Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2016 edition

When the 2015 season came to a close in early September, you may recall that the Shorebirds embarked on a project that, it was hoped, would reduce the number of games lost to weather. By stripping the field down to bare earth and reworking the entire drainage system (along with redoing the sod) I have to say the field looked very good most of the season and perhaps that may have had a little to do with the Shorebirds finishing second in the league in fielding percentage. That set of renovations, along with improved lighting, was the second of three phases in a complete renovation of Arthur W. Perdue Stadium – the first phase, completed during the 2014-15 offseason, concentrated on player amenities.

With the field complete, Delmarva was closer to the league average when it came to openings. No SAL team went without at least one rainout (Columbia, Greenville, and Hickory came the closest by having just one) but the Shorebirds had 65 openings and the league averaged 66.3 per team. However, while attendance rebounded slightly this year to 209,120 patrons, the per-game average fell by 13 fans to 3,217. Given the performance around the league, however, holding virtually steady in attendance can be regarded as a victory: only three of the thirteen returning teams increased their gate average from 2015 to 2016 and the overall league average increased by just 62 per game despite the relocated Columbia Fireflies drawing nearly twice as well as the Savannah Sand Gnats they replaced. West Virginia, Rome, and (particularly) Kannapolis saw precipitous year-over-year declines in their average draw.

The program for this offseason, though, is an ambitious one, and it’s already underway.

(Photo credit: Delmarva Shorebirds)

One of the key changes will be all new seats, which includes the replacement of the bleachers that were the general admission seating with regular fold-up box seats. This can be a good thing – if the seats are the same size. While I am slowly losing pounds and inches, my concern is that the new seats may be a little bit smaller than the ones they are replacing since fewer seats fit into the original bleacher space because of armrests, so stadium capacity would decrease by some percentage. Of course, the sections can easily be rearranged to suit thanks to the way the seats were originally laid out (you just drill new bolt holes as needed.) I fit just fine into the seats that were there, thank you, so hopefully us bigger folks will have ample room on the new ones.

It’s my understanding that the other key construction project is the extension of the concourse to be a 360-degree concourse, presumably at the level of the top of the outfield fence (so a home run would likely bounce on the concourse.) When I discussed this idea last year, I used another SAL park I’ve visited as a comparison because I recalled it also had a similar setup.

Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park has most of the same amenities as Perdue Stadium but also uses their outfield concourse for a tiki bar, pizza restaurant, and a third picnic area. It’s nice but I think there are other food and drink possibilities that we could use as well, like moving one of the Dippin’ Dots carts out there or adding mini-hotdog stands. If some of the areas are made a little wider, such as the triangular area near the foul poles, they can use them to set up for postgame entertainment (such as the Thirsty Thursday postgame shows of a decade ago) or pregame activities like the player autograph sessions we also haven’t had in some time.

But the crowning achievement in all this will be the new videoboard. Over the last two to three years the stadium has lost use of the videoboard, the bottom section of the scoreboard (where the player information used to be) and, at times, the scoreboard itself would go on the blink. In truth, a videoboard could serve as a scoreboard with one panel reserved for that purpose. It would also be nice to have an alternate ribbon scoreboard located on the opposite end of the stadium – if the main scoreboard stays in left field, the ribbon would be placed along the first base side. Then you could linger in the outfield concourse but still be able to keep track of the score, inning, balls, strikes, and outs while watching the action.

If you look at the minor leagues from a promotional standpoint, over the last decade the trend has gone away from one-night novelty acts (like Myron Noodleman or Reggi) to a plethora of giveaways of everything from bobbleheads to hats to posters to beach towels to doormats. Fireworks continue to be a staple as well, although my perception is that the difference in attendance isn’t all that great anymore – then again, I don’t go to more than one or two fireworks nights a season. They’ve also become far more clever in figuring out ways to fill the sixteen half-innings that a normal game features with games and giveaways.

But something I think would be interesting (and it can be done with a new videoboard) is a game with no between-inning promotions, walkup music, or PA announcer. It would be sort of like those April midweek nights when there might be 300 people actually in the stands, which is neat because you can hear the players and umpires. It’s probably not in the cards because it would be a promotion aimed at traditionalists like me – the guy who thinks the designated hitter and interleague play should be eliminated – but put it in the hopper.

And lastly, the concern on everyone’s lips regarding the improvements to the stadium is: what’s it going to cost me? They raised the parking fee this year to $4 from $3, although I’ve been a fan long enough to remember when parking was free. (I think some selected ticket prices went up this season, too.) But I have been told that the idea is to hold these fees steady for several years if possible, so once they go up they should be constant for 3-5 seasons.

However, if they eliminate the general admission bleachers for what I would guess is ticketed individual seats, will that now be considered a box seat? Presently there is a $5 difference per seat from general admission to reserved box. My guess is that the new box seats will have their own tier priced somewhere between the current GA price and the reserved box cost (but kept under $10 so it’s still considered affordable.)

If you consider the league as a whole, it’s something of a wonder that Delmarva makes it to the middle of the pack in attendance because it’s among the smallest markets. (The most comparable SAL franchise in terms of population and metro area is Rome. Hagerstown and Hickory are in slightly larger cities and counties, while the city of Kannapolis is of similar size to Salisbury but lies on the edge of the much larger Charlotte metro area. The rest are significantly larger in population.) And once the thrill of getting a new team wore off after the first few years, in recent seasons the attendance has been remarkably consistent at around 3,200 per game – which translates to just over 200,000 per year.

These improvements probably won’t bring back the days of 300,000 or more attending Shorebird games over the course of a season, but I think 250,000 can be a realistic expectation if the product on and off the field is improved. For the millions of dollars spent on renovations, it bears noting that each person probably spends at least $20 at the ballpark so an extra 50,000 patrons brings in at least $1 million. If you add that much value to the experience, the dollars spent on renovation will be worth it.

