10 October 2013

Orioles in the Winter Leagues: AFL Pitchers

In a series of posts, we will go through the different leagues that the Orioles organization is involved.
  • Arizona Fall League: Position Players (10/8)
  • Arizona Fall League: Pitchers (10/10)
  • Venezuela Winter League (10/15)
  • Mexican Pacific League and the Dominican Winter League (10/17)
  • Australian Baseball League (10/22)
Arizona Fall League

The goal of the Arizona Fall League was for Baseball to devise a league where prospects could get more experience while being closer under the eye of their parent organizations as opposed to being spread out overseas.  This enables a club to provide training and game day oversight.  Concerns before the AFL included having an upper minors player be overworked on the mound or find himself in completely new positions that have no bearing on how the parent club projects his future.  Typically, the players found in this league are up-and-coming prospects in the high minors.  It is a mix of solid prospects and guys who might just find themselves exposed in the Rule 5 Draft.

The Orioles send players to the Surprise Saguaros along with the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, and Texas Rangers.  Bowie manager Gary Kendall and Aberdeen pitching coach Alan Mills will be overseeing the squad, which includes other teams' notable prospects: Taylor Jungman (MIL), Garin Cecchini (BOS), Ryan Rua (TEX), and Tony Wolters (CLE).  You can find all of the information you need about the AFL at their home page here.

In this post, we'll briefly focus on the pitchers who the Orioles sent to Surprise:
  • Branden Kline, RHSP
  • Jason Gurka, LHRP
  • Eduardo Rodriguez, LHSP
  • Tim Berry, LHSP
Branden Kline, RHSP
22 yo (9/29/1991)
B/T: R/R

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/9/2013.

The Orioles followed Kline for years through his high school and college days.  The selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft.  As with basically any second rounder, there were questions.  The Orioles like him as a starter as well as others who saw that he still had some room on his frame and a delivery that could be improved.  His fastball from the bullpen sat around 94 mph, but dropped to 90 mph as a starter his Junior year.  It is a little flat, so that would pose problems as a MLB starter.  As a reliever though, the fastball with its higher velocity would work well with a very promising slider.

Kline's stuff played decently in the low minors, but, as feared, he was certainly hittable.  He also had little time to work on his performance due to a freak injury where he fractured his lower leg during a training drill.  When healthy, he was showing a mid 90s fastball as a starter, which is quite promising.  The jury is still out on whether or not he can make his change up into a serviceable show me pitch.

In Arizona, he needs as many innings as he can find to help work through his repertoire.  He can nearly double his year inning total with another 20-30 innings.  He will find himself facing off against better competition than he had been seeing in Delmarva.  A solid showing here as well as a good Spring could position him in Frederick when the year begins.  That, however, might be pretty optimistic.

Jason Gurka, LHRP
25 yo (1/10/1988)
B/T: L/L

2011232 Teams2 LgsA+-A2.8733053.
2012242 Teams2 LgsA+-AA2.6232165.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/9/2013.

Gurka was drafted by the Orioles in the 2008 draft in the 15th round.  He was not a notable prospect at the time, but through the years he has shown an ability to be an effective relief pitcher.  It should be noted as a JuCo and with injuries, he has been progressing through the minors as one of the older members of the teams he has been on.  When you are reviewing a minor league player, starting pitching and position players are individuals where age class can be a concern.  With a relief pitcher, this is not a great concern as this kind of scenario may mean you still have a usable middle reliever.

This season saw Gurka perform well out of the blocks, but found himself on the DL in the middle of June and then out for the rest of the year beginning in mid-July.  He did show that his two seamer and a slider/curve could work at the AA level quite well.  He will be quite dependent on his two seamer for future success though.  That bears some concern in that two seam pitchers tend to be hit more and more as a pitcher faces better hitters who tend not to chase balls tumbling below the strike zone as much.

Arizona is going to be a period of evaluation for Gurka on two points.  Point one: Gurka is eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so he may be fixing himself a spot on the 40 man roster.  Point two: If the front office likes what they see, Gurka may provide them more comfort in seeing what they could acquire in a trade using LHP Brian Matusz whose arbitration figures have been reported by several outlets as a concern.

Eduardo Rodriguez, LHSP
Age 20 (4/7/1993)
B/T: L/L

201017Orioles 1DOSLFRk2.33121265.
2011182 Teams2 LgsRk-A-2.22121148.
2013202 Teams2 LgsA+-AA3.412525145.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/9/2013.

Eduardo Rodriguez is one of the team's premier free agent signees who carried a 175k signing bonus.  He was considered a second or third tier amateur arm as a guy with promising stuff and some hope.  In his first year with the team, the Orioles saw a lefty with decent command who could nail batters with a tailing upper 80s fastball and an inconsistent breaking ball.  That kind of pitcher does well in the low minors, but struggles as he moves up.  Without playable velocity or a couple additional plus pitches, I had doubts.

In 2012, Rodriguez filled out a little bit and began working in the low 90s.  A change of 5 mph is incredibly consequential for a pitcher.  The velocity and improved repetition resulted in a slider and change up that could be plus pitches.  That success brought more success in Frederick this past season and earned him a mid-year promotion to Bowie, which was not poor though not incredibly successful.  However, it was pretty phenomenal considering he was 20.

In Arizona, the expectation is that Rodriguez will not see much time as a starting pitcher having already logged 145 innings.  He will continue to get instruction from the team, overseen with his training, and face some advanced hitters.  I doubt he is in the conversation for a promotion before mid-year.  Of course, I had doubts about Gausman being promoted so quickly.  There are always surprises.

Tim Berry, LHSP
Age 22 (3/18/1991)
B/T: L/L

2012213 Teams3 LgsA+-A-AA5.042624128.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/9/2013.

Berry might well be the best selection in the Orioles 2009 draft.  He was one of what seemed like a typical Joe Jordan drafting, an injured player who had shown promise.  At 125k, he was less of an investment than another 2009 draftee Cameron Coffey who signed on at 990k and also needed Tommy John surgery.  However, Berry came back and threw well while Coffey never showed what he did as a prep and was released this past Spring Training.  While Berry did throw well, his performance never matched what he looked like on the field.

In 2013, Berry faced a big challenge in proving himself to the organization.  He showed more consistency in his three pitch mix that features an average fastball that dials up into the mid-90s along with an average change up and a flashy plus curve ball.  However, there are some concerns.  His low walk rate is largely a product of his stuff being good enough in HiA ball to challenge hitters straight up.  He'll need a little more velocity and/or further refinement of his secondaries to keep batters off guard if he his style continues to do that.  Otherwise, he'll need to command his pitches in the bottom third of the strike zone, which has been something he has not excelled at.

Similar to Rodriguez, Berry has tallied a great number of innings for a young pitcher with 152 in the books.  Expectation is that he'll throw a couple times, but the experience is more about him being in the Spring Training facility, work to get more weight on his frame, and have the lessons of being a professional more fully engrained.

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