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.)

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.

Presenting: The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2020

Well, I didn’t get a minor league season this year but I did get a Class of 2020 for the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame.

This class will go down in history as perhaps the most unique in the 12 seasons I have done this. Of the three players who made it this year, they have 37 big league games between them – 35 of which belong to Ryan Mountcastle. My other two players – Yermin Mercedes and Garrett Cleavinger – have the distinct possibility of joining Zach Clark in the “one and done” club as Clark’s big league resume consisted of exactly one appearance.

Of course, you come closer to 100 big league games of experience if you count the 62 games the Cleveland Indians played with Kyle Hudson as a coach. He made it back to The Show and necessitated the new coaches wing of the SotWHoF.

With the shorter season, I was truly shocked that Mercedes’ August 2 debut was the first, and probably more shocked that he never returned to the Chicago White Sox roster where he played with fellow SotWHoF member Nicky Delmonico in the lineup – a rarity indeed as Delmonico only got into six games this season.

Needless to say, we all expected to see Ryan Mountcastle this year and he put up spectacular numbers – enough so to merit a little Rookie of the Year consideration but set him up well for the 2021 award since he will still be eligible. He looks set to be the Orioles’ left fielder after his August 21 debut.

And Garrett Cleavinger finally made it into a game in his second go-round on the Philadelphia roster, debuting September 17. Unfortunately, he was optioned back out the following day and did not get a third call.

Thus, this year it turned out I had a class of four: three players and one coach. For a shortened season it was a very good class and it included a couple players I thought might get the call last year at this time (Mountcastle was a no-brainer.)

While Wynston Sawyer came somewhat close to making his debut, briefly landing on the Yankees’ 40 man roster, I believe the window of opportunity is closing fast on what was a great group of 2014 players (not to mention those who were selected prior, like Sawyer.) And to be frank, 2015 and 2016 don’t look exceptionally promising, either, thanks to losing the entirety of the 2020 minor league season. 2015’s Ademar Rifaela isn’t anywhere near the Baltimore outfield conversation while guys from 2016 like Jay Flaa (frequently brought from minor league camp during spring training), Brian Gonzalez (who recently signed with the Rockies on a minor league deal after spending part of 2020 at the Orioles’ alternate training site), and Jesus Liranzo (pitching in the Dominican Republic this winter) didn’t really step forward.

So we look to the group from 2017-19. The only two remaining from 2017 are now both on the Orioles’ 40-man roster as pitcher Alex Wells recently joined outfielder Ryan McKenna there. While it’s not yet necessary for them to be placed on the 40-man, they are joined by 2018 hopefuls Zac Lowther (who is on the 40-man anyway), Mason McCoy, DL Hall, and Brenan Hanifee.

With a real outside chance, we have 2019’s Grayson Rodriguez (who was in the ATS this summer) and Adam Hall. Both are more likely to be in the Class of 2022. Missing an entire year of Shorebirds of the Month is going to create a significant drought around 2023-24, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding the 2021 minor league season and how long it will be scheduled for. (Assuming, of course, the Shorebirds remain part of MiLB – not exactly a given.) The HoF may only have 2 or 3 next year, although there’s big potential for surprises thanks to this lost season.

With the publication of this post, I’ll bring the newly updated SotWHoF back live and allow you to read and enjoy.

The season that never was

Normally on this date in this time slot I would be announcing my June Shorebird Pitcher and Position Player of the Month. Instead, I get to react to the bad news that there will be no Shorebirds of the Month in 2020.

It’s a decision that was sort of baked into the cake once we passed Memorial Day with no major league baseball in sight but on Tuesday Minor League Baseball pulled the plug on the 2020 season. For the Delmarva Shorebirds, it cancels what would have been their milestone 25th season, a campaign where they were likely to be among the South Atlantic League’s top contenders given they won a team record 90 games in 2019.

As far as my website goes, it really changes my summer routine. New readers might not know that, for the previous 14 seasons, I have honored two to five Delmarva players a month – first as Shorebird of the Week, and for the last three seasons I selected a Shorebird Pitcher and Position Player of the Month. Normally by this point of the season I would already have the thrill of knowing that two or three of them would be inducted into the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame come December as they had made their debut in the Show. Later this fall I would have selected a Shorebird of the Year and done my picks and pans as a Shorebird fan, commenting on the overall stadium experience during the season.

