Mesa Manager Linares Talks O's AFL Prospects

ITO chats with Mesa Solar Sox manager Rodeny Linares about the O's seven AFL prospects.

The seven Orioles prospects in the Arizona Fall League have different skillsets, challenges and upsides, but they share one Fall League team and skipper-the Mesa Solar Sox and manager Rodney Linares.

In an interview with Inside the O's, Linares talked about fall baseball in the desert and offered updates on the progress of the Orioles on his team.

Linares said Jonathan Schoop's potential was impressive, though the 21-year-old infielder is still working through offensive and defensive issues. At the plate, Schoop has hit for a sizzling .292/.452/.500 line through 16 games, an excellent albeit tiny sample.

“The one thing that caught my eye with him was the tremendous bat speed he generates,” Linares said. “He generates a lot of bat speed.

As Schoop grows into his 6-foot-1 frame, Linares said he could hit for good power. Though the Curacao native saw significant drops in his on-base percentage and batting average in 2012, he did hit for a career-high 14 homers.

Mesa has used Schoop at shortstop, a premium spot for his bat, but Linares said there was a possibility he could wind up at third base. With Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy already in Baltimore, that seems likely.

Linares said Schoop has “soft hands and a great arm,” but he sometimes becomes “flat-footed and sits back” on balls hit to him. The manager believes Schoop's bat will ultimately play wherever he is in the infield.

“He's probably the one with the most upside of all the Baltimore guys,” Linares said. “I think he's going to hit enough.”

Left-handed pitcher Mike Belfiore has notched a quality 9/2 strikeout-to-walk rate in nine AFL innings, though he has been touched for a 5.00 ERA in another small sample size.

Linares said the southpaw has an opportunity to be effective in the Majors against batters from both sides of the plate.

“He's got a chance to be a pretty good pitcher in the big leagues,” Linares said. “He keeps the ball down well, and his secondary pitches are coming.”

Belfiore is a fastball-first pitcher, and Linares said he's struggled with his heater's command at times.

“He needs to have that, Linares said.”

Outfielder L.J. Hoes, whose availability for an Orioles playoff run forced him to arrive in Mesa late, has impressed Linares with his work ethic amidst a rough spell at the plate.

“He plays the game hard, really serious about his work ethic,” Linares said.

Hoes is batting for a dismal .558 OPS, certainly a product of only having taken 48 at-bats in Arizona. He hasn't hit for any power at all, as his slugging percentage sits at .250. Both numbers are a far cry from his performance at Triple-A Norfolk, where he hit for a .300/.374/.397 line.

Linares said Hoes, despite his brief struggles with Mesa, has solid potential in the Major Leagues. Linares sees significant progression in Hoes' skill set over time.

“He's come a long way. He's come a really, really long way,” Linares said.

“He could play every day.”

Lefty reliever Chris Petrini, Linares said, could turn into a difficult left-handed specialist in a Major League bullpen.

“He's got action on his fastball that's tough for lefties to hit,” Linares said.

Since beginning the Fall League, Petrini has only struck out four batters in 8.23 innings of work, while walking three. Pitching to contact has served him well, as his ERA is a comfortable 2.08.

The numbers draw a contrast with his season at Double-A Bowie, where he struck out nearly a batter inning.

Linares has been especially impressed by Petrini's mannerisms and work ethic.

“He's a pro. He's a pitcher,” Linares said. “He's going to go out there and find a way to beat you.”

Righty Clay Schrader has had a lousy fall.

He's struggled with walks in the minors, posting rates of at least a walk per two innings at every stop in his career. That problem has been exacerbated with Mesa, where he's walked nine hitters in 6.2 innings of work en route

His ERA, though in a meaninglessly short period of time, is at 10.80.

“He has not thrown the ball well as of late. He's had a couple bad outings,” Linares said.

Linares praised Schrader for a sneaky, deceptive fastball that can be challenging for right-handed hitters. The manager said Schrader's Major League future, if he gets there, could be as a situational reliever in trouble spots. His high strikeout rates (around 13 per nine innings, at some minor league stops) could help him do it.

“One of the things I've seen is, he just competes,” Linares said. “He's a competitor.”

6-foot-5 right-hander Mike Wright has been hit hard, but Linares said his demeanor and tenacity on the mound will serve him well.

“My big righty,” Linares called him. “He looks the part [of a tough, hard-throwing pitcher]. He's big, he's tall, he's got long arms.”

In nine innings of work, he's struck out 10. That is encouraging.

His troubles have been with walks (six of them allowed), which have been a big contributor to a 9.00 ERA. Walking two batters every three innings makes it hard to keep runs off the board.

Wright's walked very few hitters throughout his minor league career, though, so perhaps the control issues in Arizona are no more than natural variation.

Linares thinks Wright could ramp up his fastball velocity as high as 97 mph, but he's only worked in the low 90s with the Solar Sox.

“He's a guy who profiles as a starter in the big leagues,” Linares said.

Catcher Brian Ward didn't hit at all in 2012, and his bat might continue to be a weakness-but his defense, Linares said, offers plenty of value.

“He can catch. He could catch in the big leagues,” Linares said. “He knows how to work with the pitchers. He's great at communicating.”

At Bowie last year, Ward's OPS was an unpalatably low .592. He'll have to hit more, no matter how good his defense is. He's also 27 years old, long in the tooth for an AFL player. He has hit better in a small AFL sample, with an OPS around .700.

“He works counts, and he sometimes gets the ball the other way,” Linares said.

Ward has worked with a hitting coach to harness his bat speed into a better-rounded offensive approach.

Last year, Ward's walk and strikeout rates were good, but not much else.

Linares' Solar Sox-and his seven Orioles-will continue to play through November 15.

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