1. Matt Wieters, C
2. Bill Rowell, 3B
3. Radhames Liz, RHP
4. Nolan Reimold, OF
5. Jake Arrieta, RHP
6. Chris Tillman, RHP
7. Garrett Olson, LHP
8. Chorye Spoone, RHP
9. Tony Butler, LHP
10. Hayden Penn, RHP
11. Tim Bascom, RHP
12. Troy Patton, LHP
13. Brandon Snyder, 1B
14. Brandon Erbe, RHP
15. David Hernandez, RHP
16. Pedro Beato, RHP
17. Scott Moore/Mike Costanzo, 3B
18. Matt Albers, RHP
19. Randor Bierd, RHP
20. Bob McCrory, RHP
It is now October 8. This will happen. Instead of going over these guys in that order and how their seasons went, I'm going to re-shuffle at the same time. And there's plenty of movement.
This will no doubt sound very "after the fact," but I was very big on Nick Markakis. While looking at his stat lines, I thought, "Here's a guy that puts up real numbers. Here's a guy that can play." We had been treated to lots of flop prospects that never put up numbers, but we were told yearly about their "potential" and their "ceiling." No one really talked about Markakis' "ceiling" -- he actually played well instead.
Matt Wieters makes Nick Markakis (at similar stages) look like Keith Reed. The former Yellow Jacket entered his first season of professional baseball as maybe the most hyped player coming out of the 2007 draft, partially due to the fact that I think WE were all so excited to have a player of his caliber that we decided to make him out to be Mike Piazza, Mickey Cochrane, Johnny Bench and prime years Pudge Rodriguez all rolled into one.
In 229 ABs at Frederick, he hit .345/.448/.576 with 15 home runs. In 208 at-bats with Bowie, he topped that, hitting .365/.460/.625 with 12 dongs.
If Wieters starts off the year in Bowie or Norfolk in 2009, go see him if you have the chance, because you won't have many to see this superstar-in-the-making play in the sticks. He's coming. He's on his way. Frankly, there's no reason other than contract jive that he isn't the starting catcher for the Baltimore Orioles.
If they want to excite the fans about the future and get the skeptics to buy into the rebuilding (which they've heard before and was bungled so badly that I don't blame them), they need to have Wieters on the club. Simple as that. He's a player.
Start the hype machine. This is our best pitching prospect. Thanks, Mariners!
Tillman turns 21...next April. That means that this guy just put on some damn good numbers in Double-A ball, and he can't even legally buy a drink until next April. In 135 innings, Tillman held opposing batters to a .227 average, went 11-4, and struck out 154. The Anaheim native was an Eastern League All-Star, and also represents something different from our pitching prospects, something that Wieters does, too: results. Actual, tangible results. Numbers you can point to as a reason to believe he'll be very good. He's probably not destined to be an ace, but a 2 or a 3? Absolutely. And as much as I try to stay away from blind optimism, given his age, I see no reason he can't become an ace. He's 20!
And because he's so young and good but no phenom, there's no reason to rush him up the chain. He'll be ready when he's ready.
Former Horned Frog Arrieta pitched 113 innings at Frederick, and went just 6-5.
Buuuut...in doing so, he posted a 2.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .199 BAA, and was named to the Carolina League All-Star game, the Carolina League post-season All-Star team, and oh yeah, was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. He also played in the Futures Game.
The league couldn't touch him, but did draw some walks. I loved the Arrieta draft choice when we made it, and it looks even better now. Here's another guy that can solidify a staff in the future, and is showing that ability to do so with RESULTS. I know I keep harping on that, but I don't feel the need to explain Arrieta's ceiling. You can actually see that he's good. It's not just smoke-blowing.
He DID tire late in the season, and finished 1-5 in his last 10 starts with a 4.39 ERA, but conditioning is something you learn, like throwing a good slider or hitting one. Unlike beanpole Tillman (6-5, 195), Arrieta already has the body that a scout would like (6-4, 225).
Matusz very well might be so good that he could jump up to No. 2 on this list by the middle of 2009. He is currently in the Arizona Fall League, playing with the Surprirse Rafters, but has yet to pitch as best I can tell.
The San Diego University standout was taken fourth overall by the Orioles, and they paid a pretty penny to get him signed. But when you look at his final college season, you know why: 12-2, 1.71 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 12.09 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, and just four home runs allowed in 105 innings pitched.
