“You can buy the bats, but you have to grow the arms.” Since taking over in Baltimore, Orioles team president Andy MacPhail has lived by that motto. MacPhail has drafted numerous young pitchers who have blossomed into solid young prospects, and has acquired a significant amount of hitters, like Adam Jones, Cesar Izturis, Ty Wigginton, Gregg Zaun, and Luke Scott. However, besides Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Troy Patton, MacPhail has stressed building on the pitching from within. Let’s take a peek at the O’s young arms down on the farm who have emerged thus far, shall we?
Image Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun
Chris Tillman, RHP, 21 years old
Going into the season, the most prized pitching prospect for the O’s was 21-year old right handed pitcher Chris Tillman. Some expected him to be the O’s future ace. So far, he has done nothing to make that prediction look foolish. For Triple-A Norfolk, he is 5-0, has a 2.25 ERA, has allowed a mere home run, and has struck out 42 batters in 36 innings. In addition to that, his Norfolk Tides are 7-0 when he takes the mound and the Anaheim, CA native even threw a no-hitter in his first start. Thus far, his only concern is command, and at 21, that can develop, as long as the Orioles don’t rush him.
David Hernandez, RHP, 24 years old
During the 2008 season, O’s minor leaguer David Hernandez turned in a very surprising year. Coming off a 2007 campaign in which he was 7-11 with a 4.95 ERA, Hernandez didn’t appear to be one of the Orioles top prospects. However, he turned it around the following year, going 10-4, posting a 2.68 ERA, and leading the Eastern League in strikeouts. Hernandez is sometimes overshadowed by the glory received by elite O’s prospects such as Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta, but has been productive the last two seasons. He has at times struggled this season, but is 3-1 with a 3.50 ERA, and has a 46:13 K:BB ratio in 36 innings of work.
Jason Berken, RHP, 25 years old
Coming off a solid 2008 season in which he was 12-4 with a 3.58 ERA, one could only scratch their head when Jason Berken didn’t get promoted to Triple A. However, on Apr. 21, 2009, Berken got the call after two Double-A starts. So far in Triple A, he has been nothing short of dominant. In four starts, he has allowed ONE run, has a 0.46 earned run average, and has won both of his decisions. Berken doesn’t possess the dominating stuff a guy like Tillman or Arrieta do, but he knows how to let his defense work, and with the solid defense the O’s will have in years to come, that will be a good attitude to have.
Troy Patton, LHP, 23 years old
Last year, the frustrating part of the Miguel Tejada-to-Astros deal for the O’s was Troy Patton. He was the centerpiece of the trade for Baltimore, as he was the Astros top prospect. However, he got injured, missing all of 2008. Had he not gotten injured, he had a legitimate shot to pitch in the back end of the Orioles rotation. If nothing else, he could’ve played a significant role in the bullpen, which was needed. However, the 23-year old is currently in Double A, where he is lighting it up, as expected. In seven starts, he is 4-1, has a 1.14 earned run average, and has allowed just 26 hits in 39-1/3 innings.
Jake Arrieta, RHP, 23 years old
One of the most encouraging prospects the O’s have come across in the two seasons under Andy MacPhail is right handed pitcher Jake Arrieta. A consensus top 20 pick going into the 2007 MLB Draft, the right handed fireballer slipped all the way to the fifth round, where the O’s jumped on him. He has blossomed into an elite pitching prospect with the Orioles. As a rookie at Single A Frederick, he was just 6-5, but posted a 2.87 ERA, and struck out 120 batters and walked 51 in 113 innings of work. So far this year, he has been even more dominant, as he is 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA, 42 strikeouts, and 16 walks in 33-1/3 innings of work. In his last start, he allowed just one hit and struck out ten in seven innings of shutout ball.
Brandon Erbe, RHP, 21 years old
Brandon Erbe has never been one of the O’s top prospects. Last season, he improved his command, but was still 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA, and served up 21 home runs. However, Erbe, who entered the season as the O’s No. 6 overall prospect, has completely turned it around. In four starts, he has allowed TWO runs, but oddly, has one win and three losses. In all four of his starts, he has allowed one run—and sometimes less. However, it is unlikely Erbe plays a significant role in the O’s rotation going forward, but it is encouraging to see him dominate like he is.
