Normally on this date in this time slot I would be announcing my June Shorebird Pitcher and Position Player of the Month. Instead, I get to react to the bad news that there will be no Shorebirds of the Month in 2020.
It’s a decision that was sort of baked into the cake once we passed Memorial Day with no major league baseball in sight but on Tuesday Minor League Baseball pulled the plug on the 2020 season. For the Delmarva Shorebirds, it cancels what would have been their milestone 25th season, a campaign where they were likely to be among the South Atlantic League’s top contenders given they won a team record 90 games in 2019.
As far as my website goes, it really changes my summer routine. New readers might not know that, for the previous 14 seasons, I have honored two to five Delmarva players a month – first as Shorebird of the Week, and for the last three seasons I selected a Shorebird Pitcher and Position Player of the Month. Normally by this point of the season I would already have the thrill of knowing that two or three of them would be inducted into the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame come December as they had made their debut in the Show. Later this fall I would have selected a Shorebird of the Year and done my picks and pans as a Shorebird fan, commenting on the overall stadium experience during the season.
But while I will miss doing most of these posts – it is likely I will eventually have a Hall of Fame Class of 2020 based on who the Orioles and others are trying out – that’s not my main concern here.
While the Shorebirds put on a brave face in talking about a 2021 return, there is already a whirlwind of activity regarding minor league baseball with which to contend.
First of all, at season’s end the Shorebirds are no longer contractually obligated to be an Orioles’ affiliate. Normally this is a routine renewal but these aren’t routine times: with minor league contraction all but certain thanks to the proposed deal between Major League Baseball and their MiLB counterparts, the Orioles will need only four affiliates instead of five. An early list of contracted teams included the Frederick Keys, who serve as the advanced-A affiliate for the Orioles – presumably that franchise would relocate to Aberdeen, which was slated to lose its rookie league team as that classification is phased out but has facilities and a fan base sufficient to support a higher classification.
However, if Frederick is successful in convincing the powers that be to stay – a case bolstered by the fact Maryland will almost certainly lose the Hagerstown Suns, a class A team that’s the Shorebirds’ biggest rival but one which had been rumored for relocation over the last several years anyway because of outdated facilities and poor attendance – then the Orioles would almost certainly prefer keeping the closest affiliates. (I don’t think Norfolk is going to lose its AAA team.) In that case, the situation may play out such that Delmarva keeps its team but loses its longtime Orioles affiliation and returns full circle to the Nationals (the successor team to the Expos, who were Delmarva’s first parent team for a season when they relocated here in 1996.)
Yet there is a wild card in that, too, because in addition to the contraction, we are going to see classifications upended as well. Leagues seeking better geographical balance and shorter road trips may expand or contract themselves, or be created anew: one rumor was that a Mid-Atlantic League of six teams would be formed as a class A league. A possible configuration for that would be having Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Aberdeen promoted from rookie league to full season ball to serves as the class A teams for the Yankees, Mets, and Orioles respectively. Lakewood would remain in the loop as a Phillies team – although that affiliation could also be given to Wilmington, which would step down from the advanced-A Carolina League as its northernmost team and join a more regional outfit. The loser in that battle could likely be a Red Sox affiliate, leaving Delmarva to be the Nationals A-ball team. Travel would be reduced considerably, with the worst trip being Salisbury to New York City, and we would see all these teams 14 times over the home season.
So we have no idea whether the crushing disappointment of losing a playoff elimination game at home in a 1-0 heartbreaker may the the last memory of the Delmarva Shorebirds. The chances of that being the case are remote, but so was the idea that a virus would cost Delmarva baseball fans a triumphant 25th season with their team.
Now that you are reminded of who plays on my fantasy baseball team of Shorebird of the Week Hall of Famers, you’d be welcome to ask: how would they do?
It took a few weeks of off and on work, but I updated the estimates for each remaining player from my 2019 team with their seasonal statistics, with the usual wild guesses of how injury-prone they would be and who would make for the best starting lineup, as I detailed last week.
So I had the set of individual statistics, but I needed a glue to put them together. Then I remembered how I did it last year:
Since I had figured out most of the main batting stats in order to define OPS and slugging percentage for the hitters, I decided to treat the pitchers the same way and figure out the batting stats against them. Once I had those numbers, I pored over about two decades’ worth of team batting stats to determine the closest parallels to runs scored based on average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS, numbers which I averaged together to determine projected totals of runs scored and runs allowed, which then allowed me to figure out a Pythagorean win-loss record that’s relatively accurate – most teams finish within a few games of their Pythagorean record.
My post from last season.
So I did that again, but it’s also worth recalling how the two squads compare in WAR.
As you can see, the overall WAR is far better; in theory, this team is 10 wins better than last season’s. However, it’s worth noting that the aggregate WAR of the players lost from the 2019 squad is (-1.2) and they were replaced by three players who combined for 1.6 WAR. So that’s about 1/4 of the gain, plus the extra playing time may have increased some of the better players’ WAR numbers. This is important because when I did the aggregates of average, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS, I came out with a negative run differential. Thus, this team wouldn’t flirt with .500 by picking up 10 games from its 72-90 record last season, but they would improve modestly to a 74-88 record.
And don’t forget: having done all these numbers meant that, just for the fun of it, I projected some 2020 statistics for the position players and pitchers. Of course, there are some players who will get nowhere near this much playing time – the now-retired Ty Kelly immediately comes to mind, but there are a handful of guys listed who, as far as I know, hadn’t signed a free agent deal as we begin spring training: pitchers Pedro Beato, Scott Copeland, and Eddie Gamboa as well as utility players Pedro Florimon and Brandon Snyder and catcher Mike Ohlman.
Losing a few pitchers from the 2021 team won’t really hurt me, but the lack of position players may put me in a bind in continuing this concept – which, you may notice, was slimmed down to two parts this year. I still have fun doing it, but I have to keep it somewhat real, too.
But until April 9, when the plan is for me to be back in my Perdue Stadium seat (hopefully not freezing to death) this will have to suffice. (Although…once again the UMES Hawks are playing their home contests at Perdue, with the first scheduled a week from tomorrow – weather permitting, of course.)
So here you go – my version of fantasy baseball is complete for another season. Can’t wait for the real thing!
It was about this time last year when I sated my jonesin’ for baseball with a fun exercise: putting together a fantasy baseball team based on the 40 players who had attained the status of being in the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. By the time I got to the last of three parts I had gotten far enough to create a projected set of statistics for each player.
One thing I mentioned in passing the first time around is that a number of players who were included on my 2019 team had actually stopped playing, meaning I had to recreate their career as if they hadn’t left the game. Most of those players were bench players and “September callups,” but this year I changed my rules a bit and only players who were active in 2019 would be included on this team.
Thus, the team lost a few players, but it also gained three as the SotWHoF Class of 2019 could be included. So this year’s squad includes pitchers Brendan Kline and Hunter Harvey as well as outfielder Mike Yastrzemski. With the additions and subtractions, the roster is quite a bit smaller:
Pitchers (20): Pedro Beato (R), Steven Brault (L), Parker Bridwell (R), Zack Britton (L), Dylan Bundy (R), Scott Copeland (R), Stefan Crichton (R), Zach Davies (R), Oliver Drake (R), Eddie Gamboa (R), Mychal Givens (R), Josh Hader (L), Hunter Harvey (R), Donnie Hart (L), David Hernandez (R), Brendan Kline (R), John Means (L), Ryan Meisinger (R), Eduardo Rodriguez (L), Jimmy Yacabonis (R)
Infielders (5): Pedro Florimon (S), Manny Machado (R), Jonathan Schoop (R), Brandon Snyder (R), Christian Walker (R)
Outfielders (6): Nicky Delmonico (L), Ty Kelly (S), Trey Mancini (R), Cedric Mullins (S), Stevie Wilkerson (S), Mike Yastrzemski (L)
This team got a little skimpy on position players because I lost a lot of them due to “retirement.”
