Orioles Order Pie to Go, Leave Two Pitchers Behind
In what may be a precursor to an eventual trade for San Diego Padres ace RHP Jake Peavy, the Cubs have traded OF Felix Pie to the Baltimore Orioles for LHP Garrett Olson and minor league RHP Hank Williamson. Olson was thought to be one of the pitchers Padres GM Kevin Towers wanted back in a Peavy deal.
The 25-year old Olson was a Supplemental 1st round pick (48th overall) of the Orioles in the 2005 Rule 4 Draft out of Cal Poly (he was selected with the compensation pick Baltimore got for failing to sign their 2004 #1 draft pick, RHP Wade Townsend), and was rushed to the big leagues by the Orioles after being named their Minor League Player of the Year in 2006, logging MLB time in both 2007 and 2008. A scouting report from his senior year in college showed him having three quality pitches, including a fastball that sits at 88-90 MPH but has touched 93, a 12-6 "hammer" curve (his "out" pitch), and a decent change-up. He has performed very well at AAA over the past two seasons (he was a AAA IL All-Star at Norfolk in 2007), although he has been hit hard to the tune of a 6.87 ERA and 1.82 WHIP with 21 HR allowed in 165+ IP in 33 starts so far at the big league level. Olson was a college teammate of Cubs prospects RHRP Rocky Roquet and 3B-turned-RHP Josh Lansford, and he supposedly wants to be an FBI agent if his baseball career doesn't pan out.
While Olson may very well ultimately end up moving on to San Diego in a trade for Jake Peavy (or to the FBI Training Academy in Quantico), in the meantime he will at least give the Cubs some additional starting pitching depth (or "inventory," as the GMs like to call it) at AAA in 2009. Although he has used up two minor league options through the 2008 season, at this point Olson (like Jeff Samardzija) still has two options left because he has completed only three "full seasons" in pro ball, and the earliest he can complete five full seasons will be at the end of the 2010 season. If Olson remains in the big leagues each of the next two seasons, he will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time after the 2010 season.
Williamson is a 6'5 225 23-year old right-handed reliever who was drafted by the Orioles in the 14th round of the 2007 draft out of San Jacinto JC - North, after spending his freshman season redshirting at Rice. He was throwing a fastball in the low 90's in college, and he has put up some solid strikeout totals with good control (22/110 BB/K and only four HR in 90 IP) with a 1.13 WHIP working out of the pen over two minor league seasons, mostly in short-season "A" ball. He will likely be in the bullpen at either Peoria or Daytona in 2009.
The left-handed hitting Pie will turn 24 next month, but he is already out of minor league options. His fate seemed to be sealed when the Cubs signed OF Joey Gathright to fill the role Pie probably would have been given had he remained with the Cubs in 2009.
Pie has been one of the Cubs top prospects for several years now. He was signed as a 16-year old "bonus baby" out of the Dominican Republic in July 2001, and was named the Arizona League Co-MVP and the #1 prospect in the AZL by Baseball America in his first pro season (2002). He was also rated the Cubs #1 prospect post-2005 and post-2006 by BA. He has won minor league Gold Glove awards. and his "outfield arm" was rated one of the top five in the Cubs organization.
While Pie has done well at each level in the minors (hitting 299/355/470 in 632 minor league games), he has struggled to hit at the Major League level (just 223/284/331 in 130 games over parts of two seasons). And he has had some "maturity" issues over the past couple of years, too. As usual, Pie spent the off-season playing winter ball with Licey in the Dominican Winter League, where he hit 304/328/409 in 30 games.
Getting a chance to get more-regular playing time with the Orioles should help Pie become all he can be. That wasn't going to happen if he had remained with the Cubs. Felix will be reunited with a number of former Cubs minor league players, coaches, and executives in Baltimore, and he may even end up patroling the outfield at Camden Yards with former Cubs #1 draft pick Luis Montanez, a teammate of Pie's at Daytona (in 2004), at West Tenn (in 2005), and at Iowa (in 2006).