22 February 2009

Different Kind of Ball

A Different Kind of Ball
Some may remember a post I wrote on the old Camden Depot site about how much of the Steroid Era was actually caused by steroids. I cited this article which put it quite well:
The URI study showed that baseballs from two well-separated years in the post-1993 era (1995 and 2000) were very like each other, yet very different from balls from pre-1993 years; it also showed significant categorical differences between the older Spalding and newer Rawlings balls. The Penn State study showed a marked increase in zip from 1977 on. All that agrees with the stats-indicated and common-sense indicated belief in a big jump when the ball maker was changed between 1976 and 1977, as well as the belief that there was a subsequent jump starting in 1993 and in full force in 1994.

Essentially, the ball changed in 1993 and everything changed at that point. Power rose significantly and team composition changed with it.

A second article came out recently, which falls in line with the studies on baseball density. They focuses on slugging percentage on contact and presented this convenient chart:

It is pretty impressive how all of this information keeps on validating each other. One of the problems with this belief in steroids is that the power change came with such an immediate effect. That just does not follow drug use patterns. Baseball players simply did not all start taking steroids prior to the 1993 season. It then makes sense that a comprehensive event has to happen. That typically means expansion or perhaps a new baseball. I also find it hard to believe that most ball players knew exactly how to use steroids in order to increase their performance. It is not like there is a lot of scientific information sharing regarding steroid use and baseball performance to go about. It seems most of the usage and planning was based on word of mouth and a few gym rats.

Slap Hitters Are Thrown Fastballs
FanGraphs put out an interesting little exercise comparing isolated power with the percentage of fastballs a player will see. Though the data is noisy, there seems to be a direct relationship between a lack of power and the number of fastballs thrown to a player. Slap hitters are challenged often, which makes sense as you will reduce the number of pitches thrown for that at bat and the probable outcome is a ground ball. The noise is probably explained by variables, such as scouting reports that indicate a hitter may be particularly good or bad at hitting off speed pitches.

21 February 2009

Projecting the Next Five Years with Brian Roberts


This past week, the Orioles signed Brian Roberts to a 4 year, 40MM extension. Add this on to the current contract which pays him 8MM for 2009. I think it would be unfair to think of this as a 5 year, 48MM dollar deal as I would regard this year as a sunk cost that we would have been unable to relinquish given the current trade market. This post will focus on projecting Roberts' performance over the life of the extension and trying to determine whether this was a good deal to make.

Methods


Predicting Offensive Performance
The offensive projections for Brian Roberts were taken from the CHONE projections. I believe that this is an optimistic system to use given Roberts age and position. CHONE is quite useful for short-term projections, but is not really geared to predict long-term performance. PECOTA may be slightly better determining long term performance as it makes predictions based on similarity scores. I will be using the CHONE numbers though as they are publicly available and allow for a bit more transparency in this exercise. Performance is converted into LW runs and related to replacement level value after accounting for projected playing time. For second basemen, replacement level was considered 62 runs while average production was considered as 85 runs.

Predicting Defensive Performance
Last year, Roberts was rated as below average at 2B by UZR/150. We actually rated him slightly above average. We think over the course of the next 5 years, he will probably miss about 5-8 plays more with each following season. That might seem aggressive, but that follows the path of typical players at this position. With this in mind, it was simply assumed that he will give up an extra 4 runs each season. This makes him a slightly below average fielder this year (-5 FRAA) and a poor one in 2013 (-21 FRAA). It should also be acknowledged that in this work average fielding ability is considered on par with replacement fielding ability. There are arguments for and against this approach, but we feel it is a pretty accurate description of what is truly available at the replacement level.

Predicting the Value of a Win
Offensive and defensive production expressed as runs above replacement value were than added. The total runs value was then divided by 10 to determine WARP, which was then multiplied by assumed market value. It is generally accepted that a win over replacement production is worth about 4.5MM. There is growing sentiment that the economic crisis may put that in doubt, but I think a correction will occur and it will remain at about that level. That being so, I have attached the 4.5MM value to 2009 and increased the value by 10% each year. In 2013, the value of a win is projected to reach 6.6MM.

Results
In the table below, I have listed Roberts' offensive production over the four years of the extension as well as his total production.



What you will notice is that over the course of the four year extension, he rates above average for two of those seasons and below average for two of those seasons. His lowest mark with regard to replacement value is being worth 0.9 WARP in 2013. Overall, he produces 7.7 WARP over the course of the extension. This could also be expressed as 0.5 wins above average. This potentially becomes problematic as the second half of his contract has his as -0.9 wins above average. Particularly in his final season, it may serve the team best if Roberts is on the bench.

The following table shows Roberts' actual contract against his projected worth over the course of the extension.



The projected value of his performance is worth 42.5MM with 63% of that worth coming in the first two seasons. Overall, the Orioles pay below the predicted going rate of cost per win. Although in the final two seasons they pay above.

Conclusion
The contract is fair, but may not be in sync with the Orioles development plan. Roberts' career path is not in line with the young arms in AA and AAA that this team is relying on to make it competitive. If the team is viable in the playoff race in 2013, it will most likely see Roberts losing time to L.J. Hoes or another second baseman. At this point, we assume that the Orioles should be able to stow away a moderately poor contract this year. In the end, the open question is whether or not the 40MM spent here could have been better applied on future free agents, international talent, or the draft?

