It’s the first time since I began doing this series in 2006 that my season wrapup will talk about playoffs. (Cue the old Jim Mora clip: “Playoffs?!?”) It took until the final game of the campaign to do it, but this year’s Delmarva nine was the first in the team’s 24 seasons to win 90 games, finishing with a 90-48 regular season record. Ninety regular-season wins was a feat last accomplished in the SAL (ironically) in 2006.
Alas, regular season wins don’t carry over to the playoffs, as that win against Kannapolis in the regular season finale was the last W for the Shorebirds. For want of three runs – two to overcome a one-run loss in the opener and one to avoid what would become an extra-inning loss in the final playoff game – the Shorebirds watched second-place Hickory celebrate the division crown on our field. I call that “unfinished business.” (That was the peak of the Crawdads’ season as Southern Division champ Lexington – who won the first half as the Shorebirds did but staggered home in the second half to finish just 68-70 and third in its division overall – managed to upset both the top seed Augusta and Hickory to win a second straight league pennant.)
Yet if you go by the old adage “ya dance with the one that brung ya” there’s certainly a lot of head-scratching about the player moves made just before the playoffs began: swapping out a hot bat in Alexis Torres for the .169 hitter Andrew Fregia (who went 0-for-4 in the playoffs) and bringing up three pitchers from Aberdeen who collectively gave up the one heartbreaking run in 3 2/3 innings of relief. But the real snakebite was outhitting the Crawdads 10-4 in the opener only to lose 4-3, then getting shut out on two hits in game two. (Our team batting average in the series was a measly .185 – but Hickory’s was worse at .161, so the pitching was fine.)
And pitching was the calling card of this year’s Shorebird team – so much so that it made an average offensive attack enough to be a juggernaut.
- In a down year for hitting leaguewide, our .243 average was good enough for 5th out of 14. For much of the season, though, we were in the .250 range.
- Our 610 runs were also fifth in the loop, as were 1,106 hits.
- Power numbers were mediocre: 216 doubles was 10th, 32 triples tied for 5th, and 74 home runs was good for just 12th.
- We had 540 RBI, which placed us right in the middle at 7th overall.
- 1,608 total bases was enough for the ninth spot.
- We drew 469 walks, which was sixth – but we struck out 1,260 times for seventh-lowest.
- The Shorebirds picked their base-stealing spots well – while they were only 9th with 106 swipes, their 35 times caught was tied for third-fewest. (The teams caught fewer times topped out at 79 steals.)
- They were sixth in on-base percentage at .324 but ninth in slugging with a .354 mark, leaving them seventh in OPS with .678 overall.
And about that record-setting pitching:
- By nearly a quarter-run (3.oo vs. 3.23) the Shorebirds won their first-ever team ERA title. It was their second-best pitching staff ever: the 1996 Shorebirds had a collective 2.85 ERA but that was second in the league to the former Capital City Bombers.
- While we had a great staff, we were one of only four teams in the league without a complete game. But we collected 20 shutouts to cream the field – next best was 13.
- Naturally we led the league with 53 saves.
- Pitching 1210 1/3 innings was only eighth.
- We were the only team in the league to allow fewer than 1,000 hits – in fact, we didn’t even make it to 900 (898.) Our 475 runs allowed (404 earned) was also first.
- By four home runs, our 67 home runs allowed also paced the league.
- A rare category we didn’t win: hitting 70 batters was only fourth-fewest.
- Not only did we set a league record with 1,389 strikeouts, we walked the most with 526. Strange.
- Because our walk rate was so high, we barely edged out Hickory for the best WHIP with a 1.18 rate (vs. 1.19.)
Our .979 fielding percentage was second-best to Hickory’s .980, but our 102 errors (the Crawdads committed 101) came in three more games than they played.
You may recall that last year the Orioles had no minor league playoff qualifiers – well, that changed this season. While Norfolk had a pretty dismal season (61-78), Bowie came within two games of winning the Eastern League after a 7-23 start by winning the second half and eliminating Harrisburg to win their division before succumbing to Trenton in the finals.
Frederick took our players from last season and had a dismal 53-84 campaign – so while they’re licking their chops at the prospects we’ll send their way in 2020, we’ll get the cream of an Aberdeen squad that just missed the NYP playoffs with a 42-33 record and perhaps even a few from a worst to first GCL team that blew the league away with a 38-15 mark but had its playoffs blown away in turn by the prospects of Hurricane Dorian.
