13 November 2011

MiLB Year in Review: Bowie Baysox and Norfolk Tides

Hoes showing offensive maturity; Nary a nugget at Norfolk

It is not a strong class of Orioles prospects at AA and AAA. Currently, the group lacks a projected standout impact player and tops out with some potential fringe regulars. At the same time, there is value in finding utility players, relief arms, fourth outfielders and back-end starters on the cheap when you are looking to build a cost effective Major League team -- and particularly when you have some young impact talent at the Major League level that will soon be hitting arbitration and considered for extension.

Bowie By the Numbers:
Record: 75 - 66
Top Arm: Dan Klein (2010 Draft, 3rd Round)
Top Bat: LJ Hoes (2008 Draft, 3rd Round)

Player of the Year:
LJ Hoes (387 PA, 338 AB, .311/.385/.420, 17 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 43 BB, 55 SO)

Camden Depot made (minimal) waves in the blogosphere in 2008 when we listed LJ Hoes as the 9th best Orioles prospect after his first professional season. Since then, he has steadily climbed prospect lists across the board, topping out at #3 for the Depot last year and #4 for the world renowned Baseball America.

In 2011, Hoes made the jump to Bowie after a sluggish start in Frederick. Accompanying his promotion was a position switch from second base to left field. While the Orioles' brass insists this was out of team need, rather than a decision that Hoes could not handle second, there were grumblings from pro scouts that the former St. Johns HS standout was not making the expected progress at the four-spot a month into his third full pro season. Ideally, he would shift back to second base in Bowie to start 2012 and Baltimore could get one last look at his outlook there. Hoes has the athleticism to stick in the infield, but has been tripped-up some by some finer points in the field, including set-up in his lower half, footwork around the bag, and lines.

Offensively, Hoes remains one of the top hit tools in the organization. He is very compact to contact, with a simple and quiet load, balanced lower-half and quick-twitch core. A keen batting eye helps Hoes to maintain a solid OBP while utilizing the whole field in attacking the ball in all quadrants. He has started to manifest in-game pop, and could see a breakout in that department next summer. While there isn't tons of physical projection left, he will hang a little more muscle on the frame, and the stronger hands and wrists at contact will marry with his bat speed to send some more balls to the gaps and over the fence. While some prospect reports were down on his 2011, Hoes still profiles as a potential everyday player -- be it at second base, third base or left field.

Players to know:

Xavier Avery remains an upside prospect with promise, despite completing his third full season with strikeouts in over 20% of his plate appearances. The reason for optimism is simple -- he continues to be promoted by the O's and remains one of the youngest players in the league, year-in and year-out. He will start 2012 at age 22, and could get a bump to Norfolk following a solid AFL campaign and provided he shows well in the spring. A speed-first talent, Avery is among the fastest prospects in the system (along with Kyle Hudson and Glynn Davis -- all "80" runners on the 20/80 scouting scale). His heavy left/right split could spell a future as part of a platoon. If he can tighten-up his routes in center field, he should have easy value as a fourth outfielder. His ability to improve against lefties and to learn to more consistently ID off-speed will determine if he can become a regular at the highest level.

2011 Baltimore MiL Pitcher of the Year (Jim Palmer Award) winner Tim Bascom likely tops as a relief arm or swingman, despite the hardware earned off the solid 2011 stat line. Bascom projects to fringe-average across the board, with solid command and some idea as to how to sequence. His fastball is below-average and his breaking ball is generally short, soft or somewhere in between. His stuff leaves very little room for error, and he could be in for big statistical regression when he reaches Norfolk and has to go to work against a large number of hitters with Major League experience. His profile says "shrug", but you should still know a little about the Minor League Player of the Year for 2011.

Caleb Joseph followed a disappointing offensive 2010 with a similarly "meh" 2011. His command of the strikezone remains solid, but his bat control is lacking and the consistent hard contact simply is not there at Double-A. Around draft time he was projected to grow into average or slightly above-average power, but that growth has not come. He falls into a one-piece swing and too often makes contact out in front, sapping his power and leading to a fair amount of soft contact. Behind the plate, Joseph continues to improve. He blocks well, has quieted his receiving and has improved his catch-and-throw to the tune of an increase in his caught stealing from 26% in 2010 to 38% in 2011. Jospeh profiles as a back-up catcher with a bottom-third bat. Not an uncommon offensive profile for a back-up, but a bit shy of the potential shown in his first couple of seasons.

Dan Klein was a shutdown closer at UCLA with a history of shoulder issues. Baltimore saw the advanced four-pitch mix and sturdy 6-foot-3, 190-pound build and decided to develop him as a starter. The result was 32.1 dominant innings of baseball between Advanced-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, including 10.3 SO/9 and just 1.7 BB/9, and a season-ending shoulder surgery. That means it has been four years now since Klein has surpassed 52 innings of in-game work -- the last time being his performance between his high school team and summer ball. It may be time to shift Klein to the pen full-time, where he could top out as a solid set-up man or second-division closer. When healthy, his low-90s fastball is a solid average pitch that serves to set-up and above-average 12/6 curve and mid-80s change. He has shown growth in his off-speed since his junior year as a Bruin, where he periodically left the pitch flat and up, where it was drivable. Klein will also flash a fringe-average slider with minimal depth and bite, but enough differential from his fastball to force soft contact if set-up properly.

Joe Mahoney is a bat-first corner defender likely to end-up at first base or designated hitter, full time. He has some length to his swing, a not-insignificant leak entering his weight transfer and a moderate to heavy backside collapse, depending on the at bat. Prognosis? It's unlikely contact will be Mahoney's strong suit, and he could be quickly exposed at the Major League level, if not Triple-A. He projects as a bench bat or Four-A player.

