Sunday, June 14, 2009

"The Cavalry Is Coming": The O's Pitching Prospects are Horses

Yeah, the O’s are in last place, Matt Wieters’ slugging percentage is what I thought his batting average would be, and there is a general lack of Oriole Magic these days, but there is still reason for hope in Baltimore. An army of Orioles starting pitching prospects have been performing like thoroughbreds this season, and just added 5th overall pick Matt Hobgood to an already promising stable. As the innings mount up this summer we'll be keeping an eye on their progress but here are the numbers through the first two months :

This is basically the globe of lottery balls from which the Orioles will select their future starting rotation. All of these dudes have been drafted recently, some even by the O's scouting staff! Dave Tremblay noted at the beginning of the season that "the cavalry is coming" and he's lookin' prophetic right now. Most of these guys will get a whiff of Camden grass this year or next so let's get further acquainted with Baseball Jesus' future disciples, shall we?

"The Cavalry"

Leading the pack is future ace Chris Tillman, who is treating triple-A like Carl Lewis in the special Olympics. Beyond the stats, Baseball Prospectus 2009 notes that that, “scouts and opposing hitters say he has it,” which I think is slang for “The Force”. He should be up with the Birds by the end of the season and in the rotation for good early next year; he projects as a #1 frontline starter.[image via]

#2 Prospect Jake Arrieta was called up to AAA Norfolk last week and killed it in his debut, striking out 6 and allowing just one run on 2 hits. He started slowly in AA Bowie this season but had dazzled on the mound more recently, and looks every bit a future top 2-3 starter. If he continues his momentum in AAA the Orioles would be thrilled to give him a shot this summer, but the safe bet is on the O's taking it slow with these kids. Expect Arrieta to start in AAA next season.[image via]

The Orioles 3rd best pitching prospect is currently plying his trade in single-A, Brian Matusz. When the O's took him 4th overall last June he was considered the safer pick due to his consistency if not domination at UC-San Diego. His upside is Cole Hamels, downside is a solid lefty arm which is always helpful. After a brief pro-level adjustment period he's come on of late and will be in AA Bowie soon. He'll hopefully start next year in AAA Norfolk and if all goes smoothly will get a shot with the O's. [image via College Baseball Prospects Blog]

David Hernandez, who has led single-A, double-A and triple-A in strikeouts, has never been considered an elite prospect because he relies on a deceptive delivery to mask average stuff (source: Baseball Prospectus 2009). He shined brightly in his big league debut a few weeks ago, but has flattened out a bit in his last two outings. Major League hitters figured out Hideo Nomo and his tornado wind-up pretty quickly so hopefully that's not happening to Hernandez already (cough, Dontrelle Willis, cough...some puke just came up). I think if we keep our expectations low here, we could be pleasantly surprised. We'll see if he has starter stuff. [image via]

The fifth pitcher of interest is Troy Patton, who was acquired in the Tejada trade and appeared in two games with Houston in '07. The O's have been more patient with him, and he just made the jump to AAA with Arrieta but hasn't pitched in Norfolk yet. He's projected more as a Jamie Moyer type (a "crafty mid-rotation lefty."), especially after having missed all of '08 with a labrum tear. If he can quell injury concerns he could debut with the O's as soon as this summer. [image via]

AA Bowie prospect Brandon Erbe was projected by baseball Prospectus 2009 as a future relief pitcher due to having only 2 pitches, and that projection looks pretty good now that Erbe has been sidelind with “shoulder fatigue” after only 20 innings pitched. Shoulder problems at that age are troubling, so hard to see him not moving to the pen this season where he could begin to compete for the future closer role.

The last pitcher I will mention has not been a big name in talks of prospects, but he's the O's Lebron. Literally. His name is Luis Lebron, and I am feeling good about my ‘find’ here. He's been moved to the 'pen, but looks ready for a promotion to AA Bowie this season.


Pitching prospects are notorious for being ‘hit and miss’, but it is hard to see the Orioles not getting a great rotation out of these nine: Tillman, Arrieta, Matusz, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Hernandez, Patton, Hobgood and a Random Free Agent Fill-In. Then again, it was hard not seeing Ben McDonald becoming the next Jim Palmer in 1989 - at least the odds are better this time around. I think. I have to lie down now after banging my head on the wooden desk as hard as I could.


  1. Great post. Our future rotation looks money, but so do a lot of things:

    1. Tillman
    2. Matusz
    3. Arrieta
    4. Hobgood
    5. Patton

  2. Insert Bergesen in there somewhere as well...

  3. Very glass half fullish...

    Let's take these one at a time:

    1) Brad Bergesen has a k rate of barely 4 per 9 innings and a hr rate of over 1 per 9. Being bad at one with his solid walk rate you can be successful...being bad at both and well, a prospect you ain't. He has a babip rate of .276, unsustainable with one of the worst defenses behind him at turning balls in play into outs. As that climbs back to normalcy so does his ERA; with those peripherals, maybe to around 5 or so.

