Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

O’s Send Down Pitchers, Part II

Posted by Mike on March 13, 2006

The Orioles again lightened their spring training roster by sending pitchers Brian Finch, James Johnson, Adam Loewen, Marino Salas, and John Stephens to the minors.  None of these moves was unexpected, although I suspected that Loewen might garner some additional face time with Leo Mazzone in the wake of his WBC performance. 

Loewen will open the season in Bowie’s rotation.  Few doubt his long-term potential, but 2006 will be a pivotal year in his development.  Thanks to a major-league deal give to him as a 19 year old, Loewen will have to stick in the majors by 2007 or be exposed to the waiver wire.  Looking at his 2005 season in Frederick, one can’t help but be impressed by his 9.3 K/9 or his 0.5 HR/9.  What still stands to be addressed is his command (or lack thereof).  While he is occasionally described as effectively wild, his 15 wild pitches and 5.5 BB/9 last year indicate that he is more often just plain wild.  Now, before you go conjuring up images of Matt Riley, let me assure you that Loewen very well could be capable of earning a role on the 2007 Orioles, regardless of his contract situation.  Many analysts have even mentioned him as a breakout candidate this year.  For instance, recall what Deric McKamey told OTT about Loewen in his interview here a month ago:

… as we saw in a limited sample (AFL), he can be dominating.  Obviously, his command and curveball consistency are holding him back.  He has a 50/50 chance of repeating his AFL performance in the [high] minors.

Count Baseball America among the believers.  They ranked Loewen as the Orioles’ #2 prospect and as the #45 prospect in all of baseball.  Beside his ranking, Kinston manager Luis Rivera opined:

He’ll go 3-0 on you and then the next thing you know it’s boom-boom-boom, every pitch on the black.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

The most likely scenario for Loewen is an old school Earl Weaver break-in as a member of the bullpen in 2007.  Still, his above-average fastball and potentially dominant curveball- when it’s near the plate- make him difficult to forecast.  A Liriano-like rise in ’06 is not only possible, it could land him in Baltimore’s rotation to stay in 2007.

James Johnson will join Loewen to form a solid 1-2 punch for Bowie’s rotation.  2005’s Organizational Pitcher of the Year works with a good curveball, a solid fastball, and a change-up that would be more effective if he repeated his arm action more consistently.  As a member of Frederick’s rotation in 2005, he averaged 9.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, and 0.6 HR/9.    

Brian Finch was drafted in the 2nd round in 2003 (one round before Chris Ray). Entering his age 24 season, he’s hoping his second crack at Bowie is more successful than his first (in 2004).  As a starter for Frederick last year, Finch pitched his way back into marginal prospect territory with 7.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, and 0.8 HR/9.  He’s being shifted back to relief (where he pitched for the most part at Texas A&M) and should respond to the new role.  His best pitch is his power sinker and he does not change speeds well- something that won’t be as obvious in relief. 

Marino Salas is a Dominican signee who will pitch his age 25 season in Bowie’s pen.  After topping a K an inning for the first time in Frederick last year, Salas will need to continue that performance in AA- lest he be reduced to the organizational player tag.     

John Stepens is an old favorite of mine- an Australian who has dominated the low minors with a mid-80’s fastball.  Think of Harris– the guy who started the pennant clincher over Rick Vaughn (and buys his gloves at the same place as Brendan Donnelly).  Since settling in at AAA, Stephens has proven to have little margin for error.  Still, under the right circumstances, I’d love to see this guy get a shot at a job as a swingman.  More likely, he’s destined to be the pitching equivalent of Calvin Pickering

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3 Responses to “O’s Send Down Pitchers, Part II”

  1. Dave said

    I didn’t realize we still had Stephens.

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