Shorebird of the Week – July 23, 2015

July 23, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

Lately this has been a familiar position for Yermin Mercedes – getting congratulations for yet another home run blast. (This particular one occurred Sunday, erasing an early 1-0 deficit and providing the first three Delmarva runs in a 16-6 blowout of Greensboro.)

And it’s a tale of taking advantage of an opportunity as a player chases his dream through the lowest of the low rungs of the minor leagues. Once the property of the Washington Nationals, where Mercedes hit .296 in 123 games over three seasons for their Dominican Summer League team, Yermin wasn’t through when the Nationals cut him loose after 2013. Instead, he traveled to the U.S. and latched on with the Douglas Diablos of the Pecos League, an independent loop based in Texas and the Southwest. It was a bizarre 2014 season as Mercedes played with three teams in two leagues: Douglas and White Sands of the Pecos League for 54 games and the San Angelo Colts of the now-defunct United League for six.

All told, the numbers were eye-popping: a .380 average with 17 home runs, 74 knocked in, and a 1.119 OPS. It’s worth noting, though, that these are not pitching-rich leagues: the aggregate Pecos League average last year was .314 with an .852 OPS. Regardless of the quality of the league, by season’s end Mercedes had the first step on his path complete as the Orioles inked him to a minor league deal last August 28 for the 2015 season.

But the story gets even better. Delmarva looked to be set at catcher with Alex Murphy and Jonah Heim, both high draft selections in 2013 who were ticketed for the Shorebirds. Unfortunately for them, the duo has only caught 43 games as both have been sidelined by injury. Heim’s injury in late May paved the way for Mercedes to replace him, and Yermin has hit as one may expect with a .291/6/25/.887 OPS slash line in 32 games.

Yermin’s been in the pro ranks since 2011 but the Dominican native is still only 22 and has played a little bit of first base and third base in his career, along with three innings of mound duty last season.

And he’s been a one-man wrecking crew in the last week: along with his three-run smash against Greensboro that reversed the early deficit, last Thursday he hit a grand slam in a 7-4 loss to Lexington after a 3-run blast in an 11-3 win the night before. Not only that, his 2-run 9th inning triple tied the homestand finale against Greensboro Monday before he scored the winning tally in that 3-2 victory and last night he knocked in the first of the two runs Delmarva beat Charleston with, 2-0. In seven games he has three home runs and 14 RBI.

Add in the fact he’s caught 38% of would-be base stealers (after posting close to 50% in the DSL) and you may wonder why the Nationals didn’t keep him around. The Orioles are probably glad they didn’t.

Shorebird of the Week – July 16, 2015

July 16, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

When TJ Olesczuk came to the Shorebirds in early June after a brief stay with Frederick, he started off like a house on fire. TJ went 9-for-16 in a series at Kannapolis, hitting his first professional home run and knocking in nine runs. In short, for that series he was a one-man wrecking crew for Intimidator pitching. But I wanted to see how he would do after a few weeks, and as players often do they cool down after a torrid start. Earlier this month, Oleschuk was benched for a few days after his average tailed below .250 for the first time as a Shorebird.

That pause seemed to refresh TJ’s bat because over the last five games it has slowly heated up again. Olesczuk went 3-for-11 in three games at Hagerstown but has stepped it up with six hits in two games against Lexington. The second-worst pitching staff in the league has been battered by the Shorebirds over the last two days and TJ has used them to spring his average up 33 points for a .283/3/31/.836 OPS slash line.

I’m not sure how they do it, but 40th round selections seem to thrive with the Shorebirds. Olesczuk joins Garrett Cortright as last-round picks who are succeeding at this level. Taken out of Winthrop University, the 23-year-old New York product got into 7 games at Frederick, going 3-for-19 before being sent down to perhaps a more appropriate level considering he toiled in the Gulf Coast League last summer. There he hit .265/0/12/.659 OPS in 34 games.

Only one of the four outfielders who began the season with Delmarva is still here – Elier Leyva, last week’s SotW. Jay Gonzalez and Conor Bierfeldt have been promoted while Jamill Moquete has missed most of the season with an injury. Thus, the chance is there for TJ to hold down left field for the rest of the year and get another 50 games or so under his belt – all told, he has only played in 72 games over two seasons. It’s an opportunity to show the Orioles he’s not just an organization guy picked to fill out a low minor league roster.

