He’s been on a tear lately, reminding people why he was a valued prospect. But Natanael Delgado has nearly slipped through the cracks of this Shorebird season until now.
You may not have been aware of him because he didn’t come up through the Orioles’ system like most of our players do. Delgado was acquired in a late spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels, who also parted with infielder Erick Salcedo to acquire pitcher Chris Jones from the Orioles. (Salcedo is playing at Frederick and Jones is pitching in AAA, where he was last year with Norfolk.) But it was a bit of a surprise to see a Midwest League All-Star from last season repeat at the same level for the Orioles, let alone struggle early on.
The 20-year-old native of the Dominican Republic has had a July that’s as scorching as the weather, though, hitting .400 for the month in 13 games with a sick 1.136 OPS. It’s bumped his overall numbers up to .261/7/32/.725 OPS, and remember he was hitting just .170 at the end of April.
Coming up through the Angels’ system, he played for the AZL Angels in 2013, Orem in the Pioneer League in 2014, and with Burlington of the Midwest League last year. It would be like playing in the Gulf Coast League with the Orioles’ team, then moving up to their former Bluefield Orioles farm team, then playing for Delmarva last year. Over that span, Natanael hit .261 between the three, although he slipped to a .241/6/46/.631 OPS line last season. Essentially he is repeating the level and has improved in several key areas, most particularly being a bit more selective and walking more. Last season in 438 plate appearances, Delgado struck out 104 times while walking just 19; so far this season in 240 plate appearances he’s still struck out 67 times but has taken 20 walks.
Delgado has split his time between being a designated hitter and playing right field in what has been a talented (if crowded) outfield thus far for Delmarva. It’s a position that seems to be deep at this level, so the competition may come next spring as Delgado tries to move up the system. Continuing the strong July out to the end of the season may be key for his advancement.
After throwing six innings of one-hit ball at Hagerstown on July 2, you would have thought the Suns could adjust to Ofelky Peralta when they faced him again just six days later on the Shorebirds’ home field. Instead, they became a note in history as Peralta threw a five-inning no-hitter against them in a rain-shortened 5-0 win. It was the third no-no in the Shorebirds’ 21-season run but the second in less than a calendar year – my 2015 SotY John Means threw a seven-inning gem last July 31.
In just looking at his stat line, though, you would think Peralta an odd choice to advance to Delmarva so quickly. Signed as a 16-year old from the Dominican Republic, in his two pro seasons (one in the Dominican Summer League, the other in the Gulf Coast League) Peralta was a combined 0-6 with a 4.04 ERA in 69 pro innings (21 appearances/20 starts.) While he had struck out 64 in that span, he had walked an alarming 56 batters, giving him a 1.51 WHIP overall. (As a comparison, league average is about 1.3 and elite pitchers squeeze the number under 1 on a consistent basis.) And with the Shorebirds, that issue has improved but not completely gone away: 42 free passes in 75 2/3 innings is still rather high but the improvement has brought his WHIP down to 1.36 this season.
But Ofelky has also been able to elude bats over his career, with his last two starts a prime example. In his 144 2/3 career innings, Peralta has allowed only 109 hits so batters are having a tough time squaring him up. That may be the reason he made the jump over Aberdeen, advanced to a full-season league where there have been only 12 plate appearances by batters younger than he (compared to 306 for older players), and was considered Baltimore’s #14 prospect. If you read between the lines of milb.com’s account of the no-hitter, it’s apparent that Peralta just has to work on the maturity to harness the talent – or as manager Ryan Minor put it, slowing down the game for him. Despite the last two great performances, he is still just 5-4 with a 3.45 ERA for the season here.
Because Peralta has been working with the Shorebirds’ staff so closely this year, he may not be advanced to Frederick as quickly as other prospects would be. Oftentimes there is an innings limit placed on younger prospects working their first full season, so the development may be better for Ofelky to stay here rather than get at most 10 starts at the next level. He’s a better candidate to make a mid-season jump between Frederick and Bowie next year than be advanced this season.
