After a very shaky start, this season’s been an uphill climb for Matthew Grimes. Tagged with an ERA that flirted with double-digits after the first couple starts, he began whittling it down in earnest upon an April 28 start in Savannah that saw him allow just one hit in five innings while fanning 11. Even as he was roughed up a little in his last start at Hickory, most of the runs he allowed were unearned so his ERA dropped to a season-low 4.57 to go with a 3-2 record.
Matthew is an interesting case – drafted out of a Georgia high school by the White Sox in the 4th round in 2010, he instead chose to go to Georgia Tech. Grimes was drafted again in 2013 by the Phillies as a 31st rounder and finally the Orioles picked him up in the 18th round last season. One could argue he left a lot of money on the table, but obviously college was important to him and Matthew is still on track development-wise as an older 23-year-old at this level (he will turn 24 just before season’s end, on September 4.)
With Aberdeen last season his numbers were pedestrian – 1-3 with a 5.32 ERA in just 22 innings spread over 10 appearances (five starts.) The Orioles used him very gently as none of his outings lasted over three innings, so stretching him out as a starter this season is a little surprising. So far in 2015 his longest outing has been 5 2/3 innings at Augusta; however, Grimes has consistently turned in five or more innings. Just one of his last seven starts has gone fewer than five frames and that was a four-inning start at home, also against Augusta.
If there’s a knock on the Grimes resume, it’s that he tends to give up a lot of hits: 57 in 43 1/3 innings so far this season, leading to a WHIP of 1.62. It’s surprising because he has strikeout capability, having fanned 40 vs. 13 walks in those 43 1/3 innings. Naturally, the cat-and-mouse game is on; as the league adjusts to him Matt will have to refine his offerings.
My suspicion is that Grimes will become more of a reliever as his career progresses, as he seems to do better facing batters just once. But he may surprise us and become a pitcher who misses bats more often in the second half. There was a lot of promise for Grimes out of high school, so we’ll see if that hype was well-placed or not.
Let’s face it – if a minor league player puts up a slash line of .196/12/67/.635 OPS, comes from a relatively small and unheralded baseball program, and wasn’t drafted until the 29th round, the chances of extended employment generally are bleak. Yet all three describe Conor Bierfeldt, and the Orioles’ faith in him after his struggles with Delmarva last year has been rewarded thus far with an improved average and the South Atlantic League RBI lead for Conor, who leads his now-injured teammate Alex Murphy, 36 to 28. No one else has more than 26 knocked in.
It’s not that Bierfeldt can’t drive in runs – the 67 he drove in last season led the Shorebirds and he was among the NYPL leaders in both home runs and RBI when he played with Aberdeen in 2013 – but the average had to be a concern, particularly when he hit .264 with the Ironbirds. While “on pace to” is always a dangerous assumption, so far Conor is working toward 15 or more home runs and well over 100 RBI over a full season. In 208 pro games Conor has 29 home runs (and plays home games in a notoriously tough park for home runs, as just 5 of his 17 Shorebird home runs have come at home), so it’s obvious the longball potential is there.
So it looks like Bierfeldt is making the adjustments needed to maximize what Buck Showalter likes to call the “contact to damage ratio.” A team can live with a .236 batting average if those hits drive in runs – as an example, I snapped the photo above after his only hit of yesterday’s game, a 2-run triple. The 1-for-4 performance only fractionally affected his average, but the 2 knocked in allowed him to pad his league lead and opened the scoring for the day, staking Delmarva to an early 2-0 lead (although they eventually lost 6-5.)
If you look ahead for Bierfeldt, there’s a reasonable chance he may not be here the full season to see if he can secure that RBI title. Making the adjustments to increase his average is the key to moving up, and there are a couple weaker links in Frederick’s outfield which could be replaced. We’ll see if Conor rewards the Orioles’ patience with him as the season develops.
I can’t believe I’m picking Bennett Parry as my Shorebird of the Week – again.
You see, at the tail end of the 2013 season when I originally tabbed Bennett, he was in the midst of some great starting pitching. Here we are in May of 2015 and Parry is doing the same thing for Delmarva, shutting out Asheville for six innings on two hits last Thursday before Tuesday’s almost as stellar losing effort against Augusta, where two consecutive doubles did him in for a 1-0 tough luck loss. Parry allowed just three hits in five innings in that start, and has allowed only 23 in 31 2/3 innings pitched so far this season. He’s only given out eight walks against 25 strikeouts, leaving himself a sub-1 WHIP for the season.
