This past season the Baltimore Orioles finished third in the majors in one interesting category: number of players making their major league debut for the team during the season. Their 15 rookie players during the campaign placed them one behind the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres, who both debuted 16 players.
So it logically follows that, for the first time in four years, all my inductees made their debuts as Oriole players. That run of 2012-14 inductees (a total of eight players who all stayed homegrown, with five of the eight coming in the first Dan Duquette season of 2012, two in 2013, and one in 2014) was memorable in that it brought us three Oriole icons of the last few years in Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Dylan Bundy. Making what turned out to be a full circle, the farm system Dan Duquette built was responsible for this year’s group of five inductees – guys who played with Delmarva in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
The optimism of an Opening Day win was quick to fade as losses and injuries mounted, so perhaps the best way to introduce this class would entail more than the date of their debut but also the team’s record at the time. We begin 59 games in with catcher Austin Wynns, who opened the class on June 5 after it became painfully apparent that a terrible 17-41 start and issues with starting catcher Caleb Joseph weren’t going away anytime soon. Wynns eventually backed up Joseph, getting into 42 Oriole games after initially spelling Joseph (82 games) and 2017 SotWHoF member Chance Sisco (63 games) through a tough 2018 season for both.
Fifteen days later, with the Orioles now 21-50, June 20 was the time for Steve Wilkerson to take his turn as the latest attempt for the Orioles to find the utility player to replace the departed Ryan Flaherty. But Wilkerson was barely in the flow of things, having had to serve a 50-game suspension to open the season, and it turned out he would only make it into 16 Oriole games and 43 all told as injuries took their toll, too. Steve even grabbed some AB’s in the Arizona Fall League, which added another 20 games to his total for 2018.
At 23-57 a little over a week later, June 29 marked the MLB debut of two Oriole pitchers, including onetime SotW Ryan Meisinger. Ryan ended up making 18 of his 50 appearances over the season with the Orioles, as the other 32 were split 21 with Norfolk and 11 with Bowie, where he began the season. His one ill-fated start would come into play for this Hall of Fame, as you’ll shortly see.
On August 10, the Orioles were 35-80 and had made their fire sale, shipping off three members of this Hall of Fame (Machado, Schoop, and Zach Britton) as well as three other veteran pitchers to acquire 15 (mostly) minor league players. One player who wasn’t sent away thanks to his 10-and-5 rights was Adam Jones, but he graciously stepped aside a few dozen yards to his left to allow for the big league debut of Cedric Mullins as he took over as everyday center fielder. Cedric got the most playing time out of this five-member class, appearing in 45 of the Orioles’ last 47 games.
Finally, on September 26 the 46-111 Orioles needed a starting pitcher to face Boston for the first game of a day-night doubleheader. They chose Ryan Meisinger, but his failure to complete even one inning left the door open for John Means to make his debut in that contest, his only appearance with the Orioles after logging a full season between Bowie and Norfolk. Means also became the first player not actually selected as a Shorebird of the Week to make this Hall of Fame – he was picked Shorebird of the Year in 2015 thanks to special accomplishments and a great body of work, similar to how Brenan Hanifee won this season despite not having a good enough single month to be selected as a Pitcher of the Month.
That, then, is the five-man Class of 2018 for the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. So what do I think 2019 will look like?
We are now getting to the point where the well is running dry on the seasons where I had weekly winners. Certainly there are a few from the most recent such seasons in 2014-16 who still have a good chance to make the grade, with the oft-injured Hunter Harvey leading the 2014 crop. Others from that team who played in AAA last season include Drew Dosch, Mike Yastrzemski, Luis Gonzalez, and Dylan Rheault in the Giants’ organization. Mitch Horacek, who is now Colorado Rockies property, has reinvented himself in the bullpen at the AA level and continued his season in the Arizona Fall League. Except for Harvey, though, none of these players are on a 40-man roster.
My 2015 group is now pretty much tapped out, with only Matthew Grimes having reached AAA among active players. Still toiling in AA are dueling center fielders Ademar Rifaela and Jay Gonzalez, who is now in the Diamondbacks’ organization. Similarly, the most prominent prospects in the 2016 class are Ryan Mountcastle and Jesus Liranzo, who now pitches for the Pirates’ AAA club after two teams tried to sneak him through waivers.
Out of the rest, Ryan McKenna (who could be my first Shorebird of the Month to make the Show) isn’t one to sleep on, either, nor is pitcher Branden Kline from way back in 2013. And there are still a handful of other graybeards kicking around the higher end of the minors like Adrian Marin (2013, and a minor league free agent), Wynston Sawyer (2012, a member of the Twins’ chain last season), Jarrett Martin (2011, now with the Oakland organization), and the unsinkable Garabez Rosa, my second-to-last active player from 2010 (the other being SotWHoF member Ty Kelly.)
If I were to select the top 5 most likely out of that group, I would say Ryan Mountcastle is the most likely bet although he would probably not be first up. I could see a team like the Pirates take a chance on Jesus Liranzo (as he is on their 40-man roster) before Mountcastle makes his debut, but most of these guys seem like the September callup types, particularly Branden Kline or Ryan McKenna. And there’s almost always a surprise in the bunch like a Scott Copeland, Michael Ohlman or Nicky Delmonico, guys whose star had fallen for a time and who ended up debuting with other organizations. My sleeper pick in that regard is Dylan Rheault.
That doesn’t mean we’ll have five in the Class of 2019, but I can see anywhere from 3 to 7 depending on how much new GM Mike Elias likes the players in his newly adopted organization. I keep saying this but at some point it will be true: we are running out of potential for large classes of six or more. I think that window shuts after 2019 if it’s not already closed, since the best team we had for prospects (2014) has little left on the shelf.
So simultaneous to this post coming online, the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame is again open for business.
Perhaps I will stoke up the hot stove in January with a thought experiment: since it now has 40 players, how would a SotWHoF roster do in a full season? Stay tuned.