Time To Stop Carding: Let Young Guys Into O's Club

April 22, 2009|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,rick.maese@baltsun.com

Brad Bergesen probably should've been with the big league team since Day One, but he finally took the mound wearing an Orioles uniform Tuesday night. His first inning as a major leaguer consisted of a couple of groundouts followed by a 12-pitch duel with Carlos Quentin.

The White Sox left fielder finally went down whiffing on a slider, and the rookie pitcher shouted into his glove, hopped over the first base line and made his way to the dugout.

Bergesen went on to pick up the win in the Orioles' 10-3 victory, and it was no surprise he received a standing ovation when he left in the sixth inning. Bergensen is a symbol for the organization; he represents the start of the slow transition from a farm system stocked with prospects to a big league clubhouse filled with them.

Here's what the first two weeks hinted at and what Tuesday night confirmed: The changing of the guard can't come soon enough. "This is the first step in that new movement," manager Dave Trembley said.

"There's more coming," he added. "They're not here yet."

But they probably should be.

Trembley called the win, which ended a five-game losing streak, a "shot in the arm for the club," but it should also serve as a jolt of reality for the front office.

Count me among those who initially favored stashing the young prospects on the farm, letting them get some seasoning in Bowie and Norfolk before anyone fired up the coffee maker for August and September call-ups.

But the recent string of losses on the road, or more precisely, the nature of those losses, has thinking me otherwise. The Orioles' pitching has changed the biggest question of the season. Let's stop asking, why rush the prospects? Now, you've got to wonder, why not?

At this point, what do the Orioles have to lose?

Why should fans pay money to watch Adam Eaton give up 10 runs in eight innings? Can't someone else manage that and at least have growth to show for it by season's end?

Why would anyone want to tune in to see Gregg Zaun bat the weight of a runway model? Couldn't Matt Wieters just as easily do that and perhaps pick up a thing or two in the process?

And how long should we be content watching Felix Pie learn left field and work on his swing? Especially when you consider that in Norfolk, Nolan Reimold is batting .422 with three homers and 15 RBIs through 11 games.

The front office could continue giving Trembley a lousy hand to play most nights. Or team officials could start calling up young players. Like, right now.

We know which is better for fans, but the decision should be made based on what's better for the young players. The more the Orioles lose, the more it becomes clear the team and the prospects might both benefit by expediting their major league careers.

It's not as if we're talking about pimply-faced, voice-cracking kids who graduated from high school last spring. Reimold is 25 years old and Wieters turns 23 next month. Chris Tillman is only 21, but Troy Patton and Jake Arrieta are both 23 and David Hernandez turns 24 next month.

Is that too young? Well, Nick Markakis was only 22 when he came up. Chris Ray, Brian Roberts and Aubrey Huff were all 23 when they made their big league debuts.

"Everybody's different," Markakis said. "If you're ready, you're ready."

And if you're going to be good, you're probably going to be good. Prospects destined for respectable big league careers are kind of like a recent divorcee in a singles bar - age doesn't matter. Remember: Brooks Robinson was 18 when he broke in, Jim Palmer 19, Cal Ripken Jr. 20.

Regardless of Bergesen's outing Tuesday night, team president Andy MacPhail will almost surely wait until June or July before making a substantial dip into the system. The prospects, though, stand to benefit more right now in Baltimore than on the farm.

On the current roster, Markakis might be the best example of successfully growing up fast. He's certain he developed more quickly in Baltimore than he would've in the minors.

"Up here, you're around the best guys in the world. You learn from them," he said. "You come up here and you be a sponge. You soak up as much information as you can."

With the exception of Frederick pitcher Brian Matusz, I'm not sure which of the organization's top prospects belong in the minors. They'd learn more in Baltimore, and here's the kicker: On most nights, the Orioles would be a more competitive club.

These next few months, we're not looking at a whole lot of pressure-packed baseball. Prospect-packed ball, though, makes sense.

Bergesen looked great in his debut, striking out four and giving up one earned run on four hits. The next time the Orioles look to the farm, they should encourage their prospects to carpool to Baltimore. They can't get here fast enough.

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