Over the years I’ve liked second chance stories and as we crank up the second half of the season we will see how well a fairly recent Shorebird addition continues a career resurrection.
Dominican native Jesus Liranzo began his career with the Atlanta Braves organization, originally signed at the tender (but somewhat common for the region) age of 17 in 2012. One appearance later, he was cut but signed again for the 2013 season before being dropped after three appearances. It’s likely the kid’s issue was wildness since he walked eight batters in just 3 1/3 total innings (although he struck out six.) He hardly had time to get the uniform dirty.
A few weeks later, Liranzo signed with the Orioles and finished the 2013 season with their Dominican Summer League team. While the wildness continued, Jesus did put up a couple nice appearances, including a career-long 4 inning start that he lost on three unearned runs. He was set for 2014 but then lost the season due to injury.
Returning to health for 2015, Jesus showed why he came stateside for this season. Retooled into a late-inning reliever, Liranzo made 23 appearances covering 38 1/3 innings, allowing just 28 hits and striking out 46 while walking only 19 for a 1.23 WHIP. One knock on him, though, was the few high-leverage situations Liranzo was inserted into as he had just two save opportunities in the 11 games he finished, failing to convert either. With the Shorebirds, Jesus has only finished three games of the eight he’s pitched in – the Shorebirds were trailing in two while the other was a non-save situation. But he has pitched rather well regardless, allowing six hits and six walks in 14 1/3 innings so far for an 0.88 WHIP and puny .133 batting average allowed.
It’s natural for the new guy to work his way up, and Liranzo did his work in only a month as he was called up from the DSL (which hadn’t begun play yet) May 19. Much of his second-half role depends on the moves being made among the other pitchers on staff, but if he continues holding down batters and keeps his walks to a minimum he may get that elusive first professional save when Ryan Minor gives him the ball in a close game. At just 21 years of age, Liranzo is still about a year younger than the rest of the league so he has plenty of room to develop now that the Orioles have given him a fair shake of more than a handful of appearances.
The final Shorebird of the Week for the first half is also the last of Delmarva’s four All-Stars to be so honored. Based on his dominating performances, though, Ryan Meisinger may be the most deserving.
I like to look at stats when I do this, and I imagine the tone for Ryan’s career thus far was set in his very first pro appearance, the one and only time he pitched in the Gulf Coast League and struck out the side in the one inning he threw. Yes, they were a little overmatched so off to Aberdeen Ryan went and he put up great numbers there as well – in 22 1/3 innings spaced among 17 appearances Meisinger only allowed 15 hits and five walks for a 0.88 WHIP to go with an outstanding 1.99 ERA. He also struck out 33 in that span, which means just under half his outs came by way of strikeout.
The 11th round pick last year out of Radford University (a native of Prince Frederick, Maryland) had a hiccup in his first appearance here back on Opening Day, walking three of the four batters he faced. But since then he’s turned it completely around and boasts a stellar 0.78 ERA with a 3-2 record (his first professional decisions.) Just like in Aberdeen, he’s kept an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 48 to 9, which is doubly impressive when you consider he’s pitched just 34 2/3 innings on the season. He’s also kept the sub-1 WHIP.
One thing the Orioles brass is doing differently this year with Ryan is stretching him out. Most of his Aberdeen appearances were an inning, as he began his career there as a closer. (Ryan did get three two-inning saves with the IronBirds, however.) Of late with Delmarva, Ryan has commonly pitched three full innings per stint. However, Meisinger has been rather pitch-efficient as he’s not exceeded 45 pitches in any one appearance and that trait can be useful down the road.
Oftentimes players who make the SAL All-Star team are ticketed for a promotion to Frederick soon afterward, so it’s likely the 22-year-old will soon be moving on. We’ll see if his numbers can stay on track as he advances.
Baseball is a team sport, and to have a successful team all the players have to do their part – even if it’s a little bit unexpected.
