Jim Callis is the Executive Editor over at Baseball America and is known as one of the most knowledgeable analysts when it comes to baseball prospects. Jim was kind enough to answers a bunch of questions regarding the Orioles and their prospects.
Jim Callis: I do see him as a starter going forward, with a ceiling of a No. 3 starter, maybe a No. 2 if you really dream on him. He has a solid fastball and changeup, both bordering on plus, and his breaking balls show some potential. Last year was really the first time he was in top shape after he hurt his knee as a high school senior in 2008. Too bad drafting Bobby didn’t give the Orioles first dibs on the rights to his younger brother Dylan Bundy, who’s the best high school pitcher in this year’s draft. Actually, it wouldn’t shock me at all if Baltimore took Dylan with the No. 4 overall pick.
JT: Dan Klein is another guy who’s started off hot, with 21 strikeouts and 3 walks through 17.2 innings, but out of the bullpen. His stuff has remained strong and worked well in relief as most expected. He’s expected to move to the rotation next season. How do you think his stuff will translate to being a starter?
JC: I think his stuff easily translates to starting and I don’t quite understand the decision to wait another year before they try to do that. He’s going to get to at least Double-A this year as a reliever, maybe even Triple-A, and if he’s close to being ready for the big league bullpen, I wonder if he’ll ever move to the rotation. He has a lively 91-93 mph fastball, good secondary pitches in his changeup and curveball, and an easy delivery, so he has all the ingredients to be a starter.
JT: How raw is Xavier Avery and what is the industry opinion on his future?
JC: I don’t know if I’m speaking for the whole industry, but personally, I don’t know if the production is ever going to catch up to the athleticism. I’m not sure he hits well enough or controls the strike zone well enough to make full use of his speed. He still has work to do as a basestealer and defender, too.
JT: I think by now O’s fans know just about everything about Zach Britton, and the hype surrounding him is probably as high as it’s ever going to be. Can you give us the most likely outcome for his career? Should fans expect a true ace, or is Britton more of a #2 guy who can throw a ton of innings going forward?
JC: He’s probably more of a No. 2 starter, but there’s nothing wrong with that. No reason he shouldn’t be very effective and durable. He has the stuff and command, and his delivery raises no red flags. He and Brian Matusz should headline the Orioles rotation for years.
JT: Josh Bell struggled over 159 big league at-bats last season, posting 53 strikeouts and just 2 walks. This year he’s not doing much better, with a 29/2 K/BB ratio for the Norfolk Tides. Safe to assume he’s not a starter going forward?
JC: I’d lean that way too. He’s not ever going to be a standout defender, so his bat is going to have to carry him, and his bat is going backwards. He has completely lost control of the strike zone, and major league pitchers are going to exploit that. He’s also 24, and if he was going to be a difference-maker in the big leagues, I think he’d have started showing that by now.
JT: Is there a guy in the O’s system you believe is overrated, or that you’re not as high on as most?
JC: As I mentioned earlier, that would be Avery. I think he’s a great athlete and a not-so-great baseball player.
JT: Is there an O’s prospect you think is somewhat underrated and deserves more attention?
JC: Trent Mummey, a fourth-round pick out of Auburn in last year’s draft. He didn’t have a stellar pro debut, but he’s off to a good start this year and quickly earned a promotion to high Class A. He’s a very good defender in center field, and he has some offensive potential with his good strike-zone judgment, above-average speed and potential average power.
JT: If you had to choose three players in the O’s system (both minor and major leaguers) to build a franchise around, which three would you take?
JC: You win with stars, so I’m choosing the three players with the biggest upsides and the best likelihood of reaching them. To me, there are four candidates: Zach Britton, Manny Machado, Brian Matusz and Matt Wieters. Up-the-middle players with prodigious all-around talent are exceptionally hard to find, so I’m going to take Machado and Wieters and then pick Matusz over Britton for the third spot. It pains me to not take Britton.
JT: What do you think about the O’s organization overall? What do they do well? What do they not do well? If you were running the Orioles what would you do differently?
JC: The Orioles have had more success developing pitchers than hitters. Three-fifths of their rotation is homegrown, and it likely will be four-fifths once Matusz comes back. By contrast, Wieters is the only homegrown hitter in the starting lineup. In the minors, Machado is clearly the top prospect, but there aren’t a lot of obvious prospects who projects as future regulars in Baltimore. I think the scouting department under Joe Jordan has done some solid work, but most of the bright spots in the system have already made it to the majors, and the system is thin right now. They have increased their draft spending in each of the last five years, and I’d keep doing that. I’d ratchet it up even higher. Rather than spend money on guys like Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee, I’d go all in on amateur talent. The $15 million spent on those two could do much more good for the Orioles if it were applied to the draft and international signings.