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Posted on: February 24, 2010 10:49 am
 

Four O's crack BA's Top 100

Baseball America released its annual Top 100 Prospects list on Tuesday and, despite the graduations to the majors of 2009 No. 1 prospect Matt Wieters and No. 22 prospect Chris Tillman, the Orioles are well-represented. Baltimore is one of 10 teams with four players on the list; only the Rays, with seven, and the Cubs and Indians, with five, have more.

Leading the way for the O's is No. 5 prospect Brian Matusz, who retained his rookie status despite breezing through the minors and making eight starts for the big-league club last summer. The 23-year-old southpaw is the second-highest-ranked pitcher on the list, slotting three spots behind much-hyped Nationals righty Stephen Strasburg. He ranked 25th on Baseball America's list last year, before he had thrown a single professional pitch.

Coming in at No. 37 is switch-hitting third baseman Josh Bell, who came over from the Dodgers in the deadline deal that sent left-hander George Sherrill to Los Angeles. Bell, 23, didn't make Baseball America's 2009 list but improved his stock significantly last season by improving his conditioning and defense and displaying the ability to hit from his weaker right side in the Arizona Fall League. Bell should make his big-league debut at some point this summer.

Also appearing on Baseball America's list for the first time is lefty Zach Britton, who checks in at No. 63 after earning Pitcher of the Year honors in the advanced Class A Carolina League last season. The 22-year-old has used his fastball/sinker/slider combination to post a 3.25 ERA in three-plus minor league seasons but must improve his command as he moves up the minor league ladder. He's ticketed for Double-A Bowie in 2010.

A mediocre showing in Triple-A dropped Jake Arrieta's stock somewhat, as the right-hander slid from No. 67 on Baseball America's 2009 list to No. 99 on the list released on Tuesday. The soon-to-be 24-year-old right-hander will look to sharpen his command in his return to Triple-A Norfolk this season and will likely get his first big-league opportunity this summer when the need arises. He projects as an innings-eating middle-of-the-rotation starter.

If there is a negative aspect to the list from the Orioles' standpoint, it's that 2009 first-round pick Matt Hobgood failed to crack the Top 100. Some considered the right-hander a budget-conscious reach at No. 5 overall, and 15 players selected after Hobgood made the list, including high school pitcher-draftees Tyler Matzek of Colorado (No. 21), Jacob Turner of Detroit (No. 26), Zack Wheeler of San Francisco (No. 49) and Chad James of Florida (No. 78). Of course, it's only a list compiled by a magazine/website, and the 19-year-old - who has made just eight pro appearances - has plenty of time to validate his draft slot.
Posted on: January 29, 2010 7:15 am
Edited on: January 29, 2010 7:16 am
 

O's add frontcourt depth

Mark Hendrickson has a 56-68 career record and a 5.01 career ERA - pretty mediocre numbers unless you compare them to the 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game he put up with the NBA's 76ers, Kings, Nets and Cavaliers in the late '90s. Still, bringing the 6-foot-11 lefty back on a one-year, $1.2 million deal with a club option for the same in 2011 was a good move.

More than anything else, Hendrickson gives the O's flexibility. Prior to his signing Baltimore had just two bullpen southpaws, and both were basically locked in to their roles - Mike Gonzalez as the closer, and Alberto Castillo as the lefty specialist. Hendrickson posted a 3.44 ERA as a reliever in 2009 and can be used as a specialist, innings-eater or anything in between. He can also start in a pinch, though his 5.40 ERA as a starter last year screams out "Last resort."

So now the question is, who gets bumped off the 40-man roster to make room for Hendrickson? The most likely candidates among pitchers would appear to be right-handers Matt Albers and Armando Gabino. Albers was awful last year but showed flashes of potential in 2008 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. Gabino struggled in his cup of coffee with the Twins in 2009 but had a nice season in Triple-A (2.94 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), pitching mostly out of the 'pen.

