The Orioles believed they might get a steal when they drafted left-handed pitcher Tim Berry in the 50th round of the 2009 first-year player draft. And so far, it looks that way.
Berry’s draft stock dropped dramatically after he tore the ulnar collateral ligament as a high school senior and was bound for Tommy John surgery.
But the Orioles took a chance on Berry, giving him a reported $125,000 signing bonus, and now the club’s investment is paying off.
The Orioles will likely add Berry, who is now 22, to the organization’s 40-man roster today in order to protect him from being taken in next month’s Rule 5 draft.
The club also must make decisions whether to protect other eligible players like catchers Caleb Joseph and Michael Ohlman, left-handed pitcher Jason Gurka, right-handed knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa and right-handed pitcher Oliver Drake from the Rule 5 draft.
But the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Berry, who followed a strong season at high Class-A Frederick with a strong Arizona Fall League season, stands out as a pitcher who has emerged from project to prospect.
"We rehabbed him back and developed him accordingly," Orioles player development director Brian Graham said. "In this case, you give the scouting department, and especially ownership, a lot of credit for taking a chance on this guy."
And with the Orioles committed to developing their pitching rather than throwing money to high-priced free agents, examples like Berry's need to happen to sustain success.
At Frederick in 2013, Berry went 11-7 with a 3.85 ERA in 27 starts for the Keys, recording a career-best 2.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s learned to complement his low-90s fastball with his secondary pitches.
“He’s always been held in high regard, but this year he made great strides with his command,” Graham said. “Most importantly, his changeup has improved. His curveball is a plus pitch and he’s just matured. He’s showed the ability to command his fastball, and that’s why he had so much success in the Arizona Fall League.
Pitching for the Surprise Saguaros this fall, Berry allowed just three earned runs over 14 2/3 innings, pitching to a 1.84 ERA while striking out 11 and walking just three. He won both of his starts in the Arizona Fall League, throwing four shutout innings in each game.
“I think he reached four innings before the pitch count both times,” said Double-A Bowie manager Gary Kendall, who managed the Surprise team. “He’s a guy who is getting ahead of guys, strike one all the time. He’s got a great tempo to hitters, which is good to see. ... He really pitches aggressively, and right now, he has a tremendous amount of belief in himself. He’s able to locate. He drives the fastball down in the strike zone, he has the ability to get ahead of hitters where he’s able to expand the zone a little bit, and he’s been one of the better pitchers out here in terms of consistency, especially minimizing pitches, which is a huge thing.”
Graham said working with short-season Class-A Aberdeen pitching coach Alan Mills, a former Orioles reliever who served as Surprise’s pitching coach, has helped Berry grow mentally.
“It was a good match for him,” Graham said of Berry working with Mills. “The difference, for me, from the end of the season to the end of the Fall League was his confidence. When he took the mound out there, mentally, he competed as well as I’ve ever seen him. I was confident in throwing his breaking ball behind in the count. He was confident in pitching inside. He gave a lot of credit to Alan Mills with helping him with the mental side of the game.”
Berry has only made one start above the Single-A level -- an emergency start for Kendall at Bowie in 2012 -- but the Orioles believe Berry could rise through the farm system quickly, especially because Berry has shown the ability to get both left-handed and right-handed hitters out.
And even though he’s been a starter since his first season back from Tommy John surgery, the continuing growth of his curveball and changeup will allow him to help the Orioles as either a starter or reliever.