The Washington Times - June 5, 2008, 09:17AM

By JAY LeBLANC
June 5, 2008

While first-round pick Matt Wieters got most of the attention, it’s becoming apparent that the Baltimore Orioles got the steal of the 2007 draft when they selected Texas Christian University pitcher Jake Arrieta in the fifth round. Like Wieters, Arrieta waited until the last moment to sign with Baltimore last summer before agreeing to a contract that included a $1.1 million signing bonus - the largest ever given to a fifth-rounder - just hours before the Aug. 16 deadline. “In my mind, we have a first-round talent,” scouting director Joe Jordan told MLB.com.

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The Orioles decided against having Arrieta pitch for one of their minor league affiliates during the final few weeks of the minor league season, opting instead to let him get his feet wet in the Arizona Fall League. The 6‘4”, 225 lb. right-hander made quite an impression as he dominated the prospect-laden circuit as a member of the Phoenix Desert Dogs by tossing 16 scoreless innings over 14 appearances while striking out 16. His success during the fall certainly played a part in the Orioles’ decision to have Arrieta begin the 2008 season as a member of their advanced Class A Carolina League affiliate, the Frederick Keys.

Arrieta entered this season ranked by Baseball America as Baltimore’s No. 7 prospect, but if a new set of rankings were made today, it’s possible he would be ranked second, behind only Wieters. Despite being on a pitch count that limited him to four innings in the Keys’ opener, Arrieta struck out nine Lynchburg Hillcats while allowing just two hits and one earned run. After a rough second outing, he’s found his groove. He’s dominating Carolina League hitters to the tune of a 5-1 record, 2.45 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings as of this morning and has twice been honored as the circuit’s Pitcher of the Week. I recently spoke with the confident 22-year-old:

Q: You slipped to the fifth round of last year’s draft when many predicted you’d be drafted higher. Do you use that as motivation?

A: No – there were a lot of variables that went into why I went to the fifth round, and it really didn’t bother me at all. I think I ended up on a team that really wanted me and they know what kind of talent I have, so it didn’t worry me at all.

Q: Not too many players begin their career in advanced Class A, and you’ve dominated so far. Why do you think you’ve been so successful right from the get-go?

A: Hard work, really, and just, you know, God-given ability. I think I get the most out of myself, and I constantly work hard and want to do better than the next guy. So I think just the amount of work I put into it allows me to be successful.

Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you use them?

A: Really, my fastball is the pitch I use the most. I just go out and try to attack hitters, mostly with my fastball, and to keep them off balance I throw a curveball and a slider – really, a pretty equal mix of the two. And a change-up – primarily I’ll throw it to left-handed hitters, but I will throw it to righties just to get them out on their front foot.

Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout guy, a guy who pitches to contact, or a mixture of the two?

A: It really depends on the day. Some days I’ll have my best stuff, and I’ll strike a ton of guys out that day. Another day, I’ll pitch to contact just because I don’t have my best stuff, but I can still get outs. It really depends on the day, but overall I think I’m more of a strikeout pitcher.

Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you’ve tried to model your approach after?

A: Growing up, I looked at Roger Clemens, because we have a similar build and body type, and we’re pretty much the same type of pitcher. Really him and Nolan Ryan.

Q: What are some of the things you’re trying to work on this season?

A: Command, I’d say, is the biggest thing – command of my fastball inside and outside. I think that once I get that down, I’ll move quickly throughout the system.

Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the big-league club?

A: I think I’m ready now, to be honest with you. I really think I could help them right now, but I know that they’re going to take their time with me, which I understand. But yeah, I really think I could help them right now.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Photo courtesy of the Frederick Keys

Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals.