Shorebird of the Week – July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

Before spring training began, Josh Hart was best known as the Orioles’ sandwich first round pick (37th overall) last season. Now that he knows who Frank Robinson is¬†we can pay attention to how the prospect is doing on the field, and after a hiatus due to injury Hart is back patrolling center field for the Shorebirds.

At just 19 years old and barely a year removed from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia, the bat hasn’t quite caught up to the potential – although he has made strides in his pro career. After hitting just .218/0/9/.588 OPS between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen last year (just 1-for-10 with Aberdeen in 3 games) Hart has picked up the pace with Delmarva. The power isn’t there yet, as Hart has just 3 extra base hits on the season, but the average for Delmarva is a respectable .250 mark in 56 games.

Josh missed most of June with an injury, easing back into playing with the Gulf Coast League Orioles and hitting .167 there (4-for-24, with a triple.) But since returning to the Shorebird fold on July 5, Hart has found some success – in particular a nice 7-for-20 in the series against Hagerstown which wrapped up this week.

And while Hart was a first round pick, there are some things he will need to work on as he progresses. Building up that extra-base hit total is one obvious task, but getting a better understanding of the strike zone is also paramount as Josh has just 9 walks vs. 56 strikeouts this year (in only 247 plate appearances.) I suspect the plan may be for Hart to repeat at this level next season, which would not be a real setback considering most of the players he’s up against are several years older.

Over the years, hundreds of players with tools have come from high school with all the promise in the world and garnered a high draft position, only to fail. If Josh is as willing to work and learn on the field as he did off the field – and has the talent the scouts thought he might – he may take the steps needed to join Frank Robinson in the fraternity of Oriole players.

Shorebird of the Week – July 17, 2014

July 17, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

If the Orioles had their way originally, Austin Urban might have been here a season or two ago. In 2010 they drafted him out of high school in Johnstown, Pennsylvania as a 27th rounder – instead, he opted to go to Penn State before eventually transferring to Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa and then being drafted by the Cubs in 2011. While he signed with Chicago after the draft, he never threw a pitch for their organization because he missed an entire season with a back problem before drawing his release.

Long story short, it’s been a series of nicely documented personal and professional detours, but perhaps Urban is now where he needs to be. So how is he doing?

Austin put together a decent campaign for Aberdeen last season, going 3-5 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, mainly due to a high rate of walks – 29 in 57 innings. (However, 21 of them came in his first four professional outings, covering 21 1/3 innings.)

Still, if there’s one weakness in Urban’s game, it is that tendency to give up walks – so far this season he’s allowed 30 in 52 1/3 innings, and with just 30 strikeouts to go with them it doesn’t seem Urban has yet mastered a put-away pitch. But the overall numbers are improving after a tough start, as Urban is 3-4 with a 4.47 ERA. A 1.68 WHIP is still too high, but Urban has done a good job as the successor to the promoted Jimmy Yacabonis as closer, garnering four saves in the second half.

Austin seems to pitch better in a bullpen situation. He was the #6 starter in the six-man Delmarva rotation to start the season but was moved to the bullpen by mid-May when results weren’t those desired by the Orioles. But with his whirlwind career, it’s easy to forget he just turned 22 last week so his development isn’t necessarily behind schedule and the Orioles obviously thought enough of Austin to give him another chance after he spurned their original draft offer.

Urban will be a story to follow in the coming months, to see if he can improve his game enough to keep being promoted up the system.

Shorebird of the Week – July 10, 2014

July 10, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

When your partner behind the plate leads the league in hitting, one has to take his chances when he gets them. Fortunately, Austin Wynns hasn’t been an offensive slouch this season, giving manager Ryan Minor multiple options for firepower at the plate.

One of four catchers drafted in the first ten rounds by the Orioles last year – and the only one with college experience, as the Orioles drafted him out of Fresno State University – Wynns found himself being the predominant catcher for Aberdeen last season and batted a respectable .235 with 21 RBI in 54 games. The offense is even better this season as Wynns has bumped it up to a .263 mark, also improving his OPS from an anemic .557 to .618 this season.

The experience has helped Austin be the better defensive complement to fellow catcher Chance Sisco, who has the offensive tools to also be DH. Wynns has nabbed 19 of 55 would-be base stealers this season, a 35% average, a better fielding percentage, and has allowed just 5 passed balls compared with 13 for Sisco.