For Gerrion Grim, it hasn’t been the greatest season. He tends to be the odd man out in the outfield rotation, which means he’s only appeared in 22 games all season. In the month of May, he endured a 2-for-28 batting slump that’s continued with a 1-for-6 June. If you’re averaging one AB a day, you’re likely not too high on the totem pole. His stats are reflective of this, as Gerrion entered last night’s contest against West Virginia with a modest .217 batting average, for which he was sitting on the bench for the third game in a row Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s game at West Virginia turned out to be the second long game in succession for both teams: after battling to a 13-inning win over the Power Monday night, the Shorebirds came to the bottom of the 16th inning on Tuesday having finally secured an 8-3 advantage in the top half. But when the last available man in the bullpen began to falter by giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded, manager Ryan Minor turned to Grim to make his pro pitching debut and he earned the save by retiring the last two batters in the 8-4 win.
Grim, a 22 year old who the Orioles selected in the 14th round of the 2014 draft, is a St. Louis-area native who hails from Jefferson College in Missouri. It may seem a rather obscure school but as a Tigers fan growing up I rooted for a pitcher who attended the school, Mike Henneman. Also coming from there is longtime MLB hurler Mark Buehrle, who lived by the mantra of “work fast, throw strikes.” Grim, who had pitched a few innings at the college level. induced a popup and strikeout to close the game in just five pitches, so perhaps the college’s tradition lives on.
The Orioles aren’t strangers to moving position players to the mound – just ask Mychal Givens how that’s worked out – so if the batting doesn’t improve (and Grim only has a .227 career average in mostly GCL play) maybe he could be a success on the hill.
While there are several Shorebird pitchers on a hot streak right now, helping the club contend for a first half title, one who’s flying under the radar a little bit is Reid Love. But Love has shut down the opposition over his last three starts covering 17 1/3 innings, giving up just two runs (one earned) but getting just one win to show for it as he emerged victorious in the nightcap of last night’s doubleheader against Hickory. In the other two starts he left the games tied 1-1 and 0-0, both against the Lakewood BlueClaws.
Love is one of those in-between players, selected on the fringe of prospect status as a 10th round draft pick last year out of East Carolina University. Nor does he fit the body type scouts like to see for a pitcher as Love is only 5′-11″, but he is beating the odds so far. Reid made one appearance in the Gulf Coast League last year before moving on to Aberdeen for the balance of the campaign, but the numbers were only so-so: a 3-4 record with a high 5.06 ERA in 37 1/3 innings, although his 1.37 WHIP was just a little above the 1.3 leaguewide average. His best asset was a 34-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which somewhat hid the fact he allowed more hits than innings pitched.
So far this season the difference has been the hits allowed. Cutting down on those while maintaining a solid 4:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks has allowed Love to get deeper into games as a starter since he moved up from the bullpen in late April.
Reid needs to keep this string of starts going to have an opportunity to “catch up” to his peer group, which is generally at the Frederick level. Love is a little old for this level as he recently turned 24 years of age, which is also indicative of his “in-between” status between prospect and organization player. That’s not to say he won’t get a fair shot, though, as recent Oriole callup Asher Tolliver demonstrated – because of injury issues, Tolliver was still at Frederick in his age 25 season and didn’t make AA to stay until the second half of his age 26 season.
So don’t be surprised if Love is another late bloomer who makes it to the Show comparatively late in his career. Lefties who get batters out are always in demand, even if Love is running a reverse split right now (right-handed hitters are hitting just .203 against him while lefties are at a .286 mark.) If he continues his run of good pitching, Love may be a member of the Frederick Keys for the second half.
