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O's 2012 A-ball Review

An examination of some of the happenings among the Orioles' three Class A level affiliates in 2012

He is but one member of the O's farm system. I talk about some of the others in this article.
He is but one member of the O's farm system. I talk about some of the others in this article.

A few weeks ago, j.q. higgins penned a love letter of sorts to our beloved baby birds who nest at the Boca Chica Baseball City complex in the Dominican Republic. As our fowl friends learn to take flight their migration will take them to new and exciting locales. Locales such as Aberdeen (home of the Rookie League Ievel Ironbirds), Salisbury (of the Low-A level Shorebirds), and Frederick, Maryland (where reside the Advanced-A level Keys). And it is to these destinations that we shall turn our eyes upon in this, the exciting second chapter of our look back at the 2012 Orioles minor league affiliates.

Because he was just so damn awesome, I will give a dedicated post just to Dylan Bundy, who saw time at both Delmarva and Frederick in 2012. So...what else happened amongst the A-Ball ranks? The A-Level is where most prospects make their name. It's the first level where performance actually matters. A player can make it through the Rookie levels based on the promise of tools alone. But if performance fails to materialize from those tools then a player will find himself riding buses along vast expanses of highway rather than climbing the organizational depth chart. And the first stop for most kids who emerge from the Rookie Leagues is the Short Season A Level. The most notable player to make this jump in 2012 is Roderick Bernadina (cousin of Nats OFer Roger Bernadina). The 20 year old native of Curacao spent time at all three A-Ball levels, and he put up remarkably similar numbers to what his cousin did during his first go around at the A-level. So that's encouraging as we look forward.

Aberdeen is also a primary destination for players who have just been drafted. Two 2012 draftees made particular impressions during their Ironbird tenures: 4th round selection Christian Walker and 8th rounder Torsten Boss. Walker demonstrated his proclivities with the stick, putting up a .284/.376 /.420 line before a back injury ended his season prematurely. It'd be super to have an actual 1B prospect in the system. Mr. Boss, aside from having an 80 Grade name, showed some promising abilities in his pro debut. A good overall athlete, he spent the bulk of his time handling 3B duties, though his bat may not profile there in the long term. If he can handle the defensive requirements he'd make a nifty CF prospect.

With only a handful of positional players making much noise, one might think the Aberdeen roster rather barren. But it was on the pitching side where the club shows the most promise for the O's organization. 2012 1st Round pick Kevin Gausman pitched 6 impressive innings there, overmatching the competition a la Dylan Bundy. Of more interest though are a trio of local kids, Josh Hader, Sander Beck, and Tom Winegardner. Hader was drafted in the 19th round from Old Mill High School. A lanky lefty RP, he K'd 13 in 8.1 IP without allowing a run. A lot of room for him to fill out as he grows older. Hopefully he can add some velocity as well. Beck was drafted out of UMd in 2011, but did not sign. He then went undrafted in 2012 and eventually signed on with the O's. The 6'3" righty K'd 59 over 44.1 IP, though the scouting reports I've read suggest his stuff isn't too impressive.

Winegardner was an undrafted free agent who started off as a middle infielder. After seeing some of his throws in the infield, someone must have had an epiphany and told him to get on the mound. The result was rather impressive. Winegardner slotted in as Aberdeen's closer and finished 18 games while earning 10 saves, posting 21 Ks in 20 IP with only 4 BBs and 10 hits allowed. He probably wasn't going to make it anywhere as a positional player. But as a RP, he could become a fast moving, legit prospect. A slew of pitchers from the DSL and GCL also made their way to Aberdeen at some point, but the attrition rate for such players is so high they don't warrant particular discussion at this point. Better to wait until they manage to make the jump to full season ball before pinning any hopes and / or dreams to them. Which brings us to...

Delmarva. Dylan Bundy certainly commanded the prospecting world's attention, but the Shorebirds featured a number of other players of note; from up and comers to wash outs. Most notable was Nick Delmonico. The 19 year old received a rather aggressive assignment, bypassing all the short season levels in part due to his advanced baseball IQ gained via the tutelage of his father who was head coach of the U of Tennessee for 17 seasons. His performance demonstrated why he commanded a $1.5m bonus as a 6th round draft pick. A .351 OBP, .411 SLG, 11 HRs in 95 games, a 12% BB rate and just an 18.6% K rate. The O's experimented with him playing at 2B, but ultimately settled him at 1B. There is reason to expect him to get a look at 3B in the future, but he was blocked from playing there in '12 due to his fellow Tennessee native, Jason Esposito, who struggled mightily both offensively and defensively. I wouldn't expect him to hinder Delmonico going forward. If the move to 1B is a permanent move though it will put pressure on Delmonico's bat to develop further. The .351 OBP is sweet, but he'll have to inflate the .411 SLG. The only blemish on his record is the knee injury he suffered which ended his season at the end of July. With the graduation of Manny Machado to the majors, Nick is now widely regarded as the O's second best positional prospect.

