Thanks to everyone for the predictions about first baseman Brandon Snyder.
Before last season, Snyder's prospect status was being questioned, but most people now seem to agree that the former catcher is one of the first players mentioned during any discussion about the Orioles' future roster.
The difference a year makes is amazing.
Remember, it could just as quickly go in the other direction. That's why it's important for Snyder to build on last year's success in order to remain in the organization's long-term plans. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound infielder seems to be fully recovered from injuries that bothered him in the past, so look for the offensive numbers to increase again in 2009.
Now, let's discuss the primary focus of this entry – starting pitcher Jason Berken.
If I mentioned the 25-year-old right-hander prior to last season, I'm sure it would have been met with head-scratching bewilderment by the majority of Orioles fans. In fact, I'd guarantee that would still be the reply from at least 25 percent of Orioles fans now.
Several other pitching prospects in the Orioles' minor league system overshadow the 6-foot, 210-pound starting pitcher. Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Brandon Erbe, David Hernandez, Brian Matusz, Chorye Spoone and Chris Tillman are all discussed more frequently than Berken, but he was one of the most reliable pitchers for the Double-A Bowie Baysox in 2008.
Berken, who the Orioles selected in the sixth round of the 2006 MLB draft, was 12-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 games (25 starts) for the Baysox last season. He had 125 strikeouts and only walked 38 hitters in 145 2/3 innings. Berken surrendered nine home runs in 2008, which was less than his three more popular Baysox teammates – Bergesen, Tillman and Hernandez.
As a member of the Single-A Frederick Keys during the 2007 season, Berken was 9-9 with a 4.53 ERA in 27 games (26 starts). He had 124 strikeouts and 49 walks in 151 innings for the Keys. In his first professional season, Berken was 1-4 with a 2.80 ERA in nine games (eight starts) for the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2006. He had 46 strikeouts and only issued five walks in 45 innings for the IronBirds.
While pitching in college at Clemson, he missed the entire 2005 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Admittedly, Berken hasn't suffered any setbacks in the past three years, but that's something to consider when contemplating his future. The surgery may have made him a better pitcher, honestly, because Berken now uses his control and off-speed pitches to be successful.
If you're looking for more information about Berken, check out this recent article on greenbaypressgazette.com. The piece includes some background content about Berken, who is from the Green Bay area, as well as some photographs of the pitcher at his baseball camp earlier this month.
Berken should start the upcoming season with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. Throughout his career, Berken's control has been his best asset, and that won't change in 2009.
If he stays in Norfolk for the entire season, look for Berken to have about four times more strikeouts than walks, and his ERA should be around his career average (3.90). If the Orioles need to promote someone during the season, however, don't be surprised if Berken is at the top of the list.
What are your expectations for Berken this season? Will he make his debut in the major leagues sometime in 2009? If so, how do you think he'll perform?
Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below: