Returning to the Shorebirds’ fold after a trip to the disabled list and month-long reassignment to Aberdeen, Jake Bray picked up pretty much where he left off by tossing two scoreless innings against Lakewood on Monday.
Injuries such as the oblique strain that kept Jake out for 6 weeks are, unfortunately, nothing new for him. He got off to a promising start after being a 12th round pick in 2013 out of California’s Feather River College with 12 solid GCL innings but was out for the entire 2014 season. Bray basically had to start all over in 2015 and did so impressively, with matching 0.87 ERAs at both the GCL level (20 2/3 innings) and Aberdeen (10 1/3 innings.) Even more eye-popping is 11 career walks in 66 innings pitched – in his first 24 pro appearances a walk blemished his linescore just twice, in 2015. (Bray allowed zero walks in 2013, in 12 outings.) One can argue that he’s strictly a one- or two-inning relief pitcher so walks are minimized in those situations, but thus far Jake has managed to have good control yet not give up a lot of hits. (49 in 66 career innings – so his career WHIP is under 1.)
So in recovering from his latest setback down in Aberdeen, Bray had some uncharacteristically high numbers, such as a 5.06 ERA in eight appearances there. Much of that damage, though, came in one bad outing July 23 (4 ER in 1 1/3 innings.) Here with Delmarva Bray has managed to keep his numbers in line with his career means, with a 1-0 record and 1.46 ERA in 9 appearances covering 12 1/3 innings. SAL batters are a little more selective, though, as Bray has allowed five walks in that span (but no more than one in any appearance.) However, Jake has given up only 9 hits while striking out 14, so his stuff is still playing well at this level.
Bray will turn 24 over the offseason, and it’s unfortunate the injury bug got him again because this level seems to be a good test for him. I think there may be some more innings in store for him post-season in the instructional league – he’s probably not quite ready for the Arizona Fall League, but that could come next season if he can repeat his success in keeping his control numbers going.
Jake is the penultimate Shorebird of the Week – next week will bring the series to a close after 11 seasons, with the Shorebird of the Year season review the following week and picks and pans wrapping up the season September 15. With the likelihood of playoff baseball getting slimmer by the day, Delmarva’s long offseason will be setting in September 6.
It’s a little ironic that I select Ricardo Andujar as the SotW the day after the Red Sox swept the Orioles in a two-game series at Camden Yards. While the losses did damage to the Orioles in the pennant race, perhaps someday they can get a little revenge in knowing they took a solid player from the Boston fold. In June of 2012, Ricardo began a two-season stint in the Dominican Summer League as a Red Sox prospect, but after hitting just .214 in two seasons there the Red Sox let him go. Baltimore signed him for the next summer (2014), Ricardo figured things out (hitting .318 in 63 games), and two seasons later with a stop at Aberdeen thrown in, Andujar is one of the better hitters on the Shorebirds with a .255/2/20/.627 OPS slash line in 87 games.
Granted, Ricardo is old for this league (he turned 24 earlier this month) and was a comparatively late Dominican signing as he started pro baseball at the age of 19. But he fills that gap that teams need as a utility infielder with speed – so far in 2016 Andujar has made 36 starts at third base, 28 at shortstop, and 23 at second base. Judging by statistics, he’s probably best suited for second base but has managed to find plenty of playing time from his fellow infielders by being a reasonable alternative at the three positions. And while he won’t wow you with his power, Andujar seems like the kind that might sneak in a half-dozen dingers a season but is more likely to swipe a couple dozen bases. Between Andujar and center fielder Cedric Mullins (25 steals) they have about 3/4 of the stolen bases among those on the active roster.
If it seems like Andujar has snuck up on you, it may be true. At the end of May he was stumbling with a .225 average, but since the first of July he’s hit an even .300 in 34 games to push close to his career mark of .263 overall. With about three weeks to go in the season, he has a decent shot to finish with a batting mark right around .263 and earn a shot at the next level. As I’ve mentioned before, a high batting average is not as necessary for success at the big league level if you have the versatility to play multiple positions. A little work in the outfield in coming seasons and Ricardo can have a long career as a jack of all trades. We’ll see how he develops.
Perhaps the most deserving – but hitherto not honored – Shorebird of the Week this season has been pitcher Brian Gonzalez. Among the Shorebird hurlers, Brian has been perhaps the most consistent starter with a 7-7 record but a 2.59 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 22 starts covering a team-leading 121 2/3 innings. Brian has fanned 92 and walked 49 – not bad for a pitcher who’s not yet turned 21 and is still a couple years younger than league average.
You may recall a couple years ago when the Orioles signed free agents Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez that those signings cost the O’s their first two draft picks in the 2014 draft. So despite being a 3rd round selection, Brian was Baltimore’s first choice that year. After getting his feet wet with 33 2/3 innings split between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen that season, the Baltimore brass threw Gonzalez to the wolves in 2015 by bringing him to Delmarva – and arguably he wasn’t ready, finishing a tough campaign with a 4-9 record and 5.71 ERA in 23 starts. In 105 2/3 innings, Brian allowed only 98 hits but walked 59 to give him a WHIP of 1.49.
