The Orioles' farm system has experienced a mixed first half of the 2006 season. Many of the club's elite pitching prospects have performed up to expectations and earned promotions while their hitting counterparts have endured more frustrating campaigns.
The franchise's two best pitching prospects, Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn, both jumped to strong starts and earned promotions to the major leagues. An emergency appendectomy curtailed Penn's chance, but he's expected to pitch for Triple-A Ottawa soon and could earn a quick return to Baltimore if he throws as well as he did in April and May.
Loewen, meanwhile, made five starts for the Orioles and showed that he has the stuff to overpower big league hitters but can't throw strikes consistently. He was optioned to Ottawa and dominated in his first start for the Lynx. Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo has said he would like to see the 6-foot-5 left-hander back in Baltimore soon.
Fellow left-hander Garrett Olson gets by with craft more than overwhelming stuff, but he pitched well enough for Single-A Frederick to earn a recent promotion to Double-A Bowie. Minor league director David Stockstill called Olson the most mature pitcher the team has drafted during his tenure. Olson's former Frederick teammate, Radhames Liz, had an early no-hitter and continues to pile up strikeouts for the Keys. The Dominican isn't as polished as Olson but may have the best fastball in the system and has improved his slider and changeup.
If Liz doesn't have the best fastball among Orioles prospects, Brandon Erbe probably does. The McDonogh alumnus has appeared untouchable at times for Single-A Delmarva, though the Orioles are careful with his 18-year-old arm. They believe he was among the greatest steals of the 2005 draft.
His teammate, Chorye Spoone, is another local player made good. The Orioles drafted Spoone in the eighth round of last year's draft out of CCBC-Catonsville. He is 5-3 with a 2.20 ERA but will need to improve his control to maintain such results in the high minors. David Hernandez has also shined for the Shorebirds with 94 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings.
Among relief prospects, 6-6 right-hander James Hoey emerged as an overpowering closer for Delmarva and earned a promotion to Frederick with his 95-mph fastball and sharp slider. Veterans Eddy Rodriguez and Winston Abreu have pitched well at Ottawa and could fortify the Orioles' bullpen this season. Chris Britton and Kurt Birkins already made that leap.
The news hasn't been as good on the hitting side. Top offensive prospect Nick Markakis made the Orioles out of spring training. Fellow outfielder Val Majewski might have followed quickly, but he was sidelined by a rib-cage injury and hasn't regained his stroke for Ottawa. Majewski (.212 with two homers in 146 at-bats) missed all of last year with a shoulder injury and the Orioles had hoped he would contend for a reserve outfield spot with a strong season.
They also had high hopes for Jeff Fiorentino, who held his own during a surprise call-up last season. But Fiorentino has struggled for Bowie with a .217 average.
Last year's top pick, Brandon Snyder, sits in the same boat. The Orioles liked the catcher's mature bat, and he jumped to a strong start this year. But since then, he's battled injuries and his worst slump. A .194 average at Delmarva earned Snyder a trip back to short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
On the bright side, the team's best power prospect, Nolan Reimold, has thrived at Frederick and will join Liz in the XM Satellite Futures Game. Reimold strikes out more than the Orioles would like but compensates with a good batting eye, doubles and home run power and even some base-running verve.
At Delmarva, first baseman Ryan Finan has impressed with a .416 on-base percentage and .513 slugging percentage and leadoff hitter Lorenzo Scott has a .378 on-base percentage and 24 steals. At Bowie, veteran outfielder Cory Keylor has resurrected his career with an All-Star campaign.
3 up, 3 down
Adam Loewen -- In his first start after being optioned to Triple-A Ottawa, Loewen allowed no runs and two hits and walked two over seven innings.
Beau Hale -- After earning a promotion to Double-A Bowie, Hale has posted a 1.67 ERA in 32 1/3 innings as a reliever and spot starter.
Christopher Vinyard -- The first baseman has been Single-A Aberdeen's hottest hitter with a .405 batting average and 10 RBIs in 11 games.
Franklyn Gracesqui -- The Orioles dropped the left-hander from their 40-man roster based on his 5.34 ERA and lack of velocity at Ottawa.
Eric DuBose -- A 3-4 record and 5.54 ERA earned the former Oriole a demotion from Ottawa to Bowie, but he's pitched better for the Baysox.
Dustin Yount -- The first baseman hasn't adjusted well to Double-A pitching with a .143 average in his first 21 at-bats for Bowie.