O's affiliates ready to dial it up, too

Seasons begin today for Baysox, Shorebirds


April 07, 2005|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Baseball fans who enjoy watching the stars of the future don't have to go far to watch many of the top prospects, who will be playing on four Orioles affiliates in Maryland.

Two of the clubs, the Bowie Baysox and Delmarva Shorebirds, open their seasons today on the road, while a third, the Frederick Keys, opens tomorrow. The Keys have at least three of the Orioles' top prospects, including outfielder Nick Markakis, who is considered to be the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

The Orioles' fourth state affiliate, the Aberdeen IronBirds, start in June.

In addition, the Hagerstown Suns, now a New York Mets' affiliate, play in the South Atlantic League with Delmarva. The Suns open at home at 6:35 tonight against the West Virginia Power.

After being rated the worst minor league system by Baseball America before the 2003 season, the Orioles are ranked No. 25 out of 30 by the publication going into this season. David Stockstill has replaced Doc Rodgers as farm director, and Joe Jordan replaced Tony DeMacio as scouting director.

"I see the entire system vastly improving, and we have many more promising position players," said Delmarva manager Gary Kendall, a Sparrows Point High School graduate, who is in his second stint in the Orioles' organization. Kendall worked as a scout for the Orioles from 1991 to 1995 and returned in 2000 as a scout and instructor. He managed Rookie League Bluefield last summer. "We are developing more players, and I can see it only getting better."

Ottawa Lynx

League: Triple-A International

Opener: Today at Louisville

Outlook: The Orioles' highest level team is loaded with experience - 13 players who have played in the majors and 10 who have been on the Lynx roster in other seasons.

Manager Dave Trembley moves from Double-A Bowie to take over the Lynx. His pitching staff includes left-hander Eric DuBose, who made 14 starts for the Orioles last season, 10-year big league veteran James Baldwin, Dave Borkowski, who pitched with the Orioles and Lynx in 2004, and highly touted right-hander John Maine.

Maine, 23, throws a fastball in the low 90s, a curve, changeup and slider and changes speeds well. Maine was rated by Baseball America as the Orioles' sixth-best prospect after he led the Lynx in starts (22) and was 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 2004.

Among the Lynx's top position players are outfielder Tim Raines Jr., 25, who has never stolen fewer than 30 bases in seven pro seasons, and power-hitting first baseman Walter Young. Young, 6 feet 5, 300 pounds, set a Bowie franchise record for homers last season with 33. Eli Whiteside is considered to be the best defensive catcher in the Orioles' system.

Bowie Baysox

League: Double-A Eastern

Opener: Today at Harrisburg; home opener April 14 vs. Akron, 7:05 p.m.

Outlook: Pitching should be a strength for the Baysox with right-handers Hayden Penn, Chris Ray and Sendy Rleal and left-hander Scott Rice. Also, former big league pitcher and Glen Burnie native Tony Saunders is expected to be assigned to the Baysox to continue his comeback.

Penn, rated by Baseball America as the Orioles' No. 2 prospect, was the Orioles' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2004 after going 13-6 overall with Delmarva, Frederick and Bowie. Penn, 20, throws in the low 90s and displays a superb changeup and above-average curve.

Third baseman Tripper Johnson hit 21 homers and had 74 RBIs at Frederick last year.

Frederick Keys

League: Single-A Carolina

Opener: Tomorrow at Lynchburg; home opener Monday vs. Salem, 7:05 p.m.

Outlook: Markakis leads what is expected to be one of the top outfields in minor league baseball.

Markakis was a first-round pick, the seventh overall, out of Young Harris (Ga.) junior college by the Orioles in the 2003 draft.

"He was drafted as a pitcher, but he can really swing the bat," said Delmarva manager Kendall, who saw Markakis play at Young Harris. "He can do it all and is very athletic."

With the permission of Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Markakis played for the Greek team in the 2004 Olympics.

Jeff Fiorentino, rated the Orioles' fifth-best prospect, and Jarod Rine complete a speedy, all left-handed-hitting outfield.

Pitcher Adam Loewen, the Orioles' first-round pick in 2002, has had arm problems. The 6-6, 220-pound left-hander's fastball peaked at 95 mph, but he suffered a shoulder injury, though it did not require surgery.

Delmarva Shorebirds

League: Single-A South Atlantic

Opener: Today at Lexington; home opener April 15 vs. Lexington, 6:35 p.m.

Outlook: Kevin Hart (Maryland) is expected to be one of the Shorebirds' top pitchers. Hart, drafted by the Orioles last year, pitched for the Maryland Orioles, coached by Orioles scout Dean Albany, to the 2003 national championship at the All-American Amateur Baseball Association tournament in Johnstown, Pa., and was named MVP.

Hagerstown Suns

League: Single-A South Atlantic

Opener: Today at home, 6:35 p.m. vs. West Virginia Power

Outlook: Two of the New York Mets' top prospects are on the Suns in their first year as a Mets affiliate.

Right-hander Gaby Hernandez, who is rated the Mets' No. 3 prospect by Baseball America, heads up the Suns pitching staff. Hernandez has a sinker that reaches 94 mph.

Outfielder Ambiorix Concepcion is the Mets' fifth-best prospect. He was named the New York-Penn League's top prospect after hitting .305 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs at Brooklyn, N.Y.

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