The future success of every Major League team lies in its minor league system. With that in mind, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.
There's been a bit of change in the Orioles' scouting and player development departments. Whether it improves the organization's minor league system remains to be seen.
Gone are scouting director Tony DeMacio and farm director Doc Rogers. While Joe Jordan was brought over from the Marlins to replace DeMacio, they stayed in-house to take over for Rogers. Minor league field coordinator David Stockstill was moved over to director of minor league operations.
Baltimore also has a new manager at every affiliate, but most -- like Stockstill -- were already part of the Orioles family. That will help as the O's continue to try to build their system and get it to a point where it can provide more Major League-ready pieces.
There were some successes on that front in 2004. Daniel Cabrera finished third in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting, Erik Bedard spent most of the season in the rotation, fellow pitcher Matt Riley was up for a while as well and John Maine made his big league debut, showing that if the Orioles have an organizational strength, it's on the mound.
That's not to say there haven't been position players who have developed and helped the big league club. Outfielder Val Majewski got a cup of coffee (though he'll miss the 2005 season), and second base prospect Mike Fontenot was sent to Chicago for that Sammy Sosa fellow.
The Orioles finished in third place in 2004, their 78 wins the team's highest total since 1999. If Baltimore wants to continue in the right direction, it's going to have to get more help from down on the farm in the future.
2004 Organizational Leaders
Batting average: Val Majewski, .307
Home runs: Walter Young, 33
Runs batted in: Walter Young, 98
Stolen bases: Jarod Rine, 31
ERA: Zach Dixon, 2.53
Wins: Hayden Penn, 13
Strikeouts: John Maine, 139
Saves: Jacobo Sequea, 27
2004 Organizational Record
League (Level) Team W L PCT International (AAA) Ottawa 66 78 .458 Eastern (AA) Bowie 73 69 .514 Carolina (A) Frederick 52 87 .374 S. Atlantic (A) Delmarva 69 69 .500 NY-Penn (SS) Aberdeen 35 40 .467 Appalachian (R) Bluefield 28 39 .418 Gulf Coast (R) Orioles 33 38 .465 Total 356 420 .459
Five prospects whose names you should know:
An up-close look at the club as
we approach Opening Day
Singer: O's set to lead more charmed life
Heat is on: Matt Riley
Breakout player: Larry Bigbie
Top prospect: Hayden Penn
Orioles organization report
Orioles Spring Training preview
Orioles Spring Training quick hits
Adam Loewen, LHP
Loewen seems to have put his health issues behind him, and is on the road to being ready to start the season. He has a live fastball and plus breaking ball, and just needs mound time to refine his stuff. The command problems the former first-rounder had most likely stem from a difficulty making the adjustment to pro ball from the short high school season in Canada. With everything he's been through, he's more mature now and has a better handle on how to prepare for the season ahead. That season will begin in Frederick.
John Maine, RHP
Maine is a command and feel pitcher. When he's on, he's able to pitch ahead in the count and thus control the game. He can use his slider and changeup at any count, and when he's on is very economical as far as pitch count. As a result, Maine can go deep into games. His big league debut last year wasn't exactly the stuff legends are made of, but he'll likely get another shot soon as he opens the season in Ottawa's rotation.
Nick Markakis, OF
One of the biggest testaments to Markakis' natural hitting ability is that even when he makes mistakes, he manages to make contact. He has outstanding power potential and runs well. He showed vast improvement in his first full year in seeing the ball longer and staying back on breaking stuff, enabling him to show power in games. He's shown enough athleticism to play center, but profiles as a right fielder down the line. He'll go to Frederick to start the season.
Hayden Penn, RHP
Penn's approach on the mound will remind you of a veteran pitcher. More of a power arm, Penn can dominate with his plus slider, explosive fastball and above-average changeup. He's moved fairly quickly through the system and will head up Bowie's rotation in 2005.
Eli Whiteside, C
A few years ago, Whiteside's name would come up in any conversation about top catching prospects. Then he kind of fell off the map. He got a lot bigger and stronger, adding too much muscle, which slowed him down. During this past offseason, he worked extensively with strength and conditioning coach Jay Schreiner to improve his flexibility. As a result, he's been swinging the bat much better and his shoulder is now freed up where he once again is throwing well behind the plate. The Orioles think he's back to being the top catching prospect he was three years ago -- a good receiver with a plus arm behind the plate who has some pop at it.
