25 January 2009

Orioles Prospects 2009 ReCap

Top 30 Prospects: Baltimore Orioles (1/27/2009)

Recap: Five Storylines from the Top 30

1. Matt Wieters

As we stated in Part 3, there has been tons written on Wieters already. So instead of breaking him down further and further, here are some Wieters pieces worth reading. Enjoy:

MLB.com Scouting Report
Keith Law Top 100 (Wieters #1)
Baseball-intellect Scouting Report
ESPN Chat with Matt

2. The "Big Three"
Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman round out one of the better top four prospect groups in the game. It’s clear that Baltimore is counting on these young studs to anchor the staff for years to come. Where you will find differing opinions, however, is when each of the “Big Three” will arrive for good with the Birds, as well as what their upside and likely projection truly is. So let’s tackle each of these questions one at time and see where we end up.

Tillman is the youngest of the three, punching-in at 20-years of age. One of the more junior arms in the Eastern League, Tillman put together a fine season made more impressive by the relative age of his competition and the projectability still remaining in his frame and stuff. Still, those calling for an immediate promotion to AAA and eventual call-up in 2009 may be jumping the gun a bit. While Tillman was certainly impressive, his production doesn’t necessarily indicate that he has vastly surpassed the level. To start, he consistently worked into the fifth inning but only logged 10.7 IP in the sixth inning on the entire season. He never recorded an out in the seventh. He had trouble maintaining his stuff the second time through the order and displayed periodic command issues throughout the season. He has big stuff, and there certainly isn’t any indication that he’s incapable of competing at AAA Norfolk. At the same time, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to start him back at Bowie where he could continue to build his endurance and refine his command and changeup. Either way, Tillman would be well served to log one more full year in the Minors unless he starts putting up David Price-esque numbers between Bowie and Norfolk. There is no need to rush him and Baltimore has a fair number of arms to sort through already at AAA/ML to determine if any of them are pieces for the future.

Arrieta spent the entire year at HiA Frederick, despite his stuff sitting above his level for a large portion of the season. Selection to the Olympic team sidetracked plans to promote the young righty to AA Bowie in the second half. While at Frederick, Arrieta blew away hitters with his big fastball and wipeout slider. Like Tillman, he struggled to command his stuff and held a walk-rate of 4.0 BB/9IP – well above where it needs to be in order to succeed at the upper levels. Again like Tillman, Arrieta needs to refine his changeup and improve his consistency and command across the board. Unlike Tillman, Arrieta has an easier time working later into the game. He logged 18.6 IP after the fifth (11.3 – 6th, 6.0 – 7th, 1.3 – 8th). More impressive, he didn’t see a drop in his stuff, as partially evidenced in his only allowing 11 hits in those 18.6 innings. Interestingly, his walk rate even decreased to 3.37 BB/9IP. Arrieta will likely log at least a half a season at AA Bowie and, depending on his success, could see a promotion to AAA Norfolk. He may be ready to throw out of a Major League pen at some point in 2009, but there is no sense in taking innings away from him at starter. More likely, he competes for a rotation spot in the Spring of 2010.
Matusz is often discussed as the player furthest away from the Majors (due to his lack of experience) but I couldn’t disagree more. He is so advanced with his secondary offerings and command that an argument can be made for him being Major League ready right now. Matusz will likely start at HiA Frederick where I have little doubt his secondary stuff will overwhelm the competition. How he fairs at AA Bowie will likely determine if a late-season call-up to Baltimore is reasonable. If he shows the aptitude to mix his four pitches effectively, there will be little for him to prove at AAA Norfolk. More likely, he’d make a brief stop-over a la David Price before getting a shot at the American League in August/September. Price, of course, was utilized as a weapon in the midst of a playoff push – it’s unlikely Baltimore will have such a need. Regardless, despite not logging any professional innings for a Baltimore affiliate, Matusz’s stuff, pitchability and his past success in college, over the summers and in this past Arizona Fall League (against some of the better prospects in baseball) all seem to point towards a brief Minor League career. He’s our pick for most likely to make an appearance at OPACY in 2009 and will likely be a fixture in the rotation as early as April 2010.
ProjectionAll three of Arrieta, Tillman and Matusz have front-end ceilings (#1 or #2 starters). Let’s loosely define a #1 as the following:
1. Two pitches that grade out as fringe-plus-plus to plus-plus and another above-average to plus
2. Perhaps one more pitch that is average or better (though depending on the above, this might not be necessary)
3. Plus command
4. Advanced pitchability (knowledge of the "art" and how to game-plan and execute)
5. Durability (both in-game and in-season -- loosely I'll say he has a reasonable chance at 6+ IP each outing, with shorter outings due to effectiveness and not stamina or inability to maintain “stuff”)
6. Usually all of this adds up to a high ability to miss bats, but I wouldn't say that missing bats is a requisite (more often, not missing bats is illustrating a shortcoming in 1-4)

