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.

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.

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.

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.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2019

First off, a bit of housekeeping: since the Shorebirds failed to advance beyond the first round of the SAL playoffs, this also covers the four games they played in September: the two against Kannapolis to wrap up the regular season and the two games they lost against Hickory to get bounced out of the playoffs. (In turn, Hickory lost the SAL championship series to Lexington in four games.)

Thus, for the second month in a row it’s a newcomer grabbing the position player honors. Promoted after a hot beginning to his pro career with the Aberdeen Ironbirds, Johnny Rizer rose to the top of the heap by having an August-plus that outpaced everyone else on the team by a half-mile. Tossing in that handful of July games, Johnny wrapped up the regular season with a Delmarva slash line of .305/3/19/.761 OPS in 36 games. (In the two playoff games, Johnny had a pair of hits – both in the opener – and scored the Shorebirds’ first playoff run in 14 years as they took a brief 2-0 lead in Game 1.)

The Texas native was a TCU Horned Frog when he was selected in the 7th round of this year’s draft, becoming one of the first in this year’s draft class to make his Shorebird debut in late July. (Rizer, though, began his college playing career at Louisiana-Lafayette before moving on to TCU.)

Having been successful in his brief audition with the Shorebirds, the question could be whether Rizer will leap ahead of some of his peers by skipping up to Frederick to begin next season or come back here for a more extended period as the starting right fielder. Considering Johnny hit over .300 at both levels, he may get the chance to move up depending on how some of the other dominoes fall. (The Orioles seem to have a lot of outfield prospects throughout their minor league system.) One argument for keeping him here, though, is a relatively steep drop in OPS from Aberdeen (.911) to here (.761). Putting together a similar average with an OPS number of .800 or above will likely punch Johnny a ticket after the All-Star break, in what would be his age-23 season next year.

On the other hand, I don’t have to reintroduce my pitcher of the month since he becomes my only two-time winner of 2019. After putting together a June good enough to win the honors, Gray Fenter may have outdone himself with his final appearance of 2019 to wrap up a blistering last month of the season where he had an 0.71 ERA and 0.63 WHIP for the month, 25 1/3 innings’ worth. Among his 37 strikeouts were 13 in a memorable 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball he threw at Hickory in Game 2 of the SAL North playoffs – alas, the Shorebirds could not score to support Fenter.

I believe he will be at the next level in 2020, and he’s certainly a contender for Shorebird of the Year. My annual season review comes next week. (Thanks to a longer-than-expected cleanout of the old house, make that October 3.)

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2019

As the season is beginning to wind down, it’s getting time to start considering who will be Shorebird of the Year for 2019. Ironically, the two players selected this month may not be eligible for that honor because to be a Shorebird of the Year a player has to be here for 2/3 of the games.

Position player Jaylen Ferguson fails that test, as he was brought up from Aberdeen on the 1st of July to replace fellow outfielder Doran Turchin. Ferguson got the promotion despite a paltry .222 average for the IronBirds, but having 3 home runs out of his eight hits didn’t hurt – and gave him a stellar .877 OPS to boot.

In a full month at Delmarva, the 2015 9th rounder out of Texas’s Arlington High School provided an upgrade to Turchin’s middling statistics for the season, putting up a .296 average in 24 games, knocking in 18 runs, and providing an OPS of .782 to pace the team. Ironically, Ferguson went on the injured list at month’s end and was replaced by Turchin, who was activated a few days afterward.

Fans may remember Jaylen from a rather unsuccessful stint here in 2018, where Ferguson spent several weeks here before returning to Aberdeen thanks to a .171/2/5/.512 OPS slash line. Somehow Jaylen survived the season as his Aberdeen numbers were even worse in his third time around with the team – over four seasons there Jaylen has now played a total of 141 games and slashed an uninspiring .202/6/40/.530 OPS. This July was, quite honestly, the best stretch of games in Ferguson’s career so his injury (which came about after a “violent swing” at the plate) came at a most unfortunate time. Over the course of a decade-plus of doing this, I’ve seen players suddenly “get it” after seasons of struggle and maybe this month was Jaylen’s “got it” month. We’ll have to see if he comes back to continue the success – while Jaylen is repeating this level and has toiled at Aberdeen each of the last four seasons, he is still younger than league average.

Also in contention once again this month was shortstop Adam Hall, who’s been right there every month. It’s the sort of consistency that could be rewarded with Shorebird of the Year since Ferguson can’t win it.

With that in mind, if he stays the rest of the season and the schedule works out correctly, Ryan Wilson will barely have enough games in to qualify for SotY honors. As it stands, his solid July garners him the Shorebird of the Month for pitchers. (This after being the SAL pitcher of the week during the month, too.)

Despite a rough start at month’s end which had no assistance from the bullpen – turns out Ryan’s closest competitor, Ruben Garcia, allowed three inherited Wilson runs to score, inflating Wilson’s ERA – Ryan was just dominant enough in July to win. Unlike the first few months of the season, where some Shorebird hurler put up eye-popping numbers, Wilson’s strength this month came from a combination of stats which ranged from above average to well above average, but nothing really in the 98th percentile. He was only 2-2 for the month, but in a team-high 31 innings he allowed only 18 hits and a .165 average, striking out 40 while walking only eight. Toss out his inherited runners – which added nearly a run to his month’s ERA – and he’s in the low 2’s for that stat instead of a more pedestrian 2.90.

Coming out of Pepperdine University, Ryan was one of those “diamond in the rough” picks as he wasn’t selected until round 33 back in 2017. Yet he has managed to improve his numbers each season: a particularly mean feat when you consider he jumped from the GCL to Delmarva last year, pitching mostly out of the bullpen. So while he is repeating this level, he really skipped over the step of Aberdeen he could have taken last season. Still 22 years old, Ryan is in step with league average as far as age goes. He may be a candidate for a few starts at Frederick later this season, but I suspect the Orioles aren’t going to tinker a whole lot with the staff from here on out unless Frederick gives them a reason to, such as wholesale player releases or injuries.

As I believe I pointed out previously, if the Shorebirds reach the SAL championship series there will be both August and September Shorebirds of the Month; if not, the August numbers will be combined with the two regular season September games and the two or three playoff games. In either case, everything moves back at least a week: SotM for August comes September 13, and if there’s a September SotM that will be announced September 20. (Otherwise, that’s the date for Shorebird of the Year.) I’ll almost be pushing picks and pans back into October, but having playoffs is worth it after all these years!

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: June 2019

So far it’s been a memorable season for Shorebird fans. Who would have thought that, by the end of June, they would have won more games (57) in their first 80 games then they won in an entire season from 2011 to 2013, and already punched their postseason ticket?

There have also been some great performances, with two players