He dominated college ball, and that means he has college shine on his left arm, much like Jake Arrieta has on his right arm. College players are generally better than high school players. That is a scientific fact. The Orioles ponying up the dough to sign Matusz and Wieters in back-to-back years is a GREAT sign from our front office. For years we were throwing money at the wall with guys like Adam Loewen, which turned out bad in every possible respect. Not only did Loewen stink, but he was hurt all the time, we gave him a terrible contract that rushed him into Major League duty, and now he's not even a pitcher anymore.
Put it this way: if Matusz, Tillman and Arrieta were all to pan out (not likely, but not unprecedented), then that's 3/5 of a rotation made out of real arms, not the junk we've been accepting as top prospect pitchers. These guys lay waste to what we've been fed for years.
Reimold started very slow, but wound up on the Eastern League post-season All-Stars, hitting .284/.367/.501 with 25 homers and 84 RBI. He finally stayed healthy enough to play 139 games, too, which is a great thing. Right now, he's playing for the Surprise Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.
Reimold is a guy that has earned the chance to compete for a job next spring. Luke Scott is not getting any younger and isn't exactly great shakes to begin with, plus Millar should be gone, which would open up first base or DH. Huff could step in at first and Luke could do the majority of the DHing, with Reimold out in left, giving us a legit young outfield of Markakis, Jones and Reimold. Not bad.
I have no doubt that Reimold could hit in the Majors, at least putting up numbers similar to what Luke did this season. The only thing I still worry about is his ability to stay healthy.
6. Radhames Liz, RHP (3)
Two reasons Radhames Liz stays this high. First, it was his first taste of Major League Baseball, and sometimes guys get shelled. He went out there and did the best he could do. Command is the obvious issue. He has the stuff. I think he's more likely to find MLB success out of the bullpen, but that's not a bad place to be. A player's a player.
Second, the system takes a significant hit after the top five. A lot of guys bit the dust this year due to injury or plain old sucktitude, and Liz's ceiling (ooh!) remains higher than just about all of them.
7. Brandon Erbe, RHP (14)
In 2006, Baseball America ranked Brandon Erbe ninth in the O's system. In 2007, they had him up to No. 2, and 78th in baseball. In 2008, he was down to tenth following a disastrous season at Frederick (6.26 ERA, 119.1 IP).
He came back strong, and he's still only 21 in December (Erbe, in fact, is one of the unlucky few born on Christmas).
Erbe improved across the board in another go-'round with the Keys this year. His strikeouts were up (8.37 to 9.02 per nine), his walks down (4.68 to 2.99), hits allowed down (9.58 to 7.17), and his ERA dipped to 4.30 with a 1.13 WHIP, which was down .45 points. His ERA was only that high, actually, because he struggled with gopher balls: he allowed 21 in 150 innings.
Hope is rekindled...
8. David Hernandez, RHP (15)
Hernandez's first season in Bowie was a fine success, as he went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA. The only concern is that he's still pretty much a fastball/slider guy, and his command is quite shaky, with 71 walks in 141 innings. On the plus side, he struck out 166, and was tough to hit (112 hits allowed). Might end up a bullpen guy, but could be a really good one, too.
9. Tony Butler, LHP (9)
Butler went on the Delmarva DL for good in June, after putting up a 4.42 ERA in 55 innings. What is very nice to see is a tremendously low walk rate, at 1.80 BB/9. His strikeout totals weren't amazing (7.20/9), but the control is the key. He's still a nice prospect as he doesn't turn 21 until November, but guys getting hurt this young is always a maroon flag if not one that is blood red.
Before we get into why Billy Rowell slips a full eight spots and why you should probably burn your hopes and dreams, let's sum up his season with honesty very quickly.
Summary, Billy Rowell, 2008: Rowell got hurt early on and stayed out longer than expected, wound up playing just 111 games, and when he wasn't hurt, he sucked. Rowell hit .248/.315/.348 with seven home runs, not exactly befitting the ninth pick of the 2006 draft, and the man that was supposed to be our future at third or first base.
Outside of 42 games with Bluefield in 2006, Rowell hasn't hit for any power, racking up just 16 home runs the last two seasons, neither of which he played as much as you'd like (91 games in 2007, 111 this year). He was way below expectations at Delmarva, and way below expectations again this season with Frederick.
I keep him this high, honestly, only out of Amber-style blind faith. I want Rowell to turn it around in 2009 and get fast-tracked to the majors. One reason is that Melvin Mora can't stand over there forever, and we can't be relying on Melvin's second half sonic boom to carry over as he inches toward 40.