I had no idea until I checked out the hotel the first night I stayed here (to interview for my old job the next morning) that Salisbury even had a minor league baseball team – I basically followed the Mud Hens so I knew a little about the other Tiger affiliates and the other teams in the International League where the Toledo nine plays. Since the Shorebirds were in neither category, I was pleasantly surprised to find that out about the city I would adopt as my hometown.

To be quite honest, though, having a brand new, critically acclaimed stadium (at the time, Fifth Third Field was 2 years old) in a much larger AAA market spoiled me for Delmarva, so I was left a little bit wanting for the first season or so. It took getting used to. But now that I am here and have probably attended a couple hundred games or more, I would like them to stick around so I’m pleased to see someone else wants to improve the Shorebirds’ nest and maybe make it like new again.

I can’t wait to see what the old place looks like come April. But it would look a lot better with the 2017 SAL pennant on the flagpole.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2016 season wrapup

September 8, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · 1 Comment 

Last season the Shorebirds snapped a six-year string of losing seasons by going 71-67, and with a team that had both first round picks from 2015, the Orioles’ first pick in the 2014 draft (actually selected in round 3), and key players from the 2015 season coming back in Alex Murphy, Ademar Rifaela, and eventually Yermin Mercedes, it was figured the Shorebirds would have a team to contend with. Turns out they did, coming tantalizingly close to winning the first half (falling a half-game short of Hagerstown thanks to an ill-timed rainout) and staying in contention for a playoff spot with a late-season run. In that respect they finished a game out behind Hickory and Lakewood, but with Lakewood clinching the second-half title a week ago over Hagerstown the Shorebirds were shut out – they needed to have Hagerstown win both halves and finish with the second-best record overall.

Those two late stretches of winning made June and August more exciting than usual around here, and the 73-66 overall record was their best since 2008. Unfortunately, a stretch of futility in late July and early August led to a 31-39 second half after a torrid 42-27 first half mark.

This year’s wrap-up will look quite a bit like last season’s. Next year, though, things will be different because there won’t be Shorebirds of the Week (but I will still select a Shorebird of the Year.)

This year the Delmarva nine was solid offensively, with the team being one after Earl Weaver’s heart in seeking the three-run homer.

  • A .251 team batting average was 5th in the league.
  • Yet the team was only 12th in runs, scoring just 548 times.
  • They were right in the middle (7th place) with 1,153 hits.
  • The 236 doubles was good for fourth in the loop, and they tied for fifth with 36 triples.
  • For the first time ever, Delmarva led the league in home runs with 112 – a franchise high (previous was 97.)
  • We finished 11th with 497 runs batted in.
  • We finished second in total bases with 1,797 – aided in large part by the home runs.
  • We drew 427 walks, which ranked 7th in the SAL, and struck out 1,172 times, which was sixth-most.
  • Again, team speed was not an asset. We were dead last with just 84 stolen bases in 119 attempts. (Lakewood was next with 86 of 132 – we attempted the fewest steals by far. League-leading Hickory was caught almost as much as we attempted – 116 vs. 119.)
  • Our .320 on-base percentage was sixth in the league, but the .391 slugging percentage was third. This meant our OPS of .711 was 4th of 14.

Our pitching was even better when compared to the rest of the league, as we finished second in ERA with a 3.32 mark. Charleston was an easy first at 3.03.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 13 shutouts tied for third in the loop.
  • We also tied for third in saves with 43.
  • Once again we were near the bottom in innings pitched, finishing 12th with 1,204.
  • 1,088 hits allowed was fifth. Being second in ERA it follows the 534 runs and 444 earned runs we gave up were also second behind Charleston.
  • Allowing only 76 home runs was fifth fewest.
  • While we only had 55 hit batters (good for third) we were in the middle of the pack with 417 walks allowed.
  • We ranked ninth by collecting 1,095 strikeouts.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched) was fifth in the league at 1.25.

With 121 errors and a .976 aggregate fielding percentage only West Virginia had a tighter defense than the Shorebirds.

Unfortunately, the Orioles organization was not good in winning percentage: Delmarva was their only team to finish with a winning record, while Aberdeen was 32-43 and GCL Orioles closed 27-32. The two Dominican Summer League teams the Orioles provide players for combined for a 38-53 record. So as a whole the talent pool may be worse than average, although individual players from these lower levels may combine for a better team.

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

April 7 - Francisco Jiminez

Jiminez bounced in and out of the starting rotation during the second half, but finished with four straight strong starts to close with a 9-9 record and 4.27 ERA. It wasn’t quite to the level that he closed last season with the Shorebirds, but the 1.26 WHIP and 96:45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 2/3 innings seems to me to be good enough to get a look from the Orioles insofar as advancement is concerned. He will only be 22 next season, so it may begin with a handful of starts here, too.

April 14 - Alex Murphy

For the second time in as many seasons, Alex was my second SotW. But 2016 was a far better campaign in terms of health for Murphy, who tied for the team lead by getting into 124 games. His slash of .252/16/63/.759 OPS was improved from his stint here in 2015, and Alex was here long enough to lead the team in both home runs and RBI. With nearly as many games at first base (42) as behind the plate (57) the question isn’t really that of whether he will move up, but what role the Orioles see for him. (SAL All-Star)

April 21 - Alejandro Juvier

Juvier never really got his footing at Delmarva, hitting just .198 in 30 games before being demoted to Aberdeen and slashing just .228/3/28/.586 OPS in 58 games there. He’s only 21 going into next season, though, and he had a fairly good pedigree coming into this season, so we may see him back for 2017.

