Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2017

August 3, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

July was a month where the Shorebirds marched through Georgia like William Tecumseh Sherman, compiling their first perfect two-stop road trip in at least 12 years and coming home in first place. Unfortunately that lead has melted away like a gallon of ice cream left out in the sun, but the Shorebirds are enjoying unexpected success due in large part to the players honored here this month.

While Jake Ring took home honors in April, it was his two usual counterparts in the outfield, Cole Billingsley and Ryan McKenna, who were vying for the honor in July – seemingly trying to outdo each other at every turn. Billingsley was hitting an even .250 when the calendar turned to July, but his hot month improved his overall average to a more solid-looking .270 mark. However, while his average has gone up Billingsley has become more of a slap hitter, with just three extra-base hits in July leading to an OPS of  just .718. Thus, what tipped the scale to his teammate Ryan McKenna was the latter’s .319 batting average, 5 steals, and .824 OPS – by far his best of the season and way above his numbers for May and June. While Billingsley picked up his average 20 points in July, McKenna did even better by going from .231 to .254 in the month, recovering a large part of what he lost in a two-month slump. On that aforementioned road trip to Georgia, Ryan was a hot hand as he went 11-for-27 in the seven games, including four doubles. (Ryan had 11 doubles for the month.)

Ryan is an Oregon native who was drafted out of high school in New Hampshire two years ago as a fourth-rounder, so a lot is expected of him. With this being his first opportunity to play full-season ball, McKenna has set career marks in most of his categories already, but he has shown some improvement in his all-around game so he’s tracking to make the jump to Frederick next year as a 21-year-old (he will turn 21 just before camp opens next spring.)

Besides Billingsley, another batter who had a month worth noting (albeit in limited spot duty) was infielder Tanner Kirk, who brought his average up above the Mendoza Line with a little room to spare.

On the other hand, there was no contest on the pitching side of the equation and it netted me my first-ever repeat Shorebird Pitcher of the Month in Alex Wells.

Here are the brief lines from Alex’s five July starts:

  • vs. Lakewood, 7 innings, 3 hits, 5 strikeouts.
  • at Hickory, 6 innings, 2 hits, 4 strikeouts.
  • vs. Rome, 6 innings, 4 hits, 5 strikeouts.
  • at Rome, 6 innings, 1 hit, 5 strikeouts.
  • vs. Greensboro, 6 innings, 3 hits, 7 strikeouts.

I did not mention runs or walks because there were none. Wells has not allowed a run since June 30 and last walked a batter June 25. Brett Barbier, then of Lakewood, was the last batter to walk off Wells, and it turns out Wells’ streak has outlasted the remainder of Barbier’s pro career as he’s since been released.

In the category of “duh”, the Orioles also selected Wells as their Minor League Pitcher of the Month. So the question now becomes what will happen with him?

He’s on pace for six more starts this season, and it seems to me that as long as the Shorebirds have a chance at the postseason he should stay here. Barring rainouts, Wells is actually lined up just right to start the first game of a postseason series on normal rest. And it’s not like he doesn’t have things to work on, despite the recent success – one is a penchant for giving up the longball. (Wells has allowed 13 this season, and consider the team has given up 66 collectively.) At 114 innings, the Orioles may also want to slow his workload down as well, so he may be cut back to 5 inning starts or skip a turn along the way.

In either case, when you have an ERA of 0 and a WHIP that comes in at 0.42 for the month, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be my pitcher of the month, again.

One more month and then we’ll line ’em up and pick a Shorebird of the Year.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: June 2017

July 13, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: June 2017 

I promised when I did last month’s awards that this month I would do a first half in review, so here goes.

Over the last several years, our trend has been to have the better first half and fade in the second so the fact that we had a lackluster 29-39 first half that placed us 10 games in arrears to eventual leader Kannapolis doesn’t bode really well. And unlike a lot of other seasons I can recall, the team did not do a large-scale turnover at the All-Star break as no players were promoted to Frederick – those who were bound for Aberdeen had already long since left the scene. So there’s been little player movement since the second half began.

Statistically, the Shorebirds were a bottom-echelon team in most offensive categories, generally ranking outside the top 10 in the league. As far as pitching went, they were more toward the average but still tended toward the lower half. And the fact that there were no obvious standout players who just had to be promoted to Frederick says a lot about this team, which seems to be comprised of a large proportion of late-round draft picks for some reason. As of this writing, it’s worth noting that the top five hitters in average were respectively drafted in rounds 31, 19, 7, 21. and 15, while the best ERAs belong to pitchers drafted in rounds 33, 23, and 34 (three others were international free agents.)

So the fact that they are where they are in the standings may be reflective of their relative talent level compared to other squads loaded with blue-chip prospects. The success we may have will definitely be unexpected on paper, but it is why they play the games.

June provided a wide-open free-for-all competition for Player of the Month – there was no real standout. I could make legitimate arguments for four different players based on the factors of statistics, comparison to season performance as a whole, and comparison to expectations. Cole Billingsley, Rafael Palmiero, Alejandro Juvier, and Frank Crinella were all contenders for the prize, which Palmiero would have won in back-to-back months.

And while Alejandro Juvier started out July with a personal milestone, it was the great month preceding it that tipped the scales toward the Player of the Month honors for the versatile infielder. Juvier, who’s now played 53 games at second base, 17 at third base, and 5 at shortstop, hit a solid .288 in June (23-for-80) to lead the team in hitting, chipping in four doubles, a triple, and a home run with 8 RBI.  Stumbling along with a .221 average as the month began, Alejandro increased the mark to .244 by month’s end, setting monthly highs in most offensive categories and putting up a remarkable .760 OPS for the month (compared to a lifetime .595 mark.) Maybe the guy needs to shop for diamond rings more often.

It’s a significant improvement over the time he spent here last season, where he fell one AB short of the Mendoza line in 30 games, going 22-for-111 (a .198 average.) But aside from the 2015 season, where he somehow put together a slash line of .307/0/18/.742 OPS between the GCL Orioles (29 games) and Aberdeen (17 games), offense has been a challenge for the 21-year-old Cuban native whose family found its way to Miami and got Juvier into the Doral Academy Preparatory School, from which Juvier was drafted three years ago in the 15th round. (Juvier was the first player drafted from there; two others followed this year.) Alejandro carries only a .236 lifetime mark, and tossing out the aberrant 2015 season lowers it to a .220 number. So hitting over .280 for a stretch is big news, and worth celebrating. I’ve often noted that it sometimes takes a player a second time here to “get it,” but with perhaps the chance at another 200 or so plate appearances, Juvier could make a run at a nice mark around .260 with the same sort of effort.

Similarly to the position players, there were three pitchers I could have awarded this distinction to. It really came down to a trio who had good months in Lucas Humpal, Steven Klimek, and Matt Trowbridge – of the three, Humpal is the lone starter.

In the end, though, I opted to go with the best body of work overall and that belonged to Steven Klimek. Like Juvier, Steven spent a brief amount of time with the Shorebirds in 2016 and struggled, going 0-1 with a 6.10 ERA in 10 1/3 innings. In June Steven made seven appearances, allowing 2 runs on 10 hits in 11 2/3 innings for a 1.54 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. (The WHIP was low because Klimek walked no one while striking out 14. This goes with a 45-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the season, in 44 innings.)

Klimek had either a tie or lead in all seven appearances, and there was only one instance where he failed to keep it – Kannapolis scored a run on him June 12 to tie the game, but the Shorebirds would win it in extra innings. Thus, he had a win and two saves in the month as Klimek has become the guy for high-leverage situations. Not bad for a 33rd round draft pick out of St. Bonaventure two years ago. Klimek is actually my oldest SotM honoree for this nascent award as he’s already turned 23.

