When I was in Salisbury recently to watch Dylan Bundy pitch, I had a chance to talk with Shorebirds pitching coach Troy Mattes. He is in his third season with that club and, at just 36, is the young coach that has been entrusted to work with and help develop some of the Orioles' most promising young pitchers.
The Single-A Delmarva staff is off to a very good start with an ERA of 3.27 that ranks second out of 14 teams in the South Atlantic League.
Bundy, with his 17 shutout innings of one-hit ball, is the clear headliner of that Shorebirds staff, but he has pitched just 8 percent of their innings. Yet they are having a lot of success early this season.
Mattes is very excited about the collection of talent on this year's Delmarva staff.
"This is the best group of arms I've ever been around here," Mattes said. "You have two guys on this team that have hit triple digits in the past and a couple of others that have hit 96 or 98 (mph). There are some great arms here plus good athletes and hard-working kids. It's just a fun group. The personalities are so different, but everyone gets along great. It's a good unit."
Mattes provided some thoughts on a few of his pitchers. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA over four starts and has had two outings already cut short by rain. The 19-year-old was signed to a $175,000 bonus by the Orioles out of Venezuela in January 2010. Last year, he went 1-1 with an ERA of 1.81 in the Gulf Coast League and, after the year, was rated as that league's 18th best prospect by Baseball America.
"For a kid that just turned 19, he has a great feel for his body and has three potential average to, you never know, possibly above-average major league pitches. He's still 19, so you don't know what you will have with him for a few more years. But what this kid brings to the plate at 19, it's fun to see."
What does Rodriguez need to work on to improve this year?
"A lot of it is just getting used to the every day routine of pro ball," Mattes said. "He got a little bit of a feel for it in the GCL but there is a huge difference between the Gulf Coast League and 142 games of night baseball. You've got 71 games on the road, a lot of our trips are eight hours and above. It's an eye-opener for guys that have not spent a lot of time traveling.
"For Eduardo, it's just maturing and getting a feel for pitching. He's had nothing but success in his career. He's going to have to take his lumps a bit. This level is great for that. When you get through your first A-ball season you have success and failure. You deal with road trips and roommates. It's a cool experience."
Another player pretty young for that league is right-hander Zach Davies, who was in high school this time last year. The Orioles drafted him from Mesquite (Ariz.) High School in round 26 last June and he got an overslot bonus of $575,000 to give up his Arizona State college commitment and sign with the Orioles.
So far, Davies is 0-1 with an ERA of 4.08 over six relief appearances with seven walks and 14 strikeouts over 17 2/3 innings.
"He's got an unbelievable feel for his body and for pitching for a kid fresh out of high school," Mattes said of Davies. "He already shows you an average to above-average changeup and he's got a real feel for using it against left- and right-handed hitters. He commands the fastball and he's got a pretty good curveball.
"We've briefly taken it away from him right now, but he's actually got a pretty good slider to go with that. He's very well advanced for someone just out of high school."
Why has the club taken away the slider from Davies' repertoire?
"It's simply to focus on the other three pitches," Mattes said. "Would you rather have four mediocre pitches as a young kid coming up, or have three very well-developed pitches? We spent some time talking with him about it and asking his opinion and giving our opinion during spring training.
"When he gets to other levels, if he needs to, we can bring back that slider. Right now, we see too many guys in pro ball that want to throw five, six or seven pitches rather than really developing three pitches."
Parker Bridwell is also on that Delmarva staff and is ranked by Baseball America as the Orioles' fourth-best prospect. The 20-year-old right-hander was drafted in round nine in 2010 out of a Texas high school.
He took the loss at Savannah last night, giving up seven hits and three runs over 5 2/3 innings. After pitching to an ERA of 5.26 between short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Delmarva last year, he is now 2-1 with a 4.21 ERA for the Shorebirds.
"He's a good athlete with good stuff," Mattes said. "We are starting to figure some stuff out in the last week or two, as far as delivery-wise, to help him stay through his pitches better. He is one of those guys, when the lights are on, the game never really gets fast for him.
"You can see that high school quarterback in him, where most guys you can sometimes see the pressure and stress on their face. He's kind of 'Cool Hand Luke,' where he handles that pressure well and he has some really good stuff."
What is next for Bridwell in his development and progression?
"Just execution of pitches," Mattes said. "A little more consistency as far as his delivery. There is a little mechanical flaw we have been working through. Kind of cleaning up his lower half a bit. He has a little bit of a soft front leg as he lands. It's like a hitter that finds himself out front too early.
"He has three potential average to above average pitches and there is some arm strength there and great athleticism to what he does."
The Delmarva staff has several pitchers with good early-season stats as Devin Jones has an ERA of 1.80 and Trent Howard has an ERA of 1.86, while Jake Cowan has an ERA of 1.93 and so does Matt Taylor. Tyler Wilson is at 2.45 and Tim Berry is at 3.47.
"You've got some phenomenal arms and athletes here. The biggest thing for these guys is they are competing on a nightly basis and they are keeping the team in the game," Mattes said.