April 28 - Yermin Mercedes

Returning to Delmarva for a second stint, Yermin hung around just long enough to qualify for the SAL batting crown he won by a whopping 40 points with a .353 mark, also hitting 14 home runs and collecting 60 RBI in just 91 games. The .990 OPS was also a league best (by 104 points) among qualifiers. Promoted to Frederick in August, Mercedes hit just .318/6/17/.923 OPS there. The Orioles definitely have Mercedes on their radar, but feel he needs to improve his defensive skills in order to advance through the system. He turns 24 just before spring training gets underway, so he still has time to develop and have a long career. (SAL All-Star, SAL Post-Season All-Star, SAL July Player of the Month, SAL Player of the Week – April 18-24 and June 13-19)

May 5 - Christian Turnipseed

In most of his appearances, Turnipseed was the Shorebirds’ closer, gathering a team-leading 17 saves in 40 appearances (in saves he tied for third in the SAL, and his 35 games finished tied for second, one off the leader.) However, while he won the season finale Christian struggled down the stretch, pitching to a 5.25 ERA after August 1 with a 12-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the last 12 innings he pitched. Overall he finished 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out 57 and walking 25 in 52 innings. He’ll be 25 next season so it’s likely Christian sinks or swims at Frederick.

May 12 - Ryan Mountcastle

One of the two 2015 1st round picks to open with the team, they allowed Ryan to spend his season here developing. He got off to a terrible start in April (just .162 for the month) but caught fire as the weather warmed and turned in a solid full-year campaign: .281/10/51/.745 OPS in 115 games. Mountcastle will have to work on cutting down his 95 strikeouts and improving a modest .319 on-base percentage, but he has plenty of time to improve since he won’t turn 20 until just before spring training next season. As my Prospect of the Year, I think he follows fellow first-rounder DJ Stewart to Frederick for 2017. (SAL Player of the Week – June 6-12)

May 19 - Garrett Cleavinger

One of several pitchers who were promoted during the season, Garrett was here for the first half and delivered some eye-popping numbers: a 5-0 record and 1.38 ERA in 39 innings here, with 53 strikeouts vs. just 11 walks, producing an exceptional WHIP of 0.92 On the other hand, Cleavinger was more pedestrian with Frederick in the second half, going just 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA and 49-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.55 WHIP with the Keys. Garrett will turn 23 early next season, so the Orioles may decide to keep him challenged at the advanced-A level to start the year – he really has nothing to prove here. (SAL All-Star, Organization Pitcher of the Month – April)

May 26 - Cedric Mullins

Considering he came from a more unheralded background and was a lower draft choice, you could make an argument for Cedric being the Prospect of the Year – or for that matter, Shorebird of the Year. He had the type of season scouts like to see as he improved the entire way, finishing among the team leaders in almost every offensive category and near the top of the league in some as well. Mullins hit .273 overall with 14 home runs and 55 RBI (from the leadoff spot), scored 79 runs, and stole 30 bases in 36 tries. Mullins and Murphy tied for the lead with 124 games played. Considering he began with a .214 mark in April, Mullins came a long way and he’s going to be just 22 next month. Improvement like this next year might get him to Bowie by season’s end. (SAL Player of the Week,  August 29 – September 5)

June 2Reid Love

In his first full season, Reid put together a solid but not spectacular effort – maybe the best word is workmanlike. On the topline he finished 9-10 with a 3.29 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 139 1/3 innings, striking out 106 while walking just 33. It’s the kind of year that should get him to Frederick, but since he turns 25 next season it may not put him at the top of the prospect list. The question for Love is whether his stuff will advance to the next level as he allowed 134 hits during the season. One sign in his favor, though, is that he allowed fewer hits than innings pitched this year as opposed to his 2015 stint in Aberdeen where he did the opposite. Pitchers can be effective giving up contact and Love may be one of those.

June 9 - Gerrion Grim

Gerrion was the Shorebirds’ fourth outfielder – appearing in just 68 games - but he was selected as a team player who came on to save an important win on the mound. At the halfway point it looked like Grim was pointed in the right direction with a .258 batting mark but in the second half he hit just .149 to finish under the Mendoza line for the season. (Strange split: Grim hit just .136 at the unfriendly confines of Perdue Stadum and a respectable .248 everywhere else.) A .193/5/25/.574 OPS slash line isn’t going to get it done, though. In his age-23 season coming into spring training - and much as he is the type of player one can root for - the unfortunate reality is he may be looking for a job elsewhere before then.

June 16 - Ryan Meisinger

Like Garrett Cleavinger, Ryan had tremendous numbers with Delmarva (only a 3-2 record but an 0.78 ERA, 48 strikeouts and just 9 walks in 34 1/3 innings, and 24 hits allowed for an 0.95 WHIP) but he did reasonably well in Frederick after his June promotion. There he matched the 3-2 Delmarva record but had a 2.25 ERA in 40 innings with a 46-to-12 ratio of strikeouts to walks with a 1.15 WHIP there. So the Maryland native may have an outside shot of reaching Bowie’s bullpen to start 2017 – good stuff for his age-23 season. (SAL All-Star)

June 23 - Jesus Liranzo

Speaking of Bowie’s bullpen, that’s exactly where Liranzo finished the season, skipping Frederick after posting 46 strikeouts and allowing a whopping 12 hits in 34 1/3 innings here with the Shorebirds. (That was a .109 average against, not to mention a 0.79 WHIP.) So jumping two levels only dented Liranzo’s numbers to the tune of allowing just 8 hits (but walking 12) in 18 2/3 innings there. For the season Liranzo allowed a ridiculous .116 average against him in 53 innings – not bad for a player signed (and released) twice by the Atlanta Braves for their Dominican League team. It’s not out of the question to contemplate the 21 year old, who will be 22 about the time minor league spring training begins, getting a cup of coffee with the big club at the end of next season.

June 30 - Drew Turbin

Drew never really got untracked this season – he was hitting .212 at the end of April and finished the campaign with a .211/6/31/.626 OPS slash line. It was certainly a regression from his season with Aberdeen last year, and as he goes into his age-24 season he may get another shot here. A strike against him, though, is that he wasn’t particularly versatile, playing all but one of his games at second base. Fortunately for him, Aberdeen wasn’t well-stocked at second this season (in fact, most of the games were played by the aforementioned Alejandro Juvier) so he may be in the mix despite his tough 2016 season.