Farther down the line, the Orioles’ two Dominican league teams combined to go 62-70 but that is considered a work in progress. However, we did get a handful of DSL alumni this season – mainly older players who filled out our pitching staff from time to time.
So how did my position players and pitchers of the month do?
April player – Robert Neustrom
I think I put the jinx on Robert when I picked him: the promising start yielded to an injury-filled season where he spent two stints on the injured list. After slashing a steady .285/5/36/.817 OPS in 47 games here overall, he struggled after a late July promotion to the Keys, hitting just .238/2/10/.629 OPS there in only 31 games. (On rehab, he was a terrible 1-for-16 with Aberdeen over four games.)
However, in the field Robert was a steady presence – his next professional error will be his first. Yes, in 122 professional games Neustrom still carries a perfect fielding percentage. It can be argued that he may not get to everything because his range factor is rather low by comparison to other SAL outfielders, but that may be a function of a high-strikeout pitching staff, too.
Seeing that Robert was a fairly high draft pick (5th round) and is only entering his age-23 season next year, I suspect he will be ticketed to remain at Frederick unless the outfield there is crowded by other holdovers. As will be discussed further, the Orioles seem to have something of a logjam of outfield prospects at their upper levels; a much stronger position than their infield hopefuls.
April pitcher – Grayson Rodriguez
Grayson was to this year’s Shorebird staff what DL Hall was to the 2018 version: a hot prospect out of high school who made a lot of older batters look silly. Carefully watched this season and kept on a relatively short leash – his longest start out of the 20 he made was 7 full innings and exactly 100 pitches, but his average was less than 5 innings and about 77 pitches a start – Grayson was both a league All-Star and the SAL’s lone representative in the Futures Game, where he pitched a scoreless inning. (Oddly enough, Hall was also there and did the same.)
For the 2019 campaign, Rodriguez led the Shorebirds with 10 wins, piled up an impressive 129 strikeouts in 94 innings pitched, and was the one long-term starter with a sub-1 WHIP at 0.98. (He allowed only 57 hits and 36 walks, finishing 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA.) Impressively, in three of his five August starts he allowed no hits, covering 14 innings. Unfortunately, that string didn’t carry into the playoffs as he was the losing Game 1 pitcher by allowing 4 runs in 6 innings. (Grayson also struggled a bit against Hickory in his one regular season start against them, attaining his second-worst game score among his starts of five or more innings.)
With all the similarities to Hall, I would suspect Rodriguez will follow him up the ladder and pitch at Frederick this season. Imagine the joy Orioles fans must feel in watching this young 1-2 lefty-righty punch work its way up the organization. Thus, I’m declaring Grayson Rodriguez my Prospect of the Year.
May player – Nick Horvath
While Nick had a month that was good enough to win the Shorebird of the Month honors, unfortunately he was sort of a one-hit wonder for the season. If you take the remaining months of the season Nick hit a collective .179 during those times; as it was Nick landed right on the Mendoza line with a .200/7/40/.625 OPS slash line for 2019 and that’s not going to get the job done.
Given the fact he was a fairly low draft pick and really parlayed one decent college season into the flyer the Orioles took on him as a pitcher/outfielder, it’s honestly hard to see Nick hanging on for his age-24 season unless he latches on here as a backup outfielder or tries the Mychal Givens approach and reinvents himself as a pitcher at the pro level. With the organizational outfield depth the Orioles have, I tend to doubt this will occur – but stranger things have happened and perhaps Nick gets another shot.
May pitcher – Drew Rom
How it was that the two youngest pitchers on the staff took home the first two awards – well, I don’t know. But Drew put together a solid season; however, he seemed to run out of gas toward the end (except for his final start, which must have seemed to him to be the light at the end of the tunnel as he threw five no-hit innings at the hapless Lakewood BlueClaws.) After July 1, he had a rather pedestrian 5.09 ERA, which belied his overall numbers (6-3 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.)
Like many of his cohorts, though, Drew could be a strikeout machine as he fanned 122 in just 95 1/3 innings, while walking a very acceptable 33. In checking his splits, though, based on this season Drew may be destined to be a bullpen piece – he was markedly better as a reliever (even in the cases where he was piggyback behind another pitcher, oftentimes Gray Fenter) than he was starting a game, even though he generally came in for “clean” innings.
