A month of the Oriole season has come and gone without much talk at all of any of these four young arms for different reasons. For Jason Berken and Steve Johnson, they have flown under the radar simply because the current Oriole rotation has performed so well, that no talk of a call up has been necessary. For Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen call ups have not been discussed for a much bleaker reason…regression. The early successes of most of the young Orioles with the big league club this season (Andino, Wieters, Jones, Arrieta, Reimold, etc.) have cast a shadow over the organization’s long standing problem with player development that TIllman and Bergeson still seem to be entrenched in today. But ill start with the positives…
Jason Berken: Berkin reinvented himself as a releiver in 2010 and put up great numbers with a 3-3 record and 3.03 era in 41 games before being shut down with shoulder soreness. When he returned in 2011 he just wasn’t the same pitcher. In 40 games he was hit hard, giving up 63 hits in 47 innings resulting in an awful 5.36 era before being demoted to Norfolk late in the year. He didn’t make the team out of spring training but he’s been very sharp at triple A as a starter once again. In his 4 starts so far he has a 1.35 era allowing just 3 earned runs in 20 innings. If he keeps this up he’ll eventually be back with the big league club either as a starter or coming out of the bullpen.
Steve Johnson: Johnson is a 24 year old right handed Baltimore native and son of former Oriole pitcher/MASN personilty Dave Johnson. Johnson came over along with Josh Bell (who the O’s just recently gave up on) from the Dodgers in exchange for George Sherrill. After being drafted out of high school in 2005, he has slowly moved his way up the minor league ranks but has yet to crack into the major leagues. Johnson has always had good potential but he has been hampered by control problems that have led to about one walk every 2 innings. This season at Norfolk he’s dropped that ratio to only about 1 walk every 4 innings and it’s paid dividends. In his 22.2 innings of 2012, Steve has a 2.38 era, a WHIP under 1 and is striking out over a batter an inning (23 K). If he continues to locate his pitches like he is now, he has the stuff to be a big league starter and he’ll eventually get his chance.
Brad Bergesen: Bergy was a 4th round pick way back in 2004 out of high school. He pretty much flew under the radar until 2008 when he went 15-6 with a 3.22 era at double A Bowie due to a good sinker and great command (27 BB in 148 innings). The following season it only took him 2 starts at triple A to get the call up to the big leagues and when he got there he picked up right where he left off, throwing strikes and getting tons of ground balls. Bergesen went 7-5 with the O’s and had a solid 3.43 era in 19 starts before his season was cut short due to taking a comebacker of his shin. The 2010 season was a dissapointing one for Bergy as he went 8-12 with an era near 5 (4.98) and 2011 was even worse. He made just 12 starts in 11′ before being demoted to the bullpen and eventually back down to triple A. So far at triple A in 2012 he has got pounded, giving up 38 hits in 26 innings and hes picked up a command issue (13 walks in 26 innings) that was never a problem for him before. On top of his poor performance, he’s older and has lower upside than about 10 other starters in the organization so it’s going to be hard for him to get a chance. I texted a friend of mine (yes I have a friend) who is as diehard an Oriole fan as there is about Bergesen’s struggles yesterday and he replied something along the lines of “oh yea I forgot about Bergy.” Unfortunatly it looks like everyone else will forget about him and his great rookie season too if he doesn’t turn it around fast.
Chris Tillman: Tillman is the real heartbreaker of the Oriole prospects at this point because he has incredible upside. Tilly was selected out of high school in the 2nd round (49th overall) by the Mariners in the 2006 draft. When Chris landed in Baltimore in 2008 he seemed to really figure things out, dominating Bowie and then Norfolk before getting called up to the O’s around mid-season in 2009. At that point we all thought we had a future front line starter as he was the 22nd overall prospect in all of baseball. But he struggled upon arriving in the big leagues and has split every season since between the minors and majors. Tillman’s issues have been his command (particularly fastball command) and his inconsistancy. He will have one start where he looks unhittable (and has thrown a no-no in the minors) and then the next start he’ll leave high fastballs over the plate and get rocked. In his 5 starts so far of 2012, he has a 5.63 era and an awful 1.79 whip due a high opponent batting average of .287 and 14 walks. Tilly is still young at just 24, but he seems to be regressing each year. If he continues that trend for another season or two, the O’s may finally give up on him.