The 2007 AFL rosters are out and there are some surprises mixed in with the obvious choices for the Phoenix Desert Dogs roster. This year's contingent of Orioles will be pitcher Hayden Penn, who will be making up time lost due to injury this year. Penn was once the top upper-level pitching prospect in the Orioles' chain until injuries and the emergence of Garrett Olson pushed him down the ladder. He will be working to re-establish himself as a contender for the Orioles future rotation. James Johnson and Bob McCrory will be joingin Penn on the Desert Dogs' pitching staff. McCrory is there to get reps in order to advance his timetable for promotion to the big club. Johnson is somewhat of a surprise addition to the roster; however, the experience and work should help prepare him for a major league role in 2008 and/or showcase him to potential trading partners.
Joining Penn, Johnson and McCrory will be Jake Arrieta. The Orioles are including him to see how he fares against higher level competition, despite 2007 being his professional debut. Arrieta is likely to follow the Jason Berken path and make his full season debut with the High-A frederick Keys.
Jeff Fiorentino and Nolan Reimold return to the AFL this year after having somewhat successful seasons last year. Both started off well but faded towards the end. Fio's fade continued into his season at Bowie until he caught fire in the second half. This is a big year for Fio, as he is getting old to be a prospect and if he is to have a role with the big team in the near future, he will have to continue to show success. Further complicating matters is that 2007 was his final option year, due to his premature call-up in 2005. One of my fondest memories of last season was the homerun Fio hit against Marcus McBeth at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Fio turned on a 3-2 fastball that was easily in the mid-90's and deposited it over the right field wall.
Nolan Reimold will be there to make up time lost due to injury. Once again this year, left field at Camden Yards beckons; from his position as the Orioles top outfield prospect, Reimold needs to have a good AFL season to put himself in position to claim a major league role out of spring training next season.
Paco Figueroa's addition should not be a surprise. Of all the middle infielders in the Orioles' system, he is the one who has stands to gain the most. Also, besides Luis Hernandez, he is the only middle infielder the Orioles have at the double-A and above level who is likely to play in the major leagues. Paco is rounding out a nice season at Bowie; he is currently hitting .280 and has an OBP of .365.
Last year's crop of Oriole farmhands had mixed results. Fiorentino and Reimold started fast out of the gate but faded badly. Bryan Bass never really got untracked and Ryan Hubele had moderate success. Brian Finch and Cory Morris had injuries this spring that kept them off the field. I did note last year that Finch's velocity was down, which was probably an early indicator of his problems. Ryan Keefer and Nick McCurdy had some success coming out of the bullpen, but Keefer suffered an injury which necessitated Tommy John surgery and he did not pitch this year.
One name not mentioned was that of 2007 first round pick Matt Weiters. Arizona Fall League roster requirements mandate no more than one player without double-A experience be included from each major league team. With Jake Arrieta filling that void, Wieters is most likely destined for the lower level Hawaiian Winter League.
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