As the much older of the two Shorebird catchers, the 23-year-old Wynns can look at other late-blooming defensive-minded catchers in the Orioles chain like Caleb Joseph, who didn’t make his major league debut until he was 27 but has held down the fort in the absence of Matt Wieters. Austin appears to the be the type who will make slow, steady progress up the ladder.

Shorebird of the Week – July 3, 2014

July 3, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

I’ve contended for several seasons that the second wave of pitchers the Shorebirds feature is almost as important as the first. While they have a six-man rotation, they also have four or five guys who seem to have a rotation unto their own as the pitcher who covers the middle innings until the closer comes in, or finishes the game for a three-inning save. The hot hand among that group right now is Jon Keller.

Had things turned out a little differently, Keller may well be toiling somewhere in the Seattle Mariners organization – they drafted him in the 11th round in 2010 out of high school in Iowa. But the well-traveled Keller – who was born in Tennessee, went to high school in Iowa, and was drafted last year by the Orioles out of the University of Tampa in Florida – ended up waiting until the 22nd round to find out he was an Oriole.

Last year the brass took a go-slow approach with Keller, sending him to the Gulf Coast League and limiting him to just 15 1/3 innings in six appearances (five starts.) The GCL numbers wouldn’t floor you – 1-2 with a 4.11 ERA and 1.24 WHIP – but Keller only allowed 2 walks while fanning 18, and that was enough to give him a final three-inning trial at Aberdeen, where he gave up just one hit and one run. Moving up to Delmarva, therefore, was quite a leap for Keller, who doesn’t turn 22 until early August.

But he has pitched very well when called upon. In 46 innings here Jon has allowed just 30 hits and compiled a 54/12 K/BB ratio, giving him an impressive 0.91 WHIP. That explains his 3-0 record and 1.57 ERA, and the three saves have been of the lengthy variety, coming in two, two, and three inning appearances.

Given that SAL batters are hitting just .183 against him and Keller has a ground out/air out ratio of 2.38 to 1, there’s a reasonable chance that if Frederick needs a reliever Keller’s name would be called. Certainly Jon is positioning himself for a shot at Frederick’s 2015 staff. With a fairly consistent crop of Shorebird starters perhaps bumping against inning limits, we may see more of Keller in the earlier innings. Although he’s never gone more than 3 2/3 innings in his pro career (and was ineffective in that outing), getting a three-inning dose of Keller would likely put the other team out of commission.

Shorebird of the Week – June 26, 2014

June 26, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

His stats and accolades have not been as gaudy as those of others in the Shorebird starting sextet, but lefthander Steven Brault is piling up impressive numbers this season for Delmarva.

This is a guy who may be considered a fringe prospect, as he was drafted in the 11th round last year out of Regis University in Colorado. But the California native did just fine at Aberdeen last season, posting an impressive 38/12 K/BB ratio in 43 innings last season, with a WHIP of 1.09 and ERA of 2.09 in 12 starts.

And that success has carried on to Delmarva, where Brault is now 7-3 despite a tough 1-0 loss in his last outing last Friday. It was the third time Brault had gone seven innings, but the first time he lost such an outing. He also went seven against Greensboro on April 17 and threw a complete seven-inning game against Hagerstown May 26. The latter was distinctive because Steven gave up six runs in the second inning but shut down the Suns after that, allowing the Shorebirds to come back for a 7-6 win.

Just like in Aberdeen, Steven boasts an impressive strikeout/walk ratio of 70/15, but has maintained a stinginess for allowing hits with just 60 given up in 79 innings. It leads to an outstanding 0.95 WHIP that leads the team among active pitchers. His ERA is a solid 2.73 to date.

Since he just turned 22 in late April, Brault is on a good schedule for development, providing yet another link in a chain of outstanding starting pitching for Delmarva – the Shorebirds led all of organized baseball with a 2.11 team ERA in May, which allowed them to make a run at the first half title. Success in the second half could depend on how many innings Brault is allowed to complete, since many prospects are limited by the Orioles to about 100-120 innings in their first full season and Steven has gone 79. His appearances may start being limited to 4 or 5 innings to keep his arm fresh – in a six-man rotation he could expect to have about 10 more starts this season. Certainly they want this lefthander to show his stuff at an advanced level next season.

