In Baltimore, Hope Has Been Restored By Minor Leaguers

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IFebruary 19, 2009

In recent years, the Baltimore Orioles starting pitching has been pathetic. Last year, the rotation finished 27-39 and the O's team ERA of 5.13 was second to last in all of baseball. However, hope has been restored in Baltimore by minor league pitchers, such as Jake Arrieta (pictured), Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and David Hernandez.

Arrieta, 22, was 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 113 innings for Single A Frederick last year. Jake was considered a steal, drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the O's. He was on the AFL Preseason All-Prospect Team, a Carolina League Midseason All Star and Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. Arrieta even pitched for the United States Olympic Team in 2006, going 4-0 with an astonishing 0.34 ERA. Arrieta's fastball rounds out at 95 MPH, saying: "I throw fastball/slider mainly. I mixed in a curveball this year, which I hadn’t thrown since my freshman year of college; I started throwing that again and I also throw a changeup. I work anywhere from the low-to-mid 90’s, 91-95 [MPH]."

On Keith Law's Top 100 Prospects on ESPN.com, he rated Arrieta as the 92nd best prospect in all of baseball. Had Arrieta been on a more potent offense last year, he may have finished 10-1. Besides first baseman Brandon Snyder, the Keys didn't get much consistency offensively. Infielder Miguel Abreu hit .275, but was bad in the field. Arrieta didn't get help defensively. Third baseman Billy Rowell made 22 errors, infielder Todd Davison made 16 and Snyder even made 12, a lot for a first baseman. Arrieta is also overshadowed by Tillman and Matusz, considered better prospects. However, Arrieta can be better than any pitching prospect in baseball - including Tillman and Matusz.

The O's invited Arrieta to Spring Training to take a look at him, but Arrieta won't start the season with the big club, and it's very unlikely he will make his debut this year. Arrieta came prepared for anything, saying: "I came to spring training extremely ready to go," he said. "This is as prepared as I think I could possibly be. I knew more of what to expect this year." Arrieta is also sound mechanically and his secondary pitches can get hitters out. According to MASNSports blogger Roch Kubatko, Arrieta is "open to instruction, as opposed to being one of those cocky kids who acts like he knows everything and irritates the veterans. He's sort of hidden away among the pitchers, barely noticeable if you don't search him out in the clubhouse."

In the first round in 2008, the Baltimore Orioles selected left handed pitcher Brian Matusz out of the University of San Diego. He was 12-2 with a 1.71 ERA for the Terreros last year, leading them to a 44-17 record, first in the West Coast Conference. Matusz and manager Dave Trembley both know that Matusz won't make the 25-man O's roster this season. However, he's trying to absorb as much knowledge as he can, explaining: "It's pretty overwhelming,'' he said as he prepared to take the field. "I don't really know what's going on yet, but I'm kind of excited to figure out the schedule, meet people and get settled in. Right now, it's pretty exciting. I'm just trying to take everything in, meet as many people as I can and have fun with it."

Some people think Matusz is ready for the bigs right now, being that he's the 28th best prospect in baseball, but it'd be too risky to rush a big part of the future of the O's organization to the majors. One thing that will benefit the O's is the fact that Matusz and Matt Wieters now have chemistry, saying: "He's a great guy," Matusz said about Wieters. "I talked to him a bunch today and he said it looks like he'll be catching me every fifth day. It should be exciting. Hopefully one day I'll be pitching to him in the bigs. It should be a good start here in the Fall League." Since Matusz signed late, he wouldn't pitch in the minors. He went to Aberdeen and former O's star Scott McGregor tutored him. McGregor, 55, was 138-108 in his 13-year career, every season spent with the O's. McGregor was on the O's World Series team of 1983 and even went 20-8 in 1980.

