Going into the season, the progression of Orioles minor league pitchers Brian Matusz (pictured), Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta would be vital to future success.
And boy, have they progressed.
So far, the three have dominated, as expected, and given O's fans, management, and players reason to be very excited for the future of the franchise.
Chris Tillman, RHP
So far, Tillman has the least impressive numbers out of the three—and he's a Triple A International League All Star. After going 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA at Double A during the 2008 season, he was very deserving of a promotion to Triple A Norfolk. However, there was a hiccup.
Some O's fans were concerned about the youngster's command. Despite those great numbers, along with 154 strikeouts in 135.2 innings, he walked 65 batters. However, the organization felt it was not a reason to worry and decided to let him start the year in Norfolk.
While one statistic made him look bad, Tillman is having a great year at the second highest level of pro baseball.
His record has worsened, as he is 6-5. However, what Tillman has accomplished this year can't only be judged by a win-loss record.
The O's No. 2 overall prospect has improved his command, as he has struck out 82 and walked just 22 in 80-and-a-third innings.
Another knock on Tillman is that he can't go very deep into ballgames. Not so fast.
In his last start, he pitched seven and two-thirds innings, allowing four hits, no runs, walking one, and striking out seven. In 80.1 innings, he's allowed 66 hits, and has yielded a .219 opponent's batting average to date.
Fans have to be encouraged with the season he's having.
"Our hope is that he will be a front-rotation type guy," MacPhail said. "And our goal is that when he gets to the major leagues, that's the last he ever sees of the minor leagues. We want to give him as many weapons as we can so that when he comes here he can be successful."
With the way he's pitching throughout the year, he very well can be. In my opinion, he projects as a No. 3 for the future, right behind Matusz and Arrieta. Tillman, just 21 years old, has flawless mechanics, and he'd be a very good No. 3 in the rotation.
Brian Matusz, LHP
So far, left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz has the most mind-boggling statistics in the trio—and it's not even close.
He's been absolutely dominant of late, including a start on Tuesday night in which he allowed one hit and no runs over eight innings, didn't walk a batter, and struck out 11. The strikeouts are high, but it's not as if he has an extremely fast fastball.
He doesn't even project as a strikeout pitcher in the majors, but has a great feel for pitching, knows when to throw what pitch, and is very good at keeping hitters off balance. He has portrayed that since his recent promotion.
Since moving up to Double A Bowie, the lefty is 4-0, has a 0.34 ERA, has allowed 11 hits in 26.1 innings, one run, given up just six walks, and struck out 32 batters.
He's starting his career off the same way as 2007 first-round draft pick Matt Wieters. He's getting the exact same treatment as Wieters, too.
Matusz also started his professional career in High Single A Frederick. Matusz also earned a promotion to Double A Bowie. And since, he has stepped it up a notch.
"The most impressive thing about him, for me, is his poise," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "We had him in big league camp, and he pitched there like he had pitched there for 10 years, yet in a very unassuming way."
In his last 50 innings, Matusz has allowed a combined one run.
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Out of the trio, Arrieta is the least talked about. However, he may be the most talented out of all three.
In 17 starts, Arrieta has pitched two complete games, is 8-5, has a 2.90 ERA, has struck out 98 in 90 innings, and walked 31.
Arrieta is a special prospect. He's big (6'4", 225), is just 23, and in his second professional season in Triple A.
What's really special about him is his command. He throws in the high 90's, sometimes at 98 MPH. However, he's able to command it, as shown by his K-BB ratio.
In a start Tuesday night, he was below average, allowing four runs in six-and-a-third innings, but he struck out eight and walked one and pitched well enough to get his eighth win of the year.
He's also got an attitude that will help the O's turn around their fortunes.
"I've just always been very aggressive and competitive. I hate to lose more than anything in the world," Arrieta said to the Baltimore Sun. Since getting promoted to Triple A, Arrieta has been solid.
In six starts, he's 2-2, has a 3.48 ERA, has struck out 28, and walked just eight. He's not as good as he was in Double A (6-3, 2.59), but it does get harder at every level, and if he can pitch a few more good outings, he's on the cusp of a promotion.
The O's have every right to be excited about this trio. Combined, the three are 22-13 with an amazing 2.39 ERA. Not only that, they have command, with a combined 80 walks and 287 strikeouts.