Personally, I would not have extended such a deal, but it is understandable why Andy MacPhail chose to do so. Actually, a reason why I would offer Roberts an extension is if I was not planning to depend heavily on the young arms for plus performance. He is probably the best option we can obtain to bat lead off and he is a fine player for the next few years. If this is the plan, then I would expect major acquisitions in the next offseason cycle. The holes the Orioles will need to fill are most likely 1B, 3B, DH, and a top tier starting pitcher.

Although I doubt Ty Wigginton will actually produce well for the Orioles, he is an option at first base (his defense at third is incredibly bad). Next year's market is awfully thin at first and he is projected to hit 268/338/466. Though, he probably should be protected against excellent right handed pitchers. This might mean that this would be a good role for Luke Scott to platoon part time at first. A more expensive option would be to extend Aubrey Huff's contract. He most likely will not repeat last season's amazing performance, so he might be an option. Outside the organization, they could sign Nick Johnson and have him face all right handers and Wigginton play against lefties and backup other positions. It may be a situation where we look to find a left handed platoon player at first. Again, Luke Scott might be that guy.

As mentioned earlier, third base should not be left for Wigginton. They could resign Melvin Mora to a one year deal, but I think that would not be ideal. His defense is dipping to below average, he has trouble charging the ball, and he is at an age where batting performance could evaporate and be left way below average. In fact, the two seasons prior to last year were not good and it will be unlikely that he will play a solid third in 2010. The FA market will offer Troy Glaus and Adrian Beltre. Glaus projects as a fine hitter and a decent glove at third base. His age (33) and his previous back issues make him a dicey acquisition. I view Adrian Beltre as a better choice. He is 2 years younger than Glaus and will probably offer a level of play that is not commensurate with his actual performance. Many underestimate Beltre's glove and SafeCo's effect on his offensive performance. He will never be an offensive star, but, if he continues to provide a win to a win and a half with the glove, he is easily worth a four or five year deal at 13MM. He is someone the Orioles should target.

DH is another position with in house options. Those include Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Luis Montanez, Ty Wigginton, and Nolan Reimold. Outside the organization, the list includes Jason Bay, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, and Hideki Matsui. If they do not expect Huff to play 1B for them, then they should probably play the market. This past year saw player value plunge for DH type outfielders. With the market so limited to AL only teams and with many teams already filled at the DH slot, it may make sense to roll the dice and see what is out there. At worst, the in house options should perform at a high enough level to provide average production.

Finally, a starting pitcher would have to be acquired. I think it is doubtful that the inevitable parade though the middle and lower rotation this year will produce much in terms of dependable pitching. In reality, we will probably have Guthrie (a solid middle order pitcher on a competitive team) and two lower order guys emerging from this season. Next year, we can probably slot one of the young guys (i.e., Matusz) at the five slot. This leaves us with a front line pitcher. Next year's market may potentially carry John Lackey, Eric Bedard, and Rich Harden. Signing one of these guys will make the team far more competitive.

A potential lineup would look like this:
2B Brian Roberts
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
1B Aubrey Huff
C Matt Wieters
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Luke Scott/Ty Wigginton
LF Felix Pie
SS Cesar Izturis

To go along with a top tier starter and a collection of third and fourth pitchers. This team rates in a highly competitive division as a 91 win team. Adding Beltre and a pitcher like Harden or Lackey is all that is needed in this scenario. If ways can be found to upgrade other positions, it should make the team more capable of reaching that level. I guess we will know a year from now.

19 February 2009

On the links . . .

Another National screw up.
Esmailyn Gonzalez is not the 19 year old who broke out in his second year of the GCL. He is actually Carlos Lugo who at 23, repeated the GCL and tore it up pretty well. He was, on average, 5 years older than his competition. It is unclear who perpetuated this fraud. Jim Bowden was adament to Stan Karsten back in 2006 to sign this kid/adult to make a cannon shot letting baseball talent in the Latin America know that the Nationals meant business. They gave him 1.4MM as a signing bonus (twice what rival Rangers were offering) and he immediately became one of their best minor leaguers. We had him rated 8th this past offseason. With this new knowledge . . . he is off our top 30. Bear in mind the Nats also have a thin farm system. A 23 year old repeating GCL just is not that impressive. This fraud case may have a deeper story coming out as the top brass of the Nationals were investigated for embezzling last year though nothing concrete has come out of that. Add that to the Aaron Crow debacle and senseless recharacterization of that ordeal . . . Washington does not seem to be the place to be at the moment.

