WTNYOctober 08, 2004
Problems In the Capitol
By Bryan Smith

In the prospect world, the Montreal Expos move to Washington did nothing but move two pathetic franchises closer together. While the Expos, behind current Braves assistant GM Frank Wren, once had the games top farm system, those times were more than fifteen years ago. With promises of little bonuses, Omar Minaya and his scouting staff were very limited in their recent drafts. Montreals system for my midseason rankings didnt offer a lot, besides ace Clint Everts and southpaw Mike Hinckley.

And then there is one of the worst organizations in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles. The team hasnt seen a homegrown star since Cal Ripken, and has had top prospects with these names within the last ten years: Rocky Coppinger, Nerio Rodrigeuz, Ryan Minor, Keith Reed, Rich Stahl. While the pitching looked deep in the offseason, the team traded Denny Bautista for a middle reliever, and saw John Maine have Jeremy Guthrie-like AAA struggles. And for the club, it was one of the worst months possible, they saw top pick Wade Townsend return to Rice University, Val Majewski was hurt during a September call-up, and worse, Adam Loewen went under the knife.

Clint Everts and Adam Loewen. The two were destined to be high on prospect lists, before Loewen tore his labrum and Everts suffered the same fate as Tommy John.

The two were chosen with back-to-back picks in the 2002 draft, with Loewen being selected fourth by the Orioles. Their teams were both really careful with the prize arms, as neither let their top choice pitch in the 2002 season. The next year, both waited until short-season ball began, where each was sent to the New York-Penn League. The southpaw, Loewen, looked slightly more impressive, posting an ERA of 2.70 in seven starts. Furthermore, the Canadian allowed only 13 hits in 23 innings, with 25 Ks and no home runs allowed.

Everts struggled a bit, with an ERA of 4.17 in ten starts. He walked 35 and allowed 4 homers in 54 innings, with a K/9 below nine. But things improved when the 19-year-old moved to the South Atlantic League, where he posted five solid starts (3.46 ERA). Everts showed one of the best curveballs in the minors, but like Cubs prospect Bobby Brownlie, didnt have the fastball to set it up.

This season, the tables turned on these two players. Both prospects began the year in the SALLY league, with each seeing a late-season promotion to high-A. Everts low-A season went much better, as the right-hander shot through prospect lists with 90.3 innings of 2.47 ERA. His peripherals were even better: 6.68 H/9, 10.26 K/9, 2.09 BB/9. Everts got four starts in the Florida State League before blowing out his elbow, allowing only five runs in 20 innings.

Loewen, not so good. Despite showing great stuff, Loewen struggled in low-A, posting a 4.11 ERA in 85.3 innings. His K/9 was under 9.00, but was worse, was his 1.41 K/BB. Control was a problem that many Orioles fell victim to this season, probably a reason behind the firing of scouting director Doc Rodgers. Still the Orioles decided to let Loewen close the season in the Carolina League, where he made it a total of two starts. The results? Six runs, nine walks, and three strikeouts in eight innings.

Everts and Loewen now add to what has turned out to be a terrible top ten in the 2002 draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates inexplicably chose Ball State University right-hander Brian Bullington over Melvin Upton to start the draft, clearly a sign of things to come. Bullington has a career 6.68 K/9, while Upton became the first teenager to homer in the Majors since Aramis Ramirez and Adrian Beltre. Upton joins Zack Greinke and Jeff Francis as the positives of the 02 top ten, along with emerging first basemen Prince Fielder. The restnot so good.

Why is that? Chris Gruler, hurt. Everts and Loewen, hurt. Scott Moore, .240 average in 896 at-bats. Drew Meyer, finished year in Rookie League. Six busts in ten picks is despicable, especially when considering the 2001 draft. The year of Mauer and Prior has produced only two busts, Royal right-hander Colt Griffin, and Oriole choice, Chris Smith.

Bad drafts are common for the Orioles, who also chose Mike Fontenot and Bryan Bass in the first round in 2001. Smith has less than 25 career innings at the age of 24, and Bass has nearly 1,000 at-bats of a .241 average. Fontenot, while not quite as terrible, has only one year with an OBP of better than .350, and is currently behind both Brian Roberts and Jerry Hairston in the depth chart. The Orioles are three deep at second base and traded a pitching prospect for Jason Grimsley?

In 1999, the Orioles had five picks in the top 40. Lets run through them: Mike Paradis (hurt), Rich Stahl (hurt), Larry Bigbie (success), Keith Reed (bust?), Joshua Cenate (hurt). Yikes. In 1998, two picks: Rick Elder (bust), Mamon Tucker (bust). In 1997, three picks: Jayson Werth (traded), Darnell McDonald (bust?), Ntema Ndungidi (bust). In 1996, no pick until choosing Brian Falkenborg at #51. And finally, in 1995, the team chose Alvie Shepherd with their first choice.

