Baltimore Orioles Top 40 Prospects, One Day at a Time—Numbers 40-36
These past two seasons have seen the Orioles graduate more top prospects than nearly any other franchise.
According to Baseball America's 2009 top prospects list, four members of the Orioles top 10 graduated to the Majors, and eight of the top 29.
This season, the team has seen five of the top 10 players move on to the greener pasture that is Camden Yards, including prospects number one (Brian Matusz), two (Josh Bell), and four (Jake Arrieta).
The result is that the Orioles organization is pretty bereft of top-level talent. The first-year player draft helped a bit with that, infusing some much needed talent in the form of five-tool shortstop Manny Machado, reliever turned starter Daniel Klein, and the stable of projectable arms like Parker Bridwell, Clayton Schrader, and Matthew Bywater. They were also able to snag hard-throwing reliever Wynn Pelzer in a trade with the Padres.
But in terms of homegrown talent, the Orioles feature one of the least impressive compilations in baseball. Aside from Machado and Zach Britton there aren't many sure-fire future big-leaguers, which means ranking the organization is mostly about projection.
Last year, I did my best to rank the Orioles top prospects (through 30) and I hit on a few guys that Baseball America didn't rank too highly: Brandon Cooney, Ronnie Welty, and Jesse Beal. Unfortunately, I also drank the Kool-aid on guys like Brandon Erbe, Pedro Florimon Jr., and Kam Mickolio.
This year, I've expanded the list to 40, although I won't go one-at-a-time with each prospect until I hit the top 30, same as last year.
I'll try to do my best to provide some solid background on each player, especially the ones that nobody has ever heard of, and then give a couple takes on each guy, a little bit from Baseball America and a little from the general public's perception, but mostly my projection of how helpful I think each prospect will be to the big league team going forward.
Feel free to let the discussion juices flow.
Top Prospect No.40-Luis Noel, RHP, 23-Years-Old
Luis Noel returned from his Dominican exile eager to make up for lost time. After missing all of spring training and the first few weeks of instructional ball, the 23-year-old right-hander was able to work out his Visa issues, and make it back to the States in time for the beginning of the minor league season.
He eased his way back into pro ball, starting at Low-A Delmarva, where he went 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA back in 2008. Noel had no trouble with Low-A hitters, holding them to a .247 average, winning four of his eight starts, and left with a 2.59 ERA and a 40:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
He then moved on to Frederick, which would have been his next stop after his 2008 season had he not been permanently detained in the Dominican for the entire 2009 season. He found the going a little tougher in High-A. He kept his strikeout-to-walk numbers high (46:23), but had issues with the long-ball, surrendering eight in 11 games, after giving up only one with Delmarva.
As a result, his ERA skyrocketed to 6.18, though his season finale performance (2.1 IP, seven ER) helped inflate that number a bit.
Noel's potential is best exemplified by the fact that he was the most consistent starter on that 2008 Delmarva squad that included Zach Britton. And while his career has taken a bit of a detour, he still has a shot to reach his ceiling, as a back of the rotation starter or long-reliever.
Noel features a low 90s fastball, a solid curveball, and a decent changeup, both of which need to improve as he continues to work his way up the ladder.
He'll be 23 heading into the 2011 season, where he will most likely take his turn as a part of the Keys rotation. If he pitches well, he could make his way to Bowie rather quickly, but after spending most of the past two years pitching to inferior competition, I figure he'll probably take most of the season readjusting to American minor league hitting.
Still, five years into his pro career, Noel represents one of the Orioles best international finds.
No. 39) Kipp Schutz, OF, 22-Years-Old
Few players, short or full-season, has as dominating a campaign as the former Indiana Hoosier, who was a 19th-round pick in the 2009 draft.
After a somewhat underwhelming season at Bluefield last season, Schutz really exploded onto the scene with Aberdeen in 2010. With a flair for the dramatic (multiple walk-off hits, including a extra-inning walk-off grand slam), Schutz channeled his energy, not to mention his frustration at being held back in instructional league ball before the season, staking his claim as the IronBird's offensive leader.
He equaled his 2009 total of 15 RBIs only 23 games into the season, and he finished the year with 42, good for eighth in the New York-Penn League. His .313 average also ranked in the top 10, as did his 83 base-hits.
June and July were especially kind to the 22-year-old, when he notched a .349 average, three home runs and 27 RBI. He slumped a bit in August and September, failing to hit over .300 in both months, but still finished strong, earning NYPL League honors as the hitter of the week in August.
If you just look at Schutz, you see a scrawny, wiry guy, who looks like he could stand to add about 20-30 pounds of muscle. He doesn't offer much speed, so it doesn't make much sense to keep off the weight. Schutz has to potential for above-average power, and packing on the pounds could help him reach that a bit sooner.
Schutz offers decent speed in the field, and could remain in center for the time being, but his future is probably in a corner spot. As you can see from his improvement this season, he has the ability to hit for average, but he tends to be a pretty streaky hitter (see July to August comparisons).
At the plate, he showed a much more aggressive approach in 2010, and that resulted in 37 more strikeouts, while his walk number stayed the same.
More than any other player, I'm excited to see how Schutz performs for a full-season team. He should get his chance at Delmarva next season, with an outside shot at Frederick, where he should inevitably end up by the end of 2011. After all, he is already 22-years-old.
No. 38) Matthew Bywater, LHP, 21-Years-Old
One of the most underrated prospects to enter the system this year, Matt Bywater was an absolute stud at Pepperdine, a school with a history of churning out Major League starters (Mike Scott, Randy Wolf, Patrick Ahearne).
