If you want to pick a pitcher who could have a breakout year in the O's minor leagues this season, you could do a lot worse than selecting Rick Zagone.
The 23-year-old lefty went 5-8, 4.89 last year in 25 starts covering 131 innings between Delmarva and Frederick.
He started well, going 4-3, 1.92 through May with Delmarva. And he finished very strong, pitching to an ERA of 2.41 over his last three Frederick starts.
In those three outings he pitched 18 2/3 overpowering innings with 26 strikeouts and no walks.
"I felt strong at the end of the year, not tired at all. My strikeouts were up and I was on my game and felt confident. I didn't want the season to end there. I just felt more like myself at the end of the year and was excited."
Zagone was drafted in round six in 2008 out of Missouri, then went 7-1, 2.89 that year for Aberdeen.
In 2009, the 6'4" southpaw walked 49 and was 5th in the O's minors with 118 strikeouts behind Jake Arrieta, Cole McCurry, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz.
"I feel it was a great first full year for me. I started strong, had a lull in the middle but the last month or so at Frederick I had some of my strongest games."
Zagone's year would have looked a lot better had he not had a miserable four-start stretch with the Shorebirds in June. Over 12 innings he allowed 22 earned runs.
"I had a little bit of a dead arm (period). When I got to Frederick, I asked (catcher) Caleb Joseph what he thought and he said 'you are not getting on top of the baseball and not getting the normal run on it.' My pitches were a little flat for a short time.
"It was tough (mentally) because I wasn't sure what I was doing wrong. I was trying different things and probably over analyzed it a bit."
That stretch left his ERA for the season at 4.89. Take away those outings and he pitched to a 3.72 ERA between two teams, which would have been 11th best among O's farmhands in 2009.
Zagone, who throws a fastball, slider and changeup, usually pitches between 88 and 90 with his velocity and tops out at 92 miles per hour.
He held left-handed batters to a .165 average and no homers last season. He gave up just 15 hits in 91 at bats vs. lefty hitters with 29 strikeouts.
It's been a busy winter for Zagone. He married Stephanie in October, moved to Columbia in Howard County as well and took part in workouts in January at Camden Yards.
Recently he's been throwing at Georgetown Prep with fellow O's Kenny Moreland and Patrick Kantakevich. In early March he'll report to spring training to start the season.
He seems likely to begin in Frederick's rotation, but could advance to Double-A Bowie before the year is out.
O's minor league strikeout leaders, 2009:
148 - Jake Arrieta
145 - Cole McCurry
131 - Zach Britton
121 - Brian Matusz
118 - Rick Zagone