Shorebird of the Year – a 2016 season wrapup
Last season the Shorebirds snapped a six-year string of losing seasons by going 71-67, and with a team that had both first round picks from 2015, the Orioles’ first pick in the 2014 draft (actually selected in round 3), and key players from the 2015 season coming back in Alex Murphy, Ademar Rifaela, and eventually Yermin Mercedes, it was figured the Shorebirds would have a team to contend with. Turns out they did, coming tantalizingly close to winning the first half (falling a half-game short of Hagerstown thanks to an ill-timed rainout) and staying in contention for a playoff spot with a late-season run. In that respect they finished a game out behind Hickory and Lakewood, but with Lakewood clinching the second-half title a week ago over Hagerstown the Shorebirds were shut out – they needed to have Hagerstown win both halves and finish with the second-best record overall.
Those two late stretches of winning made June and August more exciting than usual around here, and the 73-66 overall record was their best since 2008. Unfortunately, a stretch of futility in late July and early August led to a 31-39 second half after a torrid 42-27 first half mark.
This year’s wrap-up will look quite a bit like last season’s. Next year, though, things will be different because there won’t be Shorebirds of the Week (but I will still select a Shorebird of the Year.)
This year the Delmarva nine was solid offensively, with the team being one after Earl Weaver’s heart in seeking the three-run homer.
- A .251 team batting average was 5th in the league.
- Yet the team was only 12th in runs, scoring just 548 times.
- They were right in the middle (7th place) with 1,153 hits.
- The 236 doubles was good for fourth in the loop, and they tied for fifth with 36 triples.
- For the first time ever, Delmarva led the league in home runs with 112 – a franchise high (previous was 97.)
- We finished 11th with 497 runs batted in.
- We finished second in total bases with 1,797 – aided in large part by the home runs.
- We drew 427 walks, which ranked 7th in the SAL, and struck out 1,172 times, which was sixth-most.
- Again, team speed was not an asset. We were dead last with just 84 stolen bases in 119 attempts. (Lakewood was next with 86 of 132 – we attempted the fewest steals by far. League-leading Hickory was caught almost as much as we attempted – 116 vs. 119.)
- Our .320 on-base percentage was sixth in the league, but the .391 slugging percentage was third. This meant our OPS of .711 was 4th of 14.
Our pitching was even better when compared to the rest of the league, as we finished second in ERA with a 3.32 mark. Charleston was an easy first at 3.03.
Some other pitching numbers:
- Our 13 shutouts tied for third in the loop.
- We also tied for third in saves with 43.
- Once again we were near the bottom in innings pitched, finishing 12th with 1,204.
- 1,088 hits allowed was fifth. Being second in ERA it follows the 534 runs and 444 earned runs we gave up were also second behind Charleston.
- Allowing only 76 home runs was fifth fewest.
- While we only had 55 hit batters (good for third) we were in the middle of the pack with 417 walks allowed.
- We ranked ninth by collecting 1,095 strikeouts.
- Finally, our WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched) was fifth in the league at 1.25.
With 121 errors and a .976 aggregate fielding percentage only West Virginia had a tighter defense than the Shorebirds.
Unfortunately, the Orioles organization was not good in winning percentage: Delmarva was their only team to finish with a winning record, while Aberdeen was 32-43 and GCL Orioles closed 27-32. The two Dominican Summer League teams the Orioles provide players for combined for a 38-53 record. So as a whole the talent pool may be worse than average, although individual players from these lower levels may combine for a better team.
The question before us now is how this year’s crop of Shorebirds of the Week fared, so let’s review.
April 7 - Francisco Jiminez
Jiminez bounced in and out of the starting rotation during the second half, but finished with four straight strong starts to close with a 9-9 record and 4.27 ERA. It wasn’t quite to the level that he closed last season with the Shorebirds, but the 1.26 WHIP and 96:45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 2/3 innings seems to me to be good enough to get a look from the Orioles insofar as advancement is concerned. He will only be 22 next season, so it may begin with a handful of starts here, too.
April 14 - Alex Murphy
For the second time in as many seasons, Alex was my second SotW. But 2016 was a far better campaign in terms of health for Murphy, who tied for the team lead by getting into 124 games. His slash of .252/16/63/.759 OPS was improved from his stint here in 2015, and Alex was here long enough to lead the team in both home runs and RBI. With nearly as many games at first base (42) as behind the plate (57) the question isn’t really that of whether he will move up, but what role the Orioles see for him. (SAL All-Star)
April 21 - Alejandro Juvier
Juvier never really got his footing at Delmarva, hitting just .198 in 30 games before being demoted to Aberdeen and slashing just .228/3/28/.586 OPS in 58 games there. He’s only 21 going into next season, though, and he had a fairly good pedigree coming into this season, so we may see him back for 2017.
