Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2019

For the third year, the Shorebird Position Player and Pitcher of the Month returns to my website. Overall, this will the the fourteenth season during which I honor particular Shorebird players, having done so on a weekly basis for the first eleven. 41 of those so honored have made it to the major leagues, either with the parent Orioles or one of the other 29 teams. Only a handful of teams (nine, to be exact) remain territory a Hall of Famer hasn’t played at the big league level.

There won’t be photos to start because I haven’t seen the pitcher being honored quite yet. But, as usual, I’ll begin with the position player who shined the brightest among a constellation of stars you would normally find on a team which got off to a franchise-best 18-4 start.

A product of the University of Iowa and Hawkeye born-and-bred, outfielder Robert Neustrom parlayed three straight seasons of hitting over .300 and improving in the vital OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage, a good barometer of a batter’s ability) each year into a fifth-round selection by the Orioles last season (not to mention a $300k signing bonus to forgo his senior campaign.)

Assigned to Aberdeen last season, Robert slashed a solid .272/4/29/.716 OPS for the Ironbirds last season in 61 games. Neustrom wasn’t the top performer in any particular major category (although he led the team in doubles) but was generally in the top three to five of most line items. It was obvious he would be coming to Delmarva this season as the next step in his development.

And what a step it was. In just 19 games, Robert had a slash line of .329/3/14/.957 OPS, numbers that were either first or second for the Shorebirds in April. In just one month – and barely a third of the plate appearances he had for Aberdeen – Neustrom racked up nearly half the RBIs and fell one short of matching his total in home runs.

The only downer to Robert’s month was that of being placed on the 7-day injured list on the first of May due to an injury reported during Tuesday’s game, where he exited “grasping at his calf.” That may slow down the 22-year-old, who was regarded as the 29th-best prospect in the Orioles system to begin this year – although he’s the 18th-best among players the team actually signed or drafted – but hopefully will not become a lingering problem.

It was a close battle between Neustrom and infielder Adam Hall for the top position player spot in April, but I had an even more difficult choice among the pitching ranks as three topped the field.

Tipping the scale toward Grayson Rodriguez: a microscopic 0.54 ERA and a SAL Pitcher of the Week designation for the first week of the season, which was actually a week and a half and allowed him to make two starts – a pair of games against defending league champ Lexington and 2018 SAL North pacesetter Lakewood. In 11 innings between the two starts, Grayson allowed three harmless singles and struck out 20 batters. The only area of concern may have been the five walks.

Grayson ran his scoreless streak to 15-plus innings before allowing his first and only run of the month on a home run by Greensboro’s Rodolfo Castro. The slash line against Rodriguez in April: .123/1/1/.399 OPS.

While success has come early to Rodriguez, it wasn’t entirely unexpected: the 11th overall selection in the 2018 draft, the 19-year-old out of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas had 4.3 million reasons to take a pass on college ball. Instead, Grayson went to the Gulf Coast League and got his initial education as a bright light on a miserable team that won just 13 games out of 55 played – a real school of hard knocks. However, with just 19 1/3 decent but unspectacular innings spaced out among nine appearances in 2018, this is really the first time the training wheels are off. (To an extent, that is: the Orioles brass had Rodriguez skip his last scheduled turn to keep his innings total down.)

So he did not pitch during the last long homestand – his only home appearance was the first Friday night game of the season. Thanks to inclement weather and schedule vagaries, Grayson’s turn won’t come up again until tomorrow night at Augusta – a layoff that went over two weeks.

Already regarded as the #5 prospect in the Baltimore system, Grayson had strong competition for the April honors: a case could have easily been made to instead select Blaine Knight, Delmarva’s opening day starter and owner of seriously good numbers himself. Also in the running was Ofelky Peralta, who began the season on a strikeout tear by recording 12 of his first 14 outs via the punchout and still leads the team with 31.

So how did I do with my Shorebird guesses?

Well, I promised you several posts. Still working on odds and ends but for this one I’m going to go over just how well I guessed my Shorebird players.

You may recall I selected 25 players in the midst of spring training – 13 pitchers and 12 position players. So I’ll go through them in order and tell you where they are now.

Starting pitchers:

  • Gray Fenter is here and has made 2 starts among his three appearances.
  • The same goes for Hector Guance.
  • Matt Hammonds has appeared in long relief several times. He was also promoted to Frederick for one game.
  • Blaine Knight has made three starts for the Shorebirds.
  • Grayson Rodriguez has also made three starts for Delmarva.
  • Drew Rom has only made one start but appears to be the piggyback pitcher based on the length of his appearances.

So all six of them made the team, and except for Hammonds have made at least one start. The two starters I did not predict were a holdover from 2018 and a demotion who was here back in 2016: respectively, Nick Vespi and Ofelky Peralta.

Relief pitchers:

  • Ryan Conroy is listed on Aberdeen’s roster and has not appeared for a full-season team.
  • Nick Gruener has made four relief appearances for Delmarva, although he was stashed on the Aberdeen roster for a few days, too.
  • Tyler Joyner wasn’t on the team Opening Day but is here now, as he was assigned on April 10.
  • Kevin Magee is listed on Aberdeen’s roster and has not appeared for a full-season team.
  • Zach Matson was recently reassigned from Aberdeen as of April 18. So he’s a latecomer, too.
  • Victor Romero is on Aberdeen’s roster, too. He may be slow-played because he spent most of 2018 on the injured list.
  • Ryan Wilson is on Delmarva’s injured list and has yet to make an appearance.

I only had one of the seven relief pitchers correct for Opening Day but two others have arrived late to give me a total of 7 of 13 correct for Opening Day and 9 of 13 correct for the season.

The other Shorebird pitchers I did not predict are Matt de la Rosa (who jumped from the GCL and has also pitched for Frederick this season), Jalen Miller (who came in as a signee from independent league baseball and has already been released), and 2018 holdovers Tim Naughton and Jhon Peluffo. Peluffo has already been sent down in a paper demotion to Aberdeen.

Catchers:

  • Alfredo Gonzalez remains on Aberdeen’s roster and has not played any full-season ball this year.
  • Cody Roberts made the Opening Day squad and promptly got hurt. He’s on the injured list.

I got one out of two catchers correct, so the score is now 8 of 15 for Opening Day and 10 of 15 overall. Handling the catching duties now are 2018 holdovers Ben Breazeale and Daniel Fajardo. Breazeale was the one brought back to replace Roberts.

Infielders:

  • Seamus Curran is here and has been the primary first baseman.
  • J.C. Escarra skipped Delmarva and is Frederick’s primary first baseman.
  • Adam Hall is playing for the Shorebirds, tag-teaming with Cadyn Grenier (who was not promoted as I thought he would be) between second base and shortstop.
  • I’m not finding Zach McLeod on a roster so he’s either in extended spring or has been released.
  • Alexis Torres was definitely fast-tracked, jumping from Aberdeen at the end of last season to Bowie to begin his 2019 this week. This after just 2 games at Frederick last season being his sum of advanced-A experience.
  • Willy Yahn also jumped over Delmarva, splitting time between third base and second base for Frederick.

Aside from the aforementioned Grenier, other 2018 infield holdovers are Branden Becker and J.C. Encarnacion. Andrew Fregia was also not predicted, but he made the jump up from the GCL. Out of 21 players predicted so far, 10 of them were on the Opening Day roster and 12 have played here at some point.

Outfielders:

  • Jaylen Ferguson has not yet returned to Delmarva from Aberdeen.
  • Nick Horvath is here as the everyday center fielder.
  • Robert Neustrom flanks him as a corner outfielder, more often in right field.
  • Robbie Thorburn is listed as an active player for Delmarva but is not on the roster.

I was not expecting Will Robertson to come back here nor Doran Turchin to move up from Aberdeen.

Final stats: I got 12 players right for Opening Day and 14 so far this season. I think I have an outside chance at 20 which isn’t too bad. As for the Opening Day lineup, this was the actual one used:

  1. Adam Hall, 2b (right spot in order but wrong position)
  2. Cadyn Grenier, ss (I had Willy Yahn at 3b in #2 hole)
  3. Robert Neustrom, rf (had him batting fifth in my lineup, Escarra here)
  4. JC Encarnacion, 3b (he didn’t move up like I thought – he and Yahn flipped)
  5. Cody Roberts, c (I had Gonzalez in my lineup but Cody was on roster)
  6. Nick Horvath, cf (I had him batting fourth in my lineup)
  7. Seamus Curran, 1b (was sixth in my lineup as DH)
  8. Doran Turchin, lf (I had Thorburn in my lineup for LF)
  9. Branden Becker, dh (this was the catcher’s spot.)

Blaine Knight started in lieu of Matt Hammonds, but aside from that it wasn’t too horrible a prediction.

Next week opens up the Shorebird of the Month calendar. It’s going to be tough to choose a pitcher and position player from an abundance of riches on a 15-2 (!) team.

Update 5/18: Thorburn started on the first of May, Alexis Torres came back from Bowie a week or so ago and we picked up Ryan Conroy this week. So now 18 of 25 have played here for at least one game, with Ryan Wilson activated and pitching today.

Remaining players are Kevin Magee, Victor Romero, Alfredo Gonzalez, J.C. Escarra, Zach McLeod, Willy Yahn, and Jaylen Ferguson. Of those Magee, Romero, Gonzalez, and Ferguson are listed as active for Aberdeen, Escarra and Yahn are still with Frederick, and McLeod is presumably at extended.

Who might be the Shorebirds? 2019 edition

A few years ago I set out to predict the opening 25-man roster of the Shorebirds. It was an outgrowth of a comment I received from one of my biggest SotW fans, and for a couple years I tried to pick the most likely players, with mixed success. I stopped for a time as the number of games I could attend dwindled, but better circumstances led me to make a decent number of contests last season so I thought I’d bring this back on a more limited basis. (More limited in the sense it will just be a roster and not capsules of each player.)

The big difference this time around is the new regime running the Orioles, which seems to favor a somewhat different sort of player than the previous one did. There also seems to be a larger influx of new players than normal, which is going to affect the Shorebirds in a couple instances – for example, I think one trade will eventually affect them this season and two others might be players we’ll see in 2020.