If he can keep his average around the .280 level he should get another bite of the apple at Frederick – if not this year, then certainly in 2016. Like Bierfeldt before his promotion, Olesczuk has a knack for driving in runs – those 31 are in as many games, so imagine how far up a prospect list a player could go if he kept that up for a full season.

Even getting to 50 RBI in 80 or so games played would open some eyes, so let’s hope TJ can keep going.

Shorebird of the Week – July 9, 2015

July 9, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

As is often the case with players from the Caribbean region, a team can rarely be sure what they will get when they sign a player. The traditional scouting avenues of organized high school, travel team, and college don’t exist to the same extent so it’s more difficult to judge competition.

It’s even tougher to do so in Cuba, but the Orioles took a $180,000 chance anyway and signed outfielder Elier Leyva last year.

So Delmarva fans weren’t quite sure what to expect when Leyva was assigned here in April, and unfortunately Elier had a hard time with the transition. At April’s end he was hitting just .186 and after May the average had only crept to a .215 mark. But Ryan Minor has been patient with the 24-year-old Cuban and it’s been rewarded as Leyva has hit .284 since (including a sizzling .338/.797 OPS in June.) While he has slumped somewhat of late, bringing his current numbers for the year to .244/2/26/.644 OPS, Leyva is still more consistent than he was early on and seems to be cutting down on the rookie mistakes I noticed at the start of the season.

Although he’s only been in professional baseball since April, the expectations were fairly high – Leyva’s bonus money was equivalent to that of a 9th or 10th round draft choice. Fortunately, for the most part Leyva’s trajectory over the season has been upward so he has the easy potential to finish with numbers in the .270 average and .700 OPS range. (He’s also had the benefit of regular playing time – by week’s end he will pass the promoted Jay Gonzalez and become the team leader in games played with 73.) With another 56 games remaining on the schedule, a finish with numbers akin to those he posted in June makes a late-season cup of coffee in Frederick a possibility.

Cuban coffee would likely be just fine for the Orioles’ brass, who have invested a lot into their outfielder. We’ll see if he’s worth it.

Shorebird of the Week – July 2, 2015

July 2, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

While it is an everyday occurrence for some player somewhere to account for all of his team’s runs in one game, generally that’s in a range from one to four runs. So putting up seven is a cause for celebration, and to make it even better the last four came as a walk-off grand slam.

Welcome to the Monday night Logan Uxa had – a sacrifice fly, two-run triple, and the grand slam accounted for everything in the 7-3 win over Hagerstown. But it wasn’t like Logan was scuffling before that, as he raised his average to .268 in the game – as of last night he’s batting .258/3/15/.870 OPS in 18 games here. (Earlier this season with Frederick, Uxa was .265/1/2/.831 OPS in 13 games.)

At this time last year, though, Uxa wasn’t even playing organized ball. A 32nd round selection by the Reds in 2013 out of Arkansas State, Logan mainly toiled in the AZL (equivalent to the Gulf Coast League) that season, posting good numbers (.281/1/28/.818 OPS) there and getting a few games at high-A Bakersfield as a reward. However, Uxa did not make a team out of camp in 2014 and after extended spring finished in June the Reds let him go. It took until January for Logan to sign with a team to try out for, and the Orioles have used him as they often do with the guys they consider “organization players” that fill holes in a team’s roster. He’s bounced between being active and inactive for Delmarva and spent the larger part of June in Frederick.

While we know Uxa can hit, he does come with a few disadvantages he’ll need to work on. Through his career, he’s exclusively played first base but the Orioles like to have more flexibility. This is particularly true since Uxa is a little subpar in the field. I suspect his further advancement in the system depends on that, since he is somewhat older than his peers (Logan is already 24, when most SAL layers range from 19 to 23.) Baseball-Reference has an interesting split of older vs. younger pitchers and Uxa has 93 of 108 plate appearances against younger hurlers. So maybe some reps in the outfield are in his future.

Yet Logan is the underdog you can’t help but root for, and on Monday night he came up sevens.

Shorebird of the Week – June 25, 2015

June 25, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

A last-minute addition to the North team, Garrett Cortright becomes my fourth and final SAL All-Star to be a Shorebird of the Week this season. Not that Cortright wasn’t deserving to go – a first half that featured a 1.50 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 30 innings is solid stuff, especially when you’re unscored upon in your last seven outings covering 9 2/3 innings. Opponents were -for-June against him until (ironically enough) Tuesday night’s SAL midsummer classic, when he gave up a run in 1/3 of an inning. Since it doesn’t count on the seasonal stats it’s a good time for a blemish.