Another possiblity is first baseman Rhyne Hughes, who hit .279 with 25 homers in the minors last season but fanned 171 times and drew just 44 walks in the process. The 26-year-old has some potential, but the O's have five other players on the 40-man roster capable of playing first base - Garrett Atkins, Michael Aubrey, Luke Scott, Brandon Snyder and Ty Wigginton - and Hughes would appear to be behind Aubrey on the left-handed hitting, first base-only, little/no big league experience depth chart.

I'm not quite ready to give up on Albers, Gabino could be a diamond in the rough and the O's have other options at first base. I'd go with Hughes.
Posted on: January 29, 2010 6:02 am
 

Tepid on Tejada

I am conflicted about the Miguel Tejada signing.

On one hand, I have trouble rooting for known performance-enhancing drug users and would prefer they not play for my favorite team. It's cheating, and it's an inexcusable affront to the game regardless of the era in which it took place or who else was doing it. Prior to the Tejada signing the only Oriole with known steroid connections was Brian Roberts , and I for one would have liked to have the Orioles continue on the road toward moving completely past the Steroid Era.

On the other hand, this signing definitely makes the Orioles better. Tejada is no longer an MVP-caliber player but he is still a very productive middle-of-the-order bat. I'm confident that he'll be at least adequate at the hot corner, and it's certainly an upgrade over a Garrett Atkins -Ty Wigginton timeshare. Tejada also brings veteran savvy and a high energy level, both of which will be good for the club. If this and the other offseason moves work out reasonably well and the young players take steps forward, I think the Orioles could be a .500 team in 2010, and possibly even surprise with more.

To his credit, Roberts expressed regret for his transgression and has been a class act ever since. He's not my favorite Oriole but I do respect the way he's put the whole steroid issue in his past and moved forward. If Tejada has turned over a new leaf as well I for one will not hold his past against him going forward, though I do and always will question the authenticity of his past accomplishments.

Posted on: November 24, 2009 11:49 am
 

AFL Orioles - Season Review

By JAY LeBLANC

Though the Phoenix Desert Dogs came up short in their quest for a sixth straight Arizona Fall League championship, the eight Orioles prospects that suited up for them benefited from the experience and, in most cases, made a good impression.

Matt Angle , OF

Angle's showing in Arizona was mildly disappointing as he hit just .237 and posted an on-base percentage (.333) 41 points below what he managed in the minors this past season in a league known as a hitters' haven. He displayed little pop (three doubles, one home run), but that was to be expected. He was solid in the outfield and swiped seven bases in as many attempts while averaging nearly a run scored per contest. Despite his mediocre fall showing, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster raised his stock in 2009 with a second straight solid season. He earned Post-Season All-Star honors in the advanced Carolina League and excelled in a late-season, eight-game stint with Double-A Bowie. The 24-year-old will likely return to Bowie to begin the 2010 season and could have a future as a fourth outfielder or fringe starter if his progression continues.

Josh Bell , 3B

Improvement against left-handers was at the top of this 23-year-old switch-hitter's to-do list when he departed for Arizona, and while the sample size was small, the statistics say Bell accomplished his mission. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder managed just four hits in 31 at bats against southpaws with Bowie this season but went 9-for-18 (.500) with three doubles and two RBI against them for Phoenix. He hit .319 overall and led the circuit in doubles (10) while ranking 11th in RBI (19) and 13th in hits (29). Bell made great strides on defense this season, and Desert Dogs manager Gary Cathcart praised his improved conditioning and footwork in a recent interview with Baseball America. With Melvin Mora out of the picture, Bell has a decent shot at earning the third base job in spring training, but a few more months of seasoning at the Triple-A level is more likely.

Brandon Erbe , RHP

Erbe was sent to Arizona in part to make up for innings lost this season to shoulder fatigue but tossed just nine before a sprained pinky finger brought a premature end to his AFL stint. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound righty - who turns 22 on Christmas Day - allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits in those nine frames while fanning nine. It's a small sample size, but the fact that he issued just two walks is encouraging. Erbe will return to Baltimore this week to have his hand examined but the injury is believed to be minor and all indications are that he'll be ready for spring training. Added to the 40-man roster last week, Erbe is a near-lock for some more minor league seasoning before he figures into the big league club's plans and will likely begin the year in Triple-A Norfolk's rotation. A good showing could put him near the front of the line for a midseason promotion.

Eddie Gamboa , RHP

Barely on the prospect radar entering the 2009 season, this soon-to-be 25-year-old reliever opened eyes in the organization by going 11-0 with a 1.08 ERA for Delmarva, Frederick and finally Bowie. And while he didn't post eye-popping stats in Arizona, he solidified his place among the Orioles' top relief prospects. Gamboa made eight appearances for the Desert Dogs, allowing three earned runs in 10 innings for a 2.70 ERA. Known for his deceptive delivery and good command of his three-pitch arsenal, Gamboa walked just two hitters in Arizona, helping to offset the fact that he allowed 12 hits and a .316 average to opposing batters. Gamboa is likely ticketed for Bowie to begin the 2010 season, but a good showing could put him in line for a quick promotion to Triple-A and possibly even some relief work in Baltimore at some point next summer.

Josh Perrault , RHP

Perrault served up two-run shots in his last two AFL outings - including one to White Sox prospect C.J. Retherford that effectively ended the Desert Dogs' run of five straight championships - and his showing in Arizona would have to be classified as mediocre. The 27-year-old allowed four runs in 10 2/3 innings in Arizona for a respectable 3.38 ERA, but posted a disappointing 6-to-5 K-to-walk ratio after fanning 74 and walking just 18 in the minors in 2009. Perrault headed to Phoenix with a shot at earning a spot on the Orioles' 40-man roster, but in the end the organization chose to protect Rhyne Hughes - a 26-year-old powerful but strikeout-prone first baseman - instead. In spite of his so-so showing in Arizona, Perrault is likely to be a Rule 5 Draft target of teams seeking bullpen help. If he goes undrafted, he'll compete for a spot in Baltimore's bullpen in the spring.


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Posted on: October 25, 2009 10:04 pm
 

AFL Orioles - Week 2

Orioles fans who happen to peruse the Arizona Fall League statistical leaderboards will notice some familiar names. After two weeks of AFL action, Brandon Snyder leads the circuit with 15 RBI, while Josh Bell ranks second with a .464 average. Matt Angle is the league leader in stolen bases (six) and ranks second in runs scored with 11. All three are big reasons why the Phoenix Desert Dogs sit atop the AFL East standings with a 7-4 record.

 

Monday, Oct. 19

Brandon Erbe got the start and fired two perfect innings, fanning two and throwing 19 of his 29 pitches for strikes. Ryohei Tanaka relieved Erbe and cruised through the third before finding trouble in the fourth. He served up a one-out solo shot to Cincinnati's Chris Heisey , then loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. Tanaka got the second out of the inning on a pop-up before Indians prospect Carlos Rivero laced an RBI single to left, with a second potential run cut down at the plate. Bell had a big day at the dish, going 4-for-5 with an RBI double, a triple and three runs scored. In his lone right-handed at bat of the day, he singled off Braves first-round pick Mike Minor . Snyder went 2-for-5 with a double and a run, but also struck out twice and grounded into a double play. Phoenix picked up its fifth straight win, beating the Peoria Saguaros 6-2.

Tuesday, Oct. 20

Angle went 3-for-5 out of the leadoff spot with a double, a run, an RBI and a stolen base. Brandon Waring , hitting third and playing third base, went 1-for-4 with a double, a run and a walk. He fanned twice to bring his AFL total to seven through 13 at bats. Josh Perrault came on in relief in the seventh and promptly allowed his first AFL run when Heisey followed a Brandon Hicks (Braves) double with an RBI single. He escaped further trouble with help from catcher A.J. Jimenez , who gunned down Heisey on a steal attempt for the second out of the inning. The Peoria Saguaros tallied six runs in the ninth to hand the Desert Dogs their second loss of the season, 11-8.

