One thing I learned from last week's discussion about Brad Bergesen is that Orioles fans would be satisfied to have a pitcher in the rotation who won't walk many hitters – even if he doesn't collect many strikeouts.
After watching a number of young Orioles pitchers issue too many walks over the past few seasons, I can't blame fans for valuing control over power when it comes to a pitching staff.
There was a lot of debate about the value of strikeouts and how that translates to success in the major leagues. Good points were made from both sides of the conversation, but I think it's best to judge a pitcher's future on an individual basis. The historical statistics might show that a pitcher with a low strikeout-to-walk ratio won't have a good career, but that doesn't mean he can't overcome the odds and be a solid contributor.
Bergesen won't be as successful in 2009 as last season with the Double-A Bowie Baysox, in my opinion, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a future with the Orioles. Not everyone is going to show constant improvement from one season to the next. It's a gradual process, and I think the 23-year-old right-hander eventually should play in the major leagues.
At worst, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound pitcher will be able to help the Orioles as a long reliever. At best, he'll secure a spot in the rotation.
Today, we'll take a look at another top pitching prospect in the Orioles' minor league system – Jake Arrieta.
The right-handed starting pitcher, who will turn 23 in March, led the Carolina League with a 2.87 ERA last season. Arrieta was 6-5 in 20 starts for the Single-A Frederick Keys. Despite missing the final six weeks of the minor league season while playing with the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing, he finished fourth in the league with 120 strikeouts.
The biggest thing, in my opinion, that Arrieta needs to improve in 2009 is his control. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound pitcher issued 51 walks in 113 innings during the 2008 season, which was the fifth-highest total in the league.
The Orioles' fifth-round selection in the 2007 MLB draft received several accolades in 2008. In addition to being chosen to represent the United States in Beijing, Arrieta was also selected to play for the U.S. team in the MLB Futures Game at Yankee Stadium as part of the All-Star festivities. He was also named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year.
It's going to be interesting to see where Arrieta pitches in 2009. At his age, I'd like to believe he's ready to pitch for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. However, it's going to be tough to make room for him in the Tides' rotation because the four starting pitchers from Bowie – Bergesen, David Hernandez, Jason Berken and Chris Tillman – all deserve an opportunity to advance to the next level.
I don't think Tillman will be moved up to Norfolk, but he certainly has a better argument than Arrieta because Tillman has already performed well at a higher level. That's why I think Arrieta will start the 2009 season in Bowie. Look for him to force his way into Triple-A by the middle of the year if he pitches the way he did for the Keys in 2008.
If Arrieta completely dominates the competition in Bowie, he deserves to be called up to the major leagues in September. Although he hasn't pitched above Single-A, Arrieta seems to be on the right track to the majors. His experience with the U.S. Olympic team should help him to move quickly through the organization.
Look for Arrieta to be among the Eastern League leaders in wins, ERA and strikeouts in 2009. If any of Norfolk's starting pitchers struggle, Arrieta will be promoted to fill the void.
He needs to reduce the amount of walks, but I think Arrieta will continue to progress this season. I'm not sure that he'll get a chance to play in the major leagues in 2009 – it depends on the Orioles' approach with him – but Arrieta has a tremendous upside.
What are your expectations for Arrieta in 2009? Do you think he'll be in the major leagues at any point this season? Would you rather see him work on his control before making the jump to Norfolk?
Let me hear your predictions for Arrieta. What do you think is a realistic estimate for the time of his arrival with the Orioles?
Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below: