After winning the Carolina League pitcher of the year award in 2009, Zach Britton will try to build on his success and establish himself as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball in 2010. Britton first started to gain attention in 2008, when he posted a 3.12 ERA in the Sally League and many people noted his impressive ground ball rates. How did Britton handle the attention? In 2009, Britton most likely exceeded all expectations and improved his strikeout rate, ERA, K/BB, fastball velocity and slider. That should give you a sense of the strides Britton made last season. If he makes similar strides this year at Bowie, we could be looking at an elite pitching prospect, maybe better than Chris Tillman. I’m excited to see what this kid can do this year, really excited.
After coming over from the Dodgers in the George Sherril trade, Steve Johnson was taken away by the Giants in the Rule 5 draft. He recently returned to the Orioles and he makes the Bowie rotation even more impressive. Johnson made 7 starts for Bowie last year and registered a 2.84 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 38 innings. He has solid component ratios but is a fly ball pitcher. While Johnson’s prospect status is behind Britton, they could end up posting similar numbers. But Britton’s stuff is clearly better. This will be Johnson’s first full season with the Orioles and he should start to receive more recognition from the fans. He’s still somewhat of a sleeper but don’t overlook him because he could develop into a very solid inning eater type.
While Britton will be the main attraction at Bowie, there are a few hitters you should keep your eye on.
The 2009 Carolina League player of the year, Brandon Waring, will try to improve on his season with Frederick. After cutting his strikeout rate from 35% in 2008 to 26% in 2009, Waring will try to cut his strikeout rate even further this year. If he can cut his strikeout rate and increase his walk rate to over 10%, he could establish himself as one of the better power hitting prospects in the minors.
Pedro Florimon Jr. will try to establish his bat after already displaying excellent defense. His bat flashed improvements at the beginning of the 2009 season but he went cold late in the season. Make sure you watch Florimon closely and check the box scores for his hits, strikeouts and walks. I’d really like to see him take some walks and improve his plate patience.
I’m not sure why Caleb Joseph isn’t getting a lot of attention right now. He was absolutely torching Carolina League pitching until he wore down at the end of the season. From what I saw at spring training, Joseph has added some muscle which should help him stay at full strength for a full season. Let’s not forget about Joseph just because we have Matt Wieters.
What about Billy Rowell? How will he handle his promotion to Bowie? After struggling at Frederick for two seasons the Orioles were almost forced to promote Rowell to Bowie. They want to give him new surroundings, hopefully it helps. Rowell still has potential, and if he can put things together at Bowie it will be the biggest story of the year.
My gut feeling is that Britton has a standout season an establishes himself as one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. I’m confident in his stuff and his combination of groundballs (sinker) and strikeouts (slider) are unbelievable. Make sure you watch him pitch at least one time this season.