Shorebird of the Week – May 5, 2016

May 5, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

Remember when Dylan Bundy blew into town a few years ago and was flat-out untouchable at this level? It took 17 innings for an opponent to score an unearned run on him (after he retired the first 26 pro batters he faced.) But this week’s Shorebird of the Week has that inning streak beat, as Christian Turnipseed pitched his first 33 2/3 professional innings without giving up a run of any sort – that streak, which began when he made his pro debut last year, finally came to an end April 22.

Now Christian isn’t your prototype pitching prospect like Bundy was. Short and stocky for a pitcher – he’s listed at 5′-11″ and 214 pounds – the 23-year-old native of Colorado went to Georgia Gwinnett College, from which only a handful of minor leaguers have come. (One is a former SotW from last year, Zeke McGranahan.) But so far he has defied the odds of a 28th round selection and had strung together 25 consecutive scoreless appearances before Greensboro got him for three runs last month. In eight innings so far this season, Christian has allowed just those three runs on five hits, striking out 11 while walking four, for a WHIP of 1.13. (For his brief career, Turnipseed has a WHIP of 0.74, which translates to about 7 runners per 9 innings. It’s tough to score runs with so few on.)

Turnipseed projects strictly as a reliever – his latest appearance against Greenville tied his career long of two innings. He’s picked up 13 career saves in 25 appearances, with four of those coming with the Shorebirds. (Having given up no runs, he obviously hasn’t blown any saves either.) I just waited to name him a Shorebird of the Week until his string was over so I wouldn’t jinx him. Since he turns 24 later this month, continued success here may merit a midseason promotion to Frederick just as Turnipseed split time between the GCL and Aberdeen last year.

It may give him a calling card besides his unusual last name.

Shorebird of the Week – April 28, 2016

April 28, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

It’s been a custom of mine that, if a Shorebird player is named as the South Atlantic League Player of the Week and I haven’t already picked him during the season, that player gets the honor. Not that Yermin Mercedes didn’t deserve to be that player after decimating Greensboro and Kannapolis pitching to the tune of 13-for-25 in the six games, with eight of those hits going for extra bases, including a home run and 10 RBI. And perhaps it’s a sign of the 23-year-old Dominican’s maturity at the plate that, at least last Sunday at the game I witnessed, he beat the shift for two opposite-field hits, a double and a triple.

With last night’s game now in the books (I didn’t get a chance to update from this morning’s contest) Mercedes is now 19-for-39 in his last 10 games, increasing his average from .267 to .424 and moving into the league lead for batting. His OPS is a sick 1.139 because he’s leading the team in extra-base hits with 12 (out of 23 hits overall.)

Mercedes has used his bat to break into the catching rotation envisioned by the Orioles when they drafted four catchers in the first 11 rounds of the draft back in 2013. (One of those catchers, Alex Murphy, now splits his time between catching and playing first base with Delmarva, the others are further up the organization now.) Yermin is one of those guys who seemingly could roll out of bed and go 3-for-4, owning a career .297 batting average in his sixth pro season. Admittedly, that has been fattened up somewhat by playing a season in the almost absurdly hitter-friendly baseball outpost of the independent Pecos League (with its aggregate league batting average of .314 in the season he played there, 2014) but he’s hit well at almost all of his stops. You may wonder how such a hitter washed out of the Nationals’ organization after three seasons with their Dominican Summer League team.

The answer may be that his defense behind the plate is a work in progress - Mercedes has already been charged with 9 passed balls in 13 games behind the plate after eight in 53 games with Delmarva last season, (By comparison, the Orioles’ Matt Wieters has 18 passed balls in a seven-plus season MLB career.) Some of that could be the pitching, but at times Yermin struggles behind the dish. And while Mercedes has flirted with playing first base (30 games over four seasons, but just one since 2013) and third base (27 games, all but one in the Pecos League), it’s likely that the ticket for him to get to higher levels will come through improving his defense. Although it’s doubtful he can maintain a .400 average for the rest of the season, I think the Orioles would be happy if he hit .300 but kept the defensive mistakes to a minimum.

Shorebird of the Week – April 21, 2016

April 21, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

It seems like every year or two the Shorebirds get a fresh-faced infield prospect from the Miami area – most recently we had Adrian Marin, who now plays for Bowie, and a couple years before that there was some guy named Machado who was here long enough to mess up the first of two knees. (Fortunately, he’s also made a couple All-Star teams and won some hardware, too.) Now we have Alejandro Juvier, who’s not as highly regarded (as a 15th round pick out of Doral Academy, where he was the first player drafted from the school) but is still working his way up the Orioles’ organizational totem pole after splitting 2015 between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen.

The 20-year-old had a nondescript rookie year, hitting just .178 for the GCL Orioles in 2014, but the second bite of the apple proved to be better as Juvier hit a combined .307/0/18/.742 OPS between the two levels, combining 29 GCL contests with 17 games at Aberdeen. So it’s been a push to this level for Alejandro, but so far so good as he’s hitting a respectable .250 in 10 games (9-for-36.) The OPS, however, is a paltry .539 and that is definitely something the slender left-handed hitter will need to improve upon at this level. When power is not your strong suit, getting on base is a must and thus far Juvier has a 12-to-2 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Yet average-wise he is one of the leaders on a Shorebirds club off to a slow start at the plate (a collective .216 average at this early juncture.)

