With several publications recently releasing their prospect rankings for each of the 30 major league teams, we decided to put together a list of the top 10 players in the Orioles' minor league system.
Mike Miller, one of our talented sports interns at The Baltimore Sun, joined me to offer analysis of the players in the organization. For the past four seasons, Mike has covered the Double-A Bowie Baysox for Orioles Hangout.
We ranked players on their career performance through the 2010 season, as well as their potential contributions in the major leagues. We also took other prospect rankings into consideration and included only players who haven't exhausted their rookie eligibility.
Over the past three seasons, several highly regarded prospects have been drafted by the Orioles and moved through the organization to the majors.
Catcher Matt Wieters (No. 1 in 2009) and left-hander Brian Matusz (No. 5 in 2010) both made appearances in the top five of Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects during that span. Right-hander Jake Arrieta (No. 67 in 2009, No. 99 in 2010) and outfielder Nolan Reimold (No. 91 in 2008) have also spent their entire careers with the organization.
The Orioles have acquired right-hander Chris Tillman (No. 22 in 2009), third baseman Josh Bell (No. 37 in 2010) and left-hander Troy Patton (No. 78 in 2008) in separate trades since 2007. Tillman made the biggest impact of the three players over the past three years, but Bell and Patton each made their Orioles debut in 2010.
Now, the organization features two players — lefty Zach Britton and shortstop Manny Machado — who are viewed as future stars.
Britton, a third-round pick in the 2006 amateur draft, has climbed steadily through the organization and will likely make his major league debut this season. Machado, last year's first-round selection, is still at least a couple of years away from helping the Orioles, but he has drawn comparisons to New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.
The rest of the prospects on the list, for the most part, could fluctuate by a few spots in either direction. All eight are viewed as above-average prospects, but they're not on the same level as Britton or Machado.
TOP 10 PROSPECTS
1. Zach Britton, LHP
After going through the Orioles' system in the shadow of other top pitching prospects, Britton is ready for his time in the spotlight. He split the 2010 season between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, going 10-7 with a 2.70 ERA in 27 games (26 starts). Known for his sinking fastball, the 23-year-old left-hander struck out 124 batters between the two levels. He was second in the Carolina League with 131 strikeouts in 2009. Britton is likely to start at Norfolk but could make an impact in the major leagues in 2011.
2. Manny Machado, SS
While Machado probably won’t hit for as much power as Rodriguez, he’ll be a fixture at the top of the Orioles’ lineup for years to come. The third overall pick in the 2010 draft received only 36 at-bats last season between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles and short-season Single-A Aberdeen. He hit .345 with three RBIs in seven games for the IronBirds. Scouts believe Machado, 18, will eventually be a consistent .300 hitter with pop while his defense at shortstop will rate as above average for big leaguers. He’ll spend the majority of the season, if not all of it, at Single-A Delmarva.
3. L.J. Hoes, 2B
Hoes demonstrated the ability to stay focused despite distractions off the field over the past two seasons. Both of Hoes' parents dealt with health issues in 2009, and the 20-year-old battled mononucleosis last year. He improved defensively in 2010 and also hit 24 doubles while splitting time between Aberdeen and Single-A Frederick. Hoes should start the season in Bowie.
4. Xavier Avery, OF
While he slumped at the end of the 2010 season with Bowie and struggled in the Arizona Fall League, Avery played well enough during his time with Frederick to be named to the Carolina League postseason All-Star team. He batted .280 with 25 doubles for the Keys before being promoted to the Baysox. Avery, 21, was second among Orioles minor leaguers with 38 stolen bases in 2010. He will likely start with Bowie in 2011.
5. Mychal Givens, SS
This toolsy 20-year-old missed substantial time last season after suffering a torn ligament in his left thumb in late May. Originally groomed as a shortstop, Givens could see the bulk of his playing time at second base with Machado set to become the club’s shortstop of the future. He’s a gap-to-gap hitter, but scouts believe those line drives will eventually turn into home runs once Givens develops. He could team with Machado as part of Delmarva’s double-play duo or start the year with Frederick at shortstop.
6. Dan Klein, RHP
Klein possesses supreme command of four plus-rated pitches. He served as the closer for UCLA’s national championship runner-up squad before a lights-out stint with Aberdeen at the end of last season, allowing just one hit and no runs in 61/3 innings. All five of Klein’s appearances for the IronBirds came out of the bullpen, but the Orioles hope to turn the 22-year-old into a starter beginning next season. He should move fast through the organization and could start the year at Frederick.
7. Ryan Adams, 2B-3B
Offensively, Adams is one of the best infield prospects in the organization. He established career highs in home runs (15), doubles (43) and RBIs (68) with Bowie in 2010. Adams, 23, has also improved his fielding percentage in each of the past two seasons after establishing a South Atlantic League record for errors by a second baseman with Delmarva in 2008. It's unclear where Adams will begin the year because of the Orioles' recent additions in the middle infield, but it will likely be at Norfolk.
8. Ryan Berry, RHP
Berry won’t overpower anyone with his low-90s fastball, but his ability to command four quality pitches and pound the strike zone make up for a lack of velocity. The Orioles limited him to a series of five-inning starts for much of the season with hopes of protecting his arm after the 22-year-old suffered a strained shoulder in college. He made 20 starts between Delmarva and Frederick before the Orioles switched him to the bullpen to rest his arm. His future could be as a reliever, but he should at least begin 2011 in Bowie’s starting rotation.
9. Jonathan Schoop, SS
Schoop, a second-year player from Curacao, emerged as one of the organization’s most intriguing middle-infield prospects last season. Scouts like the 19-year-old's ability to hit for average — he batted .316 in 133 at-bats at Rookie-level Bluefield — but are even more excited about his power potential. If he can develop a power stroke, his stock will continue to rise. He’s another player who will be blocked by Machado at shortstop so a move to third base could be in his immediate future.
10. Matt Hobgood, RHP
Thanks to a rocky start to his professional career, Orioles fans don't have much confidence in Hobgood. The 20-year-old was 3-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 starts for Delmarva in 2010 before recently encountering shoulder problems. Still, it's too early to give up on the 2009 first-round pick; he made strides to improve his conditioning before the setback. Hobgood will slide down the prospect list if he doesn't progress in 2011, but his tools keep him in The Sun’s Top 10. When he's ready to be assigned to a full-season affiliate, Hobgood will likely return to Delmarva.
To view a photo gallery of the Orioles' top 10 prospects, click here.
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