Over the years I have seen this type of pitcher a lot – a guy with pinpoint control at this level who has issues when promoted because batters become more selective. Obviously that will be a test for Klimek when he moves up, since I see no reason why he shouldn’t get a chance in the coming months. But bear in mind he struggled his first time here, so he was one of those that “got it” the second time too.

Now that I have my internet back, I should be able to resume my regular schedule and do July’s Shorebird of the Month on August 3.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: May 2017

June 8, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: May 2017 

Because I did a lot of explanation before introducing my April position player and pitcher of the month, I think I’ll stay with the trend for May and do my impressions on the season so far.

As it stands, the Shorebirds are tracking to be about the team I thought they would be when I found out that three of the top four picks in last season’s draft would bypass Delmarva and jump straight from Aberdeen to Frederick: how would this team look with Cody Sedlock and Keegan Akin in the rotation and Austin Hays in center field? I’m not sure they would flip their current record that has them well under .500 and already all but eliminated from the first half title with a couple weeks to go, but we would be much less mediocre.

When I looked up those players who were slated to make the Delmarva starting lineup, I cringed at their offensive production. One of the few saving graces I thought we would have was the fact the plan for Dariel Alvarez was to have him pitch once or twice a week as he learned that aspect of the game but stay in touch with the offensive end as a DH a couple games a week also. It would have been like having a guy on rehab all year (and bear in mind Joey Rickard hit .300 in his brief rehab stint here.) Alvarez wasn’t a slouch at the plate for the Orioles in his time there, so that would have been an interesting couple days a week and/or weapon off the bench. Alas, Alvarez blew out his arm so we may never know how it would have worked out.

I thought we would have a reasonably decent pitching staff, but with the exception of my April Pitcher of the Month Alex Wells, the rotation has been roughed up for much of the season. Aside from Wells, none of the five rotation mainstays have an ERA under 4.10 or a WHIP under the league average of 1.27. (Lucas Humpal is right on that mark, though.) Even our closer has an ERA over 4. It’s just a team that seems to languish in the bottom half of the league in a number of categories, including the number of blue-chip prospects that are playing right now.

Earlier this week we also learned who our three representatives to the SAL All-Star Game will be, and to no one’s surprise my April players of the month are two of the three – Alex Wells will pitch for the Northern Division team while Jake Ring will be a starting outfielder. They’re joined by Chris Clare, who’s the utility infielder of the group. However, while all three of them had good months in May, none of them were selected as my two honorees.

Instead, I went with two players who had hot hands in May; in particular my position player. This player had a May batting average over 100 points higher than his April mark and his OPS surged from .608 in April to .908 for the month of May. Based on a stellar month in which he batted .303/4/15/.908 OPS I selected Preston Palmiero as my Position Player of the Month for May.

It’s obvious that Palmiero has a bit of a legacy to uphold as a member of the Orioles’ organization, as his father had seven of his twenty very productive major league seasons in a Baltimore uniform. (Unlike his older brother Patrick, who played for three seasons in the White Sox organization and now plays with the independent Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, Preston was born while his father was an Oriole.) The younger Palmiero was also the higher draft pick, taken in the 7th round last season by the Orioles. (Worth noting: his brother Patrick was drafted out of high school by the Pirates, but did not sign. The White Sox signed Patrick as a free agent after college, so Preston obviously drew a lot more interest as he attended North Carolina State.)

Preston put up reasonable numbers in 34 games last season with Aberdeen, hitting .258/0/18/,622 OPS. It wasn’t going to set the world on fire, but I’m certain that Palmiero was ticketed for Delmarva this season all along unless he really struggled or shined with the IronBirds last season. And April was a mighty struggle for Preston, but May was a month he righted the ship, aided by a lot of road games – Palmiero has an extreme split in favor of games away from Perdue Stadium thus far, where he’s hitting .289/6/18/.941 OPS compared to .216/1/11/.575 OPS at home. It’s almost like he tries too hard here, but since the Shorebirds had so few home games in May it helped Preston out. Surely the numbers will begin to balance out, but for now his average is about where it was for Aberdeen and the trend is in a good direction.

If Preston hadn’t come on with such a good month, I would have had no problem giving the honor to Jake Ring again. He had a fairly solid month of May to go with a stellar April, and that’s why he’ll be an All-Star.

As for the May Pitcher of the Month, the seeds of his success began in April when he began a shutout streak that would take him deep into May and even through one spot appearance with the Frederick Keys. Francisco Jimenez had six consecutive shutout appearances that varied between 2 and 6 innings during the run, but for the month of May itself he was 2-0 with a 1.02 ERA and WHIP of 0.906. (Note that Baseball Reference does their splits among all levels, so this counts his one 3 2/3 inning appearance with Frederick. If you back out the Frederick innings the ERA goes up to 1.29 and WHIP to 0.929, which are still really, really good.)

In Francisco’s case, though, one could argue that he’s only come to master this level because he’s repeating it for the third time – he was he for the last few weeks of the 2015 season, all of 2016, and so far this season except for the quick dash to Frederick. But a point to consider is how many pitchers who succeed here struggle immediately on their promotion to the Keys, so that’s in Jimenez’s favor. Also. he’s had the flexibility to pitch as both a starter and reliever this year, although his background has been more geared toward a starting role.

Also doing well this past month on the bump and deserving mention are starting pitcher Matthias Dietz, who has bounced back to great extent after a terrible start, and relief pitcher Cody Dube. Both were top-10 picks last season so you would hope they have success at this level.

Finally, I wanted to point out that so far – with the exception of Wells, who is but 20 years old – all of my Shorebird of the Month selections are 22 years old, so they are right in line with expectations for excelling at this level. Once we reach the All-Star break, it will be interesting to see how the roster is shaken up as the team doesn’t appear to be a contender with the cast they have now. My June Shorebird of the Month selection will have a first half review as well.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2017

May 4, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2017 

After I decided to retire the Shorebird of the Week feature at the end of last season, I still felt something was in order to express my fandom and admiration. So I decided (after some thought) to do a Shorebird of the Month, then it occurred to me that both position players and pitchers should be so honored as most organizations that give awards such as those tend to do.

This award will be subjective to the point where it won’t just be based on statistics, but also on whether a player exceeded the expectations one could reasonably place on him. A good case in point was my Shorebird of the Year for 2016, Yermin Mercedes. Here was a guy who had been released by one team, went to play in the independent leagues to keep his dream alive and was rewarded by latching on with the Orioles organization. I knew he could hit based on his previous campaigns, but there were reasons to expect a so-so season from him last year: his numbers slipped when repeating a level for the third time in his previous organization, his best hitting season came in a league where hitting an even .300 would put you somewhat below the league average, and he only hit .272 the season before for the Shorebirds – quite solid for a catcher, but could he do that well a second time? He definitely exceeded my expectations by winning the SAL batting title.

I would expect a guy like Manny Machado (or Ryan Mountcastle from last year) to take the South Atlantic League by storm. And having seen enough 20th round or later picks come to this level and have their weaknesses exploited by opposing pitchers or hitters, I have a pretty good idea of what a player’s ceiling is expected to be. Go back seven years to the 2010 draft (which featured Manny Machado as the #1 pick) and you will find the Orioles drafted 49 players that season. Out of those 49 players, five made it to the majors: Machado (1st round), Parker Bridwell (9th round), Chi Chi Gonzalez (11th round), Scott Copeland (21st round), and Tim Adleman (24th round.) While Machado and Bridwell debuted with the Orioles, Gonzalez was not signed and was later a 1st round pick; meanwhile, both Copeland and Adleman were released by the Orioles in 2012 and made The Show with the teams that eventually signed them, Toronto and Cincinnati, respectively. Adleman played for two seasons in independent league baseball before the Reds snapped him up.

