The Baltimore Orioles might not be a team in contention in 2009 (23-26, 5th place in AL East), but have one of the most talented minor league systems in baseball. Star catcher Matt Wieters, outfielder Nolan Reimold, and pitcher Brad Bergesen have already earned callups, while others, like David Hernandez, Chris Tillman, Brandon Snyder, Jake Arrieta, Troy Patton, and others are well on their way. There are tons of questions surrounding the future on who the future ace will be. It could be a guy like Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, David Hernandez, Troy Patton, or Brian Matusz.
So far, none of these pitchers have struggled and are all worthy of promotions.
Tillman has been nothing short of dominant so far, as he is 5-0, has a 2.25 earned run average, has struck out 42 with 13 walks in 36 innings of work. In his last start, on May 18th, he allowed a two run homer in the first inning, but did a good job of adjusting, and went on to pitch five innings, allowing only the two runs, earning his fifth win. Tillman can throw gas, as his fastball tops out at 97 miles per hour. However, he can’t go deep in games like you’d want that No. 1 starter to do. So far, he hasn’t pitched into the seventh, so he projects as a No. 2 or 3.
Arrieta has done a fantastic job thus far at Double A Bowie. The 6’4″, 225 pound, 23-year old right hander is 4-2, has a 2.97 earned run average, and is one of those power pitchers who is regaining his control. In 39 and a third innings of work, he has struck out 51 batters, and has walked 17. Arrieta, unlike Tillman, has been able to go deeper into games. In his last start, on May 22nd, he struggled in the first, allowing three runs. However, he did a good job of rebounding, proceeding to toss five innings of shutout ball. He has the potential to be a future ace, as he has shown he can go deep into games, with one complete game shutout on the year, but he needs to get more control of his pitches.
If anyone doubts that David Hernandez has ace potential, they would be quieted by his start on May 22nd against Rochester. In seven and one thirds innings of work, the 24-year old right handed fireballer allowed just three hits, walked none, and struck out a whopping 14, including the first six batters he faced. While power pitchers like Hernandez tend to have control problems, Hernandez has 60 strikeouts with just 13 walks in 43 and a third frames. Hernandez doesn’t give O’s fans that feeling that guys like Tillman, Arrieta, and Matusz do, but he has proved he has potential. As an ace, I very much doubt it, but as a starter, he definitely has asserted himself that way.
Traded to the Orioles in the 2008 offseason, left handed pitcher Troy Patton had a very legitimate chance to make the O’s rotation that season. However, an injury ended his season. The O’s decided to play it safe, placing Patton in the Double A Bowie rotation. As expected, he has been absolutely dominant. In seven starts, he has allowed just five runs, ten walks, has a 1.14 ERA, and has a 4-1 record. Patton isn’t a guy who throws very hard, and he throws his fastball with comfort at 90 MPH, but has limited batters to a .182 mark. While he has dominated hitters thus far, we must remember he is in Double A, a level he has already breezed through. He has great command, but he doesn’t have dominating stuff, so I don’t see him as a future ace.
That brings us to the O’s No. 3 overall prospect: Left handed pitcher Brian Matusz. Matusz, 6’5″, 200, has been very solid thus far. The O’s liked what they saw during spring training, and decided to have him start his professional career at High A Frederick, quite a jump for a kid who pitched only three years of college ball. In his last start, he proved he can go deep in ballgames, pitching seven innings, walking one, and striking out nine. In 46 and two thirds innings, he has struck out 60 batters, walked 17, and allowed 42 hits. Matusz definitely has ace stuff. I believe he is the future ace of the Baltimore Orioles. Here’s why:
Command: In college, Brian Matusz was nearly unhittable. As a junior at the University of San Diego, he had 12 wins, just two losses, allowed just 83 hits in 105 innings, and had a phenomenal K:BB ratio of 141:22. He is a guy who can throw his fastball strikes, and at the end of the day, that’s what a pitcher needs. Not only that, out of college, the scouting report on him was that he could “throw all of his pitches for strikes at any count”. In an interview with the MASN Sports crew of Jim Hunter and Rick Dempsey, he said he didn’t have his best stuff in a May 14th start against Myrtle Beach, but still managed to pitch five and two thirds innings, allowing just a lone run.
He said he could command his changeup, and that’s what is encouraging about Matusz. When he can’t command his fastball, he can go to his changeup, which has developed very well over the years, as well as his curveball and slider. He has three above average pitches, in his fastball, changeup, and curveball. His slider needs some work, but as MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo put it: “When you have a lefty with three above average pitches, all of which he can throw for strikes at any point, you’ve got a special pitcher on your hands.”
Clutch: The test of a pitcher’s poise on the mound is how well they do when faced with situations that could rattle a typical youngster. However, not Matusz. With runners in scoring positions, batters have a measly .200 opponent’s average and has walked just five. 45 of Matusz’ 60 strikeouts have come with runners on base, which is impressive. Matusz is known to have great poise, and showed that throughout his 2009 Spring Training stint with the O’s, when he allowed just two hits and no runs in four and two thirds innings of work. Throughout the spring, he earned a lot of praise from manager Dave Trembley and team president Andy MacPhail, who loved his poise.
Going Deep: Aces like Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, and Brandon Webb have an ability to go deep into ballgames, setting up their bullpens for very successful outings. Matusz has shown an ability to do that so far. Despite playing behind an abysmal defense and a weak offense, he has been able to pitch a lot of innings. In eight starts, he has pitched seven innings twice, six innings also twice, and entered the sixth a pair of times as well. In his first two starts, he pitched a combined nine and two thirds innings, but the Frederick coaching staff wanted to see what he had – and he has responded very well.
The O’s are going to need a guy who can pitch six, seven innings per outing, as the O’s don’t have a dominant set up man on the active roster – or the minor leagues, for that matter. Matusz is an ace because he can go deep into ballgames, has a top notch fastball, and can command three pitches – at any count, against any batter.
For now, Matusz appears to be the future ace of the Baltimore Orioles – quite an accomplishment for a kid who has pitched just 46 and two thirds innings in professional baseball. It’s also quite an accolade for a 22-year old who is in a farm system that also features David Hernandez, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Rick Zagone, Jason Berken, and many more pitching prospects. Matusz has the ace stuff that will propel the Orioles to future success. Watch out for Brian Matusz.