Pitching Injury
This one slipped through the cracks a few weeks back, but I thought it was interesting enough to hit it. The guy at Razzball has developed criteria to identify pitchers at risk:
1. % of Curves+Sliders. The idea being that the more you rely on your breaking balls, the more strain you put on your arm. A third of pitchers who threw more than 27% C+S wound up pitching less than 2000 pitches the following year. A fourth of them saw an increase in their FIP (defense independent ERA) by 0.50.
2. An increase of 700 or more pitches from 2007 to 2008. This is a variation of the 30 inning increase rule. Pitchers over this level rated the same as those who threw more than 27% breaking balls.
3. Rookies throwing more than 2,700 pitches in their first year. The idea behind this is that extensive throwing at a higher level of competition could tax an arm. The numbers from 2007 and 2008 show that a third pitch less than 2,000 pitches their second season and that a fifth see their FIP rise 0.50.
Razzball IDs these as the top 5 guys to worry about:
1. Armando Galarraga - the reason why I hope we let Chris Tillman take his time to reach the majors.
2. Ricky Nolasco
3. Gavin Floyd
4. Brett Myers
5. Ryan Dempster

Baseball Prospectus' Baserunning Indices
The Orioles best base runner last season was Jay Payton. He was ranked 67th in the league. Overall . . . the team was pretty awful on the basepaths. In fact, we only had four starters who were above average:
Adam Jones (0.83 runs; pretty average at everything)
Brian Roberts (0.7; slightly above average at making most of his stolen base opportunities, his other baserunning skills actually produce a negative value)
Melvin Mora (0.47; awful at stealing bases to the tune of over 3 runs a season . . . decent with regard to advancing on base hits)
Luke Scott (0.2; OK at all things)
Markakis (52nd worst), Millar (13th worst in baseball), and Hernandez (23rd worst) were in total responsible for wasting about 15 runs or 1.5 wins last year. Markakis' probably is that he seems to get caught stealing at a decent clip.

Top three baserunners?
1. Ichiro 12.7 runs (a gain of over a run per season due to his base running skills)
2. Willy Tavares 11.9 runs
3. Ian Kinsler 9.2 runs

Bottom three?
Dionnar Navarro -8.0 runs
Magglio Ordonez -8.0 runs
Prince Fielder -7.1 runs

17 February 2009

Using Wang's Approach to Look at Drafting

Prospect Evaluation
Victor Wang did a short piece for THT a day or so back pitting Matt Wieters and David Price against each other. Based on his work, he states that a top ten hitting prospect is worth about twice as much as a top ten pitching prospect. In older articles he had written, he has determined that elite hitting prospects are worth significantly more than elite pitching prospects. That this difference narrows, but stays throughout the top 100 listed prospects (i.e. BA; not draft position). He has mentioned that his most recent work, in the THT annual, that he now finds a shift in the 50-100 range in that pitchers are now favored. What remains the same though is the greater projectability of top 50 positional talent. Now, the short piece he wrote states that Wieters is by far the more valuable prospect, but the questions as it pertains to the Orioles is greater. Andy MacPhail has stated that his organizational philosophy is to grow arms and buy bats. Some have pointed to this thought process as to why we selected Brian Matusz over Justin Smoak. It may make more sense to focus on bats at the top end of the draft and arms later. Of course, this ignores the evaluation of the market for free agents. It also ignores to a certain extent positional worth. So, yeah, there are a lot of questions, but it does make some sense. Matusz, as we have mentioned here, is a pitcher with decent mechanics and very good secondary pitches. We have written that we would have selected him . . . and we maintain that opinion. The key, draft-wise, is determining what value the player has. Is he a top tier pitcher or is he a top tier fielder? If you have a choice between them . . . it may make sense to lean toward the hitter while making up for this in the second and third rounds with pitching focused drafting. Comparing this perspective with the Orioles' selections and Camden Depot's selections:

Orioles
1. Brian Matusz, LHP
2. Xavier Avery, OF
3. LJ Hoes, 2B/OF

Camden Depot
1. Brian Matusz, LHP
2. Tim Melville, RHP
3. Roger Kieschnick, OF

Wang-Inspired
1. Justin Smoak, 1B
2. Tim Melville, RHP
3. Tim Murphey, LHP

It might be interesting to keep track of these separate top 3s.

Sackman evaluates Division 2 strength.
This is a follow up of a previous link I mentioned. His approach shows that there may have been 12 teams last year who could have held their own against D1 teams. The following list includes those teams who had a player selected in last year's draft:
Mount Olive (Daniel Hodges, Braves, round 23)
Delta State (Ken Smalley, A's, round 24; Eli Whiteside's alma mater)
Columbus State (Rodney Rutherford, A's, round 20)
Franklin Pierce (Scott Savastano, Mariners, round 28)
Catawba (David Thomas, A's, round 14)
Sonoma State (Travis Babin, Mets, round 16)
Tusculum (Maikol Gonzalez, Rockies, round 35)
Anyone else notice the A's being somewhat aggressive in division 2? I'm not sure it will play out for them, but it will be interesting to see if they really know what they are doing.

15 February 2009

Weekend Links . . . Money and Stats

Typical weekend post . . . somewhat lazy and waiting for the day to begin.

Evil Oriole Empire
The Orioles outspent the Red Sox by about 16% on free agents this off season. Southies are gnashing their teeth and screaming about the injustice of it all. In other news, the Yanks outspent the Orioles by 1600%. The end play of it all suggests that the BoSox had few holes to fill and are keeping some sense of payroll control in anticipation of the trade deadline this year when other teams may be dealing out big contacts on a short end cost in order to evacuate some expenditures and be able to make payroll. Perchance, the O's might do the same.

OK, we just need a sample size of 3500 ball in play.
Esteemed statistician Pizza Cutter has determined that you can determine with general certainty a pitcher's personal BABIP after about 3500 BIP. Mt. Cutter found an r-squared of 0.696, which is pretty good. So, you only need to wait for seven years of 180 inning per year ball before you strip the uncertainty from the statistic. Of course, this statement assumes that a pitcher's BABIP is a static skill over the course of his early career and maybe his lifetime. I think we all can assume that to be false. So . . . why did I link this again?