Matusz has the best likelihood of reaching a #1 ceiling. His curveball and changeup can be plus-plus offerings, and his cutter is above-average as well. His fastball is at least average. Matusz has plus-command across the board and already has advanced pitchability. Durability has yet to be tested – he’ll start 2009 by acclimating himself to generally five days or rest rather than six. There’s a question as to how his fastball will play but I am not concerned. He locates it well and shows an advanced understanding of how to effectively mix all of his offerings. So long as he can maintain this balance, he has the potential to be a true #1, with a #2 designation being more likely simply because it’s unreasonable to assume he hits on all cylinders before even beginning his pro career in earnest. He looks like another Cole Hamels with potentially a better fourth offering.
Tillman has the plus-plus potential with his curveball and room in his frame to add velocity to his fastball. He needs to improve his changeup to at least an average offering, as well as improve his command across the board. There’s so much projection and he’s accomplished so much at a young age that I’m hesitant to try and figure where his offerings will ultimately grade-out, but it isn’t unreasonable to project a plus-plus-CB, fringe-plus-plus-FB and an above-average changeup. As discussed above, durability is an issue for now, though he’s still young and building-up arm strength. The raw tools are there for Tillman to develop into a #1, but a #2 seems a more likely ceiling with a decent shot at becoming a #3.
Arrieta has two potential plus-plus offerings in his fastball and slider. Both his curveball and changeup can be average pitches at times, already, and there is room for growth with each. His durability shouldn’t be an issue, but his command is still a ways off across the board. His ceiling looks to be that of an AJ Burnett – plus-plus fastball with a devastating breaking ball (slider rather than curve). Like Burnett, he’ll struggle in those instances where he can’t locate his breaking ball and hitters can sit on his fastball. When he’s on, he could be filthy. He looks to profile as a future #3 with a strong likelihood of providing at least #4 production (based on his durability and the quality of his offerings).
SummaryThe “Big Three” look like pretty solid bets to be productive Major Leaguers – exactly how productive they ultimately become will depend on the extent to which they can address the above-referenced flaws in their current game. As far as time-of-arrival, it seems unlikely that any will have a serious impact before 2010, and most likely there will be the usual acclamation period. Long-term, these three pitchers should provide a solid core for the rotation, with Matusz being the closest to fully-baked and Arrieta and Tillman further off (with slightly differing hurdles to overcome). While we currently rated the three Matusz-Tillman-Arrieta each is capable of ultimately outdistancing the other two – a nice situation to have with your top three arms.
3. Another "Big Three"?
No, I’m not talking about the next wave of arms (though we’ll touch on them later). I’m talking about Brandon Snyder, Billy Rowell and Nolan Reimold. While none are close to “can’t miss” guys, each is intriguing in his own way, and all have the potential to fill a current long-term hole at the Major League level – a 4-5-6 hitter.
Reimold is the closest to ML-ready and has the most raw power of the three (a solid 70 on the 80 point scale). With Pie now in the outfield mix, even more stress will be placed on the development of Reimold’s bat. If he can maintain a solid contact rate at AAA and then Baltimore, he easily fits in as a solid #4 or #5 hitter, capable of 30+ homeruns a season. Can Baltimore rely on him contributing as a #4 or 5? Unfortunately, not yet. Contact rate and some holes (though shrinking) in his swing present a formidable challenge to ML success. To Reimold’s benefit, he’s approaching the point where Baltimore will have to let him sink or swim. The good news is that the decision as to whether or not to stick with Reimold will be an easy one. He isn’t close to Markakis or Pie, defensively, and he lacks the footspeed for center field. So if his bat doesn’t reach its middle-of-the-order potential then it won’t play at DH/1B, removing any potential value for this organization. Reimold’s situation should adequately play itself out over the next 18 months.
Snyder is the next closest to ML-ready, but his offensive game is quite a bit different from Reimold’s. He doesn’t project to a #4 hitter, and likely not a #5 hitter. He’s starting to tap into some of his raw power, but he doesn’t have the size or leverage to be a prototypical thumper at first base. If he reaches his ceiling, he likely profiles as a solid-average first baseman sitting between 15-20 homeruns per season, lots of doubles and a respectable average. His on-base skills are a bit limited by his plate discipline, though there is some time to at least improve marginally. Snyder is a better bet to provide some Major League value, but again it’s almost entirely based on his bat. He squares-up more consistently than Reimold and as a result isn’t nearly as streaky a hitter. Finally healthy, Snyder will enter 2009 at AA Bowie with some solid momentum and a likely opening at 1B in Baltimore in 2010.
Rowell is the furthest away and struggled more than Reimold or Snyder in 2008. The difference, however, is Rowell was at least one full year too young for his level. After spending a chunk of 2008 watching Matt Wieters tear-up the Carolina League, Rowell should have a better idea as to where he needs to be over the course of the next 2-3 seasons. He has a powerful frame and a clean swing with lots of leverage. It’s easy to see him projecting to fringe-plus-plus power in addition to hitting for average (though he doesn’t seem to have the raw hand/eye coordination of Wieters). There is plenty of time for Rowell to continue to develop, and he could profile as a #4, #5 or #6 hitter when all is said and done. Because he will be just 20 and still in HiA, it’s still to early to seriously consider the odds of him reaching his ceiling with any degree of certainty. What Baltimore will be looking for in 2009 is progress and maturity.
Each of these three players has varying risk and varying potential return. Were Baltimore to catch lightening in a bottle, they could be looking at a 2011 lineup of:
RF – Markakis
C – Wieters
DH – Reimold
CF – Jones
1B – Snyder
3B – Rowell
LF – Pie