So why hasn’t my 2013 forecast that Parry was “a contender for Frederick’s starting rotation (in 2014)” come true? Beats me. If you look at Parry’s Delmarva body of work over those parts of the last three seasons he’s been here, you really can’t argue that with an ERA under 3, strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 2.5-to-1 (with about a strikeout per inning), and overall WHIP of 1.22 – mainly as a starter, by the way, so he’s facing batters multiple times per game – he doesn’t deserve a shot at the next level. Yet in five pro seasons Bennett has never gotten past Delmarva.
I’ve seen Bennett pitch a few times over the last three seasons, including a couple starts this year. One thing I notice is that he’s the kind of pitcher you watch for awhile and realize, hey, he’s in the fifth inning and throwing a shutout (or at worst keeping the team in the game.) It’s not flashy, but he does get his outs and they add up to innings and suddenly you’re applauding another solid six-inning effort.
I will concede to my above point that Bennett is a little older than the league now (he turns 24 in August) and was drafted in the 40th round in 2011. (Under current draft rules, that would be the final round.) When you’re 1,205th on the totem pole, nothing comes easy and apparently it hasn’t for Bennett, either. But here’s hoping that, for the second half of the season, Parry finally gets to try his luck at the next level and see if he can compete there.
A pleasant surprise on the offensive side of the ledger for the Shorebirds has been shortstop Jared Breen.
The name is familiar to Delmarva fans because Breen spent the latter half of 2014 with the Shorebirds, getting into 70 games but only putting up a slash line of .217/0/29/.569 OPS. Considering Breen was only a 24th round pick from Belmont University, one would not have been surprised to see the Orioles cut him loose over the winter given he had played over 130 games and hit barely .220 with no power. I’ve seen players with better stats and draft position let go.
Instead, the Orioles gave him another season here and so far Jared has taken advantage, bumping his average up to .296 in the first quarter of the season. You won’t confuse him with a power hitter, since Breen only has four doubles among his 25 hits, but he’s done a good job of getting on base and keeping innings going with a .393 on-base percentage. The recent road trip to Savannah and Augusta was great for Breen, who hit .400 (10-for-25) in his native state. That pushed his average over .300, although an 0-for-2 return home (with 2 walks) dropped him back down under that mark.
There’s no question this is the make-or-break season for Breen, who will turn 24 next week. While third base seems to be the premier position up and down the line for the Orioles, shortstop has been more of a mixed bag over the years. Aside from Manny Machado, a converted shortstop who has moved over to third base, the cupboard is relatively bare at that position in the organization. (Adrian Marin, a Shorebird in 2013, is the only shortstop listed among the top 30 prospects and he’s 21st.) So Jared could open a few eyes if he continues to do well with the second chance.
Early on, pundits were convinced that Jomar Reyes would be the Shorebirds’ third baseman this year. The obvious question, though, was how the bonus baby – to the tune of $350,000 when signed just weeks before his 17th birthday in January 2014 – would handle himself in full-season baseball after a season with the Gulf Coast League Orioles last year.
It’s a small sample size, but through the first 19 games Jomar is playing quite well. His .284/1/4/.799 OPS slash line is very comparable to his GCL numbers (.285/4/29/.758 OPS in 53 games) and it took him until last night in game #19 to commit his first error (after committing 13 in 45 games last year.) You may not get the defensive wizardry of Manny Machado, but it appears Reyes can hold his own.
Another “wow” factor is his transition from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Most often, players from that nation spend at least a season with the Orioles’ Dominican League teams, but Reyes began his career here in the States and is playing full-season ball just a couple months past his 18th birthday as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. According to Baseball Reference, Jomar is 3.5 years younger than the average SAL player, who is often a year removed from college or three years out of high school. Many kids his age are playing as seniors in high school.
The high expectations for Reyes began early, but so far he’s on track to meet them. And while some believe he may be in Frederick by mid-season, I don’t think there’s any rush to move Reyes up. Currently manning third base at Frederick is another gifted hitter fans may be familiar with in Drew Dosch, so unless the upper levels are ravaged by injury or a series of poor performances I wouldn’t be surprised if Reyes stays here all year and gets the opportunity to grow into some monster numbers. It only took him a couple weeks to move up the batting order from seventh to fifth, and I think he could be a solid #3 hitter by season’s end. Let’s see how he does now that the weather is getting warmer.
At this level, where pitchers generally are held under an innings limit, throwing complete games is a rarity – in the entire SAL last season there were only 31 thrown. This is even with the higher number of shortened games, such as those played as part of a doubleheader. Long story short, those guys who pitch in innings 6 to 8 are a key part of the pitching staff.
