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Single-A has diamonds in the rough


Many of the Orioles' greatest hopes for the future played well for the organization's Single-A clubs this season.

That speaks partly to a lack of talent at the higher levels, but also to the industry-wide perception that the Orioles have done a better job drafting and signing young talent in the past few years.

As the club's full-season minor league teams wind down their schedules, the Orioles have unearthed a few gems and seen a few top prospects lose their luster.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to come from Single-A is reliever James Hoey. The 6-foot-6 right-hander started his season as Delmarva's closer and dominated with his 97-mph fastball and slider, accumulating 18 saves.

Hoey, 23, was even better after a midseason call-up to Frederick, saving another 11 games with a 0.64 ERA. He's pitching well for Double-A Bowie and is a serious candidate to be called up to Baltimore in September.

"He's certainly earned that consideration," Orioles minor league director David Stockstill said.

Former McDonogh standout Brandon Erbe didn't surprise anyone with his early-season dominance for Delmarva. Club officials said Erbe, 18, might have the best arm in the organization going into the season, and he has struck out 123 with only 37 walks in 104 2/3 innings. But Erbe has tired down the stretch, suffering through a few poor outings that have pushed his ERA to 3.53.

"This is his first season, he's 18 years old, and everything has caught up to him," Stockstill said. "He's going to have to make some adjustments."

Rotation mates David Hernandez, 21, and Chorye Spoone (Pasadena) also have struggled a bit after strong starts. Spoone, 20, still has elevated his prospects with a 7-7 record and 3.41 ERA, though his 83-73 strikeout-to-walk ratio will have to improve for him to continue advancing.

Last year's first-round pick, catcher Brandon Snyder, was supposed to be Delmarva's offensive star, but he hit .237 and was demoted to short-season Aberdeen. Now, he needs surgery for a torn rotator cuff that may cost him much of next season.

"He'll still be young after he gets through it," Stockstill said of Snyder, 19.

Speedy outfielder Lorenzo Scott Jr. (.378 on-base percentage and 29 steals) and first baseman Ryan Finan (.397 on-base percentage and 71 RBIs) ended up as the Shorebirds' best hitters. Neither was ranked as an elite prospect entering the season.

Frederick outfielder Nolan Reimold may be the team's best hitting prospect, but midseason injuries kept him from stepping forward. Reimold, 22, hits for power and draws walks but strikes out a ton and is prone to long slumps.

Keys second baseman Paco Figueroa, 23, has impressed with his contact hitting (.290 average) and speed (19 steals). "It's very, very exciting to watch him cover ground," Stockstill said.

Orioles fans may not want to get too excited about catcher Sandy Madera's big numbers (.325, eight homers, 31 RBIs in 38 games) for Frederick. At 26, he's a man hitting against developing arms.

Several impressive pitchers have passed through Frederick. Left-hander Garrett Olson went 4-4 with a 2.77 ERA before being promoted to Bowie, where he also has pitched well.

Olson, 22, could earn a look in Baltimore next year if he can baffle Triple-A hitters with his excellent control and mixture of pitches. Radhames Liz, 23, also earned a promotion to Bowie by dominating hitters with his 98-mph fastball, but club officials say he needs to sharpen his off-speed pitches before advancing further.

Luis Ramirez, 24, also has pitched well for the Keys, going 8-8 with a 3.82 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings. Ramirez is deceptive because his below-average fastball and curve come at hitters on the same plane, Stockstill said.

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