But to start opening day? Here are my wild guesses:

Starting Pitchers (6)

It won’t be a six-man rotation but I think they are going to piggyback one of the other five with last year’s first rounder Grayson Rodriguez so each gets 3 to 4 innings in a game. It might be Drew Rom with that task.

Gray Fenter (R), Hector Guance (R), Matt Hammonds (L), Blaine Knight (R), Grayson Rodriguez (R), Drew Rom (L)

Relief Pitchers (7)

Ryan Conroy (R), Nick Gruener (R), Tyler Joyner (R), Kevin Magee (L), Zach Matson (L), Victor Romero (R), Ryan Wilson (L)

Catchers (2)

Alfredo Gonzalez (R), Cody Roberts (R)

Infielders (6)

Seamus Curran (1b – L), J.C. Escarra (1b – L), Adam Hall (ss – R), Zach McLeod (util – R), Alexis Torres (2b – R), Willy Yahn (3b – R)

Outfielders (4)

Jaylen Ferguson (R), Nick Horvath (R), Robert Neustrom (L), Robbie Thorburn (L)

A projected Opening Night lineup
  • Adam Hall, ss
  • Willy Yahn, 3b
  • J. C. Escarra, 1b
  • Nick Horvath, cf
  • Robert Neustrom, rf
  • Seamus Curran, dh
  • Robbie Thorburn, lf
  • Alexis Torres, 2b
  • Alfredo Gonzalez, c
  • Matt Hammonds, sp

So we will see how well I guess this. I think the Shorebirds will do okay this season, but I’m very anxious to see what kind of draft they have this June and how well Aberdeen does. Here’s hoping the Orioles system begins to have the type of success new Orioles GM Mike Elias helped the Astros chain to achieve in 2018:

  • All six of their domestic teams were first or second in their division. Five of the six (their top 5, from short-season A ball on up) made the playoffs.
  • Of those five, class A Quad Cities lost a quarterfinal play-in game, AA Corpus Christi lost in the semifinals, and AAA Fresno lost in the league finals.
  • However, Advanced-A Buies Creek was second overall in its division but won the Carolina League pennant and short-season A Tri-City was the New York-Penn League champion.

Conversely, not a single Orioles affiliate made their league playoffs.

But in one week we will find out, and Delmarva gets to watch whatever ceremony the defending league champion does because we open at Lexington, who was the SAL pennant winner last season. (Until last season the Legends had a similar playoff drought to the one Delmarva is experiencing.) It doesn’t get much easier: we play the two Northern Division playoff squads from last season to finish the opening roadtrip (at Kannapolis) and start the home schedule (Lakewood.) Our first 14 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season so it will be a good test.

Let’s play some ball!

What comes around, goes around

I’ll tell you why! Those of you who have been here awhile know that I do an annual “picks and pans” as a Shorebird fan after each season. Today’s post is a long time coming since I spent part of my 2015, 2016, and 2017 picks and pans talking about the subject of today’s photo essay.

The 360 degree concourse was originally slated to be built between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but the final funding wasn’t put into place until last spring. And yesterday it was formally opened up. I missed the ribbon cutting and didn’t win any of the giveaway prizes.

But I got a batch of pictures to share. How’s that?

Our first unique and new view is from the right field corner. I suspect the kids will soon figure out this is the place to beg for t-shirts and frisbees. There’s something new about that aspect, too, as I’ll get to in due course.
From where I was on the above shot, you are right under the scoreboard.
If you went as close as you could to dead center – a spot from which you couldn’t see the field because of the batter’s eye – this is what you would see.
This is taken from the left field corner looking toward center. It’s one location where there is no drink rail and one of the few disappointments I had. I was hoping they would have a wider area here where they could set up a stage or higher platform for seating, but they left a lot of unused space there.
Part of the saving grace is adding the metal drink rail along this fence, a space I suspect is going to be very popular for families – especially those with kids who like to chase foul balls. It will also be fun for those who like to check on the bullpen.
I stopped by my summer home for a few minutes – about as much as I could brave the chill.
Before I finish the tour, I noticed the Shorebirds got a new truck for Sherman, since the old one advertised a dealer who is no longer with us. You sure would miss them. But he has new wheels from which to toss those frisbees and shirts.
This is one of the new tables in the upper section of the Hardball Cafe, which also features the nifty new chairs. These same tables and chairs are up on the luxury level on the third floor.
The low tables, though, are half-round along the rail and the chairs for them swivel and have a mesh seat. Very comfy and surprisingly not cold to the behind on an evening like last night.
The suites aren’t set up any differently, but it looks like they got new finishes. Only 2 of the 6 are corporate-owned now – a couple years back there were 4 corporate and 2 left open for nightly rent, now we have the reverse.

Since this current phase of renovations of our now 23-year-old ballpark began after the 2015 season, they have rebuilt the entire field and sub-surface drainage, renovated the clubhouses, put in new seating throughout the stadium (with the possible exception of the outfield picnic areas, which I didn’t check out during my rounds), installed a new scoreboard and video board, and now have completed the concourse. About the only thing they need to do now is modernize the food service and perhaps renovate the restrooms, front office space, gift shop, and Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame. (Not to be confused with the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame, which is constantly renovated each off-season.)

So old Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is looking pretty good now. In a couple weeks I think it will be time to return to a short-lived tradition and take my wild guess as to who will be sporting the Shorebird black-and-orange this summer. That will be fun.

Odds and ends number 92

The more regular than it used to be look at the pile that’s my e-mail box and dredging out items worth a few sentences to a few paragraphs starts now:

A private fight for $15

My friends at the Maryland Public Policy Institute recently pointed out that there are a number of Maryland companies who are already paying starting employees $15 an hour (or soon will be.) MPPI’s Carol Park notes that, “The main goal for Maryland government should be to incentivize businesses in Maryland to grow larger and more profitable, so that they can become the new Amazon and Target and not only pay their employees $15 an hour but employ hundreds and thousands of Marylanders who are looking for a job.”

While Park is right, she also misses a point. Using that argument, larger businesses may be comfortable latching onto the so-called “Fight for $15” because it allows them to throttle back prospective competition. Small companies running on tighter margins won’t be able to pay the higher wages, so they won’t be able to compete.

Listen, if the SEIU and big business are on the same side (and, according to Leonard Robinson III of the Capital Research Center the SEIU is greasing a lot of Democrats’ palms to get this enacted at the federal level) it just can’t be good for the rest of us.

Returning to the subject of MPPI, they have also recently asked the state to “resist” raising taxes in the wake of the Kirwan Commission report advocating an additional $3.8 billion in school spending – none of which is slated to follow the child as it should. They cite prospective income tax increases on the middle class as well as possible expansion of the sales tax to include more services and business tax hikes as possible outcomes.

Knowing how the Kirwan Commission came together, is it any wonder higher taxes are on the docket? Resist we must.

Did Trump really cave? Or is it “fake news” from the dividers of Indivisible?

This probably deserves its own post, but we all know Indivisible will take credit for anything that’s a loss to America or makes President Trump look bad – naturally, that extends to the end of the recent Schumer-Pelosi shutdown. So this was their “state of play” after the furlough ended.

Pay attention to the “ask” – Republican Senators are asked for “No new wall money. Keep the government open.” It sounds to me like the Democrats have already determined they will shut it down again and try to blame Trump again. Nope, that one would be on you – particularly since Democrats have the majority in the conference committee.

In another Indivisible-related item I found interesting, they laid out a fundraising wish list in an e-mail I received in the wake of the shutdown:

  • $1,475,000 for “doubling our organizing team,” adding 14 state-level organizers, 3 digital organizers, and 3 training organizers.
  • $80,000 for Hubdialer, which, as the name implies, assists volunteers in making phone calls.
  • $114,000 for Mobile Commons, which is a text messaging system.
  • $1,315,820 for digital ads. More money for Mark Zuckerberg.
  • And $140,000 for ActionKit, a “mass e-mailing tool.”

All told, that “ask” is a little over $3 million, which I’m sure they’re going to invest in pushing more propaganda for 2020. Yep, that’s some grassroots for you.

And speaking of Astroturf…

If you wondered why Obamacare has hung tough despite its unpopularity, maybe this is why. From CRC’s Hayden Ludwig:

At least thirteen pro-Obamacare organizations aren’t independent organizations at all, but websites hosted by a handful of mega-funder nonprofits: the Sixteen Thirty FundNew Venture Fund, and Hopewell Fund.

Those three funds are in turn managed by Arabella Advisors, a mysterious consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Arabella Advisors advises wealthy clients on what it calls “strategic philanthropy.” In practice though, Arabella’s strategic giving involves philanthropic investments to left-leaning causes and organizations.

“Who is Behind the Groups Pushing Obamacare?”, Hayden Ludwig, Capital Research Center, January 10, 2019.

Nor should we forget this tangled web the Left weaved.

And people thought the TEA Party was Astroturf because Americans for Prosperity printed up a batch of signs? Okay then, feel free to be wrong.

More wasteful spending

Another winner from the CRC comes in this investigation by Robert Stilson – employment programs that make work for connected non-profits. It’s yet another case of low-hanging fruit to be plucked and another score for the Capital Research Center, which is beginning to become a (sorely needed) bulldog of the Right. Don’t miss their look at the Census controversy either.

The state of American energy…is strong

At least according to the lengthy (over 120 pages) and colorful annual report from the American Petroleum Institute. It should be required reading for environmentalist wackos, including one Larry Hogan. Maybe he’d learn something and get back to what he promised.

If you want something a little more “official” the far less colorful Energy Information Administration Annual Energy Outlook 2019 is out as well. Both documents are chock full of good news for the energy industry as long as government stays out of the way.

So is the state of American manufacturing

Fresh off “another strong month of job growth,” the folks at the Alliance for American Manufacturing believe, “This strength in factory and overall hiring gives the administration considerable leverage headed into the final leg of trade talks with China,” according to AAM President Scott Paul.

But they’re never quite happy, always wanting something more. On the heels of a Trump “buy American” executive order, the group wants it expanded already. Here’s what it covers, in a nutshell:

Within 90 days of the date of this order, the head of each executive department and agency… administering a covered program shall, as appropriate and to the extent consistent with law, encourage recipients of new Federal financial assistance awards pursuant to a covered program to use, to the greatest extent practicable, iron and aluminum as well as steel, cement, and other manufactured products produced in the United States in every contract, subcontract, purchase order, or sub‑award that is chargeable against such Federal financial assistance award.

“Executive Order on Strengthening Buy-American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects,” issued by President Trump January 31, 2019.

While the additional jobs are good news, I’ve always been a little leery of “Buy American” orders such as these just because it’s gaming the market and making American products just that much less competitive on a global scale. Why invest in new technology and better facilities when you have a captive customer?

Having said that, I do believe President Trump is trying to level the playing field a bit as other nations subsidize their industries to varying degrees, too. For several years I received missives from AAM and others decrying the “dumping” of steel on the American market by Asian competitors, and that’s a case where a “Buy American” law can be of assistance. But I would rather see fair trade as a part of free trade, and there can be instances where “Buy American” may not be the best option.

Fighting the last war

In terms of total votes, the most popular politician in Maryland isn’t Larry Hogan. Instead, the top vote-getter in 2018 was Comptroller Peter Franchot, who drew 1,620,264 votes in winning a fourth term in office. Peter carried all but three counties (Cecil, Garrett, and Washington) in defeating the vastly underfunded Republican challenger Anjali Phukan. (Her campaign, beginning in May, 2017 and ending last December, raised a grand total of $2,051.25. The remaining $460 was donated to charity.)

But Phukan remains convinced that Franchot’s victory was achieved through underhanded means. Recently she attempted to convince the Maryland Board of Elections that an investigation into Franchot’s campaign finance was necessary, but to no avail. So she took the next step:

With no administrative options left, at the suggestion of some fellow Republicans, I filed a “Writ of Mandamus” with the Circuit Court in Anne Arundel County, to make the Board of Elections investigate my concerns, and act accordingly, as required by Maryland law. In this writ I also requested an injunction and declaratory judgement. I had presented my concerns before the election board as I discovered things in the process of reviewing his campaign’s financial records, and yet the account was still deemed compliant enough for Franchot to be certified!

Anjali Phukan, newsletter to supporters, January 27, 2019.

She’s also began plugging an obscure electoral watchdog website that’s had barely 700 visits in the last 2-plus years (as there is still 2016 information on it.) A GoFundMe campaign for it has raised a grand total of $5. But while it seems Phukan is tilting at windmills, she brings up some very troubling concerns about the Maryland campaign finance system.

Having written and read a few campaign finance reports in my time, I’m sure I’ve pointed out the weaknesses in the system. But a glaring one is how one very minor change in information submitted could conceivably allow an entity to donate far more than the prescribed limit, and seldom does the Board of Elections act on these irregularities. Since I haven’t heard of them overturning any elections due to unlawful campaign finance, I presume the punishment is generally making the campaign return the donation and perhaps a modest fine to the candidate and/or treasurer.

I glanced through Phukan’s summary of Franchot’s issues and, while it wasn’t a vast percentage of his campaign funding, you would think a person who is charged with being an accurate collector of revenue wouldn’t have such large accounting errors. It seems to me that the Board of Elections is just putting these self-reported records out to present a fig leaf of accountability but not really checking into them. (And let’s face it: most campaigns in this state don’t involve enough money to pay the mortgage for a year.)

And, by extension, the lack of interest in checking Franchot’s campaign finance seems to be echoed in their lack of interest in (or utter contempt regarding) cleaning out voter rolls. The erstwhile watchdog group Election Integrity Maryland found thousands of duplicate registrations in a May, 2014 survey. (Third release here, from an archived web page.) It’s now February, 2019, and something tells me that number is twice as high. Just wait until they get the automatic voter registration!

In passing

I couldn’t let this post go by without mentioning the recent passing of my former colleague on the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, Dave Goslee, Sr. Sadly, the 78-year-old Goslee had just in November won a seat on an institution he’d been fighting to reform for the first ten years of his twelve-plus year tenure on the Central Committee, the Wicomico County Board of Education.

Dave showed the value of getting out the vote as he won that Board of Education seat by one vote after a December recount showed that vote was incorrectly credited to his opponent. But the fourth-term WCRCC member couldn’t beat leukemia, and it’s likely his opponent will get the seat back anyway as a 14-member panel mainly comprised from the local schools will select Goslee’s successor – that committee selected William Turner, who Goslee defeated for the seat, in 2017.

Dave and I were not the closest of friends on the committee when we first started, but over the years we developed a respectful relationship as we each came to understand what the other brought to the table. He was also a devoted season ticket holder for the Shorebirds, so I saw him often even after I left the WCRCC. He will be missed, both at the games and certainly in local politics.

Coming up…

I almost put this into the odds and ends, but decided I would devote a stand-alone post to those who would tell me how to do my job. I may use that as the light-hearted stack of stuff to start the weekend.

I also have the third in a quick batch of record reviews to do for Saturday, but that may be the last for a short while. Or it may not.

Longer term, a suggestion I’ve had placed in my hopper once again was to bring back something I tried for a couple seasons in 2014 and 2015: predicting the 25-man Delmarva Shorebird opening day roster. (My 2014 guesses had 10 correct for Opening Day and 5 coming along later in the season. In 2015 I had 11 on Opening Day and 6 later on. That year I did it a week before the season, but it didn’t help.)

This year’s roster may be even more tricky because of the new management for the Orioles – players who may have been favorites under the Duquette regime may not catch the eye of Mike Elias, who will presumably prefer a player more like those in the Astros organization from which he came. (And who am I to argue with their success? Not only was the major league team a division winner in 2018, so were four of their top five farm clubs – the other was a close second. On the other hand, the Shorebirds were barely a .500 team but that was still best among Baltimore’s full-season affiliates last season.)

But since my situation is a little better than it was back in mid-decade I think I’ll give it a shot. Still not going back to Shorebird of the Week but at least I’ll enhance my coverage this way.

So the mailbox is emptier and you’re up to date.

My version of fantasy baseball – part 3, the season

In part 1 I introduced this concept and in part 2 I determined my Opening Day team. But to answer the question regarding how such a team would do gave me a lot of trouble, and took a different turn than I expected.

Initially I believed I could use a simple WAR calculator to see just how well my players would do and use that guide to determine the team’s fate. Yet to figure those factors out I would need to calculate a player’s OPS and slugging percentage as well as a pitcher’s ERA. So my first order of business was determining about how many plate appearances each player would get; thus, I made a matrix covering the nine starting positions and also determined how many starts and relief appearances each pitcher would make. From there I calculated the rest of the statistics based on the players’ real-life numbers and some overall averages.

Using my team’s starting lineup and their WAR, this is the comparison to the Orioles 2018 lineup.

2019 WARSotW teamPos.Baltimore2018 WAR
1.5A. WynnsCC. Joseph0.3
2.0T. Mancini1BC. Davis-2.8
2.3J. Schoop2BJ. Schoop1.3*
1.5P. FlorimonSSM. Machado2.9*
7.5M. Machado3BR. Nunez1.2*
0.4DelmonicoLFT. Mancini-0.1
1.5C. MullinsCFA. Jones0.2
-0.3L.J. HoesRFJ. Rickard0.4
0.9C. WalkerDHM. Trumbo0.3
2.9E. RodriguezSPD. Bundy0.1
2.7Z. DaviesSPA. Cashner0.6
3.1D. BundySPA. Cobb1.1
0.9S. BraultSPK. Gausman2.2*
1.0P. BridwellSPD. Hess0.7
0.8Z. BrittonCLB. Brach0*
1.1J. HaderRPM. Castro1.3
1.3M. GivensRPM. Wright-0.1
0.8HernandezRPM. Givens1
-0.8E. GamboaRPT. Scott-0.1
31.1Total WARPos.Total WAR10.5

But the one thing about WAR is that it’s a relatively inexact science. Still, using the simple WAR calculators for pitchers and batters, I came up with a team WAR of 32.3 for my mythical 40-man roster. That turns out to be 21 wins better than the 2018 Orioles (meaning 68 wins) and nearly 25 fewer wins than the Red Sox, which would compute to an above break-even season with 83 wins. To me, that was a little too much of a range.

So I tried a different way. Since I had figured out most of the main batting stats in order to define OPS and slugging percentage for the hitters, I decided to treat the pitchers the same way and figure out the batting stats against them. Once I had those numbers, I pored over about two decades’ worth of team batting stats to determine the closest parallels to runs scored based on average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS, numbers which I averaged together to determine projected totals of runs scored and runs allowed, which then allowed me to figure out a Pythagorean win-loss record that’s relatively accurate – most teams finish within a few games of their Pythagorean record.

On that basis, my team would finish with a surprisingly good record of 72-90. I say surprisingly because it would finish near the bottom of both the batting and pitching rankings; then again, these align well with the rankings of the 2018 American League teams as five teams finished with fewer than 72 wins and this team generally laid in the bottom third statistically. Presumably it would be a rather strong bullpen that carries my team if they get an early lead.

One other thing all this calculation allowed me to do was change the roster somewhat. (This was reflected in the posts as I did the statistics before the second post where I selected the team.) In one instance, Christian Walker was not a full-time DH but was ticketed for AAA – however, in figuring out his season he had a bat that was too good to send down in comparison to my outfielders – so he stayed. And since his real-life MLB experience has mostly come as a pinch-hitter he’s a natural DH. Other players got more starts than originally envisioned because they were the best player I could put out there despite not being “established.” I also took the propensity for injuries into account so several of my players missed time on the “disabled list” and others were “called up” to replace them. For example, Pedro Florimon has been an injury magnet the last few seasons so in my mythical campaign he missed some time, enabling Manny Machado to slide over to short and placing utility players at third. Players who are well short of a full season are usually considered to be injured for a portion of it.

So I have not only answered my question, but I’ve also created a projected set of statistics (set in pretty much the same fashion as Baseball Reference lays out statistics) for each player based on a weighted formula of previous seasons and levels – thus, a guy who played at AAA a lot has his numbers adjusted a few ticks lower where appropriate. Raw rookies took a bit of a pounding from this, but if I continue to update these numbers they will settle in closer to their eventual MLB norms. It also gives me the fun of seeing how numbers will compare to real life as 2019 progresses.

