Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan, 2021 edition

It’s been a loooooong two years since I last wrote some of these, and to be honest I thought a lot about it would change. But the funny thing? My first pick was the then-new concourse, but I never made it out there this season. Perhaps because it’s still underutilized despite my suggestions.

It was no surprise that attendance was down this season: no benefit of a “normal” offseason, having a somewhat shorter schedule overall, and getting a lot of questions about COVID restrictions after beginning the season with limited capacity all took their toll on the gate, which tumbled to a franchise-low 110,281 for the 60-game home season. Yet even the best six-game week only brought 14,249 to the park, which was about 4,000 fewer than an average pre-COVID six-game week would draw.

But I can’t really pan the staff this season, because if ever a group deserved a mulligan it was this one. Here’s hoping that, with the pandemic beginning to recede, 2022 will become a good comparable to 2019 – albeit with four fewer openings as the low-A schedule compressed to 132 games, 66 home and away. That makes a difference of about 12,000 fans. Drawing 200,000 once again next season would be an achievement but it’s doable. Getting back to full staff will also be a big help.

Because of the lack of staff, I can’t really pan the food too much – however, if I were to make a suggestion (and integrate my other idea) it would be nice to have a select-your-own sub (as in hoagie) station out on or near the concourse. It could even be cold subs or something not requiring a great deal of cooking, but I think it would be a nice idea for variety. Also, I wouldn’t mind them bringing the supreme pizza back – not that I ever recall eating it when it was here a couple years ago. (These guys make a surprisingly good pizza, even if it is just cheese or pepperoni.)

And now that we have some assurance that the team will be here, perhaps it’s time for more of those back-of-the-house improvements. (They did update the restroom at the entrance level concourse this year, refinishing it.) But even better, I think there could be a lot more done with the lobby and entrance to the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame.

In looking at it over the years, I think the original intent of the stadium was to have most of the people enter by going up the stairs to the upper concourse where most of the concession stands are, then work their way down to what used to be the general admission bleacher seats. The lower center entrance was probably envisioned more for the box seat holders, but it’s become the predominant entrance over the years to a point where the upper entrances were barely used this year. (Maybe once or twice.) I’m not sure how to do it without looking at a plan, but it seems to me that they could make it a better experience than just walking down a nondescript hall. If you get the kid’s perspective of going up the stairs then reaching the top, smelling the smells, and then crossing the concourse to see the green grass of the field – although that view is unfortunately blocked by the elevator tower – maybe you’ll understand why this is something that interests me.

But looking forward to 2022, it will be nice to have the full amount of time to prepare promotions for next season. We did manage several fireworks shows, Scrapple Night, and a Gallos de Delmarva night at the tail end of the season, so it wasn’t a lost season by any means. Get the giveaways to be available on their appointed night and we should be all right.

Speaking of picks, instead of predicting the 25 players we were going to get (which would have been nigh-upon-impossible given this spring’s situation) I predicted how the league’s teams would finish. Here’s how that turned out:

  1. Down East Wood Ducks (Texas) (72-48, 2nd overall, lost championship series)
  2. Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore) (68-52, 4th overall based on tiebreaker*)
  3. Charleston RiverDogs (Tampa Bay) (82-38, 1st overall, won pennant)
  4. Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland) (58-62, 7th overall)
  5. Columbia Fireflies (Kansas City) (48-71, 10th overall)
  6. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Chicago Cubs) (59-61, 6th overall)
  7. Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Houston) (55-85, 8th overall)
  8. Salem Red Sox (Boston) (71-49, 3rd overall, won our Northern Division)
  9. Carolina Mudcats (Milwaukee) (68-52, 5th overall)
  10. Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox) (40-79, 12th overall)
  11. Augusta Greenjackets (Atlanta) (54-66, 9th overall)
  12. Fredericksburg Nationals (Washington) (44-76, 11th overall)

(*) We defeated Carolina in the season series, 8-4.

Given these numbers, I would say the surprises were Salem and Carolina, which didn’t look like they would have very good teams based on their systems but turned out to be two of the teams in contention until the final days. Lynchburg and (especially) Columbia, on the other hand, seemed to be the real underperformers. Aside from those outliers, though, teams tended to finish a position or two off where they were expected to be (except Myrtle Beach, who hit their 6th place target by a game over Lynchburg.) So maybe I’ll try again for next season, with the added bonus of knowing each team’s schedule.

So there you have picks and pans. I’m going to take it easy for a few days.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2021 season wrapup

There were a few fretful days when I wondered if I would be able to write this post.

We first had to endure the cancellation of the 2020 season thanks to the CCP virus and our reaction to it, then had to learn our fate as the powers that be at Major League Baseball sliced and diced the old minor league baseball system. Fortunately, we did not come out as Julienne fries.

Instead, we survived as the Orioles’ lowest full-season team in a hybrid regional league called the Low-A East that combined teams from the old South Atlantic League and demoted franchises from the former Carolina League and played an excessively divisional schedule where 96 of the scheduled 120 games (a season shortened by 20 games from our old format) were played against three teams: the Fredericksburg Nationals, Lynchburg Hillcats, and Salem Red Sox. (None of whom came from the old SAL. In fact, we did not play an SAL alumni team in 2021.) For long stretches of the season, the team did not emerge from the Maryland/Virginia combo and did not venture south of North Carolina all season. Before April is out next season, though, that will be rectified as the Shorebirds make a long road trip to Augusta, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina. It will be a 132-game campaign, which is slated to be the plan for the A-ball level going forward.

Once play began it was apparent we would have a successful team, but then aggressive player advancement by the Orioles meant our roll was slowed for awhile in the second half of the season, causing us to fall behind Salem in a division we led for much of the first half. The influx of (mainly) 2021 draft choices in mid-August turbocharged a team that had fallen off its early torrid pace to stand at 48-42, but even a 20-10 finish wasn’t enough to catch Salem – a team that was our nemesis all year. The Red Sox were one of two teams against whom we had a losing record (14-16) with the other being the Down East Wood Ducks (4-8). They were two of the top three teams in the league. Conversely, we were 25-11 against Fredericksburg, 17-13 against Lynchburg, and 8-4 against Carolina for a 68-52 mark overall, tied with Carolina for fourth out of the 12 teams. Had the league employed a more traditional 3 division winner + 1 wildcard format, we would have grabbed that number four slot based on the tiebreaker. As it was, we played spoiler – eliminating Salem from contention by beating them in the final game of the season and allowing the aforementioned Wood Ducks into the league championship series, where they fell in five games to Charleston.

Because I liked the team stats format I used for 2019, I’ll use pretty much the same with new numbers plugged in.

  • Our .253 average was good enough for 4th out of 12 teams. We came out of a July slump to post good numbers.
  • We scored a club-record 720 runs in 16 fewer games than it took the 2000 team to accomplish the old record of 700 – yet that was only third in the loop.
  • The Shorebirds finished fifth in the league with 1004 hits.
  • Power numbers were interesting: 187 doubles were 7th, but the 20 triples were dead last – one behind Fredericksburg. So figure out this logic: we were third in the league with a franchise record 113 home runs, beating the 2016 squad that had 112 in 139 games.
  • Just like runs, we had 646 RBI and finished third overall.
  • 1,570 total bases was enough for the fifth spot.
  • We drew 573 walks, second only to Carolina’s 642, and struck out 1,097 times to be second lowest behind Salem’s 1020.
  • The Shorebirds were sixth-best in both stolen bases (152) and getting caught (41.)
  • They were third in on-base percentage at .358 and fourth in slugging with a .396 mark, leaving them fourth in OPS with .754 overall.

We had record-setting pitching two years ago. This season, though, we were bested by a couple select teams in most categories.

  • In a more difficult year for pitching leaguewide, we finished second with a 4.14 collective ERA. Charleston led at 3.45.
  • We finished fifth in the league with 28 saves.
  • We threw the fifth-most innings at 1,028.
  • 929 hits allowed was fourth-best. Our 573 runs allowed was third but our 473 earned was second behind Charleston, who allowed 494 and 403 respectively. So while our pitching was frustrating at times, so was everyone else’s.
  • We again finished fifth with 95 home runs allowed.
  • We led the league by hitting only 55 batters, one fewer than Salem.
  • Our 1,161 strikeouts was only good for eighth, but our 432 walks was third. Strange stat of the year: one intentional walk. It was so unusual I had to see who allowed it (Jensen Elliott) and who he walked (Stephen Scott of Salem), way back on May 9. It was the one Sunday game I missed, for Mother’s Day.
  • Our 1.324 WHIP was second again, miles behind Charleston’s 1.176.

We had a rough season fielding with a .965 fielding percentage that was ninth, and our 148 errors ranked even worse in tenth leaguewide. We also finished ninth in double plays turned with 205, tied for fifth with 20 passed balls, and allowed 172 stolen bases to rank ninth. The 15% caught stealing was tenth out of the twelve teams.

In terms of the Orioles’ revamped minor league system, we have an incomplete grade thanks to the extension of Norfolk’s season – however, they’re still mired near the bottom of the Triple-A East at 51-75 as of this writing.

Thanks to a fortuitous rainout affecting the Somerset Patriots, Bowie didn’t have to endure a playoff game to make the Double-A Northeast finals with a 73-47 record. But they were swept out by Akron, who also won Bowie’s division as the top two squads came from the same division.

Aberdeen also finished second in its division, but well short of the playoff mark with a 58-61 record in the High-A East.

Out of eight teams in the South Division of the Florida Complex League, the two Oriole teams finished sixth and eighth – the Black team was 18-27 while the Orange team finished a league-worst 10-33. Hopefully that’s a issue with diluted talent between two teams and not a sign to come for the 2022 Shorebirds.

Unfortunately, the story was similar in the Dominican Summer League where the Orioles 2 team was 23-27 and finished sixth in an eight-team division and the Orioles 1 team was the #1 worst at 13-34. That’s not what you would expect from a farm system deemed to be the best in baseball right now.

Now it’s time to look at how my position players of the month fared.

We begin with J.D. Mundy, who did well enough in May to both win the position player honors and a promotion to Aberdeen before the month was out, based on a .324/4/20/1.038 slash line here in 20 games. In other words, he was picking up an RBI a game. Once promoted to Aberdeen, J.D. slowed down slightly with a .278/11/37/.881 OPS in 52 Aberdeen games before an injury ended his campaign a month early. Because he missed some time at the end of the season, it’s not known if he would have made the jump to Bowie like some others did but he may do so early on in 2022. He’s not going to be old (24) for the level he’s at, though.

June’s top position player was Mason Janvrin, who also eventually made it to Aberdeen despite a paltry batting line of .203/10/33/.664 OPS in 82 games here. In the season’s last two weeks Mason went 2-for-17 in 6 Aberdeen games, picking up a couple RBI along the way. Perhaps helping Mason was his being far and away the leader in drawing walks while with Delmarva, picking up a team-leading 47 free passes (second was 28.) Janvrin also led in runs with 68 and stolen bases with 25. Great speed and good batting eye, but not likely to advance much farther without another 60 points on his batting average. He will also be 24 next season.

He came here to succeed J.D. Mundy as primary first baseman, but TT Bowens had his own stellar month in July and soon advanced to Aberdeen himself after Mundy went down. Getting his first taste of pro ball this season, Bowens slashed .237/13/46/.786 OPS in 64 Delmarva games before doing even better in Aberdeen with a .259 average, 5 home runs, and 9 RBI to go with a .772 OPS. With another week or so on the team, Bowens could have been a serious contender for Shorebird of the Year but finished just short of the 2/3 of the season on the roster required. A popular guy here, but sort of a fringe prospect given his NDFA status – however, the improvement from level to level and appropriate age (another 24 year old next season) are plus marks for Bowens.

The only position player to play for the team start-to-finish, Darell Hernaiz won the Shorebird Position Player of the Month honor in August. Because he was here the whole time, Hernaiz led the team in numerous categories: 94 games played, 410 plate appearances, 372 at-bats, 103 hits, 52 RBI, a .277 batting average (as the top qualifier), and 133 total bases. For the season his numbers were .277/6/52/.690 OPS. Hernaiz won’t turn 21 until later on next season so he’s a guy who could make the Aberdeen squad in 2022 but may end up here for a couple months to see if he can get to elite level, like a .300 average with just a bit more pop.

The best of a late-season recharge of 15 players that came for the final 30 games, Coby Mayo won the September position player honors. Starting out in the Complex League, Coby tore the league up to the tune of .329/4/15/1.005 OPS in 26 games before 27 games of .311/5/26/.964 OPS hitting here. He turns 20 over the winter, and is in a similar situation as Hernaiz in that his numbers merit a promotion but his lack of experience may hold him back here until midseason.

Now let’s see how the pitchers did.

I began with Xavier Moore, who parlayed a good month-and-a-half with Delmarva (1-2, but with a 2.89 ERA, 1.232 WHIP, and a 27/11 K/BB ratio in just 18 2/3 innings spread over 7 appearances) into being my May Pitcher of the Month and to a promotion to Aberdeen, where he had the same won-lost record but blew up to a 9.00 ERA in 14 appearances covering 19 innings, where he allowed only 15 hits but a 23/14 K/BB ratio and 5 home runs. He was on a starter’s schedule but only threw an inning or two in each appearance. Moore may come back here to begin next season because he really didn’t show much at Aberdeen. He may be ticketed to be a late-inning guy for us next season; if so, he needs to pitch more frequently. Moore turns 23 over the winter.

