Shorebird of the Year – a 2018 season wrapup

If you can say anything about the Delmarva Shorebirds of 2018, you could say: what a tease.

The team began the season by sweeping its initial seven-game homestand over Asheville and Hickory, being the second-to-last team in minor league baseball to lose its initial game of the season. (Thanks to a couple early weather-related cancellations, the Midwest League’s Cedar Rapids Kernels made it two more days, but were only 6-0 to start.)

But as the season progressed, they reverted to mean in both halves after quick starts – they began the second half 16-9, which was an even longer tease. The Shorebird nine, however, managed to finish with their third winning season in the last four with a 68-66 final record. It left them 17 games in arrears to division champion Lakewood, who won both halves and is currently playing Lexington for the league title.

So how did they stack up this year? As usual, I’ll go through the numbers first:

  • A .250 team batting average put them smack in the middle of the league. Bear in mind it was closer to .260 at the halfway point, though.
  • 587 runs was good for sixth position, as was the 1,120 hits.
  • We were a little more challenged on power: 214 doubles finished tenth in the loop, and they were eighth with 31 triples – exactly the same as 2017. (However, Mason McCoy tied for the league lead with 10 three-baggers.)
  • 81 home runs left the Shorebirds eleventh in the league.
  • Scoring seemed to be up through the league: the Shorebirds were 8th with 523 runs batted in.
  • Eighth was enough for total bases with 1,639.
  • We drew 365 walks, which ranked 9th in the SAL.
  • Unlike last year’s whiff-happy team, Delmarva had the fourth-fewest strikeouts in the league with 1,066.
  • As has often been the case, we don’t steal a lot: the team was 12th overall with 77 stolen bases in 107 attempts. But 30 times caught was the fewest in the league. And imagine the placement if we didn’t have the loop’s top base thief in Kirvin Moesquit, who had 49 of the 77.
  • Our .313 on-base percentage was eleventh but the .365 slugging percentage was ninth. With those numbers our OPS of .679 split the difference for tenth place.

Our pitching was the team’s strength: we finished third in the league in team ERA with a 3.39 mark.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 10 shutouts tied for seventh in the loop.
  • We tied for 11th in saves with 30.
  • 1161 1/3 innings pitched was 11th.
  • We only allowed 992 hits, which was second-fewest to Lakewood’s 979 – remarkable since they played four more games. We were third-fewest in runs allowed with 527 runs but somehow 437 earned runs we gave up was fourth-fewest.
  • Trailing only Lakewood again, we allowed just 68 home runs (vs. 63 for the BlueClaws.)
  • While we only had 68 hit batters (good for fourth-fewest) we were way down in eleventh with 401 walks allowed.
  • Once again our staff had a nice, round number of strikeouts with 1,100 – this season it was 11th in the league.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) of 1.20 was third best. An average number of walks may have won the league.

With 120 errors (third-fewest) and a .976 aggregate fielding percentage our defense was the bronze-medal winning one.

Unfortunately, the Orioles were one of only a handful of teams who had no playoff qualifiers in their minor league system, although Delmarva, Aberdeen, and Norfolk were contenders. However, Norfolk faded to a 69-71 mark by losing 8 of its last 10, while Aberdeen finished two games out of the money (and last in its division) despite a 38-37 mark. Other teams in the Orioles chain: Bowie slipped to a 67-71 record, Frederick was only 65-72, and the GCL Orioles were a grisly 13-42, losing their last 10 in a row to secure the league’s worst mark. Across the water, the Orioles’ DSL team was the best out of the bunch with a 38-34 record; however, many of their players were DSL veterans or retreads signed after stints with other teams and not likely to be coming stateside. 2019 may be a better year on that front as the Orioles have vowed to rebuild their moribund international scouting and signing process.

Now it’s time for a review of my Shorebird Position Players and Pitchers of the Month.

April player – Zach Jarrett

If I did a Shorebird of the Year based on half a season, Jarrett would have been the odds-on favorite to win in June – at the time he was slashing .313/10/38/.883 OPS. Hold those numbers for the second half and you have a guy who is top 5 in the league in all four categories.

Unfortunately, Zach’s great April faded severely in the second half, and although he still made the league’s top 10 in average, he showed where his weaknesses were – striking out a team-leading 136 times. The one piece of good news in that aspect was that he fanned fewer times in more ABs in the second half, although 65 in 258 at-bats is still pretty high. For the season Zach ended up with a .277 batting average, 14 home runs, 72 RBI, and a .779 OPS. It was good enough to win the team’s Triple Crown, although he shared the RBI title with Trevor Craport.

While Zach’s fielding numbers were fairly average, he did have the versatility to play on a somewhat regular basis in all three outfield spots and led the Shorebird outfielders with eight assists. But his leadership in the league (in or around the top 20 in most categories) seemed to come from repetition rather than ability. He’s not going to leap too far onto a prospect list given the type of season he had combined with his being in his age-23 season and a late-round draft pick in the 28th round last season. However, he improved greatly on a lackluster rookie campaign with Aberdeen so there could be more potential there.

Zach has the same sort of profile as the April 2017 Position Player of the Month, Jake Ring. But he will have to do better than Jake did at Frederick this season – Ring hit just .196 in 74 games with the Keys in an injury- and ineffectiveness-plagued 2018 season – to escape the “organization player” tag. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star, SAL Post-Season All-Star, Shorebirds Fan Club Player of the Half)

April pitcher – Zac Lowther

Not only did I select a similar April Position Player of the Month to the 2017 version, the Pitcher of the Month was nearly a lookalike, too – both bespectacled left-handers. But unlike Alex Wells in 2017, the Orioles didn’t keep Lowther here all season – before May was out Zac was promoted to Frederick on the strength of six starts where he went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and 0.68 WHIP, holding hapless opposing hitters to a .115 average while posting a 51-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

While the Frederick numbers were not quite as dominant, Lowther – who played in his age-22 season this year – still set himself up for a start at Bowie next spring by going 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 92 2/3 innings. He allowed only 74 hits and walked 26 while striking out an even 100 batters. That number was just one fewer than Wells and 19 fewer than team leader Christian Alvarado – but both threw 30 or more innings more than Lowther did. (Add his Delmarva numbers in and he’s the top strikeout pitcher in the Orioles’ minor league system.)

Naturally this sort of dominance would be expected from a top-round pick, and Lowther didn’t disappoint. Three of his six Delmarva starts were shutouts, and his first one at home against Hickory was a masterpiece: six no-hit innings with just one walk and thirteen (!) strikeouts. Hickory was his opponent for two of the shutouts, although they also touched him for two runs in his “worst” start of the six (allowing the 2 runs and 4 hits in six innings.) Over 18 innings he fanned 31 Crawdads, so I’m sure they were happy to see him promoted. Zac also victimized Hagerstown (the other shutout), Columbia, and Lakewood – although the BlueClaws beat him in a 2-1 game where he allowed the first run.

Lowther really has nothing to prove at the A-ball level, and since he played pretty much a full season with 123 2/3 innings he could easily handle a standard minor league workload of 140-150 innings plus perhaps a start or two in Baltimore if he has a worthy season in Bowie. (SAL Pitcher of the Week 4-22-18, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April)

May player – Trevor Craport

May was actually the first of two times Trevor was selected, and his season was defined by how his months went: the two months where he was Shorebird of the Month he set the world on fire, while the other three months were barely pedestrian. Take away the high and low scores and you find Trevor had a reasonable 2018 campaign, slashing .256/11/72/.736 OPS overall and gaining experience at three different positions: in the first half you could find Craport at third base, but he moved over more and more to first base when Seamus Curran was injured and once Curran returned Trevor found his spot was taken by Jean Carlos Encarnacion. So he backpedaled a few dozen steps and spent most of August as the Shorebirds’ left fielder. (When Zach Jarrett wasn’t there, the position was sort of a revolving door thanks to injuries, demotions, and callups.)

