Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2014 edition

September 11, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

To be perfectly frank and honest, this could be a very short entry because I read last year’s version and the wish list is exactly the same. Attendance was up 3,358 from last season’s all-time low, but we filled three more dates (65 openings vs. 62) so the average attendance per opening declined by 102 patrons, or 3 percent. Out of the last ten years (where records are handily accessible) the average is the third-lowest.

It’s interesting to me that the team’s support has deviated so little over the last decade despite the poor economy we’ve been saddled with, arguably since around 2007. From 2009 to 2011 the average plummeted 14%, but that’s the extent of the difference as the Shorebirds have averaged no fewer than 3,072 per game nor any more than 3,576 per contest in that span of a decade. Over the course of a year that translates to about 35,000 extra fans but we’re always at the mercy of the elements – I’m sure Shorebirds GM Chris Bitters prays for the stormy weather to hit here during roadtrips, or at the very worst on a Thursday night when maybe 1,500 are rattling around the stadium.

Instead, what happened this year was that storms seemed to hit on the nights fireworks or other events were scheduled – witness the August weekend where two games were lost due to wet grounds. If I recall correctly, the first was Faith and Family Night (always a packed house) and the other day was the Float for the Fund date where local celebrities scoop root beer floats for the Shorebirds’ charity. Both had to be rescheduled, and that’s a hassle. It’s why we had Sunday evening fireworks on Labor Day weekend.

As it turned out, many of the games I attended were at the tail end of the schedule and I just got the sense that a lot of people around the place were relieved the season was almost over. On the other hand, I wish we had back the old Maryland Fall League (which existed for one year, 1998) and its Delmarva Rockfish.

But since I have no new complaints, I want to bring up a couple points.

Consider, for example, that the Shorebirds will be celebrating their twentieth season next year. Although they’re not the oldest franchise in the South Atlantic League (eight of the other thirteen are longer-established), Perdue Stadium is roughly in the middle of its expected lifespan in this day and age. Seventeen of the thirty major league parks were opened in 1996 or later, with one of those (in Atlanta) already slated for replacement in the next few years.

A new stadium is not in the cards anytime soon for us, and the prospect of a downtown stadium like many other cities have doesn’t seem to fit Salisbury. But there should be some thought given to long-range planning for a new facility, perhaps in the same location. Once there were plans to replace the Civic Center with a new building next door to Perdue Stadium so it could share parking and I think that’s a superb idea. Many communities have adopted the idea of having sports facilities share those same common resources – Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit are just a few examples where NFL teams exist close by their MLB counterparts. It may be a problem once or twice a season, but generally the arrangement works well. Similarly, my birthplace of Toledo did the same with its Huntington Center – home of the Walleye hockey team – which is just a block from Fifth Third Field and the Mud Hens. Between the two, there’s only one “dead” month – the Mud Hens play from April-September while the Walleye play from October-April.

I understand that the focus of Salisbury city leaders is the revitalization of downtown, but there’s potential for another entertainment district on the outskirts of town. As part of extending water lines to the area just down Hobbs Road from the stadium, parcels of land along Hobbs were annexed to the city a few years ago – so development would be a shot in the arm for our town.

The to-do list I’ve had for Perdue Stadium and the Shorebirds’ operations is one thing, but it wouldn’t hurt attendance to make the area around Perdue Stadium more than just a one-stop destination. The concessionaires of Ovations may lose a portion of their sales in the short run, but that could be made up if we get back to the days of 250 or even 300 thousand making it out to see the Shorebirds. We’ve done well to keep a team 20 years, but there are always greener pastures beckoning. Let’s work to keep the Shorebirds here for generations to come.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2014 season wrapup

September 4, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

One has to shake their head and ponder what might have been.

In the season’s first half the Shorebirds had their best half since 2008, finishing with a 38-31 record and contending until the final days of the half before Greensboro and Hagerstown proved to be too strong of adversaries. Those two teams will tangle for the right to be this year’s Northern Division champion by virtue of winning one of the two season halves, but Delmarva went in the opposite direction after the break, staggering home with a 28-42 second half record. Still, the 66-73 overall mark broke a string of four straight seasons where we couldn’t even manage to win 60 games and was the team’s best finish since their 66-70 record in 2009.

Unlike the last few years as well, the team actually had some semblance of offense. Instead of being mired among the bottom-feeders, the 2014 Shorebirds had some decent overall numbers, to wit:

  • A .267 team batting average was 4th in the league. This is the highest the Shorebirds have ever ranked in team batting and set the record for best overall average in franchise history.
  • Yet 592 runs was just good for 8th in the league. One scratches their head about this when it’s noted their 1,267 hits was also fourth in the loop (and another franchise record.)
  • The 230 doubles ranked ninth overall, while 39 triples were good for fourth once again.
  • Perhaps the reason for the slow run production was the fact their 53 home runs were dead last, with West Virginia next up with 62.
  • We finished seventh with 538 runs batted in.
  • We also finished eighth in total bases with 1,734.
  • We only drew 369 walks, which ranked 12th in the SAL. On the other hand, 1,129 strikeouts was third-most.
  • We finished 10th in stolen bases with 118 and were caught 51 times, which tied for ninth.
  • Our .327 on-base percentage was ninth in the league, with a slugging percentage of .365 ranking tenth. This meant our OPS of .691 (thanks to rounding) was 10th.

As opposed to 2013 where just one player even batted .300 in limited action, a full half-dozen regular players reached that mark. (As it turned out, all six were Shorebirds of the Week so details to follow.) Indeed, as a whole the offense belied my preseason prediction:

It doesn’t appear the Shorebirds will be an offensive juggernaut, but their pitching should be very good. We may see a lot of 3-2, 2-1 style games at the ballyard.

So about that pitching. If there was a culprit in their second-half decline, it was from the mound. For most of the first half the team ERA was in the top three or four, but the pitching numbers went south by season’s end thanks to injuries and callups. We ended up eighth in the league for ERA with a 3.80 mark.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 10 shutouts were good for fifth in the loop.
  • We had the fifth-highest number of saves with 37.
  • With 1,210 1/3 innings pitched, we were sixth in the SAL.
  • 1,173 hits allowed was fourth-lowest. Yet the 606 runs we gave up was only good for seventh and the 511 earned runs tied for sixth. (We had the fifth-fewest errors with 146, leading to 95 unearned runs, which was sixth fewest.)
  • Maybe it’s because Perdue Stadium is a tough home run park, but we gave up the fourth fewest with 70.
  • Nor were we afraid to pitch inside, hitting the second-most batters with 83 (West Virginia had 95.) It had to be that, because the 394 walks we allowed were fourth-lowest.
  • 1,105 times opposing batters walked away muttering to themselves because they struck out, making us fifth in the league. One of my Shorebirds of the Week was the league leader in that category.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched) was third in the league at 1.29.

So the pitching wasn’t exactly the strength and the hitting wasn’t as bad as I thought it may be. As a sum of its parts, the season had its moments but a team that saw several of its record seven league All-Stars leave as the second half began and progressed found its depth left something to be desired.

Unfortunately, the help we received this year from an Aberdeen team which made the playoffs in 2013 won’t be as likely next year. The IronBirds flopped in their defense of a division title, going a league worst 27-48 after starting the season 1-16. At the Gulf Coast League level, those Orioles went 29-31 but the Dominican League teams did well, with the two Orioles teams going a combined 77-63 and one making the playoffs. It usually takes a couple seasons for those players who even make the jump to the States to get to Delmarva.

On the levels above, only AA Bowie finished above .500 with a 72-70 record. Frederick ended up barely missing the playoffs despite a 65-72 record, while Norfolk was well out of the running at 65-79.

The question before us now is how this year’s crop of Shorebirds of the Week fared, so let’s review.

April 3Drew Dosch

When I selected Drew, he was the ultimate pig in a poke – as a 2013 draft choice and having missed all of the 2013 rookie league season with an injury, I had no idea how he would perform with Delmarva. For all I knew, he could have been consigned to extended spring or Aberdeen after a tough start. Instead, all Dosch did was make the SAL All-Star Game and set a new Shorebird record for hits with 157. Overall in 128 games Drew hit .314/5/50/.783 OPS in exactly 500 at-bats. It’s unfortunate he missed the last handful of games because he was a prime candidate to get a cup of coffee with Frederick. Drew also led the team with 76 runs scored, walks with 47, and total bases with 202, and was in the hunt for the batting title until the last couple weeks. He was also one of the seven All-Stars to come from the Shorebirds, and is likely to be manning third base for Frederick next season.

April 10David Richardson

Unfortunately, David’s second tour of duty with the Shorebirds was cut short by an injury at the midway point. Up until then, Richardson was putting together some good numbers: a 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings, with just 24 hits allowed, a 24/11 K/BB ratio, and 1.08 WHIP. He was a candidate for promotion to Frederick if not for the injury, but if he can begin the season on time should have a legitimate shot at moving up.

