WTNYSeptember 01, 2003
Highway Robbery
By Bryan Smith

It's about mid-day on Labor Day, and I changed my mind and decided to make a post. What made me change my decision? The Baltimore Orioles. The new two-headed GM has made the organization flourish, and built the fastest growing farm system in baseball.

Yesterday, the Orioles traded Jeff Conine to the Florida Marlins for Denny Bautista and Don Levinski. Let's look at their numbers:

Bautista- 4-5 3.71 45/53.1 61/35 in 11 AA starts
Levinski- 4-11 4.03 75/87 77/70 in 21 high-A starts

Bautista was one of the Marlins top five prospects this year, and even made it to the Futures Game. Non-serious injuries shortened his year, and worsened his numbers. I saw him in Chicago, and he looked great. Pedro Martinez's cousin throws 95+ mph gas, and a good hard slider. He may have a few more starts in AA left before AAA, but should (at least) be a 2004 September call-up.

Levinski came over from Montreal in the Cliff Floyd deal last season. I saw him pitch in the minors, and he is a similar player. He was shut down last season with shoulder soreness, so that could be a future concern. Levinski has a big fastball, but walks far too many players. He's someone to keep an eye on, but may be moved to closing at some point.

Not only did Baltimore get these two good prospects, but they subtracted Jeff Conine from their roster. Although he's been the most consistent hitter all season, he makes 4.75M next season, far too much. The team is going to spend a lot of money this offseason, and this gave Beattie and Flanagan some extra money.

Also remember, the two-headed GM made a great trade sending Sidney Ponson to the Giants. In return, they added Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and Ryan Hannaman. Moss is an innings-eater leftie with little upside. But Ainsworth was a former top prospect who has been hurt this season, and will be the ace next year. Hannaman is a hard-throwing leftie with tons of upside, light years away.

Call me crazy, but I think the Orioles have the best prospect pitching depth in the minors. Their best prospect is John Maine, who's first full-season pitching trial has been sensational. When you hear arguments about the top pitching prospects in the minors, you'll hear his name. Here's why:

14 low-A starts: 7-3 1.53 43H/76.1 IP 108K/18BB
12 high-A starts: 6-1 3.07 48H/70.1 IP 77K/20BB

Combined, he has allowed only 91 hits, in 146.2 innings. He's also registered 185K and only 38 walks in that time. The team also has last season's #4 pick, Adam Loewen, who didn't disappoint in his first nine starts. Daniel Cabrera and Rommie Lewis have ace-stuff, but they must learn how to throw strikes more consistently.

After years of having pitching injuries, the team is working back. Last season's #1 prospect, Erik Bedard, not embarassing himself in five rookie league starts. It's been a hard road back from Richard Stahl, but the jury still isn't out. Their top hitting prospect, Darnell McDonald, was hurt this season, but could have a job in the majors next season.

One of the organization's best stories has been Matt Riley. Their former #1 prospect has struggled to get back from injury, before this season. Splitting time in AA and AAA, Riley has re-established himself as a top pitching prospect. Expect him to get a job out of Spring Training, and be a full-time starting pitcher for years. A look at his 2003 numbers:

14 AA starts: 5-2 3.11 56/72.1 73/23
13 AAA starts: 4-2 3.58 70/70.1 77/28

What a come back! On the Major League level, the team has started to make improvements. Melvin Mora and Luis Matos had breakout seasons, although Mora has been injured the last month. Matos has played a great centerfield and done well for himself at the plate. Jerry Hairston was showing sensational leadoff skills, which should allow the GMs to deal Mike Fontenot. Brian Roberts did a good job taking over for Hairston this season, but needs to show he can handle third.

The team hasn't hid the fact that Vladimir Guerrero is their number one priority this offseason. With Albert Belle and Scott Erickson leaving the payroll, they'll have the money. I think they'll re-sign Tony Batista, and may bring back Rafeal Palmiero to fill Conine's first base slot. They have a good bullpen, although Willis Roberts and Buddy Groom had tough seasons.

Mike Hargrove may not return next season, but the Orioles have tons of upside. Peter Angelos is finally ready to pump money into the team, and Camden Yards should fill up again. Expect the O's to get third place next season, and they'll start eyeing the top of the division by 2005.