Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes were drafted out of high school by the Orioles last year. They both then went on to play solid ball in the Gulf Coast League last summer.
This season, the O's brass decided to see how the pair would handle the full-season with the Delmarva Shorebirds in low Class-A ball.
At just 19, the pair played to rave reviews in the South Atlantic League. Neither hit .300, nor did the O's expect them to. They just made solid, steady progress which should lead to them advancing to Frederick as 20-year-olds in 2010.
Avery, the O's second-round pick in 2008 out of Cedar Grove (Ga.) High, is a blazing fast center fielder, who, after batting .185 in April, hit .340 in May.
In 129 games with the Shorebirds, Avery finished batting .262-2-36. He had 15 doubles, eight triples, scored 55 runs and stole 30 of 40 bases. He fanned 111 times with 27 walks.
Batting mostly leadoff and sometimes 8th, the lefty batter hit .308 vs. left handed pitching and .247 vs. right handers.
He had one monster game on June 10th vs. Lake County, going 5 for 5 with two doubles, a homer and 4 runs scored.
Denny Walling is one of the O's minor league hitting instructors who spent a lot of time with Delmarva this season. Here are some of his thoughts on Avery:
"He's loaded with talent and has plenty of tools. We are trying to groom him to one day be a leadoff man in the Majors. He can fly and plays a solid center field.
"He's learning all kinds of things about the mental part of the game, how to adjust with two strikes, how to hit to all fields. He's just hungry for information and is a coachable kid.
"I feel really good about his season. One of the best stats he had is being a lefty hitter and hitting over .300 vs. left-handed pitching. The kid really hangs in there and uses his hands. He has a short swing and is strong.
"He's going to be able to control the game (as a leadoff hitter). Taking his walks, being able to steal bases, going first to third, all these things work in his favor. He's a natural athlete.
"His speed doesn't play yet as well as it will in the future. He's still learning to steal bases, still learning two-base progression (going from first to third on a single). Right now it's quickness and raw ability. When he learns more about reading pitchers and plays more baseball at higher levels, he's going to become much better.
"He is still learning the mental game. First pitch plan. Two strike plan. Two strike adjustments. How to hit in certain counts. How to leadoff an inning when the game is tied in the 8th or 9th. He is hungry to learn all this.
"If things go well and according to plan, I expect him to play in the big leagues."
L.J. Hoes, a second baseman, played in 119 games this year and hit .260-2-47 with 19 doubles and 41 runs. He stole 20 of 25 bases. The right-handed hitter struck out 80 times with 23 walks. He batted .299 vs. lefty pitchers and .243 vs. right handers.
Hoes was a third-round pick out of St. John's in Washington in 2008. Batting mostly 6th and 7th in the order, the right-handed hitter batted .238 before the All-Star game and .284 after the contest.
Here are Denny Walling's comments on Hoes.
"He's a cerebral player, very smart player. He can read pitches, tendencies from pitchers. He's got a real solid work ethic and an even keel approach.
"We made some big changes with his stance and his hand position. We got him more upright so he could get through the inside pitch which he was inside-outing the first two months of the season. He's going to be a solid hitter.
"If you have a kid that is willing to make adjustments and take them into the games, you can't ask for more than that. He's a totally different hitter now. He was open to every conversation we had. He's a real gamer.
"At the dish, he will be a gap to gap doubles-type guy. There is power potential, but that is the last thing to come around for these kids.
"His strikeout to walks ratio will have to get better. He chased some high fastballs when he had two strikes. That raised his level of strikeouts."
O's Director of Player Development David Stockstill said he was pleased with how both players did on defense this year. He said Avery made several "all-star caliber" catches in center, but he needs to improve his arm strength. He said Avery would likely play left and center next year but they consider him a center fielder.
Stockstill also expects both players to begin next year at Frederick.
"I think they've done everything we've asked them to do and more. At this point I can't see any reason for the discussion not to be geared in that direction."