Actually it leads to this: Weighted BABIP, essentially.
What the previous link lacked was any sense of the components of BABIP, which are the types of a hits a pitcher produces with his repertoire. This method needs some more tweaking as the r-squared is a mere 0.26, but I think it is a fine step in the right direction. Basically, they broke down the types of hit balls that resulted for each pitcher and related that to expected BABIP. They found that certain pitchers do have a tendency to procure poorly hit balls, while others get mashed. On his list of pitchers who produce the hardest balls to field we find: CC Sabathia and Garrett Olson. It might be the only list that will ever have these two, just a name apart from each other. Turkenkopf's next work will supposedly include park factors, handedness, and pitch f/x data. Looking forward to that.

13 February 2009

Links . . . Uehara's Changeup and Fangraph Stats

Uehara working on a changeup.
Pitchers often have to adapt as they age or change from one league to another. Koji Uehara is looking to adding a changeup to his pitch selection, which we identified as including 2 fastballs, a slider, and a forkball. This article introduces that he occaisionally threw a shuuto, which is a pitch that is not seen in the US. It is sometimes referred to as a fast, reverse slider. It was famously confused by Will Carroll as the gyroball. For some reason, the shuuto is fairly common in Japan, but pitchers coming over to the states often drop it from their repertoire. For example, Daisuke Matsuzaka threw it over in Japan, but I am at a loss to have ever seen him throw one here in the states. Here is a video of the pitch:



Another interesting point the article makes and focuses on, is that Uehara is trying to "invent" a curveball. He has never committed to throwing one and wants to introduce it this spring. As seen in this photo mentioned in the NPB article, it is a one finger curve. He claims to have had trouble achieving break with both fingers on the ball. The result is a slow slider or hard curve that he has difficulty placing. Should be interesting to get some video from spring training on the guy.

FanGraphs is beginning to incorporate DPs and Outfield Arms into UZR.
I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. I have been trying to determine how predictive UZR can be and was pretty solid on how to approximate future performance. I guess I just think the work on double plays and outfield arm performance is a bit green to be encapsulated into a larger metric. I do give respect though for the folks at FanGraphs that they do report the numbers separately. It will be something that I will pay attention to and will tinker with. For fun, Orioles infield and outfield UZR/150 from 2008:
1B - Aubrey Huff (-14.8 UZR/150)
2B - Brian Roberts (-3.1; -17.9 cumulative)
3B - Melvin Mora (-5.2; -23.1)
SS - Cesar Izturis (10.5; -12.6)
LF - Feliz Pie (9.2 career; -3.4)
CF - Adam Jones (12.2; 8.8)
RF - Nick Markakis (9.3; 18.1)

So, if the players defend like they did last year according to this metric . . . we can expect the team to be in the black by 18 runs. That is almost two games worth. Major improvements were at shortstop and left field. First base is hurt defensively with Huff being there. Maybe Wigginton is better suited.

12 February 2009

PECOTA Wieters, Batted Balls, and Amateur Competition Rankings

Matt Wieters for MVP
PECOTA thinks Wieters is the best player in the American League. Oh, MLEs.

More than you wanted to know about ground balls and shifts.
The Tufts group looked at left handed batters from 2002 to 2008. From this group, they looked at the probability of hitting a ground ball out as opposed to a ground ball hit. They also looked at when a shift is implemented on a player. What they found that is interesting is that how much a left handed batter pulls a grounder is not the most significant variable in determining if a shift is called. Instead, it is based on homeruns per flyball and groundball to flyball ratio. Why? Managers shift their infield in order to take advantage of big bodied power hitters grounding toward the first base side. The batter is slow enough that the second baseman in shallow right can still make the throw. This study suggests that managers may be implementing a right field shift without contemplating if a batter even pulls his grounders. Leaves one thinking that even with respect to the limited value of a shift, it is being squandered.

A few days late, but good Division I strength scores.
The Hardball Times published a Sackman piece of the relative strength of different conferences in Division I baseball. Here is a cherry picked Orioles-style top six:

1. 0.648 Atlantic Coast Conference (Matt Wieters)
4. 0.631 Big 12 Conference (Rick Zagone)
8. 0.539 West Coast Conference (Brian Matusz)
12. 0.513 Big Ten Conference (Kyle Hudson)
16. 0.488 Mountain West (Jake Arrieta)
29. 0.334 Independent (Oliver Drake)

Finally, BtBS did what I squirrelled away and forgot.
Throwing side arm did not work for Brian Burres at all.
21 pitches
10 hitters
15 at bats
12 balls
1 called strike
1 swinging strike
3 foul balls
1 ground out
2 singles
1 home run

11 February 2009

On the links . . .

A few more links this morning . . .

How an increase in ability can result in a decrease in performance.
Orioles Hangout has published an article by one of their in house writers, Ted Cook. The focus is on Nick Markakis and about how projection models are often suggesting that his performance will decrease due to a rather fantastic BABIP last year (.351). It would follow suit that a BABIP regression may result, which in turn would lower his production even though it would be an improvement if his BABIP were normal last year. It would be a faux slump, ability-wise. His conclusion reads as if it was based on his gut after all of this focus on modeling as Cook claims that we will actually see an increase in performance due to a lower K rate. I'm not sure where he is getting that. It seems that he might be unaware of any of the pitch ID information out there as he also seems for a loss on why Markakis saw a significant increase in his walk rate. It is an interesting exercise though.

