Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2018

September 6, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on 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.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2018

August 2, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2018 

At first glance (which was actually Monday when I first compiled the splits to see who had the best month) it seemed like both of these awards would be a slam dunk. But the last couple days allowed a little bit of competition, meaning my honorees had some company by month’s end.

If you saw my social media comments around the first of the month, I noted the arrival of first-rounder Cadyn Grenier should have allowed the guy he replaced at shortstop to move up to Frederick as I thought he had earned the shot. Instead, the Orioles brass decided to move Mason McCoy over to second base. While his fielding hasn’t suffered much, McCoy is struggling at the plate when he plays second, hitting at just a .231 clip on 12-for-52. But since Mason’s back at shortstop for the time being while Grenier recovers from a freak injury (hit in the face by his own foul ball) he’s continued to make his case for a promotion. Mason’s .296/3/11/.785 OPS slash line was the best among all the Shorebird hitters this month as the team’s gone into an offensive funk over the last several weeks.

While Grenier came as a top-40 selection out of this year’s draft, McCoy is no slouch either. Selected last year in the sixth round, the Iowa Hawkeye (by way of the small town of Washington, Illinois) went to Aberdeen and turned heads by putting up a .301 average in 53 games and finished among the leaders in most offensive categories for the IronBirds. So it was pretty well expected that McCoy would be ticketed for Delmarva this spring, but a 4-for-30 start has forced Mason to play catch-up for most of the season. As of Tuesday night, Mason’s solid July had pushed him up to a .255/4/37/.706 OPS for the season. However, given another 100 at-bats (very doable in the remaining number of games) Mason could add another 10 to 12 points to the average and come out looking rather good. At the time Grenier was assigned to Delmarva, Mason was among the top two league shortstops in both fielding percentage and range factor, so there’s no question McCoy sports a pretty good glove, too.

Obviously the question going forward is one of whether McCoy will be pushed aside by the guy with the fat signing bonus. Mason is already 23, and will be 24 by the time the 2019 season begins. He certainly has the glove and probably the bat to play at Frederick, and perhaps more time at second base will allow him to relax and hit better given the slow start he’s had in games he’s played there.

On the other hand, it’s not a question of if DL Hall will be promoted, but whether he will be in Frederick for a start or two in August. Basically the newly-selected Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month – joining previous Pitcher of the Month selections Zac Lowther and Matthias Dietz as Delmarva pitchers being so distinguished by the Baltimore management this season – has nothing else to prove at this level. In 26 2/3 July innings, Hall allowed but 10 hits and only two earned runs, fanning 39 while walking only 10. The month also brought his first two professional wins: while he has pitched well throughout most of his career, baseball’s scoring rule that a starting pitcher needs to complete five innings to be eligible for a win combined with the go-slow approach the Orioles had with last year’s top pick (and 21st overall) being fresh out of high school in Valdosta, Georgia meant that wins were going to wait. Until May of this year, Hall hadn’t even pitched the requisite five innings in a game as he was limited to 10 2/3 innings in five GCL starts last season. (And the numbers were rather pedestrian: a 6.97 ERA and 1.94 WHIP as he walked 10 while striking out 12. Most of the damage came in his last start, though.)

So it was a bit of a surprise that DL (it stands for Dayton Lane, but I’m sure only his mom calls him that when she’s mad) skipped over Aberdeen to full-season ball at the age of 19, although he was likely among the oldest in his graduating class as a September baby. It’s not a common jump, and for a short time it appeared the naysayers could be correct: through his first 10 games Hall was 0-4 with a 4.28 ERA. His peripheral numbers were pretty good at that point: a 1.43 WHIP came from the somewhat high rate of walks (18 in 33 2/3 innings) but given his struggles in late May and early June it would have been no surprise to see Hall reassigned to Aberdeen when their season began. But DL stayed and now has taken the SAL by storm in his last several starts – in the season’s second half Hall has pitched no fewer than 4 innings in a start but allowed 3 or fewer hits each time. The highlights of that run: 5 2/3 no-hit innings against Hagerstown July 5 (a game where the Shorebirds threw 9 no-hit innings yet managed to lose in the 10th) and a six-inning, 10 strikeout performance at West Virginia two starts later. That game snapped a three-start scoreless streak for Hall, however.

In watching Hall’s last start of the month on Tuesday night, it was apparent that not all of his pitches were working. But against a reasonably well-hitting Lakewood team, DL showed that he could pitch effectively enough without his best stuff: no clean innings out of the four, but no runs either. When needed he came up with the pitches to get out of the jam, and that’s the sign of a pitcher ready to move up.

I noted up top that this month was not the slam dunk I thought it would be in picking players. Making late surges for position player of the month were outfielder Will Robertson and June winner Branden Becker, while on the mound newcomer Max Knutson was being just about as dominant as Hall, but in a relief role. Knutson was unscored upon in his first nine July innings before yielding a run to Lakewood on the 30th.

With the Shorebirds slipping out of the divisional race thanks to an ill-timed Perdue sweep at the hands of the league-leading BlueClaws, there may be a plethora of player moves as the season winds down. It could be a wide-open field for the final Shorebirds of the Month and eventual Shorebird of the Year.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: June 2018

July 5, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: June 2018 

A player who had a career month and a relative newcomer are my selections for the June Shorebird honorees. While the team settled into a middling position to close the first half and has remained in the same mode to start this run, these two players avoided a June swoon.

Hitting .208 at the start of the month and being the backup to several players probably wasn’t what Branden Becker was planning for his 2018 campaign. But as his versatility became more and more apparent and playing time increased (in some part due to an injury to regular second baseman Kirvin Moesquit), the bat has responded – for the month of June Becker slashed a solid .337/3/16/.878 OPS, increasing his average to a point where he entered yesterday’s contest with an overall mark of .270 – by miles his best career performance. This resurgence has allowed manager Buck Britton to spell Moesquit on occasion, experiment with putting 3B Trevor Craport across the diamond at first, and move Max Hogan, who played 2B for most of last season in the GCL, into the outfield more or less full-time. So far Branden has played 21 games at second base, 17 games at third base, and seven at shortstop. He’s even served as the DH nine times, which gave the first base/DH combo of Seamus Curran and Ryan Ripken a break. (Curran is now out with an injury.)

Becker has been in the Orioles system for three years now – drafted down in the 17th round back in 2015, the southern California native passed on a commitment to the University of Oregon to sign with the Orioles out of high school. In looking at his stats prior to this year, they were rather unimpressive: in two GCL seasons (2015-16) he never hit over .226 or put up an OPS more than .536, without a home run. But coming out of extended spring last season he was assigned to Frederick temporarily (two games) before the probably appropriate reassignment to Aberdeen. There he got off to a solid start (.292 with three of his seven hits for extra bases, including a home run) before dislocating his shoulder diving for a ball and missing the remainder of 2017 thanks to the surgery. But while 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 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.

Branden had some stiff competition for the June honor: Zach Jarrett had another great month (in fact, it was statistically superior) and Will Robertson also had a breakout month like Becker’s that was almost as successful. I opted to go with Becker because he came from the lowest point to have his season in the sun.

So far statistics are all I have to go by for my June Pitcher of the Month – the Shorebirds must check to see if I’m in my seat and they only pitch Timothy Naughton when I’m not in it. (The photo came a couple weeks after the selection.)

Naughton came up from extended spring in May when three members of the Shorebirds staff were simultaneously promoted to Frederick and ran into trouble in his very first appearance, giving up 4 runs in 1 1/3 innings against Hagerstown. After that, though, Tim settled in and did not allow an earned run (all three who scored on him were unearned) for the next nine appearances, seven of which were in June. For the month Naughton threw 10 1/3 innings, yielding just seven hits and one walk for a WHIP of 0.77. That tempered an overall line which otherwise would look very pedestrian: for the season Tim is 1-2 with a 3.21 ERA and WHIP of 1.64.

That inconsistency is what Naughton needs to address going forward. Going back to last season, which was mainly spent in the GCL after Tim was a 34th round Oriole pick out of North Carolina State, Naughton was 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings spaced among a like number of outings. And he’s relatively green at baseball’s highest levels: a native of Goldsboro, North Carolina, Naughton was a walk-on who made the Wolfpack as a reliever and pitched just 15 innings in college before being drafted basically on raw talent and the hope he’s a diamond in the rough. (Timothy also shares the same alma mater – Charles B. Aycock High School – as onetime SotW Connor Narron, who played here in 2012-13.)

While this observer suggests he has a 98 MPH fastball and a tight mid-80s slider, the question is whether he can control them. In 17 2/3 innings last season Tim allowed 12 bases on balls; so far in 2018 it’s been 8 in 14 innings. Granted, 4 of those 8 came in his first game and 2 more came in his most recent: Tim started July on a rough note, giving up the winning run against Lakewood by allowing an inherited run to score as well as one of his own, walking the bases full and allowing a 2-run walkoff single. That’s the trend he needs to avoid going forward, particularly with the strikes against him of being a later-round selection and already 22 years old.

Based on his June performances, where he allowed just one walk in 10 1/3 innings, it is obvious he can harness his stuff at times. But Naughton’s ceiling will be determined by how well he can command and adapt at each level as batters get more selective. Having two good pitches is often enough for a late-inning reliever to succeed, and it seems like he has those tools to make it.

Like the competition for the Player of the Month, Pitcher of the Month had strong contenders, too: Cameron Bishop and Brenan Hanifee were leaders among the starters, while late-inning reliever Nick Vespi also had consideration.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: May 2018

June 7, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · 1 Comment 

After getting off to a flying start in April, the wheels seemed to come off for the Shorebirds in May, particularly after an unscheduled three-day break in the action mid-month thanks to Mother Nature. But this month’s Player and Pitcher of the Month weren’t reasons for the team’s lack of success as both had breakout months.

I’ll begin with third baseman Trevor Craport, who swatted seven home runs during May to ably fill his stat sheet in that regard. A player who previously had just three round-trippers to show for his pro career caught fire during the last month and also began bringing his batting average closer to the mark he established in 52 games with Aberdeen last season (.302/3/30/.857 OPS). In 26 games Trevor led the team with a .323 average, hitting those seven home runs and knocking in 19. with a solid .956 OPS based on a .383 on-base percentage and .573 slugging percentage thanks to those home runs.