July 7 - Christian Alvarado

Christian finished second in the SAL with 148 strikeouts in exactly 148 innings pitched, compiling a 10-9 record and 3.41 ERA to go with them. His 1.16 WHIP also placed him in the top 10 of league qualifiers, so the argument can be made whether he or Brian Gonzalez will be considered the ace of the Frederick staff next season. While Alvarado’s 143 hits allowed was relatively high, the fact he only gave up 29 walks is a plus. Alvarado turns 22 later this month so he has time to develop. (Organization Pitcher of the Month – June, SAL Pitcher of the Week – June 27-July 3)

July 14 - Ofelky Peralta

More of a raw talent (and a year or two younger than Gonzalez or Alvarado at age 19), Peralta’s numbers weren’t as stellar – 8-5 with a 4.01 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 103 1/3 innings – but he was considered a prospect nonetheless. Yes, he gave up 60 walks this year and that was the most on the team, but over his three-season pro career he’s steadily decreased his walk rate and considering he jumped from the GCL to full-season this year it wouldn’t hurt him to repeat this level, at least for the first half. Peralta threw a five-inning no-hitter the start after a six-inning one-hitter, but sandwiching those starts were three where he was shelled for 15 runs in 13 2/3 innings. The key word for him in 2017 will be consistency. (Organization Pitcher of the Month – July, SAL Pitcher of the Week – July 4-10. )

July 21 - Natanael Delgado

Delgado was considered a fringe prospect for the Los Angeles Angels when the Orioles acquired him in a late spring training trade, so they are probably disappointed with his injury-marred 2016 season. In 88 games Delgado hit just .250/8/36/.680 OPS, and considering he was essentially repeating at this level after hitting .241/6/46/.631 OPS in the Midwest League last year one has to wonder what his future holds. However, Delgado is young for this level (turns 21 next month) so he may get a third try at full-season A ball in the hope he can stay healthy and bring the average closer to the .280 or so he had in rookie ball between two teams.

July 28 - Jay Flaa

He didn’t dominate this level as he did with Aberdeen last season, but Jay put up a decent year with a 3.50 ERA in 46 1/3 relief innings. One cause for concern, though, would be allowing 21 walks in that stretch after giving up only 5 in 20 2/3 innings last season. With a 1.34 WHIP Flaa could be one of those guys who’s on the brink between advancing and staying put out of spring training next season. Jay is old for this level (25 next June) but the Orioles spent a 6th round pick last year on a college pitcher about to turn 23 so we may be able to throw age out the window in this case.

August 4 - Randolph Gassaway

With all but 5 of his 55 games this season played with Delmarva, the thought has to be: where did this guy come from? Granted, he hit .273 with Aberdeen last season but to hit .340/7/21/.919 OPS for the year either Gassaway is legit or a flash in the pan as we have seen many times over the years from players who washed out a season or two later. It’s hard to imagine him jumping a level with just 50 games under his belt, so I would expect Randolph to be counted on to lead the Shorebirds next season – at least for the first half when he turns 22. (Organization Player of the Month – August)

August 11 - Brian Gonzalez

The Brian Gonzalez we got this year was the one the Orioles hoped for last year. But he was a raw rookie only a year removed from high school, so his second time here proved to be much better with a 10-8 record and 2.50 ERA that was third best in the league overall. Since his WHIP was a more or less average 1.31, the reason his ERA stayed low had to be the recognition of how to avoid a lot of damage when an inning begins with a baserunner. Worrisome among his numbers was 58 walks allowed, although it was in 147 2/3 innings so the rate is only a shade above average. If he has the ability to continue working around them he should move up the system quickly. (SAL Post-Season All-Star, Organization Pitcher of the Month - August)

August 18 - Ricardo Andujar

Ricardo was the steady utility player every team needs, quietly hitting .251/3/24/.620 OPS while splitting time between second base, third base, and shortstop seemingly on a daily basis. Aside from an 11-game stretch when he spelled an injured Ryan Mountcastle at shortstop, he didn’t play more than five games in a row at any one position. For a bench player to get into 101 games while not playing more than 43 at any position proves your worth, and it may lead to advancement and opportunity for Ricardo down the line. He turned 24 this season, so I think the Orioles will give him a chance at the next level – even if he only hits .250 the versatility makes Andujar useful. He just needs to pick up the outfield somewhere down the line.

August 25 - Jake Bray

Between Delmarva and Aberdeen Bray threw just 30 innings this season; however, that is only one off his career high of 31 last year. Bray did well as a whole (1-1 with an even 3.00 ERA and 1.1 WHIP, 29 strikeouts and 6 walks, mostly with the Shorebirds) but needs to get a full year in to prove himself. 2017 could be that year – while Jake at 24 would be old for A ball, a successful first half could put him in the more age-appropriate advanced-A level with Frederick. 60 innings in a season would be a major accomplishment and a body of work Bray can be judged by – especially if he can hold to single-digits in walks allowed.

September 1 - Mike Burke

Mike finished the season with Delmarva, but he split the 2016 schedule among three teams – debuting in June with Frederick, sent down to Aberdeen when their season began, and returning to Delmarva to play the second half here. Overall Burke was 1-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 52 innings, posting an outstanding 1.06 WHIP based on a 60-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. (My question is why he didn’t stay at Frederick considering he pitched eight superb innings there in three appearances, allowing one run on two hits while striking out 10. That is a microscopic 0.25 WHIP. Sure, he’s a 30th round draft pick, but come on.) If there is justice in the world, Mike gets the shot to pitch a full season for the Keys and see whether he can keep that string going.

