Last week, I took a look at some Orioles’ Minor Leaguers who were off to a hot start. The companion to a Who’s Hot piece is inevitably less exciting, but still worth examining. Here are a few players with high expectations who’ve stumbled out of the gate.
Mychal Givens (2B, Lo-A Delmarva) -
Givens, whom Orioles Nation ranked as the 5th prospect in the system before the start of the season, has gotten off to an awful start, posting a slash line of .152/.227/.172 through his first 108 plate appearances. Drafted as a raw, two-way player in the 2nd round of the 2009 Amateur Player Draft, Givens split the opinions of scouts regarding whether his future ultimately rested in the batter’s box or on the mound. His plus-plus arm strength (resulting in a mid-90s fastball) plays nicely on the diamond, but his lack of range and instincts has limited him to playing second base.
Givens came back from a thumb injury late in the 2010 season to post a combined .286/.402/.452 line in 102 appearances across four low level leagues, suggesting that the 20-year-old deserved more time to be molded into a positional player. He’s been unimpressive in every regard offensively on the young season, however, showing neither the patience nor the power potential (.020 ISO-P in 2011) that he flashed in his brief 2010 debut. Still a week away from his 21st birthday, Givens will likely be given some more time to figure things out at the plate, and fans probably shouldn’t overreact to a month’s worth of struggles. Still, Baltimore is not an organization with a good track record of developing hitters, and Givens’ rawness in almost every aspect of the game suggests that his future may lie in pumping mid-to-upper 90s fastballs by hitters with a side-armed delivery out of the bullpen.
Xavier Avery (OF, AA Bowie) -
Like Givens, Avery was considered more of an athlete than a ballplayer when he was selected in the 2nd round of the 2008 class, though Avery is a legitimate burner (75/80 speed on a 20-80 scale) and likely the best athlete in the system. Avery has the things you look for in distinguishing which athletes can be molded into successful players, however: an insatiable desire for greatness and a willingness to question, learn and emulate.
While Avery’s overall game has grown tremendously in two short years, his performance in Bowie this season has reinforced the issues he’ll need to shore up in order to be successful. While his speed is unparalleled, allowing him to compensate for bad routes, he’ll need more practice to hone his instincts and first steps. He’s capable of some incredible things in the outfield, but his journey to balls can be adventurous at times, particularly when he’s forced to come in.
At the plate, Avery shows solid bat speed but is still inconsistent in his swing and approach. Avery is patient by nature, something not often associated with the raw athlete archetype, but needs to work on pitch identification to get a better feel for when he should lay off pitches and when he should be aggressive. Avery is mostly lost against left-handed pitching, something that will need to improve significantly if he hopes to be a full-time player. His speed, athleticism, and willingness to study the game suggest that he will likely see ML time as a fourth outfielder at worst, but he has plenty of holes to shore up before he can be expected to be a solid starter, let alone an impact player.
At 21, Avery is not just raw but young for his level, which is a reason for encouragement. I would caution against focusing on the outcomes vs. the process in 2011. This is a development year for Avery, and Baltimore has been aggressive in promoting him because he’s shown an ability to use failure as a motivator. His current slash line, .220/.276/.246, is ugly, but more important than the results will be the adjustments he makes in the coming months.
Matt Hobgood (RHP, DISABLED LIST) -
Arguably the biggest disappointment of the young 2011 season is a start that includes no stat line whatsoever. The controversial top pick for the Orioles (4th overall) in the 2009 season, Matt Hobgood has hit another snag in his development. After countered whispers of a signability pick, consistent conditioning issues, and a very mediocre 4.48 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 rate, and 5.6 K/9 rate through his first 29 professional starts, Hobgood was diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff that would sideline him for at least half of the 2011 season.
The optimist could find a silver lining here – if the shoulder injury from which Hobgood is currently rehabbing has been a nagging issue over the last season-and-a-half, it could explain why the low-to-mid 90s fastball reported by Scouting Director Joe Jordan at the time of the 2009 draft has not surfaced thus far at the professional level. Hobgood consistently sat in the mid-to-high 80s last season, and his plus curveball was inconsistent and not set up properly. The mediocre velocity certainly explains the pedestrian strikeout numbers, but the question at the time was whether he was capable of improving. With a maxed out frame, Hobgood came with little projection, which was part of the reason his impressive “now” production in high school was arguably not enough to push him to the top of the first round.
If the big right-hander can successfully rehabilitate his shoulder and improve his conditioning, fans could get their first glimpse at the real Matt Hobgood later this season. Still, little if anything has gone right over the course of his development, and it’s safe to say that Hobgood has plenty of doubts to assuage on his way to justifying the high profile selection.
- LJ Hoes (2B, Hi-A Frederick) – Hoes is schizophrenic. Will he be the nearly 1/1 K/BB guy he was in 2008 and 2010 combined, or the 3/1 K/BB guy he’s been in 2009 and 2011 combined? His line currently stands at .252/.306/.378.
- Billy Rowell (1B, AA Bowie) – Anyone who still had Major League hopes for Rowell coming into the season must not be resting easy. It took the former 1st round pick 3 seasons to crack a .700 OPS in Hi-A Frederick, and he’s off to a .231/.279/.231 start in a platoon role for AA Bowie. He’s still only 22, but he’s been passed greatly on the depth chart.
- Jesse Beal (RHP, DISABLED LIST) – The 20 year old ground ball specialist was expected to open the season in Hi-A Frederick’s rotation before being shut down this winter due to shoulder soreness and finally having labrum surgery last week. Beal was a good sleeper candidate for a 2012 top 10 prospect, but the surgery will halt his development for the time being.