Wednesday, Oct. 21

Snyder went 4-for-5 with a pair of homers and matched the AFL single-game season-high of seven RBI in the Desert Dogs' 17-4 rout of the Peoria Javelinas. He took Nick Hill (Mariners) deep to center for a two-run shot in the third and blasted a three-run bomb - also to center -  off 2007 Seattle first-rounder Phillippe Aumont in the seventh. Snyder also had a two-run single and a double, and even managed a stolen base. Not to be outdone, Bell went 4-for-5 with a three-run bomb his own off Aumont and a double. He went 2-for-2 with a double against Hill, a southpaw. Angle went 2-for-5 with a pair of singles and picked up an RBI on a bases-loaded walk in the fourth.

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Posted on: October 18, 2009 1:08 pm
 

AFL Orioles - Week 1

Eight Orioles prospects are looking to sharpen their skills in this year's Arizona Fall League, which kicked off on Oct. 13 and runs through mid-November. Infielders Josh Bell , Brandon Snyder and Brandon Waring , outfielder Matt Angle and pitchers Brandon Erbe , Eddie Gamboa , Josh Perrault and Ryohei Tanaka have teamed up with a collection of A's, Rays, Jays and Nationals farmhands on the Phoenix Desert Dogs under the direction of Gary Cathcart, who has managed Toronto's Double-A affiliate the past two seasons. Their teammates include Nats phenom and 2009 No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg , fellow Washington first-rounder Drew Storen and former Orioles lefty Adam Loewen , who is attempting to get back to the big leagues with the Jays as an outfielder.

I'll provide updates on the Orioles prospects' AFL progress every Sunday here on The Washington Times' National Pastime blog . If an O's farmhand isn't mentioned in the game summary, it means he didn't play that day.

 

Tuesday, Oct. 13

Snyder , batting third and playing first base, went 2-for-5 and slugged a two-run homer off lefty Jay Voss , a Marlins property. Bell started at third base and hit sixth. He went 0-for-1 with a walk batting left-handed and 0-for-2 with a strikeout from the right side. Tanaka started for Phoenix and allowed a run - a solo shot by Twins prospect Rene Tosoni - on three hits in three innings. He struck out four without issuing a walk but ended up as the hard-luck loser as the Desert Dogs dropped their opener 10-6 to the Mesa Solar Sox.

Wednesday, Oct. 14

Waring , batting fifth and serving as the DH, went 1-for-5 with three strikeouts, but the hit was an opposite-field solo homer off Cubs left-handed pitching prospect James Russell that put Phoenix up 3-2 in the top of the sixth. Perrault helped preserve the Desert Dogs' lead by tossing a scoreless bottom of the seventh. He fanned the Angels' P.J. Phillips to open the frame but then allowed a double to Marlins prospect Bryan Petersen before getting the next two Mesa batters to fly out. The Desert Dogs went on to win 4-2.

Thursday, Oct. 15

Angle got his first taste of AFL action as the leadoff hitter and center fielder. He went 0-for-3 but drew three walks, swiped two bases and scored the first Phoenix run of the day on a Snyder fielder's choice in the third. Snyder, who hit third and played first base, went 1-for-5 on the day with a single and a strikeout. Bell , batting cleanup and playing third, went 1-for-3 with an RBI double and a pair of walks. Encouragingly, the double came off a left-hander, Japanese leaguer Takanobu Tsujiuchi . Phoenix cruised past Scottsdale 9-4.

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Posted on: October 5, 2009 12:55 am
 

Orioles prospects set for AFL action

Since its inception in 1992, the Arizona Fall League has served as both a training ground and a showcase for some of baseball's best young talent. Players benefit from the high level of competition and the extra instruction while scouts and front office executives gain perspective on their present strengths and weaknesses. The Baltimore Orioles assigned eight players to the AFL's Phoenix Desert Dogs this fall, and in each case, there was a specific purpose for doing so. Here's a rundown of the O's farmhands that will look to sharpen their skills and make a good impression on Andy MacPhail & Co. when the AFL season kicks off Oct. 13.

