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O's minor leaguers in '08 -- Starting pitchers

The lists of position players in the Orioles' minor league system that I've compiled over the past few weeks haven't had many encouraging signs for the future. There weren't a lot of outstanding individual performances in the organization in 2008.

There is some good news for Orioles fans, however.

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I'm going to wrap up my recap of the 2008 season by analyzing the starting pitching in the Orioles' minor league system. The biggest strength in the organization, in my opinion, is the depth of the pitching.

It was difficult to assemble a list of only 10 starting pitchers, honestly. The first five pitchers in my rankings all could be considered the best starter in the organization in 2008.

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It would be safe to pick Bowie Baysox right-hander Brad Bergesen in the top spot since the Orioles honored him as the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Bergesen definitely deserves the award based on his accolades this season, which also included being picked as the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, but I'd still select Frederick Keys right-hander Jake Arrieta above all of the other starting pitchers in the organization.

Arrieta also received plenty of recognition in 2008. The 22-year-old starting pitcher was selected as the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year and he also made a stop at Yankee Stadium in the MLB Futures Game during the All-Star break. Arrieta was chosen as the Pitcher of the Game in the California-Carolina All-Star Game and he pitched for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.

Thank you for sticking through all of the dismal rankings for the other positions in the Orioles' minor league system. It's always good to end on a positive note, so here's how I'd rank the top 10 starting pitchers in the organization based on this season's statistics:

1. Jake Arrieta

2. Brad Bergesen

3. David Hernandez

4. Chris Tillman

5. Jason Berken

6. Brandon Erbe

7. Sean Gleason

8. Zach Britton

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9. Rick Zagone

10. Luis Noel

Arrieta led the league with a 2.87 ERA in 20 starts for Frederick before heading overseas for the Olympics. Despite missing the final six weeks of the season, Arrieta finished fourth in the league with 120 strikeouts in 113 innings. The Orioles' fifth-round pick in the 2007 MLB draft finished with a 6-5 record and opposing hitters only batted .199 against him.

Bergesen established a franchise record for wins in a season by going 15-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 24 games (23 starts) for the Baysox. The 23-year-old starting pitcher led the team with 148 innings and he tossed three complete games.

One of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the organization is Hernandez. The 23-year-old right-hander was first in the Eastern League in strikeouts (166), but also had the most walks in the league (71). Hernandez, who was drafted by the Orioles in the 16th round of the 2005 draft, was 10-4 at Bowie and he finished third in the league with a 2.68 ERA.

Tillman lived up to expectations in his first season in the Orioles' system. The 20-year-old right-hander, who was acquired in the trade that sent left-hander Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners, had similar statistics to Hernandez. He was 11-4 for the Baysox and finished fifth in the league with a 3.18 ERA in 135 2/3 innings. Tillman was second in strikeouts (154), but he was also third in the league with 65 walks.

Berken completes the quartet of Baysox starting pitchers in the top five, but he could easily be ranked above the others on the list. The 24-year-old right-hander was 12-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 145 2/3 innings for Bowie. He finished fourth in the league with 125 strikeouts.

It's difficult for me to put Erbe this low on the list, but there's one statistic that makes the decision a little bit easier. The 20-year-old right-hander surrendered 21 home runs, which was the most in the Carolina League. The Orioles' third-round draft pick in the 2005 draft led the league in strikeouts (151) and he was second with 150 2/3 innings, but he needs to reduce the amount of home runs allowed. Erbe finished 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA in 28 starts.

Gleason was the biggest surprise in the organization this year. The 23-year-old right-hander started in the bullpen for the Delmarva Shorebirds, but he finished as the team's most dominant starter. Gleason was 12-2 with a 2.63 ERA, which was third in the South Atlantic League. He only allowed three home runs in 150 2/3 innings.

Britton continued his progression through the organization by going 12-7 with a 3.12 ERA in 27 starts for Delmarva. The 20-year-old left-hander had 114 strikeouts and walked 49 hitters in 147 1/3 innings. The other pitchers in the Orioles' minor league system overshadowed Britton this season, but he shouldn't be overlooked for the future.

A lot of analysts predict that Zagone will eventually become an effective relief pitcher, but he was pretty good as a starter for the Aberdeen IronBirds this season. The 22-year-old left-hander was 7-1 with a 2.89 ERA in 15 games (11 starts) for Aberdeen. He finished tied for fourth in the New York-Penn League with 79 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings. The Orioles selected Zagone in the sixth round of this year's draft.

Noel was 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts for Delmarva. The 21-year-old right-hander had 116 strikeouts in 138 2/3 innings, but he also walked 73 hitters. There's still time for him to improve, so that's why he's included in this spot. It will be interesting to see how he performs in 2009.

From the comments on the other posts, it's obvious that people couldn't wait to discuss the starting pitching in the organization. What do you think about the rankings? How would you list the players? If you disagree with my list, tell me why.

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