Craport came to the Orioles in the 2017 draft, where he was the eleventh round pick out of Georgia Tech. As noted, the Georgia native had a good season with Aberdeen last year and, after a bit of a slow start, seems well on his way to duplicating those efforts here. On Tuesday it was announced that he would be one of three Shorebird position players selected for the SAL All-Star Game later this month – April SotM Zach Jarrett is also on the squad, as is first baseman Seamus Curran, who was also in the running for May honors along with Kirvin Moesquit. However, one extra RBI out of Curran was all that denied Craport the month’s triple crown. so he was a deserving honoree.

In fact, it would not surprise me to see the 21-year-old prospect (he turns 22 in August) promoted at mid-season. Third base is not a position that’s very strong in the Orioles’ system and those playing immediately up the ladder aren’t having distinctively great seasons by any stretch of the imagination. (A couple up the line have been, honestly. rather disappointing.) So given the Oriole brass propensity to yank good players away from Delmarva every chance they get, this time next month Trevor could be sporting a Keys uniform.

Speaking of disappointing, there were a number of observers whispering that last season about my Pitcher of the Month, Matthias Dietz. A second round pick back in 2016, Dietz was expected to be one of the top prospects gracing the Delmarva roster last season but struggled to a 3-10 record and 4.93 ERA with the Shorebirds. Add that to a nondescript season with Aberdeen in his pro debut (in seven starts, none intentionally longer than three innings, Matthias was touched for at least one run in six of them) and the talk about being a highly-paid bust was more than a rumor.

So when Dietz was touched up for 8 runs in 14 1/3 innings early on this season, including an outing where he walked seven batters, the question probably became whether he was more suited for the bullpen or more work at extended spring. Maybe it was just the weather, though, because a different pitcher emerged in May – four starts covering 23 innings where Dietz allowed only 3 runs on 15 hits, including a pair of shutout starts to close the month May 20 against Hagerstown and May 25 against Lakewood. (Overall, the shutout streak in May was the last 17 innings, and it was extended briefly in June to 19 2/3 innings before Dietz allowed a run June 1.) It was a good enough performance to grant the Illinois native and attendee of John Logan Community College there the top honor from the Orioles as their Minor League Pitcher of the Month, and I concur.

The whole key to how far Matthias will get in his career is throwing strikes. That may seem too simplistic, but he’s been prone to starts where he will average a walk or more an inning, and eventually those runners score. Over his career Dietz has averaged about 4 walks per 9 innings, and that needs to come down by at least one to have a chance at success. Oddly enough, even with his success so far this year (cutting a 4.93 ERA to 2.91 and a 1.5 WHIP down to a league average 1.3) his base on balls average is slightly higher than it was last season thanks to two poor outings where he walked 12 in a combined seven innings – neither of which occurred in May.

While Dietz is in his second tour of duty with the Shorebirds, I don’t see him as being promoted to Frederick very soon. Having said that, though, if he maintains consistency he’s a good candidate to be here until August then allowed a couple starts with the Keys to get his feet wet to start out there next season.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2018

May 3, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2018 

The more things change, the more they stay the same. After I awarded the inaugural Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month awards last season to a late-round, hot-hitting outfielder and a stylish lefty pitcher who was dominating the league early on, you would think a new year would change things up. But instead, it’s worked out to be players in a similar mold to outfielder Jake Ring and pitcher Alex Wells, who have both moved on to Frederick with longtime Shorebird skipper Ryan Minor.

Considering that Zach Jarrett hit just .201 in 45 Aberdeen games last season and struck out in nearly 40% of his plate appearances, it’s a bit of a surprise (or a testament to a lack of depth at some positions within the organization) that Jarrett was promoted to a full-season club as a 28th-round selection from last year. But instead of being the answer to the trivia question of having a famous father and grandfather (the Jarrett family is legendary in NASCAR), Zach has taken advantage of the opportunity. At month’s end Jarrett was pacing the SAL with his 7 home runs, but added 14 RBI and hit .338 with a tremendous 1.063 OPS. (An “average” player has an OPS of about .700, basically about a .330 on-base percentage and a .370 slugging percentage. Jarrett was at .400 and .663, respectively.)

As noted, we got Jarrett in the 28th round out of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, so he didn’t stray too far from his roots in that respect. (When the Shorebirds play at Hickory, Jarrett can visit his high school there; on the other hand, since NASCAR is in Dover this weekend maybe the family will stop in for a game?)

So far this season Zach has made a key adjustment in simply putting the ball in play. He has cut the strikeout rate significantly, with just 26 in 90 April plate appearances, and that is a large factor in his success. Whether the league can adjust to him or he can stay one step ahead of the pitchers is something to watch. So far, though, he has fared a little worse against experienced pitchers this season and we will see as the season goes on how much that will affect his stat line. It’s not likely he can keep up April’s frenetic pace, but keeping an average in the .280 to .300 range is a doable goal, along with a shot at 20-25 home runs. That would put him on the prospect map despite being about a year older than his peer group – Jarrett is already 23.