And because he struggled at season’s end, not to mention he’ll only be in his age-20 season this coming year, I wouldn’t be too shocked to find him as our Opening Day starter, or the Opening Day closer. Drew actually jumped two levels this season, moving up from the Gulf Coast League to pitch here, so despite his lofty draft status as a fourth round pick I can see him repeating this level to start. (They may also hold him back in extended spring; however, if they do that I’m inclined to believe he will be picked up by Frederick.)
Drew turned out to be the next tier of pitcher below Rodriguez and a future SotM I’ll get to in due course. We could do well with a staff at that level next season.
June player – Cadyn Grenier
Somewhat emblematic of the difference in seasons and outlook the Orioles had was the fate of this highly-touted college shortstop. Struggling in the field and barely hitting .200 in his pro debut season last year, Cadyn was looking like a high-profile bust for a few weeks this season, too. But he finally began to put things together in June, getting his slash up to .253/7/39/.759 OPS before a promotion to Frederick in mid-July. There he ran into many of the same issues he had with Delmarva last season, hitting only .208 in 24 games before finding himself on the IL in late August.
Branching out to play second base as a tag team with Adam Hall, Grenier seemed to improve from the variation, not losing his fielding numbers when he moved up to the next level as well as improving on his 2018 stats.
Coming into his age-23 season, Cadyn will be pressed to improve at the same pace he did between seasons with Delmarva at Frederick. While he was a high draft selection (and we looked forward to his debut last year with the Shorebirds), on the organizational depth chart Cadyn has certainly fallen behind Mason McCoy – who Grenier supplanted as Shorebirds’ shortstop in 2018, but who’s moved up to Bowie thanks to a fantastic 2019 season – and may have Hall nipping at his heels after Adam’s nice season at the plate here. Fortunately for Cadyn, there aren’t any other hotshot shortstop prospects blocking his way forward so he should be able to improve at the same pace.
June pitcher – Gray Fenter
The second bite of the apple was enough for Fenter to thrive. Here for awhile to begin 2018 before being returned to Aberdeen for more seasoning, Gray took the bull by the horns early on and parlayed his initial piggyback role into a starting slot of his own.
Spending the entire season with the Shorebirds allowed Gray to put up 22 appearances (17 starts), amassing an 8-2 record and a team-leading 1.81 ERA. More importantly, based on a career number of about a strikeout an inning, Gray’s 123 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings blew that number away. 43 walks is a little bit concerning, but he managed to get by at this level with that stuff and seems to be good at fine tuning and adjusting.
However, there are a couple caveats in this story. This was Gray’s age-23 season so he’s a little older than league average – he missed all of the 2016 season due to injury. (It also leaves the intriguing prospect he could be picked in the Rule 5 Draft if he’s not protected.) Assuming he’s not plucked away by a pitching-desperate team, my guess would be that Gray will be trying to solve the Carolina League next season as something of a late bloomer.
July player – Jaylen Ferguson
Similar to Fenter, Ferguson was a player who saw time here in 2018 but struggled until his demotion to Aberdeen. But someone in the Orioles minor league coaching ranks saw something that made Jaylen worth keeping despite dreadful numbers all around in 2018. He would up coming back here to replace an injured player until becoming injured himself days after being picked as SotM and missing much of the rest of the regular season.
If you take Jaylen’s combined Aberdeen and Delmarva numbers (just 43 games total) he ended up slashing .287/6/32/.861 OPS – however, most of the OPS comes from the 6 homers he hit in 19 Aberdeen games. (He had none here with Delmarva.) But getting the late start from playing short-season ball and losing a month to injury makes it difficult to know whether these numbers were legit or if a regression to a .222 lifetime mean is coming – prior to 2019, Ferguson’s .234 mark with the GCL Orioles in his first pro season (2015) was his best season. Given he’s still considered an age-22 player thanks to a midseason birthday, I can see Jaylen starting back here and trying to stay healthy. For him, just playing a game that counts in April will be a first.
We should know 50 games in whether we have the Jaylen who slashed .296/0/18/.782 or .171/2/5/.512. If it’s the former we have a formidable top-of-the-order hitter who should get 400-500 plate appearances. If it’s the latter, we’ll know he had a monthlong flash in the pan.