*********

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
  • 2014 – Chance Sisco
  • 2015 – John Means

This is a year where I have three or four guys who could have easily been Shorebird of the Year in some of those leaner years around the turn of the decade. You could easily plug in Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Brian Gonzalez, or Christian Alvarado for those lost seasons.

But sometimes you get a situation where one player just stands above the rest, a no-doubter. I think the moment that sealed this year’s selection was watching some hapless team put on a shift against this batter and watching him calmly rip a double and a triple the other way in consecutive at-bats. You didn’t see that shift anymore.

I wouldn’t imagine there are many teams in baseball history who have two league batting champions that were both catchers, but Delmarva is one. And they both share something else in common: the Shorebird of the Year award.

He barely made the requisite 2/3 of the season on the Shorebirds roster, but then Yermin Mercedes barely made the number of at-bats required for qualification for the SAL batting crown as well. Yet it should be noted that after his promotion to Frederick on August 1, the Shorebirds went into a 5-18 funk that all but eliminated them from playoff contention. It seemed like they couldn’t function offensively without Mercedes and his potent bat, which solidified his claim on the SotY honor.

So that’s a wrap on the player side for 2016. Next week will be my picks and pans feature speaking as a fan, and then in December I will update my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. The Class of 2016 is another large one on the heels of a five-pitcher class in 2015.

But while I’m dialing back on my Shorebirds coverage in 2017, you can rest assured they won’t be completely out of sight and out of mind. As I think I’ve said on a couple occasions, the biggest problem I had in doing Shorebird of the Week was the fact I only get to about 15 games a year now so I don’t have the photo stock I believe I need to make it a great feature. Give me the photos and maybe I bring it back, perhaps even as a semi-weekly or monthly thing – writing the copy is the easy part.

Thus, you have the offer on the table. I like covering the Shorebirds but it has to be more than me doing it.

Shorebird of the Week – September 1, 2016

September 1, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Tonight an era comes to an end after 11 seasons.

At the end of the season I would always have several players who were perhaps deserving but not selected. This last Shorebird of the Week is one of those holdovers from 2015 who’s been quite effective in his return season.

It took 18 appearances for Mike Burke to pitch in a game I attended, but his one-out save on Sunday evening was the first of Burke’s two straight saves at a time when the Shorebirds maintain extremely faint playoff hopes (they need a lot of help, but can greatly enhance their chances by winning out.) Last night Burke came up with a two-inning save to help Delmarva sweep the fading Greensboro Grasshoppers in a doubleheader and move to within one-half game of the overall second-place Hickory Crawdads. (The help they need is from Hagerstown, who edged Delmarva by 1/2 game to win the first half and needs to win the second half for the Shorebirds to have a chance of making the postseason as the second-best overall record in the division – the Shorebirds are out of contention for the second half crown.) That sweep also assured Delmarva a second consecutive winning season after six straight losing campaigns from 2009-14.

While Mike spent the 2015 season exclusively at Delmarva, going 2-2 with a 3.36 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, the exceptional part of his overall line was the 53-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 67 total innings. This year, though, Mike has bounced around between the Aberdeen roster (stashed for most of the first half there), the Frederick Keys, and Delmarva. As a whole Burke has gone 1-3 with a 3.49 ERA this season, but he pitched very effectively at Frederick (1 run and 2 hits allowed in 8 innings) and Aberdeen (4 1/3 shutout innings in 2 appearances.) He’s maintained that exceptional K/BB ratio with 53 strikeouts and 8 walks between the three stops.

Burke is an Cleveland native who pitched his college ball at the State University of New York at Buffalo (we MAC folks just call it Buffalo) and was a 30th round pick by the Orioles in 2014, so in essence he’s playing with house money at this point in his career. But having just turned 24 on Saturday he still has plenty of time to make it up the ladder and control will likely be his calling card. Allowing just 20 walks in 139 1/3 innings is a good way to advance, especially with a strikeout per inning on average. He deserves a shot at seeing if he can keep that stellar work going in Frederick in 2017.

And thus we have the 242nd and final Shorebird of the Week – a list of prospects and suspects that epitomizes the Shorebirds over the years I have covered them. We won’t know until next season which list Mike will find himself on, but like everyone who plays here I hope he gets the opportunity to see his dream come true and make it to The Show. As for me, I’m already looking at next year’s schedule and digging the fact we will have eleven Thirsty Thursdays – I just won’t be putting up a Shorebird of the Week to complement them.

Thanks for being a part of the SotW ride – but don’t forget Shorebird of the Year comes next week and on September 15 I will do my annual picks and pans – so the season lives on for a bit whether Delmarva makes the playoffs or not.

Shorebird of the Week – August 25, 2016

August 25, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Returning to the Shorebirds’ fold after a trip to the disabled list and month-long reassignment to Aberdeen, Jake Bray picked up pretty much where he left off by tossing two scoreless innings against Lakewood on Monday.

Injuries such as the oblique strain that kept Jake out for 6 weeks are, unfortunately, nothing new for him. He got off to a promising start after being a 12th round pick in 2013 out of California’s Feather River College with 12 solid GCL innings but was out for the entire 2014 season. Bray basically had to start all over in 2015 and did so impressively, with matching 0.87 ERAs at both the GCL level (20 2/3 innings) and Aberdeen (10 1/3 innings.) Even more eye-popping is 11 career walks in 66 innings pitched – in his first 24 pro appearances a walk blemished his linescore just twice, in 2015. (Bray allowed zero walks in 2013, in 12 outings.) One can argue that he’s strictly a one- or two-inning relief pitcher so walks are minimized in those situations, but thus far Jake has managed to have good control yet not give up a lot of hits. (49 in 66 career innings – so his career WHIP is under 1.)

