I had the chance to see Zach Britton throw on three separate occasions this past season. This report’s a little late but at a time when the attention surrounding Britton is as high as ever, I figured I’d throw up a report with my thoughts and observations.
With tremendous poise, confidence and a dominating sinker, it’s easy to see what makes Britton the special pitcher and top 30 prospect he is.
The Orioles selected Britton in the third round of the 2006 amateur draft out of Weatherford High School (Texas) and signed him to a slightly over-slot bonus of $435,000.
Aside from his struggles at Bluefield in 2006, Britton has posted fairly impressive numbers every step of the way in the minors. He was still somewhat unknown after 2007 and his 2008 season with the Delmarva Shorebirds is what really put him on the prospect map. He was nothing short of dominant during his time with the Shorebirds, posting a 3.12 ERA with 114 strike outs and just 118 hits allowed in 147.1 innings.
Even after such a dominating performance in 2008, doubters still wanted to see Britton’s performance at the higher levels of the minors before he could be considered amongst the Jake Arrietas and Chris Tillmans.
Britton gave the doubters exactly what they wanted to see when he nearly replicated his 2008 performance, but this time as a member of the Frederick Keys. Still, there were lingering questions about whether Britton’s changeup would become good enough to give him a quality third pitch. Once again, Britton gave everyone what they wanted to see with a strong 2010 performance between Bowie and Norfolk. Not only does his stat line look impressive but his entire repertoire of pitches was much improved.
If you know about Zach Britton than you know it’s his sinker that has allowed him to absolutely dominate the minors. It’s a plus-plus pitch that sits in the 91-94 mph range. His game revolves around this pitch as he throws it 60%-70% of the time.
Hitters struggle to lift the ball or square up on the pitch which will leave Britton with low home run rates throughout his career. He’s built perfectly for Camden Yards.
He pitches to contact and does a good job throwing first pitch strikes, allowing him to keep a low pitch count. The extreme amount of ground balls gives Britton quick outs and innings enabling him to work quick and pitch deeper into games. “My [sinker] just sets up my slider and my changeup, so if it’s working it’s going to be a good day,” Britton said of his sinker.
Rarely do you see a guy who can dominate with just one pitch, but Britton does just that. His ability to work quick, throw strikes, keep his sinker down in the zone and keep a low pitch count is going to allow him to become an absolute workhorse at the top of the Orioles’ rotation.
Although most of his fastballs come with the title of “sinker”, Britton can run his four-seam fastball up to 96 mph if he’s looking for a little velocity. Like his sinker Britton commands his four-seamer all around the strike zone.
This extra velocity is rarely needed because his sinker is so dominant, so you won’t see Britton throw many four-seam fastballs. But it is there if he needs it and can prove to be a solid weapon at times.
His slider is a well above-average pitch and flashes plus at times with sharp, late, downward movement. Thrown anywhere from 82-84 mph, it will get plenty of swings and misses within the zone. Lefties have a tough time hitting Britton’s slider and he’d benefit by using it a bit more.
The majority of Britton’s ground ball outs are a result of his sinker, but his slider’s sharp 2-8 movement also induces a good amount of ground balls as a result of weak contact.
Britton’s slider is a true out pitch and is his go to offering when he needs a strike out. With a little bit more command and the ability to paint the corners of the plate, Britton’s slider could become a plus pitch.
He throws his changeup from the same arm-slot as his fastball but decelerates his body a bit in the process. At times Britton has trouble commanding the pitch and its slight fade and drop is nowhere to be found.
Britton’s changeup has come a long way and is now a third quality big league offering. Because he throws his sinker and slider most of the time, he won’t be using his changeup, which is his third pitch, as often as most big league starters, though it’s still important for him to have because all starters need at least three quality offerings. It should end up an average pitch when all is said and done.
Makeup and Mound Presence
Mature beyond his years, Britton’s polish as a player really shows through. He’s an intelligent pitcher with poise, has an outstanding work ethic, and a strong understanding of what he needs to do to succeed and it shows on the mound.
He remains unfazed by some of the stresses that come with pitching. I believe this is a result of his confidence in his ability to get quick outs if he gets into a jam; this all a result of his sinker.
Britton gets into the drive-line early and his arm-slot is outstanding. All of this gives Britton a relatively smooth delivery which allows him to repeat his delivery well.
There are some slight concerns about a hard front leg plant, but his front left makes a good angle and allows him to use his back leg more and rotate towards his hips. As long as front leg doesn’t get too stiff, he should be just fine going forward with his current delivery.
They Said It
Britton is a rare bird, indeed, around baseball: Go ahead and try to name other lefthanded starters who throw 94 mph at the knees with movement. After David Price, what other power lefties are out there?
He’s a guy that’s been striving to get better since the first day I met him. He wants the ball every five days and wants to get out there as much as he can and do well. Most guys are like that, but I think he lives it out on the mound a little bit more than some other guys.— Double-A Bowie pitching coach Kennie Steenstra
Future & Conclusion
Britton is well on his way towards becoming an above-average big league starter. Some slight improvements to his changeup are all that need to be done until he’s ready to pitch in Baltimore.
In a perfect world, Britton develops into a #2 starter who can pitch deep into games and rack up 200+ innings per season. With his strong ground ball tendencies, and swing and miss stuff, it’s highly likely Britton reaches his ceiling. He’s about as safe a prospect as they come.
Assuming Britton stays healthy and reaches his potential, he’ll form a studly left-handed duo at the top of the Orioles’ rotation with Brian Matusz that could head the Orioles’ pitching staff for years to come.
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