Aaron Rakers has not had it easy. Entering the 2006 season, the right-hander had the inside track to a spot in the wide open Orioles bullpen. Drafted in the 23rd round of the 1999 draft after four years at Southern Illinois University, it still took Rakers seven minor league seasons to be considered for a full-time major league job. Unfortunately, near the end of spring training, Rakers was diagnosed with a slap tear in his right labrum and had to undergo shoulder surgery. Nevertheless, the 29 year old's long track record of success has earned him a spot on both the Orioles' 40-man roster and this prospect list.
DOB: 1/22/77 Height: 6-3 Weight: 200 B/T: R/R
Aaron Rakers' 2005 season (DNP 2006):
As you can see, Rakers has dominated the International League. As you might have guessed by the fact that, prior to the 2006 season, he had yet to get a full shot at a bullpen role, Rakers does not have overwhelming stuff. He works with a fastball that is mostly in the high-80's and can go as high as 91 MPH. He has to be careful with it, as the pitch does not have a lot of movement, but Rakers does command it well. Rakers also works with a changeup that he throws in the mid-70's, which he uses effectively to complement his pedestrian heat. Rakers' out pitch is his split-fastball that has good downward movement in the strike zone and misses a lot of bats. It normally sits at 75-78 MPH.
The Orioles would be well-served to investigate Rakers' splits. Interestingly, he has a reverse platoon split, holding lefties to a .202 BA in 2005. Of course, minor league right-handers haven't exactly had a lot of success against him either. Rakers' one statistical flaw is that he is a strong flyball pitcher. Even when he was en route to a sparkling 2.57 ERA in AAA, his home runs allowed rate was higher than average. Rakers can help this by purposely missing the strike zone with his fastball a little more often. That way, it still sets up his more effective secondary pitches while leaving fewer flat pitches in the batter's wheelhouse.
Although a labrum injury is about as serious as it gets for a pitcher, Rakers' underwhelming velocity means that he has a better chance than usual to regain his effectiveness. He should be fully healthy for spring training in 2007 and will likely start the year at Norfolk. With the influx of well-paid relievers to Baltimore, it may take an injury for Rakers to get his next shot in Baltimore. However, he is fully capable of being a reliable middle-reliever in the major leagues. If he is able to get a handle on his mistakes within the strike zone and keep the ball in the ballpark, he may even see some time in the seventh or eighth innings.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com