So in recovering from his latest setback down in Aberdeen, Bray had some uncharacteristically high numbers, such as a 5.06 ERA in eight appearances there. Much of that damage, though, came in one bad outing July 23 (4 ER in 1 1/3 innings.) Here with Delmarva Bray has managed to keep his numbers in line with his career means, with a 1-0 record and 1.46 ERA in 9 appearances covering 12 1/3 innings. SAL batters are a little more selective, though, as Bray has allowed five walks in that span (but no more than one in any appearance.) However, Jake has given up only 9 hits while striking out 14, so his stuff is still playing well at this level.

Bray will turn 24 over the offseason, and it’s unfortunate the injury bug got him again because this level seems to be a good test for him. I think there may be some more innings in store for him post-season in the instructional league – he’s probably not quite ready for the Arizona Fall League, but that could come next season if he can repeat his success in keeping his control numbers going.

Jake is the penultimate Shorebird of the Week – next week will bring the series to a close after 11 seasons, with the Shorebird of the Year season review the following week and picks and pans wrapping up the season September 15. With the likelihood of playoff baseball getting slimmer by the day, Delmarva’s long offseason will be setting in September 6.

Shorebird of the Week – August 18, 2016

August 18, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

It’s a little ironic that I select Ricardo Andujar as the SotW the day after the Red Sox swept the Orioles in a two-game series at Camden Yards. While the losses did damage to the Orioles in the pennant race, perhaps someday they can get a little revenge in knowing they took a solid player from the Boston fold. In June of 2012, Ricardo began a two-season stint in the Dominican Summer League as a Red Sox prospect, but after hitting just .214 in two seasons there the Red Sox let him go. Baltimore signed him for the next summer (2014), Ricardo figured things out (hitting .318 in 63 games), and two seasons later with a stop at Aberdeen thrown in, Andujar is one of the better hitters on the Shorebirds with a .255/2/20/.627 OPS slash line in 87 games.

Granted, Ricardo is old for this league (he turned 24 earlier this month) and was a comparatively late Dominican signing as he started pro baseball at the age of 19. But he fills that gap that teams need as a utility infielder with speed – so far in 2016 Andujar has made 36 starts at third base, 28 at shortstop, and 23 at second base. Judging by statistics, he’s probably best suited for second base but has managed to find plenty of playing time from his fellow infielders by being a reasonable alternative at the three positions. And while he won’t wow you with his power, Andujar seems like the kind that might sneak in a half-dozen dingers a season but is more likely to swipe a couple dozen bases. Between Andujar and center fielder Cedric Mullins (25 steals) they have about 3/4 of the stolen bases among those on the active roster.

If it seems like Andujar has snuck up on you, it may be true. At the end of May he was stumbling with a .225 average, but since the first of July he’s hit an even .300 in 34 games to push close to his career mark of .263 overall. With about three weeks to go in the season, he has a decent shot to finish with a batting mark right around .263 and earn a shot at the next level. As I’ve mentioned before, a high batting average is not as necessary for success at the big league level if you have the versatility to play multiple positions. A little work in the outfield in coming seasons and Ricardo can have a long career as a jack of all trades. We’ll see how he develops.

Shorebird of the Week – August 11, 2016

August 11, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Perhaps the most deserving – but hitherto not honored – Shorebird of the Week this season has been pitcher Brian Gonzalez. Among the Shorebird hurlers, Brian has been perhaps the most consistent starter with a 7-7 record but a 2.59 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 22 starts covering a team-leading 121 2/3 innings. Brian has fanned 92 and walked 49 – not bad for a pitcher who’s not yet turned 21 and is still a couple years younger than league average.

You may recall a couple years ago when the Orioles signed free agents Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez that those signings cost the O’s their first two draft picks in the 2014 draft. So despite being a 3rd round selection, Brian was Baltimore’s first choice that year. After getting his feet wet with 33 2/3 innings split between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen that season, the Baltimore brass threw Gonzalez to the wolves in 2015 by bringing him to Delmarva – and arguably he wasn’t ready, finishing a tough campaign with a 4-9 record and 5.71 ERA in 23 starts. In 105 2/3 innings, Brian allowed only 98 hits but walked 59 to give him a WHIP of 1.49.

This year, repeating the level, he has thrown 16 more innings in one fewer start, struck out 11 more batters (relatively consistent) but walked 10 fewer. He has allowed about the same number of hits per nine innings but learned to mitigate damage by walking fewer batters and allowing just 4 home runs, compared to 8 last season. All in all, it’s been a solid second season for Gonzalez here and if he’s not promoted for a couple late-season starts, once 2016 ends I don’t think we will be seeing him back here unless it’s for a rehab assignment. As a third-round pick and leader of that draft, the expectations are high for Gonzalez - especially with the failure (thus far) of 2013 first rounders Hunter Harvey (multiple injuries and now surgery) and Josh Hart (hitting just .193 at Frederick.) 2015 first rounders D.J. Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle have spent time here this season, although Stewart was promoted to Frederick in June.

Brian, though, is also the poster child on why this SotW series is coming to an end after the 2016 season. The photo I’m using comes from a start in April, 2015 – having such a bad season, I did not pick Brian as a SotW last year so I dug through my old SD cards and fortunately found this photo. In 2016, though, he’s been the most elusive Shorebird player: he seems to start games I can’t make it to for some reason. Out of 12 games I’ve attended, he hasn’t played in one. I have been meaning to pick him since May as he got off to a great start, but couldn’t connect. Now he gets his due.

Shorebird of the Week – August 4, 2016

August 4, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

With the recent promotion of Yermin Mercedes, it’s fortunate that the Shorebirds have a batter who is on a tear at the plate. While he doesn’t present as much of a power threat, there’s no denying Randolph Gassaway is on a roll with an 11-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .439 (18-for-41), bringing his average up over 60 points in the process. As of yesterday his slash line was .337/1/3/.817 OPS in 25 games since being promoted from Aberdeen (where he began the 2016 campaign going 8-for-18 in 5 games.)