June’s Pitcher of the Month was the “work fast, throw strikes” guy Jake Lyons. After putting together a good campaign for Delmarva [4-3, 3.69 ERA, 1.361 WHIP, and 85/34 K/BB ratio in 68 1/3 innings (11 starts in 19 appearances)] he got to pitch 3 games with Aberdeen where he went 0-1, 3.18 in 11 1/3 innings with a 0.971 WHIP and 17/3 K/BB ratio – sort of like he found another gear. He was a consistently good pitcher with Delmarva and should be the same for Aberdeen next season. In fact, Jake led the team in strikeouts but was only 3rd in innings pitched so that should tell you he has good stuff. He won’t be 23 until deep into next season, by which time he could be knocking on Bowie’s door with continued improvement. He could surprise some folks as a 22nd round choice.

In July I selected Noah Denoyer as the Pitcher of the Month. Out of those pitchers who would be closest to qualifying for league honors, Denoyer led in ERA with a 2.87 mark to go with a 5-3 record in 15 appearances (11 starts.) In just 59 2/3 innings Noah allowed but 45 hits and had a 71/25 K/BB ratio. Noah got another 12 innings in 5 appearances with Aberdeen and pitched to a 2.25 ERA and only bumping his WHIP up from 1.173 at Delmarva to an even 1.25 at Aberdeen. Denoyer will turn 24 just before spring training next season but he looks like he belongs with Aberdeen, too. Very good for a guy passed over in the 2019 draft.

Part of a two-player return in the Jose Iglesias trade, my August Pitcher of the Month had the most dominant stretch of the year during his run. Jean Pinto is a pitcher on the rise, moving up after 20 innings of 1.80 ERA, 0.75 WHIP ball in the Complex League to put up good numbers here. No, he didn’t match the almost absurd 28/4 K/BB ratio he had in Florida, but 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA, 56/13 K/BB ratio, and just 29 hits allowed in 46 1/3 innings here may give the 20-year-old (21 in January) Venezuelan a new challenge in Aberdeen to begin next season. He might elbow some older guys out of the way in doing so.

On the other hand, my September Pitcher of the Month may be auditioning to keep his career going. It’s not that Rickey Ramirez did a bad job during his time here, going 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.214 WHIP in 28 innings with a 39/12 K/BB ratio in 18 appearances (16 as closer with 4 saves) but the fact that he’s old for this level (turns 25 next month) and was a Rule 5 pick from the Twins – the sort of guy who gets lumped into the “organization player” category. To keep up, Rickey basically has to make it to Bowie at the end of next season. (To be fair, though, the rebuilding Orioles have given a number of older pitchers their first crack at the Show this season, so there’s still hope for a guy like him.) After all, he endured a disastrous 5 appearances in the Complex League, where his ERA was 8.44, just to get to Delmarva.

*********

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)
  • 2015 – John Means (Jomar Reyes)
  • 2016 – Yermin Mercedes (Ryan Mountcastle)
  • 2017 – Alex Wells (no prospect award)
  • 2018 – Brenan Hanifee (DL Hall)
  • 2019 – Adam Hall (Grayson Rodriguez)
  • 2021 – keep reading (Jordan Westburg)

The biggest problem I had with selecting a 2021 Shorebird of the Year was finding an eligible player. I’ve had a longstanding rule that the player I select as Shorebird of the Year has to spend at least 2/3 of the season here, which would have been 80 games this year. (They did not necessarily have to play all 80 – in the case of a starting pitcher that would have only been 16 starts.)

We cycled through a team-record 74 players this season, and when I say record I mean they smashed the sucker – per Baseball Reference, the highest previous total of Shorebird players in a season I found was 61 back in 2012, the midst of an era of otherwise forgettable 50-odd win teams. But now that Aberdeen isn’t a buffer team below us I suspect this high total will be the rule and my selections will be limited.

Only two position players actually played more than 80 games here this season: Darell Hernaiz, who led the team with 94, and Mason Janvrin with 82. Christopher Cespedes was also on the active roster long enough to qualify, although he only played in 70 games. On the other hand, most of the pitchers who made 15 or more appearances qualified – I think my three exceptions were Gregori Vasquez, Rickey Ramirez, and Jake Zebron. That left a field of 10.

Out of that group, there were really four pitchers and a position player who separated themselves from the field: Noah Denoyer, Jake Lyons, Houston Roth, and Adam Stauffer among the pitchers, and Darell Hernaiz as the position player. Unfortunately, the pitchers didn’t interest me for various reasons:

  • Stauffer threw just 39 innings before his promotion, which isn’t much of an impact.
  • Roth led the team in wins with 8 but faded noticeably at the end of the season to finish with 4.54 ERA, highest among the group.
  • Lyons was perhaps the most consistent in the field but didn’t dominate in any one category.

Out of the group, the best pitcher was Noah Denoyer, whose 2.87 ERA easily led my cadre of qualifiers. Noah put together a great season for an undrafted free agent, but it’s hard to justify giving the award to a guy who threw less than 60 innings this season (and wasn’t a closer.) Compare that to my aforementioned 2012 campaign where, even with all those players, four pitchers exceeded 100 innings (and three of them are SotW Hall of Famers.) In a sign of the times, Roth led this season with 81 1/3.

Fortunately, we had a good, solid qualifying position player, a kid who improved himself most of the year and turned out to be a well above average performer when all was said and done.

After last year’s hiatus, we have an infielder as a SotY for a second straight year. This season it’s Darell Hernaiz.

It was that constant improvement and, quite frankly, the fact that the Orioles left him here to develop which tipped the scales toward Darell Hernaiz. There were a number of guys who, if they had stayed for a few more weeks, would have been contenders but going forward this award may be for the team turtles who advance slowly and steadily.

So all I have left for the 2021 Shorebird season is picks and pans next week, as well as some updates as required to the SotW Tracker before the Hall of Fame induction post scheduled for December 2. All this before we crank up another season with a home debut on April 8, 2022.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: September 2021

If you didn’t know me or didn’t read my website on a regular basis for years, it would be hard to guess what Jacob Julius, Nick Haughian, John Ruettiger, Dariel Delgado, and Mike Burke have in common. Yes, they all played for the Shorebirds but these are the five previous players who were honored in September as a Shorebird of the Week. In years past, whenever the season stretched for more than a handful of days into the month, I would have one last SotW honoree who oftentimes was the best of a small group who were left over as players who hadn’t yet been selected from the season.

This year is different, and may be unique once again. Given the delayed beginning to the season thanks to the CCP virus, we played a total of 17 games in September. It was a meaningful enough number that I decided to have one last crop of Shorebirds of the Month despite the shortened season and this season will be my first without a repeat winner.

If there’s one thing that can be said about Coby Mayo, he certainly has a game face to put on. But the kid had a September to remember, outgunning the more reputed Colton Cowser to be this season’s last Shorebird Position Player of the Month.

