After running his second amateur draft with the Orioles, Scouting Director Joe Jordan has begun to develop some interesting trends. Although he focused on athletic infielders in the early rounds of the draft, Jordan once again went with a prep pitcher with plus arm strength in the 3rd round. In 2005, that pitcher was Brandon Erbe, who has quickly become one of the elite prospects in all of baseball. In 2006, it was Zachary Britton. Britton is actually three days older than Erbe and has turned out to be much less polished, but his ceiling is huge.
DOB: 12/22/87 Height: 6-2 Weight: 172 B/T: L/L
Zachary Britton's age 18 season:
Much like Erbe, Zach Britton showed the rare ability to pump his fastball into the 93-94 MPH range- up from 86-87 MPH in the calendar year preceding the draft. Also like Erbe, Britton's fastball tailed off as his senior season progressed; which caused his draft stock to slip. Britton was more in the 89-90 MPH range in his brief professional debut, but the Orioles expect his velocity to recover and be more consistent as he fills out his thin frame. His control of the pitch was poor in Bluefield but, again, the Orioles believe that was a result of the long season catching up with him.
When you are left-handed and can dial your fastball upwards of 94 MPH, it can be difficult to find an incentive to work on your off-speed stuff. As a result, Britton's slider and changeup lag behind his fastball. His slider shows promise, but his arm action is inconsistent and flattened out in his pro debut. Britton had similar problems with his changeup, which often resembled his fastball too closely. Right-handers have an easy time seeing the ball out of Britton's hand, making the development of his changeup even more important.
Although he is still very raw, Britton has plenty of time to refine all of his offerings. The Orioles won't be afraid to push him with an assignment to low-A Delmarva if he impresses in spring training, he is more likely to spend some time in extended spring training until the short-season teams start up. He isn't going to rocket through the system like many expect Brandon Erbe to do, but his ceiling is more comparable than his middling early numbers suggest. He has the raw potential to end up at the front of a big league rotation, though the bullpen will remain an alternative until he improves his durability and refines his off-speed stuff.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com