April 17 - Hunter Harvey

We knew he was a top prospect coming in, and he didn’t fail us in that regard. Until a strained flexor mass in his elbow shut him down in late July, Hunter was one of the league’s ace pitchers, representing Delmarva at the league’s All-Star Game as well as in the Futures Game just before his shutdown. So while his 7-5 record wasn’t ace material, the 19-year-old fanned 106 in just 87 1/3 innings while walking just 33 and allowing only 66 hits (for a WHIP of 1.13.) While only six of his 17 starts were considered “quality” starts, it was oftentimes because he didn’t complete the requisite six innings to qualify – ask Lakewood about the quality of his May 12 start where Harvey mowed them down for seven innings with just one hit, striking out 10. Fortunately, the only issue which should arise from that injury he suffered in July down the road is that Frederick’s coaching staff may have to watch Harvey’s innings in 2015.

April 24 - Jeff Kemp

Jeff put in a workmanlike season for Delmarva, mainly splitting his time between shortstop (61 games) and second base (40 games.) While a .254/4/42/.653 OPS slash line wasn’t the greatest, the average improved over his 2013 season with Aberdeen as did his fielding overall. Yet he also regressed in both slugging percentage and on-base percentage, so his OPS dropped about 30 points between seasons despite the higher average (.254 this year vs. .240 at Aberdeen in 2013.) But Kemp will probably go into spring training as one of those players fighting for a position within the organization given his somewhat pedestrian numbers, low draft status as a 33rd rounder, and age as he will turn 25 next March. If Kemp doesn’t make the Frederick roster, it’s not likely he’ll return here.

May 1 - Conor Bierfeldt

Conor led the team in home runs with 12 and RBI with 67. Unfortunately, at the plate that’s about all the good news for Bierfeldt as he struggled all year to stay above the Mendoza line and finished hitting just .196 for the season. After pushing for a respectable average through the middle of the season, Conor staggered home in an 11-for-81 slump after August 1st and hitting .136 for an extended period like that isn’t good for professional longevity, especially after a strong rookie campaign in Aberdeen where he hit .264/12/36/.862 OPS. Amazingly, the right-handed hitter hit .093 this season against left-handers, without a home run. When the OPS drops like a stone from .862 to .635 in a second season of pro ball, it’s not likely there will be a third. Like Kemp, Conor is an older player (turns 24 next April) who was a relatively low draft pick so he may not get another chance – if he does, it would probably be repeating here.

May 8 - Dylan Rheault

Dylan was often the guy in the right place at the right time in the season’s first half and led the team in victories for a large portion of the season (he was finally overtaken by Steven Brault.) Sort of an overlooked member of the staff thanks to a generally solid starting corps, he got his due as a late addition to the SAL All-Star Game roster. Overall for the Shorebirds, Rheault went 8-4 with a 2.82 ERA in 67 innings, stemming from a team-leading 34 appearances. Dylan allowed 60 hits, struck out 50 and walked 25 for the Shorebirds, resulting in a solid 1.27 WHIP. In terms of record, the reverse seemed to be true upon his mid-August promotion to Frederick, as he went 0-3 but had a respectable 3.38 ERA in 5 1/3 innings pitched among four appearances. One issue there was walking 5 while striking out just 2, but I suspect he will have the opportunity to iron out those problems with Frederick next season.

May 15 - Mike Yastrzemski

Mike was a man on the move this season. After playing the first half of the season in Delmarva and making the SAL All-Star team thanks to a .306/10/44/.919 OPS slash line here, he moved up to Frederick and eventually Bowie. His impact on the Shorebirds and the SAL was quite dramatic – even in just a half-season here Mike’s 10 triples still tied for the league lead for the entire season. (Note above the team only had 39 total.) After just 23 games at Frederick, where Yastrzemski put together an impressive .312/1/19/.827 OPS mark, the Orioles sent him to Bowie to finish out the year. There he looked more average, wrapping up with a .250/3/12/.723 OPS line in 43 games. I would imagine he should begin next year with the Baysox, which is an appropriate level given his age and baseball pedigree.

May 22Jimmy Yacabonis

Another player who made an outsized impact in just one half, the SAL All-Star closer finished the season third in the league in saves with 14 while playing  just half the year here. Had he stayed it’s likely Jimmy would have been the runaway leader. But Yacabonis wasn’t staying after a dominant half where he struck out 31 in 25 1/3 innings. His 15 walks would have been more of a concern had he allowed more than 9 hits over that span – for the Shorebirds Jimmy’s WHIP was 0.95 because hitters only batted .113 against him. In the second half, though, he found out walks can come back to haunt him as Carolina League hitters were far more patient. In 28 1/3 innings at Frederick, Jimmy went 0-4 with an 8.58 ERA, walking 28 while striking out 23. Batters hit .301 against Jimmy at the higher level. Yacabonis may be one of those guys who stays in extended spring to work on his control if it doesn’t come around right away, but likely would be ticketed for a repeat at Frederick.