You probably recall Garrett from the tail end of last season, a time when he pitched effectively (1-3, 3.94 in 19 games) for the Shorebirds and was my last SotW for the season. With a second tour of duty allowing Cortright to get almost a full season at Delmarva, we get a clearer picture of how he would fare at this level: overall with Delmarva he’s 3-4 with a 2.76 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 62 innings. Not bad for an afterthought in the 2013 draft as a 40th-round selection from Canisius College in New York. (It’s a school, though, which is gaining a reputation: 3 players were drafted from there in the first 15 rounds this year.)

Since Garrett has already put in close to a full season here, it would not surprise me if he’s not promoted in the next couple weeks (if not when second half rosters are set tonight.) The crop of All-Stars from last season had several immediate advancements among them, so the trend is there for experienced players to make the jump. With numbers like this Cortright has as good of a case as anyone else on the team.

The midseason review 2015

June 23, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

If you follow my Shorebird of the Week feature, or any of my other Shorebird coverage, you likely recall that just before the season I tried to predict who would make up the team’s roster this season. I was hoping to beat my mark from last season, and I suspect the rash of new players added over the last month will help my percentage.

Early on I lost 2 of my 25 players as infielder Federico Castagnini and pitcher Augey Bill were released. I checked to see if they latched on with any of the independent league teams and apparently they have not, so I presume they have called it a career. As for the others on my list, here’s where they are. (Bold denotes they have been a Shorebird of the Week.)

Pitchers who have spent time with Delmarva include Tanner Chleborad (who made one start before going on the DL in April), Stefan Crichton, Dariel Delgado (who was promoted to Frederick briefly in late May and returned a couple weeks ago), Brian Gonzalez, Ivan Hernandez (just brought up from extended spring), John Means, Nik Nowattnick (sent to Frederick early on), and Max Schuh (also a June callup.)

As for the other hurlers: Augey Bill was released, Keegan Ghidotti and Kevin Grendell are with Aberdeen, and David Hess and Austin Urban were both promoted to Frederick to begin the season. Out of 13 pitchers, 8 have played here and potentially 4 others could – Urban is pitching well enough, though, that I don’t see him back this year.

Moving behind the plate I got both correct – Jonah Heim and Alex Murphy split catching duties for a time until both were hurt. I also correctly tabbed Tanner Murphy as the third catcher. The latter Murphy, though, was reassigned to Aberdeen June 9 but is not on their active roster. Now I’m up to 10 for 15.

On the infield, it’s a mixed bag. The only consistent Delmarva player of the six I named is Jomar Reyes. Austin Anderson has resided on our restricted and disabled lists all season, while Ronarsy Ledesma has had spot duty with the Shorebirds before being sent down to Aberdeen. We just added Derek Peterson to the roster this month as well.

Going the other way, unfortunately, are both Castagnini and Hector Veloz, who was released from Aberdeen’s roster last week. That gives me 3 of 6, with the chance at a fourth later this season. 13 for 21.

Finally, in the outfield I was correct on Jay Gonzalez, T.J. Oleschuk (as of earlier this month), and Riley Palmer – although Palmer has mainly played first base rather than the outfield. Oswill Lartiguez has begun the season with Aberdeen.

This means that, out of 25 players, I have 16 correct and the potential for up to 6 more if they play well (or poorly) enough.  I’m finding out, though, that baseball is an inexact science.

Going into this season I thought my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame would have one more lean year before many of the crop of good players from 2014 start to break through. Instead, I have three already enrolled in the Class of 2015, and who would have bet on Scott Copeland to be the first when he debuted for Toronto in early May? Within a week later that month, I had the second and third: Oliver Drake for the Orioles and Eduardo Rodriguez for Boston. There’s a chance for a fourth if Mychal Givens gets into a game while with the Orioles, and Eddie Gamboa also spent time with the team.

So I have a lot to watch for in the second half. Hard to believe we are midway through another year, isn’t it?

Building a three-headed monster

Yesterday I posted on Third Friday, a monthly event that’s become so successful that it spawned a similar spin-off called First Saturday and may have pushed downtown redevelopment over the hump. Similarly, there are some new businesses and apartments going up on the northern edge of the city along U.S. 13, and even the venerable Centre of Salisbury – venerable as a 27-year-old mall can be, I suppose – has the promise of something Salisbury has longed for, a Cracker Barrel restaurant. It’s slated to be built in the parking lot outside the abandoned J.C. Penney store. (Shoot, I was happy when Buffalo Wild Wings finally made it here from Ohio.)

