11 October 2011

MiLB Year in Review: DSL, GCL, and Aberdeen Ironbirds

Bridwell and handful of arms highlight rookie/short-season leagues
by Nick Faleris

We begin our review of the 2011 Baltimore Orioles Minor League teams with a brief look at the three rookie/short-season squads. While talent in the system is generally thin, a handful of arms stand out in this grouping as possessing the potential to emerge as legit prospects, and eventually Major League contributors. These arms include Eduardo Rodriguez, Jaime Esquivel, Jose Nivar, Sebastian Vader, Parker Bridwell, Jake Cowan, Trent Howard, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson.

The bats are less interesting, though a couple standout as potential "guys" with continued growth, including Hector Veloz, Glynn Davis, Gabriel Lino, and Roderick Bernadina.

Dominican Summer League Orioles (Rookie)

DSL By the Numbers:
Record: 46-24 (division winner)
Top Arm: Jose Figuereo, rhp (2010, international FA)
Top Bat: Hector Veloz, 3b (2010, international FA)

Player of the Year:
Hector Veloz, 3b (275 PA, 227 AB, .225/.344/.322, 16 2B, 2 HR, 33 BB, 62 SO)

Hector Veloz saw his stock plummet in months leading-up to the 2010 international free agent signing date, after testing positive for Stanozolol (an anabolic steroid). Baltimore scooped-up the third baseman for $300,000 -- the highest bonus handed out by the organization to an international free agent -- and placed him in the Dominican Summer League for the 2011 season. At 17-years old, Veloz held his own, showing solid hands at the plate and a left side arm in the field, though his BP showings far outdistanced his in-game production.

Hitting out of an open stance, Veloz shows solid pull power and strength in his wrists, allowing him to transfer the energy from his strong core to the barrel at contact. He shows some leak in his weight transfer, can neglect to close his front side in his load, and generally falls into a bit of a one-piece swing (which explains some of his contact troubles this summer). He also has a tendency to make contact too far out in front of the plate, and would benefit from letting the call travel more, particularly on the outer-half. He's so young that none of this is particularly troubling from a developmental standpoint, though the swing quirks, when coupled with the already thick frame and history of steroid use, are cause for measured expectations. Veloz could develop into a usable bat, but there is a lot of work to come between that day and today.

Defensively, Veloz has a strong arm and hands suitable for third base. He struggles at times to get his feet set under him, and side-to-side he is not the smoothest, or quickest. Again, he is so young that there is no reason to torpedo the idea of him sticking at third base, long term. But it is at the same time quite possible he ends up in an outfield corner.

Players to follow:

There is limited "name" talent on the DSL squad, and a number of the more impressive lines came from young arms that are either old for the league or undersized. Jose Figuereo is the exception, though he through exclusively in relief, showing results and a solid, sturdy frame. Figuereo boasted a 3.11 SO/BB ratio over his 32.2 IP, striking out nearly a batter per inning and limited hitters to a .202 BAA. He should make his US-debut next year in the Gulf Coast League as a 20-year old, with a chance to move up to Aberdeen assuming he stays in a relief role.

Gulf Coast League Orioles (Rookie)

GCL By the Numbers:
Record: 38 - 22 (division winner)
Top Arm: Eduardo Rodriguez, lhp (2010, international FA)
Top Bat: Roderick Bernadina, of (2009, international FA)

Player of the Year:
Eduardo Rodriguez, lhp (44.2 IP, 28 H, 17 R, 9 ER, 17 BB, 46 SO)

Eduardo Rodriguez does not have putaway stuff, but there is a chance for three workable pitches and he had them all on display through his ten starts and one relief appearance in the 2011 GCL Orioles season. The 18-year old has a broad frame and thickening physique, which bodes well for his future physicality. His motion is generally loose and easy, coming with a clean three-quarters release and staying under control throughout.

He frequently fails to get on top of his breaking ball -- a pitch that will flash some bite but for now looks like a future average offering due to rotation and plane. His fastball is an upper-80s offering that bumps 91/92 mph, and he can spot it to both sides of the plate. His change-up has the potential to outdistance his breaker as his go-to secondary offering, and he shows feel for it at an early stage.

Roriguez likely tops out as a mid-rotation arm, more likely to fall somewhere in the back-end of a rotation. None of his offerings project to plus right now, but his fastball and offspeed good grade out as above-average as he continues to refine.

Players to follow:

Roderick Bernadina was the highest upside bat with the GCL O's, showing leverage in his swing and good natural lift. His strength is in his ability to accelerate the bat head through the hit zone, though his hands can lag some getting started. The longer swing causes him to commit early, making pitch-ID problematic for him thus far. Raw defensively, his arm is solid but may be fringy for right field at the highest level.

Miguel Chalas is an undersized righty with a whippy arm and a lively low-90s fastball that will bump 94/95 mph. His long arm action gives him trouble repeating his path to release, and results in bouts of wildness and overall inability to spot his pitches with any consistency. His power curve has slurvy plane and hard bite, but he struggles to throw the pitch for a strike and more advanced bats will have less trouble identifying and ignoring it. Chalas is destined for the pen, where he'll need to refine his control enough to throw strikes with both his fastball and breaking ball. It would be interesting to see him toy with a true side armed delivery to add another look to his fastball.