But while I will miss doing most of these posts – it is likely I will eventually have a Hall of Fame Class of 2020 based on who the Orioles and others are trying out – that’s not my main concern here.

While the Shorebirds put on a brave face in talking about a 2021 return, there is already a whirlwind of activity regarding minor league baseball with which to contend.

First of all, at season’s end the Shorebirds are no longer contractually obligated to be an Orioles’ affiliate. Normally this is a routine renewal but these aren’t routine times: with minor league contraction all but certain thanks to the proposed deal between Major League Baseball and their MiLB counterparts, the Orioles will need only four affiliates instead of five. An early list of contracted teams included the Frederick Keys, who serve as the advanced-A affiliate for the Orioles – presumably that franchise would relocate to Aberdeen, which was slated to lose its rookie league team as that classification is phased out but has facilities and a fan base sufficient to support a higher classification.

However, if Frederick is successful in convincing the powers that be to stay – a case bolstered by the fact Maryland will almost certainly lose the Hagerstown Suns, a class A team that’s the Shorebirds’ biggest rival but one which had been rumored for relocation over the last several years anyway because of outdated facilities and poor attendance – then the Orioles would almost certainly prefer keeping the closest affiliates. (I don’t think Norfolk is going to lose its AAA team.) In that case, the situation may play out such that Delmarva keeps its team but loses its longtime Orioles affiliation and returns full circle to the Nationals (the successor team to the Expos, who were Delmarva’s first parent team for a season when they relocated here in 1996.)

Yet there is a wild card in that, too, because in addition to the contraction, we are going to see classifications upended as well. Leagues seeking better geographical balance and shorter road trips may expand or contract themselves, or be created anew: one rumor was that a Mid-Atlantic League of six teams would be formed as a class A league. A possible configuration for that would be having Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Aberdeen promoted from rookie league to full season ball to serve as the class A teams for the Yankees, Mets, and Orioles respectively. Lakewood would remain in the loop as a Phillies team – although that affiliation could also be given to Wilmington, which would step down from the advanced-A Carolina League as its northernmost team and join a more regional outfit. The loser in that battle could likely be a Red Sox affiliate, leaving Delmarva to be the Nationals A-ball team. Travel would be reduced considerably, with the worst trip being Salisbury to New York City, and we would see all these teams 14 times over the home season.

So we have no idea whether the crushing disappointment of losing a playoff elimination game at home in a 1-0 heartbreaker may the the last memory of the Delmarva Shorebirds. The chances of that being the case are remote, but so was the idea that a virus would cost Delmarva baseball fans a triumphant 25th season with their team.

Fantasy baseball, the 2020 sequel: part 2, the season

Now that you are reminded of who plays on my fantasy baseball team of Shorebird of the Week Hall of Famers, you’d be welcome to ask: how would they do?

It took a few weeks of off and on work, but I updated the estimates for each remaining player from my 2019 team with their seasonal statistics, with the usual wild guesses of how injury-prone they would be and who would make for the best starting lineup, as I detailed last week.

So I had the set of individual statistics, but I needed a glue to put them together. Then I remembered how I did it last year:

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

My post from last season.

So I did that again, but it’s also worth recalling how the two squads compare in WAR.

2020 WAR2020 SotWPos.2019 SotW2019 WAR
0.6C. SiscoCA. Wynns1.5
2.0C. Walker1BT. Mancini2.0
1.4J. Schoop2BJ. Schoop2.3
1.4P. FlorimonSSP. Florimon1.5
5.8M. Machado3BM. Machado7.5
1.5YastrzemskiLFDelmonico0.4
1.2S. WilkersonCFC. Mullins1.5
3.7T. ManciniRFL.J. Hoes-0.3
-0.4DelmonicoDHC. Walker0.9
4.0E. RodriguezSPE. Rodriguez2.9
2.8Z. DaviesSPZ. Davies2.7
3.4D. BundySPD. Bundy3.1
2.2S. BraultSPS. Brault0.9
2.5J. MeansSPP. Bridwell1.0
1.2Z. BrittonCLZ. Britton0.8
2.2J. HaderRPJ. Hader1.1
1.3M. GivensRPM. Givens 1.3
0.9HernandezRPHernandez0.8
1.2O. DrakeRPE. Gamboa-0.8
41.9Total WARPos.Total WAR31.1

As you can see, the overall WAR is far better; in theory, this team is 10 wins better than last season’s. However, it’s worth noting that the aggregate WAR of the players lost from the 2019 squad is (-1.2) and they were replaced by three players who combined for 1.6 WAR. So that’s about 1/4 of the gain, plus the extra playing time may have increased some of the better players’ WAR numbers. This is important because when I did the aggregates of average, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS, I came out with a negative run differential. Thus, this team wouldn’t flirt with .500 by picking up 10 games from its 72-90 record last season, but they would improve modestly to a 74-88 record.

