O's pitching coming out on top in AFL

O's pitching coming out on top in AFL

The Orioles clearly aren't afraid of the unknown. In the midst of a 98-loss season, the club tried to compensate for shakiness in the starting rotation by having six pitchers make Major League debut starts for the team.

This offseason, the club has vowed to address the youth in the rotation while possibly filling some needs in the bullpen. But trades and the free-agent market won't shore up all of the holes; some will once again be filled by up-and-coming players who otherwise might be getting much-needed seasoning in the Minor Leagues next year.

Though a lot is still left to be decided before the Orioles' 2010 season opener vs. the Rays on April 6, some of those early risers may be winding down at the Arizona Fall League right now.

The AFL comes to an end this week, and the Phoenix Desert Dogs -- the organization the O's are affiliated with this season -- have already clinched their division and have just three regular-season games left before they try to claim their sixth straight AFL title.

Three of the Orioles' pitching prospects sure had a hand in helping them get there.

So far, Brandon Erbe, Eddie Gamboa and Josh Perrault have combined to give up just seven earned runs in 28 2/3 innings spanning 21 appearances -- with three of those being starts made by Erbe. The trio of right-handers has posted a cumulative 2.20 ERA -- each of their marks is under 3.00 -- and has combined to strike out 20 batters while walking nine.

Based on what he did in the Minor Leagues this past season, Gamboa may be the most promising of all.

Selected in the 21st round in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, the 24-year-old's first full season of professional baseball saw him jump from Class A to high A, and then finish the season at Double-A. At the three levels, he was almost untouchable, going 11-0 with a 1.08 ERA in 39 relief appearances, while striking out 75 and walking just 17.

But the other two weren't too shabby this summer, either.

Erbe, the youngest of the batch at 21 years old, finished up a solid fifth professional season at Double-A Bowie, where he posted a 2.34 ERA in 14 starts. The 27-year-old Perrault, meanwhile, had a 2.13 ERA in 59 combined Double-A and Triple-A appearances this past season -- his sixth in the Minors.

Ryohei Tanaka, meanwhile, has struggled a bit in the AFL, posting an 8.62 ERA (15 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings) in six games (three of them starts). The 26-year-old Japanese right-hander is coming off his first year in the Orioles organization and pitched pretty well at Double-A, going 4-4 with a 3.00 ERA, 53 strikeouts and 25 walks in 21 games (12 starts).

The Desert Dogs (18-12) clinched the AFL East with an 11-1 win over the Mesa Solar Sox on Monday and will play in the championship game against the Peoria Javelinas at 2:45 p.m. ET on Saturday at Scottsdale Stadium.

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