Cam Coffey looks like a future big leaguer, but his arm strength simply hasn't bounced back since his Tommy John surgery in 2009. Now an mid- to upper-80s arm, the chances of Coffey reverting to his brief low- to mid-90s velocity of early spring 2009 seem unlikely. But with continued growth and strengthening of his core, he could sit 88-91 mph when all is said and done. His change-up shows good fade and will flash disappearing action when he turns it over well. His breaking ball rolls and is a fringy offering at this point.

Jaime Esquivel has a pro body and a solid fastball-curveball combo to go with it. His heater generally sits 89-92 mph fastball, while his 80-81 mph curve shows solid shape and flashes plus. He hits the same slot with both pitches, making the breaking ball difficult to spot. Esquivel often fails to get out over his plant leg, driving his fastball up in the zone and making him more hittable than he should be. With a strong instructional league and spring, he could break camp in Delmarva. The more conservative approach would be to give him an extended look in Aberdeen, where the more patient college-heavy lineups would provide a new challenge.

The 20-year old Juan Guzman was all arms and legs out of GCL Orioles pen, flashing an 89-92 mph fastball and an upper-80s breaking ball. Guzman is all over the place, mechanically, showing a long arm action in the back with late (and sometimes violent) pronation and inconsistent arm path and release. His breaking ball comes with some bite when he hits his release, but he telegraphs the pitch and does not spot it particularly well. He lacks balance through his core rotation and follow-through, and struggles to keep his momentum towards home. Currently an org player, Guzman has middle-relief upside if he can iron out his mechanics and show more growth in his below-average breaking ball. A slider may fit his general arm action better than does his current curve.

Backstop Gabriel Lino has some offensive upside and a strong arm behind the dish, but may lack the lateral quickness needed to stick at catcher. He also lets his glove float a little too often when receiving, which he'll need to tighten. The power is still raw, and does not project particularly well to a corner infield spot. Just 18-years old this year, he has time to work on his problem areas. Should his power tool emerge, he could shift to first base in order to allow more developmental focus on his bat.

Converted outfielder Jose Nivar turned heads from the mound this summer, topping out in the upper-90s with some giddy-up. He is still learning his mechanics, as well as the basics in approach to the art of pitching, but will continue to get long looks so long as he is showing plus-plus raw velo. His breaking ball is gimmicky at this point, and he may ultimately benefit from playing around with a two-seam and cut fastball to show different looks. Nivar should benefit from fall instruction and will look to carve out time between Aberdeen and Delmarva next summer.

Jorge Rivera is an arm strength lefty that can push mid-90s with his fastball, but lacks command over the pitch. His slider is a tight little breaker, but like his fastball he is too imprecise with the offering for it to be effective against more advanced bats. He pitched primarily in relief this summer, and that is the best fit for him long term. He gives batters a good look at the ball twice on the back side, though hitters generally still had a tough time picking it up out of his hand. Rivera turns 22 later this month and will need to get moving up the ladder.

Lanky righty Sebastian Vader has value tied to his projection, with current stuff inconsistent. His fastball is an upper-80s offering with a hint of run. His breaking ball is a upper-70s slider that bumps 81 mph and can flash some tilt, though it's generally inconsistent and will often saucer in the zone. Mechanically, Vader is an arm strength guy that doesn't incorporate his lower half. He also comes with a wrist hook and dice roll that can both cause some strain on his elbow and affect the consistency of the balls bath through his release. At 6-foot-4, 175-pounds, he'll add some meat.

Aberdenn Ironbirds(NY-Penn League, Short-season A)

Aberdeen By the Numbers:
Record: 24 - 51
Top Arm: Parker Bridwell, rhp (2010, 9th Round)
Top Bat: Glynn Davis, of (2010, undrafted FA)

Player of the Year:
Parker Bridwell, rhp (53.2 IP, 56 H, 32 R, 27 ER, 22 BB, 57 SO)

Parker Bridwell garnered a good deal of attention from Orioles prospect followers after signing for $625,000 in 2010 and earning good reviews from fall workouts a month later. His 2011 was a mixed bag, as the young righty struggled to execute his pitches at low A Delmarva and was accordingly knocked around. After being demoted to short-season A Aberdeen, Bridwell showed a higher level of comfort on the mound, and more consistency in his arsenal. He returned to Delmarva to close out August and again struggled vacillating between catching too much of the plate and falling out of his control zone.

Bridwell's best offering is a heavy sinker generally in the 90-92 mph range, climbing to the mid-90s at various points this summer. When he drives the pitch down in the zone, he induces lots of soft contact -- a trend that should continue through the lower levels. Eventually he'll need to improve his command of the offering, as more discerning bats learn to lay off the pitch as it bores. His breaking ball is a slider that actually acts more like a deep cutter with late horizontal movement. Still a work in progress, Bridwell's change-up is now an adequate third offering with a chance to be average, and perhaps a tick above, as he continues to tinker.