So the test of his maturity will be over the next couple starts: he faces the Columbia Fireflies on the road tonight (a team he hasn’t pitched against, as we only see them once this season) then his turn would next fall at home against Hickory. The Crawdads beat Peralta up on June 19, a game he allowed six runs and ten hits in 4 2/3 innings. Ofelky didn’t have to adjust much in beating the Hagerstown Suns, but these two starts will help define his season as it moves on.
Selected as both the SAL Pitcher of the Week and the Orioles’ Pitcher of the Month during the last week, it wouldn’t surprise me to read the agate type in the next few days and find Christian Alvarado has been promoted to Frederick – or even packaged as a rising prospect in a deal to find the Orioles some major league pitching help.
Alvarado has achieved these accolades in part by being the league leader in strikeouts (the first SAL pitcher to eclipse 100 K’s this season) to go with a team-leading seven wins. He’s 7-4 in 16 starts, covering 87 1/3 innings and has a 3.19 ERA to go with a 1.13 WHIP. Having an almost absurd 17 walks to go with 101 punchouts significantly helps his cause as well.
Like most Latin American players who are signed by the Orioles, Alvarado – who was inked to a deal a month before his 17th birthday in August, 2011 - began by leaving his native Venezuela to pitch in the Dominican Republic. After two seasons of improvement, Christian flat-out dominated the DSL in his first three 2014 starts (allowing just one run in 25 innings) and earned a promotion stateside to pitch in the Gulf Coast League. Last year he started in the GCL but moved up to Aberdeen after pitching 27 innings without issuing a walk, and now he’s pitching with the Shorebirds at the age of 21. Starting his career so early and finding success at this level may mean Alvarado is promoted to the 40-man roster to protect him over the winter.
It’s obvious Christian’s success comes from the sweet spot of pitching – having the control not to walk batters (just 73 in 325 career innings, or roughly 2 per nine innings) but the power stuff to strike them out at an overall rate of over one per inning this year. Looking over his career stats, perhaps the only pedestrian stretch he’s had was his initial GCL stint, which can be somewhat explained away by both an improved level of play and the personal transition of pitching in the U.S. for the first time. But he easily conquered that level once he got acclimated, and Alvarado has made easy work of transitioning to full-season play.
So come out and enjoy some power pitching from Alvarado while you still can.
Over the last couple days there has been quite the buzz about Salisbury becoming home to professional hockey at long last, since the alcohol restrictions on the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center are no longer in effect. One story on the WBOC-TV website quotes an official with the Federal Hockey League, which is a lower-level minor league comparable to an independent league in baseball as teams are not affiliated as farm clubs for a particular NHL team. According to Andrew Richards of the FHL, “for a team to survive, each game would generally need to see 1,200 to 1,500 attendees at roughly $10 per ticket.”
It’s interesting that this post will come right after my Shorebird of the Week post; however, I am a much more casual hockey fan than I am a baseball fan. I lived in Toledo, a city with a longstanding minor league hockey history dating back to the 1940s, and attended one or two games over the years (as opposed to perhaps fifty Mud Hen games.) Yet the criteria Richards uses is definitely doable if people are willing to spend a little bit more than they would for a Shorebirds game.
However, if Salisbury wants to have a successful hockey franchise, the FHL may not be the place to be. Formed in 2010, the league has suffered some serious growing pains to get to its current 7-team status. (Six clubs played in 2015-16; a seventh team in St. Clair Shores, Michigan is an expansion team for 2016-17 and the eighth team out of Watertown, New York is supposed to return from a one-year “hiatus” this fall.) The other serious contender would be the Southern Professional Hockey League, a ten-team league that is several years older and seems to be more established. They have an eleventh team that is taking a year off in 2016-17 due to renovations to its arena, so Salisbury would be a good fit as a twelfth team for the 2017-18 season.
