Zach Britton Starts on Sunday

Apparently I was premature to write off Brian Matusz’s absence as a good thing. Instead of bumping Jake Arrieta to Sunday, the Orioles have decided to call up Zachary Britton. It’s easy to think about the sins of Orioles’ pitching prospects past and find visions of Daniel Cabrera, Hayden Penn, and Adam Loewen, but to overlook Britton because of them is a mistake.

The Orioles selected Britton in the third round of the 2006 draft out of Weatherford High School in Texas. Although he’ll only make his big league debut on Sunday, it might be safe to label Britton was the best player taken by the Orioles in that draft. It’s not like Billy Rowell (first round pick), Pedro Beato (supplemental), or Ryan Adams (second) is giving him much completion. The only other notable players taken by the Orioles are Emeel Salem (later drafted by the Rays) and Pat Egan, who was a Rule 5 pick this winter, but eventually returned from Milwaukee.

As for Britton, he has developed about as well as you can ask a high school pitcher to develop in four and a half years. Kevin Goldstein pegged him as the Orioles’ second best prospect (behind recent first-round shortstop Manny Machado). Goldstein added that one scout described Britton as a left-handed Brandon Webb –and not the present-day cadaver version of Webb.

The comparison certainly makes sense. Britton gets groundballs by the boatload –StatCorner has him over 60 percent at most recent levels—and comes at hitters with a low-90s sinker. Britton’s changeup is also a good pitch and he has a fastball that can zip up into the mid-90s when he needs it to. Britton is not Nick Blackburn, though, as he can get whiffs and strikeouts too. And remember, all of this is coming from his left arm. If it sounds like trouble for the Rays’ lineup that’s because it probably is, but he’s going to be a nuisance to most teams in the near-future.

There is a real chance Britton is already the most talented pitcher on the Orioles’ active roster. I hope that he does not show it on Sunday.

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