As everyone knows, the worst-kept secret in Baltimore over the past couple days is expected to be made official sometime today.
Jason Berken, who is listed by Baseball America as the 11th-best pitcher in the Orioles' minor league system, will be promoted to start tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards.
If you haven't read the article already, The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly talked to Orioles starting pitcher Brad Bergesen, one of Berken's former teammates in the minor leagues, about the relatively unknown prospect.The Orioles selected Berken in the sixth round of the 2006 MLB draft from Clemson. The 25-year-old right-hander was 1-1 with a 5.63 ERA in two starts for the Double-A Bowie Baysox before being promoted to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides to replace Bergesen, who was called up to the major leagues.
It was in Norfolk that Berken continued his dominance from last season, when he was 12-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 games (25 starts) for the Baysox. He finished fourth in the Eastern League in 2008 with 125 strikeouts and fifth in the league in wins. In five starts for the Tides in 2009, Berken is 2-0 with a 1.05 ERA.
Berken was 1-4 with a 2.80 ERA in nine games (eight starts) during his professional debut with the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2006. He struck out 46 batters and issued only five walks in 45 innings for the IronBirds. Berken was 9-9 with a 4.53 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) for the Single-A Frederick Keys in 2007.
When I spoke with Berken earlier in the season, the 6-foot, 175-pound pitcher expressed no disappointment that the Orioles assigned him to Bowie for the second straight year.
"What I can control is to have another good year, put up good numbers again," Berken told me at the time. "[I can] just continue to work hard, regardless of where I am."
And that's exactly what he has done in 2009. Now he'll get a chance to prove he belongs in the major leagues when he replaces Adam Eaton in the starting rotation.
I think Berken will eventually stick with the Orioles, but it will likely be in a bullpen role. For now, he provides a good alternative until the younger pitchers -- Chris Tillman, Troy Patton, David Hernandez and others -- make their way to Camden Yards.
Berken needs to stay under control in his first start. With seven consecutive losses, the Blue Jays' offense has played poorly in recent games. It will be up to the rookie to take advantage of their struggles and work ahead in the count.
Here is my prediction for Berken's debut: 6 innings, 2 runs, 7 hits, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts.
For a measuring stick before making your guesses about Berken's statistics, Bergesen allowed three runs (one earned) and four hits in 5 2/3 innings during his first major league start against the Chicago White Sox on April 21. He collected four strikeouts and walked two batters in the Orioles' 10-3 win.
What are your expectations for Berken in his major league debut? Do you think he'll remain in the rotation for the rest of the season, or will he struggle to adapt to the major leagues?