In the middle of August, the Shorebirds got a shot in the arm with fifteen new players, most of whom were draftees from 2021. One exception in that group was a player who was drafted in 2020 but was kept in Florida after spring training was completed this season to get a little more seasoning at that level. But all Coby Mayo did for the Shorebirds was slash .344/3/17/1.018 OPS for the month, terrorizing the various pitching staffs of Salem, Carolina, and Fredericksburg along the way.

Drafted in the 4th round of 2020’s abbreviated draft out of Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (yes, it’s that high school), Coby has given those fine folks something to be proud of as he finally made his long-awaited pro debut in the Florida Complex League back in June. Playing mostly for the FCL’s Orioles Black team, Mayo slashed .329/4/15/1.005 OPS in 26 total games before moving up to Low-A as a 19-year-old (he turns 20 in December.)

The third baseman showed no signs of stopping once he arrived here, hitting .311/5/26/.963 OPS and holding down third base in the 27 games he played here (out of 30 possible, a stretch where the team overall went 20-10.) Even with those gaudy numbers, though, there’s no guarantee he’ll be moving up to Aberdeen as the Orioles’ system is suddenly flush with a lot of great prospects on the left side of the infield. Mayo may well be here next April to start the season, but if he keeps up those numbers he won’t be finishing here.

On the other hand, my Pitcher of the Month may remind readers more of those obscure weekly honorees I alluded to earlier.

Coming out of nowhere as a minor league Rule 5 draftee, Rickey Ramirez showed the Low-A East what experience can do. We’ll see if he can return to High-A in 2022 after getting a taste of it in 2019.

Rickey Ramirez didn’t have the dominating month that some prior pitchers of the month have had, but instead was the steadiest of performers and rated high enough in all the categories to win the honor this month. His 10 innings of work this month was sterling, allowing just one earned run and seven hits, striking out 13 while walking three for a WHIP that was an even 1. He even picked up two victories for the month.

Rickey was another pitcher who was started slowly, making five appearances in the Complex League before moving up. And something about his approach must have resonated with the Orioles because the numbers in Florida were pedestrian at best, allowing five earned in 5 1/3 innings. For Delmarva, though, Rickey ended up 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 18 appearances covering 28 innings. He closed out 16 of his 18 appearances, garnering 4 saves (which joined a three-way tie for the team lead with Thomas Girard and Shelton Perkins.)

Unlike Mayo, who was a prized prospect, Ramirez was drafted in the 15th round by the Minnesota Twins out of Fresno State back in 2017. The Californian pitched two seasons in the Twins’ system, topping out at then high-A Fort Myers to begin 2019 but was eventually demoted to low-A Cedar Rapids.

He came to the Orioles as a minor league Rule 5 selection last year, and while these players are often footnotes to their new organizations, the Orioles put the comparative veteran (he turns 25 next month) in some prime spots. But it’s likely his time is running out unless he can latch on with Aberdeen next season because there aren’t many 25-year-old prospects toiling at this level.

As advertised, next week I’ll be revealing my Shorebird of the Year as I wrap up this most unusual of seasons.

The final day

This post is intended to be a pictorial diary of a day in the life, but it’s more than that.

I jokingly refer to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium as my “summer home” since I spend a lot of time there each season. Last Sunday they played their final home game against the Fredericksburg Nationals, and while I normally take my 35mm camera to get the player photos I use for Shorebird of the Month, I also have my cell phone to get the obligatory picture I take and share on my social media.

In years past, though, I did more of a social media story on the last day but since I had companions for the game this season I was a little bit too engaged for that. In fact I sort of forgot I took these until I cleaned out my cell phone photos today – luckily, the pictorial is still appropriate because today was the Shorebirds’ actual finale as they finished on the road at Salem.

So most of the rest of this goes in with my long-standing “pictures and text” format. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this fan’s perspective.

Here we are, the front entrance to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium. Through those front doors awaits another episode in the continuing saga of young men living out their dream of being paid to play baseball. One thing I’ve noticed this season is that the steps have seldom been used for gates to the upper levels. That may have been a staffing shortage issue.
My first stop on this last game – which is always Fan Appreciation Day – was to drop my name into a bucket for full- and half-season ticket holders to have a chance to win prizes. It was a little different this season, probably due to the pandemic, in that winners didn’t randomly select their prizes on the dugout between innings.
This was a sampling of what all the fans, including but not limited to season ticket holders, could win. This year I kept alive my 16-season string of never getting my ticket number or name drawn, as did those who I was there with. It didn’t look like the swag was quite as valuable as it was in prior years but that’s all up to the sponsors and they’re probably feeling tough times as well.
This concession stand, which was renamed this season, is generally my first stop once I get situated at my seat. I’ll get into this aspect more when I do “picks and pans” next month, but I have no complaints about Carolyn and her helpers. A lot of times this season this was one of only 4 or 5 stands running when the park has (by my count and memory) 8 concession spaces. I’m sure that’s another staffing issue.
Back at my seat, with the teams warming up. You can see part of the 9/11 tribute they painted onto the field after the game on the 10th. I was thinking about it, and since 9/11 occurred in 2001 this is probably the first time they’ve played at home on the date – the season normally ended Labor Day and since 9/11 occurred they had not made it beyond the first round of the SAL playoffs, meaning our games was done well before the 11th of September. The delayed start this season allowed us to play that late in the summer for the first time.
He’d probably hate me for putting this up because he’s a “behind the scenes” type, but Shorebirds General Manager Chris Bitters always takes a few minutes before the final game to thank the fans and staff. It’s hard to believe that, in a field where staff turnover is the norm, that we’ve had Chris around for almost 15 years (and his assistant Jimmy Sweet for about as long.) This season he acknowledged what a difficult campaign it was to put together given all the uncertainty and lack of staff (like about 30 food service workers in a summer where the normal number is over 100) but was pleased the fans came out. And, most importantly to me, we actually played this summer.
I know this wasn’t the first pitch, but it was early on in the action. It was a nice afternoon for baseball but the Shorebirds were down 2-0. The FredNats got an early lead off pitcher Jean Pinto, who came on in the second inning to relieve the rehabbing Ty Blach, who pitched a scoreless first. Pinto eventually settled down to allow just the two runs in six innings.
The game progressed on a warm, sunny afternoon. One difference, though, between this and most other games was that there were no between-inning promotions because they were drawing winning numbers for the raffles at those times. So Sherman got to skip out on a couple things he was normally involved in, like the mascot race where he always figures out some way to overconfidently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory over a little kid. Yet one tradition that remained was the chicken dance that came at the end of the seventh inning, a frame where the Shorebirds finally got the lead for the first time, 3-2. They were primed to make a winner out of Pinto.
Instead, it turned out to be an exciting finish after all. The FredNats tied it in the top of the eighth but the good guys got a single by Connor Norby to lead off their half then, two outs later, Billy Cook singled him in to give the Shorebirds their winning 4-3 margin. Despite giving up the tying run in the eighth, Daniel Lloyd picked up the win.

