Thus far, the tempo in Ft. Lauderdale has varied as the weeks fly by. The O’s began the new year as one of the top teams in the Grapefruit League; today, they broke an 8-game losing streak with a win over the Marlins. It has been a fun experience as we gaze on at the young talent among us. Though seeing them play is a blast, we must watch most of them pack their bags and head back to minor league camp.
For some, this is needed to provide extra “seasoning” before Opening day, while for others, it is the time to prove to the heads of the organization that they are the next wave of young studs. Looking back, we have witnessed the erosion of the once large group that arrived in camp as cuts have been made and a 40-man roster remains. Many big names were lost in the slimming process, including pitching prospects Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, and David Hernandez.
The hitters were also sent back to Sarasota, as Justin Turner, Brandon Snyder, and the soon-to-be Matt Wieters must make their way back into the depths of the system. Today, I’m here to analyze some of the names that have been shot down this spring. Please make a note that the O’s are currently not finished slicing down their roster, and that these are a handful of names that have already been optioned or re-assigned. We will look at how they performed, what they need to work on, where they will end up, and how long it will be before they put on an Baltimore uniform. This will be a two-part series, and for now, we glance at the pitchers.
Tillman certainly impressed many with his work this spring, helping to prove why he was such a steal in the Erik Bedard deal. Before being re-assigned to the minors, Tillman was sure to leave his mark on the pro staff, posting a 2.25 ERA during spring competition. He faced off against several squads, including the Washington Nationals and the Italian national team.
So what does Chris have to look forward to in 2009? My assumption is a trip to Triple-A Norfolk, where he should get an abundance of starts and begin his upward rise to the pro level. As far as what he must work on while in the farm system, I believe manager Dave Trembley said it best: “I told Tillman to go down and continue to work on his changeup, and some things we’ve seen as far as fielding.” If he can get all of his pitches down and increase his already stellar production, then I believe that we will see Tillman sometime in August or September as he vies for a spot in the 2010 rotation.
Repeatedly called a “man” by manager Dave Trembley, Jake Arrieta showed poise and promise while on the mound this spring. He failed to give up an earned run, and like Tillman, had a lights-out performance against the Italians. For a while, Arrieta was impressing to the point where fans all over the country wanted to see the O’s give him a crack at the rotation. In my opinion, this would have been a disaster. Good thing he was re-assigned to the minors.
This kid has great potential, the kind that can become an All-Star caliber pitcher someday. He has a solid fastball, good enough to strikeout 120 batters in 113 innings of work last season for Single-A Frederick. Now the question is: “What does he need to work on?” It seems as though he could use some polishing up when it comes to control, but other than that, this kid looks like he’s going to have a solid 2009. Watch out for him at Double-A Bowie, and a potential sleeper next season to join the starting staff.
Though not the youngest of the three studs, Matusz has proven to be the most composed on the mound. In fact, some are predicting the former first-round Draft pick to be the future ace of the rotation. He has solid breaking pitches, an average fastball, and most of all, control. Isn’t that such a great word to hear as an Orioles’ fan? With Daniel Cabrera, Garrett Olson, and Radhames Liz lurking in our minds, its good to see that the O’s decided to pick a pitcher who could hit a spot.
So are there any other reasons why he is so good? Why don’t we refer back to Dave for a second. “He thanked me for putting him in big league games and letting him face big league hitters. The guy is so unpretentious, he’s so humble.” Some nice words from the boss, to say the least. From what was spread around the net, it appears as though Matusz needs a little more work when it comes to changing up his pitches. Trembley states, “We told him, his first few times out when he pitches in those minor league games, we’d like him to put his curveball in his back pocket and just go fastball-changeup. And that’s what he’s going to do.” Expect to see Matusz in the bigs sometime in late September or early 2010.
Hernandez is intriguing, to say the least. He, like the previous three, finished without giving up an earned run this spring; however, he is not getting the same amount of attention. Last season with the Double-A Baysox, David went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 166 strikeouts. So why not all the fuss? In fact, some people don’t even believe that Hernandez has a future in the O’s rotation. I ask: “Why not?”
