When a player graduates to the major leagues, he is ineligible for arbitration in his first three seasons. Only in rare cases, like the major league deal a then 19 year old Adam Loewen signed, do players make much more than the league minimum at this stage of their career. With that said, and ITW's first annual Top 50 Prospect List released, here are the top ten Orioles' pre-arbitration players.
#10 Radhames Liz- Liz has been skating by with an excellent fastball and occasionally excellent curveball thus far. That, coupled with some durability concerns, could spell a shift to the bullpen. The Orioles will keep him as a starter until Liz proves he can't handle the role, but his most likely long-term role is as a high-leverage reliever.
#9 Nolan Reimold- Reimold has enough problems with advanced breaking balls that he will likely never hit more than .260-.270 or so. Fortunately, he has the power and plate discipline to still be an asset at the plate. His best fit defensively is right field, but the presence of Nick Markakis likely means that he will shift to left field or first base at some point.
#8 Garrett Olson- His fastball is only average velocity, but his breaking ball is among the best in the system and all of his pitches have a ton of life. Unlike the other pitchers on this list, Olson doesn't project as a frontline starter. Nevertheless, he is, at most, a half season away from being ready to step in as a mid-rotation workhorse.
#7 Chris Ray- IN 2005, Ray posted excellent peripheral numbers in double-A Bowie and the majors en route to establishing himself as one of the best young relief pitchers in baseball. After going 33 for 38 in save situations in 2006, the Orioles feel confident that he will be their closer for the next several years. Ray will have to improve upon his 51:27 K:BB ratio and 1.36 HR/9 to sustain his success going forward (his .203 BA/BIP is not likely to be repeated), but he has the power stuff to do it.
#6 Hayden Penn- Multiple struggles turning his minor league success into major league performance have inevitably led to makeup concerns, but Penn still has the stuff and track record to profile as a legitimate #2 starter. Penn needs to assert himself before the next wave of pitching comes through the system, but his 2.28 ERA in triple-A Ottawa as a 21 year old indicates he will be ready at some point in 2007.
#5 Billy Rowell- The one prospect in the Orioles system that projects to hit for both average and power, Rowell is their #3 hitter of the future. Though he has struggled defensively adapting to third base, he should move fast for a prep product.
#4 Brandon Erbe- The tall, slender righty has the stuff and acumen to one day front a big league rotation. Like any 19 year old pitcher, Erbe's biggest hurdle remains staying healthy.
#3 Adam Loewen- As a tall (6-5) left-hander from a cold weather birthplace (BC, Canada), Adam Loewen fits two classic late bloomer profiles. Now entering his age 23 season, he has just started to come into his own. He could be the Orioles' third best starter as soon as Opening Day, and, for once, that is not an indication of a weak rotation.
#2 Daniel Cabrera- The real-life Rick Vaughn is one of the most physically intimidating pitchers in baseball with the stuff to match. Though his already spotty command suffered in the first half of 2006, there is no World Baseball Classic to keep Pitching Guru Leo Mazzone away this spring training. He remains a serious breakout candidate for 2007.
#1 Nick Markakis- Possibly the best position player to come through the system since Cal Ripken, Jr., Nick Markakis has shown the rare ability to improve at every level. The biggest question is whether his .311/.364/.532 second half batting line is a sign of things to come or just a baseline that will be improved upon as he enters his age 23 season.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com