(One note: for players who have retired I simply used their previous 4 active seasons, disregarding the layoff factor. It was as if they were still playing.)

This was a very fun and challenging exercise – but since I still have the numbers I could do it again for next spring as new players join the SotWHoF. It will actually be easier since I gave the now-retired players a courtesy cup of coffee (maybe a latte in a couple cases) in this mythical season but won’t feel the need to in 2020, unless I get in a positional pinch. (For example: if Michael Ohlman doesn’t find a team this year I still need him as a third catcher unless a guy like onetime SotW Wynston Sawyer gets the call.)

But consider this as you watch the 2019 season unfold and see how bad my projections are: at least free agency won’t break up this team! Thanks for playing along.

My version of fantasy baseball – part 1, the introduction

I sort of warned you about this back when I inducted the Class of 2018 into the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. Membership in that body has reached the magic number of forty, and given the facts that the Hot Stove League is well underway and people always like to speculate about how they would build a team… well, now I have a team, of sorts.

Of course, there are a fair share of guys in my Hall of Fame who aren’t involved as players anymore, but the beauty of the intersection of fantasy baseball with sabermetrics is that people are able to compare performances over time. I’m not going to get too fussy with this exercise, for its goal is to speculate how a team made up of SotWHoF players would do in a regular season and (in my opinion) the best way to do this is to compile the player’s WAR (wins above replacement) statistics. Every player in the SotWHoF has these, although those who are still active maintain a fluid WAR rating that will change as their career progresses.

Wins above replacement is a complex formula that determines how much impact a player has on his team’s fortunes. A MVP-type player would have a seasonal WAR of 8 to 10, meaning his presence on the team assures the squad eight to ten more wins than the average replacement. Take two extreme examples of 2018 teams: in the left column are the world champion Boston Red Sox (108-54 during the regular season) and on the right are the woeful Orioles (47-115).

2018 WARBostonPos.Baltimore2018 WAR
-0.5S. LeonCC. Joseph0.3
0.9M. Moreland1BC. Davis-2.8
-1.1E. Nunez2BJ. Schoop1.3*
3.8X. BogaertsSSM. Machado2.9*
0R. Devers3BR. Nunez1.2*
3.9BenintendiLFT. Mancini-0.1
2.1J. BradleyCFA. Jones0.2
10.9M. BettsRFJ. Rickard0.4
6.4J.D. MartinezDHM. Trumbo0.3
3.3R. PorcelloSPD. Bundy0.1
4.4D. PriceSPA. Cashner0.6
6.9C. SaleSPA. Cobb1.1
3E. RodriguezSPK. Gausman2.2*
0.8*N. EovaldiSPD. Hess0.7
2.3C. KimbrelCLB. Brach0*
1.7H. VelazquezRPM. Castro1.3
0.5J. KellyRPM. Wright-0.1
1.1M. BarnesRPM. Givens1
0.5H. HembreeRPT. Scott-0.1
50.9Total WARPos.Total WAR10.5

(*) Totals with Boston or Baltimore only.

As you can see, while a few individual players held the Red Sox back in terms of not being better than a theoretical player replacing him from the minor leagues, there were also several who put up All-Star and MVP-caliber seasons (with 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts leading the way.) On the flip side, the Orioles had a batch of players who were hardly better than minor league players and one much worse – Chris Davis, we’re looking at you. And once the key players for Baltimore were traded away, their replacements couldn’t even achieve the passable numbers put up by those who were traded – bear in mind that there are perhaps 25-35 players not listed who were bench players, minor league callups, and so forth. Some would accrue more wins above their replacements and others would lose ground – those listed above are just the primary starters and most-used bullpen pieces. Adding in the other 25 Red Sox players increases their WAR total by 6.1 wins above replacement for a team total of 57, while adding in the other 37 (!) Oriole players gains them o.8 WAR for a total of 11.3.

So now you have an idea of the parameters I’m going to use for this exercise. Next week I’m going to re-introduce you to this 40-man roster and speculate on how it would work if put together in fantasy life.

A better minor-league town

This definitely goes in a unique “stack of stuff” but to me it’s also a springboard to a relevant point. Plus it’s a dead week between Christmas and New Year’s so it’s not a political week.

If you go back to post number 2 – number one being the “soft opening” URL placeholder – in this long-running saga of my political thoughts and life in general, you will find it’s related to my hometown baseball team. So it is with this post, as Toledo was named the nation’s top minor league town.

The hometown rag had a good time with this, but if you read the piece you’ll see why Toledo was selected. And it’s worth mentioning something the writer of the original assessment said in the Blade story:

“They took a big risk coming back to downtown when they did, and deserve a lot of credit for the excitement in downtown revitalization,” said Birdwell-Branson, who recently moved to Toledo. “Essentially, it came down to this: Toledo is not Toledo without its Mud Hens or its Walleye.”

“Toledo ranked No. 1 among minor league sports towns”, Mark Monroe, Toledo Blade, December 12, 2018.

Just for context’s sake, Toledo, with its metro area of about 600,000 hardy folk, has two major professional sports teams. Most not under a rock have heard of the Mud Hens baseball team, in large part thanks to a guy best known as Max Klinger, the dress-wearing corporal in the TV series M*A*S*H. (Far fewer know him as Jamie Farr and only real trivia buffs – or Toledo natives – know him as Jameel Farrah, but that’s his real name.) While 507,965 made it out this season, it was a down year for attendance: the Mud Hens’ worst since moving to Fifth Third Field in 2002 and despite winning their first IL West title since 2007. (Perhaps eight losing seasons in a row prior to 2018 dampened enthusiasm.)

It could also be that some of their thunder was stolen by the Walleye, as the hockey team set new attendance records in the 2017-18 season and finished second in attendance in the 27-team ECHL, a league analogous to the AA level in baseball. Had their Huntington Center been larger, it’s likely they would have led the league in attendance as the Walleye averaged 102% of capacity. In 2018 the Walleye season didn’t end until early May when they lost in their division finals – they have won their ECHL division in the regular season four straight seasons – so there was an overlap between the two teams that may have cut the Mud Hens’ attendance.

In the minds of ownership, however, it doesn’t matter if the fans flock to Fifth Third Field or the Huntington Center because both are owned by the same entity: Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club, Inc. (The Walleye are owned by the subsidiary Toledo Arena Sports, Inc. They purchased the former Toledo Storm ECHL hockey franchise in 2007 and put the team on ice, as it were, until the Huntington Center was finished in 2009.) It’s a business entity with an interesting background:

The unusual ownership structure was inaugurated in 1965 when Lucas County formed a nonprofit corporation to buy and manage a team. A volunteer board of directors appointed by the county board of commissioners owns and operates the team, with the county as the ultimate financial benefactor.

“Toledo Mud Hens, Walleye reorganize top management”, Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit Business, June 15, 2015.

In Toledo, then, Lucas County (Toledo is county seat) owns both the teams and the venues, which are conveniently within blocks of one another in downtown Toledo. Spurred on by government money, the county has also invested in Hensville, a renovation project taking existing adjacent building stock and creating an entertainment center with the ready-made prospect of 7,000 or more fans at an adjacent venue on about 100 nights a year, mainly on weekends in the winter and spring and any night during the summer. (Note this doesn’t count concerts and shows held several nights a year at Huntington.)

Now let’s compare our scenario: the recent (2015) addition of Sussex County, Delaware and Worcester County, Maryland to the existing Salisbury metro area gives it a population of about 390,000, about 2/3 of Toledo’s but spread over a much wider geographic area. This difference, as well as the disparity in levels as the Delmarva Shorebirds are three steps below the Mud Hens, more than likely explains why attendance for the Shorebirds is less than half that of the Mud Hens, barely eclipsing the 200,000 mark in 2018 as an all-time low. Moreover, even if Salisbury had a hockey team, as has been rumored for the past few years, it would probably be at the commensurate level to the Shorebirds, and at least one step below the ECHL.

On that note, the two most likely possibilities for pro hockey in Salisbury are the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), a 10-team league as currently comprised, and the Federal Hockey League (FHL), which has six teams at present. The SPHL is the more stable of the two, and has better-attended games: league average attendance for the SPHL is 2,870 so far this season compared to a puny 1,409 between the six FHL squads – but only two Federal League teams are solidly in a four-figure average; a third is at 1,010 per game.

Unfortunately, the travel scenario for a Salisbury-based SPHL team would be dicey: the league’s closest franchises are in Roanoke, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina and both are just under six-hour trips; moreover, six of the ten teams lie in the Central Time Zone. The most likely way Salisbury could be added to the SPHL would be in a pairing with another expansion team along the East Coast and a switch to a format with two six-team (or three four-team) divisions. On the other hand, while the FHL is somewhat spread out over a geographic area ranging from upstate New York to North Carolina to Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, Salisbury is within the footprint and the league only schedules games on weekends, with one team generally playing two consecutive nights against the same opponent. Placing an eighth team in the Midwest would allow the league to have two four-team divisions (and possibly even adding a weeknight game within the four-team blocks, expanding the FHL’s current 56-game schedule. The schedule is similar in the SPHL; by comparison the ECHL plays a 72-game season.)

While the lack of a hockey team is a major stumbling block, the bigger issue is a lack of synergy between the two venues because they are several miles apart. And since a downtown location is out of the question for these facilities, the next best scenario to me would be to eventually replace one of the two facilities and move it adjacent to the other. Of course, having just spent millions of dollars of state and county money to repair both facilities as part of renovations requested in part by the Orioles (for Perdue) and a county study (for the WYCC), that’s not happening anytime soon, either.

So we have to make do with what we have. While it won’t necessarily be pedestrian-friendly, there is available land adjacent to both venues that could be developed into further entertainment options. In all honesty, there are pros and cons to development at both locations: the Hobbs Road site has great highway access and open land with infrastructure in place as it’s already annexed to the city. Would it be out of character with the area to have an urban-style development close by Perdue Stadium? Perhaps, plus there’s also the aspect of certain city leaders who seem to want all the entertainment options to be downtown and not develop the outskirts as a competitor.

On the other hand, redevelopment of the Old Mall site would be a welcome lift to that part of Salisbury but it’s not going to happen without a steady stream of events at the Civic Center, and minor league hockey seems to have the same level of fickleness as independent league baseball.

Every town is different, but I think Salisbury is missing out on some opportunities. I’m truly hoping that renovations in progress at Perdue Stadium bring out some of that entertainment district element and the WYCC gets that hockey team tenant to help fill the venue another 30 or so nights a year. It’s probably the best we can do for the immediate future.

Presenting: The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2018

This past season the Baltimore Orioles finished third in the majors in one interesting category: number of players making their major league debut for the team during the season. Their 15 rookie players during the campaign placed them one behind the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres, who both debuted 16 players.

So it logically follows that, for the first time in four years, all my inductees made their debuts as Oriole players. That run of 2012-14 inductees (a total of eight players who all stayed homegrown, with five of the eight coming in the first Dan Duquette season of 2012, two in 2013, and one in 2014) was memorable in that it brought us three Oriole icons of the last few years in Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Dylan Bundy. Making what turned out to be a full circle, the farm system Dan Duquette built was responsible for this year’s group of five inductees – guys who played with Delmarva in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The optimism of an Opening Day win was quick to fade as losses and injuries mounted, so perhaps the best way to introduce this class would entail more than the date of their debut but also the team’s record at the time. We begin 59 games in with catcher Austin Wynns, who opened the class on June 5 after it became painfully apparent that a terrible 17-41 start and issues with starting catcher Caleb Joseph weren’t going away anytime soon. Wynns eventually backed up Joseph, getting into 42 Oriole games after initially spelling Joseph (82 games) and 2017 SotWHoF member Chance Sisco (63 games) through a tough 2018 season for both.

Fifteen days later, with the Orioles now 21-50, June 20 was the time for Steve Wilkerson to take his turn as the latest attempt for the Orioles to find the utility player to replace the departed Ryan Flaherty. But Wilkerson was barely in the flow of things, having had to serve a 50-game suspension to open the season, and it turned out he would only make it into 16 Oriole games and 43 all told as injuries took their toll, too. Steve even grabbed some AB’s in the Arizona Fall League, which added another 20 games to his total for 2018.

At 23-57 a little over a week later, June 29 marked the MLB debut of two Oriole pitchers, including onetime SotW Ryan Meisinger. Ryan ended up making 18 of his 50 appearances over the season with the Orioles, as the other 32 were split 21 with Norfolk and 11 with Bowie, where he began the season. His one ill-fated start would come into play for this Hall of Fame, as you’ll shortly see.

On August 10, the Orioles were 35-80 and had made their fire sale, shipping off three members of this Hall of Fame (Machado, Schoop, and Zach Britton) as well as three other veteran pitchers to acquire 15 (mostly) minor league players. One player who wasn’t sent away thanks to his 10-and-5 rights was Adam Jones, but he graciously stepped aside a few dozen yards to his left to allow for the big league debut of Cedric Mullins as he took over as everyday center fielder. Cedric got the most playing time out of this five-member class, appearing in 45 of the Orioles’ last 47 games.

Finally, on September 26 the 46-111 Orioles needed a starting pitcher to face Boston for the first game of a day-night doubleheader. They chose Ryan Meisinger, but his failure to complete even one inning left the door open for John Means to make his debut in that contest, his only appearance with the Orioles after logging a full season between Bowie and Norfolk. Means also became the first player not actually selected as a Shorebird of the Week to make this Hall of Fame – he was picked Shorebird of the Year in 2015 thanks to special accomplishments and a great body of work, similar to how Brenan Hanifee won this season despite not having a good enough single month to be selected as a Pitcher of the Month.

That, then, is the five-man Class of 2018 for the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. So what do I think 2019 will look like?

We are now getting to the point where the well is running dry on the seasons where I had weekly winners. Certainly there are a few from the most recent such seasons in 2014-16 who still have a good chance to make the grade, with the oft-injured Hunter Harvey leading the 2014 crop. Others from that team who played in AAA last season include Drew Dosch, Mike Yastrzemski, Luis Gonzalez, and Dylan Rheault in the Giants’ organization. Mitch Horacek, who is now Colorado Rockies property, has reinvented himself in the bullpen at the AA level and continued his season in the Arizona Fall League. Except for Harvey, though, none of these players are on a 40-man roster.

My 2015 group is now pretty much tapped out, with only Matthew Grimes having reached AAA among active players. Still toiling in AA are dueling center fielders Ademar Rifaela and Jay Gonzalez, who is now in the Diamondbacks’ organization. Similarly, the most prominent prospects in the 2016 class are Ryan Mountcastle and Jesus Liranzo, who now pitches for the Pirates’ AAA club after two teams tried to sneak him through waivers.

Out of the rest, Ryan McKenna (who could be my first Shorebird of the Month to make the Show) isn’t one to sleep on, either, nor is pitcher Brendan Kline from way back in 2013. And there are still a handful of other graybeards kicking around the higher end of the minors like Adrian Marin (2013, and a minor league free agent), Wynston Sawyer (2012, a member of the Twins’ chain last season), Jarrett Martin (2011, now with the Oakland organization), and the unsinkable Garabez Rosa, my second-to-last active player from 2010 (the other being SotWHoF member Ty Kelly.)

If I were to select the top 5 most likely out of that group, I would say Ryan Mountcastle is the most likely bet although he would probably not be first up. I could see a team like the Pirates take a chance on Jesus Liranzo (as he is on their 40-man roster) before Mountcastle makes his debut, but most of these guys seem like the September callup types, particularly Brendan Kline or Ryan McKenna. And there’s almost always a surprise in the bunch like a Scott Copeland, Michael Ohlman or Nicky Delmonico, guys whose star had fallen for a time and who ended up debuting with other organizations. My sleeper pick in that regard is Dylan Rheault.

That doesn’t mean we’ll have five in the Class of 2019, but I can see anywhere from 3 to 7 depending on how much new GM Mike Elias likes the players in his newly adopted organization. I keep saying this but at some point it will be true: we are running out of potential for large classes of six or more. I think that window shuts after 2019 if it’s not already closed, since the best team we had for prospects (2014) has little left on the shelf.

So simultaneous to this post coming online, the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame is again open for business.

Perhaps I will stoke up the hot stove in January with a thought experiment: since it now has 40 players, how would a SotWHoF roster do in a full season? Stay tuned.

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2018 edition

On August 30, the Delmarva Shorebirds were in a precarious position. But thanks to the prospect of free stuff through a Fan Appreciation Night raffle and a rare Thursday night fireworks show, a crowd of over 6,000 gathered to send the team off to its final road trip to Lakewood. Thus, by a margin of 1,330 fans the Shorebirds avoided their first-ever season where fewer than 200,000 attended the games.

One could blame the locally subpar spring and summer weather – a chilly April turned into a rainy summer that always seemed to time precipitation for the weekends – for the drop-off from last season’s attendance of 207,131. But you can’t do anything about the weather and we still managed 65 openings, 2 more than the league average. The 3,097 per-game average was the second-lowest in franchise history, besting only the 3,072 in 2011.

Honestly, though, I don’t believe weather was the deciding factor.

If you ask me – and by reading this it’s assumed you want my opinion as a renewed half-season ticket holder – the problem lies with the onfield product.

Over the weekend, with a little downtime from spending it with my grandson and his side of my family, I did a little catching up on the SAL to find that Lexington pulled a bit of an upset to win the SAL flag in four games over Lakewood. It was the end of a decade-plus drought for the Legends and it put Delmarva in yet another unique but dubious position: thanks to Lexington’s winning the second half SAL South title it meant that since 2013 every other franchise in the SAL has been in the playoffs at least once. And if you toss out Augusta (last appearance in 2013) the other twelve have made at least once it in just the last four seasons. Toss darts at a dartboard and you should get that sort of probability given two teams from each seven-team division qualify each year, so we must have a special kind of bad karma to miss the playoffs thirteen seasons in a row, and counting.

So I think it’s safe to say that the on-field product provided by the Orioles is lacking, especially since not a single one of their seven minor-league affiliates made the post-season this year. And it’s not just recent history: our “feeder” team in Aberdeen has made the NY-Penn League postseason exactly once in 17 seasons, only to be bounced out in the opening round. (That 2013 Ironbird team had six future SotW Hall of Fame players on the regular roster, as it comprised the base of our 2014 Shorebird team that has the most members of the SotWHoF.) Of course, we’re not going to scrap the Oriole affiliation any time soon so we have to hope that a renewed focus on Baltimore’s international scouting and player development bears fruit 2-3 years from now when these young players reach the full-season A-ball level.

But I also believe their development program is wrong. There are some franchises that develop players as individuals, and some that seem to emphasize winning more. Unfortunately, the “Oriole Way” hasn’t been a winning way since the halcyon days of a half-century ago.

I sat down with one of my favorite websites (Baseball-Reference.com) and did some research on how Oriole affiliates fared in the era when the Orioles were regularly successful – basically from the early 1960’s to the early 1980’s. As they went, oftentimes so did their affiliates:

Their lowest-level team in Bluefield had the Appalachian League’s best record or won its division 6 times in 14 seasons from 1963-76.

At the time, their A ball team was in Miami (before MLB expansion gave that city the latter-day edition of the Miami Marlins) and the Marlins/Orioles won their Florida State League division 8 times in 11 seasons from 1968-78.

At the AA level, the affiliation moved several times during that era: from Elmira, New York, then of the Eastern League (1963-68), to Dallas-Fort Worth of the Texas League/Dixie Association (1969-71, until the Washington Senators relocated to that metroplex and became the Texas Rangers), then on to Asheville of the reformed Southern League (1972-75) before the franchise moved to Charlotte for the 1976 season, remaining in the Southern League. But in 14 seasons their AA affiliate was 1st or 2nd in their division 11 times.

Finally, at the AAA level Rochester made the International League playoffs (top 4 qualify) 10 times in 11 seasons from 1966-76.

Obviously at that time the “Oriole Way” was as much about winning games and division/league titles as it was player development. Now they seem to be happy with winning a random league title now and then, and it seems like random doesn’t come our way: we get good players for a few weeks and they are gone to Frederick.

I believe winning comes from a culture where you are expected to win: look at the Patriots or Steelers in the NFL or, closer to home, Salisbury University’s lacrosse program. They don’t seem to accept anything less than a winning effort. The Orioles seem to be fine with developing a player like Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, or Trey Mancini every year or two (or guys that they trade away for a rare playoff push like Josh Hader, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Zach Davies) but maybe at the expense of the organization players who make up good teams.

So a sea change in attitude at the top is first on the wish list. Now I want to focus a little more locally.

As a half-season ticket holder, I have to say I’m very satisfied with the flexibility I have. Sometimes Kim wants to go to a game so the exchange policy is great – I don’t mind taking a vacation from my spot sometimes. The staff will generally bend over backwards for me, too. And aside from keeping some of the lame video promotions, I do like what they are doing with the interactive aspect of the now two-year-old videoboard. The “Shore Report” is a neat feature made possible by the investment in video equipment, so we can all “turn and watch it go!”

But I have to say that my other big complaint is the food, which has been a pan of mine for at least the last couple years. I don’t often eat at the ballpark, but on those occasions when I did I was too often disappointed with the quality and freshness of what I was served. For example, a hot dog would come with a stale bun, or the fries were too salty.

Adding to the frustration was the lack of availability of some products. A slice of the specialty pizza sounded good – but it wasn’t available that night. I wanted a lid for my souvenir cup, but they were out.

And then I heard horror stories about the wait time on some nights, particularly the scrapple night. Kim got a scrapple sandwich that she had to take back. I think it literally took her 2 1/2 to 3 innings to get back to her seat for a sandwich she still wasn’t really satisfied with. Granted, it was a special night and newly-created menu but that seems to me an issue with management not preparing staff properly.

A bad experience like that, along with a mediocre team that faded not once, but twice, after great starts, isn’t the best way to put casual fans in the seats. Granted, I don’t mind it so much when it’s just the diehards like me but if it comes down to having just them we eventually have an empty stadium because there are fewer and fewer rabid fans each season. Go and count the empty seats in Baltimore for one of their games of late to see what I mean – two straight losing seasons (as well as 14 of the previous 19) and the prospect of rebuilding from just about scratch thanks to a barren minor league system have taken their toll on attendance and interest. A humdrum, bottom-feeding team that plays at a stadium that doesn’t seem to have a great deal to offer in either food or amenities isn’t going to draw well, either. How many of those kids and families who get the “Hit the Books” free tickets in April and May come back over the summer?

However, with the promised construction of the 360-degree concourse on the horizon this off-season, we now have new opportunities for food and entertainment. And maybe it’s time to re-imagine things on an even broader scale.

If the new concourse is designed properly, not only does it open up the possibility of new and different vendors in those locations (imagine covered areas with local vendors, similar in style to a food truck) but even a venue for post-game concerts and entertainment. I know I’ve spoken to Chris Bitters about this as it related to another topic, but maybe it doesn’t necessarily have to be the full-blown shows of years past – maybe a diet of local solo performers can be the impetus to bigger and better things down the road.

And down the road is what I’m thinking of for the broader scale. What if that location were the linchpin of a new entertainment venue?

Once upon a time, I was part of a big dream: the idea of creating a hotel and office park along Hobbs Road, straddling the exit ramp from U.S. 13. Because of the work I helped to do, there’s infrastructure in place to develop the site, even though the collapse of the building market prevented further development a decade ago. They are discussing the site for usage as a new Sheriff’s office, but I must say to waste the opportunity for developing this site as an eating and entertainment venue to complement Perdue Stadium would be criminal.

One reason downtown stadiums are favored is this very opportunity to develop an year-round entertainment district in an area that has the infrastructure in place. My hometown has something along that line: just down the way from Fifth Third Field (home of the Mud Hens) is the Huntington Center, where the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye play. The two were built about seven years apart, but they function as a way to stretch the season for entrepreneurs who want to serve the half-million-plus Mud Hen fans in the summer and over a quarter-million Walleye hockey “finatics” in the fall and winter. (This doesn’t count the other events the Huntington Center hosts, such as concerts.)

But because Perdue Stadium isn’t close to downtown and plans to replace the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center at the stadium site have been shelved, the synergy has to come from something else. It’s obviously a more modest goal, but why couldn’t the LLC that owns the Shorebirds buy those nearby parcels (there are two, owned by the same LLC) and use their connections to bring in two to three attractions that can feed off having the stadium there? (This is where I would have loved to have a fall league team like the onetime Maryland Fall League that featured the Delmarva Rockfish, to give an extra 20 dates a year for the stadium.) Even some places that a family can go to in the afternoon before the game or a couple can go to afterward would be nice.

Another possibility: the new concourse becomes the passage between the stadium and a new building along the right field line. [Granted, this is a homage to Toledo’s Fifth Third Field (pictured below), although our version need only be tall enough to have the seating and deck overlooking the field.]

If the Orioles can have fireworks in downtown Baltimore, I’m sure something can be worked out in that event.

Certainly I’m glad the Shorebirds are finally going to get the 360-degree concourse they’ve been talking about for the last half-decade. But that should be just the beginning of rebuilding the team both on and off the field to bring back those days where a Shorebird ticket was a hot commodity.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2018 season wrapup

If you can say anything about the Delmarva Shorebirds of 2018, you could say: what a tease.

The team began the season by sweeping its initial seven-game homestand over Asheville and Hickory, being the second-to-last team in minor league baseball to lose its initial game of the season. (Thanks to a couple early weather-related cancellations, the Midwest League’s Cedar Rapids Kernels made it two more days, but were only 6-0 to start.)

But as the season progressed, they reverted to mean in both halves after quick starts – they began the second half 16-9, which was an even longer tease. The Shorebird nine, however, managed to finish with their third winning season in the last four with a 68-66 final record. It left them 17 games in arrears to division champion Lakewood, who won both halves and is currently playing Lexington for the league title.

So how did they stack up this year? As usual, I’ll go through the numbers first:

  • A .250 team batting average put them smack in the middle of the league. Bear in mind it was closer to .260 at the halfway point, though.
  • 587 runs was good for sixth position, as was the 1,120 hits.
  • We were a little more challenged on power: 214 doubles finished tenth in the loop, and they were eighth with 31 triples – exactly the same as 2017. (However, Mason McCoy tied for the league lead with 10 three-baggers.)
  • 81 home runs left the Shorebirds eleventh in the league.
  • Scoring seemed to be up through the league: the Shorebirds were 8th with 523 runs batted in.
  • Eighth was enough for total bases with 1,639.
  • We drew 365 walks, which ranked 9th in the SAL.
  • Unlike last year’s whiff-happy team, Delmarva had the fourth-fewest strikeouts in the league with 1,066.
  • As has often been the case, we don’t steal a lot: the team was 12th overall with 77 stolen bases in 107 attempts. But 30 times caught was the fewest in the league. And imagine the placement if we didn’t have the loop’s top base thief in Kirvin Moesquit, who had 49 of the 77.
  • Our .313 on-base percentage was eleventh but the .365 slugging percentage was ninth. With those numbers our OPS of .679 split the difference for tenth place.

Our pitching was the team’s strength: we finished third in the league in team ERA with a 3.39 mark.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 10 shutouts tied for seventh in the loop.
  • We tied for 11th in saves with 30.
  • 1161 1/3 innings pitched was 11th.
  • We only allowed 992 hits, which was second-fewest to Lakewood’s 979 – remarkable since they played four more games. We were third-fewest in runs allowed with 527 runs but somehow 437 earned runs we gave up was fourth-fewest.
  • Trailing only Lakewood again, we allowed just 68 home runs (vs. 63 for the BlueClaws.)
  • While we only had 68 hit batters (good for fourth-fewest) we were way down in eleventh with 401 walks allowed.
  • Once again our staff had a nice, round number of strikeouts with 1,100 – this season it was 11th in the league.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) of 1.20 was third best. An average number of walks may have won the league.

With 120 errors (third-fewest) and a .976 aggregate fielding percentage our defense was the bronze-medal winning one.

Unfortunately, the Orioles were one of only a handful of teams who had no playoff qualifiers in their minor league system, although Delmarva, Aberdeen, and Norfolk were contenders. However, Norfolk faded to a 69-71 mark by losing 8 of its last 10, while Aberdeen finished two games out of the money (and last in its division) despite a 38-37 mark. Other teams in the Orioles chain: Bowie slipped to a 67-71 record, Frederick was only 65-72, and the GCL Orioles were a grisly 13-42, losing their last 10 in a row to secure the league’s worst mark. Across the water, the Orioles’ DSL team was the best out of the bunch with a 38-34 record; however, many of their players were DSL veterans or retreads signed after stints with other teams and not likely to be coming stateside. 2019 may be a better year on that front as the Orioles have vowed to rebuild their moribund international scouting and signing process.

Now it’s time for a review of my Shorebird Position Players and Pitchers of the Month.

April player – Zach Jarrett

If I did a Shorebird of the Year based on half a season, Jarrett would have been the odds-on favorite to win in June – at the time he was slashing .313/10/38/.883 OPS. Hold those numbers for the second half and you have a guy who is top 5 in the league in all four categories.

Unfortunately, Zach’s great April faded severely in the second half, and although he still made the league’s top 10 in average, he showed where his weaknesses were – striking out a team-leading 136 times. The one piece of good news in that aspect was that he fanned fewer times in more ABs in the second half, although 65 in 258 at-bats is still pretty high. For the season Zach ended up with a .277 batting average, 14 home runs, 72 RBI, and a .779 OPS. It was good enough to win the team’s Triple Crown, although he shared the RBI title with Trevor Craport.