Shorebird of the Week – June 19, 2014

June 19, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

A few weeks back, you may have seen a Tweet about Houston Astros prospect Delino DeShields, Jr. and a nasty collision a fastball had with his face. Strangely enough, Anthony Caronia had a similar incident about a week before that, but since he’s not the son of a former big league player and not considered as much of a prospect, it didn’t attract nearly the notice.

The timing of Caronia’s injury wasn’t just bad luck, but it interrupted a promising start to a 2014 season where Anthony hoped to make the jump back to Frederick. In 2013 Anthony bounced back and forth between Frederick and Delmarva, but not getting a lot of playing time at the higher level meant he hit only .179 (5-for-28) in 13 games. This was in about six weeks on the Keys roster. While with Delmarva, though, Caronia hit .289/0/12/.665 OPS in 45 games, proving to be a reliable fill-in at three infield positions. This came after a 2012 season where Anthony, a 27th round draftee out of the University of Tampa, rocketed from the Gulf Coast League through Aberdeen to play seven games here at the tail end of the campaign, going 2-for-20.

With his solid start to 2014, Anthony was trying to shake the “organization player” tag as he got off to a 6-for-19 start to the season. But on April 11 he was hit in the face by a Domingo Herman fastball in a game against Greensboro. You may notice the additional guard in the upper photo as the pitch nearly hit Caronia in the eye socket. Anthony missed nearly eight weeks before finally returning to the lineup June 3. In eight games since, Anthony has kept up the good hitting, going 8-for-28. Also, unlike last year where his fielding was shaky at times, Anthony has an errorless streak ongoing for the season.

Obviously the question will be whether Anthony continues to reside in the lineup – he’s not doing a bad job but he’s also a little older than league average at 23 and this is his third season at Delmarva (although, including this season, he’s only played 67 games at this level which is less than a half-season.) He’s fit well into a Shorebird order which has done surprisingly well at the plate, so maybe this second half can be the springboard back to a better opportunity to play up the ladder.

Wading into an issue

June 19, 2014 · Posted in Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, NFL News, Politics, Sports · Comments Off 

At the intersection of sports and politics is where Larry Hogan and I both resided last night.

I’ll start with Hogan, who reacted to the news about the U.S. Patent Office cancelling some older Redskins trademarks in this manner:

Larry Hogan slammed today’s decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel several of the Washington Redskins’ trademarks. The GOP gubernatorial frontrunner is a native of Landover in Prince George’s County, home to the 82-year-old National Football League franchise.

According to Hogan, “Whether you’re a fan of the Redskins, the Ravens, or God forbid, the Cowboys; today’s unprecedented action by the US Patent and Trademark Office should offend anyone concerned about Constitutional limits on government power and free speech. This matter should be decided upon by the Redskins and their fans without the politically-motivated interference of pandering state and federal politicians,” Hogan said.

As I found out by reading this piece from ESPN, though, we’ve been down this road before. And the trademarks affected are ones the team registered between 1967 and 1990 – the current logo is not one. I agree with Hogan on the sentiment, and I suppose it may pick up the Redskin vote to some extent.

I was more offended by this Tweet from my alma mater, noted at the end of the ESPN piece:

We went through this whole controversy a few years after I graduated, but the difference is that Miami University actually interacts with the Miami tribe – yes, there is a Miami Indian tribe, which mainly resides in Oklahoma but is native to the region encompassing southwest Ohio. During my time there we had “Chief Miami,” a mascot who would do a native-based dance in full regalia and lead the football team out on horseback. I still think the name change was a gutless bend to political correctness, but it is what it is.

As for the gubernatorial race, I suppose Hogan’s coming out in opposition to the name change is better than David Craig’s baseball realignment plan. (Me? I would make the NFL more geographically logical, but that’s a topic for another day. For the most part I like the divisions, although I HATE interleague play and the designated hitter.)

The real sport for both those guys has its league championship next Tuesday.

Shorebird of the Week – June 12, 2014

June 12, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

The last of Delmarva’s five All-Star selections to be named Shorebird of the Week, Sebastian Vader is finally starting to draw some attention after what’s been a slow, steady climb up the Orioles’ organizational ladder.

