On June 26, 2006, an 18 year-old Zach Britton—picked in the third round of the draft—signed with the Baltimore Orioles. On April 2, 2011, the lefty took the mound in his major league debut, getting the win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Beginning his time in the minors with Bluefield, Britton went 0-4 with a 5.29 ERA in 2006. He totaled 35 hits in 34 innings pitched in his 11 starts. Britton allowed 20 walks while striking out 21, equaling a 1.05 strike out to walk ratio.
Things started to look up in 2007 when Britton moved to A ball at Aberdeen, going 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA. He increased his strike out to walk ratio to 2.05. Moving quickly through the farm system, Britton went to Delmarva next where he finished with a 12-7 and dropped his ERA to 3.12.
Making his final stop in A ball, Britton spent 2009 in Frederick with the Keys. Going 9-6 on the season and lowering his ERA even more to 2.70, he was hastily making a name for himself in the Orioles franchise. By this point, he has increased his strike out to walk ratio to 2.38.
Britton split last season between AA and AAA ball in Bowie and Norfolk. Overall, he went 10-7 and maintained his 2.70 ERA. Between the two teams, he recorded 124 strike outs and walked only 51.
During his five seasons in the minors, the 6ft. 3 in. southpaw totaled 538.1 innings and pitched over 105 games including one complete game. He managed a 2.21 strike out to walk ratio and gave up 27 homeruns in his minor league career.
Being called up in lieu of Brian Matusz's injury, Britton went a strong six innings despite not having his best stuff in his first major league appearance, recording the win. He gave up three hits and one run to the defending American League Champion Rays. He continued his winning ways against the then undefeated Texas Rangers, shutting them out 5-0 over seven and two-thirds innings. He dropped his ERA to 0.66 after the 103 pitches thrown. He has kept his opponents to a .159 batting average over his two starts.
Known for having a great slider as an out pitch, Britton is more of a ground ball pitcher than a fly ball one. He makes hitters get on top of the ball, allowing him to get out of trouble situations with ground out double plays. Keeping the ball on the ground also enables him to allow fewer homeruns.
He regularly got more than 65 percent of contacted balls to be ground balls in the minors. He has continued this in the majors at 52.9 percent when the league average is around 40. He has a four to seven ground ball to fly ball ratio. In his start against Texas alone, he utilized his slider for 13 ground outs, three of which were for the double play.
As good as his slider is, however, his best pitch is his sinking fastball, which usually lights of the radar gun around ¬¬92 mph and tops off near 95 mph. He uses it early in the count to get quick outs, throwing it for roughly 90 percent of his pitches per game. Britton keeping the ball down in the strike zone allows for his usage of ground balls and helps him rack up the strike outs.
To add to his arsenal of pitches, Britton spent last season working on his changeup. While not as developed the others, he is comfortable using the off-speed pitch when needed.
Britton is scheduled to make his next start against Justin Masterson and the surging Cleveland Indians on Friday. With his impressive work thus far, he could throw the pitching rotation into conflict. Matusz began rehab work in Florida on April 11 and is slated to return sometime later in the month. The Orioles' other injured pitcher, Justin Duchscherer, is due back in May after getting minor surgery on his back on April 7.
With the return of Matusz and Duchscherer closing in and the disappointing last start by Jake Arrieta, the Orioles will have some serious pitching decisions to make in the near future.