As you can see, this one was closed out almost in record time as they finished in 2 1/2 hours. We were leaving the park at about the same time we would come in for a normal Sunday game in the summer that starts at 5:05. (In the spring months, they start at 2:05 like this one did.)

Also unlike a lot of seasons, we have not yet seen the schedule for next year. (We knew what the 2020 schedule was supposed to look like in mid-August 2019, for example.) From the schedules I have seen for the AAA level, it looks like minor league baseball will retain its six-game blocks for the most part as well as the Monday day off, with the exception of playing on Memorial Day and Independence Day. Teams will be switching venues between Sunday, July 3 and Monday, July 4 so that all teams will have a chance at a fireworks night (which was an omission on the 2021 schedule.)

It also appears we would go back to a more traditional schedule where the season begins in April and ends on the Sunday before Labor Day. Having a 22-week season (132 games) as we are now supposed to have for low-A ball would then slot the opener for us on April 5, 2022.

If so, then my count for waiting is anywhere from 198 to 205 days, depending on where we open. Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be there.

As I’m finishing this, the Shorebirds are finishing as well. They held on to win the finale 9-7, knocking their opponent Salem out of the playoffs as well. We finish the season 68-52.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2021

This month’s contests were a battle of attrition.

Because the position player roster had a significant upheaval in the middle of the month, I had a dilemma: the new players wouldn’t be on the roster long enough to qualify (I use 2/3 of the games as a criteria) nor would the players they were replacing. Fortunately, I had a pretty good candidate who stayed all month and that guy was Darell Hernaiz.

One of the few Shorebirds to be around for the whole month, Darell Hernaiz kept his share of playing time despite the influx of new talent.

In August Hernaiz hit .272/1/16/.667 OPS, playing in 20 games. He had a few breathers when the new kids came to town, but has settled into regular shortstop duty in the latter part of the season after splitting time between second and third while Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson were here manning short. Having just turned 20 during the season and not putting up quite the numbers the more highly-touted Westburg and Henderson have, it appears the Orioles are quite content to leave Hernaiz here for a full season and give him a chance to move up to Aberdeen for 2022. For the campaign, though, the Puerto Rico native (who was drafted out of Americas High School in El Paso, Texas) has slashed .270/5/44/.673 OPS, and has been perhaps the most consistent performer we’ve seen as his monthly average numbers have held between .256 and .281 for the season. In addition, Darell has 16 steals on the season.

Darell’s always been a contender for the position player of the month honors, but had Colton Cowser started a week earlier and stayed on pace he may well have been the honoree. Cowser was the best of a large group of (mostly) newly-drafted players to make the leap from the Complex League in August and will surely be a player with a good chance of being my first-ever September position player of the month.

As for the Pitcher of the Month, it was an easy choice for me and probably about that easy for the Low-A East League, which is also honoring Jean Pinto.

Jean Pinto was a key addition to the Shorebird pennant push as he took the Low-A East by storm in August.

Pinto, whose modest career had heretofore been three brief starts in the Dominican Summer League for the DSL Angels’ team, was half of the player haul the Orioles received in their trade of Jose Iglesias last December 2. And while Iglesias has wore out his welcome with the Angels, who released him last week (since signing with the Red Sox) Pinto is coming into his own as a 20-year-old pitcher for the Shorebirds, who received him when he was promoted from the Complex League July 27.

While Jean, who hails from Valencia, Venezuela, did not get a decision in his five August starts, he did pitch a team-leading 26 2/3 innings, allowing but 13 hits and four earned runs for a 1.35 ERA, striking out 29 and walking only 6. (That’s a WHIP of just 0.72 – mighty stingy.) His two best starts in August were matching six-inning, two-hit dominations of Down East at home and at Lynchburg where he also struck out six in each start without walking a batter. That’s the kind of consistency that will get a 20-year-old talent promoted eventually. And for the season, including his FCL stints, he’s sporting a 1-2 record with a 1.95 ERA, allowing batters an anemic .149 average along with a 65/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio overall. While newly-acquired Gregori Vasquez also had a pretty good month, Pinto was by far the cream of the crop.

I’m penciling Jean into Aberdeen’s rotation next season since he’s pretty much proven himself at this level.

It looks like, at this point, I will be doing the September Shorebirds of the Month on the 23rd since they are (as of this writing, on their off day) 5 games back of a playoff spot with 12 to play. That may sound insurmountable but the two teams directly in front of them are in the midst of playing each other and the Shorebirds play the current second-place team in their last series. So a good run may be enough depending on what else happens.

But unless they make the playoffs, I will do the Shorebird of the Year on September 30 and picks and pans on October 7. All that will be left for the year then will be the Hall of Fame induction post for my (so far) four members of the Class of 2021 in December.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2021

Okay, I lied. I managed to find a little time this week to get the post in so you don’t have to wait until the 12th. Truth be told, it was a pretty easy decision insofar as the position player went, but the pitcher was a razor-thin margin between two guys.

Let’s start with the position player, who ironically came up to replace a previous Shorebird of the Month.

TT Bowens in his game preparation before a recent game against Salem.

When J.D. Mundy got his well-deserved promotion to Aberdeen, he was replaced at first base by another undrafted free agent, part of the bumper crop of 2020 UDFAs. Even better, he also goes by his initials and brought a lot of the same game, slamming 12 home runs in his first two months. While TT Bowens doesn’t quite have the same batting average, he’s done his best to carry the team in July and those offensive numbers were enough to earn him the honor of Shorebird Position Player of the Month.

As noted above, TT came as a non-drafted signee last summer, so his June 1 debut also began his professional career in games that count. A Connecticut native and product of Central Connecticut State University, he probably wasn’t going to attract a ton of notice in an area that wasn’t a baseball hotbed (although he played on a NCAA-qualifying team in 2019.) But he had a June that put him in the conversation for that month’s position player honors and continued his solid play in July, winning the month’s Triple Crown. On the season (including a game in August) Bowens is hitting .235/12/37/.806 OPS, which puts him among the Shorebirds’ leaders for the season overall and particularly the players who have been here most of the season.

Slotted in behind Mundy in the Oriole organizational pecking order, it wouldn’t shock me to see TT finish the season here and see if he can eclipse the 20 homer mark. Normally consigned to organizational player status, the crop of UDFAs signed by the Orioles last year may have contributed more to the organization so far than the six guys they actually drafted.

Now let’s look at this month’s pitcher, who definitely earned the honor.

Noah Denoyer dominated the opposition in July, and on this August night would continue by tossing three shutout innings against Down East.

Like Bowens, our pitcher is an UDFA, but unlike him this guy was passed over during the entire 40-round draft in 2019. Coming out of San Joaquin Delta College in California, Golden State native Noah Denoyer signed with the Orioles on August 5, 2019 and was soon brought cross-country to throw a few innings for the Orioles’ former Gulf Coast League squad, 4 to be exact. (In that time he allowed 2 runs on 3 hits, fanning five while walking just one.) And losing a season because of the pandemic meant that Denoyer probably lost a campaign that may well have been split between the GCL and Aberdeen, with maybe a shot at the Shorebirds late in the season.

