Predicting Norfolk’s Roster

As everyone who knows me knows, I have a reputation as a prospect junkie. This includes being more excited about Minor League opening day than the Major League equivalent, scaring people by recognizing every single kid at Spring Training, and traveling hours of unfamiliar roads just to get to games in little towns and smaller cities. As Spring Training looms on the horizon, a number of big league camp battles have come into focus, which means we can’t be exactly sure of what we’re going to see in Norfolk come April. However, years of watching prospects have given me the ability to make educated guesses, so here’s what I’ve come up with.

This greeted me as I visited Norfolk's page today.

When I went to Norfolk’s page to see how much of their roster had been set in stone by today, I was welcomed by a photo of Zach Britton with a very brightly-colored, flashy background, so obviously nobody could possibly miss it. And who would miss it? It’s Zach Britton. There’s debate as to whether he or Machado is the top prospect in the organization right now, but as far as I’m concerned, right now all we need to know is that Britton’s starting in Norfolk and Machado’s not. Machado is still years away from the Majors, whilst Britton has a decent shot at a mid-season or September callup at this point. If he’s not up by the end of the season this year, I’ll be utterly stunned.

The point, basically, is that Zach Britton will almost certainly be the staff ace in Norfolk this year or at the very least share that title with Chris Tillman, who is starting to look like he’ll be joining Britton in Virginia this season unless something happens to Duchscherer. Arrieta has solidified himself well enough in Baltimore’s rotation, which effectively removes him from the possibility of being in Norfolk in April (right now, the Major League rotation should contain Guthrie, Matusz, Arrieta, Bergesen and Duchscherer/Tillman).

So long story short, my Norfolk rotation as of now is as follows:

  1. Chris Tillman
  2. Zach Britton
  3. Rick VandenHurk
  4. Chris George
  5. Brandon Erbe

Troy Patton projects more as a reliever to me, which is why I’m not putting him in the starting rotation. Additionally, Britton and Tillman are interchangeable as the staff ace – Tillman destroys AAA hitters, and Britton is, well, Britton. So that’s that. Patton also had a, well, interesting offseason, to say the least. As for the others in this group, they’re pretty much self-explanatory. Let’s hope Erbe has a better season than last year, when he sort of hit a wall and eventually needed surgery.

I’m not sure it’s fair to predict the bullpen at this point, especially since there are going to be a lot of battles to get into the Major League one this Spring Training. Once those shape out, it’ll be easier to figure out what’s going on and who’ll be in Norfolk. What we can figure out, at least, is the starting nine.

C: Well, we know that whoever plays this position is blocked by God Matt Wieters, so let’s see who we’re going to cry tears of pity for this year. Adam Donachie and Michel Hernandez split the duty last season, and I highly doubt there should be a major change there until Caleb Joseph moves up from Bowie, a distinct possibility this season as he progresses. My guess is until he’s there, it’ll still be Donachie and Hernandez, unless something major changes.

1B: With the signing of Derrek Lee giving new stability to first base at the Major League level, my art buddy Brandon Snyder will likely be manning the position at Norfolk this season. Unfortunately, due to the signing, he’s blocked, as well, but he could at least provide depth on the Major League roster if necessary (i.e. if Lee acts like a Cub and gets hurt). Since he’s a pretty solid prospect, he’ll likely stay around, but I could also see him being packaged in a deal now that Lee’s solidifying first base.

2B: At the beginning of 2010, Justin Turner was here, but he was swapped over to Buffalo pretty early on, so there are three remaining possibilities at second base for now: Blake Davis, Paco Figueroa (Danny’s twin brother), and relatively untested Miguel Abreu. Abreu has the least amount of experience at the AAA level of the three, so it is more likely that he’ll start off in Bowie again to begin 2011 whilst the other two will split time at second base.

3B: This is a conveniently easy answer: Josh Bell. I don’t even need to think about that one, and you hopefully don’t either. Remember, Mark Reynolds was signed to cover third.

SS: Last season, Robert Andino played shortstop for most of the year, then earned a callup in September. Right now, it’s very possible that he’ll stick with the big club for infield depth, so my guess is that either Davis or Figueroa will end up playing short this season. If Andino doesn’t break with the club after Spring Training, he’ll be in Norfolk roving the infield instead.

Facts from Matt Angle's college bio: he was a member of the National Honor Society and was editor of his high school yearbook, was active in student council and wrote for the newspaper, and majored in sport and leisure studies at Ohio State.

LF: Left field is an interesting question for the Orioles in general lately – they’ve got quite the roadblock going on there. Guerrero’s arrival has pushed Luke Scott into left field, which removes Pie and Reimold from the bigger picture and places them in a backup role. One of them will likely end up in the Minors come the end of Spring Training, and with one option left, that will probably be Reimold. Expect Nolan to be the starting left fielder on Opening Day in Virginia.

CF: I’ll admit it: total prospect crush on Matt Angle. Like, completely. He made the jump from Bowie to Norfolk last season (deservedly) and he more than handled AAA. Although he’s not entirely ready yet, I’m fully anticipating a solid 2011 and maybe, just maybe, an extra look in September. Hey, an amateur scout can hope, can’t she?

RF: Nobody overly stands out right now, but my guess is that Rhyne Hughes will end up roving the right side of the outfield for the Tides this season. He doubles as a first baseman, as well, so he’s extra useful in that respect and can cover at the Major League level much like Snyder can.

DH: If this isn’t Michael Aubrey, we have a problem. Basically, it’ll be Michael Aubrey. No questions asked.

Essentially, those are the main fellows we’ll have our eyes on in Norfolk this season come April. Obviously, there’s a lot more to the roster than just the everyday starters – utility players and the like – but they’re harder to predict until Spring Training is coming to a close, so there’s probably no point in making guesses now. This lineup is what you can expect to see in Norfolk for the most part, barring injuries and other unexpected surprises (and baseball is full of unexpected surprises, so don’t rule anything out, because you honestly never know).

Additionally, I’d love to try to predict the rosters for Bowie, Frederick, Delmarva, and Aberdeen, but those are a lot more difficult and unclear, especially since Baltimore’s depth at the lower levels of prospectdom is very thin at the moment. With the exception of Manny Machado, who will be starting 2011 in Delmarva, there are not too many bright stars in the lower clubs at the moment – not very many standouts to report on as of now. However, once the 2011 season begins to unfold, I’ll be able to get a better look at who’s playing particularly well this year. For all we know, someone could be on the verge of breaking out and becoming the next big star on their way to Camden Yards. But for now, we don’t know just quite yet, so let’s just sit back and enjoy watching the kids grow up.

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