If the name seems vaguely familiar to Shorebirds fans, it’s worth pointing out that Gassaway was on the Shorebirds’ disabled list for several weeks in the 2014 season, never appearing in a game here. He was sent on a rehab assignment to the GCL Orioles before being redirected to Aberdeen for the rest of the season. In 2015 he spent the season with the IronBirds, hitting .273/0/22 in 60 games and splitting his time between corner outfield positions.

Originally drafted in the 16th round by the Orioles in 2013 out of Riverwood High School in Sandy Spring, Georgia, Gassaway started out as a first baseman but has found a home in the outfield since his second year in the pros. He replaced the promoted D.J. Stewart in left field for the Shorebirds (even wearing the same jersey number) and has played a clean 23 games so far. With another 30 games or so left in the season, it’s possible that Randolph can get around 200 plate appearances for his Shorebird campaign as a good audition to begin next season with his first full-season team, perhaps in Frederick. Having just turned 21 earlier this season, he’s gained enough experience to get his chance. The question is whether he can take advantage of his size (Gassaway is listed at 6′-4″, 210 pounds) to get more of a power stroke – he’s been more of a gap-to-gap doubles hitter in his career, projecting out to about 30 in a full season so far in his career.

It’s been a slow climb with a couple detours for Gassaway, but he has the potential to move up quickly for 2017 if his hot streak becomes a consistent .300 average the rest of the way.

Shorebird of the Week – July 28, 2016

July 28, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

One of the more effective relief pitchers the Shorebirds have had this season, Jay Flaa has gotten a little more work in lately. After pitching in a routine that generally put him on a starter’s schedule of sorts – pitching about every four to six days – Jay was used three times in four days on the Shorebirds’ most recent homestand, picking up his fourth win and second save on the year in consecutive contests against Kannapolis. Over the year Jay has put in 23 appearances, good for 38 2/3 innings, and carries a 4-0 record with a 3.49 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Flaa is stingy with both hits and walks allowed, with only 29 hits and 16 walks so far this season.

The Orioles selected Flaa in the sixth round last season, making him the highest pick from North Dakota State University in 21 years. Jay is a native of North Dakota, so it may be the reason he wasn’t sought after in previous drafts – there aren’t a whole lot of scouts traversing that territory, and those that do are likely looking for the next Wayne Gretzky. So Jay stayed in-state after high school ended. (It’s worth noting that a number of his NDSU peers over the last few seasons have tried their luck in independent leagues after college, so scouts may be taking more notice.)

I think Flaa has the potential of being one of those late bloomers: having turned 24 in June, Jay started out a little older than his peers at each level. After making one appearance in the Gulf Coast League, Flaa was a shutdown pitcher at Aberdeen last year, pitching 20 2/3 innings in 14 games with a 1.31 ERA and a WHIP of 0.73 from allowing just 15 baserunners (10 hits and five walks.) Those numbers have regressed a little bit here against sturdier competition, but Jay adjusted well after a tough April where his ERA was 6.14. (That was mainly the result of one bad outing against Greensboro where he allowed four runs in 1/3 of an inning.) Showing that he’s durable enough to pitch on back-to-back days is an important step for a relief pitcher, especially since he’s also proven himself as more of a middle reliever as well. (Flaa made four consecutive three-inning appearances in May and June.)

Given his reasonably high draft status, presumably Jay will be ticketed for Frederick either to wrap up this season or for 2017 as a bullpen leader. And one more interesting thing: given his uncommon last name, I figured in searching Baseball Reference there was only one Flaa who’s played in the pros – but I was wrong. He may or may not be related, but Arnold Flaa had a brief 19-game minor league career playing in the Class D Eastern Shore League in 1948, for Cambridge. It’s uncanny how the younger Flaa’s baseball path led him to the Eastern Shore as well.

Shorebird of the Week – July 21, 2016

July 21, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

He’s been on a tear lately, reminding people why he was a valued prospect. But Natanael Delgado has nearly slipped through the cracks of this Shorebird season until now.

You may not have been aware of him because he didn’t come up through the Orioles’ system like most of our players do. Delgado was acquired in a late spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels, who also parted with infielder Erick Salcedo to acquire pitcher Chris Jones from the Orioles. (Salcedo is playing at Frederick and Jones is pitching in AAA, where he was last year with Norfolk.) But it was a bit of a surprise to see a Midwest League All-Star from last season repeat at the same level for the Orioles, let alone struggle early on.

The 20-year-old native of the Dominican Republic has had a July that’s as scorching as the weather, though, hitting .400 for the month in 13 games with a sick 1.136 OPS. It’s bumped his overall numbers up to .261/7/32/.725 OPS, and remember he was hitting just .170 at the end of April.

Coming up through the Angels’ system, he played for the AZL Angels in 2013, Orem in the Pioneer League in 2014, and with Burlington of the Midwest League last year. It would be like playing in the Gulf Coast League with the Orioles’ team, then moving up to their former Bluefield Orioles farm team, then playing for Delmarva last year. Over that span, Natanael hit .261 between the three, although he slipped to a .241/6/46/.631 OPS line last season. Essentially he is repeating the level and has improved in several key areas, most particularly being a bit more selective and walking more. Last season in 438 plate appearances, Delgado struck out 104 times while walking just 19; so far this season in 240 plate appearances he’s still struck out 67 times but has taken 20 walks.

Delgado has split his time between being a designated hitter and playing right field in what has been a talented (if crowded) outfield thus far for Delmarva. It’s a position that seems to be deep at this level, so the competition may come next spring as Delgado tries to move up the system. Continuing the strong July out to the end of the season may be key for his advancement.

Shorebird of the Week – July 14, 2016

July 14, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

After throwing six innings of one-hit ball at Hagerstown on July 2, you would have thought the Suns could adjust to Ofelky Peralta when they faced him again just six days later on the Shorebirds’ home field. Instead, they became a note in history as Peralta threw a five-inning no-hitter against them in a rain-shortened 5-0 win. It was the third no-no in the Shorebirds’ 21-season run but the second in less than a calendar year – my 2015 SotY John Means threw a seven-inning gem last July 31.