Matusz, 22, stands at 6'5", 200 pounds and his fastball touches 94 MPH. His debut is just as much awaited as Matt Wieters' was last year. Matusz will likely start at High Single A Frederick. It'd be a good environment for him, too. He'll have some solid defense and hitting backing him, such as Matthew Angle, Tyler Henson, Joseph Nowicki and Tyler Henson. However, if he can impress the coaches this Spring, he may earn a promotion to Double A Bowie. Manager Dave Trembley likes him, saying: "Intelligent,'' he said. "I think he's very calm, I don't think he's awe-struck at all. There's a lot of kid in him. He worked out all winter at that API with Roberts, Jones and all those guys and said it was really neat being around so many big league-type players. I watched him throw today. He's special."

Chris Tillman, a 6'5", 195 pound fire balling right hander, was genius for the Bowie Baysox last season. He was 11-4 with a 3.18 and 154 strikeouts in 135 and two thirds innings. Tillman was just 20 years old in Double A and developed into an amazing right hander. He was 7-1 with a 2.94 ERA in away games and anchored an amazing Bowie staff that included David Hernandez, Tillman, Jason Berken and Bradley Bergesen. Tillman was rated as the 40th best prospect in all of baseball, the third Oriole in the top 50. Tillman was amazing at changing speeds. He could bring the 93 MPH heat and come back with a 81 MPH curve ball.

Tillman was acquired in a trade that sent Erik Bedard to the Mariners and outfielder Adam Jones, reliever George Sherrill and Tillman to the O's. The Orioles have benefited from the trade immensely, and Tillman is one of the benefactors. He could make his debut next season, as he is probably going to start for the Triple A Norfolk Tides on Opening Day. His catcher will likely be Matt Wieters. Tillman was a mediocre pitcher his first three seasons, but put it all together last year. He explains: I haven't really made any adjustments - just trusting my stuff, and everything's coming together really well. I've been coming out on top lately.

He could be the future No. 3 of the staff, and a very overpowering one and could make his debut at 21 years old. On Baseball Prospectus, the rankings show Tillman is a lot better than Keith Law says and that Tillman is the 16th best prospect in all of baseball, quite an accomplishment for a 20-year old with one good season under his belt. He was disappointed to get traded before, but is happy now, saying: "At first, I didn't really know about it. But our closer, JJ Putz, started giving me crap about it. I was disappointed when I heard the news, just because I started to really get to know the guys, but I am happy where I am at now."

An Orioles pitching prospect people oft-forget is David Hernandez. Last year, Hernandez was dominant in every pitching category. He was 10-4 (.714 WP), pitched 141 innings and struck out 166, allowed just 112 hits and posted a 2.68 earned run average. Hernandez was pretty bad his first three years in the minors, going 8-13 with a 4.74 ERA. He turned it around last year, despite being in his highest level in the pros. Hernandez, however, did notice the competition rise, explaining: "Oh yeah, you can definitely tell. The cream always rises to the top, as they say. The batters, they're older, they're wiser, and they've been around too, so they kind of know what to expect as well, so you've got to give them credit."

Hernandez turns 24 on May 13th and will likely get a taste of the big leagues when the season is over. Hernandez, Tillman, Bergesen and Berken will all be in Triple A Norfolk this year unless the Orioles decide to let one of them skip Norfolk - which likely won't happen. While Hernandez does strike out a lot of guys, he also walks a lot of guys, with 71 free passes in 141 innings. If he can limit the walks and keep the strikeouts where they are and keep his velocity, O's fans will hear from Hernandez. Hernandez should be considered an elite prospect, but because of the rising arms the O's have - Tillman, Bergesen, Matusz, Brandon Erbe, Zach Britton and others - he doesn't get the respect much deserved.

Arrieta, Matusz, Tillman and Hernandez are restoring hope in Baltimore. Team president Andy MacPhail doesn't want to rush these prospects because he knows they are the future of the team pitching-wise and he doesn't want to hurt their confidence. Orioles fans: The Oriole Way is back in Baltimore, it might not arrive in 2009, but it's back thanks to these prospects, MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley.


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