Seven Orioles prospects take the field later today as play begins in the Arizona Fall League. The Orioles players are on the Glendale Desert Dogs, who open against Mesa.
Each major league team sends four pitchers and three position players to the AFL. The O's pitchers are Zach Davies, Parker Bridwell, Mychal Givens and Ashur Tolliver. Also on the Glendale roster are catcher Michael Ohlman, infielder-outfielder Garabez Rosa and third baseman Jason Esposito.
In addition to the seven players, Triple-A Norfolk pitching Mike Griffin is one of the co-pitching coaches and short-season Single-A Aberdeen's Chris Poole will serve as co-athletic trainer.
An AFL roster is made up of players from five different big league organizations and each team designates one pitcher to pitch as a starter. For the Orioles, that is 21-year-old right-hander Davies, who is expected to start Glendale's season opener today.
Davies went 10-7 with a 3.35 ERA for Double-A Bowie this year. In 110 innings he walked 32 and fanned 109.
A slender right-hander with a smooth delivery, solid fastball and excellent changeup, Davies had two stints on the disabled list this season and he can add some innings in the AFL. He took a liner off his right arm in April and dealt with some shoulder tendinitis in May.
Orioles director of player development Brian Graham provided some insight on the O's prospects.
"Davies still has the ability to pitch some innings since he missed some time earlier in the the season," Graham said. "As a starter, he is going to get to face some good competition. Double-A is a really good level of competition and this is even a better level."
A 23-year-old right-hander, Bridwell went 7-10 with a 4.45 ERA in 26 starts for Single-A Frederick during the 2014 season. Over 141 2/3 innings, he walked 70 and fanned 142, which was third-most among O's minor leaguers.
"He will pitch out of the bullpen out there and I think that will be a good experience. Mike Griffin being with him every day is a huge plus as well," Graham said. "You look at Parker and some of the things he's done this year - he's pitched very well for periods of time but he's also been inconsistent. So it's about being consistent but it's also about seeing how effective he'll be out of the bullpen. I've seen a lot of guys whose stuff jumps up dramatically out of the bullpen."
Working out of the 'pen could provide a look at a possible future role for Bridwell.
"Absolutely, it's a glimpse into the future," Graham said. "Your bullpen guys are often stuff guys, not necessarily control and command guys. Bridwell's opportunity to pitch out of the bullpen is a glimpse into the future."
A pitcher who has a fastball that can touch the mid 90s, Bridwell made big gains with his changeup this year.
"A gigantic step forward. His changeup has become a plus pitch," Graham said.
A 24-year-old right-hander who just completed his second season as a pitcher after converting from shortstop, Givens pitched at Frederick and Bowie this season. He went 1-3 with a 3.53 ERA over 36 outings out of the bullpen. He showed he has good stuff, allowing just 40 hits with 55 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings, but he also walked 39 pitching from a very low three-quarters arm slot.
Givens projects as a possible future late-inning reliever, one who touched the mid 90s with his fastball in 2014.
"He's been inconsistent, but this is a guy that has only been pitching for two years so this experience will be very valuable. He's been walking too many. There is not a mechanical flaw, he just needs to trust his stuff and pitch down in the zone. If his command improves, he can get hitters out," Graham said.
Tolliver will be an intriguing guy to watch in Arizona. He was drafted by the Orioles in the fifth round in 2009, but has dealt with injuries during his career. He's now 26, but pitched well this season between the Frederick and Bowie bullpens, going 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 27 games. Over 37 1/3 innings, he walked just seven with 40 strikeouts.
Tolliver ended the season on the disabled list with a high hamstring pull. His fastball sits between 88 and 92 mph and he features a nice breaking pitch with good late movement. He projects as a possible multi-inning lefty bullpen guy.
"He is interesting," Graham said. "He throws a nice little breaking ball and his fastball has shown some velocity at times this year. Any time you have a left-hander that can throw the ball over the plate and spin the ball, he has a chance. This will be a big jump up for him to face this competition."
Ohlman is returning to the AFL. He hit .290 for the Surprise team that won the league championship last year. That followed a 2013 season when he batted .313 for Frederick to win the Carolina League batting title.
As a Double-A rookie this season, he hit .236 with two homers and 33 RBIs in 113 games for Bowie.
"This is going to be good for Ohlman. He had an inconsistent 2014, but there were times when he was real good. Now he'll get more time catching and Lance Parrish is the manager out there, a former big league catcher, so it will be good for him to see Ohlman," Graham said.
"He needs to become more consistent receiving. He's gotten much better blocking, but his throwing was inconsistent. There is definitely enough arm strength to be a big league catcher, but he's got to be able to transition the ball and become more accurate. He just needs to continue to get better.
"This entire season was a grind for him, but I'm proud of Ohlman, the way he kept battling and grinded it out this year. You have a guy that led the league in hitting and then he had some struggles, but he kept battling this season."
The 24-year-old Esposito, the O's second-round pick in 2011 out of Vanderbilt, had a very strong finish to the 2014 season. For the year, he batted .272 with nine homers and 50 RBIs for Frederick. But from July 1 on, he batted .327.
"He made good strides this year," said Graham. "I just hope he's a late bloomer and continues to get better and better. He's worked really hard offensively to put himself into position to have a good swing.
"There were some mechanical adjustments he made to get his bat into the hitting zone consistently. He just worked really hard on the timing of his swing and he's gotten better. The numbers and production show it.
"That is exactly why he is going to the fall league. He's obviously made progress and it's a good time for him to get an opportunity with this competition prior to likely going to Double-A next year."
Esposito was recently named a minor league Rawlings Gold Glove Award recipient.
Orioles outfield prospect Dariel Alvarez was originally scheduled to go to the AFL but he recently became a father and the O's decided to replace Alvarez with Rosa on the Glendale roster.
A native of the Dominican, Rosa, who turns 25 on Sunday, just completed his eighth season in the O's minors and has already been signed to a 2015 contract by the club.
Rosa batted .282 with 11 homers and 69 RBIs for Bowie. He can play multiple positions and could be a player that makes a big league roster in the future as a utility-type player.
News from Kansas City: Royals right-hander James Shields is expected to start Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night against the Orioles. Royals manager Ned Yost said yesterday Shields is "almost certain" to start that game.
During the regular season, Shields went 14-10 with a 3.21 ERA. In two 2014 starts versus the Orioles, he went 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA. If he does start that game, he will be starting back-to-back games for the Royals. He gave up four runs in five innings a week ago today in the wild card game, then allowed two runs over six innings Sunday as Kansas City completed its three-game sweep of the Angels.
Happy homecoming: An energized crowd was at Camden Yards yesterday to welcome the Orioles home from Detroit. I wrote about that and you can see that story here.
Click here for MASNsports.com video of the homecoming.
Photo courtesy of Bill Vaughan