Judging by everyone's predictions for the Jim Palmer Pitcher of the Year this season, it looks like 2008 first-round draft pick Brian Matusz is viewed by Orioles fans as the favorite to win the award.
While the 22-year-old left-hander received the most votes in our discussion, readers also mentioned Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman frequently. Troy Patton and Rick Zagone received some attention in the conversation, and I'll admit they both could turn some heads in 2009.
With the depth of pitching in the Orioles' minor league system, however, it's going to be tough for Patton or Zagone to be viewed as the best in the organization. Still, stranger things have happened and that's why they play the game and I just write about it.
Anyway, let's talk about the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year today.Last year's winner, by an overwhelming margin, was top prospect Matt Wieters. The 22-year-old catcher, who also was named the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, batted .355 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs in 130 games while splitting time between the Single-A Frederick Keys and Double-A Bowie Baysox. Wieters hit .345 with 15 home runs and 40 RBIs in 69 games for the Keys before being promoted to Bowie. In 61 games with the Baysox, he batted .365 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs.
To say Wieters' choice for the award required little thought would be an understatement during any other year, but Lou Montanez won the Triple Crown in the Eastern League in 2008. The 27-year-old outfielder hit .335 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs in 116 games for the Baysox before being promoted to the Orioles in early August.
It's extremely rare for two players in the Orioles' minor league system to excel offensively as well as Wieters and Montanez last season.
For perspective, here are the statistics for the two winners of the award before Wieters:
Brandon Tripp (2007): .288 batting average, 19 home runs, 79 RBIs in 104 games for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds.
Cory Keylor (2006): .294 batting average, 10 home runs, 68 RBIs in 124 games for the Baysox.
Wieters is starting the year with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, so he should be the favorite to win the award at the beginning of the season. If all goes as planned, however, he won't be spending the entire year in the minor leagues. Basically, Wieters will be playing in the major leagues if he puts up the statistics required to repeat as the top minor leaguer in the organization, which means there is little chance for him to win the award again.
After Wieters is eliminated from the discussion, it's probably best to look at some of the players with a lot of experience in the Orioles' minor league system. Montanez and outfielder Nolan Reimold jump to the top of the list. Brandon Snyder is another player who could win the award with a strong season.
Reimold hit .284 with 25 home runs and 84 RBIs in 139 games for the Baysox in 2008, which was his best professional season. Snyder batted .315 with 13 home runs and 80 RBIs in 116 games for the Keys last year.
If Reimold duplicates those offensive numbers this season, he'll easily win the award. Still, he might be promoted to the major leagues during the year, depending on how Felix Pie adjusts to left field with the Orioles and whether players like Aubrey Huff and Luke Scott are still with the team after the trade deadline.
Another player to watch for the honor is Justin Turner, who impressed a lot of people with his performance during spring training. The 24-year-old infielder batted .302 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 22 Grapefruit League games. Last season, while splitting time between the Single-A Sarasota Reds and Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in the Cincinnati Reds' minor league system, Turner hit .298 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs in 111 games.
Who would you select as the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year? Do you think it will be one of the players listed above, or will it be someone else that I didn't mention?
Also, predict the winner's statistics for the 2009 season if you want.