Projected as the everyday center fielder for the Shorebirds, Cedric Mullins has done nothing to jeopardize his position on the squad. He unseated last year’s center fielder, Ademar Rifaela (who now spends most games over in right field) and is doing those things a prototypical center fielder does: bat leadoff, lead the team in stolen bases, and collect a fair share of extra base hits he’s legged out. Millins is tied for the team lead in triples with (surprisingly) catcher/DH Yermin Mercedes and trails only Mercedes in doubles. There’s no doubt Mercedes can hit a ball hard and far, but Mullins can find a gap and put himself in scoring position in a multitude of ways.
Mullins has also been consistent thus far in his career, trading a .264/2/32/.709 OPS slash line in 68 Aberdeen games last season for a .256/2/14/.726 OPS line this year. He’s already swiped 12 bases in 39 games (out of 14 attempts) putting him on pace to break his mark of 14 by midseason. A 13th round selection from Campbell University last year, the 21-year-old switch-hitter has the advantage of playing a few times a season in his birthplace of Greensboro, North Carolina. (So far, though, he is 0-for-9 there with five strikeouts and a walk in two games; he was a healthy scratch on Monday.)
But it seems like Mullins is, for the most part, doing the things he needs to do to continue moving up the ladder. At this point he has about a 2-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks, which is hindering his on-base percentage (it’s .326, which is right around league average but a few points below the Shorebirds’ mean – yet also consistent with his .333 mark for the IronBirds last season.) On the other hand, the walk-drawing machine D.J. Stewart has an OBP that is 164 points above his batting average, so if Mullins can just bring his K/BB numbers to be equal he would be a more definite offensive threat, with an OBP roughly 100 points above his batting average. (League average is about 75 points, so 100 points over would be exceptional.)
Thus far Mullins has been the solid-average player the Shorebirds seem to have a lot of this year as they compete for the first half SAL title. It may not get him accolades, but players have made good careers out of being consistent and dependable.
Selected out of the University of Oregon last year in the 3rd round, Shorebird lefty Garrett Cleavinger was named as the Orioles’ organizational pitcher of the month for April. So once I saw him pitch in a game and got his picture, it was high time I selected him as a Shorebird of the Week. While he had pretty impressive numbers with Aberdeen in his first taste of pro ball (6-1, 2.16 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 25 innings over 19 appearances) one red flag was the 18 walks he allowed – more than the 14 hits.
So perhaps one of the reasons Cleavinger, who just turned 22 last month, earned the top honor was the fact he’s cut his walks way down while ostensibly facing better competition. In 22 2/3 innings so far this season, Garrett has cut the free pass rate in half, allowing nine thus far. Even better, he’s struck out 33 so far to rank fourth on the team behind three members of the starting rotation. Cleavinger is wiping out hitters at a torrid pace, improving on a great strikeout rate from last season – for his career so far, he’s averaging 12 Ks per nine innings. So far on the season, Garrett is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in 22 2/3 innings, over 10 appearances. (It’s a very impressive 10-1 career record for Garrett with an equally gaudy 2.08 ERA.)
One thing the Orioles seem to be doing with Garrett is stretching him out for possible starting duty. While none of his appearances with Aberdeen lasted more than two innings, four times this season Garrett has thrown three innings in a game, generally coming in as the backup pitcher once the starter gets his five innings in. Cleavinger has one save on the season, but tends to be the setup guy in the sense that he’s covering the later innings – it’s just one guy instead of the typical big league program of a 7th inning guy and 8th inning guy setting up the closer.
It would not shock me to see Cleavinger selected to the SAL All-Star team then get a promotion to Frederick immediately afterward. The Orioles seem to prefer to move their early-round college guys up the ladder rather quickly, and perhaps if Cleavinger had the walk rate he sports for Delmarva last season as a member of the IronBirds he may have skipped us altogether. I think by year’s end we will see how his stuff plays in the Carolina League.
Before the season began, the baseball pundits were excited about two players ticketed for the Shorebirds, as they were the first two players Baltimore selected in the 2015 amateur draft. While he was considered a 1st round selection, Ryan Mountcastle was actually the second choice for the O’s but the first high school player Baltimore picked, taken from Paul J. Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida.