And don’t forget: having done all these numbers meant that, just for the fun of it, I projected some 2020 statistics for the position players and pitchers. Of course, there are some players who will get nowhere near this much playing time – the now-retired Ty Kelly immediately comes to mind, but there are a handful of guys listed who, as far as I know, hadn’t signed a free agent deal as we begin spring training: pitchers Pedro Beato, Scott Copeland, and Eddie Gamboa as well as utility players Pedro Florimon and Brandon Snyder and catcher Mike Ohlman.

Losing a few pitchers from the 2021 team won’t really hurt me, but the lack of position players may put me in a bind in continuing this concept – which, you may notice, was slimmed down to two parts this year. I still have fun doing it, but I have to keep it somewhat real, too.

But until April 9, when the plan is for me to be back in my Perdue Stadium seat (hopefully not freezing to death) this will have to suffice. (Although…once again the UMES Hawks are playing their home contests at Perdue, with the first scheduled a week from tomorrow – weather permitting, of course.)

So here you go – my version of fantasy baseball is complete for another season. Can’t wait for the real thing!

Fantasy baseball, the 2020 sequel: part 1, the team

It was about this time last year when I sated my jonesin’ for baseball with a fun exercise: putting together a fantasy baseball team based on the 40 players who had attained the status of being in the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. By the time I got to the last of three parts I had gotten far enough to create a projected set of statistics for each player.

One thing I mentioned in passing the first time around is that a number of players who were included on my 2019 team had actually stopped playing, meaning I had to recreate their career as if they hadn’t left the game. Most of those players were bench players and “September callups,” but this year I changed my rules a bit and only players who were active in 2019 would be included on this team.

Thus, the team lost a few players, but it also gained three as the SotWHoF Class of 2019 could be included. So this year’s squad includes pitchers Brendan Kline and Hunter Harvey as well as outfielder Mike Yastrzemski. With the additions and subtractions, the roster is quite a bit smaller:

Pitchers (20): Pedro Beato (R), Steven Brault (L), Parker Bridwell (R), Zack Britton (L), Dylan Bundy (R), Scott Copeland (R), Stefan Crichton (R), Zach Davies (R), Oliver Drake (R), Eddie Gamboa (R), Mychal Givens (R), Josh Hader (L), Hunter Harvey (R), Donnie Hart (L), David Hernandez (R), Brendan Kline (R), John Means (L), Ryan Meisinger (R), Eduardo Rodriguez (L), Jimmy Yacabonis (R)

Catchers (3): Michael Ohlman (R), Chance Sisco (L), Austin Wynns (R)

Infielders (5): Pedro Florimon (S), Manny Machado (R), Jonathan Schoop (R), Brandon Snyder (R), Christian Walker (R)

Outfielders (6): Nicky Delmonico (L), Ty Kelly (S), Trey Mancini (R), Cedric Mullins (S), Stevie Wilkerson (S), Mike Yastrzemski (L)

This team got a little skimpy on position players because I lost a lot of them due to “retirement.”

Breaking the squad down further, we have five pretty solid starting pitchers. Eduardo Rodriguez would be the staff ace, and I could set up the staff behind him to alternate in a lefty-righty punch: how about Zach Davies as your #2, John Means as the #3, and Dylan Bundy as #4? Steven Brault would be the most likely #5 to provide a true LRLRL rotation. Backing them up in the “minor leagues” would be Scott Copeland and Parker Bridwell.

And this fantasy team still has the loaded bullpen (in real life) with the likes of Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Josh Hader, Oliver Drake, and David Hernandez as the back end crew. I could go closer-by-committee or assign someone like Britton to be my closer. I also have some length back there with guys like Jimmy Yacabonis and Eddie Gamboa, who can pitch multiple innings in a pinch. Backing the bullpen up are optionable pieces Stefan Crichton, Hunter Harvey, Brendan Kline, and Ryan Meisinger as well as veterans Pedro Beato and Donnie Hart.