Potential Abreu signing might eventually mean something for Baltimore.
With the removal of future journayman middle relief RHP Nick Green from the 40 man roster, we might be able to expect the Abreu rumors are about to end with him signing with the Halos. It is thought his signing will mean he will be wandering in left field as well as logging time at DH. He could also spell Vlad sometimes in right. That being said, this probably cements Chone Figgins at third base and Kendry Morales at first base. How does this play into the Orioles' hand? The Angels will probably find themselves in a fight with the A's for the western crown and will need a pick me up from, what I imagine will be, some poor offensive play from Morales. I think this will push the Angels into the market for a first baseman, again. That market will be sure to include Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Dmitri Young, Chad Tracy, Adam LaRoche, and Aubrey Huff. The Angels probably would not commit themselves to another big deal like last year's Teixeira trade, so I imagine that would eliminate Gonzalez and Fielder from their list. This may put the O's and probably the Pirates in good position to pick up one of LAA's neglected prospects, Sean Rodriguez or Brandon Wood. That might be a deal one sees in July.

Keith Law on tap for the second day in a row.
He comments on what makes the Rangers system special at the moment:
They have integrated their scouting and evaluation across all areas -- draft, international, pro -- better than any team in baseball. They were the first team to target Latin American signees as throw-ins in trades while those players were still in short-season ball, often within a year of their original signing dates. You can't do that unless your international scouting department is talking to pro scouting and to the GM, or unless the information is all readily accessible to the GM when he's conducting the negotiations. In a league where the best teams are increasingly the best-run teams (Boston, Tampa Bay), staying ahead of the operational curve is obligatory.

This is important in how it relates to the Orioles in that this is what MacPhail's new dedication to the international market may help bring. That the Rangers have already made one of their strategies evident makes me doubt the Orioles could take advantage of trades like the Rangers did, but this quest to become more aware of the Latin and Pacific Rim talent base will hopefully bring them to equal footing. Nothing the Orioles do is particularly novel, but maybe they will follow the leader and make their upper mid-level revenue flow work for them.

Finally, some sad news about Roberto Alomar
If the lawsuit is to some extent correct, it appears Roberto Alomar has AIDS and might have be rather negligent is seeking proper medical care. Sadly, this disease is something that has kind of moved to the back burner of the American conscious . . . often only covered with respect to inner city dynamics, Africa, and Southeast Asia on mainstream news outlets. This disease has been in the human population from sometime between 1884 and 1924 around the Belgian Congo based on a 2008 study published in Science. Most likely, the disease entered into Latin America and the United States in the late 1950s when Haitian populations immigrated between their home country and work opportunities in North America and Africa. The disease slowly entered the international conscious as peculiar cases popped up in France and coastal US cities.

Erroneously thought of by layman as a disease afflicting homosexuals (originally referred to as GRIDS - Gay Related Immunodeficiency Syndrome), the disease was poorly funded for research. This partially caused the relatively widespread infection of the blood reserves in the United States and the subsequent spread of AIDS via blood transfusion (90% of severe hemophiliacs contracted AIDS due to infected blood). This brought us into the late 80s and 90s, where safe sex became more entrenched. Now, it seems that has somewhat dissipated. With the success of drug cocktails, differences in symptoms between viral strains, and other factors; many HIV-infected individuals are living for much longer periods of time. Some now even seem to think that this disease has been cured. With Alomar's potential reemergence into the spotlight as someone suffering from AIDS, maybe information about this disease will saturate again.

Perhaps indicative of individuals still lacking understanding of the disease, the lawsuit mentions:
In April 2005, Alomar told Dall he was suffering from erectile dysfunction and confided "he was raped by two Mexican men after playing a ballgame in New Mexico or a Southwestern state when he was 17," the suit says.

That would be 1985. It would be remarkable if he was infected in 1985 and did not register symptoms until 18-20 years later. More likely, his infection probably occurred between 1994 and 1998 if it was a typical case. This would be toward the end of his time in Toronto and during his stay with the Orioles. Of course, it is near impossible to determine with any certainty how this disease acts. Our thoughts and prayers are extended to the Alomar family and those he has known over the years.

10 February 2009

On the links . . .

Camden Depot - New York Yankees prospect list
Here at the Depot, we (primarily Nick) has issued the Yankees prospect list as the 9th organizational prospect report. Of particular interest to many Yankee fans is the dark horse centerfield candidate Austin Jackson:
The plus-defender continued to creep closer to the bigs in 2008, despite an August-to-forget in which he saw his strikeout-rate rise and his walk-rate drastically decrease. Because he has just average bat-speed, Jackson will need to continue to refine his pitch-ID and strikezone command in order to have continued success at AAA and above. In addition to making pitch-ID a tad more challenging, his average bat speed will likely prevent him from developing more than average power. While his offensive upside is somewhat limited at this point, Jackson has true game-changing potential in the field. He has solid range in center field and tracks the ball well to both gaps. More than capable of covering above-average ground, Jackson profiles as a plus-defender up-the-middle with the potential to be an average producer at the plate. He’ll likely start in AAA Scranton and could get a call as early as mid-season in 2009.


