Prospects grow for O's at Bowie

Some jump to majors

others get on track

Minor league report


August 28, 2006|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,Sun reporter

The Bowie Baysox have experienced a year of surprises.

Pitching prospects Adam Loewen and Chris Britton leaped to Baltimore far sooner than expected. The team's most touted hitter, Jeff Fiorentino, struggled for much of the year. Outfielder Cory Keylor and pitcher Beau Hale resurrected careers that seemed to have been forgotten by all but the most ardent prospect watchers.

Keylor, 27, came into the season knowing he had to show something or fall off the track to the big leagues forever. Even though he started the season as a fourth outfielder, he relaxed and stopped swinging for the fences. Within a few months, he was the team's No. 3 hitter and a Double-A All-Star. Keylor hasn't tailed off. He leads Bowie with a .300 average and a .370 on-base percentage.

"He has been able to make adjustments and get the bat head to the ball much better than in the past," Orioles minor league director David Stockstill said. "He has the ability to be in the big leagues."

Fiorentino, 23, had an awful first half marred by a bad ankle sprain. His average hovered just above .200, which was especially disappointing because he had held his own during a surprise call-up to Baltimore in 2005.

But Fiorentino has raised his average to .272 with 51 walks and 55 strikeouts. He's second on Bowie with 13 homers and has stolen nine bases. He will play in the Arizona Fall League.

The team was never stocked with elite offensive prospects. Minor league veteran Noah Hall has also had a solid season with a .270 average and 11 homers, and Leo Daigle leads the team with 15 homers.

But the real prospect gold lay on the pitching side. Loewen started 4-2 for the Baysox before Hayden Penn's appendectomy opened an unexpected spot for him in Baltimore. The 6-foot-5 left-hander struggled at first but has established himself in the big league rotation.

James Johnson is almost as big as Loewen, but he doesn't throw as hard or have as sharp a breaking ball. He didn't look ready when called up for an emergency start in Baltimore. Johnson, 23, is 12-6 with a 4.38 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 150 innings.

Stockstill said Johnson's taste of big league failure should be helpful. "It showed him where he is and what he needs to do to get where he wants to go," he said.

Right-hander Brian Finch, 24, is another starter who took more of a sideways than a forward step. He has a 3.77 ERA but has walked 63 against only 78 strikeouts in 133 2/3 innings.

Left-hander Garrett Olson joined Bowie at midseason and has pitched impressively after struggling in his first few outings. Olson, 22, doesn't have the power stuff of Loewen or Penn, but he changes speeds like a veteran and often shows impeccable control. He has a 3.21 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 73 innings at Double-A.

Hale, meanwhile, is one of the organization's best stories. The first-round pick in 2000 lost more than two years to shoulder injuries, and his arm still hurt between relief outings when he returned this season.

But Hale, 27, has pitched without pain and approached his old velocity this season. He's even back to starting. Hale started impressively at Single-A Frederick and has gone 4-5 with a 3.00 ERA since joining the Baysox.

"It's been incredible the progress he's made," Stockstill said. "He has the best makeup, the best attitude of any pitcher I've seen here."

ON DECK The Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds finish their home schedule this week with four games against Lakewood.

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