It all begs the question: is Rowell working hard or hardly working?! A-ha-ha-ha! Classic.
11. Troy Patton, LHP (12)
With the great bright spots at the top, Rowell's freefall and Patton moving up a spot despite not pitching really should explain the type of season the Orioles system had outside of a decent-looking draft. Troy Patton did not throw a single pitch as he was out with a labrum injury, and who knows if he'll return any good or not? But I have more faith that Troy Patton will contribute to the Major League team in a positive way than I do anyone below him.
Put that in your pipe and give it a think. Like I said, improvements in recent years or not, this system takes a nosedive after the top five.
12. Garrett Olson, LHP (7)
Not only did Garrett Olson stink up the joint something awful (9-10, 6.65/1.73, 62 BB in 132 IP) filling in for Adam Loewen this season, but he rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way, too, seeming to be totally indifferent to his struggles. Asked if his bad season got to him, Olson said, "Not really," or whatever.
Maybe that's a good thing, though. Maybe he figures you take your lumps and you figure out how to fix it. Maybe he spends the entire off-season working on fixing it. Maybe he spends it in Aruba punching judges and we can really start to hate him.
I'm not in Garrett Olson's mind. I don't know what he's thinking. I do know his stock took a serious hit this year, because struggling is one thing, but he got his ass kicked.
13. Brandon Snyder, 1B (13)
2005 first-round pick Brandon Snyder remains a personal favorite of mine. John Sickels regarded Snyder, then a catcher, as the best high school hitter in that draft, so I was thrilled that the Orioles signed him. Imagine if Snyder, Rowell, Wieters and Matusz had all panned out as expected. Woof! Then again, that's why I think talking about securing draft position in a losing year is pointless. You get more Snyders and Rowells, guys facing uphill battles very quickly, than you do guys like Wieters that come in and kill everything thrown at them.
Snyder had a solid year for Frederick, hitting .315/.358/.490 with 13 homers and 80 RBI (435 AB), but his power is going to have to improve for him to be a serious idea for first base. That or he needs to figure out how to have the plate discipline of Mark Grace, which is not looking likely with his 83-to-29 K-to-BB totals.
14. Bradley Bergesen, RHP (-)
Sickels had Bergesen ranked 17th in January. He just missed my cut in April. He had a really nice year at Bowie, going 15-6 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, and he walked next to no one in 148 innings, just 1.64 per nine. The catch? He only struck out 4.38 per nine. Not good, but results should speak, I think, and he made things happen this year.
15. Chorye Spoone, RHP (8)
The Prospect Lord giveth (mass improvements all around in 2007), and He taketh away (mass collapse and only nine starts in 2008). Spoone was back to posting the junk numbers he did in 2005-06 before going down for the year, which is a double negative. His 2007 might be a career year.
A two-sport superstar in Georgia high school athletics, Avery was a four-star running back with a verbal commitment to the University of Georgia. Instead, he opted to sign with the Orioles, who took him in the second round of this year's draft.
Still just 18, Avery is very, very raw, as you'd probably expect, but he's a ceiling guy, and his ceiling is pretty good. He ran a 6.4 60-yard dash and has been clocked at 3.95 seconds from home plate to first base. He has what is called "plus-plus" speed, and his natural power is good, too. Obviously it'll take a while for these things to come into play, so don't look for him moving up through the system too quickly.
There's a good chance Avery will flat-out stink and it'll turn out he should've stuck with football. But for the Orioles to give a guy money when the University of Georgia is ready to have him come play football, that says there's something special that somebody sees. That often means zilch at the end of the day, but I hope he made the right choice. His arm as described as "suited for left field," which means his arm sucks. Ever see a running back throw? Not pretty.
17. Hayden Penn, RHP (10)
Penn stays here only because there aren't that many players to put on the list at this point, and because he'd probably do no worse, realistically, than Liz or Olson did this season. Of course, the Orioles thought enough of those guys to give them the shots, and Penn didn't see one inning of action in Baltimore this year.
Anyone still hanging on to 2004-05 when Penn's name meant something, give it up. He's just another AAA pitcher with AAA upside (4.79/1.45 in 100 IP at Norfolk).