Drafted in the 18th round way back in 2010 from San Marcos High School in California, Vader repeated stints in both the Gulf Coast League (2010-11) and Aberdeen (2012-13) before finally latching onto a full-season team in his fifth season in the organization; however, Vader just turned 22 earlier this month so he’s not lagging in development overall. Currently he leads the Shorebirds with seven wins (a 7-3 record overall; ironically the same mark he had in 2013 with Aberdeen) and has pitched to a 3.26 ERA in 11 starts with a WHIP of 1.14. His 47/14 strikeout to walk ratio is sound as well.

As I noted, Vader pitched in Aberdeen last year to a 7-3 record, and had a 2.43 ERA and 1.03 WHIP to back those good numbers. It was a turnaround from a 2012 where he went 1-8, 3.71 with a 1.45 WHIP at the same level. More importantly, while it’s taken him two bites of the apple to excel at previous levels, Vader’s learning curve has greatly improved in the SAL.

While he wasn’t as impressive in his last start, giving up 4 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings against Lakewood, from late April through May Vader won six consecutive outings, beating Charleston twice, Kannapolis twice, Augusta, and Hagerstown. The second Kannapolis win was a seven-inning complete game May 16 on the road. Vader hasn’t been as dominant in any one start as, say, a Hunter Harvey can be, but he has been very consistent and an innings-eater, pitching at least six frames in all but two of his starts. The aforementioned 4 2/3 inning game was his shortest this season.

It’s likely Vader will remain a part of one of the more talented rotations in recent Delmarva memory, and even though he’s a little overshadowed by some dominating pitchers and performances he should be among the staff leaders in a lot of categories come September.

Shorebird of the Week – June 5, 2014

June 5, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

A year ago today, Chance Sisco was on the verge of a decision – go to college at the University of Oregon or play professional baseball. A newly-minted graduate of Santiago High School in Corona, California, Chance certainly had to figure his name would be called in the MLB draft, and the Orioles did so in the second round. Obviously they made him enough of an offer to entice him to play pro.

So a year later, after tearing up the Gulf Coast League with a gaudy .371/1/11/.938 OPS in 31 games and getting the opportunity to play a couple games with Aberdeen, where he went 1-for-5, Chance is a Shorebird. At just 19 years of age, starting the season with players 2-3 years older in Aberdeen would have been a solid leap forward for the youngster but instead he’s jumped all the way up to primary catcher with a Delmarva team which boasts one of the best pitching staffs in the South Atlantic League, and he doesn’t appear to be overmatched. You find interesting splits on the Baseball-Reference site and one of those is batter statistics against older/younger pitchers – Sisco has yet to face a pitcher younger than he this season in the SAL.

The Shorebird numbers are very good – hitting ,273/2/16/.706 OPS is quite solid for a catcher, particularly on a team which has seen its share of catchers who struggle to keep their average above the Mendoza line. And out of a draft where the Orioles selected three high school catchers in the first six rounds, Sisco has established himself as the cream of the crop. (All three Shorebird catchers so far this season were in the same 2013 draft class – Sisco in the second round, Alex Murphy in the sixth, and Austin Wynns in round 10.)

Naturally there are some things to work on, particularly since Chance is a converted shortstop. And after a nearly even ratio of walks to strikeouts in the GCL, Sisco now has a 36/9 K/BB ratio, which shows how much better the pitching is. Chance also missed a couple weeks early on due to injury.

But after several lean years, the Oriole organization catching stockpile seems to be improving rapidly and Chance’s name will be in the conversation about prospects sooner rather than later.

Shorebird of the Week – May 29, 2014

May 29, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

I’m sure Shorebird fans are pleased that my prediction that Trey Mancini would skip a level and advance to Frederick coming off a season where he was named the Topps NY-Penn League Player of the Year did not come to pass. Instead, Mancini is hitting a cool .310/0/23/.736 OPS for Delmarva.

Now those stats don’t match the .328/3/35/.832 OPS he had for Aberdeen in his first taste of professional ball out of Notre Dame, but after a homestand where Trey went 13-for-32 (.406) with three doubles and six knocked in, Mancini may be on his way to matching those numbers. But a lot was expected from the eighth-round Oriole pick last year, and since he just turned 22 during spring training Trey is on a good track. Mancini is also something of an oddity, a warm-weather product (Florida native) who went north to play his collegiate ball.

