Chris Waters may not have generated the buzz that J.R. House or Brandon Sing has, but the Orioles made him one of their priorities when minor league free agents became available. The left-handed former Brave will likely spend the bulk of his 2007 season pitching for triple-A Norfolk.
The mere fact that Waters is pitching again is an impressive testament to his perseverance and willingness to overcome setbacks. After being chosen in the fifth round of the 2000 draft, Waters progressed nicely through the Braves pitching rich minor league system. The Lakeland, Florida native breezed through his first three professional seasons and, after posting a 2002 season record of 13-7 with an ERA of 2.89 and WHIP of 1.06, Waters found himself a member of Atlanta's vaunted 40-man roster. However, while lifting weights the following spring training, he began to feel pain in his pitching shoulder. The Braves medical staff diagnosed the problem as tendonitis. After rehabbing the shoulder, he began the season at single-A Myrtle Beach. Waters felt he was merely pitching through the pain and continued on. After a quick promotion to AA Greenville, the wheels began to fall off. He finished with a 3-8 record, a telltale ERA of 4.41 and 1.52 WHIP. In December, the Braves designated him for assignment and he went unclaimed. After starting the 2004 season in the Myrtle Beach bullpen, Waters lasted only four games before his shoulder condition worsened. After a visit to Birmingham physician Dr. James Andrews, Waters was given the news that his labrum was torn and he needed to have his rotator cuff repaired as well.
Following successful surgery and rehab, Waters returned in June 2005 to pitch again for Myrtle Beach, going 4-5 with a 4.27 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He finished the 2006 season as a starter at double-A Mississippi and posted a record of 8-14, a 4.82 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP in 27 games.
Waters is considered to be a marginal prospect these days, but he will be 26 years old when the 2007 season starts and still has time to bounce back. A former Oriole who had a similar injury was Eric Dubose, who in his first year back following rehab, pitched to a 5-3, 2.51 ERA and 1.04 WHIP out of the Bowie bullpen at the same age. DuBose made it to Baltimore that year, probably a result of the lack of viable left-handed pitchers available to the Birds in those days. Waters is equally effective against righties and lefties, but there is no doubt that his left-handedness gives him an edge over many similar pitchers. If nothing else, Chris Waters represents pitching depth for the Baltimore Orioles at Norfolk.
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