Another asset Alejandro has is speed – in 96 career games to date he has 15 stolen bases, which over a regular Shorebird season would get him into the 20-25 range. Even developing some line-drive gap power could make Juvier a threat to fill up the stat sheet by turning singles into doubles and doubles into triples.

In the game where I took this photo (Sunday) Alejandro was the 9-hole hitter and that seems to be a spot very suited for him – not a lot of power, but potentially enough on-base percentage and good speed to turn the lineup over. Juvier has moved around the infield as well, playing mainly second base with a little bit of shortstop in the GCL but lately seeing more time at third base for both Aberdeen and Delmarva. To me, offensively he projects as more of a second baseman as it’s not traditionally as offensive-minded as other positions – although Jonathan Schoop turns that assumption on its ear at the big league level.

So we will see if Juvier can keep up with this level or regress back to Aberdeen at mid-season. He has a good chance to stick if he can bump his on-base percentage up to about .325 so the top of the order can do its damage. It’s something to follow as the season develops.

Shorebird of the Week – April 14, 2016

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

So far this season has seemed like deva vu all over again for Alex Murphy. But once May rolls around I’m sure the product of Baltimore’s Calvert Hall High School will be ready to flip the script.

Back in 2013, the Orioles drafted four catchers in the first 11 rounds of the draft. All four remain active in the organization, but Murphy as the third one selected (6th round) is now the low man on the totem pole. Second-rounder Chance Sisco is with Bowie while fourth pick Jonah Heim and eleventh-rounder Austin Wynns are splitting the duties at Frederick.

Murphy may have been Frederick-bound this year after he got off to a great start at the plate. While his average had dipped to ,258 after 32 games last season, Murphy was still among the league leaders in RBI with 28 when he was injured May 15. Murphy missed three months of the 2015 campaign, and by the time he was ready to come back the more experienced Yermin Mercedes had established himself as the Delmarva starting backstop. (Mercedes recently rejoined the Shorebirds as well.)

So Murphy finished the 2015 season by going 0-for-8 with a walk in two rehab games with the GCL Orioles before 15 games in Aberdeen, where he hit .291/2/8/.898 OPS. (OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage – .700 is considered about average.) The hot bat has continued into this season, where the 21-year-old is 10-for-27 (.370) with a home run and nine knocked in for his first seven games. He’s the only player to appear in all seven contests so far in this, his third tour of duty with the Shorebirds.

Yet one key difference that may indicate a change of direction going forward is that 2 of the 5 games Murphy has spent in the field came at first base. It’s not completely unusual to make that position switch, but at this level it could be an indicator that Murphy is seen as less of a catching prospect and more of a hitting one – first base is regarded as a hitter’s position. It also may keep him fresher, although it’s not like the Orioles’ organization isn’t stacked with great-hitting first basemen.

Murphy’s potent bat may be the calling card that keeps him going in the Orioles’ system. While they invested heavily in catching for the future three years ago, baseball has a way of putting players where they best fit and Alex could be one of those guys.

Shorebird of the Week – April 7, 2016

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

Let the retirement tour begin. Unfortunately, the exhibition game with Salisbury University was rained out so I couldn’t get any photos of the new guys – however, there are a few holdovers who deserve their time in the sun, too.

I was impressed when I saw this young man make his Shorebird debut last August 20 – even though Greenville roughed him up a little bit – and in four end-of-season starts Francisco Jimenez held his own, including a seven-inning, two-hit whitewashing of Hickory August 31. In his four Delmarva appearances Jimenez pitched 22 innings, allowing just 16 hits and 7 walks for a stellar 1.05 WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched.) Francisco won both of his decisions, pitching to a 2.45 ERA. This belied his stats at Aberdeen, where Jimenez was promoted despite a 2-5 record and 4.72 ERA in 40 innings.

Since coming stateside in 2014 (Jimenez began his minor league career in 2012 in the Dominican Summer League and stayed there for 2013) the 21-year-old Dominican native has had some issue with allowing hits, allowing over a hit per inning on average in two seasons beginning with the Gulf Coast League Orioles in 2014 and moving to both Aberdeen and Delmarva last season. Balancing that out is a stinginess with walks, suggesting Francisco is comfortable pitching to contact; he has a good ratio of ground outs to air outs. Pitchers have made fine careers out of enticing weak contact, though.

So 2016 will be a year where we find out if Jimenez has the stamina and ability to last a full season, since he has never pitched above the short-season level aside from his four August starts here. Francisco may also have to adapt to a slightly different role as he’s not currently penciled into the five-man starting rotation – it’s more likely he will be the first guy up and come on in the middle innings to relieve the starter. If he succeeds there, odds are he will make it back into the rotation.

And so begins another Shorebird of the Week season, even if the status of the onfield season opener is in peril (as I write this Wednesday night there is a 100% chance of rain in Hagerstown tomorrow.) We’ll see what this eleventh and final round of Shorebird honorees bring to the Delmarva table.

Rounding third and heading for home

March 31, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Personal stuff, Sports · Comments Off 

There are a handful of diehards who read my site for Shorebird of the Week and one of them asked if I was going to once again take my stab at predicting the 25-man Delmarva Shorebird roster this year as I have the last couple. Alas, the answer is no.

That request and the lack of time and effort I could spare to put into that research is the driver behind an announcement I’m here to make: the 2016 season will be the retirement tour for the Shorebird of the Week. After 11 seasons, circumstances that have already changed are going to lead to more changes which bring me to the point where I don’t think I can do the concept justice anymore. Simply put, it’s an easier job to do when you’re at 40 to 50 games a season and roll in about 6:20 so you have good light for photos than it is to be at 15 to 20 games and show up right at 7:00 as it’s getting dark. It’s not the statistics that are the issue, but the photos and the player availability as the pitchers in the starting rotation only appear every fifth game. In recent years pitchers have come and gone before I ever saw them in a game, and that is a problem when you have standards such as I do. I was dissatisfied with my 2015 product, but the prospects for improvement are becoming more and more limited.

Now I have asked before for player photos, but my appeal fell on deaf ears. This has always been both a DIY project and a labor of love, anyway, so to that end the SotW Tracker and SotW Hall of Fame will continue on as long as the players remain active. But this will be my last season having the Shorebird of the Week as a feature.

I know I’m going to miss doing it, which is why I didn’t just not begin the SotW season come April 7. Hopefully the weather will hold out and I can get some photos of the 2016 Shorebirds at next week’s Salisbury University exhibition game; otherwise I will see what holdovers from 2015 return to the team and hope I have photos of them someplace.

But the time is right to move on, so it appears that I will be closing the curtain on Shorebird of the Week come Thursday, September 1. At that point, there will be close to 200 players with the distinction, of which 23 have made the major leagues so far. I’ll still have my camera when I go to the games, but it’s time for me to be less of a photographer and more of a spectator.

Pricing themselves out of the market?

March 4, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Class envy comes once again to the sports world.

I was perusing my browser when I came upon an article from AP writer Paul Newberry, one which whines about baseball sending the wrong message to its fans. This is a good example of its tone:

Given that many struggling Americans haven’t had a raise in years, their frustration epitomized by a tumultuous presidential race, perhaps it wasn’t the best time for (MLB player Yoenis) Cespedes to arrive at New York Mets camp in a different ride six days in a row.

The flashy outfielder pulled up in a Ford F-250, Lamborghini Aventador, Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, Jeep Wrangler and a pair of Polaris Slingshot three-wheel motorcycles — all of them customized to the tune of about $80,000. Of course, that’s a pittance compared to the cost of the actual vehicles, with the Lamborghini alone going for more than $300,000.

Cespedes signed a three-year deal over the winter for $75 million, so he has the coin to spend on these cars. Yes, to most it would seem excessive to have so many cars but then how many people make $25 million a year to play a game? This is nothing new: back in the early days of the Depression, Babe Ruth held out for a contract that exceeded the amount President Hoover was paid at the time. His reasoning? “I had a better year than he did.”

The point is that these athletes are participating in a relatively free market, so the owners of the teams are willing to pay $25 million a year or more to the most elite players, those who have played long enough to earn the right to be free agents. (By comparison, the Orioles’ Manny Machado had an outstanding season last year for the bargain basement price of $548,ooo. This season he will make a cool $5 million, and that will likely increase again next year when he becomes arbitration-eligible. Machado can become a free agent after the 2019 season.)

Perhaps it’s a function of having the most games in a season (and most opportunities to create revenue) but baseball is still a cheap ticket in comparison to other sports. The average ticket price for MLB runs about $30, but one can go to anywhere between 4 and 14 MLB games for the price of one average NFL ticket.

Nor does this consider the plethora of minor league teams out there, where the average ticket price may be less than $10 a pop. That’s still more than you’ll pay to see a AP writer bang out a column complaining about how much pro baseball players make.

You see, when people complain about how much money others earn – particularly when they do these comparisons of how much CEOs make compared to workers on the assembly line or checkout lane – they fail to comprehend the skill level and hard work required to be that successful. In the case of pro sports players, there is also the relatively brief length of career to consider. (Some players have accounted for this – for example, Chris Davis of the Orioles will have $42 million of the $161 million he signed for in a seven-season deal deferred over 15 years after the playing contract expires. Davis turns 30 later this month, so he will be paid under this contract until he is 51 years old.)

Similarly, there is only one CEO of a company and perhaps just a few thousand individuals who have the talent and experience to perform the tasks required. On the other hand, the job description of most of those on the low end of the pay scale is generally unskilled or semi-skilled. Granted, some of these tasks require a good face to the public but in general they aren’t adding a tremendous amount to the bottom line on an individual basis.

So pardon me if I think the writer is a whiner. If you don’t want to watch a baseball game, don’t go. But you’ll find me at my Shorebird games, which are still really affordable.