Breaking the squad down further, we have five pretty solid starting pitchers. Eduardo Rodriguez would be the staff ace, and I could set up the staff behind him to alternate in a lefty-righty punch: how about Zach Davies as your #2, John Means as the #3, and Dylan Bundy as #4? Steven Brault would be the most likely #5 to provide a true LRLRL rotation. Backing them up in the “minor leagues” would be Scott Copeland and Parker Bridwell.
And this fantasy team still has the loaded bullpen (in real life) with the likes of Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Josh Hader, Oliver Drake, and David Hernandez as the back end crew. I could go closer-by-committee or assign someone like Britton to be my closer. I also have some length back there with guys like Jimmy Yacabonis and Eddie Gamboa, who can pitch multiple innings in a pinch. Backing the bullpen up are optionable pieces Stefan Crichton, Hunter Harvey, Brendan Kline, and Ryan Meisinger as well as veterans Pedro Beato and Donnie Hart.
I have the same three catchers as last season, and I still have guys who can chip in at multiple infield positions based on their big league experience – just fewer of them. Christian Walker had a breakout 2019 both on my fantasy team and in real life, so he’s nailed down first base. I’ve also kept Jonathan Schoop as my second baseman, Pedro Florimon at short, and Manny Machado at third. Brandon Snyder will back up at the corners, although two guys listed as outfielders (Ty Kelly and Stevie Wilkerson) could play up the middle as required.
My outfield gained a starting left fielder in Mike Yastrzemski. He would be flanked by a competition between Stevie Wilkerson and Cedric Mullins for the center field spot and Trey Mancini handling right. Any of those could also be a designated hitter, along with the other backup outfielder Nicky Delmonico.
Basically, with this arrangement of position players I would probably only have to send down the third catcher thanks to the expanded 26-man roster.
On Opening Day, this is what I would send out. We’re assuming American League rules with a designated hitter, and Eduardo Rodriguez is my starting pitcher for the second season in a row.
Cedric Mullins, cf
Trey Mancini, rf
Manny Machado, 3b
Jonathan Schoop, 2b
Christian Walker, 1b
Mike Yastrzemski, lf
Nicky Delmonico, dh
Chance Sisco, c
Pedro Florimon, ss
Bench: Austin Wynns (R), Brandon Snyder (R), Ty Kelly (S), Stevie Wilkerson (S)
In part two, I’ll reveal how the season plays out.
For this, the eleventh class of inductees, we seem to be arriving at a stopping point. Two of the three being honored this year were members of the loaded 2014 Shorebird team, and it appears that well may finally be running dry – those few players still knocking around aren’t really regarded as prospects. The same is true for the 2013 crop whose representative this season rounds out the trio.
The Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 didn’t take long to get set, as Branden Kline overcame a career’s worth of adversity to make his debut April 20. And while it was a feelgood story of an (almost) hometown kid made good necessitated by an unexpected early-season twinbill, the fact that Kline did well enough in that spot appearance to earn a place on the Elias/Hyde Baltimore-to-Norfolk shuttle meant he would be in the conversation for bullpen work in 2020.
Member number 2 may have received his big break a few weeks before the season. In a classic “change of scenery” trade, the Orioles addressed a glut of outfield prospects and the desire for more pitching depth by sending Mike Yastrzemski, whose star had fallen in the Orioles’ eyes thanks to some subpar AAA seasons, to the San Francisco Giants for Tyler Herb, a pitcher whose career seemed to be similarly stuck in the San Francisco organization. And while Herb did little to distinguish himself as Oriole property, the Giants got a steal of a deal that netted them a starting left fielder for the near-term, with several years of team control – one who will likely never leave for a big free agent contract since he won’t be eligible until his age-36 season. Mike made his debut May 25 and stayed with the Giants the rest of the way.
Finally, on August 17, the last piece of the Class of 2019 was put in place when the Orioles called up another pitcher whose career had been sidetracked by frequent injuries. Hunter Harvey only pitched a handful of innings at the big league level, but he was impressive enough to be penciled into the Orioles’ 2020 bullpen, perhaps as a seventh- or eighth-inning pitcher as closer-in-training for when the Orioles return to contention in future seasons.
So it was a class of just three; as such it was my smallest since 2014. The 2013 and 2014 SotWHoF classes were very small as they reflected a talent gap between a group which had either come through Delmarva at the end of the previous decade or were “can’t miss” guys like Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy and the group that began to arrive in 2016 or so as players who played with the Shorebirds in 2014. (The 2015 class was sort of a motley crew of pitchers, several making their debut elsewhere.)
As the players who came through in 2015 and 2016 have worked their way up to the cusp of the Show, the smaller number of Shorebird of the Month honorees beginning in 2017 will make the classes more limited going forward, perhaps maintaining a range of one to four per season.
While my track record is spotty, I continue to make my wild guesses as to who will be in the next class. I believe that, barring injury, we will finally see Ryan Mountcastle arrive in the bigs as one of the Class of 2020 – he was one of just two SotWs added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster. But, from there, the crystal ball clouds up considerably – I don’t see Ryan McKenna being quite ready this coming season after a step backward for the prospect in 2019. (His is a case where the new September roster restriction to 28 players will likely keep him off.)
McKenna and 2017 SotY Alex Wells are Oriole members of a second tier of prospects which also includes 2016 SotY Yermin Mercedes, who has worked his way onto the 40-man roster of the Chicago White Sox, as has Garrett Cleavinger for the Philadelphia Phillies. Jesus Liranzo fell off Pittsburgh’s 40-man but has stayed in the organization, so he’s included in this group.
Then we have a whole host of sleeper picks – guys who inhabit AAA but are considered more as the organizational filler. That group would include graybeards like Wynston Sawyer from way back in 2012, Luis Gonzalez and Mitch Horacek from 2014, and Jomar Reyes and Ademar Rifaela from 2015. All but Reyes have tasted AAA, and all but Reyes became minor-league free agents after 2019. Reyes was once a prime prospect, but he got stuck at Frederick for a few seasons.
Lastly are a few more recent Shorebirds of the Month who could get considered, but realistically are more likely members of the classes of 2021 or 2022. They would be Preston Palmiero, Steven Klimek, Zach Jarrett, Zac Lowther, Tim Naughton, DL Hall, 2018 SotY Brenan Hanifee, Grayson Rodriguez, and 2019 SotY Adam Hall.
I have also found that, with the additional coaching positions being placed at various levels including the major leagues, there may be a need to add a coaches’ wing to the SotWHoF. For example, Kyle Hudson, a member of the Class of 2011 as a player, may well be inducted as a coach as he has reached the AAA level with the Cleveland organization. There’s precedent for non-playing personnel to be a Shorebird of the Week (for my 100th SotW I selected then-manager Ryan Minor as a way to honor his longtime contributions) so there probably should be a place for coaches and/or managers who reach the Show.
With the publication of this post, the SotWHoF will once again be a live, public page. One new wrinkle you will notice: I have added information on how the player was acquired by the Orioles and, where needed, the team with which he made his debut. It’s interesting to see how teams come together.
