O Me, O My! The Most Surprising Minors of 2008

Zachary BallAnalyst IOctober 2, 2008

Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta stole all the headlines for the Orioles in 2008. Even Brian Matusz managed to hoard a couple for himself, despite not throwing a pitch for any organized club. There were, however, many prospects who re-emerged from the garbage dump that was the Orioles minor league system, and cemented their status as legitimate prospects. 

The question has to be asked though. Will they last? Will their bodies break down? Will they lose control of their stuff, as most pitchers seem to do after getting the call up? Will they be the next Chorye Spoone and Brandon Tripp? Without further ado, let's take a look at the O's prospects who surprised me the most this past season, and I'll give you my take on where I think they'll go from here. Enjoy!

Jason Berken, starting pitcher, Bowie

Was there a hotter pitcher in the Orioles system during the last two months of the season than Berken? The Clemson alum dominated after the All-Star break, nabbing six wins in eight starts (after winning only six in his previous 17 starts), striking out 43 in 49.1 innings, and ringing up a 2.74 ERA. The righty made significant strides in 2008 reducing the number of hits, runs, and walks allowed, while setting career highs in wins and ERA. The Baysock was particularly effective on the road, going 8-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 64 innings. 

Where does he go from here:

Berken has proven to be a capable inning eater who gets on a roll when he's feeling it, but does he have what it takes to step it up and end up in Baltimore? I'm torn when it comes to predicting Berken's future. I see him as the dark-horse from Bowie and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. He skipped Delmarva all-together and held his own at Frederick before having a great season at AA.

It seems he'll get his chance to prove himself at Norfolk, but he might end up back in Bowie due to an influx of starters that the O's want to try out at AAA. Realistically, I see him starting at Bowie and being the second or third call-up to Norfolk. If he can get there by the All-Star break I can see him having a shot at a rotation spot in 2010. I can see Berken as a fourth or fifth starter.

Brad Bergesen, starting pitcher, Frederick/Bowie

Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, David Hernandez and Radhames Liz. All those high-profile names and the guy who takes home the organization's pitching award is the little known right-hander from Concord, CA. It's not like Bergesen didn't earn it. He did lead the Eastern League with 15 wins, throw three complete games, pitch 165.1 innings and finish with a 3.10 ERA.

During certain stretches he appeared to be the most dominant pitcher in the Eastern League. Along the way, he picked up bandwagon fan after bandwagon fan. He did make a marked improvement in terms of efficiency. In 2008 he struck out 4.37 per/9 innings, down from 6.45 in '07. This number can be mainly attributed to his continued mastery of the sinker he throws so well, inducing ground-ball after ground-ball.

Where does he go from here:

Bergesen had a bigger case for a September call-up than any minor leaguer in the O's system. Because of his control, he presents an interesting option for the O's whenever he does get the call. I, for one, think Bergesen is for real, and I think he can help the O's as a back of the rotation starter on a contending Orioles team, whenever that is. Realistically, he will start the season at Norfolk and most likely be the teams #1 option should a starter inevitably go down with an injury. Let's just hope he can avoid the Chorye Spoone curse. 

Blake Davis, shortstop, Bowie

Boy do the Orioles need an everyday shortstop! It's as glaring a need as any on their roster. One, the Orioles are hoping Davis can someday fill. Davis rebounded from an atrocious start to 2008, improving upon his batting average every month.

He hit .309 in July and raked at a .362 clip in August. Clearly, he doesn't present the power option that a Brandon Wood would, for example, hitting only 11 home runs in over 1100 minor league at bats. He does, however, play good defense, he runs well, and if he can hit for a decent average he could be a poor man's Luis Castillo.

Where does he go from here:

Davis should start the season at Norfolk, provided the Orioles don't insist on keeping old middle infielders around, which they often tend to do. Davis' situation will most directly be impacted by what the Orioles do this off-season. If they choose to find a shortstop via free agency, Davis could be out of luck.

If the Orioles finally trade second baseman Brian Roberts, however, Davis could be back in play. He has the range to play second and could fill that hole if the O's choose to go that route. Realistically, I think that the Orioles will give Davis a chance to prove himself in Spring Training, keeping him around until the final days. If he makes an impression he'll most likely make the club, either as the starting shortstop or as a utility infielder.

All of this assuming the O's don't land a big bat at short this off-season, which I don't see them doing. 

Wilfredo Perez, relief pitcher, Frederick/Bowie

Two kinds of numbers impress you when looking at Wilfredo Perez. The first is his 11.33 strikeouts per nine innings pitched for his career. The second is 150, which is his listed weight. Not exactly a weight you see a lot in the majors, or minors for that matter. His stats are undeniably dominant, no matter the poundage.