The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2015

December 3, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

A somewhat new adage in major league baseball is that you buy the bats (through free agency) and grow the arms (in your minor league system.) In 2015, five former Shorebirds of the Week made it to The Show in the latter fashion. Just two of those five, though, did so as members of the Orioles.

Beginning on May 2nd, when Scott Copeland made his debut with Toronto, the summer brought several others in relatively rapid succession: Oliver Drake on May 23 for the Orioles, Eduardo Rodriguez on May 28 for the Boston Red Sox, and Mychal Givens on June 24 for the Orioles. Finally, after being traded there from Baltimore in a deadline deal, Zach Davies debuted September 2 for the Milwaukee Brewers, who acquired him in exchange for outfielder Gerardo Parra.

Their paths to the big leagues were as different as their debuts.

Scott Copeland was signed off the street by Toronto in 2012 after the Orioles released him at mid-season from Frederick. While it’s likely they saw him as organizational depth. Copeland continued to slowly climb the ladder all the way to the top at the ripe old age of 27. Perhaps it was a reward for loyalty since Copeland was granted free agency twice by Toronto after the 2012 and 2014 seasons.

Oliver Drake was also a late bloomer, being picked as a Shorebird of the Week way back in 2009 and debuting at the age of 28. After losing a season due to injury, Drake looked like a guy who was stuck at Bowie until they tried him as a closer in 2013. He then became a dominant ninth-inning guy for Bowie in 2014 and Norfolk this year, often making the shuttle between Norfolk and Baltimore.

Eduardo Rodriguez was the price Baltimore paid in July 2014 to rent Andrew Miller for a couple months. Miller moved on to the Yankees for 2015, but Rodriguez stayed with the Red Sox the rest of the way after his promotion. How many rookies won 10 games in barely half a season with a last-place club? I daresay not many. The Orioles might be kicking themselves for awhile about that deal.

It’s well-known that Mychal Givens began his career as a shortstop, and in his first go-rounds with Delmarva we found out he was unremarkable at the plate. The potential was seen the fourth season he appeared here, which was Mychal’s first as a pitcher in 2013. Once he worked off the rust and learned to take advantage of his rather unique delivery, Givens moved up the system quickly as a relief pitcher.

Finally, depending on what happens with Parra, Baltimore also may regret trading away Zach Davies, who looked pretty sharp in a half-dozen September starts – particularly the last two. Granted, this was with a team playing out the string in a division where they were one of the two punching bags (of the five teams Zach faced, Pittsburgh gave him by far the most trouble) but he held his own against the Cubs and beat up on the bad teams.

Those are the five going in this year, so who are good bets for 2016?

Out of the recent Shorebird crop, perhaps the best bets at an Orioles debut are a few players who were selected in 2014: Jon Keller, Trey Mancini, and Chance Sisco. Of these three, Mancini seems by far the surest selection. Another former SotW, Parker Bridwell, is now on the 40-man roster.

But there are a handful of players who now toil elsewhere who could make it to the top of the heap next year. St. Louis has onetime catching prospect Mike Ohlman, Pittsburgh has pitcher Steven Brault (also a 2014 pick), and Milwaukee picked up pitcher and Maryland native Josh Hader in a trade with Houston at the deadline. Nicky Delmonico of the Chicago White Sox and Gabriel Lino of the Phillies have longer odds, as does veteran minor leaguer Ty Kelly.

They may be joining a longer list of players, which is closing in on the size of a big league roster. Because of that, it’s going to take a few extra days to make needed changes and pare down a Hall of Fame page that’s otherwise over 10,000 words. As I lean on Baseball-Reference heavily to compile the information, it’s going to become my go-to page for statistics. Just like the real Hall of Fame, I think compiling a brief summary of the player’s career may be a better way to go, but it will take a few days to get there.

So that’s a wrap of this year’s honorees. It’s the biggest class since 2011, but the first class where more players made debuts with other teams than with Baltimore. Given Dan Duquette’s lack of fear of trading prospects at the deadline having entrants debut with other teams may become the norm.

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2015 edition

September 17, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · 1 Comment 

On a night with a reasonable chance of precipitation, the final home game of the season, the 2015 Delmarva Shorebirds completed a five-game sweep of the first-half division champion Hickory Crawdads. They also managed to finally crawl over the 200,000 mark in season attendance, with an all-time franchise low of 203,520 making it out to Perdue Stadium. If the original forecast had held, the team would have suffered its first sub-200,000 season.

While the statistic seems bleak, though, the truth comes out on further study. On a per-game basis, the attendance was remarkably stable between 2014 and 2015: just three fewer per game. The average of 3,230 tracks with recent performance where the team has existed in that attendance range for a decade or more.

What was lacking this year, however, was home dates. While every team in the South Atlantic League is assigned 70 home dates and 70 road games scattered throughout the year, Mother Nature can be downright uncooperative at times. The average SAL team lost four dates due to rain this year, but Delmarva had the fewest openings with 63. Just getting to league average and assuming normal attendance at each game would have made the difference between sweating out 200,000 fans or a modest uptick in attendance from last season.

