The Orioles graduated a lot of their top young players to the majors this season – Wieters, Tillman, Matusz, Bergesen, Reimold, Hernandez, Mickolio – but there’s still some talent left in the system. I know a couple of the above technically qualify as minor leaguers, but I don’t consider them prospects at this point. Here are my top 13 O’s prospects, with their position and highest level reached in 2009 in parentheses, as well as how I would rate them. I weighed proximity to the majors, stats, scouting reports, and projected future contributions when doing these rankings.
13. Oliver Drake (RHP, A-Ball, C) – Showed good control (2.9 BB/9) and a decent strike-out rate (7.2 K/9) while getting some groundballs (50%). Four-pitch pitcher, could be a decent back-of-the-rotation starter.
12. Pedro Florimon (SS, Double-A, C+) – Spent almost the entire season at High-A, hitting .267/.336/.428. He cut down on the K’s a little to a still high 24.9%, and kept the walks at a decent level at 8.9%. Despite the high number of errors, reports are that he can play a good shortstop which will largely determine how far he can advance. It’s pretty close between Florimon and Mychal Givens as the O’s top shortstop prospect; Givens is younger and may have a higher ceiling, but he hasn’t played any pro-ball yet.
11. Steven Johnson (RHP, Double-A, C+) – Had the strike-out pitch working, with an 11.8 K/9 in Double-A and a 9.5 K/9 in High-A before his call-up. His control improved at the higher level as well, from 3.9 BB/9 to 2.9 BB/9. The main concern is that Johnson’s an extreme flyball pitcher, which is going to result in a lot of home runs at the major league level.
10. Xavier Avery (CF, A-Ball, C+) – .262/.306/.340. The guy can’t really hit, what with the not walking and also striking out a bunch. If his speed translates into great defense in center, then he can be valuable anyway. And his age and athleticism leaves a lot of room for development. Need to see some production at some point though.
9. Jesse Beal (RHP, Rookie League, C+) – 13 starts with a 5 K/9, 1 BB/9, and a 60% GB rate. The 19 year-old is big at 6-6, so he may still pick up some more velocity. I’m always a fan of good control and groundballs. Still a long ways away, but there’s a lot to like.
8. Brandon Waring (1B/3B, Double-A, C+) – I discussed Waring and his MVP season previously. Lots of power, lots of strike-outs. Still not sure he can be much more than a bench bat.
7. Caleb Joseph (C, High-A, C+) – .284/.337/.450. Needs to work on the plate discipline, but the bat will play behind the plate (which is where it looks like he’ll stay for now). Upped his walks a little and cut down on the K’s from last year. Not young for his level at 23.
6. Matt Hobgood (RHP, Rookie League, B-) – Just 26.2 IP, 5.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 57% GB rate. Sinker was as advertised, and I’m really looking forward to see how he’ll do in a full season next year. Middle-of-the-rotation innings eater is more valuable than it sounds.
5. Brandon Snyder (1B, Triple-A, B) – .248/.316/.355 at Triple-A, .343/.421/.597 at Double-A. Not concerned about the struggles after his promotion given his age (22). I like that he started walking more this year, and I’m coming around to him hitting enough overall (not a ton of power) to play first in the majors. Especially if his glove comes around. If he has a big Spring Training he may be the Orioles Opening Day first-baseman.
4. Brandon Erbe (RHP, Double-A, B) – Strike-out rate was down to 7.6 K/9 in Double-A, and his walks shot up to 4.3 BB/9. Still young at 21, and I still believe in his stuff. Bullpen as a back-up plan isn’t too discouraging, if he can up his velocity in short stints.
3. Jake Arrieta (RHP, Triple-A, B+) – His strike-out rate fell from 10.7 K/9 to 7.7 K/9 when he was promoted from Double-A mid-season, but his walks also fell from 3.5 BB/9 to 3.2 BB.9. I like his stuff, but I don’t think he has the Ace potential that other foresaw for him previously.
2. Josh Bell (3B, Double-A, B+) – .295/.376/.516. Big bounce-back season offensively, and it sounds like he’ll be able to stick at third. Should see the majors in 2010.
1. Zach Britton (LHP, High-A, B+) – Britton had a very good year, which I looked at here. Tons of groundballs, and he started K’ing more batters. I’m already pretty high on the kid, and if he keeps it up at Double-A next year I’ll be really excited about his prospects.
The O’s don’t have those real blue-chip prospects anymore, but there’s a good amount of depth extending out amongst the C type guys. The number 13 prospect isn’t that different from who the number 25 prospect might be. With the #3 overall pick in the 2010 draft, the O’s should be adding some top talent to the system soon.
[Edit: For the record, if I included them I’d have Matusz 1st and Mickolio 9th (behind Joseph).]