But travel would also be somewhat more of a concern for an SPHL franchise – while Salisbury is not in the geographic center of either loop, the closest SPHL team would be in Roanoke, Virginia, which is about six hours away. Its other franchises are in Tennessee, North Carolina, two in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Illinois, and Indiana. On the other hand, there are two FHL teams about five hours away, in Danbury, Connecticut and Brewster, New York. There are other teams in New York and New Hampshire, but the western side of the FHL is Midwest-based with franchises in Ohio, Michigan (2), and Illinois.
Attendance-wise, though, Salisbury could be one of the more successful FHL teams. Both the SPHL and FHL give host teams 28 games, but attendance at SPHL games is comparable to the South Atlantic League in minor league baseball, where teams average between 2,000 to 3,000 a contest. Using Richards’ formula, none of the six FHL teams that played last year would be a success: the closest two were Danville, Illinois, which averaged 1,120 and Port Huron, Michigan, which drew 1,044 per game. The other four ranged from 243 to 774 per game, which meant half-empty (or even cavernously vacant, in Dayton’s case) arenas. Unfortunately for Salisbury, the more successful FHL teams tend to be in the Midwest so we may not have close rivals; moreover, I’d have serious concerns about the entire league going belly-up, which may be why they are pursuing our area so hard thanks to a reasonably-sized arena and presumably hockey-starved market. (They obviously factor in the thousands of NY/NJ/PA retirees living less than an hour away in Sussex County and Ocean Pines.)
So nothing is official yet. But to paraphrase Ben Franklin, we may get ourselves a hockey team – if we can keep it.
It’s nice to have a built-in fan club, but Drew Turbin has been a steady presence in the infield for Delmarva this year. In all but one of his 60 games this year, manager Ryan Minor has stationed Turbin at second base and has been rewarded with an excellent fielding performance with just enough offense to be a threat. After a somewhat slow start, last year’s 14th round selection out of Dallas Baptist University has pushed his slash line to .237/2/17/.677 OPS – still a little below average, but over the month of June Drew has hit .262 with a much more respectable .760 OPS. (Turbin was only hitting .212 at the end of April, so improvement has been slow, but accelerating.)
Not many baseball players hail from the state of Idaho, but Turbin was born and raised there, playing there through high school before attending junior college in sunny Arizona then moving on to DBU. The 23-year-old played his first pro season last year with Aberdeen, hitting .254/2/30/.684 OPS in 70 games there. And aside from starting a game at third base on May 29 – making an error in just three chances - Drew has exclusively played the second sack through his pro career. That lack of versatility, however, may be an impediment to his eventual career unless he continues his upward trend at the plate. On the other hand, working in more of a utility role is possible for a guy who hits in the .240 range – Ryan Flaherty has made a nice career out of that with the Orioles despite a .217 career batting average (his .233 average thus far in 2016 would be a career high-water mark if he maintains it.)
In the meantime, though, Drew is getting the chance to play every day and improve his game. Since he just turned 23 in April, development-wise he is close to schedule and should have the opportunity to play with Frederick next season.
Over the years I’ve liked second chance stories and as we crank up the second half of the season we will see how well a fairly recent Shorebird addition continues a career resurrection.
Dominican native Jesus Liranzo began his career with the Atlanta Braves organization, originally signed at the tender (but somewhat common for the region) age of 17 in 2012. One appearance later, he was cut but signed again for the 2013 season before being dropped after three appearances. It’s likely the kid’s issue was wildness since he walked eight batters in just 3 1/3 total innings (although he struck out six.) He hardly had time to get the uniform dirty.
A few weeks later, Liranzo signed with the Orioles and finished the 2013 season with their Dominican Summer League team. While the wildness continued, Jesus did put up a couple nice appearances, including a career-long 4 inning start that he lost on three unearned runs. He was set for 2014 but then lost the season due to injury.
Returning to health for 2015, Jesus showed why he came stateside for this season. Retooled into a late-inning reliever, Liranzo made 23 appearances covering 38 1/3 innings, allowing just 28 hits and striking out 46 while walking only 19 for a 1.23 WHIP. One knock on him, though, was the few high-leverage situations Liranzo was inserted into as he had just two save opportunities in the 11 games he finished, failing to convert either. With the Shorebirds, Jesus has only finished three games of the eight he’s pitched in – the Shorebirds were trailing in two while the other was a non-save situation. But he has pitched rather well regardless, allowing six hits and six walks in 14 1/3 innings so far for an 0.88 WHIP and puny .133 batting average allowed.