Mountcastle seems to be a slow starter at each new level. While he had two hits in his pro debut, he started in a 4-for-27 slump for the GCL Orioles last season before rebounding to hit .313/3/14/.760 OPS in 43 GCL games. Later last year with Aberdeen, Ryan only hit .212 (7-for-33) in 10 games to wrap up the season. But the Orioles seem to be willing to push the 19-year-old prospect, and he had some growing pains here, hitting just .162 in 18 April games.
But the turn of the calendar may have been the impetus to get Mountcastle going, as he has hit .412 in May (14-for-34) to bring his average up to a very respectable .245 mark. While that’s not going to win a batting title, it’s a positive development to create a .245/1/8/.653 OPS slash line. It puts him in a good position to be in the high .200s by the end of the first half – and remember, he’s playing against competition that averages a couple years older. (One interesting split Baseball-Reference features is performance against older/younger players, and Mountcastle likes younger pitching – he’s 2-for-4 with his home run and a double against pitchers younger than he. Too bad there’s so few in the SAL.)
Another area playing the full season will allow Ryan to develop is his fielding, which is reasonable but not consistent (6 errors in 25 games.) With the exception of 3 GCL games where he played third base – and committed two errors - Mountcastle is being developed as a shortstop and has had plenty of opportunity to be a consistent part of the lineup. Granted, as a first round pick the Orioles invested thousands of dollars into, he will have a lot longer leash and more of a shot than the guy they picked in the 24th round.
Continuous improvement, though, will allow the Orioles to believe they are getting their moneys’ worth.
Remember when Dylan Bundy blew into town a few years ago and was flat-out untouchable at this level? It took 17 innings for an opponent to score an unearned run on him (after he retired the first 26 pro batters he faced.) But this week’s Shorebird of the Week has that inning streak beat, as Christian Turnipseed pitched his first 33 2/3 professional innings without giving up a run of any sort – that streak, which began when he made his pro debut last year, finally came to an end April 22.
Now Christian isn’t your prototype pitching prospect like Bundy was. Short and stocky for a pitcher – he’s listed at 5′-11″ and 214 pounds – the 23-year-old native of Colorado went to Georgia Gwinnett College, from which only a handful of minor leaguers have come. (One is a former SotW from last year, Zeke McGranahan.) But so far he has defied the odds of a 28th round selection and had strung together 25 consecutive scoreless appearances before Greensboro got him for three runs last month. In eight innings so far this season, Christian has allowed just those three runs on five hits, striking out 11 while walking four, for a WHIP of 1.13. (For his brief career, Turnipseed has a WHIP of 0.74, which translates to about 7 runners per 9 innings. It’s tough to score runs with so few on.)
Turnipseed projects strictly as a reliever – his latest appearance against Greenville tied his career long of two innings. He’s picked up 13 career saves in 25 appearances, with four of those coming with the Shorebirds. (Having given up no runs, he obviously hasn’t blown any saves either.) I just waited to name him a Shorebird of the Week until his string was over so I wouldn’t jinx him. Since he turns 24 later this month, continued success here may merit a midseason promotion to Frederick just as Turnipseed split time between the GCL and Aberdeen last year.
It may give him a calling card besides his unusual last name.
It’s been a custom of mine that, if a Shorebird player is named as the South Atlantic League Player of the Week and I haven’t already picked him during the season, that player gets the honor. Not that Yermin Mercedes didn’t deserve to be that player after decimating Greensboro and Kannapolis pitching to the tune of 13-for-25 in the six games, with eight of those hits going for extra bases, including a home run and 10 RBI. And perhaps it’s a sign of the 23-year-old Dominican’s maturity at the plate that, at least last Sunday at the game I witnessed, he beat the shift for two opposite-field hits, a double and a triple.