In five July starts, Noah only went 1-1 but pitched 24 1/3 innings, allowing just 5 runs on 19 hits. He did not allow a walk in his last 21 innings but struck out 27 overall (vs. 3 walks.) That’s the sort of control which makes for a successful pitcher, and thus far his lowest game score in a start has been 47. (For comparison, a minimal “quality” start where the pitcher allows 3 runs in 6 innings, with six hits allowed, six strikeouts, and three walks would net a game score of 49 in the Bill James version that Baseball Reference uses.) A little more luck and Noah may have had a couple more wins.

For all of 2021, Noah has a 5-3 record, a 3.02 ERA in 14 appearances (10 starts), and just 21 runs and 43 hits allowed in 57 innings. He has struck out 67, walking 25 – although he’s on the aforementioned stretch of starts where he’s allowed no walks, which will eventually give him a solid ratio of maybe 3 walks per nine if he keeps it going. Not bad for a small college guy passed over in the draft; perhaps the Oriole scouts have found another diamond in the rough who will be ready for advancement before the season’s out.

While the position player was a fairly easy choice, I agonized between Denoyer and Houston Roth for the pitcher honors. Both had sensational months (Roth picked up four of Delmarva’s ten wins for July) but Denoyer was just a tick better overall.

Because September begins on a Wednesday again, this time I will wait until September 9 to announce my August winners. Depending on whether the Shorebirds make the playoffs or not, the September winner will be announced September 23 or 30, with the Shorebird of the Year selected the week afterward and the return of my annual picks and pans the week after that.

Scary to think we only have seven weeks left in the season, and just 15 home games after tonight!

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: June 2021

June turned out to be quite the surprising month in the Shorebird of the Month derby, as the odds-on favorite for the honor had a pleasant problem: he was promoted with several days left in the month, leaving him short in several of the total numbers for June.

Shown in a July game against Salem, Mason Janvrin reached base in every game in June and 36 in a row overall.

However, an equally deserving contender arose from the pack, winning in a unique way: via the walk. While Mason Janvrin only hit a pedestrian .231/4/14/.826 OPS for the month, his on-base percentage of .390 led almost everyone else except for the promoted Trevor Kehe. His blend of power, speed, and a good batting eye – the combination allowing him to reach base in every June game he played in – was enough to win Janvrin the honor and make it two wins in a row for previously unheralded players.

Mason came to the Orioles from the University of Central Missouri in 2019 as a 14th round selection, despite hitting .418 his junior season. Sent down to the former Gulf Coast League Orioles like most late-round, small-college selections, Mason impressed enough people with a .341/0/12/.741 OPS start in 26 games (with 14 steals) that he earned a midseason promotion to Aberdeen, back when it was still a rookie NYPL team. In 16 Aberdeen games Mason hit .254 but without much in the way of power, compiling a less robust .567 OPS.

It’s possible Janvrin would have made it to Delmarva had the 2020 season gone on, but more likely in my opinion would have been a return to the IronBirds. Regardless, the 23-year-old Janvrin was probably destined for Delmarva this season anyway, but perhaps wasn’t expected to have significant time in left field as well as center. And Mason needed the good month, as it basically brought him to the Mendoza line overall – going into last night’s game Janvrin was only slashing .201/6/21/.684 OPS for the season and those numbers aren’t the way to become the first Janvrin to play in the majors in a century.

As you may have guessed, Gunnar Henderson was the early frontrunner for the honor but being called up with ten days left in the month denied him the opportunity to build up his numbers. Once Gunnar left, the best competition for the monthly honors was first baseman TT Bowens, who replaced my May Position Player of the Month J.D. Mundy.

Jake Lyons warms up before pitching in a June game against Salem.

We didn’t know it at the time, but 8 Oriole selections after Janvrin they drafted June’s Pitcher of the Month. Jake Lyons does not have the classic pitcher’s physique – Baseball Reference lists him at 6′-5″ and 280 pounds – but in the times I have seen him he does two things rather well: work fast and throw strikes. In June that formula was successful enough over 20 2/3 innings to give Jake both of the pitching wins he owns this season along with a 1.31 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. Jake struck out 33 batters to lead the team while allowing opposing hitters a .153 average and .450 OPS.

As noted, Jake was a 22nd round selection by the Orioles in 2019, two years after being drafted in the 22nd round by the San Diego Padres out of Weatherford College in Texas. A transfer to Oklahoma State didn’t necessarily help Jake’s draft position, but it may have allowed him to skip the Gulf Coast League and begin his career with Aberdeen in 2019, going 2-5 as a starter and bulk pitcher in 14 appearances covering 37 2/3 innings. Jake compiled a 2.87 ERA and 39/10 strikeout/walk ratio while with the IronBirds, which gave him a 1.115 WHIP.

Like most of the rest of minor league baseball, Jake saw his career put in pause mode and this season he is making up for lost time after a terrible May. Jake now has his season’s ERA down to a respectable 3.62 in 32 1/3 innings, allowing 13 earned runs and 26 hits to go with a good 40/16 strikeout/walk ratio. Unlike the revolving door we seem to have with position players, the Delmarva mound corps has stayed pretty much intact so far this season, perhaps because most of them did not pitch at all in organized fashion in 2020. We may see some bumping from below if Complex League pitchers start out well or the Orioles wish to start a draft choice here later this month, but Jake may be one of many pitchers who stay here for the season.

Unlike the position players, I had a couple good choices for Pitcher of the Month. I could have just as easily gone with Junior Feliz as well since he also had an impressive month on the hill, as did reliever Shelton Perkins (and his microscopic 0.32 WHIP, but in just 7 1/3 innings.) Lyons won this one by an eyelash.

I’m going to reserve the right to wait until August 12 to do the July winners since my first week in August is always taken up by someone’s birthday.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: May 2021

It’s been so long I had to remember how I titled these things.

After 20 months and the season that never was, I am finally back to one of my favorite regular posts. And let me tell you: the first one back was a real barnburner.

I had four legitimate candidates for the position player honors, many of whom are highly touted prospects and two of whom were promoted this past Tuesday to Aberdeen. (It really still seems funny to talk about promotions to Aberdeen after all these years of Frederick.) Any of the combination of Hudson Haskin, Gunnar Henderson, J.D. Mundy, or Jordan Westberg (the latter two being promoted) could have easily claimed the prize based on the month they had, with Henderson and Westberg garnering player of the week honors for the Low-A East. (Henderson was named the loop’s player of the month yesterday.)

