Prospect Report: Can Zach Britton Thrive In The AL East?

The Orioles have progressed left-handed pitcher Zach Britton slowly since he was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft out of high school.  In fact, they hadn’t advanced him more then one level in a year, giving him a slow climb through the system.  That came to an end in 2010, however, having pitched in Double & Triple-A and posting the following numbers:

10 Wins
153.1 Innings
2.70 ERA
1.24 WHIP
124 Strikeouts (7.3 K/9)
51 Walks (3.0 BB/9)
.300 BABIP

His strength lays in his ability to generate groundballs.  Baseball America, who recently ranked him as the Orioles second best prospect for 2011, said the following:

“Britton has the best sinker in the minor leagues and generated a 2.8 groundout/airout ratio last season. Showing more than just good action, his fastball sits in the low 90s and peaks at 94 mph. His slider is also a plus pitch, though at times throws it too hard while trying to get more break out of it. His changeup has developed to the point where he’s willing to throw it behind in the count and use it to get quick outs rather than strikeouts.”

In 2010 he posted a HR/9 of 0.4, which certainly helps backup the idea of generating a significant number of groundballs.  Over his minor league career, his mark is 0.45, including allowing just three home runs in 66.1 innings at Triple-A in 2010.  It’s certainly an asset that will help him excel in the Major Leagues.

The strikeout number is not overly impressive, though he has been better at all three levels he’s pitched at from 2009.  His career minor league mark is at 7.3, but he had set a career high of 8.4 at High-A in 2009.  His splits this past season were promising considering he improved as he moved up:

  • Double-A (87.0 innings) – 7.0
  • Triple-A (66.1 innings) – 7.6

With a fastball in the mid-90s, there certainly is reason to believe that he could improve this mark as he matures.  At 23-years old, he certainly has a lot of growth ahead of him.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him post a strikeout rate of around 7.0 in the Majors upon making his debut.

His control has been extremely consistent (3.3 for his career), and his 3.1 mark at Triple-A this season is promising.  Is it an elite number?  No, it’s not, but it is certainly more then usable.

He has the borderline triumvirate of peripherals that fantasy owner’s lust for:

  • He generates a lot of groundballs
  • He strikes out some batters with the stuff to improve
  • He has a solid walk rate

There’s a ton to like, though he would have to call the American League East home.  Having to pitch against the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays consistently hurts his stock, despite all of the potential.

It’s not like we haven’t seen pitchers come to excel in the AL East, as you don’t have to look any further then Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz for that.  However, to think Britton is going to step in and match the type of production of either of them would be a mistake, to say the least.

It’s possible that Britton develops into a pitcher like that, in time, but not yet.  He will likely make his Major League debut this season but don’t look for him to make a fantasy impact.  Those in long-term keeper leagues should certainly stash him, otherwise he’s probably not worth investing in.

What are your thoughts of Britton?  Could he be fantasy viable in 2011?  Why or why not?

Make sure to check out our other Prospect Reports as we wrap up 2010 and head towards 2011:

One comment

  1. Jamie Jefferson says:

    I’d expect a decent strikeout rate in his first ML season but see him settling in at a 6.0-6.5 rate in the majors.

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