It’s natural for the new guy to work his way up, and Liranzo did his work in only a month as he was called up from the DSL (which hadn’t begun play yet) May 19. Much of his second-half role depends on the moves being made among the other pitchers on staff, but if he continues holding down batters and keeps his walks to a minimum he may get that elusive first professional save when Ryan Minor gives him the ball in a close game. At just 21 years of age, Liranzo is still about a year younger than the rest of the league so he has plenty of room to develop now that the Orioles have given him a fair shake of more than a handful of appearances.
The final Shorebird of the Week for the first half is also the last of Delmarva’s four All-Stars to be so honored. Based on his dominating performances, though, Ryan Meisinger may be the most deserving.
I like to look at stats when I do this, and I imagine the tone for Ryan’s career thus far was set in his very first pro appearance, the one and only time he pitched in the Gulf Coast League and struck out the side in the one inning he threw. Yes, they were a little overmatched so off to Aberdeen Ryan went and he put up great numbers there as well – in 22 1/3 innings spaced among 17 appearances Meisinger only allowed 15 hits and five walks for a 0.88 WHIP to go with an outstanding 1.99 ERA. He also struck out 33 in that span, which means just under half his outs came by way of strikeout.
The 11th round pick last year out of Radford University (a native of Prince Frederick, Maryland) had a hiccup in his first appearance here back on Opening Day, walking three of the four batters he faced. But since then he’s turned it completely around and boasts a stellar 0.78 ERA with a 3-2 record (his first professional decisions.) Just like in Aberdeen, he’s kept an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 48 to 9, which is doubly impressive when you consider he’s pitched just 34 2/3 innings on the season. He’s also kept the sub-1 WHIP.
One thing the Orioles brass is doing differently this year with Ryan is stretching him out. Most of his Aberdeen appearances were an inning, as he began his career there as a closer. (Ryan did get three two-inning saves with the IronBirds, however.) Of late with Delmarva, Ryan has commonly pitched three full innings per stint. However, Meisinger has been rather pitch-efficient as he’s not exceeded 45 pitches in any one appearance and that trait can be useful down the road.
Oftentimes players who make the SAL All-Star team are ticketed for a promotion to Frederick soon afterward, so it’s likely the 22-year-old will soon be moving on. We’ll see if his numbers can stay on track as he advances.
Baseball is a team sport, and to have a successful team all the players have to do their part – even if it’s a little bit unexpected.
For Gerrion Grim, it hasn’t been the greatest season. He tends to be the odd man out in the outfield rotation, which means he’s only appeared in 22 games all season. In the month of May, he endured a 2-for-28 batting slump that’s continued with a 1-for-6 June. If you’re averaging one AB a day, you’re likely not too high on the totem pole. His stats are reflective of this, as Gerrion entered last night’s contest against West Virginia with a modest .217 batting average, for which he was sitting on the bench for the third game in a row Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s game at West Virginia turned out to be the second long game in succession for both teams: after battling to a 13-inning win over the Power Monday night, the Shorebirds came to the bottom of the 16th inning on Tuesday having finally secured an 8-3 advantage in the top half. But when the last available man in the bullpen began to falter by giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded, manager Ryan Minor turned to Grim to make his pro pitching debut and he earned the save by retiring the last two batters in the 8-4 win.
Grim, a 22 year old who the Orioles selected in the 14th round of the 2014 draft, is a St. Louis-area native who hails from Jefferson College in Missouri. It may seem a rather obscure school but as a Tigers fan growing up I rooted for a pitcher who attended the school, Mike Henneman. Also coming from there is longtime MLB hurler Mark Buehrle, who lived by the mantra of “work fast, throw strikes.” Grim, who had pitched a few innings at the college level. induced a popup and strikeout to close the game in just five pitches, so perhaps the college’s tradition lives on.
