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Predict the future -- Chris Tillman

First, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

Last year – OK, so it was Monday – we discussed the future of catcher Matt Wieters. Many people feel the top prospect will be playing for the Orioles at some point in 2009. Some readers think he'll start the year in the major leagues, but most folks agreed that Wieters would be called up during the middle of the season.

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I also enjoyed the few readers who pointed out that predicting Wieters' future means picking which team he'll join as a free agent -- the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox -- when he's eligible. We shouldn't get that far ahead. Let the 22-year-old kid play at least one game in Camden Yards before we send him off to join Mark Teixeira in the Bronx.

If you didn't participate in the predictions for Wieters, I'll give you a brief summary of what to expect in the "Predict the future" entries. I'll list some background about the player's statistics, as well as my expectations for the 2009 season. Your job is to tell me whether you agree with me or not. I want to hear your predictions for the player in the upcoming season, but feel free to expand deeper into the future and include his final career statistics.

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You can continue adding predictions about Wieters, but I'm going to head into the pitching department today.

The Orioles have a lot of pitching prospects in the organization, but a few stand out above the others. Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz are regarded among the best in professional baseball by many publications. Tillman was acquired in the trade that sent Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners prior to last season, and the Orioles drafted Arrieta and Matusz.

Tillman was 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 28 starts for Double-A Bowie in 2008. He was fifth in the Eastern League in ERA and tied for sixth in the league in wins. Tillman also finished second in the league with 154 strikeouts. He trailed teammate David Hernandez (166) in that category.

The 20-year-old right-hander was 7-11 with a 4.84 ERA in 28 starts while splitting time between the Single-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and Single-A High Desert Mavericks in the Mariners' minor league system during the 2007 season.

It's difficult to predict Tillman's performance for the upcoming season because he doesn't have much professional experience. This will only be his third full season in the minor leagues, so the Orioles could choose to move him along slowly.

I think a lot of fans will complain if the Orioles start Tillman at Bowie in 2009, but that seems like the best move to me.

Between players being demoted from the majors and others making the jump from Double-A, the Orioles have several pitchers who can fight for positions in the rotation at Triple-A Norfolk. Therefore, I don't see any reason why Tillman should be rushed to the Tides.

Let Tillman start the year in Bowie. If he starts strong, the Orioles should be willing to find room in Norfolk to continue his development. Tillman shouldn't struggle since he's already been through a full season in the Eastern League. If that happens, however, he'll have plenty of time to work out the problems without facing the pressure to succeed at a higher level.

I think Tillman will pitch well in the first half of the season in Bowie and earn a promotion to Norfolk around the All-Star break. Look for him to be among the leaders in the Eastern League in wins, strikeouts and ERA when he's called up from Double-A. He may struggle to adapt to Triple-A at first, especially if the Orioles put him in Norfolk to begin the season, but Tillman should continue to develop along the path to the majors in 2009.

What are your thoughts on Tillman? Do you think it's wrong if the Orioles assign him to Bowie again in 2009? Should he start at Norfolk and possibly earn a promotion to the major leagues at the end of the season? Is it better to throw him into the waters of Triple-A and see if he can sink or swim?

Let me know what you think, including exact statistics if you're willing to be brave.

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