I have the same three catchers as last season, and I still have guys who can chip in at multiple infield positions based on their big league experience – just fewer of them. Christian Walker had a breakout 2019 both on my fantasy team and in real life, so he’s nailed down first base. I’ve also kept Jonathan Schoop as my second baseman, Pedro Florimon at short, and Manny Machado at third. Brandon Snyder will back up at the corners, although two guys listed as outfielders (Ty Kelly and Stevie Wilkerson) could play up the middle as required.

My outfield gained a starting left fielder in Mike Yastrzemski. He would be flanked by a competition between Stevie Wilkerson and Cedric Mullins for the center field spot and Trey Mancini handling right. Any of those could also be a designated hitter, along with the other backup outfielder Nicky Delmonico.

Basically, with this arrangement of position players I would probably only have to send down the third catcher thanks to the expanded 26-man roster.

On Opening Day, this is what I would send out. We’re assuming American League rules with a designated hitter, and Eduardo Rodriguez is my starting pitcher for the second season in a row.

  1. Cedric Mullins, cf
  2. Trey Mancini, rf
  3. Manny Machado, 3b
  4. Jonathan Schoop, 2b
  5. Christian Walker, 1b
  6. Mike Yastrzemski, lf
  7. Nicky Delmonico, dh
  8. Chance Sisco, c
  9. Pedro Florimon, ss

Bench: Austin Wynns (R), Brandon Snyder (R), Ty Kelly (S), Stevie Wilkerson (S)

In part two, I’ll reveal how the season plays out.

Presenting: The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2019

For this, the eleventh class of inductees, we seem to be arriving at a stopping point. Two of the three being honored this year were members of the loaded 2014 Shorebird team, and it appears that well may finally be running dry – those few players still knocking around aren’t really regarded as prospects. The same is true for the 2013 crop whose representative this season rounds out the trio.

The Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 didn’t take long to get set, as Branden Kline overcame a career’s worth of adversity to make his debut April 20. And while it was a feelgood story of an (almost) hometown kid made good necessitated by an unexpected early-season twinbill, the fact that Kline did well enough in that spot appearance to earn a place on the Elias/Hyde Baltimore-to-Norfolk shuttle meant he would be in the conversation for bullpen work in 2020.

Member number 2 may have received his big break a few weeks before the season. In a classic “change of scenery” trade, the Orioles addressed a glut of outfield prospects and the desire for more pitching depth by sending Mike Yastrzemski, whose star had fallen in the Orioles’ eyes thanks to some subpar AAA seasons, to the San Francisco Giants for Tyler Herb, a pitcher whose career seemed to be similarly stuck in the San Francisco organization. And while Herb did little to distinguish himself as Oriole property, the Giants got a steal of a deal that netted them a starting left fielder for the near-term, with several years of team control – one who will likely never leave for a big free agent contract since he won’t be eligible until his age-36 season. Mike made his debut May 25 and stayed with the Giants the rest of the way.

Finally, on August 17, the last piece of the Class of 2019 was put in place when the Orioles called up another pitcher whose career had been sidetracked by frequent injuries. Hunter Harvey only pitched a handful of innings at the big league level, but he was impressive enough to be penciled into the Orioles’ 2020 bullpen, perhaps as a seventh- or eighth-inning pitcher as closer-in-training for when the Orioles return to contention in future seasons.

So it was a class of just three; as such it was my smallest since 2014. The 2013 and 2014 SotWHoF classes were very small as they reflected a talent gap between a group which had either come through Delmarva at the end of the previous decade or were “can’t miss” guys like Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy and the group that began to arrive in 2016 or so as players who played with the Shorebirds in 2014. (The 2015 class was sort of a motley crew of pitchers, several making their debut elsewhere.)

As the players who came through in 2015 and 2016 have worked their way up to the cusp of the Show, the smaller number of Shorebird of the Month honorees beginning in 2017 will make the classes more limited going forward, perhaps maintaining a range of one to four per season.