May 29Trey Mancini

Another late addition to the SAL All-Star Game, Mancini repeated his success at Aberdeen in 2013 for the half-season he was here, hitting .317/3/42/.779 OPS for the Shorebirds. But while the .251 average may not have been where he would have liked it, Mancini had a successful second half for Frederick as he hit seven home runs and knocked in 41, with a .691 OPS. He also maintained a good glove at first base. I’m not sure Mancini did enough to merit another promotion quite yet, but he’s got a good chance of following 2013 Shorebird Christian Walker up the organizational ladder as a would-be successor to Chris Davis in Baltimore.

June 5 - Chance Sisco

It’s apparent Chance was upset at not being picked to the league’s All-Star team, because all he did in the second half was hit .361 to become the first Shorebird to win the SAL batting crown with a team-record .340 mark. (Actually, the snub may have been from missing a handful of games to an injury.) In any case, the league made up for it by selecting Sisco as a post-season All-Star. Moreover, Chance hit five home runs and knocked in 63, collecting a .854 OPS in the process. There are some things Sisco needs to work on behind the plate – for example, he allowed 95 stolen bases in 74 games and only threw out 20% of would-be base stealers, while allowing 16 passed balls (compared to just 8 for Austin Wynns, who caught 62 games) – but the offense appears to be there. Chance may actually follow a similar career path to current Oriole catcher Caleb Joseph, who spent several years at Bowie while his defense caught up to his offensive talents, but also remember Sisco doesn’t turn 20 until the opening days of spring training next season.

June 12 - Sebastian Vader

Somehow I managed to pick all seven SAL All-Stars before the break, with Vader being the final piece. Sebastian briefly stayed for the second half but there was no denying that an 8-4 record with a 3.04 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 13 starts was enough to move Vader up. He was the most durable Shorebird pitcher as the only one to average over 6 innings per outing, and most of them were very good. The numbers weren’t quite there with Frederick, as Sebastian went 3-4, 4.60 in 9 starts covering 47 innings. Most tellingly, the 55/15 K/BB ratio Sebastian had here was narrowed to 34/26 with Frederick, and the WHIP increased to 1.55. Vader has repeated levels in the past, as he spent two seasons in the Gulf Coast League and two seasons with Aberdeen before making his full-season debut this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t repeat Frederick as well.

June 19 - Anthony Caronia

While Caronia was up and down between Frederick and Delmarva last season, and played here the final week of the 2012 season, too, this was the first time he was picked as a SotW. It’s too bad he only played in 53 games – missing several weeks after being beaned early on – because he did serious hitting all season while he was in the lineup, hitting .364/1/18/.848 OPS. Yes, he was repeating a level for the third time, and he’s predominantly a singles hitter with just 10 extra base hits among his 64 total. But the guy can steal a base (he had 12) and played a decent if not outstanding second base this season. You have to root for this type of player to get an honest shot at Frederick, even if he’s one of those lower-round draft picks who turns 24 next season – if he hits .179 as he did last time after 150-200 at-bats (as opposed to the 28 he got the first time there) then at least he got a fair shake.

June 26 - Steven Brault

Steven quietly ended up leading the team in wins with 9 and tied for fifth in the loop with 115 strikeouts in 130 innings pitched. Two other numbers jump out at you, though – he walked only 28 and allowed just 107 hits, so among all qualifiers (a minimum of about 112 innings required) Brault led the league in WHIP with a 1.04 mark. His 3.05 ERA was fifth as well. So Steven got the August call to complete the season in Frederick and pitched even better, going 2-0 in three starts (16 1/3 innings) and matching his ERA and WHIP as both were a sparkling 0.55. Perhaps the one knock was that he only struck out nine in that limited audition, but I would expect him to stay and anchor Frederick’s rotation for a time in 2015.

July 3 - Jon Keller

An outstanding reliever for Delmarva this season (3-0, 1.59 ERA and 0.94 WHIP thanks to a 66/14 K/BB ratio and 39 hits allowed in 56 2/3 innings), Keller’s promotion to Frederick was cut short by injury in late July after just two appearances where he walked seven and struck out five in 4 1/3 innings, allowing 4 earned runs and 8 hits. So the 8.31 ERA may not be representative of ability, but the severity of his injury may determine where he ends up next season. Jon certainly has nothing to prove at Delmarva but it may be a step on his comeback trail.

July 10 - Austin Wynns

As the flip side to the catching rotation of Sisco and Wynns, Austin held his own offensively most of the way before fading in August with a .181 mark to finish his Delmarva portion of the season with a slash line of .252/1/33/.619 OPS. Not great compared to his catching counterpart, but we’ve done far worse behind the dish offensively in recent years. Wynns even got to Frederick for a brief 5-game tryout, going 3-for-14 there with a double and 4 RBI. I noted above that Austin was the better defender of the duo, and he nabbed 37% of would-be base thieves with Delmarva. It very well could be the same combination in Frederick next season.

