Highlights- Clearly, the most exciting person to watch on this team is 19 year old RHP Brandon Erbe, ITW's #1 prospect. He'll team with David Hernandez for the second year in a row to form a potent 1-2 combination at the front of the rotation. Both have flyball tendencies, so playing in the organization's most homer-friendly stadium could prove to be an issue, but both pitchers can be nearly unhittable when they have their best stuff. Erbe's main goal will be to prove durable over another full season, while Hernandez has to find the plate a bit more often than in 2006. Jason Berken is one of the smartest pitchers in the system and, with many observers expecting his stuff to take a step forward in year two of his post-Tommy John surgery career; he could emerge as a future mid-rotation pitcher. Skipping low-A Delmarva should not be an issue for the advanced 23 year old.
Sleepers- Chorye Spoone has a power arsenal, but his middling peripherals last year mean he'll have to make genuine improvements to repeat his 3.56 ERA. Luckily, he reported to spring training with a better grasp on how to control his promising breaking ball. Jason Burch, part of the haul from the Rodrigo Lopez trade, has a classic pitcher's build and keeps the ball on the ground. He was expected to vie for a role in the double-A Baysox bullpen, so it's a bit of a disappointment for him to be starting the year in high-A Frederick. Bob McCrory could zoom through the system a la Jim Hoey if he can stay healthy. His stuff is that good.
Highlights- Zach Dillon should get a good chunk of the playing time, as he is the only threat of this group to emerge with any semblance of a major league career. He has excellent plate discipline but will need to take advantage of Harry Grove Stadium and show a power spike to avoid the pitfalls of organizational catcherdom.
Sleepers- Madera and Bock are largely just veteran depth that will help with the development of some of the promising Keys' arms. However, the 26 year old Madera did post a .975 OPS in the Carolina League last season.
Highlights- Although he was drafted out of a major college program, Blake Davis impressed with a solid debut in a full-season league after being drafted in the 4th round last year. He's a good defender and can hit for average, but escaping the utility player label will depend on the development of his secondary hitting skills. Fleisher has legitimate power and should have a good opportunity to show it off this year. He has some holes in his swing and an improved strikeout rate will be the first sign that he is making adjustments.
Sleepers- Ryan Finan has also shown good power and will only be helped by getting out of Delmarva. At 25 years old, however, this is a make or break year for him to emerge as any kind of prospect. Jonathan Tucker is almost always the smallest guy on the field, but he does all the little things right. With a good eye at the plate, speed, and plenty of defensive versatility, he could emerge as an interesting bench player.
Highlights- Arturo Rivas has long been a favorite of scouts, showing plenty of raw tools. He showed some improvement after a promotion to Frederick last season but will need to prove they are for real over a full slate of games.
Sleepers- A local product out of Beltsville, MD, Kennard Jones is a former 3rd round pick of the Padres. At 25 years old, has played the majority of the last three seasons in the high minors. Left alone at high-A Frederick, he could be a reliable top-of-the-order threat with a high OBP and plenty of speed. Any kind of significant major league career, however, is a long shot.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com