He had 92 strikeouts in 79 innings pitched. In 2007 it was 108 in 81 innings. Not bad for an undrafted free agent. In all, he has 306 career strikeouts in 243 innings. He finally made the jump to Bowie this year, and while his strikeout numbers suffered he still struck out 9 batters per and finished with a 2.31 ERA. 

Where does he go from here:

I've always been real high on Perez, back to his days at Bluefield. I just don't know two things: 1) if he'll hold up at the major league level with his frame, and 2) if the O's will give him the shot he deserves. With the revolving bullpen that the O's had this year, why not give the 23 year old a shot. I expect him to return to Bowie to start the year, and provided he pitches like he has (sub 3.00 ERA and K's per 9 over 10) I see him moving up to Norfolk very quickly. Assuming he establishes himself there, I can see him being one of many interesting September call ups for the Orioles.

Ryan Adams, infielder, Delmarva

Count me among the number of people who were shocked to see Adams perform so poorly at Aberdeen in 2007, especially after performing well there in limited at bats in '06. Count me among the few who predicted that Adams would rebound in 2008 a level up at Delmarva.

After a rough start to the season (hit .243 with 1 HR and 7 RBI) he got progressively better each month. In August he hit .333 with 3 HR and 21 RBIs and 7 stolen bases. In all, Adams set several career highs with a .308 average, 11 home runs, 57 RBIs and 68 runs scored. The most shocking number of Adams' season, however, wasn't a positive one. Fifty-two. That was the number of errors made by the third baseman-second baseman. 

Where does he go from here:

Likely...to Frederick. Adams had quite the offensive year at A ball, but his defense left very VERY much to be desired. Fifty-two errors can be something that can prevent you from making it very far in organized baseball. But, one positive that can be taken from his defensive play is that Derek Jeter was also a horrible fielder in the minors, making errors at a clip that approaches Adams'.

Adams proved to me this year that he has the bat to be the heir-apparent to Brian Roberts at second base, and in time he'll show he has the glove too. I see him starting and ending the year at Frederick in 2009, possibly earning a call up to Bowie for a playoff run, assuming they make the Eastern League playoffs again. I can see Adams fighting for a roster spot in Baltimore within three years.

Sean Gleason, starting pitcher, Delmarva

If you're like me, you probably had to Google this kid to see where he came from. That said, Sean Gleason is 23 years old, attended St. Mary's College in California and pitched one heck of a season for the Delmarva Shorebirds.

After starting the year as a reliever, Gleason was moved into the rotation, where he blossomed. He excelled at Bluefield in 2007, but appeared to be even better this year. His stat line looked stellar: 12-2 150.2 IP 108 K 46 BB 2 CG 2.63 ERA. I know, I know, he is 23, older than most of his single A counterparts, but dominance is dominance, and if he is 23, then this is what he should be doing at the single A level. 

Where does he go from here:

I'd like to see Gleason start the year at Frederick, although it might be hard to crack that rotation (see Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Luis Noel, Tim Bascom, Pedro Beato, etc). I think they should start him there regardless, even if they have to let him start out in the pen, as he doesn't seem to mind having done that two seasons in a row now.

With the spotlight once again not squarely on him thanks to big wigs like Matusz and Britton, Gleason should thrive once again, winning at least 10 games and finishing with a ERA around 3.00. Should they choose to move him to the pen I see him jumping up to Bowie by the end of the year. I expect the O's to keep him in the rotation, however, and I see him getting in a whole season at Frederick.

Garabez Rosa, shortstop, Gulf Coast League/Aberdeen

The O's have been lambasted the past couple years for not making an effort to develop international talent. Hopefully, Rosa goes a long way toward disproving those comments. He certainly held up his part of the deal, raking Gulf Coast League hitting with eight doubles, three triples, four home runs and 29 RBIs in 185 at bats, finishing the year with a .330 average.

The Orioles then kept their word, and promoted the 18 year old Rosa past Bluefield, straight to Aberdeen to end the season. Rosa hit .250 there and did nothing to tarnish his season. He did finish the season with 16 errors, but that number is easily overlooked at such a young level. Rosa has the potential, if his bat is real, to be the first legitimate shortstop prospect in a REALLY long time.

Where does he go from here:

I'm sure the Orioles brass will stick Rosa at Aberdeen, and it's the right call. He earned the right to play there in 2008, and will be rewarded for his play. I think he'll earn lots of things in '09 as well, and I think the O's won't hesitate to move him up, possibly even to Delmarva, throughout the course of the season. I think they will wisely let his bat dictates where he goes.

That said, if he struggles to hit at Aberdeen, he will stay there for the season. But, watch out for Rosa. If he hits upwards of .300 for the first two months at Aberdeen, he'll play his way into Delmarva. It's not like he has a line of super-shortstops blocking his path.