One culprit for this issue is the very field the team plays on. Imagine this scenario: a weekend full of promotions is on tap, but the area gets a gullywasher Friday afternoon and another significant drenching Saturday morning. Not a drop falls during the time the games are scheduled, but two dates are lost due to “wet grounds.” That situation seems to play out in Delmarva almost every year with the field’s poor drainage and this year we indeed lost a couple games like that. This has been a sore spot for years: I love going to the games, the food is pretty good (I liked the buffalo chicken brat I finally tried at the last game, for example) and I didn’t mind the price increase for a Thirsty Thursday beer because it was larger. But if I show up on a clear evening and the game is called because we had a cloudburst earlier that day, I’m not a happy camper.

For a number of years I have had a fairly consistent list of “pans.” But about a month ago I stumbled onto an article in Ballpark Digest by Zach Spedden that detailed some very exciting changes coming to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

The first phase involves redoing the drainage for the entire field, literally stripping it to bare earth and starting over. It got underway just days after the final out was recorded.

(Photo credit: Delmarva Shorebirds)

Presumably next season the field will be better able to handle an inch or two of rain in an afternoon thunderstorm, draining it away in time for the game.

But I can’t wait to see the changes slated for the 2016 offseason – which hopefully gets a late start.

Between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the Shorebirds will make several improvements to the ballpark. In what (Shorebird General Manager Chris) Bitters called a “key piece” to the renovation, a new boardwalk-themed wraparound concourse will surround the field. New tiers will be added to the current group area down the right-field line, while the left-field side will see an increase in group and standing room options as well as slope adjustments to the current berm seating. Also in the works is a plan to remove the current metal bench-styled seating in the second level in favor of fold-down stadium seats.

The goal in making these adjustments to the berm, group, and standing areas is to give fans who prefer to wander during their visits more options, all the while making the stadium feel less congested on crowded nights. “That’s going to be a huge hit, particularly on our busier nights,” said Bitters. “When we are full now, people are hanging out on the concourse,” reflecting a demand for more comfortable standing room.

One of the most crucial aspects of this phase of the renovation will be a brand new videoboard. Perdue Stadium has used the same videoboard since opening in 1996, which, according to Bitters, limits what the Shorebirds can do from a promotional standpoint. With a more modern board, he said that fans can expect better animations, more interactive promotions, and instant replays as part of a more modern experience. “For our fans, having seen those at Camden Yards and other ballparks, they kind of have come to expect that stuff.”

Now THAT will be worth following on Facebook. Its net effect may be similar to FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, which also has a 360 degree concourse. If it’s made wide enough, there could be cafe-style seating out there, giving casual fans the option to scope out the action behind the center fielder while enjoying a bite to eat and adult beverage.

And maybe – just maybe – we can get back to what Thirsty Thursdays once were, with the game followed by an hourlong concert by a local/regional band. Those were great!

Naturally, all this would come at a price. I’m not privy to any inside information, but the question to me is not if but when ticket prices and parking fees go up. The limited-government conservative in me is already a little perturbed that the taxpayer piggy bank was raided to pay for this – hopefully we get the extra tax revenue from increased attendance and interest to make it a zero-sum game. $4 million may not seem like a lot, but if ticket prices went up $1 it would take well over a decade to pay for itself through that avenue, not counting interest. It seems to me, though, that the county was looking for more of a buy-in from 7th Inning Stretch LLC, the team’s owner. (Like a number of other facilities, a privately-owned team plays in a publicly-owned stadium. Wicomico County owns Perdue Stadium.)

So the pieces are being put into place: a new long-term agreement between the team and county, improvements to Perdue Stadium to satisfy both the Orioles and the fans, and a likely continuation of their longstanding player development contract when it comes up for renewal next season.

Soon the only thing I might be able to pan would be the Orioles’ scouting staff. With the proposed facility improvements, all that’s missing is another trophy to go with the two gathering dust after 15 and 18 years, respectively. Playoff baseball has been AWOL from Perdue since 2005, and that’s way too long.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2015 season wrapup

September 10, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

After six straight seasons of losing and the perception that most of the Orioles’ prospects were going to be playing at higher levels in the system, surely the experts had Delmarva penciled in for a regression from last year’s 66-73 record. And if the crystal ball had foretold that over a dozen players would be parked on the team’s disabled list for the latter half of the season one might expect a dreadful record such as those we had earlier this decade.

You may have never heard of most of this year’s Shorebirds before and in a couple years they may return to obscurity. But in the season’s second half they were the little team that could, turning around a 33-35 first half to go 38-32. Too bad this was the year West Virginia had the team to win 50 games of 70; still, by finishing 71-67 overall Delmarva snapped its six-year slide and perhaps made a few prospects out of guys thought to be suspects when 2015 began.

By the way, if you liked last year’s format you’re in luck because I’m recycling it.

With a batting champion and barrage of .300 hitters pacing last year’s lineup, a repeat of their franchise-best batting wasn’t in the cards. This year the team was around league average in a number of categories, finishing close to the middle of the 14-team SAL.

