Friday, July 10, 2009

Tillman could join rotation soon

Besides rookies Brad Bergesen and Koji Uehara, the Orioles starting rotation has been pretty bad. But the O's farm system does have some impressive pitching talent, including 21-year-old Chris Tillman, who appears to be the next youngster in line to join the rotation at some point this season:

Considered the Orioles' top pitching prospect and one of the best in all of the minors, Tillman is expected to pitch Sunday in Major League Baseball's prestigious Futures Game in St. Louis. He also was named to the Triple-A All-Star team, but the Orioles declined the invitation, not wanting to overexpose their prized 21-year-old.

That will come soon enough: Tillman is next in line for the big-league rotation and he could be promoted within a month.

"He's really excelled to this point at any level," said Orioles' vice president Andy MacPhail. "I would imagine that if he stays healthy, he'll get his chance at this level."

MacPhail is admittedly conservative with his prospects, and Tillman was supposed to spend most, if not all, of the season at Triple-A Norfolk after excelling at Double-A Bowie in 2008. But his performance with the Tides has altered the timetable.

The youngest member of Norfolk's roster, Tillman is 7-5 with a 2.50 ERA in 16 starts. He has struck out 88 batters and walked just 22 in 86 1/3 innings. In two July starts, he is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA, throwing 13 2/3 scoreless innings.

Tillman's 4.0 K/BB ratio in Triple-A is particularly impressive, not to mention the fact that he's only allowed four home runs.

If Rich Hill (7.43 ERA) and Jason Berken (6.25 ERA) continue to struggle and Uehara is out for longer than expected, the O's rotation may look significantly different in the next few weeks and months. Tillman is knocking on the door, and Brian Matusz, already in Bowie, is rapidly moving through the O's system. After dominating hitters at Single-A Frederick, Matusz is doing even better at Double-A: In 26.1 innings, he has struck out 32, walked six, and posted a 0.34 ERA (and a 4-0 record).

It's also worth noting that Matusz, 22, recently joined Tillman in Baseball America's mid-season top 25 prospects list -- Tillman was eighth and Matusz was ninth.

Other potential late-season (or 2010) call-ups from Norfolk include:

Jake Arrieta (23): 31.0 IP, 3.48 ERA, 3.50 K/BB, 0.87 HR/9
Troy Patton (23): 22.1 IP, 4.43 ERA, 1.43 K/BB, 1.21 HR/9
David Pauley (26): 82.1 IP, 3.94 ERA, 2.68 K/BB, 0.87 HR/9
Chris Waters (28): 72.2 IP, 4.71 ERA, 1.29 K/BB, 0.74 HR/9
Jim Miller (27): 35.2 IP, 2.02 ERA, 2.17 K/BB, 0.25 HR/9

Arrieta and Patton were both recently promoted to Norfolk, so that's why their inning totals are small; they were both dominant in Bowie.

Also, it's not likely that Waters will get a chance, but it's conceivable. And in a brief, 7.2-inning session with the Orioles last season, Miller pitched decently, giving up one earned run. If the O's trade some relievers, he could end up in the bullpen.

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