According to Scout.com, “Hernandez has a classic power pitcher’s frame and arsenal. He gets tremendous movement on both his fastball and slider, which gives him a chance at two plus pitches. His fastball typically sits at 90-93 MPH, but he can dial it up to 95 MPH when needed. His slider has good break, but he could stand to fine-tune his command of both pitches within the strike zone.”
Tommy Thompson, Hernandez’s former manager, also had something to say. “He’s got three pitches. He can pitch inside. He can throw a breaking ball. He can throw a fastball away and he can throw a changeup at anytime in any count. He just needs to locate his pitches better and, I think, pitch with a little more confidence at times. I don’t know if he realizes how good of stuff and pitches he has. Once that comes into play, I think the concentration and confidence will take those pitches and make them even better against the hitters.”
What Hernandez must work on while with the Norfolk Tides is just staying on course. If he’s able to have a productive start to the 2009 campaign, expect a possible call-up sometime mid-season, especially with the current state of the rotation.
Was any pitcher this spring more impressive than Brad Bergesen? Bergesen would go on to close out his spring numbers with a 2.57 ERA, something quite unexpected. In fact, his career has taken a quite unexpected turn in only one year. After several years of hardships at the lower depths of the farm system, Bergesen seemed to suddenly turn it all around in ‘08. Last season, he went 15-6, with a 3.22 ERA and 72 strikeouts.
Like Matusz, Bergesen is known for one primary weapon: control. In the future, some analysts project him to be a solid number five starter, slating him perfectly behind Matusz, Tillman, Arrieta, and Hernandez. One thing that Bergesen does need to work on, though, is improving against lefties. “That was my biggest struggle last year,” Bergesen said. “I think lefties hit a little over .300 off me. It’s something that I need to really work on this offseason and come up with a better plan on how to attack these guys.” Well, he now has time to get the work done down at Triple-A Norfolk, but don’t expect him to be down there too long. He is expected to make his debut sometime early in the season, especially if one of the current starters struggles.
Another gem has popped up out of the Bedard trade. Kam Mickolio finished off his 2009 spring without giving up an earned run from the relief role, and he seems like a primary candidate to fill out a bullpen spot this upcoming season. The 6’9, 256-pound gunner looks to be force as a middle reliever this season in Baltimore, and I’m not complaining.
His one major strength: strikeouts. He’s a big guy with an even bigger arm. To parallel this, his one primary weakness: Too many walks. Here we go again. Walks have murdered the Orioles’ franchise in the past, and it shouldn’t fail here either. Now with Mickolio heading to Triple-A Norfolk, he has the time to work on cutting down the free passes. In the future, some believe that he could be the future closer, with myself seeing him as a potentially great setup man. Look for him to come up sometime mid-season to join youngsters Dennis Sarfate and Radhames Liz in an already talented bullpen.
Ahhh, I just had a pleasant visit with my past. Wait…it’s becoming more clear now. There it is! I see Chris Waters, a young, unproven southpaw take the mound against the first place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and throw a one-hit shutout. Is this a dream? No, however, no one seems to know where Waters has been since then. At the end of last season, his stat line looked as follows: 3-5, 5.01 ERA, 33 strikeouts. So where is he now?
He’s currently on his way back to the Norfolk Tides, where he should spend the majority of his 2009 season. His primary issue is, like many O’s starters, control. In eleven contests, he issued 29 base-on-balls, something that must improve if he ever wishes to find himself in an Orioles’ uniform someday. If anything, his best chance at making the roster is an injury to another left-handed starter (Rich Hill or Mark Hendrickson for example). Otherwise, it seems like Waters’ magical game against the Halos was only a mere fluke.
Other starters that have been optioned or re-assigned:
- Bob McCrory
- Fredy Deza
- Ryan Keefer
- Scott Chiasson
- Andy Mitchell
- Brad Hennessey
- John Parrish (out for the year)
Other pitchers expected to be cut before the end of Spring Training:
- Radhames Liz
- David Pauley
- Alberto Castillo
- Jim Miller
- Rich Hill (will begin season at Triple-A Norfolk)
- Brian Bass
Next time, be sure to read my analysis of the hitters that were cut this spring.