with Rowell eventually bumping Jones and Snyder down a spot. Of course, at this point, it may be just as likely that Baltimore ends up with only one of the three amounting to anything useful at the ML-level. 2009 will be a crucial year for all of them and we should know much more by December. Much attention is paid to the lack of positional depth in the Orioles’s system, but the truth is the Major League club is already pretty well set in the outfield and catcher (potentially for a long time). Baltimore will hope that some or all of these three can eventually fill a portion of the remaining holes at IF/DH.
4. Waves of Arms
Many think of the New York Yankees of the early-2000s and think “big money free agents.” In reality, much of the inflated payroll that NYA has carried around was a result of locking-up the homegrown talent that brought them their late-90s dynasty. It’s unlikely Baltimore will be in the financial position to follow suit with the likes of (potentially) Wieters, Jones, Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta, Pie, Snyder, Reimold and Rowell. This is not a problem, indeed it provides Baltimore the opportunity to be creative in determining the pieces they want long term and the pieces that are expendable.
Baltimore will become a perennial contender when it is in a position to benefit from redundancies in the Minor Leagues and move young talent to help supplement their system. For example, it’s unlikely Baltimore is able to lock-up all of Tillman, Arrieta, Matusz, Jones, Wieters and Pie. Instead, over the next four seasons or so (assuming all develop, of course) Baltimore would determine which three or so of these players will be locked-up and which can be moved for more young talent. This allows an organization to keep payroll at a manageable level while not letting assets go to waste. The trick, however, is having the pieces ready to step in for those Major Leaguers that you eventually move. That’s where the concept of “Waves of Arms” comes in.
If the Big 3 are considered future anchors, there are a handful of other arms that figure to be in on the rotation slots over the next two seasons. This includes mostly the AAA/ML guys in place (Liz, Patton, Albers, Penn, Bergesen, Waters, Berken and an assortment of fringy arms brought in this off-season). Slotted a year or two behind this core is an improving collection of arms currently spread between HiA, AA and maybe AAA (Spoone, Erbe, Britton, Hernandez, etc.). A year or two later sits a third wave currently in the low-minors (Beato, Drake, Bundy, Butler, etc.).
The goal is to develop these arms in waves. Attrition rates will generally take care of the “too many starters” problem, and some arms will prove to be better suited for the pen (Hernandez? Erbe?). As you build up these redundancies, flexibility increases and the organization is able to explore a wider variety of trades (prospects for Major Leaguers and vice versa), filling holes that arise due to injury and generally permitting the arms all the developmental time they need by not forcing them through the system to address shortages on the Big Club. We’re seeing the early stages of such a system being built, and it’s a very good thing.
The question, then, is how does Baltimore make the “Wave of Arms” approach a constant? It really comes down to bringing in talent through all available avenues, and particularly through the Rule 4 Draft and international signings. The Rule 4 Draft allows the team to infuse the system with varying levels of talent at varying ages (roughly 18-23). That means arms starting from Rookie-level to HiA and progressing at various paces. The international market, generally, involves bringing in younger talent (roughly 16-20). That means arms starting from developmental-level to LoA and progressing more slowly. By adding varying talent to all levels the organization can better cope with injuries at the various levels and be more flexible with regards to including pieces in trades. Baltimore is showing evidence of properly utilizing the Rule 4 Draft. In addition to continuing down that path, the organization will need to start tapping into the international market (and particularly Latin America). The infrastructure is being built-up, but it may be another season or two before Baltimore starts reaping the fruits of its labor.
5. Identifying Value in the Rule 4 Draft
Briefly, I wanted to speak on Jordan’s ability to locate value in the draft over the past couple of seasons. This year, Miclat (R5) and Bundy (R8) saw their stock drop primarily due to injury. Drake (R43) flew under the radar of most organizations and Welty (R20) didn’t provide easy-to-scout performances because of the nature of his competition at Chandler-Gilbert CC. All found their way onto our Top 30 list and two of these players are our picks for 2009 Breakout Candidates.
In previous years, Baltimore was able to grab late-round talent in Jake Arrieta (R5), Chorye Spoone (R8) and David Hernandez (R16). While there is still a huge hole to be filled with regards to international talent, Baltimore appears to be on the right track in the Rule 4 Amateur Draft. If and when the organization improves and drops in the draft the order, the ability to spot top talent in the later slots will become even more important. Joe Jordan would appear to be more than up to the task.
Organizational Leaders
Hitting - Matt Wieters
Wieters was an easy choice for best hitter in the system. Split between HiA Frederick and AA Bowie, Wieters posted a line of .355/.454/.600. He’s dangerous from both sides of the plate and comes with an advanced approach and plus-strikezone command (walking 88 times against 76 strikeouts).
Power - Matt Wieters
While Reimold has Wieters beat in the raw power department, Wieters is a safer bet to realize his power and could produce 25+ homeruns on a regular basis. He flashes a little more power as a righty, but is capable of hitting the ball out of any part of the park from either side of the plate. He has incredible bat-speed and lets his power come naturally, flowing from a clean swing that generates lots of natural loft and backspin.

