Bergesen could provide a nice change of pace that would baffle hitters.
One day, you'd have to face a guy throwing 95 MPH with great location in Jake Arrieta, and the next, you'd face a guy who touches 90 and requires hitters to have perfect timing if they want any kind of success. I love it.
SP No. 5 Brandon Erbe
I still have hope for Brandon Erbe. Erbe has velocity (98/100 on Baseball Cube) and efficiency (89/100), leaving command as the only thing he needs to work on.
Erbe, 22, was 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA for Single-A Frederick last season, but if his team wasn't so lackluster offensively and ugly defensively, he could have posted much better numbers. And I don't think there is any doubting this guy can be great. In 415 innings, Erbe has 452 punchouts.
I still have hope for Erbe. Give the kid a break, he's 22!
Set up man Bobby Bundy
Bundy, an 18-year-old drafted by the O's in the eighth round last season, has all the tools. He has velocity, size, and control.
Bundy was rated as the 96th best draft prospect coming out of high school, so he was considered a steal. He has big time upside, as he has touched 95-96 with his fastball.
His signability was a concern for the O's coming out of high school, considering he had a baseball scholarship to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks, but he elected to turn pro. In two innings with the GCL O's, he struck out four and walked none. Due to the depth the O's have in the minors, Bundy could be a set up man. Fine with me.
Closer Kameron Mickolio
Kameron Mickolio is another guy the O's acquired in the Bedard trade. Mickolio figured to be a low-impact bullpen guy who may make the majors as a guy who pitches 30 to 40 innings a year.
O's fans had low hopes for the guy, which happens if you're an O's fan who has payed attention to any trades Peter Angelos has made. But I think MacPhail proved that brilliant trading senses run in the family.
It didn't go swimmingly for Mickolio, as he posted a subpar 4.70 ERA, but he was clearly a fireballing strikeout machine, as he had 40 strikeouts in 38 and one-third innings. Despite a bad ERA, he was promoted to Triple A Norfolk, where he had a 1.80 ERA and 23 punchouts in 20 innings.
From there, he earned a promotion to the Baltimore Orioles, where he struggled mightily, posting an 0-1 record and 5.87 ERA. But, Mickolio's overpowering stuff make him the closer of the future.
Think about this O's fans:
1. Justin Turner - 2B
2. Nick Markakis - RF
3. Nolan Reimold - DH
4. Matt Wieters - C
5. Brandon Snyder - 1B
6. Adam Jones - CF
7. Felix Pie - LF
8. Billy Rowell - 3B
9. Blake Davis - SS
1. Brian Matusz - LHP
2. Chris Tillman - RHP
3. Jake Arrieta - RHP
4. Brad Bergesen - LHP
5. Brandon Erbe - RHP
Set up: Bobby Bundy, RHP
Closer: Kam Mickolio, RHP