With the Rawlings Gold Gloves announced, as difficult as it may be, it is time to take a look at some of the top defensive players in the Orioles system from the 2009 season.
Much criticism has been made of the 2009 Gold Glove winners and hopefully this will foster some interesting debate. One fielder from each position was chosen. In this edition we look at the left side of the infield and move on to the outfield.
Third Base: Josh Bell, Double-A Bowie
This was a difficult decision for the system, but despite more errors than one would like to see at third base, the 23-year-oldl showed some signs that he may be able to stick out at the hot corner. In addition to that, play at third base was not stellar in the system. There was a revolving door at third base in Norfolk and Mike Costanzo who played quite well only got into 61 games this year before a knee injury sidelined him for the Baysox's stretch run. Elsewhere in the system, Tyler Henson, who was supposed to take a firm hold as the top third base prospect in the system struggled at the plate and in the field entering his second season as a third baseman before being moved to left field at the Frederick All-Star break (this move also got his bat going again). In Delmarva, Tyler Kolodny ended up committing 24 errors before his season was cut short with a wrist injury, leaving Josh Bell as the only third baseman in the system to make it through the whole year. That is not to say Kolodny took some strides, his arm strength has improved greatly since Aberdeen in 2008 and 2010 will be quite telling for him defensively. Bell was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
But, back to what was good from Bell. This was his first season back after surgery on his left knee limited Bell to 31 games in 2008. Bell suffered a minor, unspecified, ankle injury, shortly after being acquired from the Dodgers, that limited him to DH duty for a few days, but he quickly got back into the mix at third. He showed the ability to charge hard on weakly hit grounders and displayed good arm strength and accuracy moving towards the plate. He also showed he can make the throws from well behind third when playing back. Even though his .917 fielding percentage is not as high as one would like, it was the best of his career. His 24 errors were 14 fewer than his last full season in 2007 and he played in nine more games (117 total) at third in 2009 than he did two years ago. For a big guy, 6-3, 235 pounds, Bell is quite nimble on his feet. He should continue to improve and first base currently belongs to Brandon Snyder and Brandon Waring, so a move across the diamond should wait a bit. Needless to say, the only third baseman to make it through the year projects as an offensive third baseman.
Shortstop: Pedro Florimon, High-A Frederick
This is another lesser of all evils across the system. Much like third, until Blake Davis returned to the Norfolk Tides after a foot injury kept him from breaking camp with the big league club. Short stop was the weakest link defensively at Bowie this year and Greg Miclat, lauded for his glove did not fare much (if at all) better than Florimon. Miclat had fewer errors (28) and a slightly higher fielding percentage (.942), but had a range factor of 3.95. Florimon tied his career high for errors with 36, but had his second best fielding percentage of his career at .937. His range factor was 4.37, also the second best of his career. What got Florimon into trouble in the field was the routine play. He would come up with the plays in the hole, making diving stops and long throws, but when he slowed down a little to much, his throws were erratic. He did have his best year turning double plays, he was involved in 72 of them, and it helped having Bobby Stevens on the other side of the bag. Looking forward, 2010 will be the year for the 22-year-old to really come through defensively. His bat finally took a major leap forward, if his defense can take half that leap his bat did, expect great things from him. Florimon was also added to the 40-man roster to avoid Rule 5 eligibility. It is hard to believe it, but 2009 was already his fourth year in the system. Florimon made up to Bowie and helped in their stretch run for the playoffs in September.
Left Field: Jonathan Tucker: Double-A Bowie
Jonathan Tucker is simply a grinder who knows this game as well as anyone in the system. He played five positions in the field in 2009, but spent 95 games in left field. He had the strongest arm of the outfielders in Bowie, got the best reads and committed just two errors there all year. In addition to making the routine plays, Tucker made a number of highlight-reel type plays. He can come in on the ball, go back to the wall, go to the left and go to the right. Unless it clears the wall for a home run or out of play in foul territory, it seems like Tucker will be there. There is one play that sticks out, a fly ball down the foul line at Prince George's Stadium, headed out of play into the seating area for the visiting bullpen in left field, with a runner on third. Tucker leapt up, kicked up the wall, reached over and made the catch. He then fired a strike to home that got to the plate a fraction of a second too late, but it was one of the most amazing catch-and-throw plays, even without getting an out. His effort on the play drew a standing ovation as the rest of us in the press box were busy picking up our jaws from the floor. The bottom line is, his defense changed games for Bowie and helped them stay in the playoff hunt to the very last day, but Tucker may not even be in the Orioles system come 2010. The 26-year-old earned a promotion to Norfolk in September.
Center Field: Matt Angle: High-A Frederick
When the 2007 Orioles draft class is mentioned, the immediate names that come to mind are Matt Wieters and Jake Arrieta. Well this seventh round pick is charging up the system. The 24-year-old from Ohio State is quickly proving to be the best defensive outfield prospect the system and may even be the best overall defender in the system. The 5-10 centerfielder covers a lot of ground, but many teams find out the hard way not to sleep on his arm. He may not look like he has a big arm, but his 13 outfield assists prove otherwise (a career high). It is not just the assists, though. Watch him play long enough and it becomes evident that it is not just his range that limits opponents to singles and doubles when they find the gap. Angle is a game-changer in center. While he may not profile as an everyday player at the big league level, he should get there, perhaps as early September of 2010 (a very slim chance), and he will make a difference if he does get to the majors. Angle is the type of player that is found on a team that will have more one-run wins than losses and his defense is a big part of it. One play that sticks out from 2009 is taking a home run away in dead center at Prince George's Stadium shortly after his September promotion to Bowie. A rocket was hit to center, Angle got a good jump and went over the 405 sign to take a homer away.
Finally, it should also be noted that in Frederick in 2009, he was flanked by two newcomers to the outfield for most of the season. Billy Rowell made the move from third to right field and though he did improve by the end of the year, Angle made life a lot easier than it could have been for Rowell. Also, as noted above in the third base section, Tyler Henson moved from third to left field. Angle had more of a responsibility than most centerfielders in baseball should have and he showed he can be a good captain of the outfield.
Right Field: Ron Welty: Mid-A Delmarva
This 21-year-old right-fielder is looking like a great pick from the 20th round of the 2008 draft. After skipping over low-A Aberdeen, Welty was one of the few who looked comfortable for the Shorebirds in 2009. He is one of the guys who would be a popular pick as he hit well, but he also improved greatly in the outfield and played white well. In 44 games in 2008, Welty committed four errors for the Bluefield Orioles. In 113 games with the Shorebirds, he committed just two, boosting his fielding percentage to .991 and his range factor to 1.87 more than .4 better from his pro debut. Welty also showed a remarkable improvement with his arm. He recorded 11 outfield assists, ten more than in 2008. Welty said he wanted to improve his arm before the 2009 season and if scouts have reports saying "run on Welty," those need to be changed. With what seems like an imminent promotion to Frederick for 2010, Welty is quickly becoming one of the more exciting outfield prospects the Orioles have.