Spoone, Erbe: brothers in arms

Friends off field flashing potential on mound

Orioles pitching prospects

May 07, 2008|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

Even a baseball novice could've told you which high school pitcher would make the majors.

At a lean 6 feet 4 with a fastball that crossed 95 mph and uncommon poise for a teenager, McDonogh's Brandon Erbe could have been cast by Hollywood as a young Jim Palmer.

Chorye Spoone? Well, the player from Northeast High was a chunky kid with an unruly temper whose fastball topped out at 87 mph.

But a funny thing has happened since the two local pitchers were picked by their hometown Orioles in the 2005 draft.

Erbe, 20, pitched better at first, creeping onto lists of the best prospects. But when he reached Single-A Frederick last year, his mechanics went haywire and his ERA soared.

Spoone, 22, struggled initially with his control and demeanor. But by the end of last season, with a sinker added to his arsenal and fat chiseled from his frame, he was Frederick's best pitcher.

Now, Spoone is the guy on the prospect lists with a chance to pitch in Camden Yards later this summer. Erbe is the kid who needs to get back on track.

This would all be compelling enough if the two weren't close friends.

But the brash kid from Pasadena and the calm one from Pikesville shared an apartment in Frederick last year. Spoone has passed his love of deer hunting to Erbe. When Erbe's girlfriend is in town, the couple double-dates with Spoone and his fiancee.

"Brandon is so hot," said Spoone's younger sister, Jordan Patton.

Said Erbe's mother, Patty: "They are not just baseball friends. They're really tight."

Though Spoone is at Double-A Bowie while Erbe remains at Single-A Frederick, the pitchers call each other after every start. They realize they might have to fight for the same spot with the Orioles someday, but that has never led to unfriendly competition, Spoone said.

"It's more like if he strikes out 10 and walks one, I want to strike out 11 and walk none," he said. "But then I want him to come back and be even better the next time. You push each other."

Erbe said: "I think it's awesome to watch Chorye get everything he worked for."

Spoone first told his mother and stepfather he would play in the big leagues when he was 5. Sure, they said, and patted him on the head.

He had talent. That much was clear when he frightened fellow Pasadena Little Leaguers with his hard curveball (high school teammates christened the pitch "the dirty").

But coaches couldn't believe the kid's attitude.

If a teammate made a mistake behind him, he cursed into his glove or threw his arms out in exasperation.

"They all wrote him off," recalled his stepfather, Mitch Patton. "Said he was uncoachable."

His pitching drew scouts to Northeast, but a few things scared them.

For one, his fastball lacked major league sizzle. Then there was his weight -- 250 pounds on a 6-1 frame.

"He was fat," said his little sister, Jordan. "It looked like he had a package of hot dogs shoved in the back of his neck."

"Usually, when you go to a game, you can pick out the one you're there to see pretty quickly," said Dean Albany, who scouted both pitchers for the Orioles. "With that team, you could look at all the players and have no idea which one was Chorye Spoone."

Spoone was named to the All-Anne Arundel County team as a senior but wasn't drafted. He moved on to junior college at CCBC-Catonsville.

There, you didn't play for coach Dan Blue unless you could run two miles in less than 15 minutes. It took Spoone 21 minutes when he arrived. This brought him to a reckoning.

He could waste all the scraping that his parents, Mitch, a forklift operator, and Tammy, a bartender and office clerk, had done to support his dreams. Or he could haul himself out of bed for a swimming class every morning and run at least two miles every day.

"I just put in my head," he said, "that if this is what I want to do, this is what must be done."

As the pounds melted away, his pitching velocity rose.

The Orioles took notice, grabbing the local boy in the eighth round, 150 spots behind his future buddy, Erbe.

His Rookie-level debut in Bluefield did not go smoothly. He couldn't find the plate enough and couldn't stay calm when a bad bounce went against him.

After that season, he met Jennifer Kunze, a Pasadena girl who would become his fiancee. She and his agent urged him to think about what his temper might cost him.

Spoone's performance improved at Single-A Delmarva. He remained intense on the mound, pumping his fist and yelping after big outs, but he shelved the negativity.

When he reached Frederick, he discovered a new weapon. His thumb hurt one day, so he started messing with a two-seam fastball grip instead of a four-seamer. Manager Tommy Thompson's eyes grew wide as batters helplessly pounded Spoone's sinkers into the dirt.

He dominated down the stretch. This spring, ESPN's Keith Law listed him the 96th-best prospect in the minors. Baseball America ranked him eighth in the Orioles' system, two spots ahead of Erbe.

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