  • A .249 team batting average was only 11th in the league.
  • Yet they outscored last year’s squad, as 621 runs was enough for 7th in the league. That was actually fairly efficient since they ranked 12th in hits with 1,122.
  • The 257 doubles tied for fourth, which was also their rank with 44 triples.
  • 67 home runs was good for ninth position.
  • We finished fifth with 571 runs batted in.
  • We finished ninth in total bases with 1,668.
  • We drew 458 walks, which ranked 3rd in the SAL. (We were leading the league for a good part of the season, too.) On the other hand, 1,084 strikeouts was third-most.
  • Team speed was not an asset. We were dead last with just 69 stolen bases in 100 attempts. By comparison, Hickory was next-to-last with 95 steals.
  • Our .325 on-base percentage was seventh in the league, with a slugging percentage of .370 ranking eighth. This meant our OPS of .695 was 8th of 14.

The average numbers continued with the pitching staff. We ended up eighth in the league for ERA with a 3.75 mark.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 12 shutouts tied for third in the loop.
  • We had the fifth-highest number of saves with 41.
  • It seemed like we had a lot of doubleheaders and not many extra-inning games. Combine that with being two games short of a full schedule and you figure out why we threw the fewest innings (1,177 2/3.)
  • 1,175 hits allowed was ninth. Yet the 608 runs and 491 earned runs we gave up were good for seventh.
  • Maybe it’s because Perdue Stadium is a tough home run park, but we gave up the fourth fewest with 61.
  • Control was good: we were one off the league lead with just 56 hit batters and the 364 walks we allowed were fourth-lowest.
  • Only Rome held us off the bottom in strikeouts as we collectively fanned 891 – a far cry from last season’s 1,105.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched) was sixth in the league at 1.31.

Our fielding was somewhat subpar, as we finished in a tie for 10th with a .968 aggregate fielding percentage.

Around the organization, only Frederick and one of the two Oriole Dominican Summer League teams finished below the .500 mark. Bowie and Norfolk made their respective league playoffs; more importantly Aberdeen was in their league race until the final day of the season and finished 40-36. Here’s hoping their winning ways continue here next season.

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

April 9 - Nik Nowottnick

I picked Nik only to see him promptly elevated to Frederick. And while he made two April appearances with the Shorebirds, being unscored upon in 2 1/3 innings, he spent most of the year with Frederick where he went 4-2 with a 4.91 ERA in 37 appearances. One concern is a 1.67 WHIP as he walked 35 and allowed 69 hits in 62 1/3 innings. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him repeat Frederick.

April 16 - Alex Murphy

For the first month or so Alex tore up the league, collecting 28 RBI in 32 games. But an injury cost Murphy three months of the season, so his pre-injury slash of .258/2/28/.737 OPS  held up. After a brief GCL rehab stint where he went 0-for-8 in two games, Alex finished the year in Aberdeen where he hit .291/2/8/898 OPS in 15 games. He’ll be 21 next season so don’t be surprised if we see him again in the hopes of an injury-free season.

April 23 - Zeke McGranahan

Zekey had a good start to the campaign, but ended up on the disabled list by Memorial Day and lost the rest of the year. He finished 0-3 but with a 2.53 ERA. The 1.59 WHIP raised some eyebrows, though, as he walked 20 in 21 1/3 innings. The injury also came at a bad time because Zeke was on the older side of league average and turns 25 in January. If he’s back in time next season he may be pressed to succeed quickly.

April 30 - Jomar Reyes

One of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League this year will likely be one of the youngest in the Carolina League next season, if he can stay on the field. Various injuries limited Jomar to 84 games with the Shorebirds and forced him out of the SAL All-Star Game, but he hit .278/5/44/.774 OPS here. Add in the 5 rehab games he played in a brief return to the Gulf Coast League (4-for-16 there) and it was a great season for an 18-year-old. Reyes is my Prospect of the Year.

May 7 - Jared Breen

In his second tour of duty with the Shorebirds, Breen was showing improvement at the plate until a serious collision with the stadium wall ended his season after just 62 games. He had a .242/1/22/.677 OPS slash line at the time, which put him on pace for his best offensive season thus far. He may be on the cusp of a promotion to Frederick, although in his case he may need extended spring to recover from his collision.

May 14 - Bennett Parry

Parry was an effective starter until his season came to a premature end in May. In 9 starts, Parry was 3-3 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. His strikeout/walk ratio was 35 to 11, which is also good. Assuming he can recover in time, there’s no reason he shouldn’t move up.

May 21 - Conor Bierfeldt

In his second season with Delmarva, Conor did well enough (.247/7/56/.780 OPS) to merit being both a league All-Star and second-half promotion to Frederick. With the Keys, though, Conor regressed to just a .202/5/29/.654 OPS. It fit with the pattern Bierfeldt established the year before where he hit only .196 with Delmarva, so the question is whether the Orioles will give him another shot with Frederick.

