I've seen several articles about Orioles prospects Brian Matusz and Matt Wieters in the past few weeks, so I thought it might be a good time to compile some of the news in a media roundup.
There's also some information regarding former Orioles who have already signed with other teams for 2009, which I added at the bottom of the entry.
• MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo spoke to scouts about the Arizona Fall League and compiled a list of the best prospects in the league this season. Wieters was one of two catchers mentioned, and Matusz received recognition as a left-handed pitcher to watch.
Matt Wieters, Orioles: Everyone -- from scouts to coaches to even his contemporaries on the field -- ran out of superlatives to describe Wieters. He can hit for average and power from both sides of the plate, has a cannon arm behind the dish and handles pitchers well. There may have even been a few who were watching closely to see if he could turn water into wine. He's a franchise-type player who's just about ready. Some have compared him to Joe Mauer, but with more power and switch-hitting ability.
Brian Matusz, Orioles: Despite making his unofficial pro debut in the AFL, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 Draft definitely looked like he belonged. He's got two breaking pitches, a slider and curve, both of which are plus offerings. Add that to slightly above-average fastball velocity, as well as command of all his offerings, and you're looking at a front-of-the-rotation southpaw who should get there quickly.
• Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News tabbed both players in his selection of the top five stars from the fall league. Fagan also offers a scout's take on Matusz and Wieters.
Scout's take on Matusz: "He's real polished. He's throwing everything for strikes, moving it around with good arm action, even on the breaking stuff. He got hit a few times, but there were points when hitters had no idea what was coming, and they were just lost. Again, big league hitters are going to be tougher outs, and they're not just going to flail the way some of these guys did, but there were really points where he was just so in charge of the game that it was really impressive. His upside is less than [Braves pitching prospect Tommy] Hanson just because he's already really polished in terms of his repertoire and his command and his ability set hitters up. He's not as much a "stuff" guy as Hanson. He doesn't have any pitches that you watch and say, 'Wow, that's amazing, top-shelf stuff.' But he really knows how to pitch, and his stuff is definitely above-average. But what really sets him apart is his ability to pitch intelligently and command his pitches. I think he could be a No. 2 guy in a rotation."
Scout's take on Wieters: "He's a great talent, he really is. He's got great hands and he's got incredible bat speed. There's one thing I noticed in the Fall League, though. You'll see a lot of guys who start open and stride in, and part of that is to keep them from drifting forward. If you step in toward the plate, you don't have that momentum toward the pitcher, which will get you jammed because you're rushing toward the baseball instead of throwing your hands through it. Wieters takes it one step further in that he dives his upper body in a bit. In the major leagues, smart pitchers are going to see that, and they're going to go out on the outside corner maybe with a fastball or changeup, and then they'll come inside hard and try to get him to either hit a ground ball or pop up to the middle infield. He'll just have to adjust."
• USA Today offers its organizational report of the Orioles, including a look at some of the team's top prospects. The story also mentions the improvements in the player development system over the past few years.
C Matt Wieters: The Orioles' 2007 first-round pick will get a chance to win the Baltimore starting catching job in spring training based as much on his defensive abilities as on his offense.
That's a strong endorsement, considering the 22-year-old switch-hitter batted a combined .355 at Class A and AA, with 27 homers and 91 RBI in 130 games in 2008, his first pro season.
LHP Brian Matusz: The 2008 first-round pick signed at the Aug. 15 deadline, spent a couple of weeks with short-season Aberdeen -- but not on the active roster -- then debuted in the Arizona Fall League, where he started 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA but had 21 strikeouts in 18 innings. The 22-year-old's style and repertoire have been compared to that of Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels.
• John Sickels, who is famous for his analysis of the minor leagues, offers his thoughts on the top prospects in the organization heading into the 2009 season.
1) Matt Wieters, C, Grade A: Best prospect in baseball. Mutant cross between Mauer and Piazza.
3) Brian Matusz, LHP, Grade B+: Not David Price, but should advance quickly due to sharp command of solid stuff.
• This column from Larry Stone of The Seattle Times is almost three weeks old, but there are a few notes at the bottom that serve as good news for Orioles fans about the team's moves during the last offseason.
Baseball America came out Wednesday with its list of the Baltimore Orioles' top 10 prospects, and it's another painful reminder of the Erik Bedard trade. No. 2 is pitcher Chris Tillman, and No. 10 is pitcher Kam Mickolio, both of whom came over from the Mariners for Bedard, along with reliever George Sherrill, who made the All-Star team last year, Adam Jones, the Orioles' starting center fielder, and pitcher Tony Butler.
Baseball America forecast Tillman as the Orioles' No. 1 starter in 2012. The Orioles' top prospect -- and one of the best in the major leagues -- is catcher Matt Wieters.
• Speaking of the Orioles' prospect rankings on Baseball America, here's a link to the breakdown. Do you agree with their opinion? Would your list be any different?
The Orioles are making progress in player development as well, with an influx of top-end talent in the last few years. Wieters is a legitimate cornerstone player, and the system's top three arms (Tillman, 2008 first-rounder Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta) all look like legitimate big league starters.
If they're to make a significant jump in the big league standings, Baltimore particularly needs its young pitchers to come through. The Orioles ranked 13th in the AL in ERA (5.13) in 2008 and head into 2009 with no proven big league starters behind Jeremy Guthrie, who's better suited for the middle or back of a rotation than the front.
• Baseball America lists the recent transactions in the minor leagues, which includes former Orioles starting shortstop Luis Hernandez signing with the Kansas City Royals. The article also states that former Orioles reliever Greg Aquino signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians and ex-Orioles pitcher Rick Bauer signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Hernandez, 24, has none of the sheen of the unknown -- he's a slick fielder and career .245/.289/.316 hitter in the minors. The biggest difference between him and Tony Pena Jr. is that Hernandez is a switch-hitter.