This year, repeating the level, he has thrown 16 more innings in one fewer start, struck out 11 more batters (relatively consistent) but walked 10 fewer. He has allowed about the same number of hits per nine innings but learned to mitigate damage by walking fewer batters and allowing just 4 home runs, compared to 8 last season. All in all, it’s been a solid second season for Gonzalez here and if he’s not promoted for a couple late-season starts, once 2016 ends I don’t think we will be seeing him back here unless it’s for a rehab assignment. As a third-round pick and leader of that draft, the expectations are high for Gonzalez - especially with the failure (thus far) of 2013 first rounders Hunter Harvey (multiple injuries and now surgery) and Josh Hart (hitting just .193 at Frederick.) 2015 first rounders D.J. Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle have spent time here this season, although Stewart was promoted to Frederick in June.
Brian, though, is also the poster child on why this SotW series is coming to an end after the 2016 season. The photo I’m using comes from a start in April, 2015 – having such a bad season, I did not pick Brian as a SotW last year so I dug through my old SD cards and fortunately found this photo. In 2016, though, he’s been the most elusive Shorebird player: he seems to start games I can’t make it to for some reason. Out of 12 games I’ve attended, he hasn’t played in one. I have been meaning to pick him since May as he got off to a great start, but couldn’t connect. Now he gets his due.
With the recent promotion of Yermin Mercedes, it’s fortunate that the Shorebirds have a batter who is on a tear at the plate. While he doesn’t present as much of a power threat, there’s no denying Randolph Gassaway is on a roll with an 11-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .439 (18-for-41), bringing his average up over 60 points in the process. As of yesterday his slash line was .337/1/3/.817 OPS in 25 games since being promoted from Aberdeen (where he began the 2016 campaign going 8-for-18 in 5 games.)
If the name seems vaguely familiar to Shorebirds fans, it’s worth pointing out that Gassaway was on the Shorebirds’ disabled list for several weeks in the 2014 season, never appearing in a game here. He was sent on a rehab assignment to the GCL Orioles before being redirected to Aberdeen for the rest of the season. In 2015 he spent the season with the IronBirds, hitting .273/0/22 in 60 games and splitting his time between corner outfield positions.
Originally drafted in the 16th round by the Orioles in 2013 out of Riverwood High School in Sandy Spring, Georgia, Gassaway started out as a first baseman but has found a home in the outfield since his second year in the pros. He replaced the promoted D.J. Stewart in left field for the Shorebirds (even wearing the same jersey number) and has played a clean 23 games so far. With another 30 games or so left in the season, it’s possible that Randolph can get around 200 plate appearances for his Shorebird campaign as a good audition to begin next season with his first full-season team, perhaps in Frederick. Having just turned 21 earlier this season, he’s gained enough experience to get his chance. The question is whether he can take advantage of his size (Gassaway is listed at 6′-4″, 210 pounds) to get more of a power stroke – he’s been more of a gap-to-gap doubles hitter in his career, projecting out to about 30 in a full season so far in his career.
It’s been a slow climb with a couple detours for Gassaway, but he has the potential to move up quickly for 2017 if his hot streak becomes a consistent .300 average the rest of the way.
One of the more effective relief pitchers the Shorebirds have had this season, Jay Flaa has gotten a little more work in lately. After pitching in a routine that generally put him on a starter’s schedule of sorts – pitching about every four to six days – Jay was used three times in four days on the Shorebirds’ most recent homestand, picking up his fourth win and second save on the year in consecutive contests against Kannapolis. Over the year Jay has put in 23 appearances, good for 38 2/3 innings, and carries a 4-0 record with a 3.49 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Flaa is stingy with both hits and walks allowed, with only 29 hits and 16 walks so far this season.
The Orioles selected Flaa in the sixth round last season, making him the highest pick from North Dakota State University in 21 years. Jay is a native of North Dakota, so it may be the reason he wasn’t sought after in previous drafts – there aren’t a whole lot of scouts traversing that territory, and those that do are likely looking for the next Wayne Gretzky. So Jay stayed in-state after high school ended. (It’s worth noting that a number of his NDSU peers over the last few seasons have tried their luck in independent leagues after college, so scouts may be taking more notice.)
I think Flaa has the potential of being one of those late bloomers: having turned 24 in June, Jay started out a little older than his peers at each level. After making one appearance in the Gulf Coast League, Flaa was a shutdown pitcher at Aberdeen last year, pitching 20 2/3 innings in 14 games with a 1.31 ERA and a WHIP of 0.73 from allowing just 15 baserunners (10 hits and five walks.) Those numbers have regressed a little bit here against sturdier competition, but Jay adjusted well after a tough April where his ERA was 6.14. (That was mainly the result of one bad outing against Greensboro where he allowed four runs in 1/3 of an inning.) Showing that he’s durable enough to pitch on back-to-back days is an important step for a relief pitcher, especially since he’s also proven himself as more of a middle reliever as well. (Flaa made four consecutive three-inning appearances in May and June.)
Given his reasonably high draft status, presumably Jay will be ticketed for Frederick either to wrap up this season or for 2017 as a bullpen leader. And one more interesting thing: given his uncommon last name, I figured in searching Baseball Reference there was only one Flaa who’s played in the pros – but I was wrong. He may or may not be related, but Arnold Flaa had a brief 19-game minor league career playing in the Class D Eastern Shore League in 1948, for Cambridge. It’s uncanny how the younger Flaa’s baseball path led him to the Eastern Shore as well.
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.