April 28 - Yermin Mercedes
Returning to Delmarva for a second stint, Yermin hung around just long enough to qualify for the SAL batting crown he won by a whopping 40 points with a .353 mark, also hitting 14 home runs and collecting 60 RBI in just 91 games. The .990 OPS was also a league best (by 104 points) among qualifiers. Promoted to Frederick in August, Mercedes hit just .318/6/17/.923 OPS there. The Orioles definitely have Mercedes on their radar, but feel he needs to improve his defensive skills in order to advance through the system. He turns 24 just before spring training gets underway, so he still has time to develop and have a long career. (SAL All-Star, SAL Post-Season All-Star, SAL July Player of the Month, SAL Player of the Week – April 18-24 and June 13-19)
May 5 - Christian Turnipseed
In most of his appearances, Turnipseed was the Shorebirds’ closer, gathering a team-leading 17 saves in 40 appearances (in saves he tied for third in the SAL, and his 35 games finished tied for second, one off the leader.) However, while he won the season finale Christian struggled down the stretch, pitching to a 5.25 ERA after August 1 with a 12-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the last 12 innings he pitched. Overall he finished 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out 57 and walking 25 in 52 innings. He’ll be 25 next season so it’s likely Christian sinks or swims at Frederick.
May 12 - Ryan Mountcastle
One of the two 2015 1st round picks to open with the team, they allowed Ryan to spend his season here developing. He got off to a terrible start in April (just .162 for the month) but caught fire as the weather warmed and turned in a solid full-year campaign: .281/10/51/.745 OPS in 115 games. Mountcastle will have to work on cutting down his 95 strikeouts and improving a modest .319 on-base percentage, but he has plenty of time to improve since he won’t turn 20 until just before spring training next season. As my Prospect of the Year, I think he follows fellow first-rounder DJ Stewart to Frederick for 2017. (SAL Player of the Week – June 6-12)
May 19 - Garrett Cleavinger
One of several pitchers who were promoted during the season, Garrett was here for the first half and delivered some eye-popping numbers: a 5-0 record and 1.38 ERA in 39 innings here, with 53 strikeouts vs. just 11 walks, producing an exceptional WHIP of 0.92 On the other hand, Cleavinger was more pedestrian with Frederick in the second half, going just 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA and 49-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.55 WHIP with the Keys. Garrett will turn 23 early next season, so the Orioles may decide to keep him challenged at the advanced-A level to start the year – he really has nothing to prove here. (SAL All-Star, Organization Pitcher of the Month – April)
May 26 - Cedric Mullins
Considering he came from a more unheralded background and was a lower draft choice, you could make an argument for Cedric being the Prospect of the Year – or for that matter, Shorebird of the Year. He had the type of season scouts like to see as he improved the entire way, finishing among the team leaders in almost every offensive category and near the top of the league in some as well. Mullins hit .273 overall with 14 home runs and 55 RBI (from the leadoff spot), scored 79 runs, and stole 30 bases in 36 tries. Mullins and Murphy tied for the lead with 124 games played. Considering he began with a .214 mark in April, Mullins came a long way and he’s going to be just 22 next month. Improvement like this next year might get him to Bowie by season’s end. (SAL Player of the Week, August 29 – September 5)
June 2 - Reid Love
In his first full season, Reid put together a solid but not spectacular effort – maybe the best word is workmanlike. On the topline he finished 9-10 with a 3.29 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 139 1/3 innings, striking out 106 while walking just 33. It’s the kind of year that should get him to Frederick, but since he turns 25 next season it may not put him at the top of the prospect list. The question for Love is whether his stuff will advance to the next level as he allowed 134 hits during the season. One sign in his favor, though, is that he allowed fewer hits than innings pitched this year as opposed to his 2015 stint in Aberdeen where he did the opposite. Pitchers can be effective giving up contact and Love may be one of those.
June 9 - Gerrion Grim
Gerrion was the Shorebirds’ fourth outfielder – appearing in just 68 games - but he was selected as a team player who came on to save an important win on the mound. At the halfway point it looked like Grim was pointed in the right direction with a .258 batting mark but in the second half he hit just .149 to finish under the Mendoza line for the season. (Strange split: Grim hit just .136 at the unfriendly confines of Perdue Stadum and a respectable .248 everywhere else.) A .193/5/25/.574 OPS slash line isn’t going to get it done, though. In his age-23 season coming into spring training - and much as he is the type of player one can root for - the unfortunate reality is he may be looking for a job elsewhere before then.
