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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.

5 comments to 2010 Prospect Preview: Zach Britton

  • dan the man

    Very excited about this kid. Could not agree more about the Orioles trying to develop ground ball pitchers. You wanna stack your lineups with sluggers? Fine, we’ll come at you with a rotation of infuriating, power-sapping ground ball pitchers. I like it.

    The problem with ground ball pitchers is that they seem to have a tendency to suddenly lose their ability to get ground balls. Now, Britton obviously has strikeout stuff as well, so he’s probably not a good example. But guys like Chien-Ming Wang, Fausto Carmona, our own Matt Albers, Jim Johnson, and Brad Bergesen – they’ve all shown lapses in their GO abilities. Not to say I think Bergesen and Johnson have lost it or anything, but just that there’s a fine line between a GO and a hit in the major leagues.

  • Andrew

    @dan the man – Oh certainly, but when you’re talking about pitching, I think every aspect of it is especially fragile, particularly with young pitchers.

    And just so we’re clear, I don’t mean to say that the Orioles are out there only looking for the best sinker-slider pitchers, or anything like that. I simply believe that they recognize the connection between home runs and ground balls and have put more weight on a pitcher’s ability to get the latter than they had previously.

    Obviously if a Johan Santana came along in the draft, I’d hope and expect that they’d take him despite a relative home run problem. Drafting for need and all that.

  • dan the man

    Pitching has to be the most frustrating aspect of any major sport. I am constantly trying wrap my head around how and why pitchers suddenly lose it (trying not to read to much into Jim Johnson’s outing today, although I think he probably was never as good as nthat sparkling ’08 season), or fretting over their multitude of injuries. You have stories like Rick Ankiel who suddenly forget how to pitch completely. Mechanics. Timing. Release point. Not to mention the luck factor, moving strike zones, etc. Even the best pitchers – you just never know when the game will turn on them.

    It must be nice having a rotation like Boston’s where everybody is kind of a free agent veteran with plenty of track record. There’s less on your mind with a staff like that – you just figure they will do what they’ve been doing for years. Our guys, on the other hand, have no track record and we feel attached to them because they’ve come up through the system. We don’t know if they can sustain effectiveness or remain healthy.

    Sports aren’t supposed to be this stressful, man. Sheesh.

  • Andrew

    @dan the man – And yet, the best pitcher on that staff is also the cheapest one: Jon Lester. Because the really, really good free agent pitchers, like CC Sabathia, just aren’t worth the enormous risk of signing them. Heck, not too many people liked the Lackey deal for Boston.

    It’s what makes Andy MacPhail’s grow the arms mantra the only right way for the birds. And right now we’re standing on the fruits of it: a staff with one young stud and two potential surprises, and at least three more young studs waiting in the wings, and a bunch more guys who can be usable at best down there, too.

    Depth. If this works itll be because of that depth, and it will be fucking awesome.

  • Alex

    You actually have Buck Britton’s picture there, Zach’s older brother. Their great nephews! Zach will be up there with Brian Matusz, if not this year, next for sure.