With last night’s game now in the books (I didn’t get a chance to update from this morning’s contest) Mercedes is now 19-for-39 in his last 10 games, increasing his average from .267 to .424 and moving into the league lead for batting. His OPS is a sick 1.139 because he’s leading the team in extra-base hits with 12 (out of 23 hits overall.)
Mercedes has used his bat to break into the catching rotation envisioned by the Orioles when they drafted four catchers in the first 11 rounds of the draft back in 2013. (One of those catchers, Alex Murphy, now splits his time between catching and playing first base with Delmarva, the others are further up the organization now.) Yermin is one of those guys who seemingly could roll out of bed and go 3-for-4, owning a career .297 batting average in his sixth pro season. Admittedly, that has been fattened up somewhat by playing a season in the almost absurdly hitter-friendly baseball outpost of the independent Pecos League (with its aggregate league batting average of .314 in the season he played there, 2014) but he’s hit well at almost all of his stops. You may wonder how such a hitter washed out of the Nationals’ organization after three seasons with their Dominican Summer League team.
The answer may be that his defense behind the plate is a work in progress - Mercedes has already been charged with 9 passed balls in 13 games behind the plate after eight in 53 games with Delmarva last season, (By comparison, the Orioles’ Matt Wieters has 18 passed balls in a seven-plus season MLB career.) Some of that could be the pitching, but at times Yermin struggles behind the dish. And while Mercedes has flirted with playing first base (30 games over four seasons, but just one since 2013) and third base (27 games, all but one in the Pecos League), it’s likely that the ticket for him to get to higher levels will come through improving his defense. Although it’s doubtful he can maintain a .400 average for the rest of the season, I think the Orioles would be happy if he hit .300 but kept the defensive mistakes to a minimum.
It seems like every year or two the Shorebirds get a fresh-faced infield prospect from the Miami area – most recently we had Adrian Marin, who now plays for Bowie, and a couple years before that there was some guy named Machado who was here long enough to mess up the first of two knees. (Fortunately, he’s also made a couple All-Star teams and won some hardware, too.) Now we have Alejandro Juvier, who’s not as highly regarded (as a 15th round pick out of Doral Academy, where he was the first player drafted from the school) but is still working his way up the Orioles’ organizational totem pole after splitting 2015 between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen.
The 20-year-old had a nondescript rookie year, hitting just .178 for the GCL Orioles in 2014, but the second bite of the apple proved to be better as Juvier hit a combined .307/0/18/.742 OPS between the two levels, combining 29 GCL contests with 17 games at Aberdeen. So it’s been a push to this level for Alejandro, but so far so good as he’s hitting a respectable .250 in 10 games (9-for-36.) The OPS, however, is a paltry .539 and that is definitely something the slender left-handed hitter will need to improve upon at this level. When power is not your strong suit, getting on base is a must and thus far Juvier has a 12-to-2 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Yet average-wise he is one of the leaders on a Shorebirds club off to a slow start at the plate (a collective .216 average at this early juncture.)
Another asset Alejandro has is speed – in 96 career games to date he has 15 stolen bases, which over a regular Shorebird season would get him into the 20-25 range. Even developing some line-drive gap power could make Juvier a threat to fill up the stat sheet by turning singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
In the game where I took this photo (Sunday) Alejandro was the 9-hole hitter and that seems to be a spot very suited for him – not a lot of power, but potentially enough on-base percentage and good speed to turn the lineup over. Juvier has moved around the infield as well, playing mainly second base with a little bit of shortstop in the GCL but lately seeing more time at third base for both Aberdeen and Delmarva. To me, offensively he projects as more of a second baseman as it’s not traditionally as offensive-minded as other positions – although Jonathan Schoop turns that assumption on its ear at the big league level.
So we will see if Juvier can keep up with this level or regress back to Aberdeen at mid-season. He has a good chance to stick if he can bump his on-base percentage up to about .325 so the top of the order can do its damage. It’s something to follow as the season develops.
