Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Make 'em earn it

Following a report from Amber Theoharris that the Matt Wieters, Brad Bergeson and Hayden Penn all had excellent outings in the minors tonight, Buck Martinez addressed some of the mounting speculation that the Orioles will overhaul their rotation, in addition to plugging in Dennis Sarfate, with some of their top propects from Bowie. Martinez explained that MacPhail seems to be of the opinion that it makes no sense to rush the pitching prospects just because the big league rotation is in shambles. I agree.

Martinez went on to explain that he believes there is nothing wrong with allowing Wieters and Bergeson to dominate their levels for the remainder of the minor league season. Again, I agree, although with a few caveats. Neither Bergeson nor Wieters is exceptionally young for their level, and the difference between AA and AAA is relatively small. If these prospects were enjoying this level of success in Frederick, they should be advanced to offer new developmental challenges. Since they have already reached the upper levels of the minors, they can be held at a given level for a full season, unless the organization deems them ready to contribute at the big league level. "Ready" obviously has many considerations, from purely baseball to service time and roster construction, and, as a team with no playoff hopes, the Orioles should resist the temptation to jump Bergeson to the rotation when the Orioles need a fifth starter next week.

As for Hayden Penn, I cannot believe he is still just 23 years old; we've seen him in an Orioles uniform since 2005, back in just his third professional season. At the time, he was a hot-shot prospect, having begun his career in Bluefield in 2003 and then jumping all the way to Bowie in 2004. In 2005, he made his major league debut despite never pitching in AAA. Things did not go well: 38.3 IP, 6.34 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, and more walks (21) than strikeouts (18). He pitched great in AAA in 2006, and terribly in the majors; 2007 was a season lost to injury. His 2008 season got off to a slow start, but reports have him pitching much better of late in Norfolk. As someone who has had success in the minors, it might be time to give him another shot in Baltimore if the player development department believes he is capable of getting big league hitters out. At age 23, Penn still has plenty of time to develop, but I fear he may be yet another top pitching prospect previous regimes failed to develop. Though just one of many cautionary tales, Penn's rapid ascent and early big league struggles give MacPhail ample reason to handle the new crop of prospects cautiously.

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