Timothy Bascom, RHP, 24 years old
The 2007 Draft was, to say the least, a successful draft for the O’s. The draft was made an incredible one when four teams passed on a young catcher named Matt Wieters, where the O’s grabbed him with the fifth overall pick. Four rounds later, the Birds picked Central Florida right handed pitcher Tim Bascom. He struggled mightily in 2008 for Frederick. While he went 6-5, he posted a lowly 5.87 earned run average. So far this season, he has looked, at times, dominant. In 35 and two thirds innings, he has a solid 2.78 earned run average, but is just 3-4. However, he has been great thus far, and could find himself in Double-A soon.
Nathan Nery, LHP, 23 years old
With the 535th overall pick of the 2006 MLB Draft, the O’s decided to pick a solid left handed pitcher in Stetson’s Nathan Nery. He breezed through Delmarva in 2007, going 7-3 with a solid 3.39 earned run average. However, the O’s as an organization felt he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump to High A Frederick. He proved early in 2008 that thinking that was foolish, when he went 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five early starts for Delmarva. On May 7, he got the call to Frederick. After struggling his first start for the Keys, he has been solid his last two outings, allowing just two runs in 12 innings combined. On the year, he is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA.
Zachary Britton, LHP, 21 years old
Drafted out of Weatherford High School in 2006 in the third round of the MLB Draft, Zach Britton had a lot to carry on his shoulders. He had all the hype surrounding him, and the last three seasons, has answered it. However, in 2006, he was 0-4 with a poor 5.29 earned run average. He has rebounded admirably, though. In 2007, he posted a 3.68 ERA and was 6-4, and had a career year the following campaign, going 12-7 with a 3.12 mark. So far in 2008 for Single A Frederick, he has been solid, with a good 2.27 ERA in seven starts and 1-1 record. Shown by his ERA, he has been snubbed of a lot of wins. There have been five starts he’s made where he pitched very well—in three of them he got a no decision, one in which he won, and in one he got a loss.
Brian Matusz, LHP, 22 years old
In the 2008 MLB Draft, the Baltimore Orioles decided to address something they dearly need when they picked pitcher Brian Matusz with the fourth overall pick. So far, he’s been nothing short of dominant. While he doesn’t possess a Stephen Strasburg-like fastball, he knows how to fool hitters, which is why, despite a heater topping out at 94, he leads the league in strikeouts. He has been snubbed of multiple wins, as Frederick doesn’t have the offense or bullpen for a starter to be successful. In a 2-1 loss on May 8, he allowed one run and struck out 13 in seven innings—and got handed a defeat. In a May 14th start, he allowed one run in five and two thirds frames, leaving with a lead. However, Frederick’s ugly bullpen blew it. In other words, Matusz’ story of 2009 can’t be told by his 3-2 record, but by his 3.09 ERA and 60:17 K:BB ratio.
Richard Zagone, LHP, 22 years old
In the sixth round of 2008 Draft, the O’s selected Missouri left handed pitcher Rich Zagone, which made some fans scratch some heads. Zagone pitched at the University of Missouri—but was just 2-3 with a 5.25 ERA. However, the selection appears to be a stroke of genius thus far. As a rookie for Aberdeen, he had seven wins, just one loss, a 2.89 earned run average, and just two home runs allowed. He has been as dominant thus far in 2009, as he is 3-3 with a 2.56 earned run average. Hitters have a measly .197 batting mark next year. Because of the depth the O’s have pitching-wise in the minor leagues, it’s unlikely Zagone has a future with the O’s rotation, but if he can keep this up, he has a chance.
Oliver Drake, RHP, 22 years old
Talk about a steal. In the 43rd round of the 2008 Draft, the O’s picked Navy right handed pitcher Oliver Drake. After signing, he reported to rookie league Bluefield, where he posted a 0.77 ERA, and even got promoted to Aberdeen, where he had a 0.87 mark. So far this year for Single A Delmarva, he has a 3.31 earned run average, certainly an ERA worthy of a good record. However, he has just one win and two losses. Like Zagone, it’ll be hard for Drake to play a significant role because of the abundance of arms the Orioles have in the system. But also like Zagone, if he can continue to mow hitters down, he improves his chances.
The O’s have a ton of arms down in the minors who could play well in the majors. And with the MLB Draft coming up, the amount of pitchers the O’s have could increase.