This story is something which, on the surface, applies to my fellow baseball geeks but may affect a lot more in terms of regional economy and our hometown Shorebirds.
A published report in the baseball geek magazine Baseball America – a tome which specializes in coverage of the lower levels of the sport, from high school prospects to the high minors of AAA – claims that Major League Baseball (MLB) wishes to eliminate over one-fourth of the 160 affiliated minor league teams. The MLB proposal, which would take effect in 2021, would limit the Orioles and their other 29 brethren franchises to four full-season affiliates corresponding to AAA, AA, advanced A, and A. This would reduce the number of required teams to 120; however, the BA report also foretells the “promotion” of independent league teams in Sugar Land, Texas and St. Paul, Minnesota to the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) fold as they become affiliated teams (presumably to the Astros and Twins, respectively.)
The goals of MLB in this agreement are to eliminate facilities which are substandard as well as realign MiLB leagues and classifications to allow for less travel and better geographic alignment between MLB parent clubs and their affiliates. It’s been generally assumed that the teams currently in short-season leagues would be those on the chopping block, but that may not necessarily be true: for example, short-season Aberdeen has far better facilities than our fellow SAL team in Hagerstown, so the IronBirds would likely make the cut while Hagerstown is dropped. (The question then could become whether the Orioles would prefer an A ball team in Aberdeen or Delmarva.) The Suns, however, could live on as part of a “dream league” under the auspices of MiLB where undrafted players get to play in the hopes of eventually being signed. (In essence they would fill a role some independent leagues now fill.)
Hagerstown is a team which would almost certainly be axed in favor of a short-season team based on dreadful attendance and facilities. Among the remaining SAL teams, the worst attendance figures (under 2,000 a game average) belong to Hagerstown, Kannapolis, and West Virginia, while Hickory hovered just over that mark. In terms of stadium age, Hagerstown isn’t the oldest – Asheville’s park dates from 1924, six years before Hagerstown built theirs – but it’s one of just five SAL parks built in the 20th century. (Along with Delmarva, Hickory and Charleston opened their parks in the mid-1990s. Kannapolis did as well, but they open a new stadium – and get a new team name that’s announced in the coming days – next spring.)
As I alluded to above, the Orioles already have a pretty good situation insofar as geography is concerned: their only teams with significant distance between themselves and Baltimore are AAA Norfolk and their complex team at their spring training facility in Sarasota, Florida (which would be retained in any case as part of the agreement.) But they could have a decision to make if Aberdeen is retained in the MiLB mix.
Complicating matters in that regard is the prospect of teams moving up (or down) in classification. A big issue in MiLB today is the layout of the leagues: for example, West Coast MLB teams have no choice but to send their A-ball prospects two or three time zones away because the farthest west team at that level plays in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There are imbalances at every other level, too: this year the Washington Nationals had to send their AAA players out to Fresno, California because it was the last available AAA team. (Fresno was even rejected by the Oakland A’s, who left Nashville after the 2018 season for the AAA team in Las Vegas. Nashville, for their part, signed on with the Texas Rangers after they lost their previous AAA team in Round Rock, Texas to the Houston Astros, who left Fresno to take over at Round Rock. This was all necessitated when the New York Mets purchased the AAA team in Syracuse, New York to be their affiliate – they were the team that left Las Vegas and started the merry-go-round once development agreements expired last year. Previous to 2019, Syracuse was the Nationals’ top farm team.)
I suspect what’s going to happen is that the A-ball level where Delmarva plays and the advanced-A level are going to be most affected, but whether it’s reclassifying the advanced-A California League to an A ball league for West Coast teams or – as was alluded to in the BA story – reducing the South Atlantic League to 10 teams and creating a new six-team Mid-Atlantic League to reduce travel, MLB wants to revamp the minor leagues. I also suspect the advanced-A Florida State League may be eliminated since most of those teams are based at a spring training site where the complex leagues also play, attendance is rather low, and there are only a few major league teams in the region. The complex leagues could shift to evening start times (they normally play in the late morning or noontime) to fill the gap. (A small issue there is that there are 15 teams with spring training in Arizona and 15 in Florida, so each of those prospective leagues could require a travel team to even out the schedule.)
With the money invested in our facilities over the last few years, it’s not likely Delmarva would be left out in the cold totally (although there is the possibility.) But I honestly think that, if the Orioles had to choose between Aberdeen and Delmarva as an A-ball affiliate, we would get the short end of the stick – if so, I’m sure the Nationals would love to be here and we could resume the Governor’s Cup against Aberdeen instead of Hagerstown. A new six-team A-level Mid-Atlantic League could include Aberdeen, Brooklyn, and Staten Island (teams with newer facilities promoted from short-season rookie ball), along with SAL refugees Delmarva and Lakewood, and Wilmington, which would be dropped from advanced-A as the northernmost appendage of the Carolina League but is geographically favorable to this proposed league. In the paper MAL the longest bus trip would be under five hours, and possible affiliating teams would include the Orioles and Nationals along with the Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, and perhaps Toronto or Pittsburgh. (Currently both Aberdeen and Delmarva are Orioles teams, Brooklyn and Staten Island affiliate with the Mets and Yankees, respectively, and Lakewood with the Phillies. Wilmington is the odd duck as a Kansas City Royals affiliate – the Royals are one of those teams stranded in a situation where no advanced-A team is nearby.) Such a league would allow fans to see each team 14 times based on a 140-game schedule. It would be a little repetitive but also creates good rivalries.
Now, there are other possibilities as well: Aberdeen would fit decently into a reduced-size AAA International League where Norfolk would be relegated to the South Atlantic League, with a different affiliation. (Or they could create a third AAA league based in the South which would include Norfolk.) In that case, not only would IronBird fans get to experience cold-weather baseball, in the case of a move to the IL they could get the guys at the other end of the minor league food chain from what they now receive (aside from rehabbing players.)
In any case, MiLB in general and Delmarva fans in particular have been put on notice: after next season the landscape in which the Shorebirds exist could be a whole lot different. Hopefully we’ll still be seeing 70 games a year at the old ball yard.
After long years of waiting, we finally got our concourse. Of all the picks, I have to say that is the best! It gives fans a new perspective and kids who want to shag home run balls a place to go.
Now that it’s here, the time has come to increase its potential. How about a couple mobile food carts or even just specialty vendors who walk that part of the stadium on large crowd nights? Maybe someday they can expand it in the left-field corner enough for a seating area and/or (even better) a mini-stage to bring back Thursday postgame concerts.
But while the new concourse is nice, I think most of the significant increase in attendance – the Shorebirds drew 218,704 (3,265 per game), which is over 17,000 more in just two more dates compared to 2018 and their best number since 2012 – comes from having a winning team. We can’t do much about that from a fan standpoint, although next year’s Shorebirds will inherit from a fairly talented pool below them in the organization, but we can suggest some areas for improvement and praise that which is good.
The good picks begins at the top, with the league’s executive of the year being Shorebird GM Chris Bitters. Give the man a raise! Fan-friendly but hesitant to take the spotlight, Chris has shepherded the franchise through a lengthy series of physical plant improvements which need to extend to one more aspect of the facilities: the back-of-the-house functions like restrooms, offices, and food service. All of those could use a little bit of freshening up and now is a good time to make that investment. This would give them the opportunity for CCTV in the restrooms so fans don’t miss the action.
There are also a couple other things which need to be freshened up, though. After two seasons the frog shuffle and video racing are getting a bit long in the tooth, so it might be time for the sponsors to consider some new stuff. More importantly, though, it may be time to freshen up the food offerings. I thought I heard this was the last year of their contract so maybe we can bring in someone else who’s better. I’m not expecting fine dining here, but I think we can do better than what we’ve had over the last few seasons.