While Trevor had two very good months in his age-21 year (he turned 22 in August) there has to be a little bit of concern about the falloff in production from his initial season at Aberdeen, where Trevor slashed ,302/3/30/.857 OPS in 52 games. It goes without saying that consistency would be his measuring stick for next season, whether it begins back here or up in Frederick. Craport’s numbers are most likely good enough for advancement, and as third basemen in the SAL go Trevor was average to a little bit above as far as fielding goes. He wasn’t flashy but he got the job done.

Obviously there are two paths that Craport can take – if he can keep a .260 or so average and move around the diamond, there’s always a place for a super-utility player. Or, if he stays at one position and brings his offensive numbers back up closer to his Aberdeen numbers, there’s the potential for quickly moving up. Honestly, if he had an average where Jarrett’s is, Trevor could make a strong case for Shorebird of the Year because he shows a little bit of pop and has a much better eye at the plate than Zach does – contact in those situations is what got him even with Jarrett in RBI despite a lower average and OPS. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star)

May pitcher – Matthias Dietz

This was the season Dietz had to shake off his reputation as an early-round bust. Repeating at Delmarva this season, Matthias turned around a 3-10, 4.93 ERA campaign in 2017 in 13 Delmarva starts. Before being promoted at the end of June, Matthias was 6-2 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.40 WHIP for the Shorebirds. A lot of his good numbers came from two consecutive and dominant starts in May where he shut down both Hagerstown and Lakewood over 13 innings, allowing no runs on a total of six hits. More importantly, in the game against Lakewood he walked no one – if there’s been a complaint about Dietz over his career, it’s that propensity to lose the feel for throwing strikes and walking a couple runners on. But in those thirteen starts, Matthias finally got his hits allowed under the total innings pitched and – for the most part – he had kept walks to a reasonable rate.

Upon his promotion to Frederick, though, Matthias struggled once again. The walks returned with a vengeance, so much so that by season’s end Dietz had allowed more walks than innings pitched for the Keys (39 walks in 38 1/3 innings.) Add in 40 hits and you receive a 1-6 record and a 7.98 ERA, with a WHIP over 2 – 2.06 to be exact. By season’s end Dietz was out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen as a long reliever, although it didn’t help his cause any with the exception of securing his lone Frederick win.

Perhaps repeating Frederick the way he repeated Delmarva will improve his numbers the second time around. And it’s not like there’s a great deal of need to rush Dietz through the system as he just pitched his age-22 season. Yet I suspect that if Matthias can’t find a good way to repeat his delivery and be more consistent, he may never make it past Frederick in the Orioles’ system. Walks will nick you up at this level and lay on a few good-sized dents at advanced-A, but they will start to really kill you at AA. Next season is definitely sink or swim time for Dietz. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May)

June player – Branden Becker

Back when I wrote my profile of Becker in early July I noted:

(W)hile 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 (it was .270 at the time) 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.

While Becker only played in 93 games for the season, he indeed managed to hold his average at the .270 mark, finishing the season on a 19-for-53 tear his last 13 games to slash a solid .273/4/41/.680 OPS. But his bread and butter was his versatility around the infield, playing 39 games at second base, 30 games at third base, and seven at short. He even served as the DH 18 times. Even more importantly, after a lost 2017 season Branden managed to stay healthy for most of the season.

Unlike a lot of other players who fall into being the utility guy when their career is well underway, Branden has played the role for most of his pro career. Granted, you lose a little bit of fielding prowess with Becker compared to a starter, but the falloff isn’t that steep – that’s what makes a utility player valuable and keeps him around.

As a lower-round draft pick that eschewed a college offer to try his luck playing pro ball, nothing is going to be handed to Becker. But with the season he had coming off an injury, Branden certainly deserves the chance to move to the next level.

June pitcher – Timothy Naughton

Naughton had a month of June that was good enough to take the monthly honors, but afterward he plummeted back to earth by giving up 12 ER in his last 18 1/3 innings from July on. That 5.89 ERA from July 1st made his seasonal numbers one of the worst sets on the team – while he had a 3-4 record and picked up five saves, the 4.45 ERA and 1.79 WHIP aren’t numbers you want to see from your closer. It’s a long way from being the closer for the GCL Orioles last season to this level and Tim continued to have occasional control issues. His K/BB ratio of 21-to-12 in just 17 2/3 innings last season wasn’t great, so a 33-to-22 ratio in 32 1/3 innings isn’t something to write home about, either.