Zeke McGranahan is one of those guys, and in his last outing he was stretched to a career-long 2 2/3 innings against Hagerstown. Exclusively a reliever in his brief career, the 2014 23rd round pick just missed (by one spot) being the first player ever drafted out of Georgia Gwinnett College. So far in 2015 he hasn’t allowed an earned run in four appearances covering 7 1/3 innings, scattering just three hits along the way.
Zeke profiles as a power pitcher – a high number of strikeouts (10 so far) but a high number of walks as well (five so far.) It’s a continuation of his play from last season, which he mainly spent in the GCL (2-1, 1.50 in 18 innings with a WHIP of exactly 1) before getting four appearances with Aberdeen (allowing three earned runs and seven hits in five innings, a 5.40 ERA and 2.20 WHIP.) In those 23 innings, he gave up just 16 hits but walked 13. The former is great, the latter too high for advancement. It’s great that McGranahan misses bats, but he can’t miss the plate so often.
Zeke is on the older side for this level, as he turned 24 in January. But his professional career is barely 30 innings old so if he can work on improving the strikeout-to-walk ratio he will certainly be given the opportunity to catch up, as it were. And the guys who serve as the bridge between the starter and closer or soak up the late innings to back a struggling starter can be the ones who become starters (or closers) down the line. The way Zeke goes will be dictated by how he performs in his first full season.
Last season the Shorebirds had the best hitting catcher combo in the South Atlantic League – hard to argue against a pair which had a SAL batting champ and a backup who hit a respectable .252 behind the dish.
While time will tell how well the 2015 combo does, Alex Murphy is certainly doing his part to keep up this new tradition. You might recall Murphy had a brief cameo here early last season when Chance Sisco went down, going 3-for-15 in 4 games. Despite a tough doubleheader last night that dragged his average down to .269 (on 7-for-26 hitting), those hits have seemed to be timely ones as the 20-year-old out of Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore leads the SAL in the early going with 9 RBI.
Murphy was one of four promising young catchers Baltimore snagged in the 2013 draft. 2014 Shorebirds Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns were two of the quartet; both are now toiling for Frederick. Coming up behind them are Murphy and teammate Jonah Heim, who will split the duty this season. As a sixth round pick, Murphy was actually the third of the quartet taken, after Sisco and Heim.
Alex has been a solid hitter in his brief career, sporting a .263 lifetime mark mainly based on a fine .277/3/25/.715 OPS performance as Aberdeen’s primary receiver last season – he also made several starts as the DH, which is likely the plan for this season as well. It’s something the Orioles almost have to do to get their catchers a sufficient opportunity to hone their offensive skills given the extraordinary organizational depth they have at the position with a number of major league-experienced catchers at the higher levels and four high draft choices moving up from the bottom.
So while Murphy may seem to be at the bottom of the totem pole, bear in mind that the Orioles can deal from strength at that position and may trade away one or more of these catching prospects in coming years. Being a hometown product, though, I’m sure the Orioles will make a little more effort to keep Alex within the fold. In the meantime – unlike the case in several previous Shorebird campaigns – we shouldn’t consider this catcher an easy out at the plate.
I begin this year with a “local boy makes good” story.
One tendency the Orioles have is their willingness to give hometown or regional talent a chance, even if they don’t draft the player. A good example of this is former Shorebird Glynn Davis, who has advanced over the succeeding years to Bowie and is considered one of the Orioles’ better outfield prospects.
Yet Nik Nowottnick is an even more local story to us, as he attended Colonel Richardson High School in Caroline County. Moving on to Towson University, Nik pitched well enough there to get Baltimore’s attention and signed on in late July of 2013 – just in time to get some innings in at the Gulf Coast League in August of that season.
Last year the 23-year-old righthander moved up to Aberdeen to start the campaign, going 2-2 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.4 WHIP in 30 innings. While a 18-to-14 strikeout to walk ratio wasn’t the most desirable one, Nik only allowed three walks in his last five Aberdeen appearances covering 13 2/3 innings while striking out seven. That stretch merited a mid-August promotion to Delmarva, where Nowottnick allowed just three earned runs in seven appearances covering eight innings, and was not scored upon in his last five outings. Here he struck out six and walked four for a 1.38 WHIP.
So the key for Nik this season will be to improve on his walk ratio a little bit – 18 free passes in 38 overall innings last year is a little bit high. As he did at Tuesday’s exhibition, it’s likely we’ll see Nik as a late-inning guy but not necessarily the closer.
One note: as I took the photo in last season’s Labor Day finale, this year Nowottnick will be wearing #31. Nik is one of a handful of carryover players from last season, mostly from the pitching ranks. In all, the “break camp” roster included 12 players who spent at least a few days with Delmarva last season, with most joining the team in the second half.