But there is one prime area that has all the ingredients needed for success – plenty of traffic, good visibility, and reliable city utilities. Yet it sits vacant and unused because its plans for development came along at a bad time.

Several years ago, before my unplanned exile from the building industry, I helped draw up a proposed project which would have established a third attraction for Salisbury. Obviously we know the Centre of Salisbury was a retail destination point and at the time the downtown area was being discussed as something which, as it turns out, it is in the process of becoming – a place where visual and performing arts serves as the draw, along with a handful of local eateries.

But the plot of land just south of Perdue Stadium had its own node, with a guaranteed gathering of anywhere from 500 hardy, weather-tested souls to overflow crowds of over 8,000 people 60 to 65 times a year during the spring and summer. Add in the thousands of travelers driving by and there was the potential for a destination of its own; close enough to the beach to be a viable alternative for budget-concious travelers looking for something with a slower pace, yet with the attractions to enjoy a summer evening without the need for driving around.

As originally envisioned, the development had several key elements for success: office space for workday usage, restaurants for both travelers and those seeking a place to have a business or casual lunch, and lodging for those who wanted to have an anchor point to explore the area yet not have to deal with beach crowds. Its misfortune was beginning the development process at a time when we were entering the Great Recession of 2007-whenever. (Some may argue the area is still in one based on employment numbers.)

One other proposal envisioned for the site was the construction of a new Civic Center on the opposite side of the Perdue Stadium parking lot. Besides the obvious plentiful parking available, a new Civic Center would have the advantages of making beer sales at events possible (a deed restriction for the property of the current Wicomico Youth and Civic Center prohibits alcohol sales as a condition of having it donated to the county for its use) and could be configured for more seating than the current arena to attract larger acts.

Any action on that, however, is several years to a decade away. Yet the county is putting money into 20-year-old Perdue Stadium and the owners of the Delmarva Shorebirds are committing themselves to another two decades as the station’s prime tenant. In short, the main attractions aren’t going anywhere.

Yet this valuable land sits as a part of Salisbury time and economics seemingly forgot.

I understand the emphasis our city fathers have placed on revitalizing downtown and trying to make it a close-by gathering place for both young professionals and Salisbury University students. With a transit system already in place to ferry students from campus to downtown several nights a week and grand plans to spruce up the Business Route 13 corridor from SU to the east edge of downtown, city visionaries and elected officials have it covered. Meanwhile, the part of town encompassing the Centre of Salisbury up toward Delmar seems to be doing just fine although admittedly some of that retail may be getting long in the tooth and due for upgrades. The closing of J.C. Penney was just another pockmark on a facility which may need its own transformation in the next decade lest it suffer the fate of the old Salisbury Mall it replaced.

But that rebirth can be set on the back burner for now. Downtown development may be the place where the cool kids go, but there are other assets Salisbury can put in play with the proper foresight and investment. Imagine what could be there now if things had proceeded a decade ago, and work to make it a reality in the next few years. The infrastructure is already there thanks to the aborted previous plans, so let’s get this diamond in the rough to shine.

Shorebird of the Week – June 18, 2015

June 18, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

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As I’ve often pointed out in this feature, the relievers who immediately back up the starters from the 5th or 6th inning on are also an important part of the staff. Oftentimes they are the starters in waiting and get their own rotation of sorts; one which may have a slightly shorter cycle than every fifth or sixth day.

So while he has made just one spot start this season (as part of an April doubleheader) Stefan Crichton has proved to be one of our most effective relievers. Until his last outing against Kannapolis Monday night, Stefan had driven his ERA below 2, and if there ever was a time for a letdown inning having an 11-2 lead might be that time. When it’s his turn Crichton generally keeps the Shorebirds in the game or holds the lead, as he has two multi-inning saves to his credit this season.

Stefan is one of those who is slowly rising through the system. While he went to a well-regarded program at Texas Christian, Crichton wasn’t selected by the Orioles until round 23 of the 2013 draft and began his career with a stint in the Gulf Coast League. Last year he remained in short-season ball with Aberdeen, so this year was Crichton’s first taste of spring baseball since college. It also lags him as a slightly older player than league average, although he’s only celebrated five actual birthdays (Stefan has the distinction of a February 29 birthday.)