May 28 - Matthew Grimes

Grimes led the team in starts (24) and innings pitched (126) but also gave up 148 hits and 58 earned runs. A 10-7 record and 4.14 ERA went with a 1.45 WHIP. Matthew had a campaign which merits promotion to the next level and will probably get it.

June 4Jay Gonzalez

The one person who could bring speed to the Shorebird lineup, Jay amassed 24 stolen bases in 72 games with Delmarva before being promoted to Frederick where he added 10 more. Naturally he had a transition at the plate, where a .294/0/21/.792 OPS slash with Delmarva slipped to .234/0/21/.591 OPS with the Keys. More telling, a 72/61 strikeout/walk ratio with the Shorebirds fell to 61/26 there. It’s probable he gets another shot there, though.

June 11 - Steve Wilkerson

Due to injuries, Steve only played in 92 games with the Shorebirds. But the league All-Star put together a solid season, hitting .287/2/30/.747 OPS. When you consider that Wilkerson raised his average 97 points from 2014 to 2015, you have to think he may have placed himself on the prospect list.

June 18 - Stefan Crichton

Stefan pitched well enough (4-4, 3.27 ERA and 1.15 WHIP) to merit a late-season promotion to Frederick. With the Keys, Crichton pitched is 7 games to a 4.05 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. More impressive was the 50 to 12 strikeout to walk ratio he had with Delmarva that became 18 to 1 in Frederick, in 13 1/3 innings. That’s a good resume for Frederick in 2016.

June 25 - Garrett Cortright

It was a shutdown season here for the SAL All-Star, who pitched to an 0.96 ERA and WHIP with the Shorebirds. But he found a little more difficulty with Frederick, allowing eight earned runs in 14 2/3 innings with the Keys. His strikeout to walk ratio went from 34 to 7 to 8 to 4 with the promotion. Still, Cortright should be a part of the Keys pitching staff next year.

July 2 - Logan Uxa

When I picked Logan, he had just returned from Frederick where he hit .265 in 13 games. With a late-season slump, Uxa finished with a .243/7/37/.736 OPS slash for the Shorebirds. He’ll be 25 by next spring and came as a minor league free agent, so the chances are he either makes Frederick or gets released.

July 9 - Elier Leyva

Leyva made his American professional debut with Delmarva, hitting .238/3/43/.636 OPS at the age of 24. It was a lengthy trial run, as Leyva played 118 games to lead the team. Whether these numbers merit promotion will be up to the Orioles, who gave him a bonus equivalent to that of a 9th or 10th round pick. Likely he gets another season.

July 16 - TJ Olesczuk

Demoted from Frederick after just 7 games where he hit .158 (3-for-19), Oleschuk hit .251/4/46/.741 OPS with the Shorebirds in 73 games. It seemed appropriate that he played with Delmarva, considering Frederick was a large leap from the Gulf Coast League where he played in 2014.

July 23 - Yermin Mercedes

Coming up at the tail end of the first half, Mercedes developed a reputation as a hard swinger and ended up leading the team with 8 home runs in only 64 games. Add in 42 RBI and a .272 average, and there’s a good case for advancing him ahead of the two catching prospects originally assigned to Delmarva, Jonah Heim and Alex Murphy.

July 30 - Nick Cunningham

The 4-3, 3.23 ERA numbers Nick put up before being selected as Shorebird of the Week ended up being his final numbers as he was placed on the suspended list. After the disaster of his 2014 season, Nick redeemed himself with a good season where he controlled his walks and gave up fewer hits than innings pitched. But will his suspension damage his career? That’s the question as Nick won’t be eligible to start the 2016 season.

August 6 - Josh Walker

Making 16 starts for Delmarva, Josh went 8-4 with a 3.20 ERA and a 59/15 K/BB ratio for a 1.16 WHIP. Those stats allowed Walker a late-season promotion to Frederick, where he struggled in 14 innings with an 0-2 record and 7.07 ERA. He still had good control, but allowed 20 hits in those 3 appearances. He’s likely ticketed for a spot on Frederick’s staff, though.

August 13 - Cam Kneeland

With the players placed on the Shorebirds, who would have thought a refugee from independent baseball would lead the team in RBI? But Cam’s total of 63 topped the team, to go with 6 home runs and a .267 average for a guy who played 49 games at third, 27 at second, 25 at first, 12 at short, and a couple in left. Hopefully the Orioles will see what he can do at the next level.

August 20 - Max Schuh

Another mid-season addition to the staff, Schuh was outstanding in 24 relief appearances despite the fact his peripheral numbers (39 hits allowed and a 1.34 WHIP in 40 1/3 innings) weren’t spectacular. He lost his only decision but picked up 3 saves overall, finishing in 15 of 24 appearances with a paltry 1.79 ERA.

August 27 - Ademar Rifaela

Although he started the 2015 season with a brief 7-game stint at Aberdeen (where he went 6-for-30), Rifaela found a home in left field for Delmarva. With a slash of .262/5/20/.740 OPS in 59 games here, the question surrounding him is whether that was a long enough audition for the next level or if another half-season is required. My thinking leans toward the latter, which means we would see him again in April.

