2010 Prospect Preview: Zach Britton
So, my intention here was to write about Troy Patton. Between a hectic life (I’m leaving Rochester behind forever in just a few weeks!) and the creeping realization that I had nothing interesting to say about Patton, I lost my motivation for it. This is not to say Troy Patton doesn’t intrigue me, because he does and I don’t want him to become forgotten. He has a lot to prove this year after struggling (mostly with the long ball) in limited time at Norfolk last year, but he could certainly see quality time in Baltimore soon in some capacity. I just don’t know what else there is to say about him that you all don’t already know.
I figured, I can write about whatever the heck I want. So let’s talk about Zach Britton, the up-and-comer who could very well be the face of the farm system in one year. The 22 year old lefty hasn’t gotten a ton of ink (and almost none from yours truly) just yet, but we’re probably on the teetering cusp of rapid change in that particular field.
So who is Zach Britton? In four years of steady progression in the farm system he has shown an increasing ability to strike batters out while struggling somewhat with the walks. He’s making the big jump to AA Bowie this year (often called the hardest and most important jump in the minors) and it will be interesting to see if his strong but unpolished fastball/slider/change repertoire can improve over the course of the year.
And – oh, yeah – the sinker. Britton has a power sinker that gave him a 3.38 GO/AO last year (over twice as good as Brad Bergesen!) and which more than anything else gives me supreme confidence that this kid can be real successful in cozy Camden Yards against the home run offenses in the AL East. And I think that Britton is just the prototype for the kind of pitcher the Orioles want to build a collection of because of the aforementioned ballpark and competition issues.
Consider that of the ten pitchers drafted in 2009 who saw mound time (including Matt Hobgood), only one of them (David Baker in the GCL) had a GO/AO ratio under 1.00, and as a group they gave up 0.3 HR/9. Are the Orioles making ground balls a priority when it comes to their pitching? I believe they are. We’ve heard all spring long about how certain guys need to “pitch down” and how important it is “not to elevate the ball”. And everyone in the organization has to be thrilled with Brad Bergesen, whose success is at least 50% his ground ball inducing ability.
A pitching staff that can limit home runs in the AL East is something that I have naughty dreams about. I really, truly believe that that would be just the kind of advantage that could propel the Orioles to the Promised Land, and Zach Britton is the living incarnation of that potential advantage.
As I mentioned, the move to AA is considered the most telling promotion, where guys with questionable command get found out by batters with better approaches. Walks have been the ivy holding Britton down so far in his career, so there is some potential for disaster this year, but the overwhelming ground ball rate and ability to miss bats with left-handed velocity and movement already makes Britton a relatively good bet to really make his mark this year.