Coming into the 2009 season, the Baltimore Orioles knew that the Opening Day roster would look different in September, than it did in April. However, no one could have imagined the "Summer of Rookies" for the Orioles.
Matt Wieters garnered all of the preseason hype for the Orioles' farm system. Ranked as the No. 1 prospect going into the season, Wieters gave Orioles fans hope that future would be bright. However, Wieters has not been the only minor leaguer called up to the big leagues this year.
Actually, he wasn't even the first to be called up from the system.
Outfielder Nolan Reimold was called up after playing just 31 games for Triple-A Norfolk. Reimold, 25, was hitting .394 with nine home runs and 27 runs batted in. Even more impressive, Reimolds' on-base plus slugging (OPS) was a staggering 1.228, which was tops in the International League.
Since his call-up on May 14, Reimold has done everything to impress and stay in the everyday lineup as the left fielder.
Fifteen days later, it was Wieters' turn to make his own impression. In front of 42,704 fans, the Orioles' largest crowd of the season, Camden Yards had a feeling like it did in the mid-90's. Not only were the fans excited about Wieters, but they could only think of the future that seemed to be getting brighter and brighter.
That night, though, another rookie stole the show.
Brad Bergeson, 23, pitched eight outstanding innings, giving up two runs on seven hits and striking out three, while walking none. Bergeson has really come along since being called up to the big leagues in late April.
The 6'2" righty hasn't given up more than four runs in any of his last 17 starts. In his 19 starts this year, Bergeson has compiled 13 quality starts, earning seven wins and a 3.43 ERA, which is 10th best in the American League.
After seeing success in Reimold, Wieters, and Bergeson, the Orioles hoped Jason Berkin and David Hernandez could find themselves spots in the rotation this year and for the future.
Jason Berkin has been everything, but impressive. Berkin, 26, has an ERA just under 7.00 and is pitching himself out of the rotation. However, Hernandez has been very solid for the Orioles. The 24-year-old provides a good fastball that sits between 92-94 mph, even hitting 96 on a few occasions. Many scouts thought Hernandez would become a reliever due to his secondary pitch issues, but the 6'2" righty has proved, thus far, that he deserves a spot in the rotation. Hernandez is sporting three wins and a 3.28 ERA in nine starts.
With three rookie pitches already in the rotation, the Orioles were still holding onto their top rated pitchers in the minor leagues. Baseball America had ranked Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta the Orioles' two, three, and four top prospects respectively. The Orioles hoped to get the three-headed monster to the majors by 2010. However, after four months of the season, the Orioles thought it was time to call up their top pitching prospect Chris Tillman.
Tillman, 21, is a 6'5" righty that came to Baltimore through the Erik Bedard deal. The Orioles did not want to rush him to the majors, but after dominating hitters in 18 starts at Triple-A Norfolk, Tillman received the call-up.
In his first start against the Kansas City Royals, Tillman was hurt by the long ball, but kept the Orioles in the game. He ended up pitching 4.2 innings, giving up three runs (all solo home runs) on seven hits and added one walk with two strikeouts. Tillman struggled in the first inning of his second start, giving up three runs to the division-leading Detroit Tigers. From there, he settled down, allowing just two runs on four hits over five innings and walking one, while striking out five.
Tillman has shown he may need some time to adjust to pitching in the majors, but if he can build off of the last five innings in Detroit, he could see more innings and more success.
The 2008 fourth overall pick, Brian Matusz, was thought to start in Class-A Frederick and hopefully get to Double-A by the midseason point and probably start there in 2010. The Orioles hoped to call-up Matusz, 22, at some point in 2010 after a year and a half in the minors.
Instead, the Orioles decided that after only 19 starts in the minors, Matusz was ready for the big leagues. After dominating the first half of the season between Single and Double-A, Matusz was called to start in Detroit the night after Tillman's second start. It seemed the 6'5" lefty picked up right where he left off. Matusz pitched five innings, giving up one run, and more importantly, earning his first major league victory.
With Matusz, the Orioles hope they have solidified a top of the rotation pitcher and after his first start, it seems there is no reason to change their mind.
With four of their five top rated prospects called up to the big leagues, one would think that the Orioles have depleted their farm system. However, the Orioles still will need to build around their talented rookies with the other young players left in the farm system, to succeed in the future.
