Is Zach Britton the next big thing in Baltimore?
By Patrick Armour
It’s that time of the year again, September call-ups are here right now. The contenders will call up their prospects hoping to help them get in or go deeper into the playoffs. The bottom-tier teams will be calling up their prized prospects to get a little big league experience for the future. The Baltimore Orioles are fortunate to be one of those teams with a prized prospect.
Currently Baseball America’s #10 overall prospect, Zach Britton is just straight up nasty. The southpaw went 7-3 with a 2.48 ERA for AA Bowie in 14 starts. He recorded a 1.195 WHIP while accounting for 68 strikeouts in 87 innings. For AAA Norfolk, Britton has a 2.98 ERA in 11 games while recording 47 strikeouts in 60.1 innings. Britton has shown in his minor league career that he has what it takes to make the show eventually if not this year.
His #1 pitch is the sinker; he throws it more than half of the time and controls the pace of the game with it. The sinker generally sits in the low 90’s, but it has been clocked as high as 96 mph. When Britton is really on, the sinker stays in the 94-95 mph range and that is when he will be extremely effective. His slider complements his sinker well, while it is only an above average pitch to righties, it is dominate against opposing lefties. Britton does a great job of keeping his sinker and slider down in the zone and it shows with his groundout/flyout ratio of 3.06. The bottom part of Britton’s game is his changeup, it is a little below average but it is improving. He struggles occasionally to command the changeup and gets punished for it. Britton has great mound presence for a player at 22 years old, and it should be a big factor for him when he gets called up to the bigs.
New Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that he did not plan on calling up Zach Britton to the majors if he would not be in the starting rotation. The first problem is there may not be a spot in the Major League rotation for Britton. As of late, all of the Orioles starting pitchers have been doing fairly well. Kevin Millwood has a 3.15 ERA in his last 3 starts, Jeremy Guthrie has a 2.92 ERA in his last 5 starts, Brad Bergesen has a 2.70 ERA in his last 6 starts, and Brian Matusz has a 2.43 ERA in his last 6 starts. The only pitcher in the Orioles rotation that has not pitched well lately is Jake Arrieta, which would seem to leave room for Britton in the rotation.
The other problem for Britton is the Orioles are highly considering calling up former top pitching prospect in Chris Tillman who has struggled in the big leagues but dominated in the minors. Chris Tillman has a 3.34 ERA for Norfolk this year and has already thrown a no-hitter for them. So we all know Chris Tillman has what it takes to be a dominant pitcher, but the question is whether or not he can transfer it to the majors.
Britton was called up to Norfolk near the end of June because he was owning AA hitters. The Orioles have to make up their mind if they want Britton to make a few more starts at Norfolk to get a closer look of what major league hitting is like before they call him up, or if they want him to be down there permanently for the rest of the year and into the 2011 season.
If the Orioles are going to promote him to the Major League club this season, they need to let him be in the starting rotation and allow him to gain some big league experience for the following years. If they decide to not call him up to the Orioles, they need to shut him down after one or two more starts until Spring Training 2011. Britton is at 147.1 innings pitched right now which ties him with his 2008 season for the most he has ever had in a year. After two more starts, he will likely be close to 15 innings over his maximum in a season and the Orioles can not afford to risk injury with a player of Britton’s caliber in the majors, let alone AAA.
Zach Britton will most likely be a #2 or #3 starter in the Orioles rotation eventually. Brian Matusz will probably be the ace of the staff for as long as he is in Baltimore and Tillman and Britton will compete for the #2 and #3 spots in the rotation. The #4 spot in the rotation will most likely be taken up by Jake Arrieta. Arrieta has struggled so far in his rookie campaign, but it is most likely just growing pains for the young righty as he will progress into a good Major League starter. The 5th and final spot in the rotation will be filled up by Brad Bergesen in the next few years, but Matt Hobgood could also be a name that comes up into the picture in the upcoming years.
Hobgood, whom the Orioles took with the #5 overall pick in the 2009 first year player draft, could eventually turn into the 5th starter or possibly even the 4th. Hobgood only has two better than average pitches right now which are his fastball and curveball. Fortunately, both pitches are spectacular and he only needs to develop an off speed pitch to complement both of them. Hobgood is only 20 years old right now and has plenty of time to develop. If he can not find a way to develop some sort of changeup, he will most likely be put in the bullpen as a power closer.
With Matusz, Britton, Tillman, Arrieta, Bergesen, and possibly Hobgood eventually, the Orioles future pitching staff is looking very bright. Hopefully Andy Macphail and Buck Showalter can keep up the good work they have been doing in the last couple of weeks. The minor league coaching staff needs to keep turning some young players into big league talent if the Orioles want success. If all of those pieces are put together in the puzzle, the Orioles could be a serious contender in only a couple of years.
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