Zac Lowther, however, was already on the prospect map for the Orioles. Drafted in the second round out of Xavier University in Ohio, the Brooklyn Heights (a suburb of Cleveland) native was expected to do well here after pitching to a 1.66 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and striking out 75 batters in 54 1/3 innings for Aberdeen. But not all pitchers can succeed in full-season.

Maybe it’s being used to the cold as an Ohio native, but Zac picked up where he left off to such a degree that he was named a SAL Pitcher of the Week in April. Perhaps the Orioles’ brass believed Lowther could thrive in the chill, but he certainly froze the Hickory Crawdads’ bats in his first start, striking out 13 in six hitless innings on April 9. Nineteen days later, on the return visit to Hickory, Lowther made his “worst” start by giving up two runs on four hits in six innings, getting a no-decision. But Zac has amassed a eye-popping 39 strikeouts in just 22 innings, meaning he’s struck out exactly half of the 78 batters he faced over the month. Only 9 got to Lowther for a hit and just three for walks, meaning his WHIP was a microscopic 0.55. (For a more conventional measure by comparison, his ERA is just 1.23.) Batters are only hitting .120 against Zac, which basically means no one is going to make their career off him at this level. (One chink in his armor: 2 of those 9 hits were home runs, both at Hickory.)

Based on his last start being the worst, going forward the observation will be whether Lowther (who just turned 22 Monday) reverts closer to league average after dominating or continues to pile up strikeouts. To do the former may mean Zac stays here all season, but to do the latter would probably merit a mid-season (or sooner) promotion to Frederick. At this point the Shorebirds are blessed with the makings of a dominant pitching staff the likes we haven’t seen in awhile, which is why they concluded April in first place in their division after a all-time best 7-0 start. And with Frederick’s pitching staff needing a little help (early on their team ERA is ninth in the ten-team Carolina League) the Shorebirds may lose a couple of theirs. As a long-suffering Shorebirds fan, here’s hoping the Keys staff comes around because I want to keep the team we have and end the 12-season playoff drought!

Big campaigns from my initial Players of the Month will go a long way to making that a reality.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2017 season wrapup

September 14, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird of the Year – a 2017 season wrapup 

Well, we had two good seasons in a row, anyway.

After a six-year run of losing, the Shorebirds reverted to their winning ways of old in 2015 and 2016, but that streak came crashing down this season thanks to one of the more mediocre squads the Orioles have sent us in some time. With the Orioles passing prospects like Cody Sedlock, Keegan Akin, and Austin Hays – who recently made his Orioles debut – from Aberdeen straight to Frederick, we were left with a team that followed up a 29-39 first half with a nearly identical 30-39 second half. The shame of it was that Delmarva was in first place in the second half as late as July 29 with a 20-13 record after completing a perfect 7-0 road trip to Georgia. (It was their first perfect two-stop road trip in at least 12 years.) But the next day a doubleheader loss to Greensboro set the Shorebirds on a 12-game losing streak that plunged them out of contention and began an August where they went 9-20 – from the high point Delmarva lost 26 of their last 36 games.

So the 59-78 mark was their worst since a 54-82 mark in 2013 and it ended a run of improvement each year since. Overall, it was a team that wasn’t particularly great in any main category of offense, pitching, or defense.

  • A .240 team batting average was next to last in the league, with Columbia’s .234 the only team holding them up.
  • Consequently the team was only 11th in runs and hits, scoring just 544 times on 1,108 hits.
  • The 229 doubles was good for fifth in the loop, and they were eighth with 31 triples.
  • They were ninth in the league in home runs with 77.
  • We finished tied for 10th with 492 runs batted in.
  • Back to 11th we went in total bases with 1,630.
  • We drew 341 walks, which – you guessed it – ranked 11th in the SAL.
  • One dubious category was strikeouts, where their 1,243 was the most in the league by 33 over Lexington (who played one more game.)
  • In steals, we were 11th (as one might expect) with 91 stolen bases in 125 attempts. (This time, league-leading Asheville was caught more than we stole – 100 vs. 91.)
  • Our .304 on-base percentage was next-to-last in the league (Lakewood was .301) and the .353 slugging percentage was eleventh. With those numbers our OPS of .657 was only better than Columbia’s .649 mark.

Our pitching was only slightly better when compared to the rest of the league, as we finished ninth in ERA with a 3.79 mark.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 9 shutouts was also ninth in the loop.
  • We tied for 12th in saves with 29, with Augusta last with 23.
  • We tied for seventh in innings pitched with 1,204 1/3.
  • 1,210 hits allowed was 11th. Matching the rank in ERA it follows the 613 runs and 507 earned runs we gave up were also ninth.
  • Allowing 94 home runs was tenth.
  • While we only had 71 hit batters (good for fourth) we were also fourth with 354 walks allowed.
  • While our staff had a nice, round number of 1,000 strikeouts it was the fewest in the league.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) was ninth in the league at 1.30.

With 136 errors and a .973 aggregate fielding percentage our defense was right at league average.

