ITW Mailbag: Prospect List Edition

Our Top 50 Prospect List always causes a flurry of reader e-mails. Inside, ITW answers some of the better questions aimed our way. Find out what we think of Hayden Penn, Adam Loewen, and recent draftees Matt Wieters and Jake Arrieta.

Where would guys who missed qualifying like Hayden Penn and Adam Loewen have ranked on your prospect list? - Dave

An interesting question, as neither pitcher qualified due to surpassing rookie eligibility, and both missed most of 2007 with injuries that shouldn't hinder their long-term value. In Penn's case, this is the second year I've been asked this question. He would certainly be inside the top ten, but probably towards the back. His stuff and command have some evaluators believing he could be as much as a #2 starter, but he's struggled in two major league stints. There are some makeup concerns about Penn that may hinder him from ultimately reaching that ceiling, but he certainly has time on his side. Despite missing much of the year, Penn is a year younger than Radhames Liz and Nolan Reimold. He'll likely start 2008 in triple-A Norfolk to shake off the rust.

Loewen, on the other hand, has a good chance of opening 2008 in the starting rotation. He has a similar ceiling as a #2 starter but it's his command, not his makeup, that is his biggest bugaboo. Loewen's stuff is a tick ahead of Penn's and most in the organization prefer him of the two. You could make an argument that he belongs anywhere from #2 to #7 on the list.

How could you rank a guy that has never played one game in the minor leagues as #1??!! - Pete

Pete, whose colorful language has been toned down for the masses, echoes a sentiment I've heard a few times about catcher Matt Wieters. Simply put, Wieters is the most talented player in the system. He set a new record for a signing bonus for a reason, after all. It's been a long time since the Orioles selected a player of Wieters' caliber in the amateur draft. Adam Loewen and Nick Markakis, for instance, were not as well regarded at the time of their selection, though Loewen came closer. Wieters projects as plus defensive catcher who hits in the middle of a championship lineup. He's not only the best prospect in the O's system, he is instantly the best catcher in the minor leagues. He'll probably start 2008 in high-A Frederick and it shouldn't be long before he's in double-A Bowie. If the Orioles are able to deal Ramon Hernandez, they likely won't need much more than a one-year stopgap in the interim.

With Jake Arrieta's performance in the AFL (Arizona Fall League), do you regret only ranking him #9? - Mike

If I were making the list today, it's quite possible that Arrieta would move up a few slots. He was dominant in his sophomore year at Texas Christian University and then in a stint for Team USA. Then his stuff and command took a step backwards in his draft-eligible year. He was still rated as a late-first or second round talent and got a corresponding signing bouns, despite being drafted in the fifth round. Assigned to the advanced Arizona Fall League, Arrieta threw 16 scoreless innings with as many strikeouts. His fastball was back up to 93-94 MPH, though his secondary stuff needs some refinement. Most scouts believe he is a future #3 or #4 starter, though one talent evaluator who saw him in Arizona told me he could make it as a #2.

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