June 16 - Ryan Meisinger
Like Garrett Cleavinger, Ryan had tremendous numbers with Delmarva (only a 3-2 record but an 0.78 ERA, 48 strikeouts and just 9 walks in 34 1/3 innings, and 24 hits allowed for an 0.95 WHIP) but he did reasonably well in Frederick after his June promotion. There he matched the 3-2 Delmarva record but had a 2.25 ERA in 40 innings with a 46-to-12 ratio of strikeouts to walks with a 1.15 WHIP there. So the Maryland native may have an outside shot of reaching Bowie’s bullpen to start 2017 – good stuff for his age-23 season. (SAL All-Star)
June 23 - Jesus Liranzo
Speaking of Bowie’s bullpen, that’s exactly where Liranzo finished the season, skipping Frederick after posting 46 strikeouts and allowing a whopping 12 hits in 34 1/3 innings here with the Shorebirds. (That was a .109 average against, not to mention a 0.79 WHIP.) So jumping two levels only dented Liranzo’s numbers to the tune of allowing just 8 hits (but walking 12) in 18 2/3 innings there. For the season Liranzo allowed a ridiculous .116 average against him in 53 innings – not bad for a player signed (and released) twice by the Atlanta Braves for their Dominican League team. It’s not out of the question to contemplate the 21 year old, who will be 22 about the time minor league spring training begins, getting a cup of coffee with the big club at the end of next season.
June 30 - Drew Turbin
Drew never really got untracked this season – he was hitting .212 at the end of April and finished the campaign with a .211/6/31/.626 OPS slash line. It was certainly a regression from his season with Aberdeen last year, and as he goes into his age-24 season he may get another shot here. A strike against him, though, is that he wasn’t particularly versatile, playing all but one of his games at second base. Fortunately for him, Aberdeen wasn’t well-stocked at second this season (in fact, most of the games were played by the aforementioned Alejandro Juvier) so he may be in the mix despite his tough 2016 season.
July 7 - Christian Alvarado
Christian finished second in the SAL with 148 strikeouts in exactly 148 innings pitched, compiling a 10-9 record and 3.41 ERA to go with them. His 1.16 WHIP also placed him in the top 10 of league qualifiers, so the argument can be made whether he or Brian Gonzalez will be considered the ace of the Frederick staff next season. While Alvarado’s 143 hits allowed was relatively high, the fact he only gave up 29 walks is a plus. Alvarado turns 22 later this month so he has time to develop. (Organization Pitcher of the Month – June, SAL Pitcher of the Week – June 27-July 3)
July 14 - Ofelky Peralta
More of a raw talent (and a year or two younger than Gonzalez or Alvarado at age 19), Peralta’s numbers weren’t as stellar – 8-5 with a 4.01 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 103 1/3 innings – but he was considered a prospect nonetheless. Yes, he gave up 60 walks this year and that was the most on the team, but over his three-season pro career he’s steadily decreased his walk rate and considering he jumped from the GCL to full-season this year it wouldn’t hurt him to repeat this level, at least for the first half. Peralta threw a five-inning no-hitter the start after a six-inning one-hitter, but sandwiching those starts were three where he was shelled for 15 runs in 13 2/3 innings. The key word for him in 2017 will be consistency. (Organization Pitcher of the Month – July, SAL Pitcher of the Week – July 4-10. )
July 21 - Natanael Delgado
Delgado was considered a fringe prospect for the Los Angeles Angels when the Orioles acquired him in a late spring training trade, so they are probably disappointed with his injury-marred 2016 season. In 88 games Delgado hit just .250/8/36/.680 OPS, and considering he was essentially repeating at this level after hitting .241/6/46/.631 OPS in the Midwest League last year one has to wonder what his future holds. However, Delgado is young for this level (turns 21 next month) so he may get a third try at full-season A ball in the hope he can stay healthy and bring the average closer to the .280 or so he had in rookie ball between two teams.
July 28 - Jay Flaa
He didn’t dominate this level as he did with Aberdeen last season, but Jay put up a decent year with a 3.50 ERA in 46 1/3 relief innings. One cause for concern, though, would be allowing 21 walks in that stretch after giving up only 5 in 20 2/3 innings last season. With a 1.34 WHIP Flaa could be one of those guys who’s on the brink between advancing and staying put out of spring training next season. Jay is old for this level (25 next June) but the Orioles spent a 6th round pick last year on a college pitcher about to turn 23 so we may be able to throw age out the window in this case.
