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A look at the Bowie Baysox

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Chris Tillman once had his picture taken with Cal Ripken, Jr., when he was an Aflac All-American back in his high school days. We present to you the evidence of this meeting between the former Oriole great and a potential future Oriole great.

The Bedard trade's effect is being felt throughout the system already. Down at Delmarva, you have big lefty Tony Butler. On the major league level, Adam Jones is getting great receptions at Camden Yards and George Sherrill is a nerve-wracking 1-for-1 in save opportunities. And at Bowie, Tillman and Kam Mickolio will be key pieces of another promising young pitching staff. Mickolio will work out of the pen.

I'm not saying all of these guys are going to pan out. Hell, maybe none of them do. But when's the last time you could say that the Orioles had legit prospects on the pitching staffs at AAA, AA, High-A and Low-A? Fans of other teams may take this for granted. I do not.

To get away from the prospects for a moment, the Orioles went out and got 35-year old Julio Manon back for the Bowie bullpen, which seems a strange move. But you do have to fill out the rosters with someone, and Manon probably knows who he is at this point -- a career minor leaguer. Plus, pitching effectively in the minors has never been an issue for him. So long as we don't see him in Baltimore again, who cares?

I also really like to look over the gaps in Manon's career. 1996 was a lost year. He didn't play in 2004 and 2005, and then the Orioles rescued him in '06. He dominated in 50 appearances at Ottawa and then didn't in 22 games for the Birds. Last year he pitched at AAA for Oakland and Cincinnati. Spending two seasons farming for the O's, A's and Reds would pretty awesome if this was the 1970s.

The ace of the staff, though, is not the 20-year old Tillman, who probably has the highest ceiling of all the Baysox. That distinction instead falls to 22-year old Chorye Spoone, who will start the opener. The 6'1", 215-pound righty is a native of Pasadena, MD, was the most improved prospect in the O's system in 2007. His walks were way down (5.58 to 3.97 per nine), his strikeouts were up (6.28 to 7.88 per nine), and he gave up less hits (8.23 to 6.39 per nine). And we're talking about a jump, too, as he went from Low-A Delmarva to High-A Frederick. He's ready for Bowie, and if all goes really well, he could be up at Norfolk by the summer's end.

The other starter to watch for is David Hernandez, another righty who, as has been said before, is in sort of a low-risk, high-reward position. He's a couple tweaks away from maybe being really good. Or he won't make them, and he won't be. If he doesn't, it's not a huge loss.

Among the hitters, the clear stud is Nolan Reimold, who just needs to stay healthy for the love of God. He's become a good outfielder, he can hit the hell out of the ball, and he actually has some plate discipline. With all respect to Luke Scott, Luke's just a placeholder. Reimold is the left fielder of the future, and a Reimold-Jones-Markakis outfield could anchor the Oriole lineup for years.

Joining him in the outfield is Kennard Jones, a former Indiana Hoosier and Beltsville, MD, native who got as far as AAA in the Padres system. He played at Frederick last year. He's got no power, decent plate discipline, speed, and no idea how to use it. He's the Sebastien Boucher of Bowie. Non-prospects Michael Rodriguez and Luis Montanez will also see time in the outfield.

First baseman Ryan Finan may be the jewel of the infield, which isn't saying a whole lot. Finan hit .284/.386/.432 at Frederick last year. A spike in power would improve his prospects a whole lot, but he's just not a power hitter. Even Mark Grace slugged .518 in the minors.

Shortstop Blake Davis was overmatched in 35 games with the Baysox last season (.209/.264/.270) but fared OK at Frederick (.291/.362/.409). Like Finan, he's a maybe, but a probably not. The Cal State Fullerton product's future may be as a utility guy if he can start hitting Double-A pitching.

And then there's Michael Garciaparra, a career .261/.355/.342 hitter in the minors. He's not his brother, to say the least.

Former (very former) Padres prospect Ben Davis will be the starting catcher. He's just another guy that didn't pan out. But he's in a place where he can be useful. The 31-year old Davis has 486 major league games under his belt, and could be very helpful in guiding Spoone, Tillman, Hernandez and the rest of the young pitchers. Think Crash Davis, but without the bat.

Like all the other levels of the O's system now, there's real young talent down at Bowie, and the chance to see some guys that are going to be good major league players.