The Baltimore Orioles have been struggling as of late at the big-league level. The bullpen hasn't been strong, and the offense has been inconsistent.
With about six weeks left in the regular season, the O's are desperately trying to right the ship in time to make a serious run at the playoffs, as they still are only a few games out.
And while the big league club looks to improve on its struggles, the team's prospects in the minor leagues look to harness their potential and make strides towards their ultimate goal of becoming a big-league ballplayer.
Let's take a look at five of the best players in the O's farm system and evaluate their development.
Note: Right-handed pitcher Dylan Bundy will not be included on this list due to injury (Tommy John Surgery).
5. Mike Wright - RHP
Drafted in 2011, Mike Wright is having a very good year at Double-A Bowie. Currently 10-2, Wright has a 3.37 ERA over 128.1 innings pitched. He's given up 134 hits, but historically he's a pitcher who gives up more hits than innings pitched. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is good with 120 K's to just 35 walks.
The main thing that stands out to me is that Wright has improved on his ERA every season since his professional career began. At three minor-league stops in 2011, he pitched to a 5.72 number. In 2012, between Single-A Frederick and Bowie, he threw to a solid 4.06 ERA. Plus, with a 10-2 record, he's not easily losing games himself, which is also a good sign. The development of Wright is certainly exciting for the O's and their fans.
4. Branden Kline - RHP
Branden Kline has had some injury issues since he was drafted in 2012, as he's been out since mid-May due to an ankle injury that required surgery. His numbers don't show his potential, as he's 1-2 with a 5.51 ERA in 47.1 career minor league innings including a 1-2 record and 5.86 ERA in 2013, but he's got a good fastball and slider.
He struck out 13 batters in 5.2 innings in his last start before getting injured, so the potential is obviously there. All that's needed is for him to get healthy.
3. Eduardo Rodriguez - LHP
The 20-year-old lefty Venezuelan has put up some impressive numbers since his pro career began in 2010. The O's are taking it slow with him, as he's just been promoted to Double-A not too long ago, and that's a good approach to take with a young pitcher.
Eduardo Rodriguez was putting up good numbers at Single-A, with a 6-4 record and 2.85 ERA over 85.1 innings with 66 strikeouts and 25 walks. He's since struggled at Double-A, going 2-3 with a 6.13 ERA in 39.2 innings. He's walked a lot of batters at that level (22), but has also struck out his fair share of men (41) showing he's still capable of getting guys out.
An adjustment period is not surprising for any young player taking a step towards the bigs, so it's nothing to worry about. His career 3.30 ERA is more notable.
2. Jonathan Schoop - Second Baseman
Still just 21, Jonathan Schoop tore up rookie and Low-A ball in rehab assignments for a back injury, but has since been mediocre at the plate for Triple-A Norfolk. He's batting .243 with a .293 OBP at the highest level of minor-league baseball, but he does have seven homers and 29 RBI in 214 at-bats.
Schoop has walked only 12 times at Triple-A while striking out 46 times, so plate discipline appears to be his biggest issue and not simply lack of ability. He's still just 21, so he has plenty of time to grow and mature into a better hitter. All in all, when combining all three of his stops in 2013, his numbers are good: .273 batting average, .330 OBP, 12 homers and 47 RBI in 253 at-bats.
1. Kevin Gausman - RHP
Pitching well at Double-A early in the season combined with a need for a fifth starter at the major league level had Kevin Gausman in the majors much earlier than expected this season. Unfortunately, Gausman didn't have a picture-perfect first stint in the majors, as he went 1-3 with a 6.21 ERA in 33.1 innings. He walked nine, struck out 26, and gave up seven homers.
Gausman was sent down, and has continued to struggle during his first stint in Triple-A. An 0-2 record and a 5.20 ERA in 27.2 innings isn't what the O's are looking for from the former fourth overall pick, but he's still got great stuff with an overpowering fastball and great changeup.
Once Gausman implements a good breaking ball, pitching with success against professional hitters should become much easier for him as he'll be able to better mix his pitches and get hitters to chase balls. Settling in at one level with little pressure could also benefit Gausman's development. His numbers at Double-A tell any fan not to worry (at least not yet), as well as his inexperience with professional baseball. Given time, he should be able to figure it out more and more.
So, as with any team's minor-league system, there's good and there's bad, there's hopeful and there's worrisome. Considering all of the O's top five prospects are young, this writer thinks that one shouldn't worry over any negative numbers at this point in these young players' careers. What do you think of the O's top minor-league players?