One thing I learned from last week's discussion about relief pitcher Kam Mickolio is that Orioles fans are cautiously optimistic about his future. The general sentiment among readers was that the 6-foot-9, 255-pound right-hander could become the team's closer eventually, but he needs to improve his control.
While I agree that Mickolio isn't known for his accuracy, he probably only needs to slightly lower the amount of walks that he allows in order to be a successful reliever in the major leagues. Throw in the fact that Mickolio doesn't allow a lot of home runs – six total in 144 minor league innings – and it only seems like a matter of time before he's pitching at Camden Yards on a regular basis.
His size and overpowering fastball seem to make the 24-year-old reliever a logical fit for the majors, but the Orioles have the luxury to take it slow with Mickolio because the organization currently has a surplus of late-inning relief pitchers.
Let's talk about another relief pitcher who is considered a long shot to make the Opening Day roster – left-hander Wilfrido Perez.
The 24-year-old reliever split the 2008 season between the Single-A Frederick Keys and Double-A Bowie Baysox.
Perez was 2-4 with a 2.88 ERA and two saves in 26 appearances for the Keys before being promoted in July. He had 69 strikeouts and 30 walks in 56 1/3 innings in Single-A. In 16 appearances for the Baysox, Perez had a 2.31 ERA and one save. He struck out 23 hitters and issued eight walks in 23 1/3 innings for Bowie.
His best season was in 2007 with the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, when Perez was 5-3 with a 1.67 ERA and five saves in 27 games (eight starts). The 6-foot, 140-pound pitcher had 108 strikeouts in 81 innings for the Shorebirds. As a starting pitcher for Delmarva, Perez was 2-0 with a 0.28 ERA in 32 2/3 innings.
Tendinitis in his throwing shoulder limited Perez to seven games (five starts) for the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2006. He was 1-1 with a 3.28 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 25 innings. During the 2005 season, Perez was 3-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 12 starts for the rookie-level Bluefield Orioles. He was third in the Appalachian League with 75 strikeouts in 58 innings.
In four minor league seasons, Perez is 10-11 with a 2.55 ERA and eight saves. He has 306 strikeouts and 105 walks in 243 2/3 innings.
His plans to make the team out of spring training got off to a rough start Sunday, when he left the workout early because of dehydration. It looks like Perez will be fine, but you still have to believe he's going to start in the minor leagues in 2009.
Perez represents an intriguing option as a left-handed reliever in the future. The strikeout numbers are very promising, especially for someone who is extremely small in size. In my opinion, he'll pitch for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides during the 2009 season. If he has another quality season in the minor leagues, look for Perez to be a strong candidate for the bullpen in 2010 and beyond.
I know some Orioles fans would probably like for Perez to replace Jamie Walker in the bullpen this season, but it's good to take it slow and give Perez more experience. With that said, he could be promoted in the middle of the season if he is pitching well and Walker doesn't recover from his troubles in 2008.
What do you think about Perez? With his success in limited action as a starting pitcher in the minors, do you hope the Orioles continue to use him in that role? Is he going to be the Orioles' prototypical left-handed reliever for several seasons?
By the way, I'd like to offer a special thanks to Blaine from the O's on Deck Facebook fan page for suggesting that we talk about Perez in today's entry. If you're not already a member, sign up for the page and join the conversation.
Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below: