Determined To 'Turn Some Heads'

Minor League Spotlight

Delmarva's Ronnie Welty Outshines Brighter Prospects

July 21, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

Ronnie Welty understands where he is in pro baseball's hierarchy.

The Single-A Delmarva right fielder is flying under the prospect radar.

"That's how I kind of feel," said Welty, who is leading the Shorebirds with a .303 average (90-for-297) and 45 RBIs and is tied for the club lead with seven homers. "Every game is an opportunity to show what I've got and to turn some heads in the future."

This status is nothing new for Welty, whom the Orioles selected in the 20th round of the 2008 draft. He was originally taken in the 37th round in 2006 by the Los Angeles Angels out of Mesquite (Ariz.) High as a "draft and follow" player.

He went to a community college instead of accepting a baseball scholarship to Kansas State, hoping the Angels would lock him up after his freshman year.

But they passed. So he re-entered the draft in 2008, and the Orioles took notice - eventually.

In 2008, he started at Rookie-level Bluefield and excelled, batting .314 and making the postseason Appalachian League All-Star team. But he wasn't named one of the Orioles' top 30 prospects in 2009 as rated by Baseball America.

This year, he was sent to Delmarva, where two of the Orioles' top hitting prospects, Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes, are playing.

But it was Welty who made the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, and Welty who won the organization's Player of the Month award for June by hitting .315 with three homers and 14 RBIs.

"He is the kid that you don't notice except that he is working so hard," Orioles director of player development David Stockstill said. "He's not as fast as Avery. He doesn't hit the ball out of sight like two or three other guys down there.

"He is the guy that gets overlooked and then you see him in games and think, 'Why didn't we notice this kid before?' And the manager says: 'This is the kid. This is one we like because he is a game player.' "

Shorebirds skipper Orlando Gomez managed Welty at Bluefield. There's nothing about the 21-year-old that Gomez doesn't like: his arm, his instincts, his attitude.

"I am very high on him. He has a lot of talent," Gomez said. "He is making tremendous improvement. Last year he batted .300; this year he's batting .300. I think this kid has the potential to be an everyday player on the major league level."

Coming out of school, Welty was a 6-foot-4 stick, weighing just 185 pounds. He's up to 205 now and expects to add more muscle, which should help his power numbers.

"If I get up to 225, 230, I could do some damage," Welty said.

Welty has 10 home runs in his first 504 professional at-bats, but the organization believes those numbers will rise with experience and increased strength.

"I have seen him hit home runs to right and to left, and I have seen him drive the ball to center," Stockstill said. "He has the frame to get a lot stronger ... and that power should show up in games as he learns to hit more."

Like many young batters, Welty tends to be over-aggressive and chase pitches out of the strike zone, Gomez said. He has been working on his pitch recognition, and it's shown in his strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Last year, Welty fanned 49 times in 207 at-bats and walked just nine times. This year, he has 76 strikeouts in 297 at-bats but has walked 33 times.

Gomez said Welty isn't satisfied with being a solid minor leaguer. He's got bigger goals. He wants to hit .300 at every level. And if he does, he'll be on everyone's big league radar.

"I always expect myself to do well. I expect myself to hit over .300 every year," Welty said. "I am pretty determined to do what it takes. When I was at .290, I was like: 'This isn't happening. I've got to get it back up.' "

Shorebirds Notes:: The club's six-game winning streak ended Sunday in a 4-2 loss to the Bowling Green Hot Rods. ... Gomez is three wins away from achieving 800 victories in a 15-season minor league managerial career. This is his third year in the Orioles' organization and first with Delmarva. ... Closer Brandon Cooney, a 2007 30th-round pick, hasn't allowed a run in his past 10 appearances. He has 15 saves this season. ... Center fielder Avery, the Orioles' second-round pick in 2008 out of Cedar Grove High in Ellenwood, Ga., has struggled this month. The 19-year-old has just seven hits in his first 57 July at-bats (.123 average). ... Second baseman Hoes, a 2008 third-round pick from St. John's High in Washington, has no extra-base hits in 33 July at-bats. He missed several games this month because of a family situation. ... With six shutout innings Saturday, left-handed pitcher Nathan Moreau has thrown 15 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Moreau, a 2008 11th-round pick, is 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 13 starts.

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