Help may be on the way, though. Below us in the Orioles organization Aberdeen was 41-34 (contending until the final days for a wild-card spot) and the GCL Orioles closed 28-32 while the single Dominican Summer League team (down from 2 in recent years) the Orioles provided players for wrapped up a 32-37 season. Ahead of us, Frederick made the Carolina League playoffs despite a 68-71 record and Bowie did the same in the Eastern League with a 72-68 record. (Both lost in their respective opening rounds.) Norfolk also finished below .500 with a 66-76 record. So as a whole the talent pool may be worse than average, although individual players from the lower levels may combine for a better team.

With a switch from weekly to monthly honors, going over those selected won’t take as long – so let’s review.

April player – Jake Ring

Jake began the season like he had something to prove after a somewhat bitter cup of coffee with the Shorebirds in 2016. It began by being the South Atlantic League’s first Player of the Week for the season and the Orioles’ minor league Player of the Month. Later on Ring was selected to the North’s All-Star team and a postseason All-Star despite a September promotion to Frederick. As a whole for Delmarva Ring hit .272/14/65/.785 OPS in 118 games, leading the team with 65 runs, leading the entire league with 36 doubles, and setting the pace for the Shorebirds with 212 total bases and a .457 slugging percentage. In almost every offensive category, Jake was among the team leaders.

However, the league seemed to catch up with Ring in the second half as he went from a .313 average at the All-Star break to a split of .232/5/24/.653 OPS in the latter stages. His brief callup to Frederick saw Ring go just 1-for-8, although that one hit was a home run. Ring was also the hero of the Keys’ lone playoff win, driving in the winning runs to cap off a ninth-inning comeback.

Yet the problems that led to a dearth of outfield talent in the organization to a point where the Orioles were experimenting (with varying success) with Christian Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Trey Mancini suddenly seem to have disappeared as prospects like Cedric Mullins, D.J. Stewart, and Austin Hays are names being considered for the 2018 Orioles, with 2016 Shorebird Ademar Rifaela (the Carolina League MVP) close behind. With that glut on top of the organization, a player like Ring – who was a late-round draft pick and is a little older than his league competition at the low-A level – won’t be as highly regarded as he may have been a couple years ago. Notice that a solid player from that period like Mike Yastrzemski is barely regarded as a prospect despite his elite lineage.

I would look for Ring to continue in Frederick next season, but he will need to make more contact to avoid stalling out at that level. Getting his first 15 professional home runs in one season is nice, but 141 strikeouts is not. (SAL Player of the Week April 6-16, SAL All-Star, SAL Postseason All-Star)

April pitcher – Alex Wells

You knew Alex would be something good when his first four starts netted two wins and just two earned runs allowed, but the thing about Wells was that a bad month for him (like June, where he was 3-2 with a pedestrian 4.46 ERA) was a good month for many of the other Delmarva starters. Named as an SAL All-Star, Wells turned up the heat on opposing batters in the second half by quickly embarking on what would become the stuff of legend: a 68-inning walkless streak that carried through the end of the season. (This helped the Shorebirds lead all of baseball in walkless games from a pitching staff; meanwhile, the major league record for such a streak is 84 1/3 innings by Bill Fischer of the 1962 Kansas City Athletics.)

Even without the pinpoint control of allowing 10 walks in 140 innings, Wells put together a fine season that arguably should have nabbed him the league’s Outstanding Pitcher honors – in a case of highway robbery, the award instead went to Rome’s Joey Wentz. Wells finished 11-5 (2nd in wins), with a 2.38 ERA and 0.91 WHIP (both led the SAL) and 113 strikeouts. At home Wells was unbeatable, going 7-0 with a 1.75 ERA in 11 starts. Armed with a simple, easily repeatable delivery, Wells works at a pace that would make legendary “work fast, throw strikes” purveyor Mark Buehrle proud – the Shorebirds clocked one of Wells’ 10-pitch innings under two minutes, and a 10:35 7-inning game Wells started on April 26 wrapped up at the stroke of noon. (It took Wells just 68 pitches to dispatch Lakewood in a 2-1 win. The game probably would have been done before noon had reliever Jake Bray not needed 22 pitches to retire the side in the 7th.)

It’s almost certain the Orioles are slotting Wells to be the #1 pitcher on Frederick’s staff next season, and unlike this season the Orioles would not hesitate to move him up should the performance warrant. After all, he is the reigning Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the year as he was honored before the September 5 Oriole game with the Jim Palmer Award. While a 2018 debut may seem like a bit of a reach, a good season for Wells sets him up for a date at Camden Yards sometime in 2019 – basically the only questions are whether he will fare as well against more selective batters and work on a way to give up fewer home runs. (SAL All-Star, SAL Player of the Month for July, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for July, Jim Palmer Award winner for Oriole Minor League Pitcher of the Year)

May player – Preston Palmiero

Preston had spots of excellent play, including a month of May that turned out to be his best month as he turned around a very slow start (.197/2/9/.608 OPS in April) to establish himself at about the overall level where he would finish the season. So far in his career, however, he’s only put up average numbers as his .253/13/77/.718 OPS run this season tracked closely with his Aberdeen numbers from 2016 with the exception of finding a decent power stroke – like Jake Ring, all 13 of Palmiero’s professional home runs came this season. Those who thought his May was going to be the norm for the rest of the season had to be disappointed, though, as he left about 30 batting average points and a corresponding number of hits, home runs, and RBI on the table. While Preston led the team with his 77 RBI, better contact would have allowed him to make a run at 100.

