O's prospect Britton fired up to make a run at rotation spot

If some baseball prospects fly under the radar, Orioles pitching prospect Zach Britton isn't one of them.

Maybe fans didn't know much about Britton when he was drafted in the third round out of a Texas high school in 2006, pitching at Rookie League Bluefield that summer.

But it seems everyone now knows his name.

Britton was named Carolina League pitcher of the year in 2009 and he pitched for Team USA in the Futures Game last July. He ended the 2010 season thriving at Triple-A and was named the O's minor league pitcher of the year.

Now, he is just weeks away from his first big league spring training. He could even break north in the club's opening day rotation in April.

"For me, it's all going to be determined on how well I throw in spring training," Britton said. "It all depends on how I throw. I want to make the decision tough on them, but it is out of your hands. There are some things you can't control, like the decision they make on where I am going."

While some pitchers approach spring as just a time to get their work in and build up innings, Britton is both trying to impress the O's coaching staff and trying to win a big league job.

"I've never really had the best spring trainings, because I am always working on something. I think this year is a little bit different. I will still try to better myself, but, at the same time, we are there competing for a job whether it is six or seven guys going for the rotation. It's a competition and you can't forget that," he said. "I'm going out to be pitch to the best of my ability and I don't want to let off the gas for one second in spring training. I know it's early and you don't want to hurt yourself, but I want to pitch the best I can."

The 23-year-old Britton recently started his throwing program, working off flat ground and throwing bullpen sessions at Weatherford (Texas) Junior College near his home.

Britton began last season with Bowie, going 7-3 with a 2.48 ERA over 14 starts. He moved to Triple-A at the beginning of July and went 3-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 12 Norfolk starts.

He feels ready for the majors despite working just 66 1/3 innings at Triple-A.

"I think it really depends on the player. Once you get to the point where you have success at Triple-A, you know that you can play in the big leagues. My opinion is you'll learn more in the big leagues over Triple-A because that is where the best players are," he said. "That's not saying you still can't learn if you go back to Triple-A. There is always stuff you pick up along the way. But I'll learn anywhere they put me. I've learned at every level I've been."

This week, MLB.com named Britton baseball's 19th best prospect and third best left-handed pitching prospect behind only Aroldis Chapman (Reds) and Mike Montgomery (Royals).

The day where he finally puts on an O's uniform and takes the mound is coming. The only question is: Will he stick with that jersey or turn it in, perhaps only for a short time, for a Norfolk Tides jersey.

Coming later: Britton talks about experimenting with a curveball and also his winter workouts at the Boras academy training facility.

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