July 17 - Austin Urban

Urban was the first pitcher I saw this year for Delmarva because I recall he started the SU exhibition game April 1. He stayed in the rotation for the first few weeks, but eventually moved to the bullpen and was more effective – as a starter, Urban was 1-3 with a 5.26 ERA and 1.68 WHIP and 13/13 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings, but in relief he was 2-1, 3.09 with a 1.54 WHIP and 25/19 K/BB ratio in 35 innings. It all added up to 3-4, 4.01 until he went on the disabled list in early August. Given the fact he’s playing with house money as a free agent signee after being released by the Chicago Cubs organization, I would have to say his chances of getting back here are remote but not impossible, depending on how long it takes for the injury situation to be resolved.

July 24 - Josh Hart

Another guy who missed a chunk of the season to injury, Josh put in a decent campaign for Delmarva. Out for about a month and sent to the Gulf Coast League to rehab (where he hit just .167 in 24 at-bats) his 85 games with the Shorebirds resulted in a .255/1/28/.586 OPS stat sheet. But Hart showed a little speed with 11 stolen bases and a little power as he hit his first pro home run at Hickory August 15. When you consider the fact he doesn’t turn 20 until next month and only hit .218 in 36 games in his first taste of pro ball last season, it’s not out of the question for Hart to begin here next year and the Orioles to be just fine with that slow development.

July 31 - Creede Simpson

My lone repeater from 2013, Creede traded places with Trey Mancini at mid-season after batting just .214/7/22/.693 OPS at Frederick. Here he did far better in 64 games, putting up a .302/4/29/.779 OPS mark, which was a vast improvement on the .248 he hit here last season. But instead of versatility, Creede exclusively played first base on his Delmarva return and wasn’t quite up to Mancini’s standard in the field. His biggest enemy, though, is time. Creede turns 25 next week and that’s old for this level, so his may be another case where he has to latch on with Frederick next season or draw his release – problem is first base is getting to be a crowded position in the organization, with several solid prospects.

August 7 - Luis Gonzalez

Right about the time I selected Luis, the Orioles named him their organizational pitcher of the month for July. I’m not sure if that was a jinx, but after that designation Gonzalez fell apart and allowed 26 earned runs over his last 15 innings – it was a brutal August that saw him go 0-4 with a 15.60 ERA, allowing no fewer than six runs in any start. So the 6-0, 2.20 mark on July 31 morphed into a 6-4, 4.83 final mark in 17 games (16 starts) covering 76 1/3 innings. Still, a 72/29 K/BB ratio is impressive and all that August damage only pushed his WHIP up to 1.34, so he’s still in contention for a job someplace in 2015. It may be Frederick or it may be here, which wouldn’t be the end of the world considering Gonzalez will be 23 and hadn’t pitched above rookie ball until this season.

August 14 - Donnie Hart

Another mid-season addition to the staff, Donnie put up solid numbers during the time he was here, coming from extended spring. A 1-3 record was coupled with a 3.68 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 24 appearances. He struck out 31 and walked 11, allowing 25 hits in 29 1/3 innings, while lefthanders hit just .200 off him. Overall, the numbers translated well from what Hart did at Aberdeen last season, but he runs into the same problem some of the other guys who played for the Shorebirds face – advancing age and low draft status. That’s not to say he couldn’t make it with Delmarva (or Frederick) next year, but in either case Donnie needs to get in a full season as he turns 24 later this month.

August 21 - Mitch Horacek

I noted this when I picked Mitch, but with 151 strikeouts he both led the SAL and joined a fairly exclusive club of Shorebird hurlers who struck out 150 or more in a season – all but one made it to the major leagues, if only briefly. For Delmarva, Mitch went 6-10 with a 3.80 ERA, pitching 137 1/3 innings, allowing 139 hits, and walking just 35 to go with the 151 Ks. The 1.27 WHIP was good. But Mitch achieved his high strikeout total by generally piling up 6 to 9 strikeouts a start, although he fanned a season-high 10 on August 19 at Lexington. Horacek also made one last start at Frederick, pitching 6 innings and allowing five runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and three walks, taking the loss. I’d still figure him for Frederick, though.

August 28 - Garrett Courtright

The last SotW finished up on a sour note, roughed up for five runs in his last 1 2/3 innings and increasing his ERA to 3.94 as a Shorebird. For Delmarva he pitched 32 innings in 19 appearances, going 1-3 with a 1.44 WHIP. He allowed 35 hits, walked 11 and struck out 22. Garrett began the season with Aberdeen but pitched 9 2/3 innings with an 0.93 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, meriting the promotion despite a 5/5 K/BB ratio there. I noted he was the last 2013 Oriole draft pick, but he probably can latch on back here in the bullpen and try to improve on his numbers in some respects.

