Baltimore Orioles Top Prospects: Who's Hot and Who's Not, May 4
If you're an Orioles fan, all of a sudden, there's a lot to be terribly excited about.
The big league team has a nice little winning streak going, no-hitters are being tossed at the AAA club, and a former first-round pick who had been all but anointed a "bust" has had a bit of a career resurrection.
So without further ado, let's take a look at who's been hot and who's been mired in Mark Teixeira-ville.
That's right...take that, Mark!
HOT: Chris Tillman, RHP, Norfolk Tides (AAA)
While Tillman no longer qualifies as a "prospect," you have to give some sort of kudos to a guy who throws the Orioles' first minor league no-hitter since Brandon Erbe and a couple or relievers combined for one in 2008.
Tillman's other start (five IP, eight hits, and two earned runs) on the week wasn't as...perfect...but it was decent, and it allowed the Tides to have a shot at the win.
The no-hitter couldn't have come at a better time for the 22-year-old, who was on the surprising end of a demotion to start the season in favor of David Hernandez, who pitched more brilliantly in spring training. Let it be noted that Hernandez has pitched well in his first handful of starts.
It looked like Tillman's confidence had taken a shot, and his pitching responded that way. He gave up at least two earned runs in his first four starts, and the supreme indignity came in his April 18 start, when he surrendered four earned runs in only one inning.
He rebounded with eight strong innings against Charlotte five days later and tossed the first no-hitter in the International League since 2006 five days after that outing.
For the time being, the big league rotation is faring pretty well, and none of the starting five appears in line for a demotion, so it appears Tillman's first shot may come if one of Baltimore's starters succumbs to an injury.
NOT: Pedro Viola, LHP, Norfolk Tides (AAA)
Those of you unfamiliar to the name, let your history lesson commence:
Pedro Viola, a soon to be 27-year-old lefty, was once upon a time a highly touted hitter in the San Francisco Giants system.
A find from the Dominican Republic, Viola was eventually discovered to be older than his birth certificate listed, and his high standing within the organization cooled. Viola was then picked up by the Reds, who decided to try him on the mound.
Viola flourished on the mound, spending at least 10 games at three different Reds affiliates during his breakthrough 2007 season, posting a 1.42 ERA and a K per nine rate over 10.
Viola spent all of 2008 at AA Chattanooga and made it to AAA in 2009 before making his Major League debut in early September of last season. Results were mixed, and Viola didn't seem like a shoo-in for a bullpen spot in 2010, so the Orioles scooped him up.
Finally, we get to this season. Viola has struggled, giving up at least one earned run in each of his three outings this season. He couldn't even make it through a full inning last night, giving up four earned runs. So far, he's allowed batters to tee off to a .533 average against him.
Not so hot...
HOT: Paco Figueroa, 2B, Bowie Baysox (AA)
I'm sure I wasn't the only Orioles fan surprised when the Eastern League weekly awards came out this past week and Paco Figueroa took home the best hitter honors.
Figueroa has hit safely in nine of his past 10 games and has multi-hit games in four of those. He's been hitting doubles (four), triples (two), and he even cranked out his first home run in three years.
On the season, Figueroa's .345 average is good for eighth in the Eastern League. His 29 hits rank fourth, and he's scored 12 runs, good for fourth on the team. He is one of the more patient hitters on a very impatient Bowie squad, and he even offers a little speed (two steals this season, 56 on his career).
It's been a long and winding road for Figueroa to get back to Bowie. He was here once in 2007 after motoring through the system, hitting .284 with 62 runs scored and 20 swipes at Frederick in his full-season debut. He was just as good at Bowie, hitting .280 with 60 runs and 15 stolen bases.
Figueroa suffered through a couple injuries that hampered his quick movement, and it took him two whole seasons to get back to AA. Now that he's here, though, he could be on his way to AAA very soon.
NOT: Caleb Joseph, C, Bowie Baysox (AA)
This is exactly why the Orioles have no problem with keeping Caleb Joseph at catcher.
With all the talk heating up this past offseason about what to do with Joseph since the Orioles already have Matt Wieters in Baltimore, the Orioles issued a simple response: Joseph is still a few years away from being Major League-ready, and as such, there is no reason to screw with his bat and force him to learn a new position.
Joseph is one heck of a catcher. He's earned rave reviews from every coach at every level so far, and his mental approach is second to none.
But his hitting so far on this young season has been atrocious. A .203 batting average, including .183 in his last 10 games. Only five extra-base hits, only six RBI, and an on-base percentage under .300.
He is crushing left-handed pitching (.400 vs .100 against righties), but his saving grace is that he's such a good catcher, and he has no real competition for playing time at Bowie, where backup Phil Britton is hitting an even more unsavory .182.
I'm still a Joseph believer. I think he'll continue to inch his average back up before the All-Star break, and more power will come as the season wears on.
HOT: Tyler Henson, 3B, Bowie Baysox (AA)
Henson has a history of being a streaky hitter and has been especially good at putting together a nice streak to start the season in most years.
This year, Henson has been at his best, raking as a 22-year-old in Double-A. His 29 hits rank tied for fourth in the EL with Figueroa, and his 17 RBI rank tied for sixth in the league.