18. L.J. Hoes, 2B (-)
I like your name, young man! Hoes was signed to play ball at the University of North Carolina, and opted to sign with Baltimore instead. He's described in every article you can find on him as a hell of a nice guy, a hard worker, a team player, blah blah blah. He played his high school ball with highly-successful St. John's (Washington, D.C.), as an outfielder and starting pitcher. The Orioles see him as a second baseman. In brief time with the Gulf Coast Orioles this year, Hoes was was a walk mo-sheen, putting up a .416 OBP and going 10-for-10 in steal attempts. He hit .308 and slugged .390.
19. Jason Berken, RHP (-)
Again, it's just about results. 25-year old Berken went 12-4 (3.58/1.23) with Bowie this season. It's worth something, but he's not a real prospect.
20. Bob McCrory (20)
As always: has the stuff, needs to throw strikes. He was horrible in a brief stint with the Orioles this year. If he can learn some f-ing command, he could be a valuable f-ing addition to the f-ing bullpen. C'mon, Bob.
To the dearly departed...
First off was Tim Bascom (RHP, 11), a guy I liked a lot because of his story, but who really stunk up the joint in Frederick this season, with a 5.78 ERA and 1.69 WHIP in 95 innings. Just after him was Pedro Beato (RHP, 16), a guy John Sickels had at #10 in January but that I simply didn't fully buy. Beato, 21, had a 5.85/1.57 line with 4.73 K/9 in 97 innings with the Keys, going 4-10. As Sickels put it in August, the two of them had a contest to see who could suck more. In the end, a pretty dead even race, and both are toast until something dramatic happens.
Scott Moore (IF, T-17) and Mike Costanzo (3B, T-17) both had awful years at Norfolk. Moore hit .247/.321/.408 with seven home runs, while Costanzo hit .261/.333/.395 with his usual massive amount of strikeouts, and just 11 home runs, a 16-homer drop from 2007 at AAA with the Phillies. Both are 24, and neither are really prospects, and really, neither ever really were. They were C-grade guys who look like they've probably hit the wall.
Matt Albers (RHP, 18) is off because he's hurt. I liked what we saw of him for the most part this year.
Randor Bierd (RHP, 19) just isn't anything special. His upside is less than that of McCrory, which was the tiebreaker. Both could be fine spare parts in the bullpen.
Note: Olson and Liz may not meet your guidelines for "prospect" at this point, given how much they pitched in Baltimore this year, but I think this should be a loose interpretation. Both guys were forced into their roles -- there was literally no one else available with Loewen out and Trachsel thankfully sent on down the river. There is hardly any guarantee that either man is with the Birds in 2009.
Other guys, notes, and statistical crapola...
If you're wondering where Oscar Salazar is, the answer is he's 30 years old.
Kam Mickolio is still a fun idea at 6-foot-9, but tall doesn't get me all aflutter the way it does some people. Years of Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen will do that to you. He struggled with Bowie and struggled in September with the O's. He's still very raw considering he's from Montana. (That's not a knock on Montana, it's just he never played much baseball.)
21-year old Delmarva second baseman and whiny, self-important singer/songwriter Ryan Adams hit .308/.367/.462 with 11 homers this season. Not a bad line. He also made 52 errors.
The rest of the O's 2008 draft class: OF Kyle Hudson (University of Illinois), SS Greg Miclat (University of Virginia), and LHP Rick Zagone (University of Missouri). Zagone tore the hell out of the New York-Penn league in 65 innings, going 7-1 with a .289 ERA and 10.88 strikeouts per nine against 1.93 walks per nine.
Ex-Ohio State Buckeye (puke) Matt Angle will have fans in every minor league city he plays, I bet. Born in Columbus (puke), Angle hit .287/.385/.379 for Delmarva. He was also 22 years old. He has zero power, and though he runs well (37-for-48 steal attempts), his Major League future probably rests in the role of National League guy that pinch-hits for the pitcher, tries to draw a walk, and then maybe makes something happen on the basepaths.
No, I will not rank Lou Montanez. He is 27 in December and remains a massive bust. He has had exactly one season of pro ball that has met or surpassed expectations. It was this one.
23-year old pitcher Mick Mattaliano threw 43 innings of relief for Delmarva, putting up a 1.24 ERA. He went to Norfolk for seven innings and got shelled. Whoops!
My personal favorite player in the world, Cole McCurry, stunk with Delmarva (6.51 ERA, 56 IP) but tore up Aberdeen (2.76 ERA, 81 IP).
Kennard hit just .257/.323/.350 in 140 AB.