The one big pan I would have is the new netting, simply because it eliminates one feature I enjoy about games, taking player pictures. It’s either that or moving way down the left field line, which sort of defeats the purpose unless I spend a few hundred dollars on a serious telephoto lens. I’m not that serious about it.
The other problem with this is that it allows fans to pay less attention to the game than they already do – which is how some number of people got hurt before the netting was extended. My seat isn’t the most risky, but over fifteen seasons I have been buzzed by a line drive (and snatched one out of the air with a nice grab), hit by an errant bunt and gotten a nice welt on the elbow from a flying bat, so even though I pay pretty close attention I still get the safety aspect. I ended up securing three foul balls that bounced or rolled to me this season, which is a high for me. But that seemed like too much of a tradeoff.
I went over a lot of stuff at the end of last season which still holds true, but thank goodness they found a better site for the new Sheriff’s office.
So I want to spend a little time going over a different sort of pick. Remember back in March when I predicted the Shorebirds’ opening day roster? This is how I did on those picks.
On starting pitchers, of the six I predicted all six spent time with the Shorebirds this year. However, Matthew Hammonds was primarily a reliever and Blaine Knight was here a very brief time before his promotion. And they didn’t piggyback Grayson Rodriguez as much as I thought they would. (6 of 6)
As for the relief corps, five of the seven made it here although none stayed all season. We saw just a little bit of Ryan Conroy (two appearances) but more of Nick Gruener (retired at mid-season), Tyler Joyner and Zach Matson (both promoted to Frederick), and Ryan Wilson (who came up and stayed a starter.) Kevin Magee spent his second season in Aberdeen and Victor Romero barely pitched due to injury – just a handful of GCL rehab appearances from Frederick’s roster. (11 of 13)
Both my catchers missed significant time – Alfredo Gonzalez spent the whole season on Frederick’s IL (or perhaps was placed there as coaching prep) while Cody Roberts missed half the season with a legitimate injury suffered in the very first game of the campaign but salvaged some games with Delmarva. (12 of 15)
Out of six infielders, three spent most of the season with Delmarva – Seamus Curran at first, Adam Hall at shortstop, and Alexis Torres at second. However, I underestimated both J.C. Escarra and Willy Yahn, who both began the season with Frederick – Yahn eventually ended it with the Bowie Baysox. On the flip side, Zach McLeod went the other way: back from Aberdeen to the GCL and perhaps out of a job as he was pedestrian there. He was probably my biggest miss. (15 of 21)
Finally, my four outfielders, all of whom spent time here. Nick Horvath was the only full-season player, though, as the other three (Jaylen Ferguson, Robert Neustrom, and Robbie Thorburn) played a combined total of 118 games here – just five more than Horvath on his own.
So I got 19 of 25. Can’t say that’s half bad for minor league baseball.
It’s the first time since I began doing this series in 2006 that my season wrapup will talk about playoffs. (Cue the old Jim Mora clip: “Playoffs?!?”) It took until the final game of the campaign to do it, but this year’s Delmarva nine was the first in the team’s 24 seasons to win 90 games, finishing with a 90-48 regular season record. Ninety regular-season wins was a feat last accomplished in the SAL (ironically) in 2006.
Alas, regular season wins don’t carry over to the playoffs, as that win against Kannapolis in the regular season finale was the last W for the Shorebirds. For want of three runs – two to overcome a one-run loss in the opener and one to avoid what would become an extra-inning loss in the final playoff game – the Shorebirds watched second-place Hickory celebrate the division crown on our field. I call that “unfinished business.” (That was the peak of the Crawdads’ season as Southern Division champ Lexington – who won the first half as the Shorebirds did but staggered home in the second half to finish just 68-70 and third in its division overall – managed to upset both the top seed Augusta and Hickory to win a second straight league pennant.)
Yet if you go by the old adage “ya dance with the one that brung ya” there’s certainly a lot of head-scratching about the player moves made just before the playoffs began: swapping out a hot bat in Alexis Torres for the .169 hitter Andrew Fregia (who went 0-for-4 in the playoffs) and bringing up three pitchers from Aberdeen who collectively gave up the one heartbreaking run in 3 2/3 innings of relief. But the real snakebite was outhitting the Crawdads 10-4 in the opener only to lose 4-3, then getting shut out on two hits in game two. (Our team batting average in the series was a measly .185 – but Hickory’s was worse at .161, so the pitching was fine.)
And pitching was the calling card of this year’s Shorebird team – so much so that it made an average offensive attack enough to be a juggernaut.
In a down year for hitting leaguewide, our .243 average was good enough for 5th out of 14. For much of the season, though, we were in the .250 range.
Our 610 runs were also fifth in the loop, as were 1,106 hits.
Power numbers were mediocre: 216 doubles was 10th, 32 triples tied for 5th, and 74 home runs was good for just 12th.
We had 540 RBI, which placed us right in the middle at 7th overall.
1,608 total bases was enough for the ninth spot.
We drew 469 walks, which was sixth – but we struck out 1,260 times for seventh-lowest.
The Shorebirds picked their base-stealing spots well – while they were only 9th with 106 swipes, their 35 times caught was tied for third-fewest. (The teams caught fewer times topped out at 79 steals.)
They were sixth in on-base percentage at .324 but ninth in slugging with a .354 mark, leaving them seventh in OPS with .678 overall.
And about that record-setting pitching:
By nearly a quarter-run (3.oo vs. 3.23) the Shorebirds won their first-ever team ERA title. It was their second-best pitching staff ever: the 1996 Shorebirds had a collective 2.85 ERA but that was second in the league to the former Capital City Bombers.
While we had a great staff, we were one of only four teams in the league without a complete game. But we collected 20 shutouts to cream the field – next best was 13.
Naturally we led the league with 53 saves.
Pitching 1210 1/3 innings was only eighth.
We were the only team in the league to allow fewer than 1,000 hits – in fact, we didn’t even make it to 900 (898.) Our 475 runs allowed (404 earned) was also first.
By four home runs, our 67 home runs allowed also paced the league.
A rare category we didn’t win: hitting 70 batters was only fourth-fewest.
Not only did we set a league record with 1,389 strikeouts, we walked the most with 526. Strange.
Because our walk rate was so high, we barely edged out Hickory for the best WHIP with a 1.18 rate (vs. 1.19.)
Our .979 fielding percentage was second-best to Hickory’s .980, but our 102 errors (the Crawdads committed 101) came in three more games than they played.
You may recall that last year the Orioles had no minor league playoff qualifiers – well, that changed this season. While Norfolk had a pretty dismal season (61-78), Bowie came within two games of winning the Eastern League after a 7-23 start by winning the second half and eliminating Harrisburg to win their division before succumbing to Trenton in the finals.
Frederick took our players from last season and had a dismal 53-84 campaign – so while they’re licking their chops at the prospects we’ll send their way in 2020, we’ll get the cream of an Aberdeen squad that just missed the NYP playoffs with a 42-33 record and perhaps even a few from a worst to first GCL team that blew the league away with a 38-15 mark but had its playoffs blown away in turn by the prospects of Hurricane Dorian.
Farther down the line, the Orioles’ two Dominican league teams combined to go 62-70 but that is considered a work in progress. However, we did get a handful of DSL alumni this season – mainly older players who filled out our pitching staff from time to time.
So how did my position players and pitchers of the month do?