He has five multi-hit games in his last 10 outings and has even flashed decent speed (two triples and one steal).
Henson's always been a good doubles guy (28 per his last two full seasons) and has developed some decent power (11 HR in 2008, nine in 2009). Most importantly, he has continued to move up the system despite the fact that he is an inevitable errors machine at third base (25-plus in each of his four pro seasons).
The Orioles have tried to tourniquet the bleeding by moving Henson to the outfield, and for the most part that has seemed to work (only three errors in 25 games).
If Henson can continue to hit, and his move to the outfield should make it easier to concentrate on that, he could have a legit shot at a career as a big league player who offers 10-15 home run power along with 15-20 stolen bases.
NOT: Chorye Spoone, RHP, Bowie Baysox (AA)
Much like Figueroa, Spoone has traveled a long path to get back to Bowie.
Spoone was the darling of the O's system after his two-complete-game performance in the Carolina League playoffs, culminating in his league playoff MVP honor after the Keys took home the league championship trophy.
Spoone entered the 2008 season as the O's top pitching prospect, one who was quickly on his way to the Baltimore rotation.
Two years later, it seems as if Spoone is an afterthought in a system loaded with talented young pitchers. So far in 2010, he isn't doing a whole lot to establish himself as the inning-eating fireballer that he once was.
Spoone lost nearly two years to arm troubles that cost him precious development time. Now 24 years old, Spoone has made it back to AA, where the main goal of the organization is just to have him get through this year unscathed.
He has started five games so far and has gone more than 4.2 innings only once. He's surrendered earned runs in each outing and gave up a season-high six on April 25.
Spoone has been giving up hits in bunches (32 in 23 innings) and can't seem to find the strike zone he thought he'd rediscovered last year (19 walks to only seven strikeouts).
Before the operation, Spoone was capable of reaching back for mid-90s heat, and it seems that his injury has robbed him of some speed, turning him into more of a nibbler at the edges of the zone. His once mighty curveball has failed him, now lacking the control to put it where he wants it.
Spoone has a ton of season left, and it's a fantastic sign that he's stayed healthy through this first month, but he's going to need to start putting together some solid starts if he wants to remain relevant in this system.
HOT: Pat Egan, RHP, Bowie Baysox (AA)
The Orioles liked Egan so much that they did him the honor of drafting him three times.
They finally managed to get him to sign, as the 1,075th pick in the 2006 draft, and have succeeded at turning him from a mediocre college pitcher at Quinnipiac into a true bullpen ace. Egan has been at his best so far this year.
Many wondered what the O's were thinking when they shipped Egan, who pitched to a 3.24 ERA and 70:22 strikeout to walk ratio as a full-time starter at Aberdeen, to the pen in preparation for the 2009 season. But Egan wowed the Orioles—and opposing batters—to the tune of a 1.94 ERA over 92.2 innings at three levels.
Egan's journey culminated in Bowie, where he started again this season. So far, in 29.1 innings at the AA level (16.1 coming in 2010) Egan has posted a 1.23 ERA with 23 strikeouts and only four walks.
On this young season, he has allowed only six hits (.113 BAA) and has notched two saves to go along with his 0.55 ERA.
Don't forget that Egan is one of the more intimidating pitchers in the league, coming in at a whopping 6'8" and 225 pounds.
If he keeps up his dominating outings at Bowie, he could be in Norfolk before the All-Star break and challenge for a late season call-up to Baltimore.
NOT: Frederick Keys Starting Rotation
Not even Nathan Nery's seven-inning performance two nights ago can take the heat off what has been one of the worst rotations in the Carolina League.
Over a combined 23 starts, Nery, Cole McCurry, Richard Zagone, Ryan O'Shea, and Kenny Moreland have combined for a 5.28 ERA. They have given up 132 hits in only 107.1 innings and have surrendered 19 home runs in that time. They've walked 23 batters and managed to plunk five.
McCurry and Moreland both have ERAs over 5.00, and O'Shea's is quickly approaching the 6.00 mark.
Somehow the starting five has managed to pull together a 5-8 record, and the bullpen's 8-2 mark has enabled the Keys to keep their heads above the .500 mark in league play.
You have to wonder, with guys like Ryan Berry (2.76 ERA in 29.1 IP) and Jake Cowan (2.40 in 30 IP) performing very well, if help could soon be on the way for the Frederick rotation.
HOT: Ryan Berry, RHP, Delmarva Shorebirds (A)
Don't let the creepy porn star look fool you—Ryan Berry is a quick-mover who might be ready to rise to the very top of the Orioles system.
Berry had been solid in his first four starts of the year but really shined in his last outing, hurling seven innings of five-hit ball, allowing only one run, striking out eight, and walking only two.
Berry is beginning to look like a true steal as a ninth round pick last year. He's only issued six walks on the year in nearly 30 innings. He has 26 strikeouts, good enough to make the top 15 in the league, and his 1.23 WHIP is best among Shorebirds starters.
Berry was widely considered the best bet to be the quickest pick from the 2009 draft to make the big league squad, and I could very easily envision the O's bringing Berry up to make a splash in their bullpen come late season.
