Prospect Britton ready to shine with Orioles

Prospect Britton ready to shine with Orioles

SARASOTA, Fla. -- When Buck Showalter was asked recently about Orioles pitching prospect Zach Britton, the manager who has 12 years in the game as the head man with the Yankees, D-backs, Rangers and Orioles responded with a curt remark.

"Heck, you probably know more about him than I do," Showalter said.

While Showalter's response came with a bit of sarcasm, the Orioles manager admittedly knows it's too early to tell what Britton might bring to the table.

"It's the beginning of Spring Training, so we still have to see him go up against somebody," Showalter said.

While Showalter may show a certain naivete about the 23-year-old left-hander, there is no question that Britton is on the verge of proving how worthy he is.

MLB.com has named Britton the 19th best prospect in baseball. The Orioles' top pitching prospect and their Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010 is coming off a season in which he went 7-3 with a 2.48 ERA in his first 15 starts with Double-A Bowie and 3-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 12 starts with Triple-A Norfolk.

And now, after spending four years in the farm system, the California native, who is in his first Major League camp, will have a chance to make the rotation considering the recent developments with Justin Duchscherer's hip.

"I'm comfortable with the depth we have and I don't feel like we need to go out and add a starter," Showalter said.

While he didn't directly mention any pitchers within that equation, one possibility could be Britton.

The 6-foot-3 southpaw can touch the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball, but his game is defined by the nasty sinker that is described by critics as "the best in the Minors."

Britton knows there's a fantastic opportunity ahead for him and he's been directed by Orioles pitching coach Mark Connor to stay within the moment.

"He just told me to stay calm and relaxed and pitch according to form without worrying about what happens at the end of spring," Britton said. "He's had conversations with Buck, and [Connors] has told me to go out and make the decision tough for them. They said I'm going to have an opportunity to make the team, so it's my job to go out there and do the best I can. There's seven or eight guys competing for a spot, so it's up to me to dictate my destiny."

Britton said he's surprisingly calm as he approaches his first start with Major League players behind him and at the plate partly due to the other young pitchers on the staff.

"Three guys who have been a big help for me are Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen," said Britton, who was in the Minors with each of them at some point of his career. "It's been easy for me because of them and they've talked to me about what to expect and how to go about things as a Major Leaguer. [Jeremy] Guthrie also has been a good support and he said he's there for advice whenever I need it."

Another part of Britton's readiness for what lies ahead stems from his first day pitching to live batters in practice.

"Well, I guess they wanted to get me used to what I'm going to face so they threw [Derrek Lee], [Vladimir Guerrero) and [Mark] Reynolds in there to face me my first time out," Britton said. "Fortunately, they didn't swing for the fences so I got lucky in that regard because they're some pretty big hitters. But at least I know now what to expect."

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.