Defense - Matt WietersBlake Davis is the best defender in the field, but the value Wieters provides behind the plate trumps what Davis can do at short. Wieters moves well from side to side and is an excellent receiver proficient at blocking. He has a plus-transfer with solid footwork and a quick release. His throws come out with plus-plus-strength and plus-accuracy, making him the complete package at the most valuable position on the diamond.
Best RHSP - Chris TillmanAlready discussed thoroughly in this piece, Tillman has the ceiling of a front-end arm and has already made huge developmental strides reaching AA ball at the age of 20. He could be up for good as early as 2010.
Best LHSP - Brian MatuszBaltimore’s first selection in the 2008 Rule 4 Draft, Matusz is close to Major League ready right now and has the potential for two plus-plus offerings (CH/CB) and two more plus-offerings (FB/CU) when all is said and done. He has plus-command and plus-pitchability, throwing with an easy and effortless delivery. His ceiling is a Cole Hamels with potentially a little more velocity on his fastball and a better fourth offering.
Best Future RP - Brandon ErbeBaltimore has time to continue to work Erbe as a starter, but his fastball/slider could be lethal out of the pen. He would have little need for his changeup, still just a fringe-average offering, but he’ll still need to work more consistently down in the zone.
2009 Breakout Candidate (Pitching) - Oliver DrakeZach Britton and Bobby Bundy made strong cases (with Britton being the obvious pick based on the writings of sources such as BaseballAmerica, John Sickels and Keith Law. Respectfully, we disagree and put Ollie Drake’s name out there. Drake is durable with advanced pitchability. His fastball is nothing spectacular, but he flashes 2-plane action with his above-average slider and has shown a good feel for his changeup and his curveball. With solid command and a good approach, he should have a nice little coming out party in the Sally League with LoA Delmarva.
2009 Breakout Candidate (Hitting) - Ronnie WeltyWelty is a risky pick, given his questionable mechanics and high strikeout rate. We see a highly talented hitter with plus-hand/eye coordination and an ability to consistently square-up and use the whole field. He finished the year on an absolute tear, posting an August line of .408/.462/.563 against a June line of .220/.319/.390 and a July line of .276/.297/.356. He also reduced his strikeout rate from 0.28/AB to .17/AB. He was solid against righties and lefties, and though he’ll be challenged we’re excited to see how he fairs in Aberdeen or (hopefully) LoA Delmarva.
2009 Bounce-back Candidate - Pedro BeatoWith positive reports coming out of the Fall Instructional League, we’re ready to jump back aboard the Pedro Beato bandwagon. After suffering through an abysmal 2008, Beato worked on cleaning-up his mechanics and saw an improvement in his velocity, command and the consistency of his secondary stuff. Known for throwing the kitchen sink at hitters, we hope to see him simplify his approach and focus on pounding the strikezone in 2009.
10 More Prospects to WatchCaleb JosephBrandon Waring
Tyler Kolodny
Kyle Hudson
Tim Bascom
Garabez Rosa
Wilfredo Perez
Pedro Beato
Luis Noel
Blake Davis

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