Top Ten Prospects: Balimore Orioles
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Will Lingo
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. John Maine, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190.
Background: Maine led the minors in strikeouts and opponent average (.177) in 2003. In his second high Class A start, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Winston-Salem and came within a hit batter of a perfect game.
Strengths: Maineís best pitch is a 90-92 mph fastball. He already has major league command of his heater and is able to throw it to both sides of the plate as well as up and down. His fastball also has great life, and the deception in his delivery makes it look even faster.
Weaknesses: Maine can strike hitters out with his fastball alone, and he threw it 75-90 percent of the time before 2003. He employed his curveball and changeup more last year, though he still needs to use and command them better. Maintaining consistent mechanics is a key.
The Future: In his first high Class A start, Maine got knocked around a bit and told Frederickís staff that he did not want to be paid for his work that day. The no-hitter against Winston-Salem followed. Itís that makeup that makes Maine a special pitcher and could get him to the big leagues as soon as 2004. Heíll open at Double-A Bowie.
3. Nick Markakis, of
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175.
Background: BAís 2002 and 2003 Junior College Player of the Year, Markakis led the juco ranks in victories (12) and strikeouts (160) as a pitcher as well as RBIs (92) as a DH last spring. He turned down $1.5 million from the Reds as a draft-and-follow, then went seventh overall to Baltimore and signed for $1.85 million. After playing for Greece at the European Championships in July, he earned top prospect honors in the short-season New York-Penn League.
Strengths: Most teams preferred Markakis as a pitcher, but the Orioles think he can be a special hitter. Heís quiet at the plate, with a smooth, natural stroke that produces good leverage. Heís adept at manipulating the bat head and can drive the ball to all fields. He obviously has a plus arm and is athletic, which should make him a good defender on either corner.
Weaknesses: Markakis doesnít have much experience against premium competition, particularly as a hitter. He can be overpowered by good fastballs at this point. He needs to add strength to his frame, and he already has added about 10 pounds of muscle since signing.
The Future: Markakis probably will start 2004 in low Class A. If he performs as expected, heíll move up fast.
4. Val Majewski, of
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200.
Background: Majewski was on his way to putting up monster numbers in his first full pro season when a stress fracture in his femur knocked him out of action for six weeks. The Orioles arenít sure what caused it, but he has fully healed.
Strengths: Despite playing at first base in college and in center field in the minors, Majewski is more of a prototype right fielder. He has a quiet, disciplined approach at the plate and takes a direct path to the ball, centering just about every pitch he hits. He uses the whole ballpark and doesnít have to pull the ball to drive it. The Orioles say his makeup canít be graded high enough.
Weaknesses: Majewski has a good arm and the potential to be a plus defender in right fielder, but he needs more experience there. Heíll have to hit more home runs to fit the right-field profile.
The Future: Majewski proved enough in 41 games at high Class A to open 2004 in Double-A. He could move quickly through an organization that needs impact bats, especially in the outfield.
5. Denny Bautista, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 170.
Background: Bautista has the highest ceiling of the players Baltimore acquired in midseason trades. Mentored by Pedro and Ramon Martinez in the Dominican Republic, Bautista pitched in the Futures Game and ranked among the top prospects in the high Class A Florida State and Double-A Southern leagues.
Strengths: Bautista has an electric arm, with an explosive fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can touch 98 mph. In one Double-A start, he was clocked at 96 mph 18 times. His curveball also could be a plus pitch, and he has a projectable body.
Weaknesses: While Bautistaís arm ranks with the best in the minors, his command doesnít. His mechanics can get out of sync and he throws across his body. His changeup is a potential plus pitch, but he needs to use it more to develop it.
The Future: Bautista has the ability to pitch at the top of a rotation, but heíll need to hone his command and delivery to make that happen. With his arm, he can pitch in the late innings out of the bullpen if starting doesnít work out. He could move up to Triple-A Ottawa to start the season and should be ready to contribute in the big leagues by 2005.
6. Matt Riley, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 207.
Background: After the obligatory year of mediocre performance following Tommy John surgery, Riley showed the form that made him the organizationís top prospect entering 1999 and 2000. He finished the season with two strong starts against the Blue Jays in September.