Invariably, there are those who will compare Preston to his father and note that the elder Palmiero was already in the majors by the end of his second pro season. On the other hand, Preston is outpacing his older brother Patrick, who washed out after three seasons in the White Sox organization and has played in the independent Atlantic League the last three seasons. (Interesting fact: the older brother played 2 games at Delmarva in 2013, going 2-for-9 with Kannapolis as their third baseman.) But taken as a player who was a 7th round draft choice – one of the few high picks on the team – it seems like the Orioles should be expecting more. Over the last ten seasons we have seen our share of first basemen with some power but mediocre average – Mark Fleisher, Anthony Martinez, Joe Mahoney, Elvin Polanco and Mike Flacco are guys who come to mind, with only Mahoney briefly making it to the Show – but Palmiero was definitely handed the first base job. (You have to go back to Fleisher in 2006 to find a first baseman who played 100 or more games at the position in a season, and Palmiero’s 123 games this season rank second behind 1998 Shorebird Franky Figueroa’s 137 at the position.) It’s doubtful Palmiero will return for 2018, but his road to the big leagues may have to involve either a position change or numbers that do a better job of knocking the socks off the top brass.

May pitcher – Francisco Jimenez

Marking his third straight season with Delmarva, Jimenez was honored in the midst of a long scoreless streak (20 2/3 innings over six appearances between April 18 and May 21) that encompassed his first-ever appearance with Frederick – that cup of coffee was May 17 as he pitched 3 2/3 scoreless at Salem. Overall, Jimenez was 7-2 with a 3.13 ERA with Delmarva in 28 appearances, striking out 63 while walking 28 and allowing 68 hits. That put his WHIP at 1.24, which was right around league average.

While Jimenez made a couple spot starts – including six no-hit, shutout innings in a game against Charleston on April 27 – he seems to be transitioning into a long relief role going forward. However, his numbers really haven’t changed much in the two-plus seasons he’s been here except for an uptick in strikeout rate, which may be a result of more bullpen work. It’s most likely he will be promoted because there’s really not much reason for him to repeat this level for a fourth time. (In his career, Jimenez spent 2012-14 in the Dominican Summer League but advanced all the way to Delmarva in a little over one season through the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen. So this is his second stall, as it were.)

As slowly as he is moving, Francisco needs an impressive season at Frederick to separate himself from the “organization player” category he seems to be settling into given his propensity to keep himself close to career average each season.

June player – Alejandro Juvier

Another repeat performer from 2016, Alejandro managed to avoid demotion this season by picking up steam at the right time and putting together a good campaign with a slash line of .241/4/34/.606 OPS. No, it’s not the stuff of a Jonathan Schoop, but Juvier seems to be working his career into a Ryan Flaherty mold: he played 75 games at second base, 27 at third base, and 9 at shortstop this season after playing his first 24 at second. Moving him around the infield seemed to do his bat good as well: hitting .218/0/3/.512 OPS after that first 24 games improved to a .248 average and .632 OPS the rest of the way.

When I did his profile, I was hoping he could run his average up into the .250 or .260 range, but Juvier slumped somewhat toward the end of the season with a .194 average after August 1. It’s something that may hold him back for next season, but can be overcome with a good spring.

The issue with the utility player role Juvier seems to be moving into is that the chain is littered with them – one example is longtime Bowie player Garabez Rosa, who has been with the team for five seasons. Remember, Flaherty was handed a job as a Rule 5 draftee of the Orioles but they haven’t seen the need to bring up such as player such as Rosa. But if not for his versatility Juvier probably doesn’t impress scouts as a prospect.

June pitcher – Steven Klimek

In the middle part of the season Klimek was almost untouchable, with June and July numbers that were outstanding: a 3-1 record and 0.99 ERA with 30 strikeouts against 3 walks. The rest of the season wasn’t bad either, with Klimek going 7-3 with a 2.67 ERA. He made 37 appearances on the year, covering 70 2/3 innings with an astounding 71 strikeouts and just 12 walks. Steven was one of just three Delmarva pitchers with significant time to average a strikeout an inning, but neither of the others had a WHIP comparable to Klimek’s 1.02 mark.

Steven was yet another second-time player, having pitched 10 1/3 innings with little success at the tail end of the 2016 season. But he made the improvements and adjustments needed to advance in the system as a late-inning guy – none of his appearances this season came before the 4th inning, and most were in the 8th or 9th. Steven wasn’t the primary closer but still managed to pick up 6 saves, a valuable experience for down the line.

With numbers resembling that of a power pitcher, Klimek may move into more of a one-inning setup role as his career goes on, sort of like a Brad Brach. But there may be a time where he becomes a closer someplace, especially if he can maintain his good control while keeping hits to a minimum. Aside from the rough debut with the Shorebirds, Klimek kept most of the same numbers he had with Aberdeen last season, and the progress he made should play well in 2018 as he moves on. The only way I could see him with Delmarva is as a closer, to gain more experience in high-leverage situations rather than the guy holding down the fort (which is why he had seven wins this season.) Steven has earned a promotion, though.

