Growing time on the farm

The Baltimore Sun

Starting pitching is a topic that worries most Orioles fans, but that might not be a problem too much longer.

The Orioles' farm clubs are starting the 2009 season this week, and most of them are loaded with talented starters who could play a role with the big club in the near future. Patience is the key as team officials have repeatedly stated they don't want to rush these pitchers.

"We want them to get their feet on the ground and get a solid foundation," said David Stockstill, the team's director of player development.

Triple-A Norfolk

Catcher Matt Wieters is the player everyone will be watching because if he performs as he did last year (.355 average), he might be with the Orioles shortly. But the Tides, who open Thursday in Durham, will rely heavily on a strong group of starting pitchers.

Manager Gary Allenson gets starting pitchers Chris Tillman, David Hernandez and Brad Bergesen, who took Bowie to the Double-A Eastern League playoffs in 2008. Pitching coach Mike Griffin moves up, too.

Bergesen (15-6) is a control pitcher who walked 27 batters in 148 innings and impressed the Orioles in spring training. Hernandez (10-4, 166 strikeouts in 141 innings) and Tillman (11-4, 154 strikeouts in 135 2/3 innings) are power pitchers who dominated Eastern League hitters last year.

Tillman is considered the top prospect, but all three could find their way to Baltimore. Outfielders Lou Montanez and Nolan Reimold also are prospects.

Double-A Bowie

The Baysox (84-58), who started the Eastern League season Wednesday night with a 9-5 loss at Akron, rode Wieters and the pitchers last season to win the Southern Division title and earn their first playoff appearance in 11 years. Manager Brad Komminsk returns and gets a good group of developing pitchers.

Right-hander Jake Arrieta is going to get the most attention, but Bowie has plenty more pitching.

Jason Berken allowed three runs in three innings in Wednesday's loss. McDonogh graduate Brandon Erbe, Troy Patton and Bobby Livingston round out the starting rotation. Patton and Livingston are left-handers; the other three are right-handers.

First baseman Brandon Snyder is one of the best position prospects.

Single-A Frederick

The Orioles will be closely watching the debut of pitcher Brian Matusz, their top pick in the 2008 draft. He struck out 141 batters in 105 innings in his last year of college baseball at San Diego, and the left-hander looked good in spring training.

Zach Britton (12-7 with Delmarva last year) is another starter to watch. The left-hander was a third-round pick in 2006.

Returning manager Richie Hebron wants to move the Keys (63-76) from near the bottom of the Carolina League in runs scored. They also had the most strikeouts.

They're also hoping for better things from 2006 first-round pick Billy Rowell, who moves to right field after three years at third base.

Single-A Delmarva

Starter Richard Zagone and closer Brandon Cooney move up after good seasons with Aberdeen last year.

Zagone went 7-1 with 79 strikeouts, 14 walks and a 2.89 ERA. The left-hander is set to start Thursday night's South Atlantic League opener in Lakewood.

Cooney also showed power and control. He went 1-3 with a 3.81 ERA but struck out 38 and walked only nine in 26 innings.

Orlando Gomez takes over from Ramon Sambo as the team's manager. Outfielder Xavier Avery and second baseman Jerome Hoes are two more to watch.

An article in Thursday's Sports section incorrectly identified Single-A Frederick Keys manager Richie Hebner.THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR
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