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Jake Arrieta was drafted in the fifth round in the 2007 Draft. The 6'4" righty pitched great in 2008, leading the Carolina League in ERA (2.87) and winning the league's Pitcher of the Year award.
Arrieta, 23, then went on to pitch for the U.S. Olympic team, where he made one start, striking out seven, over six shutout innings.
Arrieta uses four pitches, with his fastball being his best. He consistently throws it in the low to mid 90's, topping out as high as 97. He uses his fastball a little too much and has struggled when he tries to blow hitters away. His slider has the most potential to become a very effective out pitch. He will also throw a curveball and a changeup, and the Orioles are hoping both of those pitches become better than they are now. Going into the season, some scouts thought Arrieta would be the future No. 1, as he goes deep into games and has the potential to use four plus pitches.
This year, Arrieta started in Double-A and picked up right where he left off from 2008. He had 11 starts, winning six games with two complete game shutouts. In those 11 starts, Arrieta sported a 2.59 ERA and showed great command walking only 23 in 59 innings and added 70 strikeouts.
After departing for Triple-A, Arrieta has been inconsistent for the Norfolk Tide. In 11 starts, he has compiled three wins and an ERA just under 5.00. As it seems, it is taking Arrieta a little longer to get adjusted than planned, the Orioles can still find some good in his struggles, though. Arrieta has only walked 20 batters in 56.2 innings at Triple-A Norfolk, and his strikeout numbers remain high (53), almost a strikeout per inning.
If Arrieta can settle in the rest of the way in Norfolk, there is a shot he could start in the Orioles' rotation next year. Most likely, though, he will start in Norfolk, the O's will follow his progression, and a May or June call-up would probably fit the bill.
Josh Bell, 3B
Josh Bell came over to the Orioles in a 2009 trade for closer George Sherrill. Bell was the center piece of the deal, as he is a switch hitting third basemen with tons of raw power. Going into the 2009 season, the 23-year-old was rated as the Dodgers' eighth best prospect, but he is enjoying a solid 2009 season, which would have made him much higher.
The 6'3", 235-pound third baseman is known mainly for his bat. Bell is a very patient hitter, who uses all fields and has gap-to-gap power. Most of his power comes from a good approach and a thick bottom half of his body. The major question for Bell is his defense, but after losing 30 pounds going into the 2008 season, many scouts feel he will be able to stay at third and his good arm that will only help his case.
Since being traded, Bell has only recorded four at-bats, collecting one hit. In the Double-A Southern League, Bell hit .296 with 11 home runs and 51 runs batted in. He also had 31 doubles, which he was fourth in the league and an OPS of .883, good enough for fifth best in the league.
Josh Bell has a very high ceiling.
At 23, many scouts think he may still get a little stronger. With tons of raw power and an average around .300, Bell could soon see time in Triple-A Norfolk and has a shot to hit the majors by the middle of 2010.
Brandon Erbe, RHP
Brandon Erbe entered the 2008 season that was a make or break for his status in the Orioles' organization. After being drafted in the third round out of high school, in the 2005 Draft, Erbe showed signs of potential.
However, some mechanical problems held him back and after working with the organization, the O's felt Erbe could really help at some point in the future.
In 2008, he averaged one strikeout per inning, with 151 innings pitched and 151 strikeouts, which led the Arizona Fall League. He won 10 games in 28 starts and held batters to a dismal .216 batting average. However, Erbe's ERA was 4.30 and he lead the league in home runs given up with 21. After an up a down year with Double-A in 2008, Erbe was out to prove his worth in 2009.
He opened up the 2009 season hoping to pitch good enough to possibly get into Triple-A by the end of the year. In Double-A Bowie, he sure is pitching like he wants to move up. Erbe has started eight games and is sporting an ERA of 2.50. The righty has kept hitters to a batting average under .200 and his slider has become a plus pitch.
With Matusz, Tillman, and Arrieta, Erbe doesn't need to become a top of the rotation pitcher. If he can become a solid starter, eat up innings, and keep his ERA down, Erbe could find himself in the 2010 rotation midway through the year.
Matthew Hobgood, RHP
Matthew Hobgood was the Orioles' first pick, fifth overall, in the 2009 Draft.