September 3 - Dariel Delgado

As the last pick, Delgado finished pretty much true to his stats when selected, going 8-3 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 93 1/3 innings. This was after a brutal nine-inning stretch in Frederick where he allowed 12 runs; however, the nine runs given up in one single-inning appearance skewed the numbers significantly. Since this was his second round with Delmarva, I would think Dariel moves up next season.

*********

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

One thing they all have in common is that they were selected as a Shorebird of the Week.

But in compiling this list, I realized to my horror that my memory failed me. There is a significant omission of a deserving player who played here all season and put up good numbers on a team which frankly didn’t have any outstanding talents that had enough time here to qualify. Perhaps the closest were Jomar Reyes and Steve Wilkerson, but neither made it into 100 games.

So I looked at the mound and realized that some of those players had good but not great seasons. You’ll notice that just two pitchers have been Shorebird of the Year, and they had to either be flat-out dominant for a whole season (Sean Gleason) or lead the league in saves (David Walters.)

It would not be such a big deal to skip this player, except John Means did something unique: the first Shorebird no-hitter in 17 years. So I’m going to be unique and for the first time name a non-Shorebird of the Week, John Means, as my Shorebird of the Year. Just because I thought in August that I already picked him shouldn’t keep John from his due.

So that’s a wrap on the player side for 2015. 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. The Class of 2015 is my largest in several years, and as of this writing is an all-pitcher class.

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 – September 3, 2015

September 3, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Not only is the end of the season bittersweet, but picking the final Shorebird of the Week is tough because there are normally two to four guys who have a legitimate case for selection. Last year my final 2015 pick was one of those also-fans at the end so Dariel Delgado quietly came back and put together a good season for Delmarva, first out of the bullpen but lately as a starter. In fact, since joining the rotation for good on July 20 Dariel has shaved his ERA down from 3.95 to its present 3.23 and picked up three consecutive wins in his last three starts to run his Delmarva record to 7-3.

Dariel was actually promoted briefly to Frederick in late May but returned here after some tough outings, including one where he gave up nine runs in one inning. A 12.00 ERA in nine innings will blemish anyone’s record, but the Cuban native who just turned 22 last week has returned to form with the Shorebirds.

As I stated above, this season was Delgado’s second one here. He was promoted in July of 2014 and finished 0-3 but with a respectable 4.09 ERA in 33 innings, allowing 33 hits while striking out 25 and walking 10 for a 1.30 WHIP. While his secondary numbers aren’t quite as good this year – his strikeout rate is down while he’s walking 3.3 batters per 9 innings on the season – he’s managing to get the outs he needs to put together good lines, such as the one run and four hits he allowed in his career-long seven innings against Hickory on Sunday.

While Delgado was signed as a free agent by the Orioles in 2013, Dariel was actually drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2011 as a 29th round pick, but did not sign as a 17-year-old. That brief foray to Frederick was the first setback in what’s been a steady climb up the ladder for Delgado, who I would expect will be in the mix for Frederick’s rotation next season.

Now for a little housekeeping. As usual I will review the 2015 season next week and pick a Shorebird of the Year, then the following week brings my picks and pans. Then I put the Shorebirds on hiatus until I add new players to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame in December. Last night capped a home season which was rather successful on the field although attendance has lagged. In coming weeks I’ll have some thoughts as to why.

Shorebird of the Week – August 27, 2015

August 27, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

At this time of year, I start to wonder about who may be in the Shorebirds’ plans for next season – although we still have a mathematical chance at making the postseason, the odds of our hot streak coinciding with West Virginia’s utter collapse are about the same as hitting the Powerball the week after you win MegaMillions. The more sure bet is that Ademar Rifaela will be in the Shorebirds’ outfield to begin 2016.

A 20-year-old product of Curaçao, the island that produced the Orioles’ Jonathan Schoop and a growing number of other big leaguers, Rifaela packs some surprising power in a 5′-10″, 180 pound frame. After not hitting a homer in his first pro season, spent with the Dominican Summer League Orioles back in 2013, Ademar socked four home runs in just 34 GCL games last year and has five with Delmarva in 48 games. A 2-for-5 night last night brought his batting mark to .266, which is better than his career mark by nearly 20 points. His OPS going into last night was a healthy .765, among the top marks on the team among the active roster.

You may not have expected Rifaela to move up as soon as he did, given the fact he got off to a slow (6-for-30) start with Aberdeen, where he played his first seven games this year. But an injury to catcher Tanner Murphy created the roster spot and the promotion of Jay Gonzalez a few days later opened up the lineup card – Rifaela has held it down most of the time since.

One thing which may change going forward is Ademar’s spot in the lineup. While he often bats leadoff, Rifaela is not a high-percentage base stealer nor does he draw a lot of walks. He seems more suited for the 5 to 7 part of the lineup.

In any case, Ademar has positioned himself as a prime candidate to anchor the Shorebirds’ lineup around next season. But with a lack of outfield talent in the organization as a whole, he may move up faster than I think. If you ask me, though, little more seasoning wouldn’t be a bad thing for Rifaela. He has plenty of time to grow into a solid corner outfielder at the highest level.

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