Bywater made 13 starts this past season for the Waves, and impressively he tossed five complete games, including four shutouts. He finished the season with a 6-5 record, and a 2.40 ERA. He struck out a career high 83, while walking only 30 in 97 innings. On May 25th, he was named the Primetime Performer of the Week, after tossing a 114-pitch, complete-game shutout against 20th ranked San Diego, preventing them from securing an undefeated league title.
As a professional, Bywater failed to make an appearance, but he spent the last few weeks of the season with the Aberdeen IronBirds, soaking up pro ball and learning the finer points of life as a pro player.
Often referred to as a "poor man's Brian Matusz," Bywater is a finesse lefty, who features a high 80s, low 90s fastball, and impressive secondary stuff. His changeup rates as a plus pitch, and it was absolutely devastating against the Toreros in late May. His curveball is an average pitch, but with some pro level teaching, he could improve it to an above-average offering.
What gives Bywater an extra edge is his impressive command, which rates out as above-average. He spots all of his pitches with precise command. He still had issues with walks during his college career, however that could be attributed to trying to find an arm slot that worked well for him and was easy enough to repeat.
Now that he's found that, he should cut down on the walks, and focus on adding some weight, which could add a tick or two to his velocity, improving his prospect status.
While Bywater had only one more win than loss last season, and his performance in the other eight games he didn't finish wasn't overly impressive, he suffered from extremely low run support, and with a few more hits falling for him, he should be able to pitch with even more confidence.
I fully expect him to pitch quite well at whichever level the O's decide to start him out at. He could probably pitch out of the bullpen for Delmarva, but even as a 21-year-old, he will most likely see his pro debut come with Aberdeen.
No. 37) Chorye Spoone, RHP, 25-Years-Old
The funny name aside, Spoone put together a pretty good season, which is made even more impressive when considering it was his debut season after missing nearly two years due to labrum surgery.
Before his arm troubles, Spoone was labeled as the future ace of the franchise. Clearly that was before the days of Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman. Still, Spoone was really good. He was an innings-eater during Frederick's run to the 2007 Carolina League Championship, when he was named MVP. He ranked near the top of the league in innings pitcher, ERA, and strikeouts. And he featured a low-to-mid 90s fastball and an amazing curveball. The sky seemed to be the limit for the 21-year-old.
A little more than three years later, Spoone is 25-years-old and just wrapped a re-do season at Double-A Bowie, where Spoone went 3-3 with a 4.57 ERA in nine starts before he went on the shelf in 2008.
The season began slowly and poorly for Spoone. He went 1-2 with 16 walks and only six strikeouts in four starts in April. He shook off some of the cobwebs in May, notching two wins, a 3.97 ERA and a 22:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. By June, he was back in form, going 3-0 with a 2.48 ERA. Back in true Spoone form, however, also meant that his control was lacking. During those six June starts, he posted 22 strikeouts and 22 walks in 36.1 innings.
He pitched alright in July, and poorly in August before the Orioles finally shut him down with a month remaining in the season. In all, he pitched 132 innings, which is a great testament to his rehab, and hopefully a sign he's regained his status as a guy who can eat innings at the back of a rotation. His control was back to pre-injury form, meaning just bad, instead of terribly bad. He issued 79 walks, good for tops in the Eastern League.
In just about every possible way, Spoone's 2010 campaign was a glorious success. He should be 100 percent healthy come spring training and should get a shot with the big league club. After that, it's to Norfolk he goes, biding his time, waiting for a shot to make his big league debut.
No. 36) Greg Miclat, SS, 23-Years-Old
To me, 23-year-old Greg Miclat is one of the most mysterious players in the organization.
Who is he going to be as a pro baseball player? Is he the guy who hit a combined .273 between High-A and Double-A this year? Or is he closer to the talent level of the guy who hit a combined .226 between Low and High-A last season?
The easiest answer is, somewhere in between the two, which doesn't appear to leave much hope for a bright future for Miclat, despite his defensive prowess, and his claim to being the top defensive shortstop in the organization, even with the addition of number three overall pick Manny Machado.
Miclat isn't going to be a guy who hits for high power. He has only two home runs in 875 pro at-bats. He may very well develop into gap power, but right now, he isn't showing much of that either. He only has 39 doubles and four triples in two-and-a-half seasons. And despite his 41 steals in two-plus seasons, he most likely won't earn his keep as a base-stealer in the big leagues.
If, and this is a big if, Miclat ever makes it to Baltimore, it will be on the strength of his glove-work. He displayed a big-time arm, and great range during his three-year career at Virginia, and was widely regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops available in the 2008 draft. The Orioles felt lucky to snatch him up with their fifth-round pick, and even luckier to sign him to a $225k bonus.
He could probably play in the big leagues based on his defense alone, but unfortunately, he'd bomb like Luis Hernandez did a few years ago for the Birds. At the plate, Miclat helps his chances by being a legit switch-hitter. He's definitely a slap-hitter and should profile as either a lead-off hitter or a bottom of the lineup guy. That all hinges on whether or not he can make consistent contact, like he did this past season.
He'll probably never develop anything more than 5-10 home run power, but has the potential and speed to grow into a 30-35 double guy. He has shown good plate discipline and knows how to work the count and draw a walk, but the O's need Miclat to be more aggressive and add some pop to his bat if they're ever going to call on him to be a big league regular.
And he'll have to add it in a hurry, since he's already 23-years-old, and has Manny Machado, Mychal Givens, and Garabez Rosa nipping at his heels.
And that concludes prospects number 40 through 36. The first five are out of the way and they look like this:
40) Luis Noel
39) Kipp Schutz
38) Matthew Bywater
37) Chorye Spoone
36) Greg Miclat
A pretty good cross-section, three pitchers and two hitters, three older experienced guys, along with two younger players.
Tune in next time, when I profile my next five top prospects, numbers 35 through 31. It will be more of the same, a few older guys who have been around the block, and two new 2010 draftees.