While Zach’s fielding numbers were fairly average, he did have the versatility to play on a somewhat regular basis in all three outfield spots and led the Shorebird outfielders with eight assists. But his leadership in the league (in or around the top 20 in most categories) seemed to come from repetition rather than ability. He’s not going to leap too far onto a prospect list given the type of season he had combined with his being in his age-23 season and a late-round draft pick in the 28th round last season. However, he improved greatly on a lackluster rookie campaign with Aberdeen so there could be more potential there.

Zach has the same sort of profile as the April 2017 Position Player of the Month, Jake Ring. But he will have to do better than Jake did at Frederick this season – Ring hit just .196 in 74 games with the Keys in an injury- and ineffectiveness-plagued 2018 season – to escape the “organization player” tag. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star, SAL Post-Season All-Star, Shorebirds Fan Club Player of the Half)

April pitcher – Zac Lowther

Not only did I select a similar April Position Player of the Month to the 2017 version, the Pitcher of the Month was nearly a lookalike, too – both bespectacled left-handers. But unlike Alex Wells in 2017, the Orioles didn’t keep Lowther here all season – before May was out Zac was promoted to Frederick on the strength of six starts where he went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and 0.68 WHIP, holding hapless opposing hitters to a .115 average while posting a 51-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

While the Frederick numbers were not quite as dominant, Lowther – who played in his age-22 season this year – still set himself up for a start at Bowie next spring by going 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 92 2/3 innings. He allowed only 74 hits and walked 26 while striking out an even 100 batters. That number was just one fewer than Wells and 19 fewer than team leader Christian Alvarado – but both threw 30 or more innings more than Lowther did. (Add his Delmarva numbers in and he’s the top strikeout pitcher in the Orioles’ minor league system.)

Naturally this sort of dominance would be expected from a top-round pick, and Lowther didn’t disappoint. Three of his six Delmarva starts were shutouts, and his first one at home against Hickory was a masterpiece: six no-hit innings with just one walk and thirteen (!) strikeouts. Hickory was his opponent for two of the shutouts, although they also touched him for two runs in his “worst” start of the six (allowing the 2 runs and 4 hits in six innings.) Over 18 innings he fanned 31 Crawdads, so I’m sure they were happy to see him promoted. Zac also victimized Hagerstown (the other shutout), Columbia, and Lakewood – although the BlueClaws beat him in a 2-1 game where he allowed the first run.

Lowther really has nothing to prove at the A-ball level, and since he played pretty much a full season with 123 2/3 innings he could easily handle a standard minor league workload of 140-150 innings plus perhaps a start or two in Baltimore if he has a worthy season in Bowie. (SAL Pitcher of the Week 4-22-18, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April)

May player – Trevor Craport

May was actually the first of two times Trevor was selected, and his season was defined by how his months went: the two months where he was Shorebird of the Month he set the world on fire, while the other three months were barely pedestrian. Take away the high and low scores and you find Trevor had a reasonable 2018 campaign, slashing .256/11/72/.736 OPS overall and gaining experience at three different positions: in the first half you could find Craport at third base, but he moved over more and more to first base when Seamus Curran was injured and once Curran returned Trevor found his spot was taken by Jean Carlos Encarnacion. So he backpedaled a few dozen steps and spent most of August as the Shorebirds’ left fielder. (When Zach Jarrett wasn’t there, the position was sort of a revolving door thanks to injuries, demotions, and callups.)

While Trevor had two very good months in his age-21 year (he turned 22 in August) there has to be a little bit of concern about the falloff in production from his initial season at Aberdeen, where Trevor slashed ,302/3/30/.857 OPS in 52 games. It goes without saying that consistency would be his measuring stick for next season, whether it begins back here or up in Frederick. Craport’s numbers are most likely good enough for advancement, and as third basemen in the SAL go Trevor was average to a little bit above as far as fielding goes. He wasn’t flashy but he got the job done.

Obviously there are two paths that Craport can take – if he can keep a .260 or so average and move around the diamond, there’s always a place for a super-utility player. Or, if he stays at one position and brings his offensive numbers back up closer to his Aberdeen numbers, there’s the potential for quickly moving up. Honestly, if he had an average where Jarrett’s is, Trevor could make a strong case for Shorebird of the Year because he shows a little bit of pop and has a much better eye at the plate than Zach does – contact in those situations is what got him even with Jarrett in RBI despite a lower average and OPS. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star)

May pitcher – Matthias Dietz

This was the season Dietz had to shake off his reputation as an early-round bust. Repeating at Delmarva this season, Matthias turned around a 3-10, 4.93 ERA campaign in 2017 in 13 Delmarva starts. Before being promoted at the end of June, Matthias was 6-2 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.40 WHIP for the Shorebirds. A lot of his good numbers came from two consecutive and dominant starts in May where he shut down both Hagerstown and Lakewood over 13 innings, allowing no runs on a total of six hits. More importantly, in the game against Lakewood he walked no one – if there’s been a complaint about Dietz over his career, it’s that propensity to lose the feel for throwing strikes and walking a couple runners on. But in those thirteen starts, Matthias finally got his hits allowed under the total innings pitched and – for the most part – he had kept walks to a reasonable rate.

Upon his promotion to Frederick, though, Matthias struggled once again. The walks returned with a vengeance, so much so that by season’s end Dietz had allowed more walks than innings pitched for the Keys (39 walks in 38 1/3 innings.) Add in 40 hits and you receive a 1-6 record and a 7.98 ERA, with a WHIP over 2 – 2.06 to be exact. By season’s end Dietz was out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen as a long reliever, although it didn’t help his cause any with the exception of securing his lone Frederick win.

Perhaps repeating Frederick the way he repeated Delmarva will improve his numbers the second time around. And it’s not like there’s a great deal of need to rush Dietz through the system as he just pitched his age-22 season. Yet I suspect that if Matthias can’t find a good way to repeat his delivery and be more consistent, he may never make it past Frederick in the Orioles’ system. Walks will nick you up at this level and lay on a few good-sized dents at advanced-A, but they will start to really kill you at AA. Next season is definitely sink or swim time for Dietz. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May)

June player – Branden Becker

Back when I wrote my profile of Becker in early July I noted:

(W)hile he seems like a veteran, Becker is still only 21 so he has time to keep developing and hopefully repeat the kind of month June was for him. Keeping that average where it is now (it was .270 at the time) as he pretty much doubles his current total of plate appearances the rest of the way (since he was a bench player to start, he’s only played in 54 of the Shorebirds’ 80 games so far and they have 57 remaining on the schedule) is the key – he’s really not behind on the development clock.

While Becker only played in 93 games for the season, he indeed managed to hold his average at the .270 mark, finishing the season on a 19-for-53 tear his last 13 games to slash a solid .273/4/41/.680 OPS. But his bread and butter was his versatility around the infield, playing 39 games at second base, 30 games at third base, and seven at short. He even served as the DH 18 times. Even more importantly, after a lost 2017 season Branden managed to stay healthy for most of the season.

Unlike a lot of other players who fall into being the utility guy when their career is well underway, Branden has played the role for most of his pro career. Granted, you lose a little bit of fielding prowess with Becker compared to a starter, but the falloff isn’t that steep – that’s what makes a utility player valuable and keeps him around.

As a lower-round draft pick that eschewed a college offer to try his luck playing pro ball, nothing is going to be handed to Becker. But with the season he had coming off an injury, Branden certainly deserves the chance to move to the next level.

June pitcher – Timothy Naughton

Naughton had a month of June that was good enough to take the monthly honors, but afterward he plummeted back to earth by giving up 12 ER in his last 18 1/3 innings from July on. That 5.89 ERA from July 1st made his seasonal numbers one of the worst sets on the team – while he had a 3-4 record and picked up five saves, the 4.45 ERA and 1.79 WHIP aren’t numbers you want to see from your closer. It’s a long way from being the closer for the GCL Orioles last season to this level and Tim continued to have occasional control issues. His K/BB ratio of 21-to-12 in just 17 2/3 innings last season wasn’t great, so a 33-to-22 ratio in 32 1/3 innings isn’t something to write home about, either.

And while Naughton didn’t give up an earned run in nine consecutive appearances spanning the month of June (the streak began in late May with his second appearance on the team) that streak became a three-game string of allowing earned runs beginning in July. All told, Tim gave up runs in eight of his last 14 appearances. It gave me the sense that they were using Tim as the pitcher of last resort.

To me, Tim is like Matthias Dietz in that he’s beginning to look like a career minor leaguer because they can’t maintain their command of pitches. The big difference, though, is that Dietz is playing with a whole lot more house money as a early-round selection than Naughton has being chosen in the 34th round – most players picked there are either high school players with college offers that a team takes a chance on signing, or players with one or two really good tools that the selecting club hopes they can develop to a high enough level to make up for deficiencies. (The last 34th round pick to make the Show is Astros pitcher Josh James, a 2014 selection who debuted this month. That tells you the odds against such a late-rounder.)

Next season, though, is Tim’s age-23 season so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Orioles give him one more shot here. He has some good stuff, but needs to flash it on a more regular and dependable basis.

July player – Mason McCoy

Mason was another player on the move during the season, shifting over from shortstop to second base with the arrival of Cadyn Grenier straight off the Oregon State campus. But while Grenier was highly touted for his defensive skills, it was McCoy who outshined the new kid in both fielding percentage and range factor, finishing as one of the top defensive shortstops in the SAL. Both players committed 10 errors at short, but it took McCoy 89 games to make them compared to Grenier’s 39.

So when you add the stellar defense to a good, if not overly spectacular, season at the dish you have a Shorebird of the Month and perhaps a dark-horse contender for Shorebird of the Year. Sure, the slash line of .266/4/47/.701 OPS is pretty plain-Jane but it turned out to be third among the qualifiers in average. McCoy even turned out to be a nice secondary threat on the basepaths with 13 stolen bases – not a Kirvin Moesquit, but enough to be a pesky threat opposing pitchers can’t summarily dismiss.

However, McCoy is another player who failed to put up the sort of offensive season he did the previous season at Aberdeen, dropping from a .301 average and .791 OPS to .266 and .701, respectively. Seeing that 2018 was Mason’s age-23 season, he probably should be advanced but the question will almost certainly be whether the offensive numbers slide further at the higher level. There’s also the question of whether he will return to short at the next level since the Orioles may be willing to push Grenier despite a subpar batting mark in his first pro season. The honest shake should go to McCoy.

