The Baseball America Prospect Handbook is a book I take very seriously. Every year, I buy it to see who the Orioles Top 30 Prospects are and what the experts think of them. This year was the most encouraging. Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman all were in the Top 50 in baseball. So what players in the majors right now are most alike the O's top ten prospects? I'll show you.
10. Kam Mickolio, RHP: In one of the most lopsided trades in Orioles history, the Orioles traded LHP Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners in a six player deal that sent Kameron Mickolio, among others, to the Baltimore Orioles. Mickolio started off badly for Bowie, with a 2-1 record and 4.70 ERA. It looked like Mickolio would be the only piece of the trade that didn't swing the O's way. That was until the O's gave him a promotion to Triple A Norfolk, where he was dominant, posting a 1.80 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 20 innings. Mickolio appears to be the closer of the future, whose fastball is in the upper 90s, resembling B.J. Ryan.
9. Brandon Snyder, 1B: Before Andy MacPhail's arrival in 2007, O's draft picks turned out to be busts in the minors. One of the few exceptions? Brandon Snyder. Drafted in the first round by Baltimore in 2005, Snyder is the No. 9 prospect in a talented O's farm system and appears to be the O's future first baseman. In 2008, he played for a horrible Frederick team, but still shined, batting .315 with 13 homers and 80 RBI. Snyder has the ability to stroke the ball to all fields with some pop. His defense isn't great, but it will do. The only glaring weakness for Snyder is his plate discipline. For Frederick, he struck out 83 times and walked just 29 times. While that is considered acceptable for first baseman nowadays, it will need to improve if he goes through a slump. Snyder personally reminds me of a Ryan Garko-like player. Garko and Snyder won't blow you away with power like Pujols or Howard will, but they are good offensive players.
8. Troy Patton, LHP: In a trade that sent Miguel Tejada to Houston, Baltimore got five players, one being left-handed pitcher Troy Patton. A smart pitcher who can read hitters very well, Patton does a good job of mixing his pitches. The only real problem for Patton is his injury trouble. In 2008, he didn't pitch a wink because he suffered a shoulder injury. When healthy, he can be a very crafty left-hander and he proved that in 2007 when he finished 10-8 with a 3.51 ERA in the minors and even posted a 3.55 ERA in two outings for the Astros. Patton doesn't overpower anyone, so he reminds me of a Cliff Lee-like guy. Patton won't ever go 22-3, I'm not implying that, but like Patton, Lee does a great job mixing pitches and won't overpower you.
7. Billy Rowell, 3B: One of the more disappointing picks in recent years is Billy Rowell. He was good, not great, the first three years of his career and hit a wall in 2008. Despite a sweet left-handed swing and phenomenal bat speed, he hit .248 last year. I don't think we Orioles fans will see the Rowell we could know. Rowell is one of the most talented players in the system, but since making the switch to the outfield, we can pretty much say bye-bye to him.
Rowell could be a great outfielder and if his hitting comes together, he can be a great player, but I doubt he'll overtake Jones or Markakis for outfield spots and the O's already have developed left field prospects like Matt Angle, Joe Nowicki and Nolan Reimold. Should, Rowell make the bigs, he compares most like Mark Reynolds to me of the Diamondbacks. Reynolds stuck out a whopping 204 times last year and reminds me of Rowell in that he has a good arm but lacks in plate discipline.
6. Brandon Erbe, RHP: Another disappointing pick was Brandon Erbe, a fireballing 22-year-old right handed pitcher. His minor league career has produced a lackluster 18-22 record and a 4.55 ERA. Erbe was 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA in 2008, a vast improvement from his 6-8, 6.26 ERA performance in 2007. Erbe is a strikeout machine, as he has struck out 452 in 415 and one third innings. However, his walks are a cause for concern for O's fans, but it improved last year, so there's reason to believe it'll improve during the 2009 season.