For me, it really came down to a choice between Henderson and Mundy as the month wore down. My tiebreakers in these instances are how the player is performing vs. expectations (in this case, far exceeding) and how the player is doing fielding against the rest of the league and it turns out my winner has the best fielding percentage and range factor at his position in the league. So let me present my first position player honoree in 20 months, J.D. Mundy.

J.D. Mundy was a power-hitting first baseman who assured he wouldn’t be a repeat Shorebird of the Month by being promoted to Aberdeen at month’s end.

While it’s not as unique because the 2020 draft was abbreviated to five rounds, Mundy was an undrafted free agent signed last year by the Orioles out of Radford University – a school his uncle attended and close by his hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. (Perhaps Mundy would have preferred the Orioles wait until their first trip to Salem so he could play near his hometown, but certainly he’s not passing on the promotion.) Mundy transferred back to Radford after spending his first two college seasons at nearby Virginia Tech.

The now-23 year old Mundy made a splash in his first 20 professional games, slashing .324/4/20/1.038 OPS and playing a flawless first base in 17 of them. While he spent a lot of time as the DH in college and summer collegiate ball, the Orioles have been happy with his progress at first base and will challenge J.D. at Aberdeen.

As for a pitcher, one issue I’m having is the sheer number of pitchers on Delmarva’s staff. The one who statistically had the best month threw just 4 2/3 innings in May, which really isn’t much to work with. (Had he pitched in the game on Sunday instead of Tuesday, he would have been more of a contender.)

May Pitcher of the Month Xavier Moore is pictured during a June appearance against the Salem Red Sox.

Instead, the balance shifted to a pitcher who Mike Elias acquired back in March, 2019 for $750,000 in international bonus money. In return from the Minnesota Twins we got Xavier Moore – and in terms of acquisition mileage, Moore was well-traveled by the end of that day, considering the Twins had acquired him hours earlier from the Texas Rangers in exchange for OF Zach Granite. The Rangers had selected Moore two years earlier in the 16th round of the draft from Steele High School in Amherst, Ohio.

With the Rangers, Moore had reached as far as their Spokane affiliate, which at the time equated to short-season Aberdeen in ours. However, for the Orioles Moore toiled for the GCL Orioles, going 2-1 with a subpar 5.59 ERA in 19 1/3 innings, striking out 16 while walking 11 and allowing a WHIP of an even 1.5.

Thus far, though, Moore has turned things around to some extent. He’s pitched 12 2/3 innings, allowing just 8 hits with a 3.55 ERA to go with a 1-2 record. Most impressive, though, is the 22 strikeouts he’s amassed out of 38 outs. (The 7 walks is a bit of a concern, though.) Batters are hitting just .178 off Moore so far.

At just 22, Xavier is probably like most of the other Delmarva pitchers and shaking off the rust of a lost season. (He probably should have been here sometime in 2020, although he may have spent the season in Aberdeen then came here.) And while he has just one start, Moore has been a bulk pitcher in other appearances, pitching 4 innings apiece against Fredericksburg and Carolina in relief. (He got his win in the former game and a hard-luck loss on two unearned runs in the latter.) We will see what the Orioles decide to do with him and other would-be starters as the season wears on.

As for photos, I will add these once I have both players. I’m sure I have Mundy but not so much with Moore so I have to check. He was only here one game when I was and it was a late-inning appearance. Hopefully I have these May winners pictures up in time to select June’s on July 8th. (Indeed, I got Moore during his appearance on June 20, so the post is now complete.)

A little out of practice

I’m running a little late on this, and this is definitely in the category of a lighthearted personal post.

For those of you new around these parts, a tradition that’s been around almost as long as there’s been monoblogue is the selection of a Shorebird of the particular timeframe – until the end of the 2016 season I did this weekly, now I do it monthly but select both a pitcher and a position player. And since I’ve moved to Delaware and opened up the audience a bit, I probably should remind people that the first Thursday of each month during baseball season is reserved for my two honorees. Had the season began in its regular timeframe, this coming Thursday would have been the first installment. And boy, did I miss it at times last year!

So the reason I said I was late is that I time the posts for 7:00 Thursday night, which is the time the Shorebirds begin their games. If it’s a Thursday and the Delmarva nine is home, I am usually there so this fills any gap I have.

Anyway, what reminded me to do this post was the news the other day that the Orioles had promoted pitcher Jay Flaa to the team. It was an agate-type sort of promotion, as the pitcher only stayed for two days before being sent back to the Alternate Training Site in Bowie, but it made a little bit of history for me. Counting Flaa, a total of 49 players who were selected to be Shorebirds of the Week (or Month) have now reached The Show. (One has made it twice, first as a player and now as a coach.) There have been seasons where I didn’t have three make the bigs all season, especially early on, but with Flaa’s promotion I had three new members of the Hall of Fame in less than a month to start the season – all called up to the Orioles. Usually if I get three in a month, it’s September when rosters expand, so to have it in April means this could be a huge season. (Conversely, the change in roster rules to expand to only 28 in September means opportunities for a callup are fewer.)

So to prove I’m just an armchair analyst, this is what I wrote back in December when I weighed the prospects of the upcoming Class of 2021: “The HoF may only have 2 or 3 next year, although there’s big potential for surprises thanks to this lost season.” I guess you can color me surprised since I already have three, one of whom (Flaa) I didn’t hold out a great deal of hope for.

Yet the way baseball is going, I may have a class like I did a decade ago when I had seven honorees. Hopefully they will collectively be better, since that Class of 2011 had 4 guys who didn’t play in the majors beyond 2011 and two others who were (or have been) 4A players. (It also has Zack Britton, who has carved out a nice career for himself.) Those were pretty lean times in the Orioles’ system.

So if you see me on social media acting the fanboy about the prospects of another member of the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame, now you may understand why. And I can’t wait to get it going again, both for the Hall of Fame and the Tracker.

Pleasing predictions: the update

I actually have a weightier subject in mind for my next post, but I also have plenty going on surrounding my other side hustles so I decided to act on this one first.

Way back in December we learned that Delmarva would remain as an affiliate of the Orioles, becoming the low non-complex team on their totem pole. A few days later I noted a couple possible scenarios for the newly-revamped SAL as either two six-team divisions or three four-team pods. Turns out the powers that be in Major League Baseball who are now running the minor league show opted for the latter arrangement, exactly as I selected them.

What they sadly did not do (at least for the moment) was retain the South Atlantic League name, instead putting us in the generically-named Low A East. Hopefully they decide to maintain the longtime moniker since the league will now better reflect that geography.

The next step, of course, will be getting a schedule of 132 games – because of the CCP virus, the Shorebirds will not begin their season until May. This, of course, means that the back end of the season will be extended, perhaps into early October. (As part of that, however, I thought I read that there would be no playoffs – so, of course in that case Delmarva will be loaded this season.) They are also looking to minimize travel so I would expect a heavy intra-division schedule – my thought is that the Shorebirds will probably do two eight-game trips into each of the other divisions (i.e. Augusta/Columbia, Myrtle Beach/Charleston, Fayetteville/Kannapolis, Down East/Carolina) while we would be paired up with Fredericksburg for the returns.