*********

Each year I have a difficult time picking a Shorebird of the Year, but one observation I have about this year’s crop is that there’s truly the potential for it to have six, seven, or perhaps even eight of its members get into the SotW Hall of Fame by making it to The Show. Although I hold out hope for a few players, the most I’ve ever had from a particular season to date is five, and a couple seasons have been all but barren – 2010, for example.

Just look at the All-Stars which were selected. Had Mike Yastrzemski played here in the second half, there’s no telling how much better the already-solid offense could have been and he could have put up some monster numbers. The same goes for fellow callup Trey Mancini, who had potential to be in a pitched battle with Yastrzemski for the team’s RBI lead. Meanwhile, Jimmy Yacabonis was on his way to leading the league in saves, and a few years back I picked a Shorebird of the Year for doing just that.

But I have an unwritten rule for Shorebird of the Year that a player has to be here for about 2/3 of the season, which eliminated those three All-Stars as well as Sebastian Vader, who was having a fine season as well. I believe that, given his position as a middling draft choice, Mike Yastrzemski has worked his way into being my Prospect of the Year.

The South Atlantic League did a pretty good job of establishing contenders for the SotY prize, as one can argue a case for most of those they selected.

A strong starting staff also made for some very good contenders for the honor. As I noted above, Mitch Horacek led the league in strikeouts, Steven Brault was the leader in WHIP, and Hunter Harvey had the potential to flat-out dominate. I would have liked to have seen what he would have done in August, with perhaps 5 to 6 more starts. He may have led the team in wins and finished a strong second to Horacek in strikeouts.

On the position player side, though, it clearly became a two-man race between Drew Dosch and Chance Sisco.

When I began to think about this a month or so ago, I had pretty much decided it was a three-person race based on what was going on at the time, although the month Luis Gonzalez was having was putting him in as the dark horse. Brault and Horacek were having good seasons, but not to the extent others were on the offensive side; meanwhile, I thought Harvey’s injury sort of put his chances on the back burner. It depended on how my other two contenders did in August.

Dosch and Sisco both made the case for themselves in the last month. It’s not like neither was an unknown quantity as they were both high draft choices, but both had a little adversity coming into this season as well. As I pointed out above, this was Dosch’s professional debut. Meanwhile, the question on Sisco was how well he could play against guys a couple years older yet handle the duties that come along with catching.

Here is a list of my Shorebirds of the Year, going back to the award’s inception in 2006:

  • 2006 – Ryan Finan
  • 2007 – Danny Figueroa
  • 2008 – Sean Gleason
  • 2009 – Ron Welty
  • 2010 – Brian Conley
  • 2011 – David Walters
  • 2012 – Brenden Webb
  • 2013 – Lucas Herbst

In looking back, my runner-up would have easily garnered the crown in most of those other years. But what separated Dosch and Sisco to me was the fact that, while both had consistently good seasons, one was doing it a year removed from high school and handling the most defensively challenging position on the diamond.

Only one Shorebird has ever won a South Atlantic League batting title, and that guy is your Shorebird of the Year, Chance Sisco.

So that’s a wrap on the player side for 2014. Next week will be my picks and pans feature speaking as a fan, and then in December I will certainly update my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. It was oh-so-close to having another addition this year when Tim Berry was recalled by the Orioles in June, but alas it was for one day and he didn’t play. There are a few guys on the Orioles “taxi squad” in Sarasota who could become the Class of 2014, though, so I still hold out hope.

Then sometime around the start of spring training I’m going to try and predict the 2015 roster. As it turned out, 15 of my 25 picks were in Delmarva at some point in the season so I didn’t do half-bad I guess. Next year, if the creek don’t rise, will be the tenth season of Shorebird of the Week. But you can rest assured I won’t put the Shorebirds on the shelf for seven months.

Shorebird of the Week – August 28, 2014

August 28, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

For the Shorebirds in the second half, it’s been a tale of patching together a rotation and bullpen. Injuries and players moving around have meant that just two of the original Shorebirds staff are still here; meanwhile, over half have arrived since the second half began. One of those earlier arrivals has done a nice job in the bullpen and leads the second wave with 18 appearances. Until a rough outing last night, Garrett Courtright was statistically the best available bullpen arm.

It’s always difficult to pick the last two or three SotW players, but Garrett has pitched well since his July 1 arrival so he gets the nod for the final spot. This is perhaps quite appropriate given Garrett was the last player selected by the Orioles in the 40th round of last year’s draft and was the lowest player selected in the 2013 draft to actually play in 2013. (One player drafted after him made his debut this season, but Courtright was the 1,209th player of 1,216 selected.)