5. Nolan Reimold, OF: One of the more awaited prospects in the O's farm system is Nolan Reimold, the power-hitting outfielder. At Bowie in 2008, he hit .284 with 25 home runs and 84 RBI. Reimold dealt with injuries in 2007, and baseball wise, injuries are his only concern. He has good patience for a power hitter, as he struck out 82 times while walking 63 times, an impressive ratio for a home run hitter.
Most O's fans love this kid, and they didn't start to hate him when he slugged three homers in a playoff game at Bowie, but the slugger says its not up to him, saying: "I guess that's up to them. I just want to come out and keep getting better from month to month and if they think I'm ready to help them out, then I'm ready." He reminds me of a Raul Ibanez of the Philadelphia Phillies in that he's consistent production wise, a fair fielder and good strikeout-walk numbers.
4. Jake Arrieta, RHP: One of the best steals in the draft for the O's in recent years was grabbing Jake Arrieta in the fifth round, while he was expected to be a top 20 pick. Of the process, Arrieta said he was surprised, but wouldn't complain, saying: "I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised, but things like that do happen for various reasons. I’m just really excited to go where I did go. Even though I did go lower in the draft than I expected, I think the deal that’s going to be in place is going to be one that I’m really happy with. I think things worked out just fine."
Arrieta was great for Frederick, with 2.87 ERA and a deceptive 6-5 record. He would've posted a much better record had he not been playing for a Frederick team with a bad defense and offense.
3. Chris Tillman, RHP: Chris Tillman is another example of Orioles president Andy MacPhail screwing the Seattle Mariners farm system. Tillman, 21, was a mediocre pitcher in the Seattle minor league circuit and the Mariners included him in a trade that sent Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler to Baltimore for left handed pitcher Erik Bedard. Tillman took the big step up last season, posting an 11-4 record, 3.18 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 135 and two thirds innings.
Tillman has rose from the doldrums of the Mariners system to most experts' Top 50 prospects in all of baseball. He has prototypical build for a pitcher (6'5", 195), is phenomenal at mixing pitches and looks to be the O's future No. 2 starter, as the rotation is centered around Arrieta, Tillman and Brian Matusz. Tillman draws comparisons to a guy like A.J. Burnett in that he doesn't have the control you might like, but he has enough and has been nearly unhittable in the minors.
2. Brian Matusz, LHP: While he hasn't pitched a single inning in the minor leagues, 2008 first round draft pick Brian Matusz is the O's No. 2 overall prospect. Since Matt Wieters is going to likely make the club by May, Matusz would overtake the top spot. Matusz is already drawing comparisons to Phillies southpaw Cole Hamels in that he has outstanding control, does a fantastic job of using four above average pitches to his advantage, and can blow you away.
As a junior at the University of San Diego, he was 12-2 with a 1.71 ERA while striking out 141 and walking just 22 in 105 innings. Personally, I've seen enough to be convinced Matusz is ready for the majors - right now. He exhibits phenomenal control, ability to get the ground ball and has show he has a chance to be effetive in the majors right away. He, like Tillman, has an ideal build for a major league pitcher (6'4", 193) and a trio with Matusz, Tillman and Arrieta is a scary one.
1. Matt Wieters, C: Some are expecting a Hall of Fame career out of Matt Wieters. The catcher hit .355 with 27 home runs and 91 RBI between High Single A and Double A, good enough to win Minor League Player of the Year. He has exceptional bat speed, power and arm strength and draws comparisons to Joe Mauer on defense and Mark Teixeira on offense. I have to say, I wouldn't mind that. Wieters threw out over 40 percent of baserunners in the minors, exceptional for a rookie and would make an above average defensive catcher.
While Wieters won't even start the year with the Orioles, he's expected to win Rookie of the Year. He could be like Mauer in that he can hit .300-plus and like Teixeira in that he can slug anywhere from 20 to 35 homers a year and drive in 90-120 runs. Wieters seems most like Teixeira to me because his offense is the best part of his game. He's an exceptional defensive catcher, but he's not going to get noticed for defense as much as offense in the days we are in, where the home run hitter is more celebrated than the Gold Glove winner.