By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Zach Britton, Starting Pitcher, Baltimore Orioles
2011 season: 11-11, 154.1 IP, 4.61 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 97 K, 62 BB
For the past decade, the book on the Orioles has been about the same: They aren’t great now, but give them two or three years to develop their prospects and see what happens. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out that well, but Britton is a youngster who actually has a good chance of reaching his full potential. The left-hander started off last year in spectacular fashion, going 5-3 with a 2.93 ERA through the season’s first two months, but his numbers fell off significantly after that. The biggest culprit was his miserable July, when he surrendered 20 runs (16 earned) in just six innings.
Britton’s sinker was his money pitch in the minors, and it continued to be his go-to in the Majors, when he threw it over 70 percent of the time. Not surprisingly, it’s easily his best pitch – the combination of mid-90s speed and tremendous movement can be devastating for hitters. The problem was that Britton really didn’t have much else, which was likely the reason that the league seemed to catch up to him in the second half. His slider can be a strong pitch at times, but it’s inconsistent, and like many young pitchers, he also has a changeup that is still a work in progress.
At 24 years old, Britton has time to develop those pitches, but it needs to be sooner rather than later. Scott Kazmir can tell him a story about the dangers of aging with a limited arsenal. Luckily, Britton has the luxury of being able to throw his sinker so often that the other pitches don’t need to be perfect. They don’t need to be swing-and-miss pitches; he just needs to command them well enough to keep hitters honest. Of course, if they did develop into out pitches – as they often were against minor leaguers – Britton could become a legitimate ace in the mold of Brandon Webb.
As it is, he’s still a pitcher who could potentially throw 200 innings a year and put up a sub-4.00 ERA in the American League East, which would easily make him the best pitcher in Baltimore’s rotation. The walks will need to come down a bit, but that’s nothing unusual for a pitcher that has so little big league experience. With the Orioles controlling Britton for five more years, they have to be excited about what they can get from the young hurler. Now they just need to surround him with other talent around the diamond.
Next up on March 7: Tampa Bay Rays