August 4 - Randolph Gassaway
With all but 5 of his 55 games this season played with Delmarva, the thought has to be: where did this guy come from? Granted, he hit .273 with Aberdeen last season but to hit .340/7/21/.919 OPS for the year either Gassaway is legit or a flash in the pan as we have seen many times over the years from players who washed out a season or two later. It’s hard to imagine him jumping a level with just 50 games under his belt, so I would expect Randolph to be counted on to lead the Shorebirds next season – at least for the first half when he turns 22. (Organization Player of the Month – August)
August 11 - Brian Gonzalez
The Brian Gonzalez we got this year was the one the Orioles hoped for last year. But he was a raw rookie only a year removed from high school, so his second time here proved to be much better with a 10-8 record and 2.50 ERA that was third best in the league overall. Since his WHIP was a more or less average 1.31, the reason his ERA stayed low had to be the recognition of how to avoid a lot of damage when an inning begins with a baserunner. Worrisome among his numbers was 58 walks allowed, although it was in 147 2/3 innings so the rate is only a shade above average. If he has the ability to continue working around them he should move up the system quickly. (SAL Post-Season All-Star, Organization Pitcher of the Month - August)
August 18 - Ricardo Andujar
Ricardo was the steady utility player every team needs, quietly hitting .251/3/24/.620 OPS while splitting time between second base, third base, and shortstop seemingly on a daily basis. Aside from an 11-game stretch when he spelled an injured Ryan Mountcastle at shortstop, he didn’t play more than five games in a row at any one position. For a bench player to get into 101 games while not playing more than 43 at any position proves your worth, and it may lead to advancement and opportunity for Ricardo down the line. He turned 24 this season, so I think the Orioles will give him a chance at the next level – even if he only hits .250 the versatility makes Andujar useful. He just needs to pick up the outfield somewhere down the line.
August 25 - Jake Bray
Between Delmarva and Aberdeen Bray threw just 30 innings this season; however, that is only one off his career high of 31 last year. Bray did well as a whole (1-1 with an even 3.00 ERA and 1.1 WHIP, 29 strikeouts and 6 walks, mostly with the Shorebirds) but needs to get a full year in to prove himself. 2017 could be that year – while Jake at 24 would be old for A ball, a successful first half could put him in the more age-appropriate advanced-A level with Frederick. 60 innings in a season would be a major accomplishment and a body of work Bray can be judged by – especially if he can hold to single-digits in walks allowed.
September 1 - Mike Burke
Mike finished the season with Delmarva, but he split the 2016 schedule among three teams – debuting in June with Frederick, sent down to Aberdeen when their season began, and returning to Delmarva to play the second half here. Overall Burke was 1-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 52 innings, posting an outstanding 1.06 WHIP based on a 60-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. (My question is why he didn’t stay at Frederick considering he pitched eight superb innings there in three appearances, allowing one run on two hits while striking out 10. That is a microscopic 0.25 WHIP. Sure, he’s a 30th round draft pick, but come on.) If there is justice in the world, Mike gets the shot to pitch a full season for the Keys and see whether he can keep that string going.
Here is a list of my Shorebirds of the Year, going back to the award’s inception in 2006:
- 2006 – Ryan Finan
- 2007 – Danny Figueroa
- 2008 – Sean Gleason
- 2009 – Ron Welty
- 2010 – Brian Conley
- 2011 – David Walters
- 2012 – Brenden Webb
- 2013 – Lucas Herbst
- 2014 – Chance Sisco
- 2015 – John Means
This is a year where I have three or four guys who could have easily been Shorebird of the Year in some of those leaner years around the turn of the decade. You could easily plug in Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Brian Gonzalez, or Christian Alvarado for those lost seasons.
But sometimes you get a situation where one player just stands above the rest, a no-doubter. I think the moment that sealed this year’s selection was watching some hapless team put on a shift against this batter and watching him calmly rip a double and a triple the other way in consecutive at-bats. You didn’t see that shift anymore.
I wouldn’t imagine there are many teams in baseball history who have two league batting champions that were both catchers, but Delmarva is one. And they both share something else in common: the Shorebird of the Year award.
He barely made the requisite 2/3 of the season on the Shorebirds roster, but then Yermin Mercedes barely made the number of at-bats required for qualification for the SAL batting crown as well. Yet it should be noted that after his promotion to Frederick on August 1, the Shorebirds went into a 5-18 funk that all but eliminated them from playoff contention. It seemed like they couldn’t function offensively without Mercedes and his potent bat, which solidified his claim on the SotY honor.
So that’s a wrap on the player side for 2016. Next week will be my picks and pans feature speaking as a fan, and then in December I will update my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. The Class of 2016 is another large one on the heels of a five-pitcher class in 2015.
But while I’m dialing back on my Shorebirds coverage in 2017, you can rest assured they won’t be completely out of sight and out of mind. As I think I’ve said on a couple occasions, the biggest problem I had in doing Shorebird of the Week was the fact I only get to about 15 games a year now so I don’t have the photo stock I believe I need to make it a great feature. Give me the photos and maybe I bring it back, perhaps even as a semi-weekly or monthly thing – writing the copy is the easy part.
Thus, you have the offer on the table. I like covering the Shorebirds but it has to be more than me doing it.