So far this season has seemed like deva vu all over again for Alex Murphy. But once May rolls around I’m sure the product of Baltimore’s Calvert Hall High School will be ready to flip the script.
Back in 2013, the Orioles drafted four catchers in the first 11 rounds of the draft. All four remain active in the organization, but Murphy as the third one selected (6th round) is now the low man on the totem pole. Second-rounder Chance Sisco is with Bowie while fourth pick Jonah Heim and eleventh-rounder Austin Wynns are splitting the duties at Frederick.
Murphy may have been Frederick-bound this year after he got off to a great start at the plate. While his average had dipped to ,258 after 32 games last season, Murphy was still among the league leaders in RBI with 28 when he was injured May 15. Murphy missed three months of the 2015 campaign, and by the time he was ready to come back the more experienced Yermin Mercedes had established himself as the Delmarva starting backstop. (Mercedes recently rejoined the Shorebirds as well.)
So Murphy finished the 2015 season by going 0-for-8 with a walk in two rehab games with the GCL Orioles before 15 games in Aberdeen, where he hit .291/2/8/.898 OPS. (OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage – .700 is considered about average.) The hot bat has continued into this season, where the 21-year-old is 10-for-27 (.370) with a home run and nine knocked in for his first seven games. He’s the only player to appear in all seven contests so far in this, his third tour of duty with the Shorebirds.
Yet one key difference that may indicate a change of direction going forward is that 2 of the 5 games Murphy has spent in the field came at first base. It’s not completely unusual to make that position switch, but at this level it could be an indicator that Murphy is seen as less of a catching prospect and more of a hitting one – first base is regarded as a hitter’s position. It also may keep him fresher, although it’s not like the Orioles’ organization isn’t stacked with great-hitting first basemen.
Murphy’s potent bat may be the calling card that keeps him going in the Orioles’ system. While they invested heavily in catching for the future three years ago, baseball has a way of putting players where they best fit and Alex could be one of those guys.
Let the retirement tour begin. Unfortunately, the exhibition game with Salisbury University was rained out so I couldn’t get any photos of the new guys – however, there are a few holdovers who deserve their time in the sun, too.
I was impressed when I saw this young man make his Shorebird debut last August 20 – even though Greenville roughed him up a little bit – and in four end-of-season starts Francisco Jimenez held his own, including a seven-inning, two-hit whitewashing of Hickory August 31. In his four Delmarva appearances Jimenez pitched 22 innings, allowing just 16 hits and 7 walks for a stellar 1.05 WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched.) Francisco won both of his decisions, pitching to a 2.45 ERA. This belied his stats at Aberdeen, where Jimenez was promoted despite a 2-5 record and 4.72 ERA in 40 innings.
Since coming stateside in 2014 (Jimenez began his minor league career in 2012 in the Dominican Summer League and stayed there for 2013) the 21-year-old Dominican native has had some issue with allowing hits, allowing over a hit per inning on average in two seasons beginning with the Gulf Coast League Orioles in 2014 and moving to both Aberdeen and Delmarva last season. Balancing that out is a stinginess with walks, suggesting Francisco is comfortable pitching to contact; he has a good ratio of ground outs to air outs. Pitchers have made fine careers out of enticing weak contact, though.
So 2016 will be a year where we find out if Jimenez has the stamina and ability to last a full season, since he has never pitched above the short-season level aside from his four August starts here. Francisco may also have to adapt to a slightly different role as he’s not currently penciled into the five-man starting rotation – it’s more likely he will be the first guy up and come on in the middle innings to relieve the starter. If he succeeds there, odds are he will make it back into the rotation.
And so begins another Shorebird of the Week season, even if the status of the onfield season opener is in peril (as I write this Wednesday night there is a 100% chance of rain in Hagerstown tomorrow.) We’ll see what this eleventh and final round of Shorebird honorees bring to the Delmarva table.