After working with pitching coach Kennie Steenstra at Delmarva in 2008, Frederick in 2009 and Bowie last season, when lefty pitching prospect Zach Britton made it to Triple-A Norfolk last summer he worked with Tides’ pitching coach Mike Griffin.
He was certainly in good hands with both gentlemen.
Griffin has worked with most of the best young arms on the O’s farm over the last three seasons and said Britton clearly stacks up well with all of them.
“I think so. He is knocking on the door right now. This is a good young, special talent. There is plenty to talk about with his stuff. We worked on the development of his change-up this year, which made most unbelievable progress.
“He got to a point in Norfolk, where he was comfortable throwing the change-up behind in the count and next thing I know he is throwing 3-1 change-ups and getting easy, quick outs. He has really gained a lot of confidence and it’s a real good pitch for him.
“Another bright spot with Zach is, he really has a good head on his shoulders. The aptitude to really adapt to certain situations on the mound is very impressive,” Griffin said.
Britton was the O’s minor league pitcher of the year after going 10-7, 2.70 between Bowie and Norfolk.
In a nine-start stretch from late May to mid July at Double and Triple-A, he went 4-1, 1.07, allowing just seven earned runs over 58 2/3 innings.
The scouts say he has one of the best sinking fastballs in all of the minors and Griffin got an up close look at the pitch which he says lives up to the hype.
“Every bit of it. He gets a ton of ground balls. His sinker is as good as what people are saying. Hitters can’t square it up and they beat it into the ground.
“I watched games in Norfolk where he’ll go six or seven innings allowing around six hits and two or three were chopped in front of the plate that we couldn’t get to and the others found a hold in the infield.”
Despite all the praise for a pitcher that gave up 2 ER or less in 21 of 26 starts in 2010, there are still some areas for Britton to work on and smooth out.
“The fastball command needs to be tightened up just a little bit better to pitch at the Major League level. There are some times when he goes deep into counts. The more pitches a hitter sees in the Majors, the better the chance he can square up that pitch.
“He has a learned a lot there, along the lines of how Jake Arrieta learned to improve his fastball command. I talked to Britton about the situation Jake was in with his fastball.”
The 2010 season was a year where Britton cemented his status as one of the O’s top prospects and set up himself for a Major League debut sometime in 2011.
Griffin said the improvement he made with his change-up was the biggest development for Britton during last season.
“Yes, it was. He developed his other two pitches too, but emphasis was put on the third (the change). We have a plan with each pitcher every day. Zach knows on his side day, between starts, the emphasis was on his change-up, but he still worked on slider location and trying to get hitters to swing over the top of it and fastball command,” Griffin added.
For more Britton, here is what he said in mid September at Camden Yards when he received his O’s minor league pitcher of the year honor.