Looking up and down the Baltimore Orioles minor league system, it looks like the O's have a very bright future ahead of them. The O's have some great hitting prospects, like Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brandon Snyder, Xavier Avery, Jerome Hoes, Greg Miclat and Blake Davis. The O's also have some great pitching prospects. They have about 15 guys who could play a huge role with the O's. There are some legit pitching prospects, like Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta (pictured). There are also some underrated pitchers in the system, like David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Rick Zagone, Oliver Drake, Brad Bergesen, Eddie Gamboa, and Zach Britton. Let's take a look at these pitchers, shall we?
Chris Tillman, RHP: In 2008, Chris Tillman was dominant for Double A Bowie. At just 20 years old, he finished with 11 wins, four losses and a solid 3.18 earned run average. He has dominating stuff; his fastball peaks at 96, he can mix pitches extremely well and while command is a concern for some fans, his stuff outmatches it. In his first start for Triple A Norfolk, he pitched four innings, allowed no hits, walked three and struck out five. Impressive, to say the least, and even more impressive for a guy who turned 21 on April 15th. When I look at the leading candidates for the No. 1 Orioles starter in the future, I see Tillman as the guy. He has "ace" stuff. He can be a guy who leads the league in strikeouts with consistency and can win 15 games a year.
Brian Matusz, LHP: Brian Matusz has had a pretty nice start to his professional career. In two starts, he is 1-0 with a 4.66 ERA. Not flattering, I know, but has had two impressive starts for a guy who is in his first year of professional baseball. He's the 16th ranked prospect for a reason, and down the road, I expect him to get more chances to settle in ball games, and thus, win them. I anticipate Matusz will have anywhere from 12 to 16 wins this year as a rookie. Matusz has "ace" stuff, but he doesn't have the dominance Tillman possesses, which qualifies Tillman more for the ace role. However, Matusz, the O's 2008 first round draft pick, projects like a future No. 2 or No. 3 in an O's staff that looks great for the future.
Jake Arrieta, RHP: Believe it or not, Jake Arrieta is a very underrated prospect. Yes, he's the 92nd ranked player in the minor leagues. But many are saying that the future ace on the O's is a battle between just Matusz and Tillman, while in fact, Arrieta has just as much, if not more, potential. Last year, Arrieta was dominant for Single A Frederick, posting a 6-5 record and 2.87 earned run average. In reality, he could have been much better, but he was backed by a horrible Frederick team that and averaged just 4.51 runs per game and committed 127 errors, nearly one per game. When you look at his game log, Arrieta could have had a much better record. Could Arrieta be the ace? I absolutely think so. He showed it today, pitching five innings and allowing just one run.
David Hernandez, RHP: Last year when Matusz was drafted, I was trying to find some way to exclude Hernandez from the rotation because I know it'll be tough for Hernandez to find a spot in the staff. I couldn't find one. He's a strikeout machine (166 strikeouts in 141 innings), doesn't give up home runs (just 10 yielded in 141 innings), has an impressive hit: IP ratio (141 innings pitched, 112 hits allowed), and is most importantly, productive (10-4, 2.68 ERA). Then, I figured Hernandez would struggle for Triple A Norfolk. Wrong again. In his first start, he pitched four and two thirds innings, allowing just two hits, one run and striking out a whopping NINE batters. Hernandez is a keeper. He's made some type of transformation the last two seasons, as after going 7-11 with a 4.95 ERA in 2007, he is 10-4 with a 2.66 ERA. He has an outside shot to be a crucial part of the back end of the rotation.
Jason Berken, RHP: When I take a look at right handed pitcher Jason Berken, it's funny to me. He doesn't do anything spectacularly well, but is more of a finesse pitcher. He won't overpower, but is a smart pitcher and knows when to throw what. Last year for Bowie, he had 12 wins, four losses and a 3.58 earned run average. It's a wonder he didn't get the promotion to Triple A Norfolk. I don't expect him to have a future in the O's rotation. It's loaded right now, so at best, I see Berken as a guy who can make an impact as a long man in the bullpen along with Radhames Liz and Dennis Sarfate.
Rick Zagone, LHP: I think it is pretty obvious that next year, Brad Bergesen will provide the left handed presence at the back end of the rotation. But in the future, I think Rick Zagone, the 22-year old Missouri alum, will provide another left handed presence and could be a mainstay in the rotation. He's been surprisingly consistent in his minor league career. In 2008, he was 7-1 with a 2.89 earned run average. In his first start this year, he tossed five shutout innings of one hit ball. That's a 7-1 record and 2.80 earned run average in two seasons from a guy who doesn't possess dominating stuff. Zagone reminds me of a Brad Bergesen and could be pitching behind him in years.
Oliver Drake, RHP: One of the many pleasant surprises in the O's system the last two seasons is right handed pitcher Oliver Drake. Last year between rookie league Bluefield and Single A Aberdeen, he was 1-0 with a whopping 0.82 earned run average. So far this season, Drake has been as impressive, as he pitched six innings and allowed one run in his first start. While you root for a guy like Drake, I can't find a place for him - at least not in the rotation. He was extremely dominant in his first start, as he allowed just three hits and struck out six. If Drake makes the majors, I think he's bound for the bullpen. But, we know the potential Drake has, and if he can find a spot in the rotation, I'd be all for it.
Brad Bergesen, LHP: If you payed attention to the O's minor league system, you were encouraged by Brad Bergesen. Last year, he won 16 games between Frederick and Bowie and set a Bowie record by winning 15 games. At 24, he's an incredibly mature pitcher on the mound. He doesn't try to blow pitches by you, but is better than advertised control wise. In his first two starts for Triple A Norfolk, he is 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA. As you can tell by his ERA, he really deserves to be 2-0. In his first start, he pitched five innings, allowed just one run, and struck out six. Oddly enough, he received a loss. In his second start, he allowed just two runs over six, getting the win. All indicators point towards Bergesen making his major league debut on April 21st against the Chicago White Sox. I think I speak for most O's fans when I say I can't wait.
Eddie Gamboa, RHP: Last year at Bluefield, right handed pitcher Eddie Gamboa received unfair treatment. In 62 innings of work, he posted a good 3.63 earned run average. So what was his record? I'd say about 5-2 on an average offensive team. However, the Bluefield squad never seemed to support him, and Gamboa finished with just one win and seven losses. This year for Delmarva, he's already matched the win total. In his first two appearances, he has been dominant, as he has pitched five innings, walked one, struck out five and is 1-0. Gamboa isn't a starter for Delmarva, but can probably switch between starter and reliever. As an Oriole fan, it's gotten to the point where if a guy is a pre-MacPhail draft pick, I almost expect him to be a bust. If he is a MacPhail pick, I think he will pan out. Gamboa is a MacPhail draft pick. You do the math.
Zach Britton, LHP: Out of Panorama, California, Zach Britton is a long way from home. The 6'2", 172 pound southpaw has adjusted nicely. After a sorry year for rookie league Bluefield in 2006, he rebounded in 2007 for Aberdeen (6-4, 3.68) and broke out in 2008 for Delmarva. For the Shorebirds, he had 12 wins, seven losses and a solid 3.12 earned run average. Britton had a great first start for Single A Frederick, as he pitched five innings, allowed three hits, yielded one unearned run and worked his way to a no decision. Britton is an encouraging prospect, but because of the depth the O's have in the minors pitching wise, Britton will, at best, find himself in the 'pen.