The O’s farm system was ranked as one of the better ones in baseball this past offseason in large part due to, well, Matt Wieters, but also the number of quality pitching prospects that the team had. Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman, and Brian Matusz have all made their debuts in the big leagues, but there are still several interesting arms left down on the farm.
First up is the third member of the as yet not well nicknamed Big Three, Jake Arrieta. He started the year by dominating Double-A batters (10.7 K/9) with slightly improved control (3.5 BB/9) resulting in a 2.59 ERA and 3.01 FIP. Since being promoted to Triple-A, things have gone quite as smoothly (4.92 ERA, 4.01 FIP) but he’s still striking out a bunch of hitters (8.4 K/9) and walking even fewer (3.2 BB/9). The biggest difference – along with a few more hits happening to fall in – is the almost doubling of his home run rate from 0.6 HR/9 to 1.1 HR/9. Not much to be concerned about, and there’s still a pretty good chance that we’ll see Arrieta in an Orioles uniform this September – and in the Orioles rotation not too long into next season, if not at the start of it.
Brandon Erbe seems like he’s been a prospect forever, but he’s only 21 years old. Disregarding four mediocre (4.85 FIP) starts he made in Low A-Ball in the middle of the year, he was moved up to Double-A from last year’s stint in HIgh A-Ball and pitched pretty well. His 2.50 ERA is shinier than it should be (4.34 FIP) due to some control issues (4.1 BB/9), but Erbe had that problem in 2007 and was able to correct it in ’08 so I think that’s more of an adjustment to the higher level of competition. He’s still bringing the K’s at a decent but somewhat down clip (7.9 K/9), and his home run rate is down to levels not seen since 2006 (0.9 HR/9 – it was at 2 HR/9 last year). He used to be the team’s top pitching prospect and has kind of become a forgotten man – that may be changing soon.
Troy Patton, who came over to the O’s in the Miguel Tejada trade, seems to have recovered pretty well from his labrum surgery. He put up a 1.99 ERA in Double-A (3.46 FIP), but has been knocked around at the Triple-A level. His 5.71 ERA is bad, and his 6.36 FIP is even worse. Patton isn’t a strike-out pitcher so his 5.7 K/9 isn’t unexpected – and he’s showing his usual good control (2.4 BB/9). The problem is that he’s been an extreme flyball pitcher in Triple-A and a lot of those balls are leaving the park (2.4 (!) HR/9). He was never a groundball guy, but this is pretty absurd. Assuming he can get that HR issue straightened out – and a lot of that will just be less bad luck – Patton is looking like a decent option for the back of the rotation sometime next year.
If you love groundballs (and I do!), Zach Britton is your man. The guy doesn’t give up the longball (0.4 HR/9) be keeping the ball on the ground so much (66% of the time – 65% last year, 68% the year before). As a lefty, that kind of thing will play all by itself, but he’s also upped his strike-out rate to 8.1 K/9, though his walks are up a little too to 3.6 BB/9. He’s spent all year at High A-Ball, and has a 2.68 ERA and a 3.52 FIP. At 21 years old I see no reason to rush him, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him in Triple-A by the end of next year. If you like Brad Bergesen now, imagine him as a southpaw!
Oliver Drake hasn’t been nearly the groundball machine that Britton is (only 50%), but he’s pitchig pretty well himself in A-Ball. His 3.47 ERA matches up almost exactly with his 3.52 FIP, and his strike-outs (7.5 K/9) and walks (3.0 BB/9) have both been solid.
Timothy Bascom is pitching at Double-A at the age of 24, but at least he’s doing a pretty good job (3.67 ERA, 3.21 FIP). His control has improved this year (2.6 BB/9) and he’s striking out an OK number of batters (6.4 K/9) an getting some groundballs (48%). Don’t think he’ll ever be much of a starting pitcher in the majors, but I can see him filling a Brian Bass type role coming out of the pen. [Bass, incidentally, has a groundball rate of 63.2% and yet is still giving up 1.5 HR/9. Over one in five balls hit in the air against him have found the seats. That's pretty funny, unless of course you're trying to win some baseball games. I have to think that'll go down though.]
I have no idea who Kenny Moreland is – and he’s 23 years old – but between Low and High A-Ball this year he has walked 5 guys in 65.1 IP. That’s pretty hilarious. In Low A, where he has 51 of those innings, he had a 6.9 K/9, an 0.5 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 – good enough for a 0.88 ERA and a 2.42 FIP. Moreland wasn’t drafted in 2008, but the O’s called and signed him anyway. I’m assuming he’s short on “stuff” but would appreciate it if someone could fill me in.
So that’s just a sprinkling of the other pitchers the O’s have in the pipe-line. A 2011 rotation of Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta, Bergesen, Hernandez, with Patton filling in and Erbe and Britton right behind them would be pretty interesting. They may lose 100 games – or win 100 – but it would certainly be interesting.