ITW Mailbag

In the past few weeks, readers have submitted questions on various topics. Inside, ITW discusses Nick Markakis' defensive prowess, relief prospects, and Brandon Erbe.

I heard on the radio that Nick Markakis might be getting groomed as the Orioles' ‘Centerfielder of the future'. Have you heard this? Does it make sense with him playing so well in Right field?

There has definitely been some talk to this effect. Coming into this season, scouts were generally divided about whether or not Markakis would be confined to a corner. Since then, he has been so good in both right and left field this season that it is likely he could be at least average in the more difficult position. There is plenty of precedence for this type of move; Aaron Rowand is one example of a player that was confined to a corner outfield position early in his career that has emerged as one of the best defensive Centerfielders in baseball.

The more immediate issue is that Corey Patterson is the current Centerfielder for the Orioles. Though he's fallen short of reclaiming the ‘future star' label he was once branded with, Patterson has had a nice bounceback season for the Orioles. He still doesn't walk much, which limits him to the bottom of the order, but he has cut down on his strikeouts and refined his blazing speed on the basepaths and in the outfield. Terry Crowley hasn't been extremely popular in his tenure as the Orioles' Hitting Coach, but he seems to have been a nice fit for Patterson with his aggressive, contact-oriented approach. Patterson is eligible for his final year of arbitration this off-season. After that, the Orioles will have to make a decision about their outfield. By then, players like Jeff Fiorentino, Val Majewski, and Nolan Reimold and their respective roles with the future of the organization will be easier to assess. It certainly wouldn't make sense to shift Markakis to a new position for the upcoming season, since any free agent outfielder signed would be destined for the offensive black hole in left field.

Why do starters need to be able to change speeds? Every time I hear of a guy in the minors with no change-up, it seems like everyone says he's destined to be a reliever…

There are two major reasons why this is the case. The first is that a starter has to face the same batters multiple times in a night. So, obviously, it helps if he is able to offer the hitter different looks at his pitches in each at bat. Secondly, you'll often see a starter utilize his change-up as his out-pitch against batters of the opposite handedness. For instance, lefties will use their change-up more often against right-handed hitters. Keeping them off-balanced helps take away some of the advantage they gain from seeing the ball more clearly out of the hand. Plus, breaking pitches that break into a hitter are often less effective than ones that break away from a hitter. Relievers don't have to worry about this as much because their usage can be monitored more strictly.

How excited are you for Brandon Erbe?... How seriously should we take his late season fade?... What is his ETA?

I'm as (cautiously) excited as you. His ceiling is literally as high as any pitcher in the minor leagues. Erbe hits 98 MPH on the radar gun and, judging by his less than fully matured physique, there might be room for a few more notches yet. His slider has made strides this year, but it's still not a plus pitch. Erbe's high 3/4 delivery often makes it too slurvy, but Erbe has both the time and the aptitude to fix that.

Erbe did exhibit a fade in the second half, but this isn't uncommon among 18 year olds being stretched over 100 innings for the first time. Erbe still struck out over a batter an inning throughout the season. It was mostly his command that suffered in the second half, which is consistent with him simply tiring down the stretch.

He doesn't turn 19 years old until December and he stands a decent chance of finishing next year in AA Bowie. That's as much as anyone can hope for. Erbe could be ready by 2009, but he'll have to get through the injury nexus first. Most pitching prospects face some sort of injury before they escape their early twenties. So, while it's fun to dream on what he might become, it's always prudent to be cautious with teenage pitchers.

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