Plenty of reasons to watch the minors

While the Orioles are closing in on another opening day, so are their four full-season farm teams: the Norfolk Tides, the Bowie Baysox, the Frederick Keys and the Delmarva Shorebirds.

With the parent club rebuilding around youth and pitching, there will be plenty of reasons to follow the O's minor leaguers this year.

Bowie - Early on, this may be the most interesting team to track. The rotation could feature top pitching prospect Zach Britton along with Steve Johnson, Chorye Spoone and maybe Brandon Erbe if he is not with Triple-A.

We will get to see several position player prospects in their first go around in Double-A and find out if players like catcher Caleb Joseph, shortstop Pedro Florimon and corner infielder Brandon Waring can follow up on their excellent 2009 seasons at Frederick.

After leading the Carolina League in hitting, how will Robbie Widlansky do at the next level? How will Billy Rowell do here, if he winds up at Bowie as expected.

Norfolk - The Tides rotation is expected to feature Jake Arrieta and Troy Patton. Jason Berken and/or David Hernandez could wind up here as well as Luis Lebron, Dennis Sarfate and perhaps Chad Thall and Wilfrido Perez.

The Orioles top two position prospects will be followed closely with Josh Bell at third and Brandon Snyder at first.

Frederick - The Keys rotation could feature Rick Zagone, Kenny Moreland, Cole McCurry and Oliver Drake. Last year's ninth-round pick, Ryan Berry could wind up here as well.

Both 2B L.J. Hoes and CF Xavier Avery, after solid seasons at the age of 19 at Delmarva, should move up to challenge Carolina League pitchers. They will be young for the league and how will they hold up?

Delmarva - The battle for spots on this pitching staff seems to be intense. More than 20 pitchers could be in the hunt to make this staff, some from last year's short-season clubs and some from the 2009 draft.

Top draft choice Matt Hobgood could make his full-season debut with the Birds. Will Mychal Givens have a good enough camp to play here or stay at extended spring come opening day?

Former Oriole Ryan Minor begins his managerial career this year with the Shorebirds.

Meanwhile, the O's have been fortunate and reports indicate they have not had many injuries at minor league camp.

However, 1B Tyler Townsend, last June's third-round pick, will likely miss the start of the season due a shoulder strain. And SS Greg Miclat, who was with Delmarva in 2009, has returned to game action after earlier missing time with a hamstring injury.

Townsend was competing for the starting 1B job at Delmarva. Candidates for that job include Mike Flacco, Jacob Julius, Tyler Stampone and David Anderson. The club could also use multi-position players in that role.

RHP Luis Noel, who could not leave the Dominican at all last year, due to visa issues, did arrive at O's camp in Sarasota last Sunday and passed his physical.

He is just now beginning his spring training throwing program and should be ready to go a full-season club by mid to late April.

The 22-year-old Noel was expected to pitch in Frederick's rotation in 2009, but then could not leave his homeland. So he pitched in the Dominican Summer League and went 4-5, 2.99 in 90 innings. He was 10-8, 3.96 in 27 starts for Delmarva in 2008.

When I asked David Stockstill to single out a few hitters having good spring camps he mentioned Danny and Paco Figueroa, Brandon Waring, Luis Bernardo, Michael Ohlman, L.J. Hoes, Xavier Avery and Kyle Hudson.

The minor league clubs will break camp and and head north on April 3rd and 4th.

By the way, the projections on what team the players will be with are my own. The club has not yet announced any minor league assignments for this season.

What players are you looking forward to tracking in the minors this year and why?

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