While my track record is spotty, I continue to make my wild guesses as to who will be in the next class. I believe that, barring injury, we will finally see Ryan Mountcastle arrive in the bigs as one of the Class of 2020 – he was one of just two SotWs added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster. But, from there, the crystal ball clouds up considerably – I don’t see Ryan McKenna being quite ready this coming season after a step backward for the prospect in 2019. (His is a case where the new September roster restriction to 28 players will likely keep him off.)

McKenna and 2017 SotY Alex Wells are Oriole members of a second tier of prospects which also includes 2016 SotY Yermin Mercedes, who has worked his way onto the 40-man roster of the Chicago White Sox, as has Garrett Cleavinger for the Philadelphia Phillies. Jesus Liranzo fell off Pittsburgh’s 40-man but has stayed in the organization, so he’s included in this group.

Then we have a whole host of sleeper picks – guys who inhabit AAA but are considered more as the organizational filler. That group would include graybeards like Wynston Sawyer from way back in 2012, Luis Gonzalez and Mitch Horacek from 2014, and Jomar Reyes and Ademar Rifaela from 2015. All but Reyes have tasted AAA, and all but Reyes became minor-league free agents after 2019. Reyes was once a prime prospect, but he got stuck at Frederick for a few seasons.

Lastly are a few more recent Shorebirds of the Month who could get considered, but realistically are more likely members of the classes of 2021 or 2022. They would be Preston Palmiero, Steven Klimek, Zach Jarrett, Zac Lowther, Tim Naughton, DL Hall, 2018 SotY Brenan Hanifee, Grayson Rodriguez, and 2019 SotY Adam Hall.

I have also found that, with the additional coaching positions being placed at various levels including the major leagues, there may be a need to add a coaches’ wing to the SotWHoF. For example, Kyle Hudson, a member of the Class of 2011 as a player, may well be inducted as a coach as he has reached the AAA level with the Cleveland organization. There’s precedent for non-playing personnel to be a Shorebird of the Week (for my 100th SotW I selected then-manager Ryan Minor as a way to honor his longtime contributions) so there probably should be a place for coaches and/or managers who reach the Show.

With the publication of this post, the SotWHoF will once again be a live, public page. One new wrinkle you will notice: I have added information on how the player was acquired by the Orioles and, where needed, the team with which he made his debut. It’s interesting to see how teams come together.

A major change to the minor leagues?

This story is something which, on the surface, applies to my fellow baseball geeks but may affect a lot more in terms of regional economy and our hometown Shorebirds.

A published report in the baseball geek magazine Baseball America – a tome which specializes in coverage of the lower levels of the sport, from high school prospects to the high minors of AAA – claims that Major League Baseball (MLB) wishes to eliminate over one-fourth of the 160 affiliated minor league teams. The MLB proposal, which would take effect in 2021, would limit the Orioles and their other 29 brethren franchises to four full-season affiliates corresponding to AAA, AA, advanced A, and A. This would reduce the number of required teams to 120; however, the BA report also foretells the “promotion” of independent league teams in Sugar Land, Texas and St. Paul, Minnesota to the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) fold as they become affiliated teams (presumably to the Astros and Twins, respectively.)

The goals of MLB in this agreement are to eliminate facilities which are substandard as well as realign MiLB leagues and classifications to allow for less travel and better geographic alignment between MLB parent clubs and their affiliates. It’s been generally assumed that the teams currently in short-season leagues would be those on the chopping block, but that may not necessarily be true: for example, short-season Aberdeen has far better facilities than our fellow SAL team in Hagerstown, so the IronBirds would likely make the cut while Hagerstown is dropped. (The question then could become whether the Orioles would prefer an A ball team in Aberdeen or Delmarva.) The Suns, however, could live on as part of a “dream league” under the auspices of MiLB where undrafted players get to play in the hopes of eventually being signed. (In essence they would fill a role some independent leagues now fill.)

Hagerstown is a team which would almost certainly be axed in favor of a short-season team based on dreadful attendance and facilities. Among the remaining SAL teams, the worst attendance figures (under 2,000 a game average) belong to Hagerstown, Kannapolis, and West Virginia, while Hickory hovered just over that mark. In terms of stadium age, Hagerstown isn’t the oldest – Asheville’s park dates from 1924, six years before Hagerstown built theirs – but it’s one of just five SAL parks built in the 20th century. (Along with Delmarva, Hickory and Charleston opened their parks in the mid-1990s. Kannapolis did as well, but they open a new stadium – and get a new team name that’s announced in the coming days – next spring.)

