A player who had a career month and a relative newcomer are my selections for the June Shorebird honorees. While the team settled into a middling position to close the first half and has remained in the same mode to start this run, these two players avoided a June swoon.
Hitting .208 at the start of the month and being the backup to several players probably wasn’t what Branden Becker was planning for his 2018 campaign. But as his versatility became more and more apparent and playing time increased (in some part due to an injury to regular second baseman Kirvin Moesquit), the bat has responded – for the month of June Becker slashed a solid .337/3/16/.878 OPS, increasing his average to a point where he entered yesterday’s contest with an overall mark of .270 – by miles his best career performance. This resurgence has allowed manager Buck Britton to spell Moesquit on occasion, experiment with putting 3B Trevor Craport across the diamond at first, and move Max Hogan, who played 2B for most of last season in the GCL, into the outfield more or less full-time. So far Branden has played 21 games at second base, 17 games at third base, and seven at shortstop. He’s even served as the DH nine times, which gave the first base/DH combo of Seamus Curran and Ryan Ripken a break. (Curran is now out with an injury.)
Becker has been in the Orioles system for three years now – drafted down in the 17th round back in 2015, the southern California native passed on a commitment to the University of Oregon to sign with the Orioles out of high school. In looking at his stats prior to this year, they were rather unimpressive: in two GCL seasons (2015-16) he never hit over .226 or put up an OPS more than .536, without a home run. But coming out of extended spring last season he was assigned to Frederick temporarily (two games) before the probably appropriate reassignment to Aberdeen. There he got off to a solid start (.292 with three of his seven hits for extra bases, including a home run) before dislocating his shoulder diving for a ball and missing the remainder of 2017 thanks to the surgery. But while he seems like a veteran, Becker is still only 21 so he has time to keep developing and hopefully repeat the kind of month June was for him. Keeping that average where it is now as he pretty much doubles his current total of plate appearances the rest of the way (since he was a bench player to start, he’s only played in 54 of the Shorebirds’ 80 games so far and they have 57 remaining on the schedule) is the key – he’s really not behind on the development clock.
Branden had some stiff competition for the June honor: Zach Jarrett had another great month (in fact, it was statistically superior) and Will Robertson also had a breakout month like Becker’s that was almost as successful. I opted to go with Becker because he came from the lowest point to have his season in the sun.
So far statistics are all I have to go by for my June Pitcher of the Month – the Shorebirds must check to see if I’m in my seat and they only pitch Timothy Naughton when I’m not in it. (The photo came a couple weeks after the selection.)
Naughton came up from extended spring in May when three members of the Shorebirds staff were simultaneously promoted to Frederick and ran into trouble in his very first appearance, giving up 4 runs in 1 1/3 innings against Hagerstown. After that, though, Tim settled in and did not allow an earned run (all three who scored on him were unearned) for the next nine appearances, seven of which were in June. For the month Naughton threw 10 1/3 innings, yielding just seven hits and one walk for a WHIP of 0.77. That tempered an overall line which otherwise would look very pedestrian: for the season Tim is 1-2 with a 3.21 ERA and WHIP of 1.64.
That inconsistency is what Naughton needs to address going forward. Going back to last season, which was mainly spent in the GCL after Tim was a 34th round Oriole pick out of North Carolina State, Naughton was 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings spaced among a like number of outings. And he’s relatively green at baseball’s highest levels: a native of Goldsboro, North Carolina, Naughton was a walk-on who made the Wolfpack as a reliever and pitched just 15 innings in college before being drafted basically on raw talent and the hope he’s a diamond in the rough. (Timothy also shares the same alma mater – Charles B. Aycock High School – as onetime SotW Connor Narron, who played here in 2012-13.)
While this observer suggests he has a 98 MPH fastball and a tight mid-80s slider, the question is whether he can control them. In 17 2/3 innings last season Tim allowed 12 bases on balls; so far in 2018 it’s been 8 in 14 innings. Granted, 4 of those 8 came in his first game and 2 more came in his most recent: Tim started July on a rough note, giving up the winning run against Lakewood by allowing an inherited run to score as well as one of his own, walking the bases full and allowing a 2-run walkoff single. That’s the trend he needs to avoid going forward, particularly with the strikes against him of being a later-round selection and already 22 years old.
Based on his June performances, where he allowed just one walk in 10 1/3 innings, it is obvious he can harness his stuff at times. But Naughton’s ceiling will be determined by how well he can command and adapt at each level as batters get more selective. Having two good pitches is often enough for a late-inning reliever to succeed, and it seems like he has those tools to make it.
Like the competition for the Player of the Month, Pitcher of the Month had strong contenders, too: Cameron Bishop and Brenan Hanifee were leaders among the starters, while late-inning reliever Nick Vespi also had consideration.