Just five other players from that Baltimore draft are still active in lower levels: Matt Bywater (7th round) was in the Braves’ organization and independent baseball last season, but hasn’t yet latched onto a team for 2017. Wynston Sawyer (8th round) was an Orioles’ farmhand until the end of last year, but now the six-year free agent plays in the Dodgers’ chain. Both Bywater and Sawyer have only advanced to AA ball.

The other three were high school players who opted to sign later when drafted by other clubs. Between those three active players, they have played a combined one game beyond the advanced-A level.

That covers just 10 players out of 49. Out of the other 39, seven did not sign with the Orioles, 2 made it to AAA Norfolk (34th rounder Sammie Starr – for one game – and 42nd rounder Jake Pettit), 4 never advanced past AA (rounds 3, 10, 17, and 30), 7 could not get past advanced-A (rounds 4, 5, 13, 14, 15, 18, and 28), 7 were stopped at Delmarva’s level (selections 22, 23, 29, 31, 37, 40, and 48) and a whopping 12 never broke out of rookie league, covering rounds 19, 20, 25, 26, 33, 35, 36, 38. 39. 43, 44, and 47.

To make a long story short, I would be as impressed if a 35th rounder comes in and can be about league average as I would be with a first rounder hitting .380 and home runs by the bushel. There’s also track record to consider as well, since we have had many players who finally “got it” at this level and went on to be successful.

There is one other note I want to pass along: to start, there are no photos attached. Eventually I will have photos of the players in question, but some pitchers are harder to get than others. Once I have photos from both I’ll add them to the post.

With all that introduction now out of the way, allow me to introduce you to my Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month for April, 2017.

The Player of the Month is outfielder Jake Ring.

After the Shorebirds’ initial road trip, Ring was hitting just .190 (4-for-21.) But he loved home cooking so much that in the seven-game opening homestand the Shorebirds had against Hagerstown and Greensboro Jake went an amazing 12-for-17 against the Suns and 4-for-11 versus Grasshopper pitching. Folks, that’s 16-for-28, or a .571 average with a homer, 12 RBI, and an absolutely mind-boggling OPS of 1.696 – the slugging percentage was also over 1.000 thanks to a total of 10 extra-base hits.

Overall in April Ring played in 20 games, hitting .359/3/19/1.085 OPS. As of this writing (through games of May 3) Ring is still second in the SAL in average, leads in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and the associated slugging percentage (he’s sixth in on-base percentage), third in doubles, tied for the lead in triples, tied for eighth in home runs, second in RBI, and second in total bases.

His season-opening exploits led Jake to be named 2017’s first SAL Player of the Week, covering April 4-14. It’s a far cry from the struggles he had with Delmarva at the tail end of last year, where he began his Shorebird career hitless in his first 10 at-bats before finally breaking through in the eighth inning of the season finale September 5. He would add another hit in the 10th inning of a game the Shorebirds won later that frame, finishing 2-for-12 in the three games. The 31st round selection from last year, out of Ingleside, Illinois by way of the University of Missouri, Jake spent the previous portion of the 2016 season hitting .278/0/21 in 53 games for the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League team – but that would be somewhat expected against a league where many of the players are either fresh from high school, coming from lightly-regarded or smaller college programs, or just arrived from the even more raw talent pools of the foreign summer leagues in various countries. The SAL is probably the appropriate challenge for Ring at this stage in his career.

Looking ahead, Jake could be here for a little while barring any injuries on Frederick’s roster – their outfield complement of Josh Hart, Austin Hays, Randolph Gassaway, and Ademar Rifaela is holding its own so far. Hart, Gassaway, and Rifaela should be familiar to Delmarva fans but Hays is a 3rd rounder from last season who bypassed Delmarva in his advancement. And while Jake has slowed down a little bit, hitting “just” .294 over his last ten games, keeping himself at or above .300 should merit him both a league All-Star bid and a mid-season promotion. Since he’s still only 22, there’s not a great deal of urgency to rush him along.

