With the 2010 season approaching, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the Baltimore Orioles' most intriguing prospects that you should keep an eye on.
Prior to the 2009 season, we identified 10 prospects to watch in the Orioles farm system. Of those 10, four remain on the 2010 list.
Jake Arrieta, RHP: A fifth-rounder from 2007 with first-round stuff, the TCU product made his pro debut in 2008 as the Carolina League ERA champion with a 2.87 mark, then moved up between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in '09, combining for a league-high 148 strikeouts to put him on the brink of the bigs. With an explosive fastball in the mid-90s and a curveball and changeup to offset it, the 2008 Olympian is a workhorse who should be part of the Orioles' picture in the near future. In his two pro campaigns, he's limited hitters to a .229 average.
Brandon Erbe, RHP: Taken out of high school in Baltimore in the third round of 2005, the lifelong Orioles fan saw his ascent slowed by control and injury issues, but has undergone a renaissance in the last two years as his mechanics were rebuilt. In 2008, he lowered his ERA nearly two full runs in a return to Class A Advanced Frederick and led the Carolina League with 151 strikeouts. Though he missed time in '09 with ankle and shoulder woes, he posted a 2.34 ERA in 14 starts at Double-A Bowie when healthy, throwing a fastball in the low to mid-90s and a slider. Just 22, he was added to the 40-man roster this past off-season.
Brian Matusz, LHP: Matusz enjoyed a whirlwind pro debut befitting his status as the fourth player taken overall in the 2008 draft, posting a 1.91 ERA at two Minor League stops and making it to the big leagues by the first week of August. He barely retained his rookie status with 44 2/3 innings for the Orioles, posting a 4.63 ERA in eight starts, and heads into 2010 as a top contender for Rookie of the Year honors. With a four-pitch repertoire highlighted by a much-improved changeup, he has repeatable mechanics and a smooth delivery.
Brandon Snyder, 1B: The son of former big leaguer Brian Snyder was drafted in the first round of 2005 as a catcher but shoulder woes and the emergence of Matt Wieters has prompted a shift to first base. He's ascended the ranks slowly but steadily with fine numbers, and the defensive move has allowed him to concentrate more on his offense. After hitting .315 with 13 homers and 80 RBIs at Frederick in 2008, he moved up to Bowie where his .343 average would have won the batting title with enough at-bats had he not been promoted to Norfolk. He combined between the two stops to hit .289 with 12 homers, 88 RBIs and 37 doubles in 131 games. A line-drive hitter to all fields, he was just added to the Orioles' 40-man roster and hit .354 in the Arizona Fall League this year.
Prospects to watch
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Brandon Erbe, RHP
Josh Bell, 3B
David Hernandez, RHP
Zach Britton, LHP
Brian Matusz, LHP
Brandon Erbe, RHP
Lou Montanez, OF
Pedro Florimon Jr., SS
Nolan Reimold, OF
Mychal Givens, SS
Bill Rowell, 3B
Matt Hobgood, RHP
Brandon Snyder, 1B
Luis Lebron, RHP
Chris Tillman, RHP
Brian Matusz, LHP
Matt Wieters, C
Brandon Snyder, 1B
These six players were on our 2009 list but are not on the 2010 list, due to the loss of rookie status, trade, poor performance, injury, the addition of other prospects to the list, etc.
David Hernandez, RHP: MLB.com's pick for Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, as his 166 strikeouts ranked second in the Minors and his 10.60 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fourth, Hernandez graduated to the bigs where he posted a 5.42 ERA in 20 games.
Lou Montanez, OF: A former first-round selection by the Chicago Cubs, the outfielder was Eastern League MVP and Triple Crown winner at Bowie in 2008, his ninth pro season, hitting .335 with 26 homers and 97 RBIs. He finished the year in the bigs, hitting .295 in 112 at-bats with the Orioles. In 2009, he exhausted his rookie eligibility as he hit .183 in 29 games in the bigs, but injuries cost him most of the season as he played in just 45 games all year.