In just looking at his stat line, though, you would think Peralta an odd choice to advance to Delmarva so quickly. Signed as a 16-year old from the Dominican Republic, in his two pro seasons (one in the Dominican Summer League, the other in the Gulf Coast League) Peralta was a combined 0-6 with a 4.04 ERA in 69 pro innings (21 appearances/20 starts.) While he had struck out 64 in that span, he had walked an alarming 56 batters, giving him a 1.51 WHIP overall. (As a comparison, league average is about 1.3 and elite pitchers squeeze the number under 1 on a consistent basis.) And with the Shorebirds, that issue has improved but not completely gone away: 42 free passes in 75 2/3 innings is still rather high but the improvement has brought his WHIP down to 1.36 this season.

But Ofelky has also been able to elude bats over his career, with his last two starts a prime example. In his 144 2/3 career innings, Peralta has allowed only 109 hits so batters are having a tough time squaring him up. That may be the reason he made the jump over Aberdeen, advanced to a full-season league where there have been only 12 plate appearances by batters younger than he (compared to 306 for older players), and was considered Baltimore’s #14 prospect. If you read between the lines of milb.com’s account of the no-hitter, it’s apparent that Peralta just has to work on the maturity to harness the talent – or as manager Ryan Minor put it, slowing down the game for him. Despite the last two great performances, he is still just 5-4 with a 3.45 ERA for the season here.

Because Peralta has been working with the Shorebirds’ staff so closely this year, he may not be advanced to Frederick as quickly as other prospects would be. Oftentimes there is an innings limit placed on younger prospects working their first full season, so the development may be better for Ofelky to stay here rather than get at most 10 starts at the next level. He’s a better candidate to make a mid-season jump between Frederick and Bowie next year than be advanced this season.

So the test of his maturity will be over the next couple starts: he faces the Columbia Fireflies on the road tonight (a team he hasn’t pitched against, as we only see them once this season) then his turn would next fall at home against Hickory. The Crawdads beat Peralta up on June 19, a game he allowed six runs and ten hits in 4 2/3 innings. Ofelky didn’t have to adjust much in beating the Hagerstown Suns, but these two starts will help define his season as it moves on.

Shorebird of the Week – July 7, 2016

July 7, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Selected as both the SAL Pitcher of the Week and the Orioles’ Pitcher of the Month during the last week, it wouldn’t surprise me to read the agate type in the next few days and find Christian Alvarado has been promoted to Frederick – or even packaged as a rising prospect in a deal to find the Orioles some major league pitching help.

Alvarado has achieved these accolades in part by being the league leader in strikeouts (the first SAL pitcher to eclipse 100 K’s this season) to go with a team-leading seven wins. He’s 7-4 in 16 starts, covering 87 1/3 innings and has a 3.19 ERA to go with a 1.13 WHIP. Having an almost absurd 17 walks to go with 101 punchouts significantly helps his cause as well.

Like most Latin American players who are signed by the Orioles, Alvarado – who was inked to a deal a month before his 17th birthday in August, 2011 - began by leaving his native Venezuela to pitch in the Dominican Republic. After two seasons of improvement, Christian flat-out dominated the DSL in his first three 2014 starts (allowing just one run in 25 innings) and earned a promotion stateside to pitch in the Gulf Coast League. Last year he started in the GCL but moved up to Aberdeen after pitching 27 innings without issuing a walk, and now he’s pitching with the Shorebirds at the age of 21. Starting his career so early and finding success at this level may mean Alvarado is promoted to the 40-man roster to protect him over the winter.

It’s obvious Christian’s success comes from the sweet spot of pitching – having the control not to walk batters (just 73 in 325 career innings, or roughly 2 per nine innings) but the power stuff to strike them out at an overall rate of over one per inning this year. Looking over his career stats, perhaps the only pedestrian stretch he’s had was his initial GCL stint, which can be somewhat explained away by both an improved level of play and the personal transition of pitching in the U.S. for the first time. But he easily conquered that level once he got acclimated, and Alvarado has made easy work of transitioning to full-season play.

So come out and enjoy some power pitching from Alvarado while you still can.

Shorebird of the Week – June 30, 2016

June 30, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

It’s nice to have a built-in fan club, but Drew Turbin has been a steady presence in the infield for Delmarva this year. In all but one of his 60 games this year, manager Ryan Minor has stationed Turbin at second base and has been rewarded with an excellent fielding performance with just enough offense to be a threat. After a somewhat slow start, last year’s 14th round selection out of Dallas Baptist University has pushed his slash line to .237/2/17/.677 OPS – still a little below average, but over the month of June Drew has hit .262 with a much more respectable .760 OPS. (Turbin was only hitting .212 at the end of April, so improvement has been slow, but accelerating.)

Not many baseball players hail from the state of Idaho, but Turbin was born and raised there, playing there through high school before attending junior college in sunny Arizona then moving on to DBU. The 23-year-old played his first pro season last year with Aberdeen, hitting .254/2/30/.684 OPS in 70 games there. And aside from starting a game at third base on May 29 – making an error in just three chances - Drew has exclusively played the second sack through his pro career. That lack of versatility, however, may be an impediment to his eventual career unless he continues his upward trend at the plate. On the other hand, working in more of a utility role is possible for a guy who hits in the .240 range – Ryan Flaherty has made a nice career out of that with the Orioles despite a .217 career batting average (his .233 average thus far in 2016 would be a career high-water mark if he maintains it.)

In the meantime, though, Drew is getting the chance to play every day and improve his game. Since he just turned 23 in April, development-wise he is close to schedule and should have the opportunity to play with Frederick next season.

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