Last season the Delmarva Shorebirds rode a crop of talented prospects like Hunter Harvey, Mike Yastrzemski, Drew Dosch, and Chance Sisco to their first winning half-season in six years with a 38-31 first-half mark. Some of those players departed for Frederick after the break but overall Delmarva had its best record since 2008, finishing just below .500 at 66-73.
The 2014 Shorebirds had good pitching prospects like Harvey, Jon Keller, and the now-departed Steven Brault (sent to Pittsburgh in the Travis Snider deal) but its hallmark was an offense that set a team record for overall batting, led by Chance Sisco who became the team’s first-ever SAL batting champion. Except for Brault, it’s all but certain these players will be advancing to Frederick and beyond this season.
So who will be taking their place?
You may recall I tried this exercise last year and out of 25 I only got 15 correct – in part because I did it a few weeks earlier in the middle of spring training. (A handful came along later in the season as opposed to opening day.) This time I’m compiling the list closer to the end so I would imagine most of these guys will be the ones coming north with the team. [It's also worth pointing out I predicted that "(i)t doesn’t appear the Shorebirds will be an offensive juggernaut, but their pitching should be very good. We may see a lot of 3-2, 2-1 style games at the ballyard." So much for that theory.]
Undaunted, here’s my thoughts on the roster, with pitchers first, then catchers, infielders, and outfielders in alphabetical order. I’m thinking we may have a 13-man pitching staff with 12 position players.
- Augey Bill, lhp - Augey was one of those guys I predicted would make the leap from Aberdeen last year but did not. Yes, he is a very low round pick (39th) and probably isn’t considered a great prospect. But there is always a place for a lefthander and his 6′-9″ stature and outstanding walk/strikeout ratio (27 strikeouts to 6 walks in 33 innings last season puts Augey in what could be called a “sink or swim” category considering the fact he just turned 24, which is old for the SAL. He could be a useful bullpen piece.
- Tanner Chleborad, rhp – Tanner is a 16th round pick from last season and was mainly a starter for Aberdeen. He went 2-3 with a nice 2.78 ERA in 32 1/3 innings, but had a high WHIP of 1.51 because he gave up over a hit an inning. He isn’t a strikeout pitcher, either, with just 15 Ks, so he probably works to the back end of the rotation.
- Stefan Crichton, rhp – Stefan’s numbers weren’t all that elegant (2-5, 4.47 ERA with a 1.42 WHIP) but he’s another pitcher who seemingly would rather pitch to contact than walk a batter since he only allowed seven free passes in 44 1/3 innings. He led the IronBirds in appearances in 20 and was second behind the traded Stephen Tarpley in innings pitched. Crichton may get the last starting job or be the first guy out of the bullpen.
- Dariel Delgado, rhp – The Cuban native was one of the late-season pickups for the Shorebirds, coming up in July to take the place of Jon Keller in the bullpen and eventually making five August starts where he pitched rather well. Overall Delgado was 0-3 with a 4.09 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, and it’s likely the 21 year old will be in the middle of the rotation.
- Keegan Ghidotti, rhp – Ghidotti is probably the 13th pitcher on the staff. He was a 38th round pick who only pitched 19 1/3 innings for the GCL Orioles last year – but he had 5 saves and a 1.40 ERA. He allowed eight walks but only nine hits, so the 0.88 WHIP is quite good.
- Brian Gonzalez, lhp - The Orioles’ initial pick in last season’s draft (in the 3rd round), it’s been figured all off-season that Gonzalez would probably be our opening day starter. Although he was pedestrian in two Aberdeen starts (5 runs and 10 hits in 9 innings, both losses) he pitched to a 1.34 ERA and 0.92 WHIP overall between eight starts the Gulf Coast League and the two with Aberdeen. It’s most likely that Brian will be kept on a pretty short innings leash, so he may make a number of three- and four-inning starts in the early stages of the season. He definitely cuts an imposing figure at 6′-3″ and 230 pounds, surprising for a 19 year old.
- Kevin Grendell, lhp – After spending two seasons in the Gulf Coast League and one offseason in Australian baseball, Grendell may be the guy who comes in to back up some of the other pitchers with a couple innings of long relief. He was 2-3, 3.79 in the GCL last year with a 1.35 WHIP but struck out 39 in 35 2/3 innings at the GCL level. He was a relatively high draft pick out of high school (11th round) so the Orioles probably have some significant expectations from him.
- Ivan Hernandez, rhp – While four saves may not seem like much, it was enough to lead the Aberdeen squad last season. Hernandez did a good enough job as their closer to merit a late-season promotion to Frederick, but I think he will start this year’s season with Delmarva. Ivan, a Venezuelan native who began his Orioles career in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, pitched to a 1-2, 3.81 mark between the two teams last season with a 1.34 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. He is a converted starter but I would guess he’ll be our closer to begin the campaign.
