Wrapping It Up, Volume 2
Today brings part two of our award-winning* season ending minor league coverage, wherein we investigate the A ball levels of Frederick and Salisbury. They are farther away from the reality in Baltimore, but these two levels are by far the most important of the entire organization. In January the Orioles had a top ten farm system, but the huge turnover of prospects to the big leagues will probably leave what used to be a top-heavy system down in the middle of the pack. If the Birds are ever going to become a consistent winner, they must prove that they can reload the system quickly after purging it of its best players, and that means that the Keys and the Shorebirds need to be churning out quality talent to Bowie and Norfolk (obviously).
The good news is that in this regard, 2009 was a large success with several different players excelling both on the mound and at the plate. These two teams were much harder to “wrap up” than their higher level cousins. That doesn’t mean the O’s are likely to see another year with multiple top-100 talents next year or the year after, but they have put themselves in a strong position to get back on top quickly.
Frederick Keys (64-75)
Best Prospect: There were many players who had terrific years at Frederick, giving the organization a solid amount of depth. But in a system where the stated philosophy is “grow the arms, buy the bats” (although I have yet to see any proof of bat-buying skills), the best prospect is the pitcher who takes a big step forward, and that was Zach Britton this year. At just 21 years old (compared to Roch’s pick of Brandon Waring at 23), Britton was masterful for the Keys, balancing a ton of ground balls with a lot of strikeouts (131 in 140 innings). They say that the jump to AA is the most important, so we should all be very excited to see what Britton can do next year to further cement his rising status.
Biggest Surprise: Pedro Florimon, Jr. improved his stock considerably this year. The 22 year old Dominican cut his strikeout rate from 33% in 2008 down to 23% in 2009, and while his defense and walk rate (and, frankly, his strikeout rate) are still far below average, his power arrived this year with 9 home runs, 32 doubles, and 5 triples. Florimon is hardly a total player and might even benefit from sticking at Frederick again next year, but it was a huge surprise to get anything from him at all.
Delmarva Shorebirds (66-70)
Best Prospect: The 20th round draft pick in 2008, rightfielder Ronnie Welty had one of the best all-around seasons in the entire system, making both the mid-season and post-season Sally League All-Star teams (and scoring the winning run in the All-Star game off noted Yankee switch-pitcher Pat Venditte) while putting up a .373 OBP with 10 home runs (and he’s just 21, so that power has yet to truly blossom) along with double-digit outfield assists and just two errors on the year. I have a feeling we’ll be talking a lot about Mr. Welty in the coming years.
Biggest Surprise: The Baltimore Sun’s Dean Jones, Jr. held a terrific preseason discussion about most of the big name prospects in the system, and reading over the Greg Miclat thread is kind of a kick in the teeth: the consensus seems to be that while Miclat is powerless, he plays a good defensive game and knows how to hit and run and best case scenario could be Brian Roberts‘ eventual replacement. Well. It’s hard to sugarcoat how disappointing his season has been, between defense (25 errors in 111 games) and offense (.299 OBP) and getting outplayed by the younger, “raw” Xavier Avery. Ouch.
Fortunately, there was a surprise that was just as nice as Miclat was disappointing, and that was Rick Zagone’s success. Coming out Missouri, Zagone had a good season with Aberdeen in 2008 and kept the ball rolling right through Delmarva and into Frederick. The best part of watching Zagone’s promotion was that his numbers didn’t take a serious dive after the promotion. He ended the year with roughly the same numbers of strikeouts and less walks with the Keys as with the Shorebirds. He’s still a long way from Baltimore, but so far, so good.
Next week: A look at this year’s draft class and also Our Man Vito.
*I want to thank MASN a ton, because they’ve been linking to my columns alongside actual journalism almost every week. I don’t know how I fooled them into thinking my opinion is worthwhile, but I’m sure glad I did.