The Orioles have made strong improvements with their farm system over the last two years, thanks to a combination of solid drafting and astute trades. While hitters such as Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nolan Reimold are lineup anchors for the present and future, the Orange Birds have also collected a mass of intriguing young pitching.
Here is a look at pitchers likely to make their presence felt in Baltimore over the next year or two.
Jake Arrieta, RHP
A fifth round pick out of TCU in 2007, 23-year old Arrieta was a first round candidate at one point until command problems and bonus demands knocked his stock back. He has fully justified Baltimore's decision to give him an above-slot bonus. Arrieta had a 2.59 ERA with a 70:23 K:BB in 59 innings for Double-A Bowie before a recent promotion to Triple-A Norfolk, where he has a 3.48 mark with a 28:8 K:BB so far in 31 innings. Arrieta has a 95 MPH fastball and has improved his secondary pitches and command. He could be ready to help sometime in August, and should be a rotation candidate in 2010. He has the ability to be a number two starter if everything comes together properly.
Brad Bergesen, RHP
A fourth round pick in 2004 out of high school in Pleasanton, California, the 23 year old has helped stabilize the Baltimore rotation this year with a 6-3, 3.54 mark with a 53:25 K:BB in 104.1 innings. His 89 MPH fastball isn't overpowering, but he mixes it nicely with his slider, changeup, and curveball. In my book this year, I wrote that Bergesen didn't have terrific velocity, but that he had the potential to “pull a Nick Blackburn on us” and succeed despite mediocre strikeout rates. He doesn't have the upside of an Arrieta or Chris Tillman, but Bergesen looks like he could be a very solid inning-eater.
Jason Berken, RHP
Like Bergesen, Jason Berken doesn't have the best stuff in the world, but has a chance to succeed nevertheless. Alas, the results have been less impressive than Bergesen: Berken is 1-6, 5.87 in nine starts for the Orioles, with a 26:17 K:BB and 57 hits allowed in 46 innings. 25 years old, Berken was a sixth round pick in 2006 out of Clemson. He throws slightly harder than Bergesen, 90-92 MPH, and works in a curve, changeup, and slider. He will get more chances and could be a fifth starter, but more probably will end up in relief eventually.
Brandon Erbe, RHP
Erbe was a hot prospect following an excellent 2006 season, but a horrible 2007 season hurt his stock. He rebounded in '08, but has missed most of 2009 with a sore shoulder. However, rehab has gone well, and he's recently taken the mound in the New York-Penn League and should return to Double-A soon. Before getting hurt, he had a 0.90 ERA in four starts for Double-A Bowie, with a 19:8 K:BB in 20 innings and just 11 hits allowed. Still just 21 years old, Erbe was a third round pick in 2005 out of high school in Owings Mills, Maryland. His low-to-mid-90s fastball and nasty slider are overpowering, but he's still working on his command and polishing up his changeup. If healthy, he might appear in the majors late this year.
David Hernandez, RHP
A 16th round pick in 2005 from Cosumnes River Junior College, Hernandez has had a hard time getting respect from scouts, despite solid performances throughout his minor league career. He's held his own in four outings for the Orioles so far, showing a 90-93 MPH fastball, and a usable change, curve, and slider. Scouts from other organizations still seem to prefer the 24 year old as a reliever and possibly a future closer, but Hernandez has succeeded as a starter in Double-A and Triple-A, and looks like he'll get more chances to start in the majors.
Brian Matusz, LHP
Drafted in the first round (fourth overall) in 2008, University of San Diego product Matusz has made a rapid adjustment to pro ball, posting a 2.16 ERA with a 75:21 K:BB in 67 innings for High-A Frederick this year. He's been brilliant in two outings since being promoted to Double-A Bowie: 26.1 innings, just 11 hits and two runs, with a 32:6 K:BB. Matusz throws a low 90s fastball for strikes, and his curveball, changeup, and solid are all strong offerings. The 22-year old southpaw is quite polished and will be in the mix for the major league rotation in 2010. He projects as a number two starter.
Troy Patton, LHP
Acquired from the Astros in the 2007 Miguel Tejada trade, Patton missed all of 2008 following labrum surgery, but is fully healthy now. Drafted by Houston in the ninth round of the '04 draft out of high school in Magnolia, Texas, the 23 year old Patton features an 88-93 MPH fastball, mixing it with an effective slider and changeup. He went 6-2, 1.99 with a 47:18 K:BB in 63 innings this year for Double-A Bowie, earning a recent promotion to Triple-A Norfolk, where he is 1-3, 5.47 with a 11:8 K:BB in 26.1 innings (38 hits) so far. Patton doesn't have a huge margin for error, but he throws strikes and could be another inning-eater type, now that his shoulder is healthy again.
Chris Tillman, RHP
Another trade acquisition, Tillman was originally drafted by the Mariners in the second round in '06 out of high school in Fountain Valley, California. Picked up in the Erik Bedard deal, Tillman had quickly emerged as an elite prospect. Just 21 years old, he's 7-5, 2.50 with a 88:22 K:BB in 86.1 innings for Triple-A Norfolk this year, with 72 hits allowed. He has a very strong 90-95 MPH fastball, his curveball is excellent, and he's polished up his changeup. He has the physical ability to be a number one or two starter at the major league level, assuming the usual caveats about health and durability. Expect him to see action for the Orioles late this summer or fall.
Article first appeared 7/14/09