Weakness Into Strength: The Guys Who Will Turn Around the Orioles' 'Pen

Zachary Ball@MLBDraftCntdwnAnalyst IMay 21, 2009

Much has been made of the amazing depth of pitching found among the Orioles four full-season minor league teams. Names such as Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zachary Britton, David Hernandez, and Brandon Erbe are becoming household names, and hopefully soon, they will be leading the Orioles back to respectability.

If those names don't completely register, check out Isaac Barrow's fantastic article of the O's plethora of pitchers. 

But, a team can't will the World Series based solely on their starting rotation, and sadly, not all of the names listed above are going to stick in a five-man gig. We saw last year how important the bullpen is.

Brad Lidge was an absolute shut-down closer last year, setting all sorts of records. And which image from the ALCS last year will stick with you forever? Probably David Price coming on in relief and dominating the Red Sox for the last seven outs. 

What I'm getting at, is that the Orioles are gonna need more than a handful of aces, they're going to have to build a solid bullpen, who won't blow close games handed to them by Matusz, Tillman and Arrieta.

Clearly, the guys up in Baltimore aren't doing the best job. George Sherrill is a heart attack waiting to happen, both in his body type and his pitching style. Danys Baez is lights out one night and lights off the next. Jim Johnson is solid, but has a history of injuries.

Chris Ray is showing some rust from missing the past year. Jamie Walker is aging rapidly. And Mark Hendrickson and Brian Bass are filler.

So who will emerge from the rubble that is the O's bullpen situation and bring stability for years to come? I give you my candidates...

Jim Miller, Norfolk

Miller is 27, which means his time is running out, but he was more than serviceable during his cup of coffee with the O's in 2008 (1.17 ERA in eight games). He's become Norfolk's closer this year and has nailed down 10 saves in 16 games, striking out 12 with a 1.13 ERA.

For those of you who don't recognize Miller, he came over from Colorado in the Rodrigo Lopez trade. He could see another call-up sometime this summer if the bullpen guys start dropping, which you know they will.

Like I said, Miller is getting older and he has probably gotten as good as he is going to, but he still provides an interesting option, even if it's only to keep a bullpen spot warm for a younger guy.

Kam Mickolio, Norfolk

Remembering that Mickolio has only been playing baseball for a handful of years makes it less painful watching him single-handedly destroy a game. He has that Danys Baez ability to be lights out-lights off, but has yet to really prove himself at the Major League level yet.

He has seen his share of struggles at Norfolk this year (7.15 ERA in 9 games), but his potential is through the roof.

Mickolio is a very, very big man. At 6'9'' and 256, he easily wins the award for most intimidating O's prospect, and his stuff makes him even scarier.

Featuring a fastball that he can crank up into this high 90s, Mickolio needs to improve on repeating his delivery, something you always hear about big men, if he want to make it for good in the big league pen.

Fredy Deza, Bowie

Rumor has it the Orioles saw something really amazing in Deza this past season, and whatever it was, it caused the team to add him to their 40-man roster. Deza has always had wicked stuff, but his control hasn't always been top notch. He's already walked 11 in 21 innings this year at AA Bowie.

An off-again, on-again starter, Deza has finally moved to the pen for good, and he finally seems to be embracing it. But, don't let Deza's age, 26, fool you. He's been with the O's since 1999, when he signed as a undrafted free agent. The O's taking notice of him was a good sign, but he needs to really wow someone to get his shot at the pen

Wilfrido Perez, Bowie

Perez is as exciting an option as anyone in the system. He doesn't have great size or amazing stuff, but somehow he keeps moving up the charts. Guess he's got some Tom Brady in him.

His weight has always been the thing that scouts have used against him, but after four years in the organization, he's finally up to a respectable 185, or so they say.

Perez has always been a high strikeout guy as his 328 K's in 261 innings testify, and this year he has been on top of his game, striking out 22 in 17 innings. He also has taken over as Bowie's closer for the time being, and has notched seven saves.

He's also picked up a win along the way and has a 1.02 ERA in 15 games. Perez is getting closer and Dave Trembley told the media in spring training how good he thought Perez could be. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a shot as early as this September.

All right, that concludes the guys you will probably know about. So, now onto the guys you haven't heard of...

Ryan Ouellette, Bowie

A 13th round pick in 2006, Ouellette has shot through the system even though he hasn't been overly dominating. In fact, Ouellette put together one of the worst seasons of any reliever in the system last year (5-7 37 K 45 BB and 5.22 ERA).

Luckily, he seems to have put his game together and found something that's working, as he dominated in a repeat at Frederick and has been promoted to double A, where he has yet to give up a run in three games.

For a short guy, 5'11'', Ouellette throws some serious heat, averaging 93-95 mph, but can crank it up as high as 97. 

Chad Thall, Bowie

Chad is a true Mexican...as in Mexico, Missouri. A product of the 27th round of the 2005 draft, Thall has experienced nothing but success since he joined the club.

He was outstanding in his debut at Aberdeen (6-2 1.83 ERA), dominating as Delmarva's closer (17 saves and 59 K's in 63 IP), and great as a set-up guy splitting time between Frederick and Bowie last year (3.01 ERA and 55 K's in 65.2 innings).

Thall has his some bumps this year, but is coming into his own as a middle reliever. Some still believe the lefty could hold down the closer role full-time but with Wilfrido Perez pitching the way he is at Bowie, the O's have been cautious to tamper with that.

Thall has yet to spend an entire year with one full-season club, so don't look for a promotion to Bowie to be out of the question for the 23 year old.