April player – Robert Neustrom
I think I put the jinx on Robert when I picked him: the promising start yielded to an injury-filled season where he spent two stints on the injured list. After slashing a steady .285/5/36/.817 OPS in 47 games here overall, he struggled after a late July promotion to the Keys, hitting just .238/2/10/.629 OPS there in only 31 games. (On rehab, he was a terrible 1-for-16 with Aberdeen over four games.)
However, in the field Robert was a steady presence – his next professional error will be his first. Yes, in 122 professional games Neustrom still carries a perfect fielding percentage. It can be argued that he may not get to everything because his range factor is rather low by comparison to other SAL outfielders, but that may be a function of a high-strikeout pitching staff, too.
Seeing that Robert was a fairly high draft pick (5th round) and is only entering his age-23 season next year, I suspect he will be ticketed to remain at Frederick unless the outfield there is crowded by other holdovers. As will be discussed further, the Orioles seem to have something of a logjam of outfield prospects at their upper levels; a much stronger position than their infield hopefuls.
April pitcher – Grayson Rodriguez
Grayson was to this year’s Shorebird staff what DL Hall was to the 2018 version: a hot prospect out of high school who made a lot of older batters look silly. Carefully watched this season and kept on a relatively short leash – his longest start out of the 20 he made was 7 full innings and exactly 100 pitches, but his average was less than 5 innings and about 77 pitches a start – Grayson was both a league All-Star and the SAL’s lone representative in the Futures Game, where he pitched a scoreless inning. (Oddly enough, Hall was also there and did the same.)
For the 2019 campaign, Rodriguez led the Shorebirds with 10 wins, piled up an impressive 129 strikeouts in 94 innings pitched, and was the one long-term starter with a sub-1 WHIP at 0.98. (He allowed only 57 hits and 36 walks, finishing 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA.) Impressively, in three of his five August starts he allowed no hits, covering 14 innings. Unfortunately, that string didn’t carry into the playoffs as he was the losing Game 1 pitcher by allowing 4 runs in 6 innings. (Grayson also struggled a bit against Hickory in his one regular season start against them, attaining his second-worst game score among his starts of five or more innings.)
With all the similarities to Hall, I would suspect Rodriguez will follow him up the ladder and pitch at Frederick this season. Imagine the joy Orioles fans must feel in watching this young 1-2 lefty-righty punch work its way up the organization. Thus, I’m declaring Grayson Rodriguez my Prospect of the Year.
May player – Nick Horvath
While Nick had a month that was good enough to win the Shorebird of the Month honors, unfortunately he was sort of a one-hit wonder for the season. If you take the remaining months of the season Nick hit a collective .179 during those times; as it was Nick landed right on the Mendoza line with a .200/7/40/.625 OPS slash line for 2019 and that’s not going to get the job done.
Given the fact he was a fairly low draft pick and really parlayed one decent college season into the flyer the Orioles took on him as a pitcher/outfielder, it’s honestly hard to see Nick hanging on for his age-24 season unless he latches on here as a backup outfielder or tries the Mychal Givens approach and reinvents himself as a pitcher at the pro level. With the organizational outfield depth the Orioles have, I tend to doubt this will occur – but stranger things have happened and perhaps Nick gets another shot.
May pitcher – Drew Rom
How it was that the two youngest pitchers on the staff took home the first two awards – well, I don’t know. But Drew put together a solid season; however, he seemed to run out of gas toward the end (except for his final start, which must have seemed to him to be the light at the end of the tunnel as he threw five no-hit innings at the hapless Lakewood BlueClaws.) After July 1, he had a rather pedestrian 5.09 ERA, which belied his overall numbers (6-3 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.)
Like many of his cohorts, though, Drew could be a strikeout machine as he fanned 122 in just 95 1/3 innings, while walking a very acceptable 33. In checking his splits, though, based on this season Drew may be destined to be a bullpen piece – he was markedly better as a reliever (even in the cases where he was piggyback behind another pitcher, oftentimes Gray Fenter) than he was starting a game, even though he generally came in for “clean” innings.
And because he struggled at season’s end, not to mention he’ll only be in his age-20 season this coming year, I wouldn’t be too shocked to find him as our Opening Day starter, or the Opening Day closer. Drew actually jumped two levels this season, moving up from the Gulf Coast League to pitch here, so despite his lofty draft status as a fourth round pick I can see him repeating this level to start. (They may also hold him back in extended spring; however, if they do that I’m inclined to believe he will be picked up by Frederick.)
Drew turned out to be the next tier of pitcher below Rodriguez and a future SotM I’ll get to in due course. We could do well with a staff at that level next season.
June player – Cadyn Grenier
Somewhat emblematic of the difference in seasons and outlook the Orioles had was the fate of this highly-touted college shortstop. Struggling in the field and barely hitting .200 in his pro debut season last year, Cadyn was looking like a high-profile bust for a few weeks this season, too. But he finally began to put things together in June, getting his slash up to .253/7/39/.759 OPS before a promotion to Frederick in mid-July. There he ran into many of the same issues he had with Delmarva last season, hitting only .208 in 24 games before finding himself on the IL in late August.
Branching out to play second base as a tag team with Adam Hall, Grenier seemed to improve from the variation, not losing his fielding numbers when he moved up to the next level as well as improving on his 2018 stats.
Coming into his age-23 season, Cadyn will be pressed to improve at the same pace he did between seasons with Delmarva at Frederick. While he was a high draft selection (and we looked forward to his debut last year with the Shorebirds), on the organizational depth chart Cadyn has certainly fallen behind Mason McCoy – who Grenier supplanted as Shorebirds’ shortstop in 2018, but who’s moved up to Bowie thanks to a fantastic 2019 season – and may have Hall nipping at his heels after Adam’s nice season at the plate here. Fortunately for Cadyn, there aren’t any other hotshot shortstop prospects blocking his way forward so he should be able to improve at the same pace.
June pitcher – Gray Fenter
The second bite of the apple was enough for Fenter to thrive. Here for awhile to begin 2018 before being returned to Aberdeen for more seasoning, Gray took the bull by the horns early on and parlayed his initial piggyback role into a starting slot of his own.
Spending the entire season with the Shorebirds allowed Gray to put up 22 appearances (17 starts), amassing an 8-2 record and a team-leading 1.81 ERA. More importantly, based on a career number of about a strikeout an inning, Gray’s 123 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings blew that number away. 43 walks is a little bit concerning, but he managed to get by at this level with that stuff and seems to be good at fine tuning and adjusting.
However, there are a couple caveats in this story. This was Gray’s age-23 season so he’s a little older than league average – he missed all of the 2016 season due to injury. (It also leaves the intriguing prospect he could be picked in the Rule 5 Draft if he’s not protected.) Assuming he’s not plucked away by a pitching-desperate team, my guess would be that Gray will be trying to solve the Carolina League next season as something of a late bloomer.
July player – Jaylen Ferguson
Similar to Fenter, Ferguson was a player who saw time here in 2018 but struggled until his demotion to Aberdeen. But someone in the Orioles minor league coaching ranks saw something that made Jaylen worth keeping despite dreadful numbers all around in 2018. He would up coming back here to replace an injured player until becoming injured himself days after being picked as SotM and missing much of the rest of the regular season.
