By JAY LeBLANC
Zach Britton is rarely the first guy mentioned when the subject of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospects comes up - that distinction would go to either Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta or Brian Matusz - but if the 21-year-old keeps dealing for the Frederick Keys, Baltimore’s Big Three could quickly morph into a Fab Four. Britton, a 6-foot-2, 172-pound lefty, has shown steady improvement since the Orioles took him in the third round of the 2006 draft, and he’s off to a great start this year in his first taste of advanced Class A ball.
Britton is just 1-1 through seven starts, but he ranks fifth in the Carolina League with a 2.27 ERA and fourth in K’s with 38 in 35 2/3 innings. His 19 walks are more than the Orioles would prefer, but he has made up for it by allowing just one home run and holding opposing batters to a .226 average. Britton’s performance over the past two seasons suggests his early-season success is no fluke. He went 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA for the short-season Class A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2007 and followed that up by finishing third in the Class A South Atlantic League in wins (12) and seventh in ERA (3.12) for the Delmarva Shorebirds last season.
I recently had the chance to speak with Britton, who entered this season ranked by Baseball America as the 12th-best prospect in the Orioles organization.
Q: You passed up a scholarship to Texas A&M to sign with the Orioles. Was that a difficult decision for you?
A: At first it was. I always dreamed of playing college baseball, but to have the chance to sign professionally, especially [after being drafted] in the third-round … That signing bonus was too hard to pass up.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I throw a four-seamer, a sinking fastball, a slider and a changeup. My sinking fastball is probably my out pitch right now - I throw it in the low to mid-90s. My slider is probably my second-best pitch, and I’m coming along with the changeup right now; it’s been pretty good the last few outings, but it’s still a work in progress.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout guy, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: It’s a mixture of the two. The last couple years I haven’t struck out a lot of guys, but this year I think I have more strikeouts than innings pitched. I think that’s just more of me developing my secondary pitches, and them coming around to being quality pitches right now. So I think I’m still more of a ground ball guy.
Q: You’ve pitched at least five innings in all but one of your starts this year, but you have completed six innings only once. Are you on a pitch count?
A: We are. We’re on a pitch count, but I think it’s more of the fact that I’ve been walking more guys this year. When you walk guys and strike out a lot of guys you have higher pitch counts. I kind of just need to cut down on the walks and I’ll be able to pitch deeper into games.
Q: What aspects of pitching are you most focused on trying to improve upon this year?
A: Cutting down on walks, getting ahead of hitters, and then developing that changeup to where it’s going to be a quality pitch where I can go fastball-changeup throughout the game.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: I’ve been asked that question a lot. Tom Glavine - I used to watch him all the time when I was little. [I liked] the way he attacked hitters. Obviously he had a good fastball when he first got drafted, but later in his career he relied more on early contact. So I enjoyed watching him and kind of tried to model my game after his. I mean, he’s on a far different level, but I liked watching him. And then Jon Lester, I guess, is a more modern guy I like to watch - I feel like we’re similar in some ways. Those two guys are the ones I really like to watch.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Orioles?
A: I guess that’s up to them, but right now I feel like I’m getting a lot better. Every year a lot of progress has been made, so hopefully I can continue that, and hopefully soon.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009 - Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Danny Duffy, Royals; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins; Xavier Avery, Orioles; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox; Derek Norris, Nationals.
2008 - Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.