By JAY LeBLANC
For the first time in a long time, it’s exciting to be a Baltimore Orioles fan. Homegrown talents Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, David Hernandez, Jason Berken and Brad Bergesen are giving long-suffering O’s supporters hope for a bright future, and reinforcements are on the way from what has quickly become one of baseball’s better farm systems.
These rankings take several factors into consideration, including but not limited to minor league success, long-term potential and age. To keep the definition of “prospect” as simple as possible, any player with Major League experience is ineligible for inclusion - sorry, Troy Patton, Kam Mickolio and Bob McCrory. Here we go …
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Brian Matusz, LHP, Frederick
The 6-foot-5 southpaw has outclassed the advanced Class A competition, posting a 2.37 ERA and 69-to-20 K-to-walk ratio in his first 60 2/3 pro innings. A promotion to Double-A Bowie can’t be far off for the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft.
2. Chris Tillman, RHP, Norfolk
The 21-year-old picked up five straight wins and put his command issues in the rear-view before a groin strain forced him from his last start after two innings. The injury isn’t considered serious, and he’s probably next in line for a big league rotation spot.
3. Jake Arrieta, RHP, Bowie
The O’s gave Arrieta a fifth-round record $1.1 million bonus in 2007 and that investment is looking better all the time. The 2007 Carolina League pitcher of the Year has a 2.98 ERA through nine starts and ranks second in the Eastern League with 56 K’s.
4. Brandon Snyder, 1B, Bowie
Snyder enjoyed a breakout season for Frederick in 2008 and the momentum has carried over to 2009. The 2005 first-rounder needs some work at first base, but he ranks second in the Eastern League in RBI (38) and third in average (.342) and homers (9).
5. Zach Britton, LHP, Frederick
The 21-year-old lefty had a fine first full pro season for Delmarva in 2008 and currently ranks fourth in the Carolina League with a 2.45 ERA and sixth with 47 K’s. Mediocre command (26 walks in 47 2/3 innings) remains an issue for the 2007 third-rounder.
6. Brandon Erbe, RHP, Bowie
Erbe was throwing very well (0.90 ERA, 19 K’s in 20 innings, .153 opponents’ batting average) before shoulder fatigue shut him down after four starts. The 21-year-old has top-shelf stuff but must iron out his command issues once he is able to return to action.
7. Caleb Joseph, C, Frederick
The 2008 seventh-rounder would be considered the catcher of the future in any other organization. He performed well for Aberdeen in his pro debut and has handled the jump to Frederick admirably, with a .326 average three homers and 24 RBI in 36 games.
8. Xavier Avery, OF, Delmarva
The 19-year-old was viewed as somewhat raw when the O’s made him a second-rounder last year, but he has held his own in his first taste of full-season ball with a .280 average through 46 games. The eight caught stealings in 18 attempts is troubling, though.
9. Wilfrido Perez, LHP, Bowie
Iffy command hasn’t prevented the 6-foot, 145-pound lefty reliever from quietly dominating the competition at every minor league level so far. The 24-year-old has a 1.77 ERA and 25 K’s in 20 1/3 innings this year, and opponents are hitting just .134 off him.
10. Rick Zagone, LHP, Delmarva
Zagone, a 2008 sixth-rounder, has dominated the mostly younger and less experienced South Atlantic League competition to the tune of a 1.92 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 52-to-17 K-to-walk ratio in 51 2/3 innings. It’s clearly time for a promotion to Frederick.
BEST OF THE REST
11. Luis Lebron, RHP, Frederick
12. Brandon Waring, 1B, Frederick
13. Chorye Spoone, RHP, Frederick
14. Kyle Hudson, OF, Delmarva
15. Joseph Mahoney, 1B, Delmarva
16. Billy Rowell, OF, Frederick
17. Oliver Drake, RHP, Delmarva
18. Bobby Bundy, RHP, Extended Spring Training
19. Pedro Beato, RHP, Frederick
20. Ryan Adams, 2B, Frederick
21. Blake Davis, SS, Norfolk
22. L.J. Hoes, 2B, Delmarva
23. Justin Turner, 2B, Norfolk
24. Cole McCurry, LHP, Delmarva
25. Tim Bascom, RHP, Frederick
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.