Matt Angle , OF, Bowie

Angle hit .292 and swiped 40 bases for Frederick this season to earn Carolina League Post-Season All-Star Honors and impressed in an late-season stint with Double-A Bowie. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster offers very little pop - he managed a mere 22 extra-base hits, including just one home run, this season - but is adept at small ball. He bunts well and is an above-average defender, and a keen batting eye helped him to post a solid .374 on-base percentage this year. At 24 and with just eight Double-A games to his credit, Angle doesn't have a lot of upside. But if he continues to rise to the competition as he moves up the ladder, he could have a future as a fourth outfielder or a fringe starter. He'll look to continue refining his table-setting skills against top-notch pitching prospects this fall.

Josh Bell , 3B, Bowie

Bell, the key piece in the deadline deal that sent George Sherrill to the Dodgers, has always been a well-regarded prospect but took a big step forward in 2009. Previously criticized for a lack of speed and range, the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder showed such marked improvement that Baseball America tabbed him as the best defensive third baseman in the Double-A Southern League at midseason. The 22-year-old switch-hitter slugged 11 homers in 94 games as a Dodgers farmhand this year, then found his power stroke and blasted nine more in 33 games for Bowie. He hit .295 for the year but struggled mightily from the right side and managed just four hits in 31 at bats against left-handers with Bowie. Addressing that weakness is at the top of Bell's to-do list - in bold and underlined.

Brandon Erbe , RHP, Bowie

Erbe is heading to Arizona primarily to make up for innings lost to shoulder fatigue earlier this season. The 21-year-old missed all of May and most of June but was outstanding before and after the hiatus. He had a 0.90 ERA and was averaging nearly a strikeout per inning when he went on the shelf, and he went 4-0 with a 2.89 ERA in his last 10 starts. He held Double-A hitters to a .170 average this season, and his 2.34 ERA would have ranked second in the Eastern League if he had enough innings to qualify. It should be noted, however, that Erbe's success came in spite of subpar command. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound righty walked 35 batters in 75 Double-A innings and must do a better job of harnessing his impressive arsenal if he is to succeed as a starter in the big leagues.

Eddie Gamboa , RHP, Bowie

11-0 record, 1.08 ERA - numbers like these are usually associated with first-round picks-to-be in their senior years of high school, not unheralded 21st rounders out of UC Davis in pro ball. But those are in fact the statistics Gamboa put up this year as he progressed from Delmarva to Frederick and finally to Bowie. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder was victimized by poor run support in going 1-7 with a 3.63 ERA as a starter for Bluefield in 2008, but his transition to relieving was a smashing success. He used his deceptive delivery and good command of his three pitch-arsenal - two-seam fastball, cutter and changeup - to post a 75-to-17 K-to-walk ratio, and while he was old for his level at his first two stops - he turns 25 in December - his statistics improved as he moved up the ladder. A strong showing in Arizona could put him in the mix for relief work in Baltimore in 2010.

Josh Perrault , RHP, Norfolk

The Orioles selected Perrault in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last winter, and he ended up as one of the most pleasant surprises in the system this year. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander racked up 18 saves and posted a 2.13 ERA and 74-to-18 K-to-walk ratio while splitting his time almost evenly between Bowie and Norfolk. At 27, Perrault will be one of the older players in the AFL, and the Orioles assigned him there primarily because they need to decide whether to place him on the 40-man roster this winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. A strong showing for Phoenix would put Perrault in position to secure a spot in the Baltimore bullpen next spring if the O's choose to protect him - or make him a target of teams seeking relief help in the Rule 5 draft if they don't.