For the season, Crichton’s record is only 1-2 with a 2.72 ERA. However, he has a very solid 1.13 WHIP and that’s mainly because he rarely walks a batter – just 7 this year in 39 2/3 innings and only 17 in 107 professional frames. Last year at Aberdeen he had a 40/7 K/BB ratio in 44 1/3 innings, so while the strikeouts are harder to come by at this level he’s also cut down on hits allowed from 56 last season to just 38 so far this go-round. Allowing less than one hit per inning is a good way to cut the WHIP and ERA, and he’s done both from his 2014 season with the IronBirds.

As we reach the halfway point of the season, I would expect Stefan to have a chance at promotion but could also see him leading what’s become a depleted staff due to a rash of injuries. While he has pitched as many as six innings in a game in his career, the Shorebirds don’t seem to be stretching him out to be a starter as he was in his professional debut season. Crichton seems to have found his niche and there’s not much reason to change him now.

Shorebird of the Week – June 11, 2015

June 11, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

The last of the triumvirate of Shorebird SAL All-Stars to be a Shorebird of the Week, it’s not that I planned on waiting to include Steve Wilkerson, but he was sidelined by an injury the last couple weeks and one of my “rules” is that a player needs to be on the active roster.

But since coming off the disabled list after a 2 1/2 week stay, Steve is 2-for-5, increasing an already stellar average to .313 (although earlier in May he was up to a .323 mark.) It’s been a complete turnaround from his initial pro season, where Wilkerson stumbled to a .190/2/15/.519 OPS slash line with Aberdeen last year.

However, the Georgia native by way of Clemson University seems to have figured things out over the winter as he’s brought his OPS up from that anemic .519 mark to a solid .820, well above average. (An “average” OPS, which is the sum of on-base percentage and slugging percentage, is around .700 or so.) Bumping the batting average up over 100 points is a good way to help that statistic out, but he’s also drawn 21 walks in just 33 games, compared to 14 last season in 60 contests. That increase in on-base percentage is powering his game and has led him to be selected as an SAL All-Star.

Wilkerson, who turned 23 in January, is another Shorebird player who spurned a draft offer out of high school, turning down the Red Sox to go to Clemson as a 15th round pick in 2010. Four years later, he came out as an 8th round selection of the Orioles, so there are some pretty big expectations from Steve. It also may explain why he got another chance despite a subpar initial season where a lower-round pick may not have.

Unlike a number of other infielders in the Orioles system, Wilkerson has primarily played second base during his tenure, occasionally filling in at shortstop. His fielding has also improved over last season, making him a prime candidate for promotion before the end of the year. Having played only 33 games, though, the powers that be may decide he needs to string together several weeks of action before the decision is made.

If Steve keeps his average around the .300 mark, though, his performance will make the choice to promote quite easy.

Shorebird of the Week – June 4, 2015

June 4, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Jay Gonzalez finally stood still long enough for me to get a good shot of him.

As the person who brings speed to the top of the Shorebird lineup, Jay has made a nice transition from Aberdeen to Delmarva. Aside from lacking a triple so far, Gonzalez’s numbers have improved across the board from 2014 to 2015 – a higher average, better strikeout-to-walk ratio (leading to a significantly higher on-base percentage) and 17 stolen bases in only 48 Delmarva games (against 14 in 59 contests with the IronBirds last year.) In short, so far last year’s 10th round pick has shown himself a solid player.

A native of California, it’s somehow appropriate that Gonzalez hasn’t been a master of staying in one place too long – he graduated from high school in Florida and attended Auburn University for three years before transferring to Mount Olive College in North Carolina for his final year. The Orioles were actually the third team to draft him, as Jay was selected by Boston out of high school in the 27th round and by Texas in 2013 as a college junior, down in round 39. Because he spurned the first two offers, he’s a little older than the average SAL player as Jay will turn 24 in December.

Yet there is more than just the speed you would expect from the guy who leads the team in stolen bases (by far). Gonzalez also leads the team in drawing walks, which is a great trait for a leadoff hitter, and game in and game out makes his share of solid to spectacular plays in center field. I’ve seem him make a number of diving catches in the field this year, balls that some of our other center fielders may have had to chase down. He seems to have a knack for the position, as he has made just one error so far in his pro career (it came at Greensboro May 16.) Arguably Jay may be the best center fielder to come along for the Shorebirds this decade based on his range factor and fielding percentage. While a .267 batting average and no power isn’t going to run him up the prospect lists, he does have potential to be a good defender along the line – the prototypical fourth outfielder.