And while Naughton didn’t give up an earned run in nine consecutive appearances spanning the month of June (the streak began in late May with his second appearance on the team) that streak became a three-game string of allowing earned runs beginning in July. All told, Tim gave up runs in eight of his last 14 appearances. It gave me the sense that they were using Tim as the pitcher of last resort.

To me, Tim is like Matthias Dietz in that he’s beginning to look like a career minor leaguer because they can’t maintain their command of pitches. The big difference, though, is that Dietz is playing with a whole lot more house money as a early-round selection than Naughton has being chosen in the 34th round – most players picked there are either high school players with college offers that a team takes a chance on signing, or players with one or two really good tools that the selecting club hopes they can develop to a high enough level to make up for deficiencies. (The last 34th round pick to make the Show is Astros pitcher Josh James, a 2014 selection who debuted this month. That tells you the odds against such a late-rounder.)

Next season, though, is Tim’s age-23 season so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Orioles give him one more shot here. He has some good stuff, but needs to flash it on a more regular and dependable basis.

July player – Mason McCoy

Mason was another player on the move during the season, shifting over from shortstop to second base with the arrival of Cadyn Grenier straight off the Oregon State campus. But while Grenier was highly touted for his defensive skills, it was McCoy who outshined the new kid in both fielding percentage and range factor, finishing as one of the top defensive shortstops in the SAL. Both players committed 10 errors at short, but it took McCoy 89 games to make them compared to Grenier’s 39.

So when you add the stellar defense to a good, if not overly spectacular, season at the dish you have a Shorebird of the Month and perhaps a dark-horse contender for Shorebird of the Year. Sure, the slash line of .266/4/47/.701 OPS is pretty plain-Jane but it turned out to be third among the qualifiers in average. McCoy even turned out to be a nice secondary threat on the basepaths with 13 stolen bases – not a Kirvin Moesquit, but enough to be a pesky threat opposing pitchers can’t summarily dismiss.

However, McCoy is another player who failed to put up the sort of offensive season he did the previous season at Aberdeen, dropping from a .301 average and .791 OPS to .266 and .701, respectively. Seeing that 2018 was Mason’s age-23 season, he probably should be advanced but the question will almost certainly be whether the offensive numbers slide further at the higher level. There’s also the question of whether he will return to short at the next level since the Orioles may be willing to push Grenier despite a subpar batting mark in his first pro season. The honest shake should go to McCoy.

July pitcher – DL Hall

As you may recall, this kid was on fire in July. Somehow we managed to hold on to him through our abortive playoff chase (not that Frederick was going anywhere, either) and Hall pitched an August that was nearly as good. DL was a victim of the old five-inning rule on a few occasions and the casualty of an occasionally stagnant Shorebird offense at others – that’s why a 2-7 win-loss mark looks so bad. There’s an intriguing statistic at play here: Delmarva was just 8-14 in Hall’s starts, including a 10-loss streak that was finally snapped when DL got his elusive first pro win on July 11. (This was the game after his start in the no-no that wasn’t on July 5 – nine hitless innings, six by Hall and three by Alex Katz, were lost in the 10th against Hagerstown on a sacrifice bunt-turned single that led to a run scoring on a wild pitch.)

Hall showed a moxie beyond his 19 years (the youngest Shorebird of the… honoree in quite some time) in being so effective. And despite the fact he only threw 94 1/3 innings, the fact that his last 12 appearances came with an ERA of 0,94 and WHIP of almost 1 even would suggest he’s just about done with the level. DL turned out to be the only Shorebird this season to fan 100 batters, although it’s likely that Lowther or Michael Baumann would probably have also struck out that many with a full season.