Hobgood earned High School Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year, after pitching 68.1 innings and giving up just nine earned runs all year. Hobgood's opponent's batting average was just .151 and he added 101 strikeouts in his 11 total starts.
The 6'4", 245-pound righty is a hard throwing 19 year old and has a very good curveball to go with a plus fastball, which he will use to challenge hitters. His fastball will sit around 90-92 mph and his curveball will devastate hitters coming in at 75-78 mph. Hobgood will also show a slow slurve, which looks to be a usable pitch at the next level.
Hobgood is a big, strong right-hander with two plus offerings in his heavy fastball and outstanding curve. Some small tweaks to his delivery should help him find improved command of his fastball. If he can add a changeup to go along with his other offerings and his tremendous mound presence, he has the chance to be a front-of-the-rotation starter in the future.
Troy Patton, LHP
Troy Patton came to Baltimore in the Miguel Tejada deal with the Houston Astros.
Patton was the biggest chip the O's got back from Houston, and the lefty has pitched well enough for consideration in the future rotation. Patton has made the trip to the big leagues once already with the Astros, starting two games and had solid outings in both starts.
Patton missed the entire 2008 season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum. He struggled early through some injuries, but when he is healthy, he has four good pitches and can use all four as out pitches. Patton, 24, throws a four seam fastball in the low 90's that will touch 94 mph and a two seam fastball that sits in the high 80's, that will run away from right handed batters. The 6'1" lefty will compliment his fastball with a slider and a changeup.
Coming off surgery, Patton started in Double-A Bowie in '09, where he started 11 games and had excellent numbers throughout. Patton was holding batters to an average of just .211 and sported an ERA just under 2.00. As the lefty seemed to be rolling, the Orioles decided that they wanted to see what he could do at the next level. They promoted Patton to Triple-A Norfolk, but he has struggled.
In his first start in Triple-A, Patton suffered a loss after giving up five runs in six innings of work. From there, his Triple-A numbers didn't get much better as he now is 1-3 with a 6.45 ERA.
Early struggles in Triple-A will hurt Patton's chances of returning to the big league mound in 2009. If he can figure out the Triple-A hitters in early 2010, an injury in the rotation may propel a call-up for Patton.
Brandon Snyder, 1B
Brandon Snyder is the best average hitter in the Orioles' farm system.
Not only can Snyder hit over .300, but he also shows power to all fields. Snyder was drafted 13th overall in the 2005 Draft and after signing with the O's, Snyder was sent to the Carolina Fall League, where he finished second in batting, hitting .315, and was in the top five in several offensive categories.
After a below average 2006 season between Delmarva (LoA) and Aberdeen (Short Season), Snyder worked on some mechanical problems and most importantly, staying back on off-speed pitches. He entered 2007 back in Delmarva and raised his batting average .050 points, hitting .283 and added 58 RBI with 11 home runs. Snyder moved onto Class-A Frederick in 2008 and had his best year as a professional, hitting .315 with 13 home runs and 80 RBI.
Hoping to build off his productive 2008 season, Snyder began the '09 season in Double-A Bowie. As soon as the season started, the 6'2" first baseman started hitting. Before being called up to Triple-A, Snyder played 58 games, hitting .343 with 10 home runs and 45 RBI. Most importantly, though, he led the league with an OPS of 1.018.
Snyder was called up to Triple-A on June 18, where he got off to a slow start, but has been red hot in his last 10 games (hitting .486 with eight runs and eight RBI). Snyder now sits at .278.
With Aubrey Huff possibly leaving as a free agent after the '09 season, Snyder could find himself at spring training, fighting for the starting first baseman job in 2010.
Others to Note
Matt Angle, OF
The 2007, seventh round choice out of Ohio State University has played very well.
Matt Angle, 23, started at Aberdeen after being drafted and hit .301 and stealing 34 bases in just 66 games. The 5'10" outfielder has plus speed and is very smart hitter. He doesn't have much pop (zero home runs in 2009), but he can be used as a leadoff hitter, with his speed, while his on base percentage is getting better each year.
If Angle continues to hit for a good average and his walks stay close to his strikeouts, he could find himself as the predecessor to Brian Roberts as the Orioles' catalyst.
