FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Orioles' commitment to rebuilding from within is unfolding this spring on two sides of the same fence. On the main field at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, a 19-year-old Dominican shortstop has become the first player born in the 1980s to be invited to major-league camp.
On the back field, the two most promising names of the Orioles' signature 1999 draft take the diamond just vacated by the major-leaguers.
Shortstop Ed Rogers, outfielder Keith Reed and left-handed pitcher Richard Stahl have been described as the brightest lights in a system stocked by recent drafts and last July's major-league clubhouse purge.
"We've never had the nucleus of players that we have now in the system," said director of player development Don Buford. "We've had players before who could play but couldn't get the opportunity. Now, we have numbers, the talent and the opportunity for them."
To an organization that hasn't developed an All-Star position player in 20 years, Buford's statement is especially meaningful to the prospects, even though none of the top three is likely to reach the major-league level this year.
The Orioles praise Rogers, Reed and Stahl for their coachability. All three get high marks for aptitude and a desire to improve.
Outside the organization, others familiar with the players give similar assessments. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with baseball protocol of not commenting publicly on another team's personnel.
"All three of those guys are impressive, both for their talent and their presence," said a South Atlantic League manager who watched all three last season at Delmarva, which plays in the Single-A league. "That team had some talent, but those three stood out."
The graceful and surprisingly powerful Rogers, who won't turn 20 until August, is the product of the club's Dominican scouting effort. His signing Nov. 1, 1997, was overshadowed by the resignation the same day of Orioles manager Davey Johnson.
Rogers arrives after a stunning performance in the Dominican Winter League. He hit .323 with 10 extra-base hits in 65 at-bats, eventually playing over Houston Astros starting shortstop Julio Lugo and Montreal Expos backup Tomas De La Rosa.
Rogers spent 1999 with the Orioles' team in the Gulf Coast League, a developmental league below Single-A, leading the club in hits and steals. He broke out in 2000 despite playing the entire season with a sprained thumb. He hit .274 at Delmarva before becoming the youngest player ever at Double-A Bowie when promoted July 2. Rogers hit .286 without committing an error for the Baysox before a rib strain ended his season.
"There aren't many guys you see during a year that you wish you had on your team, but he was one of them," said the South Atlantic League manager. "He seemed to reach everything. There is speed and there is range. They aren't the same thing. You definitely noticed his range. And unlike a lot of guys you see at that level, he has the type of long frame that projects for the position."
Triple-A Rochester Red Wings manager Andy Etchebarren saw Rogers after his late-season promotion to Bowie. It didn't take Etchebarren long to place Rogers in a class he had previously reserved for Atlanta Braves super-prospects Rafael Furcal and Andruw Jones. Shortstop Furcal was the National League Rookie of the Year last season. Jones is an All-Star outfielder who makes $8.2 million.
"You notice his actions - unforced, instinctive," said a roving instructor for a National League Central team. "He always seemed to position himself well. Those are things you don't often see in players that age."
Consecutive drafts under scouting director Tony DeMacio and the willingness by majority owner Peter Angelos to sign a record seven premium picks in 1999 has created what Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift calls "momentum." Reed and Stahl are products of the 1999 draft.
Reed, 22, a second-team All-American at Providence, was rated as the best athlete in that draft. National publications, including an upcoming issue of Baseball America, consistently rate Reed as the Orioles' top prospect.
The Orioles believe Reed's outfield arm to be the best in the organization - it's rated a 70 on a scouting scale that tops at 80 - and praise his combination of coachability and talent. They believe he has all five tools, hitting for average and power, speed, defense and arm strength.
Reed split last year between Single-A affiliates Delmarva and Frederick, combining for 19 home runs, 90 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in 34 attempts while being named to the South Atlantic League All-Star team.
"I think he's just like a lot of Northern kids. Once he gets acclimated to playing every day, which has probably happened, he'll have a chance to develop into a five-tool guy," said an NL East scout familiar with the South Atlantic League. "It's no small thing for him to show that kind of power in his first full year with wood," instead of the aluminum bats used in college.