The Orioles aren’t strangers to moving position players to the mound – just ask Mychal Givens how that’s worked out – so if the batting doesn’t improve (and Grim only has a .227 career average in mostly GCL play) maybe he could be a success on the hill.
While there are several Shorebird pitchers on a hot streak right now, helping the club contend for a first half title, one who’s flying under the radar a little bit is Reid Love. But Love has shut down the opposition over his last three starts covering 17 1/3 innings, giving up just two runs (one earned) but getting just one win to show for it as he emerged victorious in the nightcap of last night’s doubleheader against Hickory. In the other two starts he left the games tied 1-1 and 0-0, both against the Lakewood BlueClaws.
Love is one of those in-between players, selected on the fringe of prospect status as a 10th round draft pick last year out of East Carolina University. Nor does he fit the body type scouts like to see for a pitcher as Love is only 5′-11″, but he is beating the odds so far. Reid made one appearance in the Gulf Coast League last year before moving on to Aberdeen for the balance of the campaign, but the numbers were only so-so: a 3-4 record with a high 5.06 ERA in 37 1/3 innings, although his 1.37 WHIP was just a little above the 1.3 leaguewide average. His best asset was a 34-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which somewhat hid the fact he allowed more hits than innings pitched.
So far this season the difference has been the hits allowed. Cutting down on those while maintaining a solid 4:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks has allowed Love to get deeper into games as a starter since he moved up from the bullpen in late April.
Reid needs to keep this string of starts going to have an opportunity to “catch up” to his peer group, which is generally at the Frederick level. Love is a little old for this level as he recently turned 24 years of age, which is also indicative of his “in-between” status between prospect and organization player. That’s not to say he won’t get a fair shot, though, as recent Oriole callup Asher Tolliver demonstrated – because of injury issues, Tolliver was still at Frederick in his age 25 season and didn’t make AA to stay until the second half of his age 26 season.
So don’t be surprised if Love is another late bloomer who makes it to the Show comparatively late in his career. Lefties who get batters out are always in demand, even if Love is running a reverse split right now (right-handed hitters are hitting just .203 against him while lefties are at a .286 mark.) If he continues his run of good pitching, Love may be a member of the Frederick Keys for the second half.
Projected as the everyday center fielder for the Shorebirds, Cedric Mullins has done nothing to jeopardize his position on the squad. He unseated last year’s center fielder, Ademar Rifaela (who now spends most games over in right field) and is doing those things a prototypical center fielder does: bat leadoff, lead the team in stolen bases, and collect a fair share of extra base hits he’s legged out. Millins is tied for the team lead in triples with (surprisingly) catcher/DH Yermin Mercedes and trails only Mercedes in doubles. There’s no doubt Mercedes can hit a ball hard and far, but Mullins can find a gap and put himself in scoring position in a multitude of ways.
Mullins has also been consistent thus far in his career, trading a .264/2/32/.709 OPS slash line in 68 Aberdeen games last season for a .256/2/14/.726 OPS line this year. He’s already swiped 12 bases in 39 games (out of 14 attempts) putting him on pace to break his mark of 14 by midseason. A 13th round selection from Campbell University last year, the 21-year-old switch-hitter has the advantage of playing a few times a season in his birthplace of Greensboro, North Carolina. (So far, though, he is 0-for-9 there with five strikeouts and a walk in two games; he was a healthy scratch on Monday.)
But it seems like Mullins is, for the most part, doing the things he needs to do to continue moving up the ladder. At this point he has about a 2-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks, which is hindering his on-base percentage (it’s .326, which is right around league average but a few points below the Shorebirds’ mean – yet also consistent with his .333 mark for the IronBirds last season.) On the other hand, the walk-drawing machine D.J. Stewart has an OBP that is 164 points above his batting average, so if Mullins can just bring his K/BB numbers to be equal he would be a more definite offensive threat, with an OBP roughly 100 points above his batting average. (League average is about 75 points, so 100 points over would be exceptional.)
