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Who will be O's top minor league pitcher in 2009?

We've looked at several Orioles prospects over the past few months in the "Predict the future" series on O's on Deck. Everyone offered their thoughts on the various players in the Orioles' minor league system, and it's almost time to sit back and enjoy the season.

With spring training winding down, it seems like a good opportunity to make our predictions for the two awards given to top minor leaguers at the end of the season. Let's talk about the pitching award today, and we'll follow up with the best overall player in the organization tomorrow.

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The top pitcher is honored as the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year, while another person is selected as the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year. Last year, Brad Bergesen was recognized as the best pitcher and Matt Wieters was named the top player in the Orioles' minor league system.Obviously, there are several pitchers in the organization who will likely compete for the top honor in 2009. It's not a secret that the Orioles have Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman lurking at different levels in their minor league system.

Most people never heard of Bergesen, however, before he emerged to capture the award last season. Therefore, it's possible that a relatively unknown pitcher could surprise Orioles fans with a breakthrough season and earn the honor.

Honestly, the contest is wide open and it's extremely difficult to narrow the choices to five, let alone a single pitcher. With that said, I want you to give it your best shot.

Besides the pitchers mentioned above, keep an eye on Jason Berken, David Hernandez and Brandon Erbe. All three pitchers need big seasons in order to not be passed by others within the organization. The competition is overwhelming, but the Orioles hope it pushes the pitchers to outperform each other.

Although there are several viable candidates for the award, I believe it will come down to the top three pitching prospects -- Arrieta, Matusz and Tillman. It's hard to pick a certain one, but you have to think one of those three pitchers will have a tremendous season and overshadow the competition.

I'm going to select Arrieta. He received a lot of experience pitching for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing last year, as well as the Futures Game during the All-Star break.

While he was only 6-5 in 20 starts for the Single-A Frederick Keys last season, Arrieta had a 2.87 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 113 innings. If he's able to harness his control -- he walked 51 hitters last year -- the 23-year-old right-hander should excel in 2009.

Who would you pick as the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year? Is it someone that I neglected to mention above? If so, give me your reasons for choosing him.

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