In yesterday's spring training game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies, Orioles' pitching prospect Zach Britton made his major league spring training debut in the bottom of the third, relieving starter and fellow pitching prospect Chris Tillman with his team up 2-1. He then proceeded to throw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, Ryan Howard.
Granted, that could mean he's got great stuff and could transfer such success over to the majors, and it could mean absolutely nothing, as some things in spring training tend to do, but one thing is for sure: That's a pretty impressive spring debut for any pitcher.
Britton, one of the five starting pitching prospects that Orioles' President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail likes to group into what he calls "The Cavalry," is viewed by many to have a bright future ahead of him once he makes it up to the bigs.
The case for his future success was made just a little bit stronger after viewing what he did to a Phillies' lineup that featured six of their nine projected Opening Day starters.
A lefty who isn't known for one single awesome pitch, but a variety of very good pitches such as his fastball and slider, Britton has spent five years in the Orioles' minor league system, making it up to AAA Norfolk during the second half of last year, where he went 3-4 with a 2.98 ERA. His minor league numbers are a 37-28 record while sporting an ERA of 3.09.
Between AA Bowie and the AAA level last year, Britton combined to go 10-7 with a 2.70 ERA while amassing a career-high 153.1 innings pitched. That's the second straight year the young hurler has had an ERA of 2.70, when in 2009 he went 9-6 over 140.0 innings pitched.
Many experts see him with the potential to be a No. 2 or 3 starter in the majors, while also making the prediction he will be in the big leagues by September, when rosters expand to 40 players per team.
Though it is universally agreed that, barring anything unforeseen in spring training, Britton definitely needs more time at the AAA level to develop, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see him in the majors as early as June, maybe even May.
Utility player Jake Fox caught for the O's in their game against the Phillies, and after the game told reporters that the prized young pitcher making his spring training debut was "nervous as hell."
"So I went out there to talk to him," Fox explained to reporters, "and I was going to say something important and serious, but then I saw the look on his face and I knew that nothing was going to register because he was all jittery. I just told him a joke to see if it would loosen him up a little bit."
It didn't. But despite his nerves, Fox was very impressed with the way Britton pitched. He described the youngsters' approach as "he came right after the guys," and even went as far as saying he could pitch in the major leagues today and handle. He admitted that there's room for improvement, but also added that everyone has room for improvement, and said the kid's got great stuff.
True, that's just the opinion of a utility infielder battling for a backup job, but no matter his status in the major leagues, he knows baseball. He has to in order to have made it this far in his career. So that opinion, coming from anyone involved in major league baseball, is a refreshing and supportive argument for the player. And he's not the only one who sees the kid that way, as many experts and even O's manager Buck Showalter do as well.
Don't be surprised if you see Britton throwing out the first pitch of the ballgame at Camden Yards before the public schools let out for the summer. And don't be surprised if he is successful this year as well. The kid's got a sky-high ceiling. All he needs to do is reach his potential the best he can, and let the rest work itself out, because if he does that, it'll work itself out in his favor.