By JAY LeBLANC
Though the Phoenix Desert Dogs came up short in their quest for a sixth straight Arizona Fall League championship, the eight Orioles prospects that suited up for them benefited from the experience and, in most cases, made a good impression.
Matt Angle, OF
Angle’s showing in Arizona was mildly disappointing as he hit just .237 and posted an on-base percentage (.333) 41 points below what he managed in the minors this past season in a league known as a hitters’ haven. He displayed little pop (three doubles, one home run), but that was to be expected. He was solid in the outfield and swiped seven bases in as many attempts while averaging nearly a run scored per contest. Despite his mediocre fall showing, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster raised his stock in 2009 with a second straight solid season. He earned Post-Season All-Star honors in the advanced Carolina League and excelled in a late-season, eight-game stint with Double-A Bowie. The 24-year-old will likely return to Bowie to begin the 2010 season and could have a future as a fourth outfielder or fringe starter if his progression continues.
Josh Bell, 3B
Improvement against left-handers was at the top of this 23-year-old switch-hitter’s to-do list when he departed for Arizona, and while the sample size was small, the statistics say Bell accomplished his mission. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder managed just four hits in 31 at bats against southpaws with Bowie this season but went 9-for-18 (.500) with three doubles and two RBI against them for Phoenix. He hit .319 overall and led the circuit in doubles (10) while ranking 11th in RBI (19) and 13th in hits (29). Bell made great strides on defense this season, and Desert Dogs manager Gary Cathcart praised his improved conditioning and footwork in a recent interview with Baseball America. With Melvin Mora out of the picture, Bell has a decent shot at earning the third base job in spring training, but a few more months of seasoning at the Triple-A level is more likely.
Brandon Erbe, RHP
Erbe was sent to Arizona in part to make up for innings lost this season to shoulder fatigue but tossed just nine before a sprained pinky finger brought a premature end to his AFL stint. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound righty - who turns 22 on Christmas Day - allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits in those nine frames while fanning nine. It’s a small sample size, but the fact that he issued just two walks is encouraging. Erbe will return to Baltimore this week to have his hand examined but the injury is believed to be minor and all indications are that he’ll be ready for spring training. Added to the 40-man roster last week, Erbe is a near-lock for some more minor league seasoning before he figures into the big league club’s plans and will likely begin the year in Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation. A good showing could put him near the front of the line for a midseason promotion.
Eddie Gamboa, RHP
Barely on the prospect radar entering the 2009 season, this soon-to-be 25-year-old reliever opened eyes in the organization by going 11-0 with a 1.08 ERA for Delmarva, Frederick and finally Bowie. And while he didn’t post eye-popping stats in Arizona, he solidified his place among the Orioles’ top relief prospects. Gamboa made eight appearances for the Desert Dogs, allowing three earned runs in 10 innings for a 2.70 ERA. Known for his deceptive delivery and good command of his three-pitch arsenal, Gamboa walked just two hitters in Arizona, helping to offset the fact that he allowed 12 hits and a .316 average to opposing batters. Gamboa is likely ticketed for Bowie to begin the 2010 season, but a good showing could put him in line for a quick promotion to Triple-A and possibly even some relief work in Baltimore at some point next summer.
Josh Perrault, RHP
Perrault served up two-run shots in his last two AFL outings - including one to White Sox prospect C.J. Retherford that effectively ended the Desert Dogs’ run of five straight championships - and his showing in Arizona would have to be classified as mediocre. The 27-year-old allowed four runs in 10 2/3 innings in Arizona for a respectable 3.38 ERA, but posted a disappointing 6-to-5 K-to-walk ratio after fanning 74 and walking just 18 in the minors in 2009. Perrault headed to Phoenix with a shot at earning a spot on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, but in the end the organization chose to protect Rhyne Hughes - a 26-year-old powerful but strikeout-prone first baseman - instead. In spite of his so-so showing in Arizona, Perrault is likely to be a Rule 5 Draft target of teams seeking bullpen help. If he goes undrafted, he’ll compete for a spot in Baltimore’s bullpen in the spring.
Brandon Snyder, 1B
Snyder’s stock had dropped somewhat after disappointing three-month stint in Triple-A, but he redeemed himself with a strong showing in Arizona. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound first baseman, who turns 23 on Tuesday, finished eighth in the AFL in batting average (.354), sixth in on-base percentage (.456) and 10th in slugging percentage (.600), and Cathcart raved about his defense last week during an interview with Baseball America’s Ben Badler. Snyder also walked more often (13) than he struck out (11) and was on pace to rank among the league RBI leaders when the O’s sent him home for the winter following the Desert Dogs’ Nov. 9 game. Snyder was added to the 40-man roster last week, and his success in Arizona has likely put him back in the mix for the first base job in the spring. It’s more likely, however, that he’ll begin the season back in Norfolk.
Ryohei Tanaka, RHP
Tanaka had some good outings in Arizona, but his bad ones - five runs on eight hits in three innings on Nov. 5; seven runs on 11 hits in 2 2/3 innings on Nov. 13 - were horrific enough to saddle him with a 6.86 ERA and .360 opponents’ average. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Tanaka fanned 16 and walked just four in 19 2/3 innings of work, and allowed just two earned runs in seven innings as a reliever. Tanaka’s subpar showing puts a damper on an otherwise solid first season in the States, as the 27-year-old posted a 3.00 ERA in 21 appearances (12 starts) for Double-A Bowie. The 6-foot, 169-pounder spent five years in Japan’s minor leagues after posting an 8.10 ERA in 10 innings with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2003. His age, inability to stick in Japan’s majors and poor showing in Arizona don’t bode well for his chances of a big-league future.
Brandon Waring, 1B/3B
As a member of the Desert Dogs’ taxi squad, Waring was limited to two games per week but managed to make a good impression nonetheless. The 2009 MVP of the advanced Class A Carolina League slugged a pair of homers and drove in 10 runs in nine games and fared well defensively at both corner infield positions. On the flip side, the 6-foot-4, 195-pounder hit just .257 in 35 at bats and fanned in more than a third of his plate appearances while drawing only three walks. Waring, who turns 24 on Jan. 2, finished the 2009 season with Double-A Bowie and will likely return to the Baysox to begin the 2010 campaign. Improved plate discipline and continued defensive progression would solidify his position as a possible future regular at one of the corner infield spots. Otherwise, his pop and versatility could help him carve out a niche as a power-hitting utility player.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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