Last season the Delmarva Shorebirds rode a crop of talented prospects like Hunter Harvey, Mike Yastrzemski, Drew Dosch, and Chance Sisco to their first winning half-season in six years with a 38-31 first-half mark. Some of those players departed for Frederick after the break but overall Delmarva had its best record since 2008, finishing just below .500 at 66-73.
The 2014 Shorebirds had good pitching prospects like Harvey, Jon Keller, and the now-departed Steven Brault (sent to Pittsburgh in the Travis Snider deal) but its hallmark was an offense that set a team record for overall batting, led by Chance Sisco who became the team’s first-ever SAL batting champion. Except for Brault, it’s all but certain these players will be advancing to Frederick and beyond this season.
So who will be taking their place?
You may recall I tried this exercise last year and out of 25 I only got 15 correct – in part because I did it a few weeks earlier in the middle of spring training. (A handful came along later in the season as opposed to opening day.) This time I’m compiling the list closer to the end so I would imagine most of these guys will be the ones coming north with the team. [It’s also worth pointing out I predicted that “(i)t doesn’t appear the Shorebirds will be an offensive juggernaut, but their pitching should be very good. We may see a lot of 3-2, 2-1 style games at the ballyard.” So much for that theory.]
Undaunted, here’s my thoughts on the roster, with pitchers first, then catchers, infielders, and outfielders in alphabetical order. I’m thinking we may have a 13-man pitching staff with 12 position players.
- Augey Bill, lhp – Augey was one of those guys I predicted would make the leap from Aberdeen last year but did not. Yes, he is a very low round pick (39th) and probably isn’t considered a great prospect. But there is always a place for a lefthander and his 6′-9″ stature and outstanding walk/strikeout ratio (27 strikeouts to 6 walks in 33 innings last season puts Augey in what could be called a “sink or swim” category considering the fact he just turned 24, which is old for the SAL. He could be a useful bullpen piece.
- Tanner Chleborad, rhp – Tanner is a 16th round pick from last season and was mainly a starter for Aberdeen. He went 2-3 with a nice 2.78 ERA in 32 1/3 innings, but had a high WHIP of 1.51 because he gave up over a hit an inning. He isn’t a strikeout pitcher, either, with just 15 Ks, so he probably works to the back end of the rotation.
- Stefan Crichton, rhp – Stefan’s numbers weren’t all that elegant (2-5, 4.47 ERA with a 1.42 WHIP) but he’s another pitcher who seemingly would rather pitch to contact than walk a batter since he only allowed seven free passes in 44 1/3 innings. He led the IronBirds in appearances in 20 and was second behind the traded Stephen Tarpley in innings pitched. Crichton may get the last starting job or be the first guy out of the bullpen.
- Dariel Delgado, rhp – The Cuban native was one of the late-season pickups for the Shorebirds, coming up in July to take the place of Jon Keller in the bullpen and eventually making five August starts where he pitched rather well. Overall Delgado was 0-3 with a 4.09 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, and it’s likely the 21 year old will be in the middle of the rotation.
- Keegan Ghidotti, rhp – Ghidotti is probably the 13th pitcher on the staff. He was a 38th round pick who only pitched 19 1/3 innings for the GCL Orioles last year – but he had 5 saves and a 1.40 ERA. He allowed eight walks but only nine hits, so the 0.88 WHIP is quite good.
- Brian Gonzalez, lhp – The Orioles’ initial pick in last season’s draft (in the 3rd round), it’s been figured all off-season that Gonzalez would probably be our opening day starter. Although he was pedestrian in two Aberdeen starts (5 runs and 10 hits in 9 innings, both losses) he pitched to a 1.34 ERA and 0.92 WHIP overall between eight starts the Gulf Coast League and the two with Aberdeen. It’s most likely that Brian will be kept on a pretty short innings leash, so he may make a number of three- and four-inning starts in the early stages of the season. He definitely cuts an imposing figure at 6′-3″ and 230 pounds, surprising for a 19 year old.
- Kevin Grendell, lhp – After spending two seasons in the Gulf Coast League and one offseason in Australian baseball, Grendell may be the guy who comes in to back up some of the other pitchers with a couple innings of long relief. He was 2-3, 3.79 in the GCL last year with a 1.35 WHIP but struck out 39 in 35 2/3 innings at the GCL level. He was a relatively high draft pick out of high school (11th round) so the Orioles probably have some significant expectations from him.