John Mariotti, Bowie

Don't let Mariotti's two starts at Bowie fool you. If he has a future in this game, it's in the bullpen. After pitching almost exclusively out of the 'pen at Fredeick, the 24 year old righty, got a promotion to Bowie and thanks to an injury to Pedro Beato, Mariotti has been inserted into the rotation and as such has yet to show what he can really do.

While he hasn't pitched anywhere nearly as well as his 2007 debut, Mariotti, an 18th round 2007 pick, has always shown excellent control. In his nine games at Frederick, Mariotti struck out 21 in 22 innings, walking only nine.

And while making it to double-A as a 24 year old doesn't sound that impressive, consider that Mariotti's "career" has only consisted of 29 games. I'd say getting to AA already is a good start.

Luis Lebron, Frederick

If you're asking yourself, is this the same Luis Lebron who struck out 46 in only 30 innings at Aberdeen, then the answer is yes. Lebron has been a strikeout fiend since he came to the O's in 2006.

After his stellar year at Aberdeen, he took his game to Delmarva, where he struck out 86 in only 55 innings (he also walked 55 that year). And last year, after missing time due to an injury his command struggles worsened (27 walks in 19 innings).

Clearly, Lebron has gotten his struggles out of the way, as his 1.86 ERA and 27 strikeouts (and only 10 walks) in 19 innings testify to. Lebron made it as far as Bowie in 2007 before his injury and it should be only a matter of time before he makes it back there this year. It's not like the hitters are challenging him at Frederick.

It looks as if he has put his injury and command issues behind him and is ready to move forward.

Brian Parker, Frederick

Parker burst onto the scene in 2008, winning his first five games, all in relief, and finishing the season as one of Delmarva's best relief options. He finished the season with a 3.64 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 66 innings. More important, he showed excellent command, walking only 23.

That's pretty much been the story of his career so far. Command and high strikeout numbers. On his career he has a 8.6 K's per nine rate and his walks per nine innings is under three.

Parker, a 19th round pick in the 2007 draft, is pitching at Frederick this year, and has been as good as advertised, striking out 15 and walking only five in 18 innings. Parker's star is definitely on the rise. 

Pat Egan, Delmarva

The O's wanted Egan so bad they drafted him twice before finally getting him to sign as a 36th round pick in the 2006 draft. Not even Tommy John surgery, undergone in 2006, could sway them away from him.

And now, Egan is showing why the O's were right to be so high on him. The 6'8'' 234 pound righty has thrown 20.2 innings, giving up only two earned runs, adding up to a 0.87 ERA. He also has 20 strikeouts and only two walks in those innings.

He was pretty darn good last year too, tossing 77.2 innings, striking out 72, walking only 20 and finishing with a 3.24 ERA. Those numbers were as a starter, however, and as successful as he was, it appears the O's knew what kind of reliever Egan could be. A downright dominating one, with a pretty good blog to boot, if you want to check it out. 

Eddie Gamboa, Delmarva

Apparently the O's new thing is to turn first-year starters into second year relievers. Worked with Egan, and it looks promising so far with Gamboa.

A 21st round 2008 draft pick, Steady Eddie started in his debut at Bluefield, going 1-7, which was quite possibly the most deceiving statistic every. He proved to be an inning eater and pitched 62 innings, including one complete game, and finished with 41 strikeouts and 14 walks and a 3.63 ERA. Like I said, very deceiving.

This year, Gamboa has hit the bullpen at Delmarva and has excelled, tossing 21.1 innings and has tripled his win total from last year, with a 3-0 record. He's also struck out 18 batters and walked only three. And his ERA?

Oh yeah, it's 1.27. Relieving shouldn't be new to Gamboa like it was to Egan though. Eddie pitched mainly out of the 'pen his first year at UC-Davis.

Joe Esposito, Delmarva

What a smarty pants! Esposito went to NIT, so we know he's smart, but he also knows how to pitch, and unlike Egan and Gamboa, has pitched strictly out of the 'pen since he was signed by Dave Stockstill, the Director of Player Development himself.

He was a starter at NIT, where he went 26-16 with 14 complete games, with 284 strikeouts in 338 innings.

In the two years since he signed, he has been all over the place, bouncing from the Gulf Coast League to Aberdeen to Delmarva back to Aberdeen and back to Delmarva, where he started this year. The results this year have been fantastic: 26 strikeouts in 16 innings and a 1.62 ERA. Guess he's not just a whiz kid at engineering.

Brandon Cooney, Delmarva

Cooney has never put up awesome numbers, not even great ones really, but he still remains a very intriguing prospect. He was named the 25th best prospect in the O's system by Baseball America, who makes note of his mid-90s fastball that touches 97, and a promising slider. 

He has emerged as the team's closer in 2009, but he has struggled to get his five saves, giving up nine earned runs in 14 innings, picking up two losses along the way. His ERA right now stands at 5.52, but when he gets going, look out.

Pat Kantakevich, TBD

Kantakevich is a local boy, hailing from Rockville, Maryland. He was a 22nd round draft pick of the most recent draft, and more than held his own at short-season Bluefield. Pitching solely in relief he won three games, striking out 18, walking eight in 21 innings. He also notched three saves. 

Kantakevich was an elite closer at William and Mary and hold the record for career saves, so hopefully he gets to see some time at closer this season, possibly at Aberdeen. He might even see a late season call-up to Delmarva.

Jesse Beal, TBD

Another local kid from D.C., Beal is a beast. At 6'7'' he could still stand to put on some weight, and if he does, oh boy. He already lights up the radar gun with a 92 mph fastball, and with more weight behind him he could touch the mid 90s.

Another thing he has going for him is his youth. He turns 19 in July and should be pitching for at least Bluefield by then.


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