In this series dubbed “French’s Favorite MiLB Sleepers: (Your Favorite Team Here)” I will take a look at one pitching and one hitting prospect who I think have either flown under the radar or have yet to receive much in the way of notoriety. In the end we will have a list of 60 players that I think will blossom into legitimate prospects and have the potential to contribute in the MLB within the next few years. In the third of what will eventually be 30 reviews I will now take a look at the Baltimore Orioles sleepers who have caught my eye.
On paper the Orioles were never expected to be more than just a tick above average as the Pythagorean W-L had them pegged as a 82-80 team on paper but thankfully the game of baseball is not played on paper and as a result the Baltimore Orioles were one of the pleasant surprises in 2012. The O’s were able to post their first winning season since 1997 and even make it to the ALDS where they nearly beat the New York Yankees before being eliminated in game five. A lot of their success in 2012 was tied to the fact that they were able to win (by my count) 26 games by one run and enjoyed the breakout campaign of their closer Jim Johnson who led the Majors with 51 saves despite not possessing elite stuff. There were several other breakout players for the O’s including journeyman Chris Davis and the elite Adam Jones but through it all the Orioles fully embodied the scrappy team first mentality and never say die mindset behind their crafty skipper Buck Showalter. Mixed in with the grizzled veterans were some young and fresh faces like import Wei-Yin Chen and uber-prospect Manny Machado and the not-so-uber Xavier Avery. Former top prospect Chris Tillman made some excellent strides and helped solidify the rotation down the stretch while other young pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, and Zack Britton showed flashes of excellence but still have room to improve.
All in all the Orioles were the unlikeliest of contenders and their rag tag group was a breath of fresh air for Major League baseball and big part of their success in 2012 was a credit to the in-house options that they developed. While the 2012 team was good there is still more left on the farm to help propel the Orioles deeper into the playoffs in the upcoming years, including top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy, but here are a few players who I think have flown under the radar and could contribute to the overachieving Orioles in the near future.
Zachary Davies – RHP: The 19 year old Davies was a 26th round selection in the 2011 draft out of the Arizona prep ranks that the Orioles were able to sign away from his commitment to Arizona State for $575,000. The diminutive Davies checks in at 6’0 tall and is liberally listed as weighing 150lbs according to Baseball Reference. Realistically though this kid makes Tim Lincecum look like CC Sabathia size wise. This picture here gives you a decent feel for Davies build. Undoubtedly his size is the reason he lasted all the way to the 26th round but his skill is what made the Orioles go way over slot to grab him. He mixes a 87-90 mph fastball with a solid curve and developing change-up and despite his size has been very effective. The Orioles started him off in Class-A Delmarva of the Southern Atlantic League and Davies logged 114 1/3 innings for the Shorebirds and posted a 3.86 ERA along with a 91:46 K/BB ratio. He showed some mild reverse platoon splits as lefties hit only .242 off of him (righties hit .266) and with continued development and added weight/strength to his frame he has the potential to add a few ticks to his fastball which will make his already decent breaking stuff play up quite a bit. It will be interesting to see how he continues to develop as he performed well in 2012 and the Orioles really liked him on draft day. I expect to see him in Baltimore around the 2015 season and in my opinion has a real shot at sticking in the rotation. Being a small pitcher has become less of a stigma in today’s game with the success of other smaller pitchers and Davies may very well be the next in line.
Nick Delmonico – 1B: The 20 year old Delmonico was drafted by the Orioles in the sixth round of the 2011 draft from the Tennessee prep ranks and was given a $1.525 million dollars bonus to pry him away from his commitment to the University of Georgia. Delmonico did not play at all in 2011 so his first taste of professional baseball came this past season when he was assigned to Class-A Delmarva of the Southern Atlantic League. Prior to the 2011 draft Delmonico was praised for his advanced baseball IQ, which is evident in his plate approach, and his baseball pedigree. He was initially regarded as potential first round selection with above average athletic ability and a solid swing from the left side. Many thought that he would play either third base or right field at the next level after spending most of time in high school behind the dish but the Orioles had him split time on the right side of the infield in 2012 at both second and first base. In 2012 Delmonico posted a respectable .249/.351/.411 line with 11 home runs, eight stolen bases, and a 47:73 BB/K rate over 393 plate appearances and earned an All-Star selection along the way. The 11 home runs were a nice surprise since he was considered more of a line drive hitter with good gap power on draft day so it was nice to see him yank a few to boost his profile as a corner infield contributor. His 2012 season was cut a bit short as he suffered a non-serious knee injury but I fully expect the orioles to move him up to Class-A Advanced Frederick of the Carolina League to start the 2013 season with an opportunity to move up to Double-A Bowie by season end. It is rare to see a player from the prep ranks with Delmonico’s advanced approach and overall polish and I expect him to utilize those attributes to move quickly through the Orioles system. He still needs to work on the defensive side of his game and his emerging power because he has the athletic ability to be more than just relegated to first base (not that first base is negative thing) this early in his career. I would be very interested to see how Delmonico’s career progression unfolds and I think he has the potential to be a contributor to the Orioles by 2014 at the earliest.
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