- Ivan Hernandez, rhp – While four saves may not seem like much, it was enough to lead the Aberdeen squad last season. Hernandez did a good enough job as their closer to merit a late-season promotion to Frederick, but I think he will start this year’s season with Delmarva. Ivan, a Venezuelan native who began his Orioles career in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, pitched to a 1-2, 3.81 mark between the two teams last season with a 1.34 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. He is a converted starter but I would guess he’ll be our closer to begin the campaign.
- David Hess, rhp – A 5th round pick last year, Hess made it to Delmarva for two late-season starts, allowing 3 runs and 7 hits in 8 innings here. More importantly, he struck out 12 SAL batters without walking any. This was after going 2-1, 3.20 with a 1.18 WHIP in Aberdeen and averaging over a strikeout per inning through the season. I think he’s the #2 starter behind Gonzalez, making a great left-right combo against opponents.
- John Means, lhp – Means pitched 37 innings last season as a starter for Aberdeen and was the O’s 11th round pick in the 2014 draft. Now 1-4 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.19 WHIP for the campaign (all but 2 innings with the IronBirds) may not seem that much better than average, but a 36-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio in 39 innings may grab some attention. I see him as the #3 starter for Delmarva, meaning we can go left-right-left against opponents.
- Nik Nowattnick, rhp – Another holdover from 2014 and a local product (Colonel Richardson High School), Nik has parlayed his free agent status into a nice job as a reliever: overall he was 3-2 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.40 WHIP last year, including his seven appearances with the Shorebirds. He’ll be an addition to the bullpen as one of those middle-inning guys.
- Max Schuh, lhp – The numbers for Aberdeen weren’t all that great (2-0, 5.25 in 12 innings, with 12 strikeouts and 4 walks) but the Orioles like to move early-round college pitchers quickly and Max qualifies. Likely to go in the bullpen, but I could see them stretching him out as a middle reliever.
- Austin Urban, rhp – More effective as a reliever than a starter for the Shorebirds last season, this may be his last shot. The Orioles claimed him from the Cubs after Chicago let him go without throwing a regular-season pitch for them, but in order to succeed he will need to cut down on his walks. In a full season here, Austin was 3-4, 4.01 with a 1.6 WHIP and 32 walks to 38 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings. He’ll be another guy who backs the starters.
It appears to me the starting rotation would be Gonzalez, Hess, Means, Delgado, Chleborad, and Crichton, with Hernandez as the primary closer and Bill and Ghidotti also being late-inning guys. The others will be the first out of the bullpen in the fourth through sixth innings, providing two to four innings as needed.
For position players, (R) is for right-handed hitters, (L) for lefties, and switch-hitters with (S). I’ll begin with the catchers.
- Jonah Heim (S) – His bat may not be ready for the SAL (just .143 in 70 at-bats for Aberdeen last season) but Heim’s defense draws rave reviews from the Orioles’ brass and he’s one of the few Delmarva players who’s been on the big league spring training travel team, even as a late-inning replacement. Heim may bat ninth in his starts, but the 19 year old will likely bump an older player off the Delmarva roster.
- Alex Murphy (R) – Another of the young crop of catchers the Orioles selected in the initial rounds of the 2013 draft – a group which includes 2014 Shorebirds Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns, as well as the aforementioned Heim – Murphy has the better bat of the pair, with a .271/3/26 /.698 OPS slash line, mostly for Aberdeen. He was 3-for-15 in a brief Delmarva stint last season when Chance Sisco went down.
If Delmarva opts to carry three catchers (the third would most likely be Tanner Murphy, who played here briefly last year) we could have a similar scenario to 2014 where either Sisco or Wynns caught and the other served as DH. I’m assuming two catchers, which we had most of last season.
- Austin Anderson (L) – While Anderson served primarily as Aberdeen’s third baseman in 2014, the 9th round pick from last year may move over to shortstop for Delmarva to accommodate the highly-touted third baseman Jomar Reyes. Anderson hit well with the IronBirds, putting up a .307/1/19/.758 slash line in 2014.
- Federico Castagnini (R) – The Italian-born Castagnini spent the first half of 2014 with the Shorebirds, hitting .234/0/5/.576 with the club as a starting second baseman. Sent to Aberdeen at mid-season, he developed into more of a utility player with time split mainly between second base and third base, with a little shortstop thrown in. In a pinch he can also play the outfield.
