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Patience a virtue in O's organization

Patience a virtue in O's organization

It won't be giving away any state secrets to say that when MLB.com's annual lists of "10 Players to Watch" are revealed in January, the Baltimore Orioles' postseason Top 10 will be drastically different from their preseason Top 10.

And not because we were off-target in our preseason rankings. Rather, because we were so on-target that five of those 10 players made it up to the Majors and lost their rookie status, making them ineligible for the list.


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AL East
BAL | BOS | NYY | TB | TOR

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CHC | CIN | HOU | MIL | PIT | STL

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ARI | COL | LAD | SD | SF

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But don't think that the Orioles have been rushing their kids to the big leagues willy-nilly. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have seen the countless examples of promising young arms brought up before they were physically and/or mentally ready, and the flameouts of erstwhile prospects never to be heard from again.

So as tough as it was, sometimes, they made a point of exercising patience. And it is this of which they are the proudest when they look back at 2009 and the numerous big league debuts that took place in Baltimore.

"I think the most outstanding thing we've done is that we've not rushed our players, so when they got to the Majors this year, they were ready to compete," said David Stockstill, the Orioles' director of player development. "In the past, when players have been rushed, they often didn't do well and were sent right back down."

The list of players who came up and stayed up is impressive: catcher Matt Wieters, outfielder Nolan Reimold and pitchers Chris Tillman, David Hernandez, Jason Berken and Brad Bergesen all made their Major League debuts in 2009, became key components of the club, and will no longer be rookies when 2010 begins. And top prospect, southpaw Brian Matusz, came up in August and fell just five innings shy of losing his eligibility as well.

Not all put up outstanding numbers, but all learned and grew from the experience and should be even more competitive in 2010.

"They had to make adjustments, just as teams made adjustments to them," Stockstill said. "We're very proud of the fact that while we developed these players, we didn't rush them. We allowed the pitchers to pitch at a level for a full year at a time even though it was tempting to move them up. We wanted them to learn from their mistakes when they could recover and make adjustments."

The one exception to this plan was, of course, Matusz, the team's No. 1 pick in 2008 who signed late, made his pro debut at Class A Advanced Frederick in April and was in the Majors by August.

"Brian was the exception," Stockstill said, "but then, he is exceptional."

The left-hander was even more dominant than expected, especially once he moved up to Double-A Bowie, and when a situation opened in the big leagues in August, he was clearly the right man for the job, experience notwithstanding.

So who is left to make an impact in 2010? One top-level pitcher who awaits his first taste of the bigs is right-hander Jake Arrieta.

"Arrieta could be the first one of the next group," Stockstill said of the 2007 fifth-rounder who won the Carolina League ERA crown in his 2008 pro debut and followed that up with a 3.40 ERA between Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in '09. "He has an outstanding arm and very good pitches, and is working on command and using fewer pitches, so he can go deeper into games."

As far as new additions to the system, the 2007-08 offseason trade of then-ace southpaw Erik Bedard to Seattle continued to reap rewards in the form of more prospects, as the Orioles dealt closer George Sherrill, one of the players acquired from the Mariners in that trade, to the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline for third baseman Josh Bell and pitcher Steve Johnson, the son of former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson. Both could be a big part of the Orioles' picture soon, coming off fine Double-A campaigns.

On the field, the baby Orioles struggled in the win-loss department much as their parent club (64-98) did, combining for a 393-435 record (.475), 26th out of 30 clubs. Only two teams -- the Gulf Coast squad (30-26) and Bowie (73-69) finished over .500, and none of the clubs made it to postseason play.

But the individual accomplishments of many of the players offset the composite disappointments, and give hope for better times to come.

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Brandon Snyder, 1B: We predicted the 2005 first-rounder would continue to show the progress he'd made at Class A Advanced Frederick in 2008, when he hit .315 with 13 homers and 80 RBIs, and indeed he did. He combined between Double-A Bowie (.343) and Triple-A Norfolk (.248) to add 12 homers and 88 RBIs, continuing his fine defensive work at his position. The son of former MLB star Brian Snyder is a line-drive hitter to all fields who was just added to the 40-man roster and comes off a fine Arizona Fall League showing, hitting .354 with three homers and 18 RBIs.

Jake Arrieta, RHP: The 2007 fifth-rounder led the Carolina League with a 2.87 ERA in his 2008 pro debut, while ranking among the Minor League leaders in strikeouts-per-nine innings (9.56) as well as average against (.199). In his second summer, he picked up where he left off, splitting time between Bowie and Norfolk to go 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA at the two stops, striking out 148 in 150 2/3 innings.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Brandon Waring, 1B/3B: Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in an offseason deal for catcher Ramon Hernandez, the power-hitting corner infielder out of Wofford University earned Carolina League MVP honors, hitting .273 with 26 homers, 90 RBIs and 35 doubles, posting a .520 slugging percentage to lead the league. He earned a late-season promotion to Bowie, where he drove in six more runs in just eight games.

Brian Matusz, LHP: In his pro debut, the club's top pick in 2008 dazzled with his four-pitch repertoire, posting a 2.16 ERA in 11 starts at Frederick, moving up to Bowie where he was 7-0 with a 1.55 ERA in eight more starts and then skipping past Norfolk to join the Orioles' rotation in early August. With a plus curveball, slider and excellent changeup offsetting his fastball, the polished San Diego product fell just shy of the innings that would have lost him his rookie status for 2010, with just 44 2/3 (50 is the limit) in which he posted a 4.63 ERA in eight starts, with a 3.21 ERA in September. The polished 6-foot-5 southpaw mixes his pitches well and commands both sides of the plate.

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

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