Yet even with the great last two months DL had, his preceding two were a little more average. Then again, that’s an average that would be a solid season for most pitchers. And because he is so young, there is a sense that the sky ls the limit for Hall: to see him next season it may be time to begin following the Carolina League. However, even though the Orioles are historically bad there no reason to rush the player I’m selecting as my Prospect of the Year. (I know, such a stretch there, right?) Hall is another possible SotY contender. (SAL Pitcher of the Week 7-8-2018 and 7-15-2018, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for July)

August/September player – Trevor Craport

There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said already about my lone two-time winner this season.

August/September pitcher – Max Knutson

The nice thing about my August winners is that they are already finished with their season, so the stats I cite are their final ones. Yet it is fun to write once again the following season stats for Knutson: 39 innings pitched, 16 hits allowed, opposing batter average was a .122 mark. Even “Crush” Davis wasn’t doing that poorly in his mid-season funk. Yes, 18 walks are a little worrisome in the overall presentation and he was pitching in his age-23 season after repeating Aberdeen in 2016 and 2017, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the weak contact.

Seeing that Max had more two- and three-inning appearances this season, it has to be wondered if they are grooming him to be a starter or just giving him an opportunity to work on more secondary pitches. I think really the only thing that holds Max back next season is if Frederick’s staff becomes loaded with prospects. One final piece of his puzzle is pitching in cold weather, but as I noted in my SotM segment he should be somewhat used to it.

I think the best way to evaluate Knutson is to let him pitch a full season someplace, since that seems to be the only hurdle he needs to overcome. After that he can either be progressed through the later innings in the quest to find a reliable closer or, if he develops really good secondary pitches, the shot at being in the rotation.

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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
  • 2016 – Yermin Mercedes
  • 2017 – Alex Wells

It seems like this was one of the years where a few obvious choices fell away, mainly because they were promoted. Had TJ Nichting, Michael Baumann, or Zac Lowther stayed here and continued putting up great numbers, one of them would have been a runaway winner. Nor can you sleep on Cameron Bishop or Brenan Hanifee, neither of whom had a month overwhelming enough to become a Shorebird of the Month, but who each  put up bodies of work that can’t be denied. Bishop was 9-7, 2.94 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 125 2/3 innings, while Hanifee was right behind with 8-6, 2.86 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in a team-leading 132 innings. While DL Hall was the show horse of the staff, Bishop and Hanifee were the work horses.  And don’t forget Nick Vespi, who thrived in his relief role: 6-6, 2.09 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in a team-leading 40 appearances. Vespi was a close runner-up for Shorebird of the Month honors several times.

On the other hand, there were really very few contenders among the position players that I overlooked. You already read about Trevor Craport and Zach Jarrett, but perhaps the best non-SotM winner – one who deserves consideration for Shorebird of the Year, too – is Kirvin Moesquit. His offensive numbers weren’t as dominant as the others, but he added an element missing in the Orioles’ system that they are rediscovering at the major league level thanks to the acquisition of Jonathan Villar – speed. Kirvin’s fleet feet allowed him to steal a league-leading 49 bases, so he merits consideration for that, too.

The problem with solely basing a Shorebird of the Year on those who are Shorebirds of the Month is that long-term consistency isn’t rewarded. Moreover, there is the (very accidental) precedent of going “off the board” as I did in 2015 with John Means – honestly, he was the best player and I thought I had picked him for a weekly slot. For example, with two of the five pitchers who were Shorebirds of the Month promoted quickly after their selection, one being relatively new to the team, and one putting up subpar numbers for the season, that didn’t leave me with much to choose from.

It really came down to four players for me: Cameron Bishop, Brenan Hanifee, Zach Jarrett, and Kirvin Moesquit. After a lot of pondering, I figured out who was the most consistent performer: our 4th round selection in 2016 out of Tucker Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Virginia.

The 2018 Shorebird of the Year: Brenan Hanifee. Just call him Mr. Consistency.

So it’s a member of the Shorebirds’ battery for the fifth season in a row. A lot of deserving players, but I think I picked the best one – even if he flew under the radar a little bit, overshadowed by teammates who were slightly higher draft picks or more precocious (even though this was Hanifee’s age-20 season.)

Next week is the return of picks and pans, and that will close out the books on the 2018 campaign until I induct my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2018 in early December.