While Ring was a clear winner in this field, shortstop Chris Clare deserves honorable mention as well for a great month of April.

My Pitcher of the Month was a somewhat closer call, but I felt that putting together four excellent starts and being in the top five in league ERA was enough to give the nod to Alex Wells. Admittedly, I am buying a pig in a poke here because I haven’t seen either of his two home starts but so far Wells has a 2-1 record with a 1.11 ERA and WHIP of 0.945 (less than one baserunner an inning) based on just four walks and 19 hits allowed in 24 1/3 innings – meanwhile, he has struck out 20 in that stint. One thing those who attended either or both of his two home starts haven’t seen is Wells allowing an earned run – Lakewood scratched out an unearned run against him but Hagerstown was shut out.

Unlike Ring, Alex was challenged in his first pro season as he debuted last year with Aberdeen, going just 4-5 but with a 2.15 ERA in 13 starts there. Wells also has a more intriguing backstory as an Australian native whose twin brother Lachlan Wells pitches in the Minnesota Twins organization. (Somehow that fits, I suppose.) With one more season under his belt, Lachlan is pitching one level higher than Alex right now but they have very similar statistical profiles: low ERA, great strikeout/walk ratio, and capable of putting together fine games. In the case of Alex, all of his game scores (a statistic created by sabermetrics guru Bill James) are over 50, and two are over 65, suggesting a high-quality start. (The formula is somewhat cumbersome to explain, but a start that would match the minimum baseball definition of a “quality start” (3 earned runs or fewer in 6 innings or more) would net about 55 to 60 points, or an increase of 5 to 10 points over the 50 given to start. An absolutely perfect nine-inning game with 27 strikeouts would be 114 points, and the record for a nine-inning game is 105. Wells has a high score of 72 for his start at home against Lakewood (6 IP, 1 unearned R on 2 H, 6 K’s, no walks.)

Signed by the Orioles at the very end of the 2015 minor league season (and about 9 1/2 months after Lachlan), Wells was named as both an organizational and NYPL Midseason All-Star last season, all before he reached the age of 20. Baseball America also selected him as the 20th best NYPL prospect and 25th best Orioles prospect. The bespectacled Wells (both brothers wear glasses) has now pitched a total of 18 games for the Orioles’ brass and has started every one, compiling an overall ERA of 1.86.

So Wells has a pretty high ceiling, although one could definitely argue he’s simply meeting expectations. If he tracks as his twin brother did at this level last season, one could expect Alex to finish with a sub-2 ERA and stellar peripheral numbers such as WHIP and strikeout/walk ratio. While he has the potential to be moved up midstream, the Orioles can afford to take the time to develop Wells given their blue-chip young guns already in the rotation (although a left-hander would be a good companion to right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.) If the rotation and weather cooperate, the next time Wells should pitch here would be May 13 against Greenville.

Two pitchers who will get an honorable mention for beating expectations in their second tour of duty with the team are Steven Klimek and Jhon Peluffo. Both – but especially Peluffo – were batted around in their first stint here but have recovered nicely to start 2017.

With that, welcome to this new chapter. It will be more in-depth than a weekly look at one player, and the next one on the schedule would be June 8. The first Thursday in June is the 1st, so I’m creating the rule that these players of the month will be featured the Thursday after the first Monday of the month – it gives me time to digest the previous monthly splits and see who is deserving of the honors.

The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2016

December 8, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2016 

For a short time this summer, I thought I was going to have a record class for the SotWHoF this season, but as it turned out it fell one short of the record seven, with six. But this season’s class is making a prediction I made a couple years ago on the Shorebird of the Week tracker page come true:

I think the 2014 (SotW) crop has the potential to match the 2008 SotW group in terms of guys who can make it. They just seem to have that air about them, and three of them made the jump to Frederick immediately after the All-Star game.

