Yesterday, we discussed our thoughts on 21-year-old right-hander Brandon Erbe. Most people agreed with my projections for the McDonogh graduate, but a few readers mentioned that they believe his future is in the bullpen.
That's an interesting observation. With his power and size, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound pitcher could develop into a late-inning reliever. I don't think the Orioles are ready to give up on Erbe as a starter, however, so that experiment will have to be delayed. As long as he continues to compile the strikeouts, the Orioles will be forced to find a way to continue advancing him through the organization. Trust me, it's a problem that they would love to have.
In my opinion, there are two goals for Erbe to work on in 2009 that will help improve his long-term success. I'd like for Erbe to improve his control and focus on keeping his pitches down in the strike zone. The home runs and walks allowed will be reduced if he's able to do these two things consistently this season.
For today's debate, let's dive deep into the Orioles' minor league system. I'd like to talk about a pitcher who is definitely under the radar in the organization -- left-hander Rick Zagone.
Each time I saw Zagone pitch for the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2008, he impressed me. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound pitcher was 7-1 with a 2.89 ERA in 15 games (11 starts) for the IronBirds. Zagone had 79 strikeouts and walked 14 hitters in 65 1/3 innings. He was tied for fourth in the New York-Penn League in strikeouts.
The Orioles selected Zagone in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB draft. He played in college for three seasons at the University of Missouri. The 22-year-old pitcher performed well during his freshman year, but he struggled in his final two seasons with the Tigers. He was 6-3 with a 3.28 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings as a freshman. In his sophomore season, Zagone was 7-2 with two complete games, but his ERA jumped to 5.03. Things got worse for Zagone during his junior season, when he lost his spot in the Tigers' starting rotation and was only 2-3 with a 5.25 ERA in 70 1/3 innings pitched.
I've seen a few analysts mention that Zagone will likely have a more successful career as a relief pitcher, but I think it's better to keep him as a starter. Zagone eventually should pitch in the major leagues if he's able to build upon last season's success with the IronBirds.
It's unclear where Zagone will pitch during the upcoming season, but I think it would be best if he begins the year with the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds. The Orioles could promote him to the Single-A Frederick Keys or Double-A Bowie Baysox if he's pitching well in the middle of the season. They could also choose to have him start with the Keys, but it all depends on where the other pitchers in the organization are placed.
What are your thoughts on Zagone's performance during the 2009 season? Do you think he'll be able to build upon last year's success? Should the Orioles keep him as a starting pitcher, or would it be better to shift him to the bullpen? Will he have a successful career in the major leagues?
Let me know your expectations for Zagone. You can also discuss this topic and others on the Facebook fan page for O's on Deck. It also would be nice to get some minor league photographs and videos added by readers. Make sure to check it out and become a fan if you haven't already. Thanks to all the people who have already signed up, but be sure to utilize all the tools available on the page.
Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below: