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Better Know an Affiliate: Frederick Keys Edition (Part 2: Pitchers)

I attended 3 games of the Keys vs. Blue Rocks series last week. This is what I saw.

Is this young man a Top 10 prospect in the O's system?
Is this young man a Top 10 prospect in the O's system?
Tim Jacobsen

In Part 1 of this series I discussed the hitting prospects on the Frederick Keys who caught my eye. And there were quite a few of them. But a nice feature of the Keys squad is that there are just as many pitchers of interest at the moment. Here's what I saw of them.

A brief note on the opposition, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. They are an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Currently, they are much deeper in pitching prospects than hitting prospects. They feature 2 hitting prospects of note: (OF) Lane Adams, who isn't a prospect so much as he's having a really good season, and (OF) Jorge Bonifacio, who is the younger brother of the Blue Jays' Emilo Bonifacio.

So, who did what?

Game 1 of the series was started by (RHP) Julio Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Phillies earlier this year in exchange for (OF) Ronnie Welty. He was once a somewhat intriguing prospect but has seen his stuff regress over the past couple of seasons. I asked Keith Law (who happened to be in attendance as well) about him and he told me he witnessed him throwing 6 or so mph harder in years past, giving credence to the notion that Rodriguez has just lost some of his stuff. I didn't get any radar gun readings off him, but his stuff certainly didn't look or sound impressive. The bigger problem for him though was the complete lack of control. After retiring the first two batters of the game he proceeded to walk the next 4 in a row while only throwing 3 strikes over that span. He would work a quick 1-2-3 inning in the 2nd before leading off the 3rd with two walks prior to giving up a monster 3 run home run. After 2+ IP he would hit the showers having allowed 4 ER on 1 Hit and 6 Walks.

Rodriguez would be followed by (LHP) Trent Howard. I previously wrote about Howard here, in my review of left-handed pitching in the O's system. And he looked quite impressive tossing 3 innings of relief, allowing just 2 hits, 1 walk and zero runs while striking out 3. He remains a very intriguing southpaw who I feel should be given some more opportunities to start, just to see if he has it in him.

This game also featured a rather bizarre and entertaining ending deserving of a Yakety Sax montage. After a lead off walk and a double to start the bottom of the 10th, the 7th hitter in the lineup also drew a walk to load the bases. (LHP) Zach Fowler was summoned and he promptly gave up a sac fly which tied the game. After wild pitch allowed both runners to advance a base the Blue Rocks put on a suicide squeeze play, where the runner from 3rd immediately broke for home as the pitcher delivered the pitch and the batter attempted to lay down a bunt. Well...the batter whiffed on the bunt attempt and the runner charging from 3rd was toast as ( C ) Michael Ohlman met him about 5 feet up the 3B line to record the 2nd out of the inning.

But wait, it gets better. The runner who was on 2nd also ran on the play and was now heading for 3rd. Ohlman, seeing this, decided to try to nail him and end the game. Which he may well have done if his throw hadn't sailed a few feet high and wide of the third baseman. Oops. The runner got up from his slide, sprinted for home, and scored the walk-off run just before the throw made it back to the plate. An appropriate end for a game that featured, in total, 15 Walks, 4 Errors, 2 Wild Pitches, 2 Hit by Pitches, a TOOTBLAN, and 1 Pickoff. Fun stuff.

Game 2 of the series featured an exciting pitching match up of (LHP) Tim Berry vs. (RHP) Kyle Zimmer, the 3rd time this duo has faced off in Wilmington this season, with Berry out pitching the more highly regarded Zimmer each of the previous 2 times. That would not be the case this night, as Zimmer put together possibly the most impressive performance of his pro career thus far. Berry was game to match Zimmer for the first 3 innings, but faltered in the 4th as Blue Rocks hitters managed to time his offerings the 2nd time through the order. He did show a couple of nice curveballs this inning, but was overly reliant on his fastball while hardly utilizing his change up to keep the hitters off balance. To his credit, he was keeping the ball down. So in spite of allowing 10 hits, none were home runs. And though he ran up a decent sized pitch count (90 thru 4.2 IP) he only walked 1. Also of note: 2 of the 6 total runs charged to Berry were allowed by the reliever who replaced him.

Though I did not attend Game 3, let me briefly mention (RHP) Brady Wager's start. The boxscore says that Wager was pretty filthy: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 4 Ks with an 11:1 GO:FO ratio. The only blemishes on his outing were a Balk and 2 SBs allowed in 2 attempts. But how much of that is due to Wager and how much is due to C Michael Ohlman? (LHP) Ashur Tolliver, recently promoted from Delmarva, made his Keys debut in relief and pitched 2 innings, yielding but 1 hit and walk while K'ing 3.

Onto Game 4 of the series, where I had the pleasure of watching (RHP) Zach Davies toss a gem of a game. 6 IP, 3H, 1 BB, 1 ER, and 7 Ks. Of the 3 hits allowed: the first was a liner just over the glove of a leaping (2B) Jerome Pena. The second was a result of a botched fielding play by (3B) Nick Delmonico on a sac bunt attempt. And the 3rd came as a result of Delmonico botching a relatively routine ground ball. Those last two directly lead to the one run Davies was charged with, in addition to however many added pitches he had to throw that inning which may have prevented him from going deeper into the game, which is to say that he pitched even better than his boxscore line reflects (#DontScoutTheBoxscore).

How'd he do it? Not with raw stuff, that's for sure. His FB sits in the 88-91 range. But it plays up due to two factors: (1) he hides the ball well during his windup, allowing the pitch to explode on the hitter as it approaches the plate, and (2) his change up is filthy. He makes that pitch dance all around the zone, allowing it to be effective to both righties and lefties. And it has a solid 10+ mph gap on his FB with the same arm speed and motion. He also worked in a few curveballs that ranged from big, slow, 74-75 mph12-6 loopers which were difficult to control, to tighter 78-79 mph ones which he could command effectively. And just to pile on, he showed a solid pickoff move a number of times.

I've been talking Davies up a good bit this season, and he certainly impressed me with this outing. Enough so that I could definitely see him being a Top 10 prospect in the O's system, and possibly the 3rd or 4th best O's pitching prospect (depending on your view of 2013 1st Round Pick Hunter Harvey. Bundy and Eduardo Rodriguez clearly hold the 1-2 slots).