The chances are reasonably good that Jay will stay for the summer, although he may be one of those who gets a late-season cup of coffee in Frederick. But if you like watching good defense, you may want to see this guy come pick ‘em before the end of the season.

Shorebird of the Week – May 28, 2015

May 28, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

After a very shaky start, this season’s been an uphill climb for Matthew Grimes. Tagged with an ERA that flirted with double-digits after the first couple starts, he began whittling it down in earnest upon an April 28 start in Savannah that saw him allow just one hit in five innings while fanning 11. Even as he was roughed up a little in his last start at Hickory, most of the runs he allowed were unearned so his ERA dropped to a season-low 4.57 to go with a 3-2 record.

Matthew is an interesting case – drafted out of a Georgia high school by the White Sox in the 4th round in 2010, he instead chose to go to Georgia Tech. Grimes was drafted again in 2013 by the Phillies as a 31st rounder and finally the Orioles picked him up in the 18th round last season. One could argue he left a lot of money on the table, but obviously college was important to him and Matthew is still on track development-wise as an older 23-year-old at this level (he will turn 24 just before season’s end, on September 4.)

With Aberdeen last season his numbers were pedestrian – 1-3 with a 5.32 ERA in just 22 innings spread over 10 appearances (five starts.) The Orioles used him very gently as none of his outings lasted over three innings, so stretching him out as a starter this season is a little surprising. So far in 2015 his longest outing has been 5 2/3 innings at Augusta; however, Grimes has consistently turned in five or more innings. Just one of his last seven starts has gone fewer than five frames and that was a four-inning start at home, also against Augusta.

If there’s a knock on the Grimes resume, it’s that he tends to give up a lot of hits: 57 in 43 1/3 innings so far this season, leading to a WHIP of 1.62. It’s surprising because he has strikeout capability, having fanned 40 vs. 13 walks in those 43 1/3 innings. Naturally, the cat-and-mouse game is on; as the league adjusts to him Matt will have to refine his offerings.

My suspicion is that Grimes will become more of a reliever as his career progresses, as he seems to do better facing batters just once. But he may surprise us and become a pitcher who misses bats more often in the second half. There was a lot of promise for Grimes out of high school, so we’ll see if that hype was well-placed or not.

Shorebird of the Week – May 21, 2015

May 21, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Let’s face it – if a minor league player puts up a slash line of .196/12/67/.635 OPS, comes from a relatively small and unheralded baseball program, and wasn’t drafted until the 29th round, the chances of extended employment generally are bleak. Yet all three describe Conor Bierfeldt, and the Orioles’ faith in him after his struggles with Delmarva last year has been rewarded thus far with an improved average and the South Atlantic League RBI lead for Conor, who leads his now-injured teammate Alex Murphy, 36 to 28. No one else has more than 26 knocked in.

It’s not that Bierfeldt can’t drive in runs – the 67 he drove in last season led the Shorebirds and he was among the NYPL leaders in both home runs and RBI when he played with Aberdeen in 2013 – but the average had to be a concern, particularly when he hit .264 with the Ironbirds. While “on pace to” is always a dangerous assumption, so far Conor is working toward 15 or more home runs and well over 100 RBI over a full season. In 208 pro games Conor has 29 home runs (and plays home games in a notoriously tough park for home runs, as just 5 of his 17 Shorebird home runs have come at home), so it’s obvious the longball potential is there.

So it looks like Bierfeldt is making the adjustments needed to maximize what Buck Showalter likes to call the “contact to damage ratio.” A team can live with a .236 batting average if those hits drive in runs – as an example, I snapped the photo above after his only hit of yesterday’s game, a 2-run triple. The 1-for-4 performance only fractionally affected his average, but the 2 knocked in allowed him to pad his league lead and opened the scoring for the day, staking Delmarva to an early 2-0 lead (although they eventually lost 6-5.)

If you look ahead for Bierfeldt, there’s a reasonable chance he may not be here the full season to see if he can secure that RBI title. Making the adjustments to increase his average is the key to moving up, and there are a couple weaker links in Frederick’s outfield which could be replaced. We’ll see if Conor rewards the Orioles’ patience with him as the season develops.

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    Republican

    Hans Reigle

    Democrat

    John Carney (incumbent)

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