If you take Jaylen’s combined Aberdeen and Delmarva numbers (just 43 games total) he ended up slashing .287/6/32/.861 OPS – however, most of the OPS comes from the 6 homers he hit in 19 Aberdeen games. (He had none here with Delmarva.) But getting the late start from playing short-season ball and losing a month to injury makes it difficult to know whether these numbers were legit or if a regression to a .222 lifetime mean is coming – prior to 2019, Ferguson’s .234 mark with the GCL Orioles in his first pro season (2015) was his best season. Given he’s still considered an age-22 player thanks to a midseason birthday, I can see Jaylen starting back here and trying to stay healthy. For him, just playing a game that counts in April will be a first.
We should know 50 games in whether we have the Jaylen who slashed .296/0/18/.782 or .171/2/5/.512. If it’s the former we have a formidable top-of-the-order hitter who should get 400-500 plate appearances. If it’s the latter, we’ll know he had a monthlong flash in the pan.
July pitcher – Ryan Wilson
Making his second tour of duty with the Shorebirds after a stint in extended spring, Ryan was promoted from bullpen duty to make 17 starts for the Shorebirds this season, going 6-5 with a 2.80 ERA. Unlike some of his cohorts, though, he didn’t have numbers which went off the charts – in 93 1/3 innings Ryan allowed 73 hits, walked 29, and struck out 105.
Still, it turned out to be Ryan’s best season in what was his age-22 season, so on that basis I can see him being promoted to Frederick as either a back end of the rotation starter or a long relief guy. Wilson has the same sort of profile as a John Means as he was overshadowed by a host of pitchers who were deemed better prospects but got the last laugh. He’s the sort of pitcher who just goes about his business and you suddenly realize it’s the sixth inning and he’s only given up a run or two.
Otherwise, Ryan profiles as an organizational pitcher who may get to the double-A level because he repeated this level – however, he skipped the short-season A level so it can be argued his improvement season-over-season was appropriate.
August player – Johnny Rizer
One of a handful of 2019 draft picks to reach the Shorebirds this season, Rizer made the largest non-marketing impact: in 36 games here, he slashed .310/1/22/.761 OPS. Add in the 27 Aberdeen contests in which he participated and the numbers are pretty good for some guys in a full season: a .308/4/41/.821 OPS in just 260 plate appearances. He also played an errorless outfield.
While his outfield counterpart Robert Neustrom still has to earn his way into the prospect conversation, Johnny did nothing to dissuade his inclusion, albeit with a somewhat small sample size. I don’t think it’s out of the question that he jumps to Frederick to start next season, and if he puts another .300-plus season on the board he may be in the mix for a look from the Orioles two seasons hence. That’s putting the cart way out in front of the horse, but as I said Rizer did nothing to put that talk aside.
August pitcher – Gray Fenter
My only repeat winner this season, it’s also worth noting that Gray was the guy who was turned to when the season was on the line, and he produced in a big way with a memorable 6 1/3 inning shutout performance against Hickory with 13 strikeouts. Alas, the Shorebirds could not score either.
It’s one thing Gray will be remembered for here for a long, long time.
Here is a list of my Shorebirds of the Year, going back to the award’s inception in 2006. I’m also adding the Prospect of the Year, in parentheses. Some of these guys are now (or will be come December) in the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame, in bold.
2006 – Ryan Finan (Brandon Erbe)
2007 – Danny Figueroa (Brad Bergesen)
2008 – Sean Gleason (Zack Britton)
2009 – Ron Welty (L.J. Hoes)
2010 – Brian Conley (Tyler Townsend)
2011 – David Walters (Jonathan Schoop)
2012 – Brenden Webb (Dylan Bundy)
2013 – Lucas Herbst (Adrian Marin)
2014 – Chance Sisco (Mike Yastrzemski – Class of 2019)
2015 – John Means (Jomar Reyes)
2016 – Yermin Mercedes (Ryan Mountcastle)
2017 – Alex Wells (no prospect award)
2018 – Brenan Hanifee (DL Hall)
2019 – keep reading (Grayson Rodriguez)
This year there weren’t many slam dunk choices, as it was a team carried by the pitching and many of those pitchers departed before they were on the team for the requisite 2/3 of the season.
Among the pitchers, it was really a two-man race between the Grays – Grayson Rodriguez and Gray Fenter. Both have compelling arguments: the elite prospect status and team-leading wins and strikeout totals for Rodriguez vs. the ERA lead and more humble beginnings for Fenter, who was here for the second time.
On the batting side, however, there was a player who was always in the hunt for monthly honors and arguably should have won in May. It was never more than a player or two who had beaten him, but over the long season there were some impressive numbers: a .298/5/45/.780 OPS total in a team-leading 122 games, along with a easy lead in steals with 33.
Last year I went off the board for a guy who was a constant force all seaon, and this year I’m doing the same for the 2017 second round Oriole pick from Bermuda via Hamilton, Ontario. The Shorebird of the Year for 2019 is infielder Adam Hall.
I promise you now that we are all moved into one home and out of the old one: next week is the return of picks and pans (with a twist), and that will close out the books on the 2019 campaign until I induct my three-member Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2019 in early December.
First off, a bit of housekeeping: since the Shorebirds failed to advance beyond the first round of the SAL playoffs, this also covers the four games they played in September: the two against Kannapolis to wrap up the regular season and the two games they lost against Hickory to get bounced out of the playoffs. (In turn, Hickory lost the SAL championship series to Lexington in four games.)
Thus, for the second month in a row it’s a newcomer grabbing the position player honors. Promoted after a hot beginning to his pro career with the Aberdeen Ironbirds, Johnny Rizer rose to the top of the heap by having an August-plus that outpaced everyone else on the team by a half-mile. Tossing in that handful of July games, Johnny wrapped up the regular season with a Delmarva slash line of .305/3/19/.761 OPS in 36 games. (In the two playoff games, Johnny had a pair of hits – both in the opener – and scored the Shorebirds’ first playoff run in 14 years as they took a brief 2-0 lead in Game 1.)
The Texas native was a TCU Horned Frog when he was selected in the 7th round of this year’s draft, becoming one of the first in this year’s draft class to make his Shorebird debut in late July. (Rizer, though, began his college playing career at Louisiana-Lafayette before moving on to TCU.)
Having been successful in his brief audition with the Shorebirds, the question could be whether Rizer will leap ahead of some of his peers by skipping up to Frederick to begin next season or come back here for a more extended period as the starting right fielder. Considering Johnny hit over .300 at both levels, he may get the chance to move up depending on how some of the other dominoes fall. (The Orioles seem to have a lot of outfield prospects throughout their minor league system.) One argument for keeping him here, though, is a relatively steep drop in OPS from Aberdeen (.911) to here (.761). Putting together a similar average with an OPS number of .800 or above will likely punch Johnny a ticket after the All-Star break, in what would be his age-23 season next year.
On the other hand, I don’t have to reintroduce my pitcher of the month since he becomes my only two-time winner of 2019. After putting together a June good enough to win the honors, Gray Fenter may have outdone himself with his final appearance of 2019 to wrap up a blistering last month of the season where he had an 0.71 ERA and 0.63 WHIP for the month, 25 1/3 innings’ worth. Among his 37 strikeouts were 13 in a memorable 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball he threw at Hickory in Game 2 of the SAL North playoffs – alas, the Shorebirds could not score to support Fenter.
I believe he will be at the next level in 2020, and he’s certainly a contender for Shorebird of the Year. My annual season review comes next week. (Thanks to a longer-than-expected cleanout of the old house, make that October 3.)
As the season is beginning to wind down, it’s getting time to start considering who will be Shorebird of the Year for 2019. Ironically, the two players selected this month may not be eligible for that honor because to be a Shorebird of the Year a player has to be here for 2/3 of the games.