The way he's pitching, he would have earned it.
NOT: Tony Butler, LHP, Delmarva Shorebirds (A)
The Orioles thought they were getting a bit of a project when they acquired Butler in the deal that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle.
He was a throw-in in the deal that also included Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, and Kam Mickolio, but the O's hoped to be able to get something out of Butler as well.
It seems like it might be time to give up on that thought.
Butler is only 22 years old, but 2010 is his fifth season of pro ball, and he has yet to make any significant progress.
After a decent debut in 2006, the 6'7" lefty struggled in low-A ball. He repeated the level as a 20-year-old upon his entry to the O's system and struggled as well, giving up seven home runs and fielding a 4.42 in his first go around at Delmarva. The only hope he offered was his 44:11 strikeout to walk ratio, by far the best of his career.
He suffered through multiple injuries that year that kept him from taking the field at 100 percent until this season. Now, finally healthy, Butler has struggled in all but one start this year. He has yet to go more than five innings in any outing and has walked three, four, three, five, and three, totaling 18 walks in only 18 innings.
The one beacon of hope for Butler came in his third start, where he tossed five scoreless innings, striking out nine, bringing to mind the solid potential he has.
It looks like it might finally be time to try Butler's hand at the bullpen, where his size and 11 strikeouts per nine rate might prosper. It's worked with Pedro Beato so far, and it might for Butler.
HOT: Billy Rowell, 3B, Frederick Keys (A+)
It had gotten to the point where young Rowell was making it very hard for anyone in the organization, much less the fans, want to root for him.
As the ninth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Rowell has had huge expectations to live up to. He hasn't helped himself with his poor attitude and immaturity, not to mention his unwillingness to take coaching.
I mean, why would you want to take advice when you're a career .259 hitter with nearly 400 strikeouts?
On the verge of "bust" status, Rowell has put together his most impressive campaign to date so far. It is a small sample size, but his .286 batting average is good for fourth on the Keys roster among regulars and the highest his average has sat in the past four years. His 13 RBI are good for fourth on the squad, while his 19 strikeouts are merely tied for fifth on the team.
During his past 10 contests, Rowell has been superb, hitting .359 with five RBI and eight runs scored. He's even managed to steal a base and has three doubles.
Even more comforting are Rowell's splits. He's hitting in the .280s against both lefties and righties and has equal distribution in runs, RBI, walks, and Ks.
The O's made the decision to let Rowell move back to third base in 2010 but have let him spend some quality time at first as well, and he's performed admirably, committing only five errors in 20 games.
Like I said, it's a small sample size, but I'm one of the handful of people rooting for a Rowell resurrection.
Honorable Mentions HOT
Local product Brian Conley (Towson) has gotten off to a scorching start to the 2010 season, compiling a .346 average and .457 OBP through 23 games. He also has seven doubles, two triples, and 16 walks.
Garabez Rosa is still tearing it up down at Delmarva and now has 12 doubles on the year to go with his .333 average.
Jake Cowan looks like he might be running away with pitcher of the year honors for the organization. After seven more impressive innings, he is now 3-0 with a 2.40 ERA and 29 Ks in 30 innings. He has yet to surrender a home run.
OF Xavier Avery has continued to shine, posting a four-hit game on May 2 to raise his average back up to .315.
OF Ronnie Welty has continued his RBI tear and now has 22 on the season, best on the Keys.
1B Joe Mahoney (6'7" and 255) has responded to complaints that first basemen should be power-hitting guys and not speed guys (29 SB in 2009) by cranking out four home runs and driving in 18 runs so far this year.
Closer Brandon Cooney has staked his claim to the Orioles' closer of the future role with three saves in 10 games with the Keys. He now has 15 strikeouts in only 12.2 innings and a 0.71 ERA.
3B Joel Guzman, a former top prospect with the Dodgers, seems to have found his stroke with the Baysox, knocking five home runs in his first 21 games.
Top prospect Zach Britton has put together solid back-to-back starts, tossing 10.1 innings, allowing only eight hits, one earned run, and two walks, lowering his ERA to 3.60.
RHP Pedro Beato has thrived upon his demotion to the bullpen, striking out 11 batters in 15.2 innings, notching a 1.15 ERA.
Honorable Mentions NOT
Randy Henry has been a mixed bag at low-A Delmarva. He has given up 10 earned runs (6.23 ERA) in only 13 innings but also has 20 strikeouts, good for a 13.9 K/9.
C Michael Ohlman has returned from the DL but has made little impact since and is hitting .143 on the year with only one extra-base hit and four RBI.
Paco's twin brother, Danny, has disappeared off the face of the earth, posting only six hits in his last 33 at-bats, and has a .167 average on the year.
2B Miguel Abreu, who made headlines last year by hitting .290 with 25 stolen bases last year with Bowie, has gotten off to a dreadful start, hitting a meager .209 this season with one fewer strikeout (18) than hit (19).
Poor Brandon Snyder saw his average dip below .200 for the year. He has 25 strikeouts in 86 at-bats and appears to be pressing at the plate just a bit.