July pitcher – Ryan Wilson
Making his second tour of duty with the Shorebirds after a stint in extended spring, Ryan was promoted from bullpen duty to make 17 starts for the Shorebirds this season, going 6-5 with a 2.80 ERA. Unlike some of his cohorts, though, he didn’t have numbers which went off the charts – in 93 1/3 innings Ryan allowed 73 hits, walked 29, and struck out 105.
Still, it turned out to be Ryan’s best season in what was his age-22 season, so on that basis I can see him being promoted to Frederick as either a back end of the rotation starter or a long relief guy. Wilson has the same sort of profile as a John Means as he was overshadowed by a host of pitchers who were deemed better prospects but got the last laugh. He’s the sort of pitcher who just goes about his business and you suddenly realize it’s the sixth inning and he’s only given up a run or two.
Otherwise, Ryan profiles as an organizational pitcher who may get to the double-A level because he repeated this level – however, he skipped the short-season A level so it can be argued his improvement season-over-season was appropriate.
August player – Johnny Rizer
One of a handful of 2019 draft picks to reach the Shorebirds this season, Rizer made the largest non-marketing impact: in 36 games here, he slashed .310/1/22/.761 OPS. Add in the 27 Aberdeen contests in which he participated and the numbers are pretty good for some guys in a full season: a .308/4/41/.821 OPS in just 260 plate appearances. He also played an errorless outfield.
While his outfield counterpart Robert Neustrom still has to earn his way into the prospect conversation, Johnny did nothing to dissuade his inclusion, albeit with a somewhat small sample size. I don’t think it’s out of the question that he jumps to Frederick to start next season, and if he puts another .300-plus season on the board he may be in the mix for a look from the Orioles two seasons hence. That’s putting the cart way out in front of the horse, but as I said Rizer did nothing to put that talk aside.
August pitcher – Gray Fenter
My only repeat winner this season, it’s also worth noting that Gray was the guy who was turned to when the season was on the line, and he produced in a big way with a memorable 6 1/3 inning shutout performance against Hickory with 13 strikeouts. Alas, the Shorebirds could not score either.
It’s one thing Gray will be remembered for here for a long, long time.
Here is a list of my Shorebirds of the Year, going back to the award’s inception in 2006. I’m also adding the Prospect of the Year, in parentheses. Some of these guys are now (or will be come December) in the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame, in bold.
- 2006 – Ryan Finan (Brandon Erbe)
- 2007 – Danny Figueroa (Brad Bergesen)
- 2008 – Sean Gleason (Zack Britton)
- 2009 – Ron Welty (L.J. Hoes)
- 2010 – Brian Conley (Tyler Townsend)
- 2011 – David Walters (Jonathan Schoop)
- 2012 – Brenden Webb (Dylan Bundy)
- 2013 – Lucas Herbst (Adrian Marin)
- 2014 – Chance Sisco (Mike Yastrzemski – Class of 2019)
- 2015 – John Means (Jomar Reyes)
- 2016 – Yermin Mercedes (Ryan Mountcastle)
- 2017 – Alex Wells (no prospect award)
- 2018 – Brenan Hanifee (DL Hall)
- 2019 – keep reading (Grayson Rodriguez)
This year there weren’t many slam dunk choices, as it was a team carried by the pitching and many of those pitchers departed before they were on the team for the requisite 2/3 of the season.
Among the pitchers, it was really a two-man race between the Grays – Grayson Rodriguez and Gray Fenter. Both have compelling arguments: the elite prospect status and team-leading wins and strikeout totals for Rodriguez vs. the ERA lead and more humble beginnings for Fenter, who was here for the second time.
On the batting side, however, there was a player who was always in the hunt for monthly honors and arguably should have won in May. It was never more than a player or two who had beaten him, but over the long season there were some impressive numbers: a .298/5/45/.780 OPS total in a team-leading 122 games, along with a easy lead in steals with 33.
Last year I went off the board for a guy who was a constant force all seaon, and this year I’m doing the same for the 2017 second round Oriole pick from Bermuda via Hamilton, Ontario. The Shorebird of the Year for 2019 is infielder Adam Hall.
I promise you now that we are all moved into one home and out of the old one: next week is the return of picks and pans (with a twist), and that will close out the books on the 2019 campaign until I induct my three-member Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2019 in early December.