BALTIMORE -- It's been an interesting year for Orioles prospect Mike Belfiore -- who was traded midseason from Arizona to Baltimore -- as the 24-year-old lefty excelled in his first taste of Double-A and continued to impress in the recently wrapped Arizona Fall League.
Belfiore -- who turned 24 last month -- joined Orioles No. 3 overall prospect Jonathan Schoop at this year's AFL Rising Stars Game and is gaining some of his own attention after flying under the radar since arriving at Bowie at the end of May. Belfiore, who is expected to be added to the 40-man roster along with Schoop, a second baseman, prior to Tuesday's deadline -- was 91-94 mph with his fastball and posted a 2.61 ERA with 11 strikeouts and three walks in his final 10 1/3 innings for the Mesa Solar Sox. He is currently ranked as the organization's 14th-best prospect, and Belfiore credits a return to relief in June 2011 and cleaning up his mechanics to a successful '12.
"It's probably been my best year because I got back to my comfort zone," Belfiore said of the first full season he's had as a pro exclusively out of the bullpen. "In college, I was a closer full time, never started. It was definitely an advantage going back to what I was comfortable with. I learned a lot from this year.
"The D-backs kind of strayed away with what I was doing [as a starter], and I was able to get back to that in the bullpen. And then getting traded obviously opened the door for me as well."
Belfiore came to the Orioles to complete the trade of infielder Josh Bell, leaving the organization that drafted him in the first round (45th overall) out of Boston College in the 2009 Draft. When the shock wore off, Belfiore saw the move as an opportunity, and Baltimore wasted no time seeing what it had, moving him to Double-A immediately. Belfiore, who had a 2.37 ERA with 28 strikeouts and five walks in 19 innings with Arizona's high Class A team in Visalia, Calif., took to the challenge in Bowie and posted a 2.85 ERA in 28 games.
"Obviously, Double-A is a level that you can prove to your team you can pitch at the big league level, and I feel really confident in my stuff now," said Belfiore, who allowed 20 runs -- 15 earned -- on 43 hits and 21 walks with 50 strikeouts over 47 1/3 innings pitched.
"I feel like I have the talent to pitch in the big leagues someday, and Double-A was a great experience. We had a lot of guys on our team that really helped me out and taught me the small things, and the coaching staff was really helpful, probably more so than anything, in getting me acclimated [to a new organization and level]."
Belfiore's hard work paid off when the Orioles told him he would be playing in the AFL, a showcase league that features some of baseball's best up-and-coming young players. The emphasis for him was to work on his third pitch, a changeup, in hopes of getting more confidence in throwing it along with his usual fastball-slider combination.
"That's one pitch I think can take it to another level," Belfiore said. "You are really getting that advantage of messing with hitters' timing."
He was pleased with the results in his first taste of the AFL, and Belfiore, who will spend some time relaxing at home in New York, is eager to start 2013 in the Orioles' organization and show what he can do this spring. Baltimore's bullpen was one of the best in the Majors last season, and if added to the 40-man roster, as expected, Belfiore will be one step closer to joining the O's at some point in '13.
"The whole team, it was every day we talked about it," Belfiore said of him and his teammates keeping tabs on the Orioles' incredible run. "We had a lot of those guys [on the big league club] in Bowie for rehab assignments. We'd talk about the Orioles all the time. I personally definitely followed the Orioles really closely. They were -- along with Oakland -- the best story in baseball."