- David Hess, rhp - A 5th round pick last year, Hess made it to Delmarva for two late-season starts, allowing 3 runs and 7 hits in 8 innings here. More importantly, he struck out 12 SAL batters without walking any. This was after going 2-1, 3.20 with a 1.18 WHIP in Aberdeen and averaging over a strikeout per inning through the season. I think he’s the #2 starter behind Gonzalez, making a great left-right combo against opponents.
- John Means, lhp - Means pitched 37 innings last season as a starter for Aberdeen and was the O’s 11th round pick in the 2014 draft. Now 1-4 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.19 WHIP for the campaign (all but 2 innings with the IronBirds) may not seem that much better than average, but a 36-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio in 39 innings may grab some attention. I see him as the #3 starter for Delmarva, meaning we can go left-right-left against opponents.
- Nik Nowattnick, rhp - Another holdover from 2014 and a local product (Colonel Richardson High School), Nik has parlayed his free agent status into a nice job as a reliever: overall he was 3-2 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.40 WHIP last year, including his seven appearances with the Shorebirds. He’ll be an addition to the bullpen as one of those middle-inning guys.
- Max Schuh, lhp – The numbers for Aberdeen weren’t all that great (2-0, 5.25 in 12 innings, with 12 strikeouts and 4 walks) but the Orioles like to move early-round college pitchers quickly and Max qualifies. Likely to go in the bullpen, but I could see them stretching him out as a middle reliever.
- Austin Urban, rhp – More effective as a reliever than a starter for the Shorebirds last season, this may be his last shot. The Orioles claimed him from the Cubs after Chicago let him go without throwing a regular-season pitch for them, but in order to succeed he will need to cut down on his walks. In a full season here, Austin was 3-4, 4.01 with a 1.6 WHIP and 32 walks to 38 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings. He’ll be another guy who backs the starters.
It appears to me the starting rotation would be Gonzalez, Hess, Means, Delgado, Chleborad, and Crichton, with Hernandez as the primary closer and Bill and Ghidotti also being late-inning guys. The others will be the first out of the bullpen in the fourth through sixth innings, providing two to four innings as needed.
For position players, (R) is for right-handed hitters, (L) for lefties, and switch-hitters with (S). I’ll begin with the catchers.
- Jonah Heim (S) – His bat may not be ready for the SAL (just .143 in 70 at-bats for Aberdeen last season) but Heim’s defense draws rave reviews from the Orioles’ brass and he’s one of the few Delmarva players who’s been on the big league spring training travel team, even as a late-inning replacement. Heim may bat ninth in his starts, but the 19 year old will likely bump an older player off the Delmarva roster.
- Alex Murphy (R) – Another of the young crop of catchers the Orioles selected in the initial rounds of the 2013 draft – a group which includes 2014 Shorebirds Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns, as well as the aforementioned Heim – Murphy has the better bat of the pair, with a .271/3/26 /.698 OPS slash line, mostly for Aberdeen. He was 3-for-15 in a brief Delmarva stint last season when Chance Sisco went down.
If Delmarva opts to carry three catchers (the third would most likely be Tanner Murphy, who played here briefly last year) we could have a similar scenario to 2014 where either Sisco or Wynns caught and the other served as DH. I’m assuming two catchers, which we had most of last season.
- Austin Anderson (L) – While Anderson served primarily as Aberdeen’s third baseman in 2014, the 9th round pick from last year may move over to shortstop for Delmarva to accommodate the highly-touted third baseman Jomar Reyes. Anderson hit well with the IronBirds, putting up a .307/1/19/.758 slash line in 2014.
- Federico Castagnini (R) – The Italian-born Castagnini spent the first half of 2014 with the Shorebirds, hitting .234/0/5/.576 with the club as a starting second baseman. Sent to Aberdeen at mid-season, he developed into more of a utility player with time split mainly between second base and third base, with a little shortstop thrown in. In a pinch he can also play the outfield.
- Ronarsy Ledesma (R) – If it comes down to five infielders, Ledesma may make the cut over Castagnini because he has the versatility to be the emergency catcher (he caught ten games in the Dominican Summer League in 2010-11.) Primarily a second baseman last season, Ledesma played three games at third for the Shorebirds and went 4-for-13 to end a season where he hit .289/7/28/.824 OPS overall, mostly in the Gulf Coast League.
- Derek Peterson (R) – A free agent signee last season, Peterson hit .283/0/18/.758 OPS last year for the GCL Orioles (this includes the 0-for-2 he posted in two late-season Aberdeen games.) He played mostly first base in the GCL, but filled in as needed at shortstop and third base.