Season Stats: .284 AVG, 60 Runs, 45 BB, 32 Stolen Bases, .361 OBP, .335 SLG, .696 OPS
Xavier Avery, OF
Xavier Avery was drafted by the Orioles in the second round of the 2008 Draft out of high school.
The 20-year-old is showing tons of upside with plus speed, which Baseball America rated an 80 out of 80. In 2009, Avery has been with Class-A Delmarva the entire season. Many comparisons to Carl Crawford have the former Georgia football commit and the Orioles excited about his future.
Season Stats: .261 AVG, 98 Hits, 44 Runs, 29 Stolen Bases, .312 OBP, .346 SLG, .658 OPS
Zachary Britton, LHP
Britton, 21, has really gone under the radar for the Orioles.
A third round 2006 pick out of high school, Britton has had some real success wherever he is pitching. With good sinking on his fastball, which sits in the low 90's, Britton induces several ground outs a games and with a plus slider, the Orioles are looking for Britton to hit Double-A at the start of the 2010 season, if not for few starts late in '09.
Season Stats: 8-5, 20 Games Started, 2.79 ERA, 107 Strikeouts, 48 BB, .238 Opp. Avg.
Tyler Henson, 3B
Going into the 2009 season, the Orioles knew that if Henson could put his tremendous tools together, he could enjoy a very nice season.
After being drafted in the fifth round of the '06 Draft, Henson, 21, went to the Rookie League, where he hit .230. Henson showed some potential in 2007, hitting .280 between Aberdeen and Frederick. Henson showed more power numbers in '08, hitting .265 with 11 home runs and 62 RBI. He also included 20 stolen bases in each of the last two seasons. In 2009, it seemed Henson has put together more consistent numbers, which could help a late call-up to Bowie.
Season Stats: .277 AVG, Six Home Runs 60 RBI, 16 Stolen Bases .341 OBP, .411 SLG, .752 OPS
Steven Johnson, RHP
The 6'1" right handed pitcher was traded to the Orioles in the George Sherrill deal at the trade deadline. Johnson is the son of Davey Johnson, whom pitched for the Orioles in the early 90's. Johnson won 20 games as a starter in the minors, entering the 2009 season, but many feel he may end up in the bullpen as reliever. Johnson will throw consistently in the low 90's along with a curveball and slider, with the latter being more effective.
Season Stats: 9-6, 111.1 Innings Pitched, 3.64 ERA, 102 Strikeouts, .255 Opp. Avg.
Caleb Joseph, C
Caleb Joseph put his name on the map when he was a Cape Cod All Star in 2007. A seventh round pick by the Orioles in 2008, Joseph has shown he could become a solid player when he hits the major leagues. At the plate, Joseph is an above average hitter with good hands and has shown power to all fields. He opened the 2009 season in Delmarva and has played very well throughout. The Orioles have talked about moving Matt Wieters to First Base at some point due to his 6'5" frame. If the Orioles were to move Wieters in the future, it would pave the way for Joseph.
Season Stats: .315 AVG, Nine Home Runs, 52 RBI, .352 OBP, .479 SLG, .831 OPS
Billy Rowell, 3B, OF
Rowell is looking to become a more consistent hitter. He has struggled early, which is making him more known as the player that was drafted the pick ahead of Tim Lincecum. The 6'5'', 205-pound third baseman/outfielder has some raw power, but has struggled keeping his batting average respectable as he is currently around the .230 mark.
Season Stats: .229 AVG, Nine Home Runs, 34 RBI, 48 Runs, .285 OBP, .359 SLG, .645 OPS
Justin Turner, 2B
Turner came to Baltimore in a trade for Ramon Hernandez last summer. Drafted in the sixth round of the '06 Draft out of Cal State Fullerton, Turner has shown a solid line drive swing with gap to gap power. Going into the 2009 season, the 5'11" second basemen has a professional average of .310 in the minors and has shown great strides in keeping his on base percentage at .377. The Orioles signed Brian Roberts to a four year deal in 2008. Turner, 24, is already in Triple-A Norfolk and if the opportunity presents itself, such as an injury, Turner could see the big leagues in 2010.
Season Stats: .306 AVG, Two Home Runs, 35 RBI, .361 OBP, .397 SLG, .758 OPS