The Keys are boasting some nice talent this season. Jake Arrieta. Brandon Erbe. Brandon Snyder. Billy Rowell.
But, of course, the rock star -- you know who. Matt Wieters is as real as any deal can be. The former Yellow Jacket hit the cover off the ball in college. Look at these lines: .366/.470/.581, .355/.480/.606, .358/.480/.592. It's college ball, sure, but those numbers are just plain dominant. He hit 35 homers over the three seasons (we're talking about 60-70 game seasons here). He's a good glove behind the plate, confident but not overly so according to all reports, and can flat-out play.
Imagine it. Markakis, Jones, Nolan Reimold and Wieters in the middle of the Oriole lineup. That could happen by 2009. That could happen by the end of 2008. Wieters is only in Frederick as a "make sure" sort of thing. Let him slay the Carolina League, move up, and then it's probably fast track to Charm City. There hasn't been a catching prospect like this in a good while -- he's got more power than Joe Mauer...and I wish there were more catchers to rhyme things with, because that was unintentional but could've been an awesome Don King-like spiel.
So you know about Wieters. And we've talked about the other guys mentioned. But who else are the Keys throwing out there?
22-year old DH Chris Vinyard gets nice mentions here frequently, and while I wouldn't rank him among the top 20 (or 25, or probably even 30) O's prospects, he could have some sleeper potential. He hit .269/.340/.440 at Delmarva last year, which is absolutely not prospect material for a 21-year old first baseman in the Sally League. If he can add some more pop and up his batting average (no small tasks), then maybe he starts getting some real consideration. As it stands now, he's just not producing the numbers to be considered a prospect. You shouldn't expect much more out of a 38th round draft pick, although his alma mater (Chandler-Gilbert Community College) did play in a league that used wooden bats, which gave him a leg up coming into pro ball. Doesn't seem to have helped him a ton, and if it HAS, then that's probably worrisome. Frederick will be a very big test for him.
Vinyard is also a DH because Snyder will need to play first base, and, frankly, Vinyard is a God awful bad first baseman. As Baseball Prospectus put it, "With the way he fields, he's going to have to slug his way to the majors."
With Wieters, Rowell, Snyder and outfielder Brandon Tripp, Frederick has the system's strongest lineup. Tripp, a Cal State Fullerton grad, posted good numbers at Delmarva last year -- .288/.377/.531 with 19 homers, but he was 22 years old and in that league. Expectations should be held back until he hits above Low-A ball, but so far, so good for the 2006 12th round pick. (Tripp was also picked in the 21st round in 2003 by the Marlins, but chose college.)
Top 20 organizational guys Pedro Beato and Tim Bascom are also going to start the year with the Keys, with Bascom beginning the 2008 campaign on the DL. Like Vinyard, Beato is facing a step up from Delmarva, and a somewhat important one, as both had decent numbers where they were, but nothing that would make you sit up and take notice. For Vinyard, that wasn't a real surprise. For the slightly hyped Beato, it was. Beato will need a strong season to keep his prospect status where it is, and it's already slipped some.
It's Erbe that faces the real challenge, though. Erbe was destroyed at Frederick last season, but if it was really just his mechanics (cross your fingers and knock on wood), then those can, and apparently have, been fixed. Should he start strong, don't expect the 20-year old Erbe to spend the entire season with the Keys. By mid-summer, he could be with the Baysox. Let's hope.
Dominican righty Wilfrido Perez, 23, dominated at Delmarva in 2007, pitching 81 innings (19 relief appearances, eight starts) and striking out 108 with a 1.67 ERA. Another season like that in relief, and he jumps into the discussion, perhaps. He's old for where he's at, but big arms are big arms.
Not a prospect or even a noteworthy player, really, but Todd Davison is worth pointing out as what it would be like if the Orioles were really starting someone as bad as Brian Bocock. Really, he's our equivalent. If Todd Davison was starting at short for the O's, that's our Bocock scenario. God.
Teams lower than Double-A are so tricky nowadays. While you hope for your Fredericks and Delmarvas to field good teams and compete in their leagues, you also hope for the players to be good, which of course leads to them moving on.