Keith Law Reports from the Southern California Invitational
Law mentions a few players we have mentioned before. Kieth breaks down SS Jiovanni Mier (CD's 8th ranked SS; 10/15/08) as a good defender who short on power. OF Jacob Marisnick (5th ranked OF; 11/11/08) was identified by us as being the best defensive outfielder available in this year's draft whereas Keith mention only his offensive capability in his notes. Marisnick has added some muscle and has improved his swing. Several other players are also mentioned Matt Davidson, Bryan Berglund, Tyler Skaggs, Jonathan Meyer, Matt Hobgood, Austin Wilson, and Beau Wright. Potential Orioles selection Tyler Matzek did not appear and is limiting his pitching to about 2 innings.

Minor League Roster News from Baseball America
Some notable names going through minor league transactions. LHP John Parrish is returning to the Orioles after spending last season as a starting pitcher for the Blue Jays. The hope for him being that he will be part of the revolving door that is sure to be the back end of the Orioles' rotation. Daryle Ward and Jacque Jones were signed by the Reds, which makes sense for their need of more power hitting and Dusty Baker's presence. Tanyon Sturtze is trying to make a comeback with the Dodgers, which may be a bad idea as they seem to have a pretty thick collection of bullpen arms at the moment. Sturze's starting days are most likely over. Eddie Guardado is a Rangers and Ken Takahashi signed with the Blue Jays. A potential favorite to win a role with the Nationals' big league club is Javier Valentin who will try to move his way up their meager catching depth chart.

Question/Comments?
Email us at camdendepot@gmail.com

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.

ETAs
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

Orioles Prospects: 1-10

Top 30 Prospects: Baltimore Orioles (1/11/2009)


Prospects 01 - 10

01. Matt Wieters | Stats | Depot Grade: A+
6-5 / 230 | Age - 22 | C | B/T - B/RDrafted - 2007 (R1) | Georgia Tech
Floor: AVG C | Ceiling: All-star C | Projection: All-star C

Notes: Plenty of hyperbole has been thrown around over the past fifteen months with regards to Wieters. Rather than add to litany, we'll just run down our scouting grades and notes, Hitting (70). Wieters is a switch hitter capable of spraying linedrives from pole-to-pole. He has an advanced approach at the plate and plus-bat speed that affords him the privilege of allowing the ball to get deep on him before beginning the swing. This has served him well thus far in his pro career and will aid in his pitch-ID at the Major League level. He has plus-strikezone command. Power (60). Wieters has solid plus-power from both sides of the plate. He doesn't muscle-up, but rather allows his homerun power to come naturally from his linedrive approach. Offensively, he is the total package and profiles as an elite middle-of-the-order bat.
Defense (70). Wieters moves well behind the plate and shows advanced receiving skills. He is a plus-blocker that slides well to both sides and his transfer skills are solid, as well. Coming into 2008, Wieters's greatest shortcoming was his game-calling, which was not a task asked of him at Georgia Tech (as is the case with most college catchers). As his bat was elite both at Frederick and at Bowie, we assume that game-management and game-calling were the hold-up and developmental focus throughout last summer. Arm (70). Wieters was a closer at Georgia Tech and touched the upper-90s off of the mound. He has above-average transfer skills behind the plate and an accurate plus-plus-arm. His footwork was improved this past year and he stands a well above-average defensive catcher with plus-catch-and-throw skills. Speed (35). Wieters is a plodder, limiting him to 1B on the off chance he needs to be moved from behind the plate any time soon.
02. Brian Matusz | Stats - N/A | Depot Grade: A6-4 / 200 | Age - 21 | LHP | B/T - L/L
Drafted - 2008 (R1) | University of San Diego
Floor: Mid-rotation | Ceiling: Front-end Starter | Projection: #2 Starter

Notes: Baltimore's first round draft pick in this past Rule 4 draft in June, Matusz immediately became the top pitching prospect in the system. The lefty has a smooth, repeatable delivery (as more fully detailed in our draft article - Finding 1:4 (Brian Matusz)), utilizing a high 3/4 arm slot for each of his offerings. He does not get full extension in his stride, leaving some velocity on the table, and he occasionally lands on a stiff front leg. Though a lengthening of his stride may add one or two mph to his fastball, Baltimore may elect to leave well enough alone as it's unlikely to be a hindrance to success.

Matusz's arsenal is advanced, and he has shown above-average command over each of his four offerings. His fastball is a low-90s pitch that he throws effectively to all four quadrants. Because his secondary stuff is so advanced (and so heavily relied upon), his fastball has a tendency to sneak-up on hitters looking for his plus-changeup or plus-curveball. His changeup is probably his best offering, thrown with deceptive armspeed and above-average depth and fade. His curveball is solid two-plane offering with plus-depth. Matusz also comes with a hard cutter that moves with like a slider with solid depth. With advanced pitchability and solid above-average stuff, Matusz is close to Major League ready right now, and should move quickly. Like David Price last year, he'll likely start at HiA and could reach Baltimore as early as August, depending on the team's needs.
03. Chris Tillman | Stats | Depot Grade: A-6-5 / 200 | Age - 20 | RHP | B/T - R/R
Drafted - 2006 (R2) | Fountain Valley HS (CA)
Floor: Back-end Starter | Ceiling: Front-end Starter | Projection: #2 Starter

Notes: At 20 years of age, Tillman showed why many (including us) considered him to be the true gem in last Winter's Erik Bedard deal. With an ideal pitcher's frame, Tillman still has room to add strength and perhaps some velocity. He plays-up his height, throwing on a solid downward plane creating a challenging angle for hitters both with his fastball and his secondary stuff. His approach is still a bit raw, and his command can be fringy at times, but there is plenty of time to refine each. 