- Jomar Reyes (R) – He’s barely 18 years old, but the experts believe Reyes will be Delmarva’s starting third baseman this year. They have good reason to do so, since he handled the Gulf Coast League to the tune of .285/4/29/.758 OPS. Notably, the Dominican-born Reyes did not need a stint in the Dominican Summer League, instead coming directly to the States to play. First base may be in his future, but for now he will play at the hot corner.
- Hector Veloz (R) – A second bite of the Delmarva apple may be in Hector’s future, although it’s more likely he’ll play at first than at third as he did for the Shorebirds. Hector only hit .160 here in 25 games but improved to a .236/7/26/.709 mark with Aberdeen, finishing second on the team with those seven home runs.
- Jay Gonzalez (L) – Drafted for the third time in 2014, the Orioles secured this speedy center fielder in the 10th round. A .259/0/10/.640 OPS slash line isn’t that great, but Jay led Aberdeen with 14 steals so it’s likely he’ll move up to full-season ball this year.
- Oswill Lartiguez (R) – We saw him go 2-for-10 in four late-season games last season, but overall Oswill hit .251/0/11/.618 OPS as primarily a right fielder for Aberdeen. The Venezuelan product is entering his sixth pro season at the age of 22.
- T.J. Olesczuk (R) – Probably the fourth outfielder, Olesczuk was the last man drafted by the O’s last year. But he did well in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .265/0/12/.659 OPS in 34 games.
- Riley Palmer (L) – Palmer is another low-round pick who did well at Aberdeen, splitting time between first base and right field. His bat was solid as well as he put up a slash line of .273/5/21/.752 OPS in 59 games. If he makes the team as the first baseman, it may bump Peterson or Veloz off the team and give someone like Conor Bierfeldt another chance.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this team. I don’t think they will have the offense last year’s group did, but there is the potential for firepower throughout the lineup. A lot will depend on how the young players adapt – if Reyes and Brian Gonzalez are breakout stars they could carry this club to success.
Now let’s look at a potential batting order:
- Jay Gonzalez, cf (L)
- Derek Peterson, 1b (R)
- Jomar Reyes, 3b (R)
- Ronarsy Ledesma, 2b (R)
- Riley Palmer, rf (L)
- Alex Murphy, dh (R)
- Austin Anderson, ss (L)
- Oswill Lartiguez, lf (R)
- Jonah Heim, c (S)
We will see how I do come Tuesday when the Shorebirds play their annual exhibition game against Salisbury University. Most of those players who make the trip north will comprise the opening day roster.
Next week will also mark the beginning of season number 10 of Shorebird of the Week. It’s hard to believe I have made it this far with the feature, but this may also be the season my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame reaches twenty players. And who knows which of these guys could be in the SotWHoF Class of 2017, 2018, or beyond?
All this fun begins next week. Are you ready for some baseball? I know I am!
Update 4-3: Well, you can scratch two of my prospective players. Augey Bill did not swim and Fernando Castagnini indeed was the casualty among the infielders as both were released. The pair were among eight men out, a group that also included former 2013 SotWs Creede Simpson and my Shorebird of the Year that season Lucas Herbst.
If they want to stay with a lefthander, my guess would be that they add Elias Pinales to the roster – he’s a 22-year-old who briefly made it to Aberdeen last season but mostly pitched in the Gulf Coast League. As for the spare infielder, one intriguing possibility is Logan Uxa, He spent one season in the Cincinnati Reds organization with some success but was released in June of last season by Cincinnati. The first baseman was signed by the Orioles in January.
Tomorrow the nation will watch Super Bowl XLIX, which by the way will be the final Super Bowl referred to by Roman numerals. Next year’s installment won’t be Super Bowl L, but Super Bowl 50. And if there’s any justice in the world, that game will be a matchup between Detroit and Cleveland, (That would be my dream game, anyway. But who to root for? I’d be for Detroit, but not heartbroken if the Browns won.)
Instead, this year we get the New England Patriots, who are continuing a dynastic string of Super Bowl appearances that began in the wake of 9-11 (remember the “tuck rule” game between the Patriots and Oakland Raiders?) and continued to this year’s game, which will be their sixth in that timespan. They have victories over the Rams, Panthers, and Eagles but have more recently lost to the Giants twice.
Their opponent is the Seattle Seahawks, who are trying to do something not done since New England did it a decade ago – win back-to-back Super Bowls. Prior to this, their Super Bowl history was a loss to Pittsburgh in a Super Bowl hosted by Detroit at Ford Field. (That was Super Bowl XL, which was a great Roman numeral to use.)