Others to watch: Brian Finch, RHP; Tripper Johnson, 3B; Rommie Lewis, LHP; Val Majewski, OF; Chris Ray, RHP; Nate Spears, SS; Walter Young, 1B
Once upon a time, Tommy Arko was a highly thought-of catching prospect, taken in the third round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft. He then got lost in the system and didn't show much improvement.
Arko missed a lot of last year due to injury and probably wasn't on anyone's radar heading into 2005. But he showed up to camp in unbelievable shape and has looked incredible. To some, he again looks like a Major League prospect.
After all this time in the Orioles system, he's only 22 years old, plenty young enough to find himself and re-emerge. For the first time in years, organizational expectations of Arko are high again. He'll head to Frederick to be the Keys' starting catcher.
Arrivals and Departures
Quick hits on some key additions to -- and subtractions from -- the Orioles system.
Keith McDonald, C: The catcher, who spent nine seasons in the Cardinals system, followed by a year apiece with the Cubs and Pirates, homered in his first big league at-bat back in 2000.
Tony Saunders, LHP: Four years after breaking his arm for the second time, Saunders joined the O's in an attempt to make it back as a lefty reliever.
Dave Crouthers, RHP: Crouthers' stuff was as good as anyone's in the Orioles' system, but his head never caught up, so the O's sent him to the Cubs in the Sosa deal.
Mike Fontenot, 2B: The second baseman was the top prospect the Cubs got from the Orioles in the Sosa deal.
Darnell McDonald: The former O's first-round pick (1997) signed a minor league deal with the Indians in January.
2004 draft recap
1. Wade Townsend, RHP
Did not sign
The Orioles and the Rice product couldn't come to terms. Townsend tried to test the system by enrolling in classes but giving up his playing eligibility. The O's no longer hold his rights, and he'll re-enter the draft this June.
2. Jeffrey Fiorentino, OF
.311 AVG/ .400 OBP/ .596 SLG
Taken in the third round, Fiorentino gets the ultimate praise as a good "baseball player." He has very good hitting instincts, albeit with an unorthodox approach at times. He runs well and has handled his defensive chores in the outfield with aplomb. He looked great in camp after spending time in Aberdeen and Delmarva last year and will jump to Frederick to start the season.
3. Brad Bergesen, RHP
0-0, 7.94 ERA, 5.2 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 6 K
Bergesen had some soreness last summer and barely pitched, as the Orioles didn't want to push him. He didn't have any injury, and after an offseason of rest, has resembled the power arm the O's thought they were getting. He'll head to extended Spring Training as a high school pitcher and get an assignment from there.
4. CJ Smith, 1B
.229 AVG/ .300 OBP/ .340 SLG
Smith is a big, strong right-handed hitter with plus power potential. He projects as a first baseman, though he needs some work defensively, and has the bat to stay there. He'll bring his power bat to Delmarva to start the season.
5. Bryce Chamberlin, RHP
1-9, 6.29 ERA, 48.2 IP, 51 H, 26 BB, 54 K
Chamberlin's best pitch is his curveball. He needs to command his fastball better than he did last summer, and the Orioles like the progress he's already made in that regard. He'll join Bergesen in extended Spring Training.
Best of the rest: LHP Dave Haehnel (8) had 16 saves and a 1.69 ERA while striking out 61 in 37 IP for Aberdeen. ... RHP Kevin Hart (11) went 5-0 with a 3.77 ERA, striking out 32 in 28 2/3 IP for Aberdeen and Delmarva. ... 3B Robert Marconi (22) hit .325 with eight steals in 35 games for Aberdeen. ... LHP Ryan Schwabe (23) had a 3.93 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 66 1/3 IP.
Looking ahead: Needs for the 2005 draft
The re-emergence of Whiteside notwithstanding, the Orioles could use some catching depth in their system, so look for that to be something they target this June at some point.
They also won't shy away from middle infielders available when the make their selections. The Orioles' strength lies on the mound and in the outfield, but that doesn't mean they won't continue to add pitching depth to the systm.
"We've definitely made improvements over the last few years. I think we're underrated as far as how many good players we have in the system. We've seen a number of players reach the Major Leagues from our system in the last year and a half. I think the organization is getting much stronger." -- Stockstill
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.