July pitcher – DL Hall

As you may recall, this kid was on fire in July. Somehow we managed to hold on to him through our abortive playoff chase (not that Frederick was going anywhere, either) and Hall pitched an August that was nearly as good. DL was a victim of the old five-inning rule on a few occasions and the casualty of an occasionally stagnant Shorebird offense at others – that’s why a 2-7 win-loss mark looks so bad. There’s an intriguing statistic at play here: Delmarva was just 8-14 in Hall’s starts, including a 10-loss streak that was finally snapped when DL got his elusive first pro win on July 11. (This was the game after his start in the no-no that wasn’t on July 5 – nine hitless innings, six by Hall and three by Alex Katz, were lost in the 10th against Hagerstown on a sacrifice bunt-turned single that led to a run scoring on a wild pitch.)

Hall showed a moxie beyond his 19 years (the youngest Shorebird of the… honoree in quite some time) in being so effective. And despite the fact he only threw 94 1/3 innings, the fact that his last 12 appearances came with an ERA of 0.94 and WHIP of almost 1 even would suggest he’s just about done with the level. DL turned out to be the only Shorebird this season to fan 100 batters, although it’s likely that Lowther or Michael Baumann would probably have also struck out that many with a full season.

Yet even with the great last two months DL had, his preceding two were a little more average. Then again, that’s an average that would be a solid season for most pitchers. And because he is so young, there is a sense that the sky ls the limit for Hall: to see him next season it may be time to begin following the Carolina League. However, even though the Orioles are historically bad there no reason to rush the player I’m selecting as my Prospect of the Year. (I know, such a stretch there, right?) Hall is another possible SotY contender. (SAL Pitcher of the Week 7-8-2018 and 7-15-2018, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for July)

August/September player – Trevor Craport

There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said already about my lone two-time winner this season.

August/September pitcher – Max Knutson

The nice thing about my August winners is that they are already finished with their season, so the stats I cite are their final ones. Yet it is fun to write once again the following season stats for Knutson: 39 innings pitched, 16 hits allowed, opposing batter average was a .122 mark. Even “Crush” Davis wasn’t doing that poorly in his mid-season funk. Yes, 18 walks are a little worrisome in the overall presentation and he was pitching in his age-23 season after repeating Aberdeen in 2016 and 2017, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the weak contact.

Seeing that Max had more two- and three-inning appearances this season, it has to be wondered if they are grooming him to be a starter or just giving him an opportunity to work on more secondary pitches. I think really the only thing that holds Max back next season is if Frederick’s staff becomes loaded with prospects. One final piece of his puzzle is pitching in cold weather, but as I noted in my SotM segment he should be somewhat used to it.

I think the best way to evaluate Knutson is to let him pitch a full season someplace, since that seems to be the only hurdle he needs to overcome. After that he can either be progressed through the later innings in the quest to find a reliable closer or, if he develops really good secondary pitches, the shot at being in the rotation.

*********

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
  • 2016 – Yermin Mercedes
  • 2017 – Alex Wells

It seems like this was one of the years where a few obvious choices fell away, mainly because they were promoted. Had TJ Nichting, Michael Baumann, or Zac Lowther stayed here and continued putting up great numbers, one of them would have been a runaway winner. Nor can you sleep on Cameron Bishop or Brenan Hanifee, neither of whom had a month overwhelming enough to become a Shorebird of the Month, but who each  put up bodies of work that can’t be denied. Bishop was 9-7, 2.94 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 125 2/3 innings, while Hanifee was right behind with 8-6, 2.86 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in a team-leading 132 innings. While DL Hall was the show horse of the staff, Bishop and Hanifee were the work horses.  And don’t forget Nick Vespi, who thrived in his relief role: 6-6, 2.09 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in a team-leading 40 appearances. Vespi was a close runner-up for Shorebird of the Month honors several times.

On the other hand, there were really very few contenders among the position players that I overlooked. You already read about Trevor Craport and Zach Jarrett, but perhaps the best non-SotM winner – one who deserves consideration for Shorebird of the Year, too – is Kirvin Moesquit. His offensive numbers weren’t as dominant as the others, but he added an element missing in the Orioles’ system that they are rediscovering at the major league level thanks to the acquisition of Jonathan Villar – speed. Kirvin’s fleet feet allowed him to steal a league-leading 49 bases, so he merits consideration for that, too.

The problem with solely basing a Shorebird of the Year on those who are Shorebirds of the Month is that long-term consistency isn’t rewarded. Moreover, there is the (very accidental) precedent of going “off the board” as I did in 2015 with John Means – honestly, he was the best player and I thought I had picked him for a weekly slot. For example, with two of the five pitchers who were Shorebirds of the Month promoted quickly after their selection, one being relatively new to the team, and one putting up subpar numbers for the season, that didn’t leave me with much to choose from.

It really came down to four players for me: Cameron Bishop, Brenan Hanifee, Zach Jarrett, and Kirvin Moesquit. After a lot of pondering, I figured out who was the most consistent performer: our 4th round selection in 2016 out of Tucker Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Virginia.

The 2018 Shorebird of the Year: Brenan Hanifee. Just call him Mr. Consistency.

So it’s a member of the Shorebirds’ battery for the fifth season in a row. A lot of deserving players, but I think I picked the best one – even if he flew under the radar a little bit, overshadowed by teammates who were slightly higher draft picks or more precocious (even though this was Hanifee’s age-20 season.)

Next week is the return of picks and pans, and that will close out the books on the 2018 campaign until I induct my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2018 in early December.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2018

With one repeat performer and one new guy, it’s time to close out this year’s edition of Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month. Lumping the three September games in with August did change things up slightly among the contenders, but both of these players are deserving of their accolades.

While it wasn’t as torrid of a month at the plate as he had in May, I once again found Trevor Craport had the most solid month. (On day 2 of the month, he hit this home run that I caught the aftermath of for the photo.) It was not the flashiest of months for the 2017 11th round pick out of Georgia Tech, who celebrated his 22nd birthday during August – had they reversed the roadtrip they were on at the time, he could have celebrated at the SAL venue closest to his home (Rome, which isn’t a long trip from Norcross, Georgia.) But he had a significant enough lead in one key category that it tipped the scales his way over April winner Zach Jarrett.

As the season began, Trevor was pegged as the regular third baseman, but thanks to circumstances over the second half of the season he’s been a nomad. First Trevor took over Seamus Curran’s first base platoon role as Curran was injured and then briefly demoted to Aberdeen. But when August began, Curran was back and there was a new presence at third base as Jean Carlos Encarnacion joined the squad from the Rome Braves as part of the Kevin Gausman trade. Craport’s debut in left field came on the 5th of August, and he played all but 2 of the remaining 21 contests he participated in out in left field.

Perhaps settling in at a position he could reclaim as his own inspired Trevor’s bat, as he broke a two-month hex at the plate with a .280/1/11/.761 OPS mark from August 1 onward. In fact, he was the only Shorebird regular with an OPS over .700 for that period as the squad endured a serious batting funk during the second half of the season.

With the season now complete and two SotM honors under his belt, Trevor is definitely in the running for Shorebird of the Year. On a longer term, it’s pretty likely he will be somewhere in the Frederick lineup come 2019.

On the other hand, one solid month may not quite be enough to push Max Knutson on to the next level. It’s not that he pitched badly – even though August wasn’t his best month statistically, Knutson’s 3 wins and allowing just 3 earned runs over 22 2/3 innings after August 1 was enough to prevail this time around. (It turned out the three shutout innings in his September appearance along with a blowup from fellow reliever Diogenes Almengo pushed Knutson to the honor.)

But sometimes the Orioles don’t think a half-season at a particular level is enough, particularly as Knutson (a 12th round selection in 2016) toiled in Aberdeen for two straight seasons and came here after extended spring – he didn’t break camp with Delmarva, only arriving in early June. (Alas, it was a little too late for him to contend for Shorebird of the Year, which requires roster availability for 2/3 of the season.)

So what was so special about August for the 23-year-old Knutson? It began with his first win of the season when he pitched three near-perfect innings against Charleston on the 3rd to secure the comeback win – his only blemish was a walk. Six of his nine August/September outings were scoreless, but in the other three where he was touched up for runs, he limited damage to a single tally. The month also concluded a campaign where Max set a career high for innings pitched but continued to improve on his ERA and WHIP: the 1.15 of his ERA would be a pretty good WHIP number, but Max put up an outstanding 0.87 WHIP, aided by the fact he allowed a nearly absurd 16 hits in 39 innings. That’s the sort of territory you would find onetime Shorebird and current Milwaukee Brewer All-Star reliever Josh Hader in. All told, batters hit a puny .122 off Knutson this season – and August was his worst month, as batters somehow found an extra hit or two to sneak the mark up to .132 for the month.

If there is one complaint about Max to hold him back, it would be his walk numbers. They’re not terrible by any means, but 18 walks in 39 innings at this level becomes half again as many when batters are more selective at higher levels. Add in the fact that he hasn’t made it through the grind of a complete regular season yet, and this is why Max may repeat the level here like he did at Aberdeen, at least for the first month or two. You haven’t really pitched until you’ve endured a low-40’s game with 200 in the stands at Delmarva. (Then again, as you may guess by the surname, Max is a Minnesota native who only went as far south as the University of Nebraska to pitch at the collegiate level. So cold weather may not be a drawback.)

It will be intriguing to see what they do with Knutson, since he was stretched out a career-high tying three innings on several occasions this season. Admittedly, I only saw him a couple times this season so I don’t know if his stuff would play as a starter. But there is a role for long relief on a team, and the Orioles actually don’t have a guy to consistently fill it right now.

So that is a wrap on Shorebird of the Month for 2018. Next week I will review the seasons for these nine players selected (five pitchers, four position players) as well as recap the Delmarva squad in general before selecting a Shorebird of the Year for 2018. The following week it’s my annual picks and pans, followed in early December with the installation of the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2018 – currently it’s a four-person class but there’s a decent chance it may get to five for this year.

And then we wait for April 4, 2019 when it all starts over again in Lexington.