Bridwell could be a solid mid-rotation starter down the line. He'll likely return to Delmarva in 2011 where he'll team up with 2011 1st Rounder Dylan Bundy, forming an interesting 1-2 at the top of the Shorebirds' rotation.

Players to know:

Jake Cowan utilizes a four pitch mix, often working backwards to help his average fastball play up. Cowan's best secondary is a snappy slider that has good arm slot deception. He'll also bring a 12-to-6 curve with average depth and bite. His offspeed looks like a variation of a circle or three-finger change, which he rolls over on occasion to elicit fade. Once thought of as projectable, Cowan hasn't bulked-up as expected, though there is still time for him to add some strength. He could develop into a back-end arm or swingman with four usable offerings.

2011 draftee and former Illinois Figthing Illini Adam Davis is a standout defensive backstop with limited offensive upside. Davis shows quick feet and a solid, accurate arm. He excels as a field general, was known around the Big 10 as a strong positive influence on his pitching staff, and shows comfort throwing the ball behind runners at all bases. At the plate, Davis has an unrefined slap approach, lacking real leverage and expanding the zone too often. Baltimore will work to make him adequate offensively, in an effort to mold him into a back-up catcher capable of providing plus defense behind the plate.

We were out in front on first year outfielder Glynn Davis, tabbing him as the 16th best prospect in O's system after he signed as an undrafted free agent out of Catonsville CC (Md.). The speedy Davis is a true "80" runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, and progressed in his approach this summer both offensively and defensively. He is similar in body type to Hunter Pence, though he lacks Pence's current physicality. Davis projects to above-average defense in center, elite speed and an average hit tool with fringe-average power. If he can develop an on-base approach, he could be useful as a #1 or #2 hitter capable of reaching base via infield hit and stretching extra bases as he works out the gaps. He'll need to add strength, but has time to do so. He should get the gig as starting center fielder in Delmarva next summer.

Mychal Givens bounced around between Aberdeen and Delmarva, struggling to build any momentum either in the field or at the plate. The compact middle-infielder has good arm strength, but doesn't set-up his throws well and utilizes an open, slingy arm action that cause throws from the left side to tail off target. Couple that with fringy range and a tendency to swipe, rather than field through the ball, and Givens fits best at second base, where he logged most of his time this summer. Offensively, Givens has a flat swing plane and can drag through the hit zone. He may get another year to prove himself in the field, but it can't be long before Baltimore decides to try him on the mound, where his side-armed delivery produces low- to mid-90s fastballs and a low-80s sweeping slider.

Trent Howard logged 14 appearances (all starts) for Central Michigan prior to being selected by Baltimore in the 2011 draft, and followed up those 87.1 innings with another 41.1 IP in Aberdeen. He projects as a back-end innings eater, and could move quickly through the system -- albeit with limited upside. His upper-80s sinker works well in tandem with his short slider, and he'll mix in a curve and a change-up throughout his starts, as well. He has a sturdy frame and simple mechanics that allow him to repeat and maintain throughout his starts. He shows above-average command, which helps the effectiveness of his average arsenal.

Connor Narron shows flashes of upside with the bat, but struggled this year to find any consistency at the plate. From the middle-out he handles the bat well and can push the ball to the opposite field when he needs to. There's leverage in his swing, and the former Carolina prepster can put a charge into the ball during BP. But he struggles to cover the inner-half of the plate and his swing got long this summer as he tried to hit for more power. Sometimes labeled by scouts as overly selective at the plate, Narron has to learn to be more aggressive in the right situations, and to more fully cover the hit zone.

Tyler Wilson served the Virginia Cavaliers in every capacity possible, logging innings as a starter, in long relief, middle relief, and as a late inning arm, over the course of his four-year career. As a pro, he has the four pitch mix to stick as a starter, but his average stuff across the board would probably play best in the pen. He was dominant for Virginia as a Sunday/weekday starter in the spring, and carried that success over into the summer where he logged six strong starts for Aberdeen. He spots his 88-91 mph fastball well, and will drop in a curve, slider or changeup in any count.

Aaron Wirsch was limited to just 10 IP this summer, suffering a UCL tear in his pitching elbow and underjoing Tommy John surgery, but is a name to know for 2013. A projectable lefty out of El Toro HS (Lake Forest, Calif.) in 2009, Wirsch has added 25-pounds over the past two years, now measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. The velocity increase has not accompanied the added mass, though the big southpaw has seen spotty action at best over the past three seasons, longing just under 40 IP total due to various ailments. Baltimore will look forward to having a healthy Wirsch back, who at his best brings an average fastball and two potential above-average secondaries in his deceptive change-up and curveball.

Mike Wright, another 2011 draftee, started seven games for Aberdeen but most likely fits better in relief, long term. He has a short arm circle on the back side and low arm slot, creating a tough angle for hitters to try and square his sinker/slider combo. His sinker is a low-90s offering that can bump mid-90s in short stints, and his slider compliments it well. He spots both pitches to both sides of the plate. His offspeed lags behind in development, and will likely be a focus for 2012.

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