There was a time when the Orioles used Triple-A as a final gantlet for their finest prospects. But that wasn't so much the case this season, as most of the club's flashiest prospects played elsewhere, and some, such as Nick Markakis and Adam Loewen, reached the majors with little or no time at Triple-A Ottawa.
Instead, the Orioles used Ottawa as a holding tank for minor league veterans who could be called up to patch the major league roster in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
Starter Hayden Penn was the biggest exception to that practice. After a difficult stint in the majors last season and a disappointing spring, Penn began his season in Ottawa. He showed the Orioles exactly what they wanted to see in his early starts and earned a May call-up. But an emergency appendectomy cut that chance short, and Penn, 21, ended up back in Ottawa, where he gradually regained his strength before a recent return to the big leagues.
Despite his physical woes, Penn pitched well for most of the season, going 7-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 14 starts. His best pitch remains a 95-mph fastball, but Orioles officials have also seen an improved breaking ball at times. That was the pitch that abandoned him when he struggled in 2005. Penn made his first 2006 start for the Orioles yesterday in Oakland.
The organization's best Triple-A hitting prospect, outfielder Val Majewski, also had a frustrating series of stops and starts,
After missing all of 2005 with a shoulder injury, Majewski struggled early this season with soreness in his rib cage. He was stuck hitting just above .200 at midseason with little of the power he showed as a rising prospect in 2004. Majewski, 25, swung a hot bat down the stretch, raising his average to .257. But he still only hit four home runs and will have to do better to earn a permanent spot in Baltimore.
Outfielder Luis Terrero, 26, third baseman Fernando Tatis, 31, and shortstop Ed Rogers, 28, were among the non-pitchers who split time between the Orioles and Lynx. Terrero didn't hit much in Baltimore after the Orioles plucked him off the Arizona Diamondbacks' scrap heap. But he was probably Ottawa's best hitter with a .315 average and 16 homers in 83 games. Terrero's range in the outfield made him an option for manager Sam Perlozzo when injuries depleted the starting corps in Baltimore.
Rogers' ability to play the infield and outfield earned him his first significant stint in the majors. And Tatis, a former star who had been out of baseball for two years, may have earned a chance to stick beyond this season with his solid hitting against left-handers.
First baseman Andy Tracy leads Ottawa with 20 home runs but has hit only .235. And the Orioles don't regard Tracy, 32, as anything more than a possible emergency call-up. Howie Clark, also 32, is a better contact hitter but has less power and falls into the same category.
Ottawa's most effective starters aside from Penn were Brian Bowles (10-10, 3.23 ERA) and Brian Burres (10-6, 3.76 ERA.) But neither has the raw stuff of a top prospect. Bowles struck out only 78 in 156 innings and turned 30 this season. Burres, 25, may have a better shot at being a big league reliever because he's left-handed.
Ottawa carried several relievers who pitched well enough to earn time in Baltimore. Eddy Rodriguez, 25, dominated for the Lynx, posting a 1.71 ERA and striking out 55 in 47 1/3 innings. But he's rarely so effective when he reaches the majors. Lanky right-hander Winston Abreu, made his first appearance in the big leagues after more than a decade in the minors. Abreu, 29, went 9-4 with a 2.48 ERA for Ottawa but has never had the velocity or sharp breaking stuff managers look for in a late-inning reliever.
Fellow veteran Julio Manon was effective as Ottawa's closer, saving 30 games with a 2.13 ERA. He's pitching for the Orioles now, though his control often departed him during big league outings earlier in the season.
The Orioles were excited about left-hander Franklyn Gracesqui entering the season. But he never unleashed the 98-mph fastball he showed in winter ball and had a 4.75 ERA in 36 innings for Ottawa.
3 up, 3 down
Brandon Erbe / / After a rough stretch, the Single-A Delmarva right-hander has lowered his ERA to 3.22 with four straight scoreless outings.
Jonathan Tucker / / The 5-foot-7 second baseman has a .290 average and .392 on-base percentage at Delmarva.
Billy Rowell / / The club's top pick this year has continued his strong debut, batting .417 with a homer and four RBIs since his promotion to short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
Radhames Liz / / After success at Single-A Frederick, the right-hander has yet to figure out Double-A hitters, delivering a 5.36 ERA in nine starts at Bowie.
Pedro Beato / / The supplemental first-round pick has leveled off after a strong July, allowing 12 earned runs in his past 19 innings.
Kieron Pope / / The outfielder dazzled at Rookie-level Bluefield but has hit only .107 since being promoted to Aberdeen.
Minor league regular seasons end today.