As I alluded to above, the Orioles already have a pretty good situation insofar as geography is concerned: their only teams with significant distance between themselves and Baltimore are AAA Norfolk and their complex team at their spring training facility in Sarasota, Florida (which would be retained in any case as part of the agreement.) But they could have a decision to make if Aberdeen is retained in the MiLB mix.

Complicating matters in that regard is the prospect of teams moving up (or down) in classification. A big issue in MiLB today is the layout of the leagues: for example, West Coast MLB teams have no choice but to send their A-ball prospects two or three time zones away because the farthest west team at that level plays in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There are imbalances at every other level, too: this year the Washington Nationals had to send their AAA players out to Fresno, California because it was the last available AAA team. (Fresno was even rejected by the Oakland A’s, who left Nashville after the 2018 season for the AAA team in Las Vegas. Nashville, for their part, signed on with the Texas Rangers after they lost their previous AAA team in Round Rock, Texas to the Houston Astros, who left Fresno to take over at Round Rock. This was all necessitated when the New York Mets purchased the AAA team in Syracuse, New York to be their affiliate – they were the team that left Las Vegas and started the merry-go-round once development agreements expired last year. Previous to 2019, Syracuse was the Nationals’ top farm team.)

I suspect what’s going to happen is that the A-ball level where Delmarva plays and the advanced-A level are going to be most affected, but whether it’s reclassifying the advanced-A California League to an A ball league for West Coast teams or – as was alluded to in the BA story – reducing the South Atlantic League to 10 teams and creating a new six-team Mid-Atlantic League to reduce travel, MLB wants to revamp the minor leagues. I also suspect the advanced-A Florida State League may be eliminated since most of those teams are based at a spring training site where the complex leagues also play, attendance is rather low, and there are only a few major league teams in the region. The complex leagues could shift to evening start times (they normally play in the late morning or noontime) to fill the gap. (A small issue there is that there are 15 teams with spring training in Arizona and 15 in Florida, so each of those prospective leagues could require a travel team to even out the schedule.)

With the money invested in our facilities over the last few years, it’s not likely Delmarva would be left out in the cold totally (although there is the possibility.) But I honestly think that, if the Orioles had to choose between Aberdeen and Delmarva as an A-ball affiliate, we would get the short end of the stick – if so, I’m sure the Nationals would love to be here and we could resume the Governor’s Cup against Aberdeen instead of Hagerstown. A new six-team A-level Mid-Atlantic League could include Aberdeen, Brooklyn, and Staten Island (teams with newer facilities promoted from short-season rookie ball), along with SAL refugees Delmarva and Lakewood, and Wilmington, which would be dropped from advanced-A as the northernmost appendage of the Carolina League but is geographically favorable to this proposed league. In the paper MAL the longest bus trip would be under five hours, and possible affiliating teams would include the Orioles and Nationals along with the Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, and perhaps Toronto or Pittsburgh. (Currently both Aberdeen and Delmarva are Orioles teams, Brooklyn and Staten Island affiliate with the Mets and Yankees, respectively, and Lakewood with the Phillies. Wilmington is the odd duck as a Kansas City Royals affiliate – the Royals are one of those teams stranded in a situation where no advanced-A team is nearby.) Such a league would allow fans to see each team 14 times based on a 140-game schedule. It would be a little repetitive but also creates good rivalries.

Now, there are other possibilities as well: Aberdeen would fit decently into a reduced-size AAA International League where Norfolk would be relegated to the South Atlantic League, with a different affiliation. (Or they could create a third AAA league based in the South which would include Norfolk.) In that case, not only would IronBird fans get to experience cold-weather baseball, in the case of a move to the IL they could get the guys at the other end of the minor league food chain from what they now receive (aside from rehabbing players.)

In any case, MiLB in general and Delmarva fans in particular have been put on notice: after next season the landscape in which the Shorebirds exist could be a whole lot different. Hopefully we’ll still be seeing 70 games a year at the old ball yard.

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan, 2019 edition

After long years of waiting, we finally got our concourse. Of all the picks, I have to say that is the best! It gives fans a new perspective and kids who want to shag home run balls a place to go.

