When you allow just one earned run and get the win in your big league debut, it's good any way you look at it. The Orioles plan to give rookie starter Brad Bergesen an extended look in the rotation. Can he keep it up?
Brad Bergesen, SP, Orioles: The 23-year-old righty was somewhat overlooked this spring because he doesn't have the long-term upside of some of the other starting prospects in the O's system, but he showed big league polish in his debut. A 14th-round pick in the 2003 draft, Bergesen doesn't have plus raw stuff, but he plays it up a bit due to his pitchability, ability to throw strikes and locate within the strike zone.
He's mainly a two-pitch hurler, with heavy use of an 89-91 mph sinker. He can dial it up a bit higher with a four-seamer but has better results sticking with the two-seamer's movement, which is major league quality and allows him to bury the ball in the lower half. His out pitch is a changeup that acts more like a splitter, a solid, average pitch on which he maintains his arm speed and that he can control and throw at any point in the count. Improvement of his slider was one of the things that allowed him to take the next step up, as he's getting more downward movement from it now, and it flashes as an average pitch, although it still lacks consistency. He also has a "show me" curve he uses infrequently.
Bergesen is not a strikeout pitcher, as he pitches to contact and is not afraid to do so. He's hittable when he's up in the zone, but he should be able to command well enough to get big league hitters out with enough consistency to stick as a starter. The two things he's going to have to watch at this level are making sure he doesn't nibble and stays aggressive (which he did a good job of in his first outing), and avoiding getting a bit too quick in his delivery, because he loses some of his sink when he does. To his credit, with the adrenaline no doubt flowing in his debut, he was able to slow the game down and not rush.
Any rookie pitcher in the American League East is going to face some challenges with the offenses in that division, but Bergesen can be a quality back-of-the-rotation starter well worth a look in deep AL-only leagues.
Chris Tillman, SP, Orioles: Speaking of those Baltimore starting prospects with bigger long-term upside, Tillman is one of them and the closest to reaching the big leagues. Part of the bounty the Orioles obtained in the Erik Bedard deal, he has done nothing to disappoint in his new organization, striking out 156 batters in 136 innings with a 3.18 ERA and a .227 batting average against for the O's Double-A affiliate in Bowie last season, despite being the youngest pitcher at that level of the minors. The right-hander, who was a second-round pick in the 2006 draft out of a California high school, is pitching in Triple-A this season and just turned 21 last week.
Like Bergesen, Tillman is basically a two-pitch pitcher, but both of his pitches are plus offerings. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph and touches 95 on occasion, but his 6-foot-5 frame allows him to generate a lot of leverage and a good downplane angle, giving it very good life. His curveball is an 11-to-5 hammer with good depth and tight rotation. His changeup is still in development, as he struggles to throw it for strikes.
The biggest thing for Tillman is continuing to sharpen his command, as he has a tendency to leave balls up in the zone. It hasn't been a problem against minor league hitters because of the quality of his stuff, but it will be an issue against big league hitters. However, his delivery is clean and repeatable, which allows him greater command potential for the future. He's also aggressive and trusting his stuff more, attacking hitters with his fastball to set up the curve.
Adam Eaton might be the next starter on the Orioles' hit list if he doesn't start improving pronto, so we're likely to see Tillman's debut at some point this season, although Baltimore wants to be careful not to rush its prized starters. Tillman has walked six batters in his first eight innings at Triple-A (while striking out nine), but that will improve as he settles in. The Orioles likely will look at veterans like Chris Waters and David Pauley first for any openings, but Tillman isn't far away and is a future No. 2 starter.
Angel Salome, C, Brewers: Kudos to my old friend Tony Blengino for signing Salome in the fifth round in 2004, seeing the offensive potential of a 5-foot-7, 200-pound catcher. For fantasy purposes, all you need to know is that Salome can hit, and he will do so at the big league level. The question is whether his defense will allow him to get regular playing time there, because he can't play anywhere else.
He was suspended for 50 games in 2007 for performance-enhancing drugs and has had ankle surgery in the past, but he was a well below-average runner to begin with anyway. Neither of those things should be issues going forward.
Defensively, the only good thing about Salome's game right now is plus raw arm strength. However, his arm is not accurate and has only marginally improved over the past two years. The rest of his defensive game, aside from handling pitches in the dirt (which his squat frame no doubt helps), is still very much a work in progress. The hope is that it eventually will be good enough, given his proficiency with the bat, that he is an acceptable overall package, like the Rangers are hoping for with Max Ramirez. The Brewers also have another quality catching prospect, Jonathan LuCroy, a level behind Salome in Double-A. LuCroy might affect Salome's potential playing time in the future.
One of the reasons I am bringing up Salome right now is Jason Kendall's very poor start. Kendall is in the lineup strictly for his defense at this juncture of his career, so there's at least a possibility that a hot-hitting Salome could see some big league time in 2009 if the Brewers want to inject a bit more offense into the order. Salome is recovering from a spring back strain and has started slow at Triple-A, but he should be back up to speed soon enough, and his offensive ability at a relatively weak position bears close watching if his glove doesn't knock him out of the lineup.
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