Going forward, though, Mancini may need to develop a little versatility seeing that he’s a couple levels behind another hard-hitting Oriole first baseman prospect in Christian Walker, not to mention Chris Davis holding down the fort in Baltimore. At the very worst he may need to see a little time in left field, where his arm strength (or lack thereof, being a regular first baseman) wouldn’t be a liability.

It usually takes a season or two of professional ball for power hitters to find their way, and Trey reportedly is a highlight reel buring batting practice. (I also found where he won the Big East Conference home run derby in 2012.) So the lack of home runs may be the outlier among his stats, and once that power comes to the fore Mancini will make for a formidable presence in the Shorebird lineup.

Shorebird of the Week – May 22, 2014

May 22, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Jimmy Yacabonis pitching on Opening Night.

Streaks are made to be broken, and somewhere along the line the 15-inning scoreless streak Jimmy Yacabonis has put up to open his Shorebird career will come to an end. In the meantime, however, he’s proving to be a reliable closer for a resurgent Shorebird staff which has been the strength of the team for most of the season.

Jimmy, who came to the Orioles organization through St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, leads the South Atlantic League with 10 saves to date. The 22-year-old New Jersey native had somewhat of a prospect status coming in, as he was drafted in the 13th round last year and pitched for Aberdeen rather than down in the Gulf Coast League, the usual fate of players coming from smaller colleges. While he only picked up four saves for the IronBirds, Jimmy closed out in 12 of his 18 appearances and allowed just 15 hits in 29 2/3 innings last year. Even with a high walk rate – 14 free passes in 29 2/3 innings – his WHIP was an outstanding 0.98, and that’s probably the basis for his achieving closer status with Delmarva this year.

If there’s any flaw with Jimmy’s game, it is the base on balls. Batters are only hitting a puny .122 against Yacabonis this year (and just .149 last year) so his pitches are apparently difficult to square up. Unfortunately, too many fall outside the strike zone so 10 walks already in 15 innings may be a concern going forward as he reaches higher levels with more discerning hitters. Out of 14 appearances, only three are “clean” in terms of facing the minimum number of hitters (in other words, a 1-2-3 inning.) Of course, Oriole fans of yore may remember a sloppy but effective enough reliever by the name of Don Stanhouse, but unlike “Full Pack” Jimmy is on the right side of walks vs. strikeouts.

Yacabonis is getting enough outs to achieve the saves, and that’s what counts.

Shorebird of the Week – May 15, 2014

May 15, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Owner of perhaps the most torrid Shorebird bat and riding a 14-game hitting streak, Mike Yastrzemski is trying to make his own path to the big leagues – comparisons to his Hall-of-Fame grandfather Carl are too obvious to make. That connection and the inherent pressure may have been why Mike passed up an opportunity to play in the Boston system out of high school in favor of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee – far enough away from his Massachusetts home to let Mike blaze his own trail.

Indeed, Mike has been drafted three times – Boston drafted him in the 36th round as a high school senior in 2009, Seattle tried three years later in the 30th round, and finally Baltimore grabbed Yastrzemski in the 14th round last year and sent him to Aberdeen, where he hit .273/3/25/.781 OPS in 57 games. These were nowhere near the numbers the elder Yaz put up in a mercurial two-season minor league career before making his MLB debut in 1961 and becoming a fixture in Beantown for the next 23 seasons, but they were good enough to merit the promotion to Delmarva and the 23-year-old is raking thus far.

Through last night, Mike was batting .299/3/18/.867 OPS and leading the team in several offensive categories, perhaps just a tick better than the season he had in 2013 with the IronBirds. While he mainly played center field with Aberdeen, though, Mike has moved over to right field for the Shorebirds and as such has picked up five outfield assists.

While he’s a slight bit older than league average because he played four seasons in college, Mike is still doing well enough that he could make the SAL All-Star team and, more importantly, move up to Frederick by season’s end. (Three former Shorebirds – Glynn Davis, Lucas Herbst, and Brenden Webb – are tearing up the Carolina League at the moment, though.) So far the younger Yaz has proven himself a solid player for the Shorebirds, and those skills can surely translate up the ladder.

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