July player – Ryan McKenna

McKenna had a month sort of like Preston Palmiero did in May: the type where you expect this breakout will last the rest of the season given the fact the Orioles selected him early in the draft. But after the .319 average and .824 OPS in July, Ryan slipped back to just a slightly better than average rest of the season by hitting .264 in the last month-plus (although his OPS was a robust .849 for that period.) As a whole, McKenna put up a .256/7/42/.712 OPS slash line.

But without the bloodline of Palmiero, you have to wonder how long the Orioles will wait on a 4th round pick, even if he was plucked out of the high school ranks. In his favor, though, was the improvement he had year-over-year when compared to his half-season at Aberdeen in 2016 – 15 points higher in batting average, 30 more extra base hits in slightly over twice the plate appearances, and an 83-point jump in OPS (mainly due to the improvement in extra-base hits.) His only drawback was the 129 strikeouts he amassed, and while he had 20 stolen bases, it doesn’t compare well to having 17 in half the time last year.

So Ryan did make some progress, particularly when you recall he was hitting .235 at the All-Star break but hit .280 in the second half. If he can replicate that success with the Keys next season, heads will begin to turn in considering McKenna as part of the group of young outfield prospects that includes Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and D.J. Stewart.

July pitcher – Alex Wells

This was the month Wells did not allow a walk or a run in 31 innings, leading him to be named both Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month and SAL Player of the Month. So he became the first two-time winner.

August/September player – Daniel Fajardo

Since he was the last player of the month for the season, he didn’t improve on his .236/1/24/.554 OPS split between three teams, but predominantly with Delmarva. (He played in 67 contests here, 4 for Frederick, and a spot game for Norfolk. That should be good for the paycheck.) He turned out to be a very good defender as well in terms of catching would-be base thieves, but his question going forward may be how much longer he stays in the organization since he’s eligible for Rule 5 and one season away from free agency. Among the peer group that has played with him, though, Fajardo has gotten the most playing time both with Aberdeen and here. (With Aberdeen in 2016, as this year, Fajardo was on the same squad as Stuart Levy, who bounced around last season between Aberdeen and Delmarva and did the same this year with Frederick and the Shorebirds, the now-retired Jerry McClanahan who was with Delmarva for the first half of this season, and Chris Shaw, who missed a lot of time in 2017 with an injury.) Out of that group, Levy and Fajardo were the best performers.

Next year, though, Fajardo will have to compete with Ben Breazeale, a catcher who tore up the NY-Penn League as well as Levy and other players up the chain. However, after picking four catchers in the first 11 rounds of the draft a few years back (which has netted current Oriole Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns, who had a breakout year at Bowie) the Orioles’ catching pipeline has pretty much dried out with the exception of Breazeale, who is likely going to be a cusp player between Delmarva and Frederick next spring. So Daniel may be destined for Frederick. (Much of the Keys’ catching this year was done by Armando Araiza, a six-year free agent player the Orioles acquired from the Atlanta organization in May – pointing out the lack of depth in the organization. Yermin Mercedes also did some, but he had a disappointing season and finished it on the suspended list.) It’s more than likely he will move into the ranks of catching insurance for the organization, but Fajardo now will be playing to impress others as well with the pending free agency.

August/September pitcher – Kory Groves

Kory was my one comeback story for the season, since he missed all of 2016 with an injury. But the time lost will also put him behind the eight ball as far as being too old to be considered a prospect despite a nice 3-5, 2.58 season that featured a 1.21 WHIP and a solid ratio of 41 strikeouts to 14 walks. While Groves certainly wasn’t as dominant as he was before the injury – his abbreviated 2015 campaign featured a 1.11 ERA and 0.77 WHIP between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen – he was also facing better competition this year so the statistics hold up well.

While Kory was rather effective when stretched out to 40-50 pitches (he had four appearances of four innings or more this year, including the 17th to 20th innings in the 21-inning game against Lexington July 13 and 14) his bread and butter this season was being a setup guy or the one holding the opposition in hopes for a late rally. (This would explain why Groves had but one save.) That’s not to say the Orioles wouldn’t consider him as a starter with a little more stretching out, but I think his destiny is the bullpen, and it would more than likely be the one in Frederick.

*********

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

With my new format of monthly honorees, I had some early favorites for the honor – all they had to do was stay for the requisite 2/3 of the season to be eligible. Thus, Jake Ring and Alex Wells burst out of the gate.

But as the season went on for the hitters, Ring was like a helium balloon that slowly lost altitude. He was leading the team in pretty much everything the first half of the season, but as time went on Ring began falling down the ranks: Preston Palmiero caught and passed him in RBI, Gerrion Grim went on a power surge to outpace Ring in home runs, and eventually Cole Billingsley passed Jake with a .282 batting average to lead the squad. So Ring won none of the traditional Triple Crown categories, and one could make an argument that Billingsley (who was in the hunt for a monthly honor a couple times) was more of an offensive star despite a fairly low .715 OPS.

On the other side, while several pitchers had good months and were at times in contention for monthly honors, there was only one month where Alex Wells wasn’t in the conversation for the honor, and that subpar June was followed by an all-world July where I had no choice but to name him a second time. And when you consider just how elite he was in terms of the entire league – not just the team – I pretty much had a no-brainer for Shorebird of the Year. Even the photo I’m using is one where he gets hardware.

