With Justin Duchscherer headed for an MRI on his hip, it’s looking more and more likely that he’ll open 2011 on the disabled list. This leaves a rotation spot open for either Zach Britton or Chris Tillman.
Britton has thrown 9 scoreless innings over three appearances, while Tillman has allowed 5 ER (7 R) in 8.2 innings over three appearances this spring. At this point, Britton’s stats are clearly superior to Tillman’s and many have labeled Britton as the front runner to take over for Duchscherer.
I, however, am completely against Britton making the opening day rotation and believe both the Orioles and Britton would be better off with him opening 2011 as a member of the Norfolk rotation.
Here are five reasons why Zach Britton should NOT make the Orioles’ opening day rotation:
Limited Triple-A Time
Britton has thrown just 66.1 Triple-A innings (12 starts) and still has a few areas that need work. I believe every pitcher should make at least 30 starts at the Triple-A level (more on this later). The Tampa Bay Rays have followed this rule and as a result have seen excellent results when developing pitching prospects.
Primarily a ground ball pitcher, Britton needs hitters to make contact with his sinker and put the ball on the ground in order to have success. Clearly Britton already does a very good job of this, but he needs to improve his command within the strike zone in order to make the next step up — it could potentially make him a #1 starter.
His changeup has come a long way and is an above-average pitch at times, but it’s still inconsistent. Because he throws 70% sinkers he won’t need to use his changeup as much as most big leaguers, but it’s still essential to have a quality third pitch.
Key to Developing Pitching Prospects is Patience: See Rays
The Rays are known for their ability to develop pitchers. When a quality big league starter becomes too expensive (i.e. Matt Garza), they have a polished, big league ready starter waiting to take over (i.e. Jeremy Hellickson).
The Orioles can stick Chris Tillman in the opening day rotation and if a starter goes down, Britton will be waiting in the wings. Now you could say the same would be true if Britton made the rotation and Tillman was available to come up if someone got injured. We’ll go into this in greater detail later, but Tillman has thrown 216 quality innings for the Tides–what else does he need to prove there?
More Triple-A time would be a greater benefit to Britton than it would be for Tillman.
If you bring a pitcher up when he’s polished and has everything out of the minors as possible, the innings thrown by the given pitcher are going to be of greater quality than if he was rushed. That’s obvious. So why bring Britton up when there are still clear areas of his game that need work?
Bring him up mid-season and get better quality innings, and at the same time delay his free agent status by one year.
Service Time, Super Two Status & Contract Length
Andy MacPhail seems to have some sort of obsession with Super 2 Status (see Jake Arrieta, Matt Wieters, Tillman etc.). MacPhail’s obsession is a good one; Tillman’s performance shouldn’t be that much better or worse than Britton’s so why not keep Britton for an extra year in the process?
Holding Britton in the minors until June 1st or later will deny him the chance at Super 2 Status and allow the Orioles to hold onto Britton for an extra season, giving them seven years of control.
Tillman Needs a Chance
Tillman has made 39 quality starting for the Tides, totaling 216 innings. He has nothing left to prove at Norfolk.
Yes, Tillman has struggled during a few brief stints with the Orioles, which is exactly why he needs to be in the opening day rotation. The Orioles are never going to figure out what they have in Tillman if they don’t give him an extended look in the big leagues.
Shuffling him back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore does him no good. By the time we see how Tillman performs over 10-15 starts, Britton will be able to come up having made about 30 Triple-A starts while also delaying his free agency by a year.
I don’t see what bad will come out of sending Britton to the minors at the beginning of 2011. If the Orioles send Britton to the minors to begin 2011 he should become a polished, big league ready pitcher. As a result, the Orioles will have a better idea of what they have in once elite prospect Chris Tillman.
Further Reading on Zach Britton
- Zach Britton Interview – I sat down with Britton before his 2010 that vaulted him into the top 20 on most prospect lists.
- Zach Britton Scouting Report – I wrote up 1200+ words detailing every aspect of Britton’s game and what the future holds for the young lefty.
Enjoy this post? Get more like it by subscribing to our RSS feed.