Still, the New York native and product of Canisius College has pitched well in the GCL and with Aberdeen over the last two seasons. After going 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA in the Gulf Coast League (40 2/3 innings in 11 games, with a 29/14 K/BB ratio) Courtright took advantage of a cup of coffee with Aberdeen to pitch five scoreless innings in 2 games at the tail end of 2013. And once he began 2014 in much the same manner – allowing just 1 earned run in 9 2/3 innings – the Orioles decided to push him to Delmarva.

It hasn’t been quite as easy here, although Garrett had a sub-3 ERA until last night. Now he’s 1-2 with a 3.77 ERA in 18 appearances, spanning 31 innings. He’s allowed 33 hits, struck out 21, and walked 11, so Courtright is finding this to be more of a challenge but doesn’t appear overmatched. And since he doesn’t turn 23 until after the season, there’s a chance he could be here to begin 2015 but also the prospect of cracking Frederick’s bullpen. Many of the pitchers we’re seeing now, though, will be the mainstays of our 2015 staff.

As always, next week I will review the fate of the 22 players who were picked for Shorebird of the Week this season, look at how the Shorebirds stacked up to the rest of the league in various categories, and select my Shorebird of the Year. The week after that I’ll do my annual picks and pans, then wrap up until the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2014 – if there is one – takes center stage in December.

Shorebird of the Week – August 21, 2014

August 21, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Every year it seems like the Shorebirds have one pitcher who has a dreadful record in terms of wins and losses but pitches rather well overall. Last year that was Matt Taylor, who’s had a fairly good bounceback season (albeit marred by injury) for Frederick this year, and this year’s model will almost certainly lead the South Atlantic League in strikeouts. Mitch Horacek has a decent shot of having the most strikeouts of any Shorebird pitcher since 2006, when onetime Oriole and now injured Diamondback reliever (and SotW Hall of Fame member) David Hernandez fanned 154.

So forget the 5-10 won-lost record and concentrate on some other numbers: the 33 walks Horacek has allowed in 130 1/3 innings keep him at a 1.29 WHIP for the season as he’s allowed just over a hit per inning (135 hits.) Nearly half his 23 starts would be classified as “quality” starts where he went 6 or more innings and allowed 3 or fewer earned runs – in fact, Horacek had a stretch earlier this season of three straight 6-inning starts without allowing an earned run (May 26 – June 5.) In his 10 losses, Horacek has a 6.14 ERA so he’s not often being hammered out of the ballpark – only one time (in loss number 10) has he allowed more runs than innings pitched. (In his first four wins he had a zero ERA in 25 innings, so when he’s on Mitch is almost unhittable.)

Drafted out of a Colorado high school in the 46th round by the Rockies in 2010, Horacek chose instead to pitch at Dartmouth – yes, he’s an Ivy Leaguer. It was a smart decision in the fact he advanced to a ninth round pick last year and pitched quite well for Aberdeen, going 5-4 with a 2.78 ERA and a 45/7 K/BB ratio in 64 2/3 innings, with a WHIP of less than 1. So far in his career it’s become obvious he has a good strikeout pitch; on the other hand, he does give up quite a few hits. In the near term, it likely means he’s got the inside track on a rotation spot for Frederick next year, but the eventual fate of the 22-year-old may be in the bullpen as a swing man – a role that T.J. McFarland fills for the Orioles right now.

In the meantime, it appears Horacek will enjoy a distinction no Shorebird has achieved in 15 years – leading the league in strikeouts. Not since John Stephens fanned 217 (!) in 1999 has a Shorebird been atop that leaderboard. And while I’m sure any member of the team would trade individual honors for a team title, it’s a nice little distinction to have. Moreover, out of the six Shorebird pitchers who have collected over 150 strikeouts in a season, five have gone on to the majors (the other is still pitching in the Mexican League.) With one more start and perhaps a relief appearance left in his season, the possibility of Mitch eclipsing 150 strikeouts and joining that club is pretty good.

Shorebird of the Week – August 14, 2014

August 14, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

A provider of effective and deceptive left-handed relief since joining the Shorebirds in June, Donnie Hart has continued to put up some good numbers in his pro career and could put himself on the map as more than organizational filler with continued success.

A prototypical one-inning guy, Donnie has a deceptive 0-2 record, with both losses coming within a four-day span in June in extra-inning appearances. But over the last six weeks, Donnie’s season ERA has been whittled away to its current 2.70 because Hart’s on a roll where he’s allowed just 3 runs in 17 1/3 innings – since July 1, that stretch includes a puny batting average against of .131 (8-for-61) and 20 strikeouts vs. 5 walks. The seasonal WHIP of 1.07 is pretty good, but in the same July-August time frame it’s a microscopic 0.75.