True to my prediction (and within the timeframe of 2 to 3 years typically elapsing after their selection as Shorebirds of the Week) there are three players I picked in 2014 among the five inductees this season. In order of their debuts, they were Steven Brault, Donnie Hart, and Trey Mancini. Parker Bridwell was only the second player from 2013 to advance to the Show, and Ty Kelly finally gave me one player from the 2010 SotW crop that made it – from a team that was sometimes nearly unbearable to watch. Meanwhile, Eddie Gamboa became the new record holder for longest wait, going over seven years before his debut.

As has become a trend over the last few years, we have watched as two players traded away for a quick lineup fix made it to the majors with other franchises. But while Brault was acquired by the Pirates in a trade with the Orioles, it took another trade, waivers, and free agency (along with a blazing hot start) to finally bring Kelly to the bigs, while Gamboa left as a minor league free agent. But Kelly was among a record five Hall of Fame members playing in the postseason this year (and the only one not suiting up for Baltimore.) However, none of them advanced past the wild card game and Zach Britton was a healthy scratch that could have been six.

Perhaps the one making the most impact of this season’s crop was Hart, who has been a solid LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy) for Baltimore. But none of the six made a great splash this season like some have in the past; luckily that’s not an indicator of future results.

I actually did rather well predicting some of the guys who made it this year, but I think 2017 may be a somewhat barren year. Sure, you could have the feelgood stories of longtime prospects like Garabez Rosa, Michael Ohlman, or Tim Berry finally breaking through, but if you look at the guys from 2012 and 2013 who are still hanging on no one jumps out at you. Former SotW players who participated in the Arizona Fall League included Adrian Marin from 2013, Jimmy Yacabonis and Austin Wynns from 2014, Stefan Crichton from 2015, and Jesus Liranzo from last season. (Liranzo was also the only SotW added to this winter’s 40 man roster.) None of them really made an impact in the AFL, though. The most likely person to be a 2017 class member could also be the first Shorebird of the Year to make it, 2014’s Chance Sisco.

And going forward I’m a little bearish on the prospects that I will have another class with as many as six in it, as the players over the last two years don’t seem to have the same prospect cache as those from 2014. So this class of six may be the last really large one.

Yet the process may not be done with this past season after all. I am thinking about a less stressful alternative to weekly honors, with the thought of perhaps going to a monthly award with the prospect of repeating during a season (so the monthly honoree in April could repeat in May.) It may also expand to a position player and pitcher, based on merit, and if I decide to do this it would begin the first Thursday in May for the April player and pitcher so honored.

But in the meantime it’s time to congratulate my six newest members of the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame, and with the posting of this article I will restore the SotWHoF page to public view.

Update, February 20, 2017. The best-laid plans of mice and men. I had Eddie Gamboa’s name on the list as I fixed the SotWHoF page but some edit must have wiped it out. He waited seven years to make it, though, so what was another two months?

Shopping for America

November 22, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry · Comments Off on Shopping for America 

As quickly as Thanksgiving has come up on us, I suppose it should be no shock to find a couple reminders of the holiday season hitting my e-mail box today. It’s even better when they tie in with the manufacturing theme I’ve had of late.

I’m sure I have discussed this a time or two before, but the advocacy group Patriot Voices (the group founded by former Senator and two-time Presidential candidate Rick Santorum) has asked people over the last five years to pledge to buy American for the holiday season. This year they made a different appeal based on the election:

For many years, we have been talking about how supporting the American worker and manufacturing will grow the economy in a way that benefits everyone. We all saw Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by being a champion of these issues.

As we enter the Christmas season, millions of hard-working American families in the manufacturing industry or in communities impacted by that industry are struggling to make ends meet.

Rather than wait for Donald Trump to take office and implement new policies, we are going to do what we have done each Christmas for the past four years – ask you to take the Made In the USA Christmas Challenge below and lift up these workers!

Did you know that a large percentage of our Christmas gift dollars go overseas? For every $1 we spend in the USA on manufacturing, $1.81 will be added to the economy. That is a great deal!

Over the time between my receipt of the e-mail and me writing this piece, they have eclipsed 3,000 people taking the pledge. If you figure each can find $100 worth of American-made items they wouldn’t strive for otherwise, hey, that’s $300,000 more for deserving American companies. (They also stress the idea of patronizing small businesses, particularly this coming Saturday.)

Now it’s unfortunate that an outfit I once blogged for called American Certified is no longer around because this was right up their alley. (Hard to believe that was over two years ago now. A lot has changed since then.) But it just so happened that the group that qualifies for frequent flyer miles from my website, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, came out today with their annual Made in America Gift Guide that features one or more companies from all 50 states, and among them is a company from the Eastern Shore:

Maryland: Carlos Santana, Dave Navarro and Neal Schon are among the artists who have partnered with Paul Reed Smith Guitars, which manufactures high-quality instruments at its factory in Stevensville.

They are popular with the local musicians, too.

Needless to say, Scott Paul (the AAM President, who I frequently quote) added his own thoughts on the project:

We know it isn’t always easy to find American-made items at the mall or the big box stores. But by making sure there are at least a few American-made things on your list, you’ll help create jobs and support American workers.

As he noted this comes out in time for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and the rest of the season.

And speaking of Cyber Monday, I am going to shift gears so abruptly it leaves transmission pieces all over the road. Christmas is roughly the halfway point between baseball seasons and you know I’m jonesing from about September 10 on. (And you would be buying American, even if a percentage of the players come from other nations.)

Interesting to see the Lakewood ticket deal, as these seats will be in what used to be general admission (the old bleachers.)

So as people prepare to shop for their friends and loved ones, just keep these simple things in mind. If you can do it, you may as well buy American. Those people who really believed in what Donald Trump said will certainly tell you that next year your selection of American products will be “yuuuge.”

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2016 edition

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Delmarva Shorebirds)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shorebird of the Year – a 2016 season wrapup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other pitching numbers:

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

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

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

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

April 7 – Francisco Jiminez

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

April 14 – Alex Murphy

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

April 21 – Alejandro Juvier

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

April 28 – Yermin Mercedes

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

May 5 – Christian Turnipseed

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

May 12 – Ryan Mountcastle

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

May 19 – Garrett Cleavinger

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

May 26 – Cedric Mullins

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

June 2 – Reid Love

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

June 9 – Gerrion Grim

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

June 16 – Ryan Meisinger

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

June 23 – Jesus Liranzo

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

June 30 – Drew Turbin

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

July 7 – Christian Alvarado

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

July 14 – Ofelky Peralta

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

July 21 – Natanael Delgado

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

July 28 – Jay Flaa

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

August 4 – Randolph Gassaway

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

August 11 – Brian Gonzalez

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

August 18 – Ricardo Andujar

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

August 25 – Jake Bray

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

September 1 – Mike Burke

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

*********

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

  • 2006 – Ryan Finan
  • 2007 – Danny Figueroa
  • 2008 – Sean Gleason
  • 2009 – Ron Welty
  • 2010 – Brian Conley
  • 2011 – David Walters
  • 2012 – Brenden Webb
  • 2013 – Lucas Herbst
  • 2014 – Chance Sisco
  • 2015 – John Means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shorebird of the Week – September 1, 2016

September 1, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird of the Week – September 1, 2016 

Tonight an era comes to an end after 11 seasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shorebird of the Week – August 25, 2016

August 25, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird of the Week – August 25, 2016 

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

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

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

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

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

Shorebird of the Week – August 18, 2016

August 18, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird of the Week – August 18, 2016 

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

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

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

Shorebird of the Week – August 11, 2016

August 11, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird of the Week – August 11, 2016 

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

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

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

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

Next Page »

  • I haven't. Have you?
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Link to Maryland Democratic Party

    In the interest of being fair and balanced, I provide this service to readers. But before you click on the picture below, just remember their message:

  • Part of the Politics in Stereo network.