- Ronarsy Ledesma (R) – If it comes down to five infielders, Ledesma may make the cut over Castagnini because he has the versatility to be the emergency catcher (he caught ten games in the Dominican Summer League in 2010-11.) Primarily a second baseman last season, Ledesma played three games at third for the Shorebirds and went 4-for-13 to end a season where he hit .289/7/28/.824 OPS overall, mostly in the Gulf Coast League.
- Derek Peterson (R) – A free agent signee last season, Peterson hit .283/0/18/.758 OPS last year for the GCL Orioles (this includes the 0-for-2 he posted in two late-season Aberdeen games.) He played mostly first base in the GCL, but filled in as needed at shortstop and third base.
- Jomar Reyes (R) – He’s barely 18 years old, but the experts believe Reyes will be Delmarva’s starting third baseman this year. They have good reason to do so, since he handled the Gulf Coast League to the tune of .285/4/29/.758 OPS. Notably, the Dominican-born Reyes did not need a stint in the Dominican Summer League, instead coming directly to the States to play. First base may be in his future, but for now he will play at the hot corner.
- Hector Veloz (R) – A second bite of the Delmarva apple may be in Hector’s future, although it’s more likely he’ll play at first than at third as he did for the Shorebirds. Hector only hit .160 here in 25 games but improved to a .236/7/26/.709 mark with Aberdeen, finishing second on the team with those seven home runs.
- Jay Gonzalez (L) – Drafted for the third time in 2014, the Orioles secured this speedy center fielder in the 10th round. A .259/0/10/.640 OPS slash line isn’t that great, but Jay led Aberdeen with 14 steals so it’s likely he’ll move up to full-season ball this year.
- Oswill Lartiguez (R) – We saw him go 2-for-10 in four late-season games last season, but overall Oswill hit .251/0/11/.618 OPS as primarily a right fielder for Aberdeen. The Venezuelan product is entering his sixth pro season at the age of 22.
- T.J. Olesczuk (R) – Probably the fourth outfielder, Olesczuk was the last man drafted by the O’s last year. But he did well in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .265/0/12/.659 OPS in 34 games.
- Riley Palmer (L) – Palmer is another low-round pick who did well at Aberdeen, splitting time between first base and right field. His bat was solid as well as he put up a slash line of .273/5/21/.752 OPS in 59 games. If he makes the team as the first baseman, it may bump Peterson or Veloz off the team and give someone like Conor Bierfeldt another chance.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this team. I don’t think they will have the offense last year’s group did, but there is the potential for firepower throughout the lineup. A lot will depend on how the young players adapt – if Reyes and Brian Gonzalez are breakout stars they could carry this club to success.
Now let’s look at a potential batting order:
- Jay Gonzalez, cf (L)
- Derek Peterson, 1b (R)
- Jomar Reyes, 3b (R)
- Ronarsy Ledesma, 2b (R)
- Riley Palmer, rf (L)
- Alex Murphy, dh (R)
- Austin Anderson, ss (L)
- Oswill Lartiguez, lf (R)
- Jonah Heim, c (S)
We will see how I do come Tuesday when the Shorebirds play their annual exhibition game against Salisbury University. Most of those players who make the trip north will comprise the opening day roster.
Next week will also mark the beginning of season number 10 of Shorebird of the Week. It’s hard to believe I have made it this far with the feature, but this may also be the season my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame reaches twenty players. And who knows which of these guys could be in the SotWHoF Class of 2017, 2018, or beyond?
All this fun begins next week. Are you ready for some baseball? I know I am!
Update 4-3: Well, you can scratch two of my prospective players. Augey Bill did not swim and Fernando Castagnini indeed was the casualty among the infielders as both were released. The pair were among eight men out, a group that also included former 2013 SotWs Creede Simpson and my Shorebird of the Year that season Lucas Herbst.
If they want to stay with a lefthander, my guess would be that they add Elias Pinales to the roster – he’s a 22-year-old who briefly made it to Aberdeen last season but mostly pitched in the Gulf Coast League. As for the spare infielder, one intriguing possibility is Logan Uxa. He spent one season in the Cincinnati Reds organization with some success but was released in June of last season by Cincinnati. The first baseman was signed by the Orioles in January.