It’s also interesting that, for the second year in a row, the top seeds from each conference meet in a championship game. But one might forget that there’s a game given that the news about this event has been focused on something that happened two weeks ago (the so-called “DeflateGate”) and on someone who’s famous for not talking, well, not talking: Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks is known for being taciturn with the press and only did the minimum obligatory press appearance because he didn’t want to be fined.
All this to lead into a game that’s becoming more and more known for its commercials and halftime show. When you consider that the sum total of all Super Bowls played is the equivalent of three typical NFL weeks of 16 games apiece, you would expect to have a few good games and some blowouts – unfortunately along the way we’ve been “treated” to a lot of one-sided affairs like last year’s snoozer. Among the most popular sports, pro football is one of the few which annually features a winner-take-all championship game as opposed to a series of games. It heightens the preceding drama but if a game is 28-3 at halftime it makes for an early breakup to the party.
I have always been more of a baseball fan that a football one, since I consider the NFL as the bridge to get me from the end of the World Series most of the way to the start of spring training. But over the last couple years as off-the-field stories like the Ray Rice incident or last year’s Jonathan Martin saga take the air out of the action on the field – see what I did there? – the NFL has become just another news item rather than a Sunday afternoon escape. In some respects, it’s become a more highbrow version of WWE, with fan favorites and heels at every game. And don’t get me started on how the referees seem to keep their flags in their pocket for some teams and players – we already have one Supreme Court deciding outcomes.
Don’t think for a minute I’ll pass on the game, though – I’ll watch the Super Bowl anyway, in this case with friends from our church. We may laugh at the commercials and hope for a close game.
But it’s more likely that the NFL news off the field won’t be of the Hot Stove League type that keeps baseball interesting through the winter. We’ll hear about more scandal and mayhem until training camp begins too soon in July. When the Super Bowl ends and a champion is crowned, the one thing I’ll be thinking about is that there’s a long, long 18 days until pitchers and catchers report for my Tigers, who have a few scores to settle this season.
Once again we interrupt our off-season slumber by the hot stove to bring you what will be the smallest class of inductees to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame since 2010, when Brandon Snyder was my only addition as the third member added. Appropriately enough, Christian Walker wears his SotWHoF rank on his back, as he is number 18 for both the Orioles and the membership roll.
Walker was almost an accidental addition to the SotWHoF. I figured his outstanding minor league season would give him an opportunity at some point, but he didn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster this year, the Orioles were in a pennant race, and first base is a relative position of strength for the club. And while he was added to the postseason “taxi squad” working out in Sarasota just in case, I suspected it was more of a nod of appreciation for a great season, one which showed he was almost ready and perhaps ticketed for a 2015 debut. Chris Davis’s suspension for violating league policy, though, opened up the door for Walker’s advancement and as you will see since the SotWHoF page has been updated, he took a little bit of advantage.
The class could have been two if events had turned out just a little differently. Tim Berry was recalled by the Orioles on June 6 as “just in case’ bullpen help but did not see any action before being sent back down to Bowie the next day. He didn’t get a September callup, though, because he went on the disabled list in August.
But Berry is a good candidate to finally make it to the Show in 2015. Normally I take a stab at predicting who would be in the next class based on the players who make it to the 40-man roster and/or are assigned to the Arizona Fall League. SotW players in the former category include Oliver Drake, Eduardo Rodriguez (traded for Andrew Miller in July and now on Boston’s 40-man roster), and Ty Kelly (a 2010 SotW and veteran minor leaguer who was elevated to the Cardinals’ 40-man roster after a trade from Seattle) while AFL participants were Garabez Rosa, Michael Ohlman (also on 40-man), Zach Davies, Mychal Givens, and Parker Bridwell. However, Givens and Bridwell were left unprotected on the 40-man roster and could be snatched up in the Rule 5 draft next week. Another SotW who was high on the Dodgers’ prospect list last season, pitcher Jarret Martin, was recently outrighted off the 40-man by Los Angeles.
Out of all those players I suspect that those with the best chance of success would be Berry, Rodriguez, and maybe Drake. I can see a class returned to three or four players with some of the prospects moving up to the AA and AAA levels making a debut in 2015.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are now players who were added to the SotWHoF who have apparently called it a career or had other setbacks. Joe Mahoney made it official at mid-season after not being able to find a willing team during the off-season, while Ryan Adams, Matt Angle, Zach Clark, and Kyle Hudson were released from their organizations during the season. The same may be true of Brad Bergesen, although my understanding was that his 2013 season was cut short by injury. The injury bug also got Brandon Snyder and cost David Hernandez all of 2014, with his rehab extending into 2015. Many of those players are now looking for jobs as minor league free agents, particularly those in the large SotWHoF Class of 2011.
