At just 19 years old, southpaw Zach Britton came into this season rated as the Baltimore Orioles' #11 prospect, according to Inside The Warehouse. With quick arm action arm and the ability to fire up his fastball into the mid 90's, he even drew comparisons to the quickly rising Brandon Erbe. Yet, as fatigue set in during Britton's stint with Bluefield last year, his fastball struggled to reach 90 MPH and questions about his durability remained.
"Out of high school I was tired; really, I was tired," Britton told Inside The Warehouse. "Out of high school, all I had was a fastball. [I] didn't have any off-speed; it was definitely a wakeup experience."
"If I threw the fastball, didn't matter how hard I threw it; if it was around the plate, they would have hit it."
With an occasionally rough, albeit brief, professional debut out of the way, Britton was able to focus on what he knew he needed to work on in extended spring training.
"[I worked on] my breaking stuff, off-speed, changeups, slider, and then being aggressive with my fastball in the zone."
While Britton was set back by a minor shoulder injury, he was still able to work his way back in time for the start of the season for the Ironbirds. In his season debut, however, he was unable to shake off the rust, and his nerves got the better of him. He walked four batters in less than two innings, allowing five earned runs.
"I hadn't thrown in a while. When I was hurt, I was working on some stuff. [I] hadn't thrown out of the stretch in a while, lost control of it. It was just one of those things where you have a bad outing. It was my first game in front of a big crowd."
Despite his initial struggles, Britton has an enormous ceiling. He's already flashed his potential in at times, like his 10-pitch first inning, which resulted in two strikeouts and a weak groundout.
"[I] had a good first inning, was real aggressive, and lost that."
Ironbirds Pitching Coach Calvin Maduro added, "He's 19. He's got a lot to learn, but a good arm and good breaking ball."
"Every week, every day, [Zach] will progress. Next time he goes out there, he will know what he needs to do."
A very modest Britton already seems to have an idea of what he needs to do to succeed.
"Be aggressive, throw more strikes, cut down on the walks, and just get people out. That's really all you have to do. You don't really have to have all that great stuff. You get people out, you move up."
Zach Britton has already begun to adjust to competing against older competition in the New York-Penn League. In his second start, he struck out three batters, walked none, and held the Brooklyn Cyclones to one hit through four innings. He has a chance to emerge as a top prospect in the organization with a solid sophomore campaign. Even if he occasionally struggles, southpaws with power arsenals tend to get plenty of chances.
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