Position player Jaylen Ferguson fails that test, as he was brought up from Aberdeen on the 1st of July to replace fellow outfielder Doran Turchin. Ferguson got the promotion despite a paltry .222 average for the IronBirds, but having 3 home runs out of his eight hits didn’t hurt – and gave him a stellar .877 OPS to boot.
In a full month at Delmarva, the 2015 9th rounder out of Texas’s Arlington High School provided an upgrade to Turchin’s middling statistics for the season, putting up a .296 average in 24 games, knocking in 18 runs, and providing an OPS of .782 to pace the team. Ironically, Ferguson went on the injured list at month’s end and was replaced by Turchin, who was activated a few days afterward.
Fans may remember Jaylen from a rather unsuccessful stint here in 2018, where Ferguson spent several weeks here before returning to Aberdeen thanks to a .171/2/5/.512 OPS slash line. Somehow Jaylen survived the season as his Aberdeen numbers were even worse in his third time around with the team – over four seasons there Jaylen has now played a total of 141 games and slashed an uninspiring .202/6/40/.530 OPS. This July was, quite honestly, the best stretch of games in Ferguson’s career so his injury (which came about after a “violent swing” at the plate) came at a most unfortunate time. Over the course of a decade-plus of doing this, I’ve seen players suddenly “get it” after seasons of struggle and maybe this month was Jaylen’s “got it” month. We’ll have to see if he comes back to continue the success – while Jaylen is repeating this level and has toiled at Aberdeen each of the last four seasons, he is still younger than league average.
Also in contention once again this month was shortstop Adam Hall, who’s been right there every month. It’s the sort of consistency that could be rewarded with Shorebird of the Year since Ferguson can’t win it.
With that in mind, if he stays the rest of the season and the schedule works out correctly, Ryan Wilson will barely have enough games in to qualify for SotY honors. As it stands, his solid July garners him the Shorebird of the Month for pitchers. (This after being the SAL pitcher of the week during the month, too.)
Despite a rough start at month’s end which had no assistance from the bullpen – turns out Ryan’s closest competitor, Ruben Garcia, allowed three inherited Wilson runs to score, inflating Wilson’s ERA – Ryan was just dominant enough in July to win. Unlike the first few months of the season, where some Shorebird hurler put up eye-popping numbers, Wilson’s strength this month came from a combination of stats which ranged from above average to well above average, but nothing really in the 98th percentile. He was only 2-2 for the month, but in a team-high 31 innings he allowed only 18 hits and a .165 average, striking out 40 while walking only eight. Toss out his inherited runners – which added nearly a run to his month’s ERA – and he’s in the low 2’s for that stat instead of a more pedestrian 2.90.
Coming out of Pepperdine University, Ryan was one of those “diamond in the rough” picks as he wasn’t selected until round 33 back in 2017. Yet he has managed to improve his numbers each season: a particularly mean feat when you consider he jumped from the GCL to Delmarva last year, pitching mostly out of the bullpen. So while he is repeating this level, he really skipped over the step of Aberdeen he could have taken last season. Still 22 years old, Ryan is in step with league average as far as age goes. He may be a candidate for a few starts at Frederick later this season, but I suspect the Orioles aren’t going to tinker a whole lot with the staff from here on out unless Frederick gives them a reason to, such as wholesale player releases or injuries.
As I believe I pointed out previously, if the Shorebirds reach the SAL championship series there will be both August and September Shorebirds of the Month; if not, the August numbers will be combined with the two regular season September games and the two or three playoff games. In either case, everything moves back at least a week: SotM for August comes September 13, and if there’s a September SotM that will be announced September 20. (Otherwise, that’s the date for Shorebird of the Year.) I’ll almost be pushing picks and pans back into October, but having playoffs is worth it after all these years!
So far it’s been a memorable season for Shorebird fans. Who would have thought that, by the end of June, they would have won more games (57) in their first 80 games then they won in an entire season from 2011 to 2013, and already punched their postseason ticket?
There have also been some great performances, with two players and two pitchers previously being rewarded as Shorebirds of the Month. This month we make it three straight with a new pair; in this case they are a pair of holdovers from last season (but first-time winners.)
For Cadyn Grenier, Delmarva is the only pro team he’s ever known. Plucked out of 2018 NCAA champion Oregon State’s lineup with the “Competitive Balance A” pick (37th overall), the former Oriole regime decided to pre-emptively advance Cadyn past Aberdeen and onward to Delmarva. His July 2018 debut was highly anticipated, but for a player known as a great-fielding shortstop in college, neither the fielding (10 errors and a .939 fielding percentage in 39 games) nor batting numbers (.216/1/13/.630 OPS in 43 games) were enough for Grenier not to repeat here for 2019.
Cadyn, who was initially drafted out of a Las Vegas high school by the Cardinals in 2015 before heading to OSU, now shares time at shortstop with fellow prospect Adam Hall, with the odd man out usually playing second base. And it looked for a time like that transition wasn’t going to work well for him, but Grenier has slowly picked up the pace: a .229 mark through April had edged up close to .260 by June’s end thanks to a .278/3/11/.832 OPS month that was good enough to win him Shorebird of the Month honors. Cadyn hit in 16 of 17 games at one point and that’s bound to increase the average.
The test will be in the next couple months, as the now-22 year old wore down a bit at the tail end of last season – however, given the fact Grenier now has a full season under his belt one would think he’s a bit more accustomed to the routine. Another question is whether the Orioles will keep him here to participate in playoff baseball – it’s a spot where the CWS experience may come in handy but the case could also be made that, since he’s already won a College World Series, Cadyn needs to compete against a higher level after a full season at A ball.
And speaking of Adam Hall, for the third month in a row he was right there in the mix for position player of the month in what really became a two-person race once Will Robertson was promoted. Had he not missed a few games with a family issue, Hall may have taken the award.
On the pitching side, this month’s honoree has overcome a mid-season demotion last year to step up his game at this level in 2019.
Gray Fenter was placed here to start last season but never really got untracked, allowing runs in his first seven appearances and 10 of 13 overall before being demoted to Aberdeen once their season began. The numbers weren’t stellar but certainly good enough to give him another bite of the apple this season, and Fenter began June by pitching his first 13 2/3 innings as shutout ball, finally yielding a single run on June 30. He wrapped June with a 2-0 record, 0.59 ERA, and 0.72 WHIP for the month.
Fenter’s been in the system awhile as he was the 7th round selection out of West Memphis High School in Arkansas back in 2015. He turned in a nice 2015 GCL season and would probably have been ticketed for Aberdeen to close the 2016 season, but missed the entire campaign due to TJ surgery. Basically Gray had to start all over in 2017, repeating the GCL except for one forgettable Aberdeen appearance. Perhaps the intention was to demote Fenter all along last season, but his mediocre performance here didn’t change anyone’s mind off that idea.
He has been very successful this season as part of a tag team with May pitcher of the month Drew Rom, but at some point those training wheels have to come off. Fenter has pitched seven innings once in his career, doing so last season in a start for Aberdeen; his longest appearance this season was six innings in a doubleheader start against Augusta. (Both were shutouts, by the way.) So he has the ability, just has to develop consistency.
This month was a tight contest between Fenter and starter Nick Vespi, who turned in his own outstanding month (and arguably deserves the honor based on slightly lesser numbers but several more innings pitched.) But the head-to-head favored Fenter so I went with him.