Tillman has the makings of a frontline arsenal, highlighted by a potential plus-plus-curveball. A hard upper-70s downer that Tillman struggled to control earlier in his career (because of the big break), 2008 saw better control and an increased ability to use it as both a chase pitch and a strike. His fastball is a solid low-90s offering with some armside run, and his changeup is fringe-average and could be a 50-55 when all is said and done. Command remains the biggest obstacle for Tillman, and Baltimore will need to decide whether he can best improve upon this weakness in AA Bowie or AAA Norfolk. Each is a possibility, and we likely won't get a clear idea as to Tillman's assignment until the Spring is well underway. He could make his way to Baltimore as early as 2010.
04. Jake Arrieta | Stats | Depot Grade: B+6-4 / 225 | Age - 22 | RHP | B/T - R/R
Drafted - 2007 (R5) | Texas Christian University
Floor: Late-inning relief | Ceiling: Front-end Starter | Projection: #3 Starter

Notes: Behind Matusz, Arrieta is likely the most refined "high ceiling" arm in the system. After a rocky final year at TCU, Arrieta saw his stuff return to form in the 2007 Arizona Fall League before enjoying great success in his first pro season. Arrieta's fastball is his best offering, sitting in the mid-90s with good late life. He is capable of working both sides of the plate, though he struggles at time to command it in the zone. His curve is a big-breaker that serves as an out pitch both in and out of the zone. His changeup is still improving, and he made great strides in 2008 to improve its depth and his arm speed. In time, it could be an above-average offering.

As with Tillman, Arrieta's focus in 2009 will be his command (and particularly his command in the zone). AA Bowie will be the next stop, and he could likely work out of a Major League pen as early as mid-2009 (though it's unlikely Baltimore will have the room or desire to rush him). With three potential plus-pitches, Arrieta is the third legitimate potential front-end starter in Baltimore's system. Ultimately, command and the development of his curveball and changeup will determine whether he shakes out as a mid-rotation arm or something more.
05. Nolan Reimold | Stats | Depot Grade: B6-4 / 215 | Age - 25 | OF | B/T - R/R
Drafted - 2005 (R2) | Bowling Green State University
Floor: 5th OF | Ceiling: Above-AVG RF | Projection: AVG LF

Notes: Reimold has possibly the greatest raw-power in the system, highlighted in his homerun showcase in this year's Eastern League playoffs wherein he belted four homeruns in the first two games of the Akron series. His potential to tap into his plus-plus-raw power, however, is limited by his streaky nature and sometimes fringy contact skills. Reimold also tends to get overly-aggressive at times, leading to his hitting poor pitches and preventing him from consistently squaring-up. In the best case, Reimold is able to close some of the holes in his swing and can realize his power potential at the Major League level -- even if he never hits for a particularly high average. In the worst case, Reimold's aggressive approach and inability to square-up prove too great a hurdle for him to overcome.

Defensively, Reimold is a mixed bag in the outfield. He has a true plus-arm that plays extremely well in right field (where he logged almost all of his time in Bowie). He has adequate foot speed for a corner outfielder, though his routes are inconsistent. There have been grumblings that he does not maintain focus in the outfield, leading to mental mistakes and more generally sloppy play from time-to-time. While he profiles best as a right-fielder, left field seems the more likely point of entry with Markakis entrenched in Baltimore. Reimold should get a solid look in Spring Training and could start 2009 in a platoon with Luke Scott or at AAA Norfolk.
06. Brandon Erbe | Stats | Depot Grade: B6-1 / 215 | Age - 23 | RHP | B/T - R/R
Drafted - 2005 (R3) | Baltimore HS (MD)
Floor: Bullpen | Ceiling: Front-end Starter | Projection: Late-inning Relief

Notes: After a solid 2008 at Frederick, Erbe will likely get a shot at AA Bowie at the age of 21. With each passing year, Erbe has made progress in refining and repeating his delivery. In 2008, he began to sharpen his command over his fastball -- a low-90s offering that can be dialed-up to the mid-90s from time-to-time. With consistent late life, this offering is a fringe-plus pitch that could play-up even more were he shifted to the pen where he could max out in an inning or two of work. He also throws a heavier 2-seam fastball which sits 2-3 mphs slower than his 4-seamer. His slider is a fringe-plus offering with solid bite.

