*Update: The Orioles have traded Alfredo Simon back to the Phillies for C Adam Donachie and cash. Details forthcoming.*
In the Rule 5 Draft Thursday morning, the Orioles selected Alfredo Simon with the fifth overall pick. Most recently of the Texas Rangers, the 25 year old right-hander has shifted around quite a bit lately. Originally signed as an international free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1999, Simon quickly emerged as one of their top pitching prospects. In fact, when the San Francisco Giants traded Felix Rodriguez for Ricky Ledee on July 30th, 2004, they reportedly demanded that Simon be included in the package.
2006 marked a difficult season for Simon. He split his time between starting in Triple-A Fresno and relieving in High-A San Jose, posting a 6+ ERA in both stops. This past season also saw Simon post his highest home run rate in his minor league career, a whopping 1.62 per nine innings pitched. As it stands, Simon is now two years removed from ranking as the #9 prospect in the Phillies organization.
If you watch Simon pitch, you get a better idea of why the Orioles were willing to pony up the $50,000 to take a flier on him. Simon throws easily in the mid-90's and can touch as high as 97 MPH with his fastball. Despite his high home run rate this season, he actually gets good downward movement on it and works mostly in the bottom half of the strike zone. Simon's other offerings- a changeup and a slider- are pretty pedestrian. In fact, Simon played his first several seasons preferring a curveball over his slider, but the Giants made him scrap it when they acquired him. Although he has mostly started as a professional, Simon's future lies in the bullpen, where, as recently as last year, he was thought of as a closer of the future. In the bullpen, his secondary pitches will be less exposed and he'll have more success working off of his plus heater.
For a pitcher with such a powerful arsenal, Simon has remained both hittable and, at least in 2006, susceptible to the home run. The problem lies in his straightforward delivery. Simon lacks any deception in his motion, exposing the ball early in his windup. Although he has gotten by with one very impressive pitch in the past, the Orioles will have to hope they can boost his production with some mechanical tweaks if he is to stay on the 25-man roster all season long.
Notes: The Orioles lost recent minor league free agent signing Josh Phelps to the New York Yankees, who held the last pick of the first round of the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees, planning to DH Jason Giambi, have a hole at first base. Phelps is a decent bet to match the production of free agent Shea Hillenbrand, who the Yankees have expressed some interest in, but that is hardly overwhelming praise for Phelps. The Yankees have also made it known that they would like to have a good defensive first baseman, since their lineup can carry a below average bat for the position. In that regard, Phelps is unlikely to fit the bill.
The most likely scenario is that the Yankees either send the Orioles some compensation for Phelps to attain the rights to option him to Columbus or they end up returning him at some point in the season.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com