Add that on top of a rookie professional season in Aberdeen when he put up comparable numbers (3-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 24 innings pitched over 19 appearances) and he looks more like a LOOGY prospect than a 27th pick out of Texas State last year. Granted, the Texas native will turn 24 in September so Donnie’s older than league average, but the numbers are such that he deserves a promotion to see if he can get left-handers out at the next level like the sidewinder does here. (Lefties hit just .176 off Hart.) Nor does it hurt that he has a 25/7 K/BB ratio for the season (and 51/14 for his pro career, in 47 1/3 innings.)

It was a rough start to Hart’s second pro season, but it looks like he’s on track to put up good numbers in the remaining half-dozen or do appearances he should get this season. The next step for him would be advancement to Frederick next April to see if his stuff will carry over the full 140 games.

Shorebird of the Week – August 7, 2014

August 7, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

This shot is probably the favorite for opposing batters, as they would likely prefer Luis Gonzalez stay in the dugout. Until a rough outing Tuesday night ended a stretch of outstanding pitching that garnered Gonzalez the Orioles’ minor league Pitcher of the Month honors for July, Luis was dominant against the SAL once he was elevated to Delmarva in May.

Overall, Luis sports a 6-1 record (with the loss Tuesday) and a 2.84 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) covering 66 2/3 innings. This is Gonzalez’s first taste of full-season ball and it’s apparent he’s taken advantage of a second chance in baseball.

Signed originally by the Philadelphia Phillies, Gonzalez pitched for their Dominican Summer League team in 2010, their Gulf Coast League team in 2011, and Williamsport in 2012. (The Crosscutters are in the same league as our Aberdeen affiliate.) Over the three seasons, Luis was 6-8 with a pedestrian 4.85 ERA in 130 total innings, generally as a starter. His K/BB ratio 115/85, suggesting his control was lacking, so at spring training in 2013 Gonzalez was released.

Once the Orioles picked him up and sent him back to his Dominican home, it was like a new pitcher was born. It was only a 13 1/3 inning sample, but in the DSL Luis went 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA and 1.05 WHIP – he struck out 23 (!) against just 4 walks. A little more work in extended spring this year and Gonzalez was unleashed on an unsuspecting SAL. After one relief outing, Luis has spun 4 shutout stints out of his 13 starts, including three in a row leading up to Tuesday’s start. The league is hitting just .212 against Gonzalez.

Since he’s now 22 – but a veteran in his fifth season – the chances are pretty good Luis may move up before season’s end to test his stuff at Frederick. It’s true there are several good starters here at Delmarva but with a record of dominance such as he put together in July, Gonzalez may be the next in line to give Frederick a shot.

Shorebird of the Week – July 31, 2014

July 31, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

After beginning the season at Frederick and finding little success, Creede Simpson has returned to Delmarva to try and get his batting stroke back and some regular playing time. Mission accomplished on both ends; in fact, since trading places with the promoted Trey Mancini back in June the offensive production at first base is remarkably similar – Mancini had a .317/3/42/.779 OPS before moving up and Simpson is at .314/2/17/.796 OPS since arriving.

Simpson is the Auburn University product who earned his initial promotion after compiling a .248/9/49/.719 OPS for Delmarva in 2013. But at the midway point of the season he was hitting just .214 in 58 Frederick games (albeit with 7 home runs) so the change was made and Simpson is finding much more success here the second time around.

Granted, Creede is a little old for this level as he will turn 25 just after the season ends although this is only his 3rd pro season. He also has a strike against him as a 25th round draft pick, but there are players who have succeeded after a demotion and Creede hopes to be another example. Since his overall trend is on the upswing, there’s the chance he could return to Frederick later this season or start again there next year.

In the meantime, Simpson has just become another link in a Shorebird offense more potent than originally thought when the season started. Compared to last season, when just one player (Christian Walker, who’s now up at Norfolk) had an average over .300, Simpson is one of four active Shorebirds with a mark of .314 or better – the others are previous 2014 SotW winners Anthony Caronia, Chance Sisco, and Drew Dosch. Mancini was also over .300 when he was promoted as was Mike Yastrzemski.

It should be noted as well that, with win number 56 last night, the Shorebirds eclipsed the seasonal win totals of our last three Shorebird squads (55, 52, and 54 in 2011-13) with over a month left in the season. If they can hold on to a winning record it would be the first one since 2008. End of tunnel, meet light.

Shorebird of the Week – July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

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 · Comments Off 

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 · Comments Off 

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.

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