Nolan Reimold, OF: The 2005 second-rounder put it together and stayed healthy in 2009, spending most of the year in the big leagues, where he hit .279 with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs. He'd hit a combined .286 in four Minor League seasons coming into the year, but 2008 had been his first true full season on the field.
Bill Rowell, 3B: The lone member of the pre-season Top 10 from 2009 to fall off the list due to lack of production rather than promotion to the big leagues, the 2006 first-rounder has been surpassed by other prospects as his development has been slower than hoped. An ankle injury slowed him in 2008 and he hit just .248, and in 2009 he moved backward with a .225 average, nine homers and 39 RBIs at Frederick. His strong arm is his best tool.
Chris Tillman, RHP: A key acquisition from Seattle for Erik Bedard, the 2006 second-rounder with a fastball in the low 90s and a plus curveball emerged as a future stalwart of the Orioles organization with a 5.40 ERA in 12 starts down the stretch and will likely be in the O's rotation at some point, even if he doesn't start the season there. He had a 2.80 ERA in 18 starts at Norfolk before his big-league debut.
Matt Wieters C: The most eagerly anticipated big-league debut in recent Orioles memory came when the top hitting prospect in the Minors joined the club early in 2009, batting .288 with nine homers and 43 RBIs in 96 games in the big leagues. In his pro debut in 2008 between Frederick and Bowie, the former first-rounder batted .355 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs. He can do it all at and behind the plate.
The following six players are new additions to the Orioles' Prospects to Watch list.
Josh Bell, 3B: The fourth-round pick in 2005 by the Dodgers came over to the Orioles late in the 2009 season via trade and quickly emerged as the team's top offensive prospect. Having shaken off a knee injury that had slowed him in the past, he is a switch-hitter with plus power and terrific defense at the hot corner. His two homers in his first big-league Spring Training game definitely put him on red alert. Overall, he hit .275 with 20 homers and 76 RBIs between his two Double-A stops in 2009 and was the Southern League All-Star Game MVP.
Zach Britton, LHP: The Carolina League Pitcher of the Year and holder of the same honor for the Orioles system in 2009, the third-rounder from 2006 out of high school in Texas enjoyed a breakthrough season as he posted a 2.70 ERA and struck out 131 batters in 140 innings at Frederick, limiting hitters to a .232 average and finishing second in the league in both ERA and strikeouts. His heavy sinker is his out-pitch and ground-ball inducer, and he also throws a slider and changeup.
Pedro Florimon Jr., SS: The Orioles have been high on this young defensive whiz for awhile and added him to their 40-man roster this past off-season. The 22-year-old is a fine athlete who can run well and even has a little pop, hitting .267 with nine homers and 68 RBIs in 114 games at Frederick, earning All-Star status. His 32 doubles ranked fourth in the league and his 76 runs were sixth. His power numbers more than doubled his entire career total up to that point, but his outstanding defense is his calling card.
Mychal Givens, SS: The club's second pick in 2009, the two-way star out of high school in Tampa was also a star pitcher with a fastball clocked in the high 90s, so it's no surprise that a strong arm rates among his top tools. Signed too late to make his debut in '09, he showed his stuff in instructional league and is one of the best athletes in the system with bat speed and power potential.
Matt Hobgood, RHP: Taken with the fifth pick overall in the 2009 draft, the 6-foot-4 245-pound right-hander has great raw stuff that he'll work on commanding and refining this season as he continues where he left off in his debut at short-season Bluefield last summer with a 4.73 ERA in eight starts. With a heavy fastball in the low 90s, a curve and a changeup, all pitches project as potentially above average. He has good mechanics.
Luis Lebron, RHP: A sleeper on this list of 10 players to watch, the potential closer could emerge quickly if he can duplicate his 2009 success, coming off a 2008 that was largely lost to injury. His 13.57 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fifth among all full-season relievers in 2009 and his .137 average against was second as he combined for a 2.54 ERA between Frederick and Bowie, fanning 91 batters in 60 1/3 innings while scattering 28 hits. He was added to the 40-man roster in the off-season. With a plus fastball and slider, the 24-year-old has back-of-the-bullpen stuff.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.