The biggest hurdles for Erbe as a starter are command and a viable third offering. While he has made strides with his changeup, it is still only a fringe-average offering. He'll have to improve both its consistency as well as his ability to command it down in the zone. With regards to his broader command issues, he has a tendency to leave his pitches up in the zone -- something that will certainly not play against more advanced hitting. If Baltimore shifts him to the pen he could move quickly off the strength of his fastball/slider. For now, Baltimore will likely work to keep him a starter.
07. Brandon Snyder | Stats | Depot Grade: B6-2 / 210 | Age - 22 | 1B | B/T - R/R
Drafted - 2005 (R1) | Centreville HS (VA)
Floor: AAAA | Ceiling: AVG CIF | Projection: AVG 1B

Notes: Finally healthy, Snyder took a big step forward in 2008. Aided by a clean, linedrive swing, Snyder has started to tap into what Baltimore hopes will ultimately be solid above-average power. After a slow April, Snyder built momentum throughout the season, squaring-up consistently against Carolina League pitching and driving the ball to the tune of over one extra-base hit out of every three. A talented Eastern League should provide a good gauge next season as to how far Snyder has developed his offensive approach. He still needs to improve his pitch-ID and his ability to stay back and drive quality offspeed pitches.

Defensively, Snyder looks to be entrenched at first base (though some have hypothesized a switch to third or left). He has adequate range and hands at first and he moves reasonably well side to side. He'll always be a bat first and foremost, and he'll move as quickly and as far as his offensive game will take him. If all breaks right, he could find himself in Baltimore as early as 2010.
08. Billy Rowell | Stats | Depot Grade: B-6-5 / 205 | Age - 20 | RHP | B/T - L/R
Drafted - 2006 (R1) | Pennsauken HS (NJ)
Floor: AAAA | Ceiling: Above-AVG 3B | Projection: AVG LF

Notes: The former first-rounder had an unspectacular season in the Carolina League, though it's noteworthy that he did so as a 19-year old. At times, he gave glimpses of the future power Baltimore hopes will emerge from his large, middle-of-the-order frame. When all is said and done, his power could top out anywhere from above-average to plus-plus. He has focused on his approach over the past three seasons though he still struggles with pitch-ID. As he fine-tunes his approach and puts himself in position to hit better pitches, he could put up big homerun totals sometime in the next season or two. He has already started to fill-out his large frame, though there still remains plenty of room for projection.

Drafted as a shortstop, Rowell shifted to third base in his first professional season. As he continues to add bulk, it's possible that he may move off of third in time. The good news is that he's athletic enough to tackle left field before being relegated to first. He held his own at third base in Frederick, and Baltimore will undoubtedly keep him there as long as he can handle it. Off of some radars after a down-2007 due in part to a lingering oblique strain, Rowell will get the chance to turn some heads in Bowie batting along side Brandon Snyder. While a breakout season would make mid-2010 a possibility for a Major League call-up, 2011 seems much more likely.
09. Chorye Spoone | Stats | Depot Grade: B-6-2 / 205 | Age - 23 | RHP | B/T - R/R
Drafted - 2005 (R8) | Catonsville CC (MD)
Floor: AAAA | Ceiling: Front-end Starter | Projection: #3 Starter

Notes: After a breakout season at HiA Frederick in 2007 wherein Spoone was able to reign-in his fastball and limit his bases on balls, he hit an unfortunate setback in 2008 when his season was cut short due to a shoulder injury. After undergoing surgery in September, Spoone has begun to work back from his labrum tear and hopes to be in a position to rejoin the Bowie staff sometime in 2009. When healthy, Spoone boasts some of the best stuff in the system. He throws two fastballs, each sitting in the low-90s with his four-seamer capable of reaching the mid-90s. His two-seamer has plus-armside run whereas his four-seamer is a heavier offering with solid boring action. He also comes with a plus-power curveball that has tight, late break and plus-plus potential. His changeup is still fringy but he shows a solid feel for the pitch and it could be average in time.

Mechanically, Spoone is sound in an easy and repeatable delivery. He throws out of a 3/4 arm slot and shown an ability to repeat his release point on both his fastball and curveball. While labrum injuries are always dangerous, Spoone has stuff to spare. Even if he does not come back all the way, he has a solid chance to provide Major League value down the road. 2009 will hopefully give more insight into his future and wherein that value will lie.
10. L.J. Hoes | Stats | Depot Grade: B-6-0 / 190 | Age - 18 | 2B | B/T - R/R
Drafted - 2008 (R3) | St. John's HS (MD)
Floor: AAAA | Ceiling: Above-AVG 2B | Projection: AVG 2B

Notes: Probably the largest surprise in our list, the 2008 third-rounder brings average to above-average tools across the board. Baltimore drafted Hoes and immediately shifted him from the outfield to second base, where he has made admirable progress thus far in his pro career. The Orioles hope that, in time, he will develop into an average defensive second-baseman. He is an excellent athlete with exceptional body control, which has aided him in his switch to second. He has arm enough to play anywhere on the field, but his bat will likely play best in the four-spot.

Offensively, Hoes has an advanced approach and a plus-command of the strikezone -- an impressive attribute for a high school draftee. His swing is compact and quick to the ball, and his quick wrists and plus-hands generate above-average raw power. His bat speeds affords him the luxury of letting the ball get deep on him before beginning his swing, which will also aid in his pitch-ID moving forward. He needs to work on improving his stride, as he starts with a closed stance and occasionally steps in the bucket as he starts his swing. While his frame is near filled already, there is some room to add strength, which in turn could bump his power potential up a notch. Ideally, he profiles as a number 2 hitter with solid on-base skills and good gap-to-gap power. He has the work ethic and skill set to move quickly, and should be an interesting player to watch develop over the next 2-3 years.