In 2005, Kieron Pope did little to justify his prospect status. As a 4th round pick that commanded a $257,500 singing bonus, he was certainly hoping to come away with better than a .228 batting average and 62 strikeouts in 149 at bats. Yet, after a strong showing at instructs, the organization remained optimistic about his potential. Indeed, Pope made many within the organization look smart after he took the Appalachian League by storm in a return engagement this year. But a promotion to the college-heavy New York-Penn League at the beginning of August proved too much for the raw 19 year old.
DOB: 10/03/86 Height: 6-1 Weight: 195 B/T: R/R
Kieron Pope's age 19 season:
Kieron Pope was well on his way to winning the Appalachian League triple crown before his promotion to Aberdeen. While the Orioles wanted to get him some exposure to college pitching in the hope that he would be prepared for a full-season debut in 2007, there were signs that he was not prepared for such a big jump. For instance, despite a great improvement over his professional debut, Pope still demonstrated poor plate discipline at Bluefield. He has solid hand-eye coordination, but his pitch recognition has a long way to go and he swings and misses a lot. Pope has an especially difficult time with breaking balls, even those of the mediocre variety.
Of course, Pope wouldn't rank this high if he didn't demonstrate considerable potential as well. His raw power rates as the best in the O's system and has the potential to rate as a true 80 on the 20-80 scale. Pope is also a good athlete with above-average speed, though he has not focused on his base-running at this point. While there is considerable work to be done with Pope's offensive approach, the Orioles are quick to point out that he is an extremely hard worker.
Pope's speed allows him to compensate for his sometimes iffy routes in the outfield, though his arm confines him to left field. There is some concern that he will lose a step as he moves up through the system, but he already has a mature build. Plus, as hard as he works, it would surprise a lot of people if his routes didn't improve enough to compensate. All in all, Pope should be an above-average defender in left field, but don't expect any conversions to centerfield in his future.
Kieron Pope may need upwards of 2,000 at bats before he is anywhere near ready for major league pitching, but his upside is of a legitimate middle-of-the-order offensive threat. The Orioles will likely push him to low-A Delmarva for his full-season debut but, if he proves unprepared in spring training, he could see time in extended spring training until Aberdeen's season opens in June. If he opens in Delmarva, the pitching-friendly environment may depress his rate stats, but look at his walk and strikeout rates for any improvement in his approach. The Orioles are quick to point out Pope's work ethic for a reason- he is going to need it with all the work he has left to do. If everything breaks right, though, he could be an all-star caliber corner outfielder.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com