Strengths: Riley regained his old stuff. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 94, and his big curveball is an out pitch. His changeup has improved significantly, as has his command of all three pitches. Immaturity held him back before his injury, but Riley showed more focus and determination after the heat-related death of pitcher and close friend Steve Bechler in spring training.
Weaknesses: Riley had trouble repeating his delivery in the past but seems to have straightened his mechanics out. All thatís left is to polish his command and feel for pitching.
The Future: The organizationís higher expectations on and off the field have helped Riley get ready for the big leagues. Heíll go to spring training with a chance to win a job in Baltimoreís rotation.
7. Erik Bedard, lhp
Age: 25. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 191.
Background: Bedard was the organizationís best prospect and was tearing up Double-A when the Bowie staff let him exceed his pitch count in a July 2002 game. He promptly blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery two months later. He returned to the mound last August and the Orioles say he could have pitched in the majors in September, but they didnít want to rush his comeback.
Strengths: Surprisingly, Bedardís fastball velocity was almost all the way back to his customary 92 mph when he first came back. His plus curveball also showed its old snap. The hard work Bedard put into rehab paid off and showed his determination.
Weaknesses: While his stuff looked promising in August, Bedard still has to prove himself over the long haul. The year off cost Bedard time he needed to develop his changeup and his approach.
The Future: The Orioles expect Bedard to be healthy and ready to go in spring training. Still, they may play it cautiously and have him open the season in Double-A.
8. Rommie Lewis, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 203.
Background: Among the many changes made by the Oriolesí new player-development staff was moving Lewis from reliever to starter. Though his numbers werenít outstanding, they were pleased with the results. He went to the bullpen in August to save wear and tear on his arm.
Strengths: Lewisí feel for pitching stands out more than his stuff, making it that much stranger that he was pitching in relief. His fastball went from 93 mph out of the bullpen to 90-91 in the rotation last year, but thatís still good velocity for a lefty. He spots his fastball well, and he can add and subtract velocity from it. His curveball and changeup were much improved.
Weaknesses: Lewisí savvy actually gets him in trouble sometimes, as he racks up high pitch counts playing cat-and-mouse games with batters. The Orioles want him to be more aggressive early in the count. He also needs to get in better shape to handle the workload of starting.
The Future: With a season of starting under his belt and another year of physical maturity, Lewis should be able to handle more innings and produce better results in 2004. Even if he returns to high Class A to open the season, heíll spend most of it in Double-A.
9. Mike Fontenot, 2b
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-8. Wt.: 160.
Background: After batting .219 in April, Fontenot looked like he might be headed down the same path to oblivion as fellow Orioles 2001 first-rounders Chris Smith and Bryan Bass. Then he got contact lenses in May and got locked in at the plate, batting .360 over the last three months to earn Double-A Eastern League all-star honors.
Strengths: Fontenot is an offensive second baseman. He works counts, gets on base and laces line drives from gap to gap. He has good power for his size and should hit 10-15 homers annually. He also runs well and could steal 20 bases per year.
Weaknesses: Fontenotís glove lags behind his bat, but he showed enough improvement in 2003 that Baltimore believes he can become an average defender. He cleaned up his footwork and throws, his two biggest problems in the past.
The Future: The Orioles give a lot of credit to Bowie manager Dave Trembley for getting the best out of Fontenot, challenging him every day while helping him improve. Fontenot could be trade bait because of the organizationís depth at second base, but for now heíll try to continue his run of success in Triple-A.
10. Dave Crouthers, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: Crouthers was an all-conference outfielder for three years running at NCAA Division II Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. He doubled as a starting pitcher in 2001, when he set Cougars season records for RBIs and pitching strikeouts (breaking Orioles farmhand Aaron Rakersí mark). Baltimore saw his frame and pictured him as a workhorse starter.
Strengths: Crouthersí strong build earns comparisons to that of Dave Stieb and Matt Clement, and he has an easy arm action. His fastball sits at 93-94 mph and touches 96. His slider also can be an above-average pitch at times.
Weaknesses: When everything is working Crouthers can be dominant, but that doesnít happen often enough. His slider and command need more consistency, and he needs to use his changeup more. The Orioles used a pitching script that compelled him to throw the changeup in certain counts, and it has the potential to be a plus pitch.
The Future: Crouthers remains a work in progress, but on the right day he looks ready for the majors. The Orioles will send him back to Double-A to start 2004.