But there were some other positional players of some degree of noteworthiness on the Delmarva roster. Outfielders Glynn Davis and Brenden Webb each demonstrated exciting potential, albeit in entirely different ways. Davis, another local boy done good story, is a true 80-Grade runner who managed to swipe 37 bags in 47 attempts in '12. He'll need to play superb defense in CF while developing his bat further if he wants to continue to climb the organizational depth chart though. Mr. Webb, on the other hand, (though not a slouch on the basepaths; he swiped 19 / 25 bases in '12) is attempting to make his name with his bat, or, more specifically, his batting eye. An all around athlete, Webb has multiple tools to dream on. His speed should be average to just above average (as shown by the aforementioned SB numbers). His arm is strong (14 OF assists in '12). He knows how to get on base (.414 OBP in '12). And he can crush a ball when he gets ahold of it (as evidenced by his .465 SLG in '12). His bugaboo, and it is certainly a major one, is his contact skill (just a .255 BA, with 138 Ks in 499 PAs in '12). He needs to work on that in order to realize his full potential. But, man...if this kid figures it out...the O's got themselves a good one.

One player who failed to figure things out, at least as a positional prospect, is former 2nd round pick ('09 draft) Mychal Givens. After a 2nd straight full season of less than stellar performance at Delmarva, Givens will now be given an opportunity to demonstrate value on the mound. Hopefully he can salvage some semblance of his promising abilities 60 feel 6 inches from home plate.

A couple of interesting names to watch going forward who pitched at Delmarva last season are Zachary Davies and Parker Bridwell. Davies, a 26th round selection in '11, is a 19 year old RHP listed at 6'0" 150 lbs. Hopefully Gausman can share some of his donuts with him! In spite of his limited stature he managed to post a 7.2 K/9 over 114.1 IP of 3.86 ERA ball. Keep an eye on him. Bridwell has thus far struggled to fulfill the potential the O's saw in him when they drafted him out of the Texas H.S. ranks in '10. But after spending a considerable part of the off-season working out with the Brothers Bundy at their Oklahoma compound it will be interesting to see if Parker's performance progresses in '13.

Hopefully, Parker's performance progresses him on up the chain to Frederick, where we turn our attention to now. There wasn't too much to get excited about on the Keys roster in '12 (aside from Dylan Bundy). But there were a few players of interest to yours truly. Let's start with Aaron Baker. Actually...let's not. He was 24 last year, playing in A-ball. So that puts a damper on his 22 HRs and .549 SLG over 364 PAs. Let's move on to someone actually exciting (well, to me anyway!)

If there is any one player in the O's system I love more than Brenden Webb it's Ty Kelly. Ty Kelley may well never amount to much more than an average utility player. He's 24 and has limited experience above the A-ball level. But he had a rather spectacular '12 that began in Frederick where he batted .346 / .460 / .513 over 324 PAs. Though more suited for a role at any of the corner positions, If he can continue his performance in '13 he could well get a shot at the O's clustermess of a situation at 2B, as he can possibly handle such a duty not terribly.

The most intriguing arm on the Keys' squad in '12 (aside from Bundy or Gausman) may have been Clay Schrader. His K/9 rates are eye popping. But, so too, are his BB/9 rates. Hopefully pitching guru Rick Petersen can devote some time and tutelage to young Mr. Schrader and give his howitzer of an arm some some tracking coordinates pointing towards the strike zone. Future Closer potential if he can improve that command.

Tyler Wilson is an under-the-radar name who showed some decent potential in '12. A 10th round pick in '11 out of the U of Virginia, Wilson pitched 143.0 innings of 3.48 ball between Low-A and High-A in '12. The 9.0 K/9 may be a bit inflated due to being a more advanced pitcher than the bulk of the batters he was facing. But he looks to be on a path to possibly develop into a serviceable mid-rotation starter by sometime in 2014.

Wilson's rotation-mate to start the '12 season was Tim Berry. A lanky 6'3" lefty out of the San Diego area (wait...who does that sound like?), Berry underwent Tommy John surgery right after signing with the O's back in '09. He looks to have fully recovered, and for a 50th round pick, maybe even improved. He tossed 127.0 IP between Delmarva and Frederick before getting a cup 'o coffee w/ Bowie to end the year. And while the 5+ ERA isn't exactly encouraging, he showed decent stuff with a 7.6 K/9 and decent command with a 2.7 BB/9 rate while keeping the ball in the yard, 0.6 HR/9.

So there you have it. The O's system wasn't one of the strongest in MLB during 2012. But there are signs for which one can be legitimately hopeful. 2013 could see some of these sprouts bloom while new seeds begin to take root. I'm rather bullish on some (such as Webb and Kelly) and feel the O's have a legitimate shot at being a top-10 system this time next year, even in spite of the impending graduation of Dylan Bundy.