With a quarter of the 2012 season already in the books it’s time to give some recognition to the baby birds that have excelled under the radar so far this year. Since I’ve already checked in on how the top Oriole prospects have done (and will be checking in on them again soon with my May report card) I’d like to heap praise on some of the lesser known young Oriole talent. Here’s my top 6 diamonds in the rough so far this year (in no particular order)…
1. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Delmarva Shorebirds
1-1, 2.43 ERA, 37 IP, 24 K, 13 BB, .223 Opp BA, 1.19 WHIP
Rodriguez is a 19 year old (just turned 19 on 4/7) starting pitcher who signed with the Orioles at just 16 years old out of his native Venezuela. He was very impressive in his first 2 minor league seasons at low levels, posting eras of 2.33 in 2010 and 2.22 in 2011. He made the jump to Delmarva this spring and hasn’t slowed down at all. His strikeouts are down slightly, but his walks are too, resulting in a sub-2.5 era and a lot of optimism within the organization. An amazing stat on Rodriguez; he has allowed just 1 home run in 146.1 minor league innings pitched.
2. Mike Wright, RHP, Frederick Keys
5-2, 2.91 ERA, 46.1 IP, 35 K, 5 BB, .266 Opp BA, 1.12 WHIP
Wright is a 22 year old starter who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 First-year Player Draft out of East Carolina University. Upon being drafted Wright started 7 games for the Aberdeen Ironbirds in the short season New York Penn league, where he went 2-1 with a 3.77 era. He followed that with a nightmarish stint at low-A Delmarva, getting rocked to the tune of a 10.54 era (16 ER in 13.2 IP). However, he overcame his Delmarva struggles with a strong enough spring to land him a spot on the high-A Keys roster to start the 2012 season and he hasn’t looked back. Wright has used a mix of solid stuff and amazing control (7 to 1 K/BB ratio) to become the anchor of the Keys staff and the team leader in wins before getting promoted to Double-A Bowie just last week. In his first start with the Baysox on May 25th, Wright struck out 7 (0 BB) in 6 innings while allowing 4 earned runs.
3. Clayton Schrader, RHP, Frederick Keys
1-1, 0.67 ERA, 26.2 IP, 41 K, 20 BB, .135 Opp BA, 1.20 WHIP
Schrader is a 22 year old reliever who the O’s drafted in the 10th round of the First-year Player Draft out of San Jacinto Junior College. After looking good in just 12 innings in 2010, Schrader had a great 2011, posting a 1.57 era, holding opposing hitters to a microscopic .123 average, and striking out an incredible 73 batters in just 46 innings (14.3 K/9) across two levels (Delmarva and Frederick). Clayton’s only drawback is his high walk totals, but when you strikeout over 1.5 batters per inning and hold hitters to about 1 hit every 8 at bats, you can work around those free passes. Schrader’s electric stuff and big time strikeout numbers make him the prototype for what team’s want in a closer.
4. Richard Zagone, LHP, Frederick Keys
3-0, 1.31 ERA, 41.1 IP, 31 K, 12 BB, .166 Opp BA, 1.00 WHIP
Zagone, the old man of this group at 25, is a starting pitcher that the Orioles selected in the 6th round of the 2008 First Year-Player Draft out of the University Of Missouri. Zagone split each of the past two seasons between high-A Frederick and double-A Bowie with mediocre results, posting a 18-19 record and 4.03 era over that span (2010 and 2011). He started this season at Frederick once again and this time began the season in a fashion that was anything but mediocre, going 2-0 with a 1.40 era in 7 games (4 starts) before getting a call up to the triple-A Norfolk Tides. Zagone looked even better with Norfolk, hurling 11.1 shutout innings in 2 games (1 start), allowing just 5 hits while striking out 9 (1 BB). Rick has since been recalled to Frederick but if he continues to pitch like this it won’t be long until he’s back with the Tides and eventually with the big boys in Baltimore.
5. Steve Johnson, RHP, Norfolk Tides
1-3, 2.62 ERA, 44.2 IP, 36 K, 13 BB, .191 Opp BA, .96 WHIP
Johnson is a 24 year old starter that the Orioles acquired from the Dodgers when they traded George Sherrill in 2009, he is also the son of former Oriole pitcher and current MASN personality Dave Johnson. Steve started the year at Norfolk despite a pretty unimpressive 2011 campaign where he managed a 7-8 record and a 4.20 era. He proved that he belonged early in 2012 and has maintained that success all year, allowing over 2 earned runs in just 1 of his 7 starts. Johnson’s improvement this season can be linked directly to his command. He’s giving up just 2.6 BB/9 this year compared to 3.8 last year and his Opp BA has dropped significantly from .256 in 2011 to .191 in 2012, illustrating that he’s throwing quality strikes. Unfortunately Johnson had to leave his last start after 2 innings due to a strained groin muscle and is currently on the 7-day DL. It’s unclear at this point how long he’ll be out but hopefully he’ll be back on the mound dealing again soon.
6. John Ruettiger, OF, Frederick Keys
.322 AVG, 8 2B, 17 RBI, 16 SB, 28 R, .399 OBP
Ruettiger is a 22 year old speedster whom the Orioles drafted in the 8th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State University and nephew to Dan “Rudy” Ruettiger of the classic football film “Rudy.” After being drafted in June, Ruettiger played 22 games in 2011 between the Golf Coast Orioles and Delmarva Shorebirds finishing with an even .300 average in 90 at bats. This season it took John just 26 games to prove to Oriole’s brass that he was ready to make the jump from low-A Delmarva to high-A Frederick and he has been outstanding since his promotion. After hitting .305 with 10 steals as a Shorebird, Ruettiger is hitting a scorching .362 with 6 steals as a Key and has played great defense at both stops. John has no power whatsoever but he’s in an organization that already has power and lacks speed, which he has a lot of. If he continues to hit for a high average and swipe a lot of bases, Camden Yards could be ringing with chants of “JOHN-NY JOHN-NY,” in the not too distant future.