O's prospects gaining notice in AFL

O's prospects gaining notice in AFL

The Arizona Fall League's Phoenix Desert Dogs are competing for their sixth consecutive championship, and they'll feature the hype that surrounds No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg in their quest to do so.

But for every organization, the AFL is all about development. The Orioles and their prospects -- Brandon Erbe, Eddie Gamboa, Josh Perrault, Ryohei Tanaka, Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder, Brandon Waring and Matt Angle -- are no different.

So far, the most promising performances have come from some of Baltimore's most problem-filled areas.

After a rough 2009 season, one of the Orioles' biggest questions going into the offseason revolves around their corner-infield spots. First base is wide open and the $8 million club option on veteran third baseman Melvin Mora's contract likely won't be picked up.

Through seven games going into Wednesday, the Desert Dogs are 5-2 and tied for first place, and Bell and Snyder have already begun to stick out.

Third baseman Bell leads the entire AFL with a .533 batting average (8-for-15) along with five RBIs, and Snyder, a first baseman, isn't too far behind, batting .409 (9-for-22) with a home run and five RBIs.

Bell, a fourth-round Draft pick by the Dodgers in 2005, came to the Orioles in the July deal that sent reliever George Sherrill to Los Angeles. The 22-year-old has been productive with the bat at every Minor League level, and while in the Dodgers' and Orioles' Double-A affiliates this season, he combined to hit .295 with 20 home runs and 76 RBIs. The knock on Bell in the Minors has been his speed and range, something he continues to work on in the AFL.

Snyder, taken with the 13th overall pick by Baltimore in the '05 First-Year Player Draft, combined to hit .289 with 12 home runs and 88 RBIs in Double-A and Triple-A. The 22-year-old has overcome two shoulder surgeries and has moved from catcher to third base, then from the hot corner to a full-time role at first base. What's missing now is further acclimation at that position.

As for the other position players, Angle -- a speedy 24-year-old outfielder -- is hitting .294 with a home run, seven RBIs and three steals; and Waring, a 23-year-old corner infielder and one of the pieces acquired in last offseason's Ramon Hernandez deal with the Reds, is batting .231 (3-for-13) with a home run and three RBIs.

The Orioles were last in the American League with a 5.15 ERA during the regular season, so pitching is also an area of concern going into Spring Training.

This past season, Baltimore showed it wasn't afraid to give the ball to less-experienced arms as six different rookie hurlers made debut starts. So perhaps that provides a bit of optimism for Erbe, Gamboa, Perrault and Tanaka, the Orioles' right-handed AFL pitching prospects.

The 21-year-old Erbe, one of the Orioles' top organizational arms, has made just one start so far, throwing two perfect innings while striking out two. Gamboa, 24, has given up one earned run on two hits in a 2 1/3-inning relief appearance; Perrault, a 27-year-old, has given up one run in 3 1/3 innings (a 2.70 ERA) while striking out three and walking one; and the 26-year-old Tanaka has given up three earned runs in five innings (a 5.40 ERA) while walking one and striking out six.

The Desert Dogs -- also composed of prospects from the Athletics, Blue Jays, Rays and Nationals -- have a guaranteed 25 games left in the AFL, which concludes in late November.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com.A This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.