Thus far Mullins has been the solid-average player the Shorebirds seem to have a lot of this year as they compete for the first half SAL title. It may not get him accolades, but players have made good careers out of being consistent and dependable.
Selected out of the University of Oregon last year in the 3rd round, Shorebird lefty Garrett Cleavinger was named as the Orioles’ organizational pitcher of the month for April. So once I saw him pitch in a game and got his picture, it was high time I selected him as a Shorebird of the Week. While he had pretty impressive numbers with Aberdeen in his first taste of pro ball (6-1, 2.16 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 25 innings over 19 appearances) one red flag was the 18 walks he allowed – more than the 14 hits.
So perhaps one of the reasons Cleavinger, who just turned 22 last month, earned the top honor was the fact he’s cut his walks way down while ostensibly facing better competition. In 22 2/3 innings so far this season, Garrett has cut the free pass rate in half, allowing nine thus far. Even better, he’s struck out 33 so far to rank fourth on the team behind three members of the starting rotation. Cleavinger is wiping out hitters at a torrid pace, improving on a great strikeout rate from last season – for his career so far, he’s averaging 12 Ks per nine innings. So far on the season, Garrett is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in 22 2/3 innings, over 10 appearances. (It’s a very impressive 10-1 career record for Garrett with an equally gaudy 2.08 ERA.)
One thing the Orioles seem to be doing with Garrett is stretching him out for possible starting duty. While none of his appearances with Aberdeen lasted more than two innings, four times this season Garrett has thrown three innings in a game, generally coming in as the backup pitcher once the starter gets his five innings in. Cleavinger has one save on the season, but tends to be the setup guy in the sense that he’s covering the later innings – it’s just one guy instead of the typical big league program of a 7th inning guy and 8th inning guy setting up the closer.
It would not shock me to see Cleavinger selected to the SAL All-Star team then get a promotion to Frederick immediately afterward. The Orioles seem to prefer to move their early-round college guys up the ladder rather quickly, and perhaps if Cleavinger had the walk rate he sports for Delmarva last season as a member of the IronBirds he may have skipped us altogether. I think by year’s end we will see how his stuff plays in the Carolina League.
Before the season began, the baseball pundits were excited about two players ticketed for the Shorebirds, as they were the first two players Baltimore selected in the 2015 amateur draft. While he was considered a 1st round selection, Ryan Mountcastle was actually the second choice for the O’s but the first high school player Baltimore picked, taken from Paul J. Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida.
Mountcastle seems to be a slow starter at each new level. While he had two hits in his pro debut, he started in a 4-for-27 slump for the GCL Orioles last season before rebounding to hit .313/3/14/.760 OPS in 43 GCL games. Later last year with Aberdeen, Ryan only hit .212 (7-for-33) in 10 games to wrap up the season. But the Orioles seem to be willing to push the 19-year-old prospect, and he had some growing pains here, hitting just .162 in 18 April games.
But the turn of the calendar may have been the impetus to get Mountcastle going, as he has hit .412 in May (14-for-34) to bring his average up to a very respectable .245 mark. While that’s not going to win a batting title, it’s a positive development to create a .245/1/8/.653 OPS slash line. It puts him in a good position to be in the high .200s by the end of the first half – and remember, he’s playing against competition that averages a couple years older. (One interesting split Baseball-Reference features is performance against older/younger players, and Mountcastle likes younger pitching – he’s 2-for-4 with his home run and a double against pitchers younger than he. Too bad there’s so few in the SAL.)
Another area playing the full season will allow Ryan to develop is his fielding, which is reasonable but not consistent (6 errors in 25 games.) With the exception of 3 GCL games where he played third base – and committed two errors - Mountcastle is being developed as a shortstop and has had plenty of opportunity to be a consistent part of the lineup. Granted, as a first round pick the Orioles invested thousands of dollars into, he will have a lot longer leash and more of a shot than the guy they picked in the 24th round.
Continuous improvement, though, will allow the Orioles to believe they are getting their moneys’ worth.