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Posted on: September 25, 2009 11:40 am
 

2010 Prospect Preview

Some of baseball's most promising young players have punched their tickets to the big leagues this season and given fans a glimpse of the future. 20-year-old Rick Porcello has racked up 14 wins for the Tigers, Atlanta's Tommy Hanson has quickly established himself as one of the National League's better hurlers and flamethrower Neftali Feliz has dominated in relief down in Arlington. Gordon Beckham has added punch to the White Sox lineup and Andrew McCutchen has given long-suffering Pirates fans reason for optimism. Baltimore's Matt Wieters has come on lately after a slow start and starters Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman have had encouraging debuts. Colby Rasmus looks like the next sweet-swinging star in St. Louis, Matt LaPorta has done his initial mashing for Cleveland and Dexter Fowler has swiped nearly 30 bags for Colorado. Elvis Andrus and Alcides Escobar have staked their claims as the shortstops of the future in Texas and Milwaukee. 21-year-old Travis Snider has flashed his power potential for the Jays, Wade Davis has had some dominant outings for the Rays and Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill have both reached double-digits in victories for the A's. Madison Bumgarner joined an already superb group of young hurlers in San Francisco this month, and his future battery mate, Buster Posey , collected his first big league hit on Saturday night.

It was truly an impressive collection of young talent that reached the show in 2009, and it was a pleasure to watch baseball's next generation of stars get their feet wet, and in some cases, excel. The long, cold, baseball-free winter is on the horizon, but baseball fans - and prospect watchers in particular - can take comfort in the knowledge that the next reinforcements in the national pastime's youth movement have designs on infiltrating big league rosters in 2010. What follows is my top-five list of the most exciting prospect debuts to look forward to next season.

1. Stephen Strasburg , RHP, Nationals

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft may very well be the most hyped pitching prospect of all-time. He's certainly the richest, having "settled" for a four-year, $15.1 million major league contract after rumors had circulated that he and agent Scott Boras were seeking a deal in the $50 million range. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Strasburg has the ideal pitcher's frame, and he uses it to unleash heat that often registers in the triple-digits. His critics question his secondary stuff - he didn't usually need it to dominate collegiate hitters as the ace of Tony Gwynn 's San Diego State squad - but Strasburg has flashed a promising slider and changeup. He has outstanding control as well, walking just 19 batters in 109 innings while fanning 195 this past season for the Aztecs. Strasburg signed too late to appear in the minor leagues in 2009 and will get his feet wet in the Arizona Fall League. The Nats certainly need some buzz, so don't be shocked if Strasburg opens 2010 in the rotation. It's more likely he'll tune up in the minors for a few weeks.

2. Jason Heyward , OF, Braves

Heyward's mix of present production and long-term upside make him far and away the best positional prospect in baseball. The Braves would have been content to bring the 6-foot-4, 220-pound outfielder along slowly after selecting him out of a Georgia high school with the 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft, but Heyward accelerated his timetable by dominating the older and more experienced competition at every minor league level in his first two-plus pro seasons. He reached Triple-A shortly after his 20th birthday this season and batted .323 with 17 homers in 99 games at three levels, and, most impressively for such a young player, he walked as many times (51) as he struck out. Heyward, who bats from the left side, projects as a No. 3 hitter with the ability to hit for both average and power. He has good speed and the strong throwing arm needed to play right field. He has a good shot at opening the 2010 season with the Braves, and if he doesn't, he'll be just a phone call and a short commute away at Triple-A Gwinnett.

3. Pedro Alvarez , 3B, Pirates

Having regrettably passed on Wieters in 2007 to take the more signable left-hander Daniel Moskos of Clemson, the Pirates jumped at the opportunity to select the best college hitter available with the second pick in the 2008 draft after Tampa Bay opted for high school shortstop Tim Beckham. Contentious, drawn-out negotiations between the Pirates and Alvarez and his agent, Scott Boras, prevented the Vanderbilt product from making his pro debut in 2008, and Alvarez reportedly showed up out of shape this spring. He unexpectedly struggled at the plate for advanced Class A Lynchburg early in the year, but his performance following a midseason promotion to Double-A Altoona suggests that all he needed was a greater challenge. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound slugger hit .333 in 60 Eastern League contests and finished the season with 27 homers and 95 RBI, though he did fan 129 times in 465 at bats. There is some question as to whether he'll stick at third base, but Alvarez figures to be a fixture in the middle of the Pirates' lineup for years to come. It's possible that the Alvarez Era in Pittsburgh will begin on Opening Day 2010.


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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com