Orioles minor league recap: Frederick Keys

Michael Ohlman laid waste to the Carolina League in 2013 - Tim Jacobsen

Though loaded with interesting prospects, the talent on the Keys did not translate into wins.

The Keys opened their 25th season with a rather impressive roster featuring prospects of note C Michael Ohlman, 1B Nick Delmonico, and OF Glynn Davis in the field. While the rotation was stacked with a bevy of interesting arms: a trio of lefties (Eduardo Rodriguez, Tim Berry, and Trent Howard) complimented a trio of righties (Zach Davies, Devin Jones, and Tyler Wilson).

The club got off to a decent enough start, going 14-12 in April and 15-12 in May. But June proved to be dreadful as they went 9-17, including a stretch of 13 losses in 16 games from the 8th through the 25th. An 11-16 July followed and the Keys found themselves 8 games below .500 and a roster quickly being depleted as a result of promotions, trades, and injuries. A 10-21 August featured losing streaks of 4 games twice and 6 games once. But they did manage to go undefeated in September (2-0). All in all that adds up to 61-78 record, 2nd worst in the Carolina League.

But minor league baseball is so much about team wins and losses; it's about the development of the individual players. And there was much to be excited about on that front. Let's start with a look at the offensive players of note who played for the Keys in 2013.

After a 2012 season that saw him suspended for 50 games at the start of the season, catcher Michael Ohlman got off to a fast start in 2013 before missing over a month with a right shoulder injury. But the 22 year old remained focused and decided to take any frustration he harbored out on Carolina League pitching. Over 100 games played, he slashed .313/.410/.524 with 113 hits (46 of which went for extra bases), and 56 BBs to 93 Ks. In a league known for suppressing offense, Ohlman led in batting, slugging %, OPS, wOBA (weighted on-base average), wRC+ (weighted runs created), and wRAA (weighted runs above average). His .211 ISO (isolated slugging percentage) ranked 2nd. His OBP ranked 3rd. His 0.60 BB/K ratio was 13th best in the league. Oh, and he managed to go a perfect 5/5 in stolen base attempts. Suffice to say, it was just a fantastic offensive season for him. On defense, however, it remains a bit of work in progress. Some notable prospect writers remain unconvinced that he can develop into a sufficient major league quality backstop. If he can take a step forward on defense he could certainly find his name in some top 100 lists next season. 2014 will be a crucial season for him as he will likely make one of the largest jumps in minor league development, from A level baseball to AA.

The 2nd big name on offense for the Keys was 1B/3B Nick Delmonico, the 6th ranked prospect in the O's system coming into the season. After a brief experiment at 2B last season, the O's decided Delmonico was destined for a corner position and installed him at 3B. The bat was very good, particularly for a 20 year old getting his first taste of Advanced A-ball competition. Through 61 games he slashed .243/.350/.469. However, he missed significant time due to a number of injuries. A concussion caused him to miss nearly a month of action in April & May. He also missed multiple game stretches in late May, mid June, and early July. All the while he struggled to adapt to playing 3B, so when first baseman Christian Walker was promoted to Bowie, Delmonico was moved across the diamond to 1B. This seemed to be his ultimate home with the O's until July 23rd, when he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for (RHP) Francisco Rodriguez. It was certainly a steep price to pay for a relief pitcher. I wish Nicky all the best in his quest to make the majors with the Brew Crew.

1B Christian Walker started his 2013 season with the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds before getting promoted to Frederick in early May. It did not take long for him to show he could more than handle Carolina League pitching. He put up 4 multi-hit games in his first 12. Over 55 games with the Keys he would form the 3rd part of a fearsome troika with Ohlman and Delmonico. His slash line was .288/.343/.479 with 25 of his 62 hits going for extra bases. By July it was clear he was not being particularly challenged by A-level pitching, and so he was promoted to AA Bowie on July 16th.

A few other offensive players deserve quick mentions: (OF) John Ruetigger's 43 SBs ranked 3rd in the Carolina League. OF Dariel Alvarez joined the club in mid August and just smashed, putting up an insane .436/.463/.641 slash line over 10 games while showing off a howitzer for an arm. A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness resulted in disappointing seasons for outfielders Brenden Webb, Glynn Davis, and Trent Mummey.

Now, onto the pitching. 22 year old LHP Tim Berry lead the squad in games started and innings. He put up a respectable 3.85 ERA and 3.69 FIP over his 152.0 IP, with a 119:40 K:BB ratio. 20 year old (RHP) Zach Davies was Berry's fellow rotation stalwart. 26 starts, 148.2 IP of 3.69 ERA and 3.13 FIP. His name will feature prominently on Orioles prospect list come the start of next season. Aside from one spot start for AA Bowie, lefty Trent Howard did yeoman's work for the Keys pitching staff, bouncing back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation. 28 games with 15 starts resulted in 88.0 IP and a 3.48 ERA/3.40 FIP. Ultimately, he will end up in the bullpen, but he should move quick and could be a fresh face (and arm) for the Orioles as soon as late next season.

Those 3 spent the entire season with the Keys. But a number of good arms left the Keys and were Bowie bound. Foremost among these was LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, the O's 4th ranked prospect coming into the season. It didn't take too long to see that this 20 year old was more than capable of getting A-level hitters out. 14 starts of 2.85 ERA/3.21 FIP pitching with 65 Ks to 25 BBs over 85.1 IP earned him a promotion to AA Bowie at the beginning of July. About 1 month prior, RHP Tyler Wilson made the jump from Frederick to Bowie, though the stat line didn't suggest such a move was proper at the time. Over 11 starts he pitched 62.1 innings with a 4.48 ERA belying a 3.75 FIP. After a very good 9 start run with the Keys in 2012, RHP Devin Jones needed just one start with the Keys before being promoted to AA Bowie.

As the previously mentioned guys packed their bags and headed southbound to Bowie, a number of other baby birds were making the trek up from Delmarva. After getting some 'sleeper prospect' buzz prior to the season courtesy of Keith Law, RHP Brady Wager made the jump from low-A to high-A. He scuffled a bit, putting up a 5.23 ERA, but his 15 starts and 86.0 IP should serve him well going forward into 2014, where he will likely start off in Frederick again. After missing all of 2012, RHP) Matt Hobgood finally managed to get through a full season, splitting time between Delmarva and Frederick. It looks like his days as a starter are behind him, as just one of his total 33 games was a start. He'll need to move quick, as next season will be his last before the O's have to add him to the 40-man roster or risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft. After dominating in Delmarva's pen, LHP Lex Rutledge earned a late season promotion to the Keys. He will be another interesting arm to watch with the Keys in 2014.

Who is there to look forward to in 2014? Well, offensively, the Keys may be quite challenged. Michael Ohlman will likely graduate to Bowie. SS Adrian Marin may get promoted from Delmarva. But other than him there isn't much of note down there. Aberdeen has a few guys who could well start off in Frederick, including 1B Trey Mancini and OF Mike Yastrzemski. As for the pitching, Berry, Davies, and Howard will all likely get promoted to Bowie. Wager will remain in the Frederick rotation and probably be joined by a duo from Delmarva, RHP Parker Bridwell and LHP Matt Taylor. Local kid RHP Branden Kline should make his way to Frederick's rotation at some point next season. And I would not in any way be surprised if RHP Hunter Harvey is pitching for the Keys come next summer. In the 'pen, Hobgood & Rutledge should return to form a potent late inning duo.

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