Because of that, Bergesen and Mahoney have had their photos removed just so I can denote active and inactive players. It’s one change I’m making to the Hall of Fame, which is getting to be quite the long page with nearly 20 inductees.
Finally, I’m going to try again what I did last season and attempt to predict 25 players who will play for the Shorebirds sometime in 2015. Out of 25 players I projected, 15 spent some time with the Shorebirds in 2014, although three came on board later in the season. Of the other ten, three did not play (they were released during spring training and did not sign), one played at the rookie-ball level for another organization, one went to the independent leagues, two played for Aberdeen all season, and three advanced past Delmarva to Frederick. So we’ll see if I can be a better prognosticator in 2015.
With that, the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame page is restored and updated to reflect the 2014 season. Here’s hoping 2015 brings a lot of new inductions and some Hall of Fame-worthy players to Delmarva to begin the cycle anew.
To be perfectly frank and honest, this could be a very short entry because I read last year’s version and the wish list is exactly the same. Attendance was up 3,358 from last season’s all-time low, but we filled three more dates (65 openings vs. 62) so the average attendance per opening declined by 102 patrons, or 3 percent. Out of the last ten years (where records are handily accessible) the average is the third-lowest.
It’s interesting to me that the team’s support has deviated so little over the last decade despite the poor economy we’ve been saddled with, arguably since around 2007. From 2009 to 2011 the average plummeted 14%, but that’s the extent of the difference as the Shorebirds have averaged no fewer than 3,072 per game nor any more than 3,576 per contest in that span of a decade. Over the course of a year that translates to about 35,000 extra fans but we’re always at the mercy of the elements – I’m sure Shorebirds GM Chris Bitters prays for the stormy weather to hit here during roadtrips, or at the very worst on a Thursday night when maybe 1,500 are rattling around the stadium.
Instead, what happened this year was that storms seemed to hit on the nights fireworks or other events were scheduled – witness the August weekend where two games were lost due to wet grounds. If I recall correctly, the first was Faith and Family Night (always a packed house) and the other day was the Float for the Fund date where local celebrities scoop root beer floats for the Shorebirds’ charity. Both had to be rescheduled, and that’s a hassle. It’s why we had Sunday evening fireworks on Labor Day weekend.
As it turned out, many of the games I attended were at the tail end of the schedule and I just got the sense that a lot of people around the place were relieved the season was almost over. On the other hand, I wish we had back the old Maryland Fall League (which existed for one year, 1998) and its Delmarva Rockfish.
But since I have no new complaints, I want to bring up a couple points.
Consider, for example, that the Shorebirds will be celebrating their twentieth season next year. Although they’re not the oldest franchise in the South Atlantic League (eight of the other thirteen are longer-established), Perdue Stadium is roughly in the middle of its expected lifespan in this day and age. Seventeen of the thirty major league parks were opened in 1996 or later, with one of those (in Atlanta) already slated for replacement in the next few years.
A new stadium is not in the cards anytime soon for us, and the prospect of a downtown stadium like many other cities have doesn’t seem to fit Salisbury. But there should be some thought given to long-range planning for a new facility, perhaps in the same location. Once there were plans to replace the Civic Center with a new building next door to Perdue Stadium so it could share parking and I think that’s a superb idea. Many communities have adopted the idea of having sports facilities share those same common resources – Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit are just a few examples where NFL teams exist close by their MLB counterparts. It may be a problem once or twice a season, but generally the arrangement works well. Similarly, my birthplace of Toledo did the same with its Huntington Center – home of the Walleye hockey team – which is just a block from Fifth Third Field and the Mud Hens. Between the two, there’s only one “dead” month – the Mud Hens play from April-September while the Walleye play from October-April.
I understand that the focus of Salisbury city leaders is the revitalization of downtown, but there’s potential for another entertainment district on the outskirts of town. As part of extending water lines to the area just down Hobbs Road from the stadium, parcels of land along Hobbs were annexed to the city a few years ago – so development would be a shot in the arm for our town.
The to-do list I’ve had for Perdue Stadium and the Shorebirds’ operations is one thing, but it wouldn’t hurt attendance to make the area around Perdue Stadium more than just a one-stop destination. The concessionaires of Ovations may lose a portion of their sales in the short run, but that could be made up if we get back to the days of 250 or even 300 thousand making it out to see the Shorebirds. We’ve done well to keep a team 20 years, but there are always greener pastures beckoning. Let’s work to keep the Shorebirds here for generations to come.