If this is indeed the case, we could play the South and Central teams eight times each (four home/four away) for a total of 64 games. Of the remaining 68 games, they may decide that we see Lynchburg and Salem 20 times apiece (10 home, 10 away) and Fredericksburg 28 times (14 and 14) to minimize travel. It would remind some longtime fans (I’m looking at you, Karl) of the 2008 season, when high fuel prices dictated a steady diet of Hagerstown, Lakewood, and Lake County for about half of our 70 scheduled home games. (At least Fredericksburg is something of a natural rival as the Nationals affiliate, while most of the others are good geographic pairings. The North Carolina teams could almost play a round robin as they are quite close together comparatively.)

Of course I will miss the natural rivals we gained over the years as Hagerstown was dropped entirely from the MiLB lineup and Lakewood became Jersey Shore and moved up a level to high-A, playing (among others) the Aberdeen Ironbirds. But change isn’t unusual at this level: in the 16 years since I began attending Shorebird games, the SAL lost two teams to the Midwest League, had two teams move to new locations, a couple change names, and eight affiliation changes. The league has seldom stayed constant for more than a year or two.

The constant I’m looking for right now, though, is my behind constantly in a seat at the ballpark. Just let me know when to be there.

Pleasing predictions

The other night I took pictures of our sunset. Wanna see?

Sunset over my backyard in rural America.

I am just done with politics for the time being, and needing something to write about that held my interest, I decided to do a bit of research. (The sunset is just eye candy.)

On Wednesday last I noted that Delmarva will likely be a member of the revamped South Atlantic League with a new roster of opponents. And seeing that we had a stacked team in 2019 – one that secured the first Delmarva playoff berth since 2005 – I was curious what some of the opposition would look like.

So what I did was determine what sort of low minor league teams each of these systems had. Granted, there will be quite a bit of turnover as something like 250-300 minor leaguers will be consolidated to their best 180, but in general I believe the teams will still reflect the status of their systems. I went through the won-loss record of each team at this level and each of the three lower levels – short-season A, rookie, and Dominican League. When a team had multiple teams at a level (as they often do, particularly in the DSL) I added three wins to the better team since the worse team still has some talent which would displace players on the better team, making them more successful.

Long story short: if you ranked the twelve teams in the SAL, this would be the order they come in based on their parent organization’s record at these levels:

  1. Down East Wood Ducks (Texas)
  2. Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore)
  3. Charleston RiverDogs (Tampa Bay)
  4. Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland)
  5. Columbia Fireflies (Kansas City)
  6. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Chicago Cubs)
  7. Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Houston)
  8. Salem Red Sox (Boston)
  9. Carolina Mudcats (Milwaukee)
  10. Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox)
  11. Augusta Greenjackets (Atlanta)
  12. Fredericksburg Nationals (Washington)

If you set up the divisions as I had them, the order would be as follows:

South: Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Fayetteville, Kannapolis, Augusta

North: Down East, Delmarva, Lynchburg, Salem, Carolina, Fredericksburg

If there were a Central, this would be Down East, Fayetteville, Carolina, and Kannapolis. That would be a slaughter for Down East. Otherwise, the class of each division would be Charleston, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach in the South and Down East, Delmarva, and Lynchburg in the North. Those would likely be the teams battling it out for each half’s championship.

While the SAL was sort of random about the number of times each opponent played each other – we would sometimes see a team like Hagerstown or Lakewood 25 or 30 times a season and didn’t see Rome for years – assuming they play a full season of 132 games, I would suspect the schedule might work out to 8 games apiece against teams in the other division and 16 or 17 against divisional foes. Delmarva could make three eight-game trips to the south each season (say, Fayetteville/Kannapolis, Charleston/Myrtle Beach, Augusta/Columbia) while teams coming from the south could have their trip here paired up with Fredericksburg. A nice thing about six per division is that no cross-division games are necessary on any given day.

We’ll see how the season develops, but as we approach what would normally be the halfway pole between seasons, this is a good way to kindle the hot stove.

Shorebirds safe at home

This won’t wait until the usual Thursday night time slot because it’s good news!

The game of minor league musical chairs has finally come to an end, and the Shorebirds are in the same chair they started in – however, the party arrangement is going to be significantly different.

Today it was officially announced that the Delmarva squad has been extended an invitation to remain as the class A affiliate of the Orioles – an invitation they would be foolish to turn down, considering their former mates in the Orioles chain up in Frederick were frozen out, demoted to a new MLB Draft League consisting of draft-eligible college players and playing a short season of about 68 games against several former NY-Penn League teams.

Instead, players promoted from the Shorebirds will indeed be returning to Aberdeen, which hopscotched Delmarva to become the Orioles’ new high-A team, perhaps in a new league that will cover the Northeast. (At this point, there are only five high-A teams in the region, which means they may instead be a division in a larger league.)

However, the South Atlantic League as we know it is no more. Several of the teams in the 2019 version of the league were promoted themselves to the high-A level:

  • promoted to High-A: Asheville (Col to Hou), Greensboro (stays Pit), Greenville (stays Bos), Hickory (stays Tex), Jersey Shore (formerly Lakewood, stays Pha), and Rome (stays Atl).
  • SAL (A ball): Augusta (SF to Atl), Charleston (NYY to TB), Columbia (NYM to KC), Kannapolis (stays ChiW), and Delmarva.
  • no affiliation: Hagerstown, Lexington, West Virginia

So we have no chance to avenge our 2019 playoff loss to Hickory. Bummer. Even more so: Lexington will be involuntarily retired as two-time defending SAL champion.

In turn, the revised SAL gains former Carolina League teams: Carolina (Mil), Down East (Tex), Fayetteville (Hou), Fredericksburg (formerly Potomac, stays Was), Lynchburg (Cle), Myrtle Beach (ChiC), and Salem (Bos).

This would mean the new SAL goes no farther north than Fredericksburg and Delmarva and no farther south than Augusta. I could see this as an arrangement:

Southern Division: Augusta, Charleston, Columbia, Fayetteville, Kannapolis, Myrtle Beach

Northern Division: Carolina, Delmarva, Down East, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Salem

They could also create a Central Division of four teams out of Carolina, Down East, Fayetteville, and Kannapolis. It would put Delmarva in the Northern Division with three Virginia teams.

There’s a lot to like about this rearrangement in that it eliminates some of the longer travel runs for the Shorebirds, although they are now the outpost of the new league as Maryland’s only team. One big difference: we will no longer see some familiar affiliates such as the Phillies, Yankees, Pirates, or Mets. On the other hand, we will again see Cleveland’s and Tampa Bay’s youngsters for the first time in a decade, and the Cubs farmhands for the first time in my memory.

So the waiting is over. Now we need to see what kind of season we will have in 2021.