This time last week, I posted the first part of an interview with Jason Parks, who does scouting work for Baseball Prospectus. The first part of the interview was about the Baltimore Orioles’ young pitching, as Parks provided great insight into the young arms of the organization. There are very few people in the baseball media that are more informed about young players in both the majors and minors than Parks.
Parks co-hosts the weekly “Up and In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast” with Kevin Goldstein. As I wrote last week, if you are looking for one baseball podcast to listen to, this is the podcast for you. Anyhow, the second part of Parks’ interview deals with the Orioles’ young hitters. Although the young hitters are not as plentiful in quantity as the young pitchers, they are still pieces with significant upside and are hopeful cornerstones of a new era of competitive Orioles baseball.
Matt Wieters, 24, is the player that Orioles fans have hoped is the cornerstone to that new era of Orioles baseball, but he has been slow to adjust to the big leagues with the bat. However, his work behind the plate has gotten to the point where it is not outrageous to think of Wieters as one of the better defensive catchers in the game.
Pitches hardly ever get past the agile 6-foot-5, 225-pound catcher, base-stealers should be on full alert of Wieters’ cannon for an arm, and the fashion in which Wieters blocks the plate on plays at home has improved dramatically since his big league debut. It is difficult to discern whether a catcher handles his pitchers well and calls a good game, but reports out of Baltimore are glowing in that regard with Wieters.
Alas, given the hype Wieters’ arrival to the big leagues had, a career line of .265/.328/.399 is going to leave a whole lot to be desired with the catcher. So far this year, Wieters is hitting .250/.333/.500 with three home runs, which have all come in the last seven games he has played.
“I think Wieters was correctly projected as a dual threat catcher at the major league level,” wrote Parks in an e-mail with Orioles Nation. “He hasn’t been able to make the necessary adjustments that would allow his bat to thrive at the level. I think he will eventually put his offensive game together and become a division-one starter behind the plate. The defense is already there; the bat will soon follow.”
While the proper adjustments may have been slowing Wieters’ offensive development, the same could be said for 25-year-old center fielder Adam Jones. Jones’ potential has never been doubted – he had the five-tool player label slapped on him at a young age – and has fulfilled some of that promise. Jones hit 19 homers in 2009 and 2010 and might turn on an inside fastball better than anyone on the Orioles. Jones, though, has one major flaw in his game that he has yet to fix – he struggles with his plate discipline.
Jones has a career walk rate of 4.8 percent, which makes his on-base percentage very dependent on his batting average. Jones struggles to stay away from off-speed offerings out of the zone, particularly down and away. The question about Jones is whether this is about his approach at the plate or if it is an inability to correctly recognize the types of pitches coming at him.
“It’s hard to tell with aggressive hitters like Jones,” wrote Parks. “Do they just love to swing and therefore swing at crap, or do they swing at crap because they don’t recognize it as such? With Jones, I tend to believe that he just loves to get involved at the plate and attempts to barrel balls that are out of the zone as a result.
“I think it’s a competitive thing as well. Throw me junk? Well, I’ll hit it. Try to bust me in on the hands? I’ll try to take the ball to the opposite field. More often than not, hitters with aggressive approaches make it easier for the pitcher to exploit them. Jones needs to work himself into favorable counts so his above-average hitting ability can really shine. Right now, he is making it too easy on the pitchers by giving them a game plan to exploit him.”
One hitter who was certainly exploited at the big league level last year was Josh Bell, who hit .214/.224/.302 with 53 strikeouts as opposed to just two walks in 161 plate appearances. The 24-year-old Bell is now down at Triple-A Norfolk with two other hitters who have been in Baltimore before – Nolan Reimold, 27, and Brandon Snyder, 24.
Reimold hit .279/.365/.466 with 15 homers in 411 plate appearances with the Orioles in 2009, but cratered last year to the tune of .207/.282/.328 in 131 plate appearances with Baltimore and spent most of the year with Norfolk. Snyder, a first round draft pick in 2005, has had his prospect status diminish quite a bit since he hit .343/.421/.597 in 233 plate appearances with Double-A Bowie in 2009.
Parks doesn’t like any of the three players much moving forward. “I used to be a fan of Bell, but he was abused at the major league level and it wasn’t pretty,” wrote Parks. “I’m not sure what to make of him at this point.”
“The system just isn’t very impressive,” wrote Parks. “Of course, Machado is legit, so that makes it better. At least you have a potential star in the system. A lot of teams can’t even boast about that.”
Come to our forums to discuss this Parks’ thoughts on the Orioles’ young hitters.