In this, Greg Miclat's first full season at Double-A Bowie, the former Cavalier showed why he was signed by East Coast Area Scout Dean Albany for an overslot $225,000, in spite of significant shoulder and elbow issues through his sophomore and junior years at UVA. Miclat baffled opposing pitchers and catchers to the tune of a 54-of-57 stolen base record and top-of-the-order-worthy .371 OBP. While Miclat easily has the glove, arm and footwork to be an everyday second baseman, he likely tops out as a second-division regular or a first-division utility bat, due to the absence of any power. He'll be challenged early and often by ML arms, which will bite into his walks and likely limit him to a bottom-third bat profile.

Ronnie Welty has long been a Camden Depot favorite, after being inked in the 20th Round of the 2008 Draft by Area Scout John Gillette. Welty's promise has always been in his power potential, and over the last two seasons he has shown that pop -- launching 31 homeruns between Frederick and Bowie. Unfortunately, Welty's big leverage comes with an aggressive approach. That has equated to a strikeout about every three at bats, in 25-30% of his plate appearances. He is still drawing walks (with a BA/OBP delta of almost .100), but more advanced arms will be better equipped to play to Welty's weaknesses without having to pitch around the power. He should play an adequate right field at the highest level, and possesses more than enough arm to keep baserunners honest. He will attempt to hit the reset button on his offensive production in 2012, likely back at Bowie.

Rick Zagone may have reached his breaking point as a starter, struggling to miss bats while seeing his BB/9, H/9 and HR/9 rates increase with his promotion to Bowie. The side-arming lefty still has some potential as a lefty specialist, with righties making more hard contact against him than did lefties. Zagone also suffered through a tough July, showing signs of tiring out -- not surprising considering the increase in physical and mental demand inherent in a pitcher of his profile attacking Double-A line-ups twice through every five days. He should shift to the pen in 2012 and could begin his season either in Bowie or Norfolk.

Norfolk By the Numbers:
Record: 56 - 87
Top Arm: Troy Patton (2004 Draft, 9th Round (Houston))
Top Bat: Ryan Adams (2006 Draft, 2nd Round)

Player of the Year:
Ryan Adams (415 PA, 377 AB, .284/.341/.454, 28 2B, 3 3B, 10 HR, 30 BB, 103 SO)

In 2008 Camden Depot rated Ryan Adams as the 25th best prospect in the system with a Four-A floor, a ceiling as an above-average offensive second baseman and a projected outcome as a below-average everyday second baseman. Three years later that evaluation remains spot on, as the former New Orleans High Schooler has slowly worked his way through the system, making his Major League debut this summer. While his 2011 at Norfolk was more "solid" than "eye popping", he essentially maintained his production from Bowie while cleaning-up his infield defense.

Offensively, Adams will swing and miss a fair amount due to average bat speed, and top velocity will likely always give him trouble. But he keeps his swing simple and tight, and finds ways to get the barrel to the ball. His raw power is above-average, with potential average in-game applicability. He could carveout a spot as a 6 or 7 hitter in a first division line-up if he finds enough gaps and is able to produce 15 or so homeruns per year.

Defensively, Adams still struggles with his footwork, though he has made strides in cleaning-up the set-up on his throws (which in turn has improved his play-to-play accuracy). He is the type of player that will always need to work to maintain an adequate defensive disposition, but could be making enough progress to be passable at either third base or second base. Adams could be adequate as an inexpensive bridge to Miclat, Hoes or Schoop, but probably profiles best as a bench bat and occasional starter at either second or third.

Players to know:

Matt Angle has arrived at Baltimore with largely the profile expected of him since he entered the system in 2007. Largely devoid of power, the former Buckeye center fielder fits best as a 4th outfielder capable of plus defense and solid value as a pinch runner. Like Adams, he could slot in as a placeholder in a starting lineup, but it is unlikely he will be able to handle Major League velocity on the inner-half to the point that he maintains even a passable on-base percentage. He should have the inside track on the 4th outfield spot, depending on what transpires this off-season, and could see significant innings as a late-inning defensive replacement, pinch runner and Sunday starter.

Kyle Hudson, like Angle, made his Major League debut this summer -- starting eight September games and appearing in six more as a defensive replacement, pinch runner or pinch hitter. The hope is that Hudson will eventually provide 4th outfield value along the lines of Matt Angle (though he is unlikely to have the defensive profile of Angle, who's feel for the game drives his plus glove). Hudson is a burner with 20 power on the 20/80 scale and will likely struggle to barrel much of any Major League pitching as a result of his uneven pitch-ID. Hudson should begin 2012 back in Norfolk as the starting center fielder, and is worth keeping an eye on to see if he can grow into even gap power.

After shifting to the pen and keeping Triple-A hitters off-balance for around 40 IP, Troy Patton made the most of his first extended look with the Big Club. While he will never be a strikeout specialist, he does have an ability to miss some bats thanks to a solid four-pitch arsenal. His fastball is generally an upper-80s offering, and is best at 87-89 with some armside life, though he'll push 90-92 with his four-seam. His most effective secondary is an upper-70s to low-80s slider that has good armslot deception and does a solid job missing barrels. His change-up gives him a weapon against lefties, thanks to solid fade, and he'll drop a curve as well to keep hitters honest. While he isn't the sexiest of prospects, Patton could be a valuable 7th or 8th inning arm, and should be a cheap bullpen option for the O's for the next couple of seasons.

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