Biggest Surprise: Brent Krause (39 G, 138 AB, .275/.351/.449, 1/5 SB)
When the Orioles looked through their organizational depth chart in July and realized they needed another outfielder in high-A Frederick, they turned to the Northern League's Brent Krause. Most players that do well at a young age in the independent leagues have some sort of knock against them; in Krause's case, he's a right-handed hitter not known for athleticism. Nevertheless, the Northern Leagues 2005 Rookie of the Year stepped right in and looked at home in his brief exposure against professional pitching.
Most Improved Pitcher: Bob McCrory (0-0, 1.23 ERA, 22.0 IP, 22 K, 12 BB, 1 HR, 14 SV)
Few people have ever doubted the 25 year old power righty's stuff, but Bob McCrory has had a rough time staying healthy in the past.
"The first year I signed, I had problem with my elbow and missed the whole year," McCrory told Inside The Warehouse. "I came back the next year and, mid-way through the season, my knee started giving me problems, so I had surgery on my left knee after the season. I came back from the knee rehab and everything and blew out my elbow my fifth start back from it. There've been a lot of injuries there."
So it was certainly a good sign that he was able to make 44 appearances over the full season this year. His manager, Tommy Thompson, sees bright things in McCrory's future.
"He's got a great breaking ball, he's got a good changeup that people don't see a lot, but he's throwing 95-97 [MPH], he's probably going to put himself in a situation to go to the next level, maybe sooner than other guys."
Most Improved Position Player: Zach Dillon (92 G, 305 AB, .275/.352/.426, 0/4 SB)
Dillon's name has been thrown around as a sleeper prospect on these pages before, but his performance in 2007 should have him moving up the prospect lists. Although He took advantage of a more hitter-friendly environment in Frederick to lead the Keys with 27 doubles while maintaining an excellent 32:35 K:BB ratio.
Best Keys Pitcher: Chorye Spoone (10-9, 3.26 ERA, 152.0 IP, 133 K, 67 BB, 8 HR)
Spoone's season-line, impressive as it is, does not tell the whole story. He became one of minor league baseball's most dominant pitchers down the stretch, with a 2.66 ERA in the second half and a fair amount of 8, 9, and 10-strikeout performances. Tommy Thompson dished to ITW about Spoone earlier this season.
"He's got life and movement on the ball, he's got late sink, he's got the action that you can't teach. When you scout and you see that, you know it's special."
Biggest Disappointment: Brandon Erbe (6-8, 6.26 ERA, 119.1 IP, 111 K, 62 BB, 14 HR)
Erbe entered the season as the organization's top prospect and disappointed with a mediocre showing in the Carolina League. He did manage to stay healthy, maintain his mid-90's velocity, and strike out nearly a better an inning; but that's about all he was able to accomplish. His fastball command regressed and he failed to make any advancement with his secondary offerings. He'll only be 20 years old next season, so there is plenty of time, but he'll have to make improvements to once again be mentioned with the top pitching prospects in baseball.
Erbe, a local product out of The McDonogh School in Owings Mills, has been lauded for his makeup and ability to take adversity in stride.
"I don't really think a whole lot has been going on." Erbe told Inside The Warehouse. "I've just been getting hit a little bit. Luckily, to this point, I haven't really had that much adversity in my career so far. Right now, it's just a learning process. I'm approaching hitters a little bit different than I have in the past and all the teams sort of know what I throw and what I am going to come at them with. It's just a learning process and I am trying to learn from all of this."
Most Valuable Key: Blake Davis (93 G, 357 AB, .291/.362/.409, 11/24 SB)
Davis is an advanced defender at a premium position, but 2007 is the first time he's really convinced observers that he might be able to hit at the major league level. He busted out of the gates with a torrid April before slumping during May and June (including during a brief call-up to double-A Bowie), but he was back to his old tricks with a .333/.398/.527 August.
Tommy Thompson used him in a few different positions to increase his versatility, but he is confident that he will contribute to a major league team in some fashion.
"He's a good player, he's got baseball instincts, he competes, he can bunt, hit and run, he uses the whole field, he hits left-handed pitching just as good as right-handed pitching; he knows how to play the game. He's got heart and he's a player. He can play second base, he could be a utility guy, he takes balls in the outfield sometimes and he's a natural out there. He's never going to be a power hitter, but he can be a doubles, gap to gap type and hit some out on some occasions. He can steal you a base. He's got a lot to offer. He's got a lot of athletic ability."
Arturo Rivas: Although shoulder injuries limited him to 37 games, Rivas maintained the production her displayed at the end of 2006, batting .317/.397/.504. Some observers still question his makeup.
Jason Berken: Berken struggled early in the season after skipping low-A Delmarva, but he still showed the form that has some predicting he could contribute at the back of a major league rotation one day.
David Hernandez: Hernandez's ceiling is ahead of Berken, but probably just a tick behind Erbe. His inconsistent command of a power arsenal led to another year of a high strikeout rate with middling results. His 18 strikeout performance on September 2nd is proof of how tough he can be when he is on. Some within the organization feel that Hernandez has some confidence issues, but he could be a premium prospect if he gets his head on straight.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via e-mail at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com