Since this is the post for Independence Day, I hope you have a happy one! And in case you’re wondering, the Shorebird of the Week has never taken a break for the July 4 holiday, although the leap year calendar has meant the concurrence has only come once: pitcher Matt Taylor was that fortunate honoree back in 2013. (Maybe that was his career peak: the lefty never made it past Frederick in two subsequent seasons.) I suspect we may do better with at least one of these two monthly honorees.
If there were ever a month I could have done co-players (and pitchers) of the month, this month would have been the case. The proprietary formula I use to figure it out came out razor-close in both instances. But after a little bit of overtime figuring, two players came out on top and they are being honored this month.
After struggling through a horrific April, you had to figure that Nick Horvath would begin slowly seeking his level in May. But being about 70 points below his overall average, you would further believe he would right the ship by the midseason break – instead, Horvath basically did it in one month. It turned out he was a hit shy of being 100 points above his April average in May, and while a .264/3/13/.841 OPS slash line isn’t the best ever, it was good enough to be among the top Shorebirds in a league where pitching has dominated thus far. (As of last night, Delmarva’s .251 team average was just off the overall lead, and only 4 of 14 teams have an aggregate OPS over .700, a mark which is considered about average. So pitchers are ruling the roost.)
To be sure, Nick did most of his damage in the first half of the month, starting it out 17-for-42 (a .405 clip). Toward the end he was struggling like several other on the Delmarva nine, which has been carried most of the way this season by its pitching. But add in a solid job in center field, and last season’s 25th round pick out of the University of Florida is working on improving his standing in the Orioles organization. Considering he was not a highly regarded prospect out of Palm Beach Gardens High School in the Sunshine State and only attended UF after a season at a local community college, Nick impresses me as an overcomer. As he’ll turn 23 next month, Horvath is a tick about league-average age but has played well enough to keep his job so far. (If it doesn’t work out, Nick can always attempt to resurrect his career as a pitcher: he made 45 relief appearances for the Gators over a three-season span.)
Nick barely edged out Cadyn Grenier for the honor, as Cadyn put together a good month at the plate as well. It could have went either way.
We’ll stay in SEC country for my pitcher of the month. But while Drew Rom is a Kentucky native – attending Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio – he had 650,000 reasons to be pried loose from a commitment to the Big Ten’s University of Michigan to play for the Orioles. Unlike Horvath, who was probably brought on to fill a roster in the hopes that he may blossom into a prospect, Rom was already highly sought after as a fourth-round pick.
Now Rom had a pretty decent April; well, decent in comparison to an average team and not the studs Delmarva has this season – as a staff they allowed just a .204 average in May – but he rose to the challenge in May. Rom didn’t allow an earned run in his four starts until the fourth inning of his fifth and final start for the month, at a point where the Shorebirds were safely up 8-0. That 0.35 ERA was complemented by a 0.78 WHIP, a 32-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 2/3 innings, and three wins – he was one out short of getting a fourth W in a game Delmarva was leading 2-0 and could have gotten a fifth win had Delmarva scored before the tenth inning – Drew left a 0-0 pitcher’s duel in Kannapolis after five shutout frames.
Drew made a significant jump over the winter – he and fellow high-school draftee (and last month’s SOM pitcher) Grayson Rodriguez were two of the few bright spots on a dreadful GCL Oriole team. Like Rodriguez, Rom is having his innings watched fairly carefully and he has often piggybacked with fellow starter Gray Fenter to cover most of the nine innings needed.
Just like Horvath, Drew had spirited competition for the award, and in his case it was reliever Zach Matson who had really good numbers to show for his month as well. Both are being rewarded with a trip to the SAL All-Star Game in West Virginia later this month. Also picked besides Rom and Matson were pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Ofelky Peralta, catcher Daniel Fajardo, shortstop Adam Hall, outfielder Doran Turchin, and designated hitter Seamus Curran. The Shorebirds have a league-leading eight representatives, their best number since at least 2009.
For the third year, the Shorebird Position Player and Pitcher of the Month returns to my website. Overall, this will the the fourteenth season during which I honor particular Shorebird players, having done so on a weekly basis for the first eleven. 41 of those so honored have made it to the major leagues, either with the parent Orioles or one of the other 29 teams. Only a handful of teams (nine, to be exact) remain territory a Hall of Famer hasn’t played at the big league level.
There won’t be photos to start because I haven’t seen the pitcher being honored quite yet. But, as usual, I’ll begin with the position player who shined the brightest among a constellation of stars you would normally find on a team which got off to a franchise-best 18-4 start.
A product of the University of Iowa and Hawkeye born-and-bred, outfielder Robert Neustrom parlayed three straight seasons of hitting over .300 and improving in the vital OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage, a good barometer of a batter’s ability) each year into a fifth-round selection by the Orioles last season (not to mention a $300k signing bonus to forgo his senior campaign.)
Assigned to Aberdeen last season, Robert slashed a solid .272/4/29/.716 OPS for the Ironbirds last season in 61 games. Neustrom wasn’t the top performer in any particular major category (although he led the team in doubles) but was generally in the top three to five of most line items. It was obvious he would be coming to Delmarva this season as the next step in his development.
And what a step it was. In just 19 games, Robert had a slash line of .329/3/14/.957 OPS, numbers that were either first or second for the Shorebirds in April. In just one month – and barely a third of the plate appearances he had for Aberdeen – Neustrom racked up nearly half the RBIs and fell one short of matching his total in home runs.
The only downer to Robert’s month was that of being placed on the 7-day injured list on the first of May due to an injury reported during Tuesday’s game, where he exited “grasping at his calf.” That may slow down the 22-year-old, who was regarded as the 29th-best prospect in the Orioles system to begin this year – although he’s the 18th-best among players the team actually signed or drafted – but hopefully will not become a lingering problem.
It was a close battle between Neustrom and infielder Adam Hall for the top position player spot in April, but I had an even more difficult choice among the pitching ranks as three topped the field.
Tipping the scale toward Grayson Rodriguez: a microscopic 0.54 ERA and a SAL Pitcher of the Week designation for the first week of the season, which was actually a week and a half and allowed him to make two starts – a pair of games against defending league champ Lexington and 2018 SAL North pacesetter Lakewood. In 11 innings between the two starts, Grayson allowed three harmless singles and struck out 20 batters. The only area of concern may have been the five walks.
Grayson ran his scoreless streak to 15-plus innings before allowing his first and only run of the month on a home run by Greensboro’s Rodolfo Castro. The slash line against Rodriguez in April: .123/1/1/.399 OPS.
While success has come early to Rodriguez, it wasn’t entirely unexpected: the 11th overall selection in the 2018 draft, the 19-year-old out of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas had 4.3 million reasons to take a pass on college ball. Instead, Grayson went to the Gulf Coast League and got his initial education as a bright light on a miserable team that won just 13 games out of 55 played – a real school of hard knocks. However, with just 19 1/3 decent but unspectacular innings spaced out among nine appearances in 2018, this is really the first time the training wheels are off. (To an extent, that is: the Orioles brass had Rodriguez skip his last scheduled turn to keep his innings total down.)
So he did not pitch during the last long homestand – his only home appearance was the first Friday night game of the season. Thanks to inclement weather and schedule vagaries, Grayson’s turn won’t come up again until tomorrow night at Augusta – a layoff that went over two weeks.
Already regarded as the #5 prospect in the Baltimore system, Grayson had strong competition for the April honors: a case could have easily been made to instead select Blaine Knight, Delmarva’s opening day starter and owner of seriously good numbers himself. Also in the running was Ofelky Peralta, who began the season on a strikeout tear by recording 12 of his first 14 outs via the punchout and still leads the team with 31.