By JAY LeBLANC
June 16, 2008
Every Little Leaguer takes the field with dreams of growing up to play for the hometown big league club, and while most will never realize that goal, Orioles prospect Brandon Erbe still has a pretty good shot. Erbe, a 6’ 4”, 180 pound right-hander, grew up in Owings Mills, Md., and starred for the McDonough School in Baltimore. A commitment to the University of Miami scared off a sufficient number of teams that Erbe fell to the third round of the 2005 draft, where the O’s were more than happy to grab him.
The then-17-year-old Erbe made his professional debut with the Rookie-Level Bluefield Orioles that same summer and immediately established himself as a big-time prospect by fanning 48 overmatched hitters in just 23 1/3 innings, earning a late-season promotion to the short-season Class A Aberdeen IronBirds. He continued to impress with the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds in 2006. Poor run support led to a 5-9 record, but Erbe posted a solid 3.22 ERA to go along with 133 strikeouts in 114 2/3 innings. After the season, Baseball America ranked him as the Orioles’ No. 2 prospect and the 78th best in all of baseball. However, Erbe encountered his first speed bump on his road to the big leagues in 2007, struggling mightily with the Frederick Keys as one of the youngest players in the advanced Class A Carolina League. The 19-year-old posted an ugly 6.26 ERA and struggled with his control, walking 62 batters in 119 1/3 innings, though he continued to display the ability to make batters miss by racking up 111 K’s.
Erbe fell to No. 10 on the Orioles prospect list and was assigned to Frederick once again to begin the 2008 season, but so far, he’s taken it all in stride. Adjustments to his delivery have yielded positive results, and Erbe is pitching much better than he did in 2007. He had his best outing of the season in his last start, tossing seven hitless innings while striking out nine in a no-decision against the Wilmington Blue Rocks, and has a 5-5 record and 4.65 ERA to go along with an impressive 68 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings on the year. He’s shown much better control as well, walking just 19 batters so far. I recently spoke with the talented 20-year-old:
Q: As a native of Owings Mills, Md., is it safe to assume you were an Orioles fan growing up?
A: Yeah, it’s pretty safe to say that - my whole life.
Q: How excited were you when your hometown team drafted you in the third round in ‘05? Did you know they were looking to pick you?
A: Actually I was pretty surprised - the Orioles were probably one of the last teams that I thought of. Growing up in Baltimore, one of the coaches I played for was a scout for the Orioles. I guess things were handled a little differently - they were probably one of the last teams I thought of. I was just extremely happy when I found out it was them.
Q: You struggled at times last year as one of the younger players in the Carolina League, but you’re having a much better year so far in 2008. What kinds of adjustments have you made?
A: Most of the adjustments have been in my delivery, my windup - I’ve just tried to smooth it out a little bit. It’s helped me throw more strikes in my last couple outings and I’ve been able to get quick outs and things like that. That’s been my biggest adjustment.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you use them?
A: I throw a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slider and a change-up. The four-seam fastball is my best pitch - my out pitch. That’s what I go to when I’m in trouble, or when I want to just get ahead of the hitter. Slider and change-up - I use them sparingly, just kind of when I need to, and the two-seamer is just kind of a pitch that I try to get down to get some ground balls. It’s a fastball that I just try to keep down in the zone.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you’ve tried to model your approach after?
A: I’d say probably the mental approach of Nolan Ryan - the way he went about the game. He just challenged everybody. He just went right at hitters and said, you know, here’s my best stuff, here you go - if you hit it, I’ll tip my hat to you. He was just a bulldog on the mound. He just went after it and didn’t take anything from the hitters; just went after them and dictated the game.
Q: What are some of the things you’re trying to work on this season?
A: Just consistency. Last year was an up-and-down year. I’m trying to stay on a level plain throughout the year and give my team a chance to win every game.
Q: When do you see yourself making your big-league debut? Do you have a specific goal in mind?
A: As soon as possible. I don’t have any specific timeline - I think it’s kind of unrealistic to keep a timeline. I mean, everybody wants to get there as soon as they can, and for me, it’s just a matter of consistency and putting stuff together and being able to carry it through a season.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox.