Brian Matusz (RP, Baltimore) – Jim Johnson and Darren O’Day have firm grips on the top two spots in the O’s bullpen but Brian Matusz is making a strong case for why he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those two All-Star caliber relievers. The left-hander was tremendous out of the bullpen at the end of the 2012 season and has done nothing thus far to indicate that his performance then was a fluke. In 6 2/3 IP this season spanning seven games, Matusz has allowed only a single earned run while stranding all seven base runners he has inherited. Brian has stranded all 21 inherited runners he has had since switching to the bullpen last season.
Russ Canzler (OF/3B/1B/DH, Norfolk) – Canzler has played well the entire season to date and could have made this list last week. During spring training, Canzler unceremoniously fell out of the race for the 4th bench spot. As he entered the season, the former International League MVP appeared to be behind Conor Jackson and others – who perhaps provide more defensive value – on the Orioles depth chart. Well, with Jackson’s announced retirement, Chris Dickerson already being called up and Canzler’s scorching to start it is hard to imagine that his name is not atop the O’s list of potential reinforcements. Canzler is hitting .313/.408/.563 on the season for the Tides while receiving the majority of his at bats at designated hitter.
Caleb Joseph (1B/DH/C, Bowie) – There was a time where a young catcher duo of Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph in Baltimore did not seem farfetched. Joseph’s catching career has since been kept in a holding pattern. Never a good enough defensive catcher to truly become a backup catcher at the Major League level and without enough offense to force himself in the conversation, Caleb seemed destined to become organizational filler. The O’s decided to move him to 1B and DH this season with Bowie (where he has mainly been stationed since 2010), while using him as a third string catcher. We don’t know if Joseph’s hot start (.333/.368/.698) has anything to do with changing positions defensively but he is certainly off to a noteworthy start. While the odds are stacked firmly against him, if Joseph can turn the corner offensively then his defensive versatility might help him land a Major League look at some point in the next couple of years.
Tim Berry (SP, Frederick) – Tim Berry has resided on the fringe between being a top Orioles prospect ever since being drafted in the 50th round of the 2008 draft out of San Marcos, California. Berry was an over slot selection who the Orioles gave roughly 5th round money to in order to sign. After a strong debut with the GCL Orioles in 2010, Berry had two middling seasons in 2011 and 2012 which were largely spent with Delmarva and Frederick. The lefty’s K/9 ratio has remained solidly in the mid-7.0’s while reducing BB/9 from 6.3 to 4.7 to 2.7 in each of his first three minor league seasons both of which are positive signs. In three starts with Frederick in 2013, Berry is starting to turn some of those positive signs into positive results. In 17 IP in 2013, Berry has a 3.18 ERA, while striking out 11 batters per nine innings, walking only 1.6 batters per nine, and allowing a mere 11 hits. At 22 years old, Berry is off to a strong start that could have him Bowie bound before very long.
Matt Hobgood (RP, Delmarva) – The often derided 2009 1st round pick by the Orioles, Hobgood’s pro career has thus far been derailed by injuries. After a solid but unspectacular start to his pro career in 2009 and 2010, Hobgood threw only 37 innings during the 2011 season and missed all of 2012 after surgery. Hobgood is only 22 years old so he is far from a lost cause at this point, even though 2012 is obviously a big test for him. The Orioles placed him at Delmarva in the bullpen to rebuild his arm strength and control his innings. Hobgood has worked 11 innings over six games without allowing a run, while striking out seven batters. He has walked six batters but has only allowed five hits. He is off to a strong start and possibly on the path of getting his pro career back on track.
Ryan Flaherty (UTL IF, Baltimore) – The 2012 Rule 5 pick made the Orioles out of spring training after a strong spring to take the place of the injured Wilson Betemit. The regular season has been a stuggle for Ryan so far. Teams are feeding him a steady diet of off speed pitches that have largely rendered him ineffective at the plate thus far. Flaherty has seen about 20% less fastballs this season which have been replaced by largely by curveballs and possibly some sliders according to Fan Graphs data. This has resulted in 13 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances for Flaherty who batting just .086. His roster spot is probably not quite in danger yet as there is no obvious option to replace him at second base besides for Yamaico Navarro. Still, Flaherty is already losing a little playing time to Alexi Casilla and it would not be a surprise if that continues to be the case if he continues to struggle at the plate.
Zach Clark (SP, Norfolk) – The undrafted pitcher out of University of Maryland spent six seasons with the O’s before having a breakout 2012 campaign that finally earned him a spot on the club’s 40-man roster. Unfortunately, Clark has struggled out of the gates at Norfolk. He has a 6.27 ERA through four starts and has given up 26 hits in 18.2 innings pitched. Clark is probably not in danger of losing a rotation spot at Norfolk quite yet, even though the rotation in AAA will be quite crowded soon with the addition of Jake Arrieta and the return from the DL of Steve Johnson.
Jason Esposito (1B/3B, Frederick) – I am unsure how high Esposito’s stock ever was in the organization after a 2012 season where he struggled mightily at the plate in hitting .209/.260/.277 for the Shorebirds. Those numbers were disappointingly low for a college hitter selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. Esposito was nonetheless given a promotion to Frederick for the 2013 season but is once again struggling. He is hitting .240/.269/.340 through his first 14 games. The former Vanderbilt player is now 22 and the Orioles will be hoping he can start to show the skills that made him a coveted second round selection.
There are no players meeting the “down” criteria at Bowie or Delmarva this week.