Now that it’s here, the time has come to increase its potential. How about a couple mobile food carts or even just specialty vendors who walk that part of the stadium on large crowd nights? Maybe someday they can expand it in the left-field corner enough for a seating area and/or (even better) a mini-stage to bring back Thursday postgame concerts.

But while the new concourse is nice, I think most of the significant increase in attendance – the Shorebirds drew 218,704 (3,265 per game), which is over 17,000 more in just two more dates compared to 2018 and their best number since 2012 – comes from having a winning team. We can’t do much about that from a fan standpoint, although next year’s Shorebirds will inherit from a fairly talented pool below them in the organization, but we can suggest some areas for improvement and praise that which is good.

The good picks begins at the top, with the league’s executive of the year being Shorebird GM Chris Bitters. Give the man a raise! Fan-friendly but hesitant to take the spotlight, Chris has shepherded the franchise through a lengthy series of physical plant improvements which need to extend to one more aspect of the facilities: the back-of-the-house functions like restrooms, offices, and food service. All of those could use a little bit of freshening up and now is a good time to make that investment. This would give them the opportunity for CCTV in the restrooms so fans don’t miss the action.

There are also a couple other things which need to be freshened up, though. After two seasons the frog shuffle and video racing are getting a bit long in the tooth, so it might be time for the sponsors to consider some new stuff. More importantly, though, it may be time to freshen up the food offerings. I thought I heard this was the last year of their contract so maybe we can bring in someone else who’s better. I’m not expecting fine dining here, but I think we can do better than what we’ve had over the last few seasons.

The one big pan I would have is the new netting, simply because it eliminates one feature I enjoy about games, taking player pictures. It’s either that or moving way down the left field line, which sort of defeats the purpose unless I spend a few hundred dollars on a serious telephoto lens. I’m not that serious about it.

The other problem with this is that it allows fans to pay less attention to the game than they already do – which is how some number of people got hurt before the netting was extended. My seat isn’t the most risky, but over fifteen seasons I have been buzzed by a line drive (and snatched one out of the air with a nice grab), hit by an errant bunt and gotten a nice welt on the elbow from a flying bat, so even though I pay pretty close attention I still get the safety aspect. I ended up securing three foul balls that bounced or rolled to me this season, which is a high for me. But that seemed like too much of a tradeoff.

I went over a lot of stuff at the end of last season which still holds true, but thank goodness they found a better site for the new Sheriff’s office.

So I want to spend a little time going over a different sort of pick. Remember back in March when I predicted the Shorebirds’ opening day roster? This is how I did on those picks.

On starting pitchers, of the six I predicted all six spent time with the Shorebirds this year. However, Matthew Hammonds was primarily a reliever and Blaine Knight was here a very brief time before his promotion. And they didn’t piggyback Grayson Rodriguez as much as I thought they would. (6 of 6)

As for the relief corps, five of the seven made it here although none stayed all season. We saw just a little bit of Ryan Conroy (two appearances) but more of Nick Gruener (retired at mid-season), Tyler Joyner and Zach Matson (both promoted to Frederick), and Ryan Wilson (who came up and stayed a starter.) Kevin Magee spent his second season in Aberdeen and Victor Romero barely pitched due to injury – just a handful of GCL rehab appearances from Frederick’s roster. (11 of 13)

Both my catchers missed significant time – Alfredo Gonzalez spent the whole season on Frederick’s IL (or perhaps was placed there as coaching prep) while Cody Roberts missed half the season with a legitimate injury suffered in the very first game of the campaign but salvaged some games with Delmarva. (12 of 15)

Out of six infielders, three spent most of the season with Delmarva – Seamus Curran at first, Adam Hall at shortstop, and Alexis Torres at second. However, I underestimated both J.C. Escarra and Willy Yahn, who both began the season with Frederick – Yahn eventually ended it with the Bowie Baysox. On the flip side, Zach McLeod went the other way: back from Aberdeen to the GCL and perhaps out of a job as he was pedestrian there. He was probably my biggest miss. (15 of 21)

Finally, my four outfielders, all of whom spent time here. Nick Horvath was the only full-season player, though, as the other three (Jaylen Ferguson, Robert Neustrom, and Robbie Thorburn) played a combined total of 118 games here – just five more than Horvath on his own.

So I got 19 of 25. Can’t say that’s half bad for minor league baseball.