Ten years of drafts (1995-2004), the Orioles had nineteen picks in the top 40. Of those nineteen, only Larry Bigbie is currently in the Majors. Adam Loewen became the seventh pitcher hurt, and 2004 choice Wade Townsend will not sign. Eight are busts, with only four still with any glimmer of hope. And to give them credit, there is still a decent chance that 2003 first-rounder Nick Markakis will make the Majors. But take that with a grain of salt, as Markakis was chosen ahead of Ian Stewart, Michael Aubrey and Lastings Milledge.

So, you can understand why Doc Rodgers got fired. While Peter Angelos sits in his offense demanding seven or eight figures for his inconvenience the Expos move caused, he could be spending six figures to find a real scouting director.

Coming soon at WTNY: Rookies of 2005, AFL preview, decline of C prospects, depth at SPtaking suggestions

Comments

Good piece as always, Bryan, painfully ugly situations indeed. Clint Everts, that's a real shame.

I think you meant to say that only Larry Bigbie is in the Majors with the Orioles. Jayson Werth is of course having a enjoying the playoffs with the Dodgers.

I think the Expos did a good job of swapping no bat good D shortstops eligible for free agency this winter in the Nomar trade and getting Brendan Harris and Francis Beltran thrown in as well. Neither are great prospects, but they're not bad, and since Gonzalez and Cabrera are a wash they got something for nothing there.

Does Brownlie have the fastball to set up that curveball yet? He was having a great year with Double-A West Tennessee this year until, I presume, he tired towards the end of the season. Do you think he might be ready to step into the Cubs rotation in 2006?

http://www.thnt.com/thnt/story/0,21282,1000932,00.html

There's an interesting article on Brownlie, if you're interested.

Doc Rodgers had only been with the O's for two seasons. The poor drafting is not his fault.

Please don't use the name of Jeremy Guthrie when referring to John Maine. Maine is an elite pitching prospect while Guthrie will only be a fledgling major leaguer.

Other than that, good work as usual. I really enjoy your historical perspectives as opposed to most other sites who give us scouting reports on Top 10 prospects with whom we are already familiar.

Calling 6 of the first 10 draftees in the 2002 draft "busts" is out of line. Young players get hurt, and in this wonderful era of advanced sports medicine, they usually recover completely. Gruler, Loewen, and Everts are all quite young and should all be able to make come-backs, and if they don't, well, then that will be the time to pronounce verdicts on them. I would only use the term "bust" for the 3 players in the top 10 whose level of talent appears to have been over-estimated by the teams that drafted them, Bullington, Moore, and Meyer. And I would apply the bust label to Josh Karp, #5 overall, from the 2001 draft. That makes 3 busts in the top 10 in each year.

Hey guys, thanks for all the comments---

John, Baseball America said in their Southern League chat that Brownlie was 87-90 with his fastball this year, which is just not acceptable. I was a big fan of his before the year, but am becoming less and less confident, mostly due to the fastball and high HR/9 ratio. I don't really know my opinion on Rinyel or Marshall right now, but those are a couple possible 2006 guys. And of course, Sergio Mitre, of whom I'm a big fan.

Jeremy, I don't mean to blame Doc for all these drafts. I'm just saying that Angelos and company need to pay more attention to their scouting department, because it has been bad for a long time. I do blame Doc for the huge control problems across the organization, with kids like Rommie Lewis and Loewen. As for Guthrie, I think he might work out of the pen, but I wasn't comparing Maine to him. When a hyped pitching prospect reaches AAA and struggles, I will forever call it the Guthrie-struggle.

Finally, Richard. Bust is a little harsh for Gruler, Everts and Loewen, because I do think the latter two will make it. But are these teams getting the most out of their bonus money? There is no question in my mind the 2002 draft was laughable compared to the previous one, no matter what happens to Everts or Loewen. And Gruler...he's a bust.

And of course there's Guzman too, Bryan, if he ever remains healthy long enough.

"I was a big fan of his before the year, but am becoming less and less confident, mostly due to the fastball and high HR/9 ratio."

He reminds me of Greg Maddux then! I referenced the article in the first comment I made mostly because it claims that the slower fastball and the declining K rates are more by design than injury or inability. He certainly showed no signs of any of the latter two in Double-A this year, with a 3.36 ERA (and it was below three for much of the year), and a respectable 114/36 K/BB ratio and 15 HR in 147.1 IP. He seems to know how to pitch rather just just bluffing his way through the minors on good stuff, though these next two seasons, presumably in Iowa for 2005 at least, will be the acid-test.

That's some good info there, although I can't complain about bad news for the Orioles, I feel for their fans. That's a lot of wasted high draft picks. The scouting director certainly is to blame, but it's unlikely that he was the one actually making the picks. The two-headed general manager they have shouldn't escape a portion of the blame for all those picks.