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Predict the future -- Zach Britton

When reading through the comments from last week’s post about outfielder Nolan Reimold, I noticed that a lot of people believe the Orioles have two options with his future – switch him to another position or trade him.

If Felix Pie has a good season in 2009, the Orioles will have long-term solutions at each of the three outfield positions. I realize that there’s a possibility that Pie won’t adapt to an everyday role, but he’s definitely ahead of Reimold in the pecking order at this point.

So, logically, the Orioles could shift Reimold to first base in order to find a place for him in the major leagues. He’s never played that position in his professional career, however, so it’s probably not the best idea to rely on him to play there with the Orioles.

A trade would make sense, if the Orioles could get solid value in return, but it would be best for the team to keep their surplus of outfielders. Reimold will only be a phone call away with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides in case someone gets injured. That’s the smart thing to do, in my opinion.

For today’s discussion, I want to talk about starting pitcher Zach Britton.

The Orioles selected the 21-year-old left-hander in the third round of the 2006 MLB draft. Britton played high school baseball in Weatherford, Texas, and elected to sign with the Orioles instead of accepting a scholarship to play in college at Texas A&M.

In his first professional season, Britton was 0-4 with a 5.29 ERA in 11 starts for the rookie-level Bluefield Orioles in 2006. The 6-foot-2, 172-pound pitcher had 21 strikeouts and 20 walks in 34 innings.

Britton was 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA in 15 starts for the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds during the 2007 season. In 63 2/3 innings, he issued 22 walks and had 45 strikeouts. Britton only surrendered one home run during his time with the IronBirds.

The biggest improvement for Britton occurred last season while he was pitching for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds. He finished 12-7 with a 3.12 ERA and one complete game in 27 starts. Britton had 114 strikeouts and 49 walks in 147 1/3 innings for the Shorebirds.

With the abundance of pitchers above him in the Orioles’ minor league system, it’s easy for Britton to be overshadowed. He has quietly improved each year, however, so it’s important for Orioles fans to keep an eye on him during the upcoming season. Britton will probably start with the Single-A Frederick Keys in 2009.

If he pitches well for the Keys at the beginning of the season, I think he might earn a promotion to the Double-A Bowie Baysox sometime in the middle of the year. Look for him to have a 3.25 ERA and 10-15 wins during the 2009 season. Although he hasn’t collected an overwhelming number of strikeouts so far in his career, I think Britton will surprise a lot of people and average about one strikeout per inning in 2009.

What are your expectations for Britton during the upcoming season? Do you think he’ll show improvement again, or will he take a step back in 2009? Among the pitching prospects in the Orioles’ minor league system, where would you rank Britton?

Feel free to list projections for the rest of his career, including how you believe Britton will perform in the major leagues. I’m interested to see what everyone thinks.

By the way, has anyone attended spring training? Feel free to upload your photographs of your encounters with the Orioles to the Facebook fan page for O’s on Deck, as well as the user-generated content photo gallery on baltimoresun.com.

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Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below:

Jake Arrieta

Brad Bergesen

Jason Berken

Brandon Erbe

David Hernandez

Brian Matusz

Greg Miclat

Kam Mickolio

Lou Montanez

Troy Patton

Hayden Penn

Wilfrido Perez

Nolan Reimold

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