    2) Troy Patton? A small rh pitcher at double a with injury problems and a k rate of under 7k/9 at douuble a (translates to no higher than bergesen's rate in the bigs). If he becomes a solid middle reliever, he did better than most guys with his profile.

    3) Guthrie? 30. Hasn't pitched 200 innings, yet. RH. Below average k and hr rates for practically hsi entire career. He had a 300 inning stretch of nice ground ball rates in 2007 and 2008, aided a bit by a nice babip (we see what happens when that comes back to earth this year; the ERA comes with it). Back of rotation guy at best...Joe Blanton with less innings. These guys are as likely to have ERAs of 5 in 2 or 3 years as anything else.

    4) David Hernandez, meet Tyler Clippard. Okay...that's not fair; of the 4 names, thus far, this is the one with the best chance to be a decent option in the next couple of years. Still, he's another guy that could just as easily be middle relief muck as a viable starter. His walk rate scares me the most, but his hr rate might be what allows him to be something of note.

    5) Lebron. I think this one was a joke and nothin more but just in case.

    24 and still in A ball. He has 16 walks in 27 innings. He walked 27 in 19 innings last year. There are a bunch of these silly k rate relievers at the lower levels with terrible bb rates. I can't think of one who turned into a useful member of a bullpen.

    6) Erbe. More walks and lots of 'em. Average HR rate, solid k rate. He's a reliever in the bigs and he has injury issues to boot. His ideal projection at this point is closer, not necessarily his likely one.

    Arrieta, Tillman, and Matusz are exactly as advertised. No question, then, the Orioles with those three alone have well above average starting pitching prospects in the minors. That said, in a division with the following, do they even have an advantage?

  4. Hughes and Chamberlain - both just about as young and both in the majors; both were ranked higher on every prospect list than any of those three (they were both either the top ranked or second ranked pitchers in the sport on top prospect lists from Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus)

    Lester and Buchholz - Again, Buchholz was the top ranked pitching prospect in the game (or second ranked) on almost everyone's lists. Lester is what the Orioles hope any of there guys become. Add in Bard, Michael Bowden, and Nick Hagadone.

    Rays - Price, Kazmir, Niemann, Davis, Shields...all under 30

    Is it a problem when on a list of best talents under 30, the Orioles pitchers, an extremely talented group, no question, don't have a guy that anyone seriously puts in the top 5? Tillman's a great talent, but Price was the top ranked pitching prospect in the sport on literally every list, Joba has the best ERA of any active starter in the majors through his first 23 starts, except for Johan Santana, who was older at the time. Lester is well, a dominant force at the top of the Red Sox's rotation. Buchholz is ranked right with Tillman as a talent (and has been even better at Double A). Phil Hughes is 22 and striking out, as a starter, a batter per inning in the majors, a very good sign of long-term success.

    This is all a very long way of saying that:

    1) It's not hard at all to imagine the Os not getting a great rotation from the 9 names you've mentioned. Historically, on average, they'll be lucky to get 2/5ths of a good rotation from that group. For recent examples, check out the DVD trio in Texas or Blanton/Meyer in Oakland.


    2) They have the best pitching system in the AL east, but not the best overall pitching talent under 30. Other teams in the division have already graduated young great pitching prospects.

    This is a team primed to challenge for the division in the next couple of years...any division except for the one they play in. It's a tough fact that even with this pitching and the Wieters, Markakis, Jones trio that they've still got work to do. Huff, Mora, and Roberts aren't getting younger, and when Brandon Snyder is the best hitter you've got left in the minors, things are grim.

  5. @ Your:

    Wow, thanks for the thorough contribution.

    I tend to agree that after Tillman, Arrieta and Matusz, it's not exactly a gold mine of pitching talent.

    I also agree with your assessments of Guthrie and Bergesen, and I don't think anyone expects them to be top-of-the-rotation guys.

    But the cupboard is far from bare, especially compared to say, 5 years ago. And your point about Huff, Mora and Roberts aging is well-taken (and I am in fact an advocate of selling those guys high for more prospects so the timing of our talent "peaking" works better). It is a brutal division now but a lot can change, especially if the Orioles stick to the plan and build from the system out. The Rays have proven that it can be done without gobs of cash...but Angelos can still lure an FA or two if necessary.

    Bottom line is that MacPhail is slowly assembling a talented young system, which has been ignored for the last decade or so. Good summary in general, and hey, what's wrong with a little hope?

  6. Yeah, there are no hitting prospects, but my point is that from Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta, Patton, Guthrie, etc. we should have a very good major league rotation in the not too distant future, and not only that, but a cheap one.

    If our rotation and pen are good and cheap, and we already have Wieters and Jones cheap, then we should have money to spend to bolster the lineup. Not to mention that fact that we are headed for more high draft picks this year and probably next year too.

    Yes, I know the Rays are loaded, as are the Sox, but we should be competitive with them in a couple years.

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    amanda vanderpool the dirty


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