Alex Wells had a hardware collection going this season with the Shorebirds.

I wish I had hardware to give, but for now the pixels to officially dub Alex Wells as the Shorebird of the Year for 2017 will have to suffice. 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 2017 needs just one more to tie for largest, and it’s only a callup away.

Meanwhile, I’m already jonesing for a ballgame at the stadium. By the way, I’ve finally added the other photos I promised so now each month can be reviewed and they are how I intended them to be.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2017

September 7, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · 1 Comment 

Unlike months past, this time I’ll dispense with the preliminaries because next week will bring a full season review for the 2017 campaign. So instead let’s go straight to a look at my final honorees, who both get the award for the first time.

We’re going to begin with a player that definitely stepped up the pace in the season’s final month compared to his previous performance. My August (and September) Position Player of the Month: Catcher Daniel Fajardo, who settled in with a shifting cast of backups and put together a great month of August. His .314/0/8/.774 OPS slash line for the month was among the team leaders with previous honorees Ryan McKenna and Cole Billingsley, but Fajardo also proved to be a good defensive weapon with his arm by nabbing 9 of a potential 17 base stealers. (For the season Fajardo caught 44% of would-be thieves.)

Overall, Daniel finished the campaign with a .240/1/24/.568 OPS slash line in 67 games with the Shorebirds, although his time here was interrupted by a spot start for Norfolk on May 3 (where he went 1-for-4 at Charlotte at a time where he was Johnny-on-the-spot – the Tides had a need and the Shorebirds were in the midst of a southern swing to Columbia and Charleston, SC) and another brief stint with Frederick from May 19-22 – there Fajardo went 2-for-13 in 4 games.

The 22-year-old Fajardo is a veteran of six minor league seasons, as he was signed at the age of 16 in September of 2011 and left his native Venezuela the next summer to catch in the Dominican Summer League. Two seasons there led to a promotion to the Gulf Coast League for the 2014 season, and he played there most of the next two seasons (with the exception of 2 games at Frederick in 2015.) Last year he moved up to Aberdeen as a backup catcher and this year served as somewhat of an organization player with the two brief departures from the Delmarva roster. Over the last two winters he’s also done spot duty in his native land, playing for La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League.

One thing that sets Fajardo apart from many of his teammates is the fact, based on his lengthy service time in the minors, that he would have to be protected on the Orioles’ 40-man roster if they wanted to assure themselves of keeping him. It’s not likely the Orioles will do so, thus it’s possible another team may take a flyer on him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. (Unlike the major league portion, where a player has to remain on the 25-man active roster or be offered back to the original team, those picked in the minor league portion can be assigned to any minor league affiliate. So a team selecting Fajardo could ship him to the high-A level where the Orioles would likely send him.)

Fajardo, McKenna, and Billingsley were the best of a mediocre lot of hitters for the Shorebirds, who faltered in early August and fell well off the playoff pace. On the other hand, I had a difficult time deciding the Pitcher of the Month as several had a legitimate claim, including two-time honoree Alex Wells and swingman Cody Dube. But my final decision came down to a razor-close debate between lefty Tyler Erwin and righthander Kory Groves.

This was one that came down to expectations, and the fact he was recovering from a lost 2016 tipped the scale to Kory Groves.

In August and September Groves made a season-high 10 appearances covering 19 innings. In those stints he allowed just 13 hits (for a .197 average against) and 6 runs (4 earned) which translates to a 1.89 ERA. Striking out 14 while walking just one, Groves gave up just 2 earned in his last 7 outings. The only blemishes on his record were losses to Kannapolis and Hagerstown, right around the end of a stretch where Groves was pitching 3 or 4 innings at a time – he thrived in shorter 1 or 2 inning outings as the month wore on.

Over the season Groves stayed healthy enough to pitch in 33 games, covering 59 1/3 innings. Kory gave up 58 hits but only 17 earned runs, also amassing 41 strikeouts to 14 walks. The bottom line for Groves was a 3-5 record and 2.58 ERA with a WHIP of 1.21.

Because he lost that season to injury and came from a small, unheralded school (Cal State – Monterey Bay, which has had just 4 players drafted from the program and none since Groves in 2015) Kory has worked his way from being just a 34th round pick to this point. But having just celebrated his 25th birthday Saturday, it’s more likely Groves will be pitching for his very career in spring training if the Orioles don’t decide to move on from him over the winter. Such is often the fate of a late-round selection, and especially one whose numbers don’t seem to show him as a power pitcher (just 6.2 strikeouts per 9 innings is one of the lowest rates on the team.)

However, Groves did put up one of the better WHIP numbers on the team and was reasonably effective in short outings, so he could be one of those late-inning guys at Frederick next year. And for this month he was about the best the Shorebirds had to offer on the mound.

As I noted up top, next week I will do my season review and track the players selected as Shorebirds of the Month, with the following week devoted as always to picks and pans from a fan. So September will bring a flurry of Shorebird activity before its hibernation until December when I add at least six players to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2017

August 3, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2017 

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 Position Player of the Month 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 Position 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 the Pitcher of the Month 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.

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.

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