Intriguing Prospect Oliver Drake Grabbing O's Attention

Posted on June 28, 2011

By Jim Henneman

Buck Showalter took advantage of Monday's night off to get a glimpse of the Orioles' most intriguing work in progress, and had to be impressed with what he saw. Oliver Drake, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who has operated under the radar since signing as a 43rd round draft choice three years ago, probably punched his ticket to either Bowie or Norfolk with a sparkling three-hit shutout as Frederick beat Wilmington, 2-0.

After a slow start at Double-A Bowie, Drake is near the top of the leader board in the Single-A Carolina League with a 6-3 record and 2.48 ERA during 80 innings. An age-eligible (older than 21) draftee in 2008, Drake opted to sign with the Orioles after two years at the Naval Academy. The year before, another righty, Mitch Harris, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, but was unable to pursue a baseball career until completing his service obligations.

Academy rules stipulate that a Midshipman can leave without obligation anytime before the start of the third year. When the Orioles drafted him after his second year, Drake, after weighing his options, decided to accept their offer. He had a 15-15 record with Aberdeen and Delmarva before this year and was ticketed for early delivery to Bowie, where he struggled during his first two starts.

Envisioned as a possible closer down the road, Drake is being used as a starter at Frederick to accumulate innings and is now drawing a lot of attention. He made a quick trip to Norfolk last week, working two emergency shutout innings and impressing manager Gary Allenson, before returning to Frederick, at least temporarily. His outing Monday night featured 16 ground-ball outs, while his fastball was clocked consistently between 91 and 95 miles per hour.

The Keys won the first half Northern Division championship and have the Carolina League's best record, 44-30, and Drake has emerged as the team's top starter, but it seems likely he'll end up in Bowie or Norfolk, or both places, before the end of this season.

* * *

There is some indication that the National League is making headway against the American League as far as interleague play is concerned. After taking consistent beatings during recent years, things changed somewhat in the first go-around this year. The American League still held an 88-80 advantage, but a closer look reveals an interesting development.

The NL Central was the only division with a losing record, with those six teams a combined 13 games under .500 (25-38). Both the NL East (28-26) and West (27-24) had winning records. Not surprisingly, the AL East teams fared the best (35-25), with all five teams .500 or better. Tampa Bay, which used its superiority of NL teams to vault to a division championship three years ago, had the best record, at 9-3.

Don't know about you, but I found it rather amusing that Adam Dunn went on a rant about AL teams not being able to use the designated hitter in games in National League parks, thereby ruling him out of at least nine games as a starter. Given his numbers thus far, a sub-.200 batting average to go with limited run production, it would seem the White Sox might benefit from him being out of the lineup.

Speaking of which, one of the more interesting suggestions in the never-ending DH debate is that the leagues should reverse the rules -- play games in AL parks without the designated hitter and use the DH when NL teams are at home. It would give fans the opportunity, nine times a year, to watch how the other side lives.

And while still on the subject, schedule makers need to find a way to keep AL teams from playing nine-straight inter-league games in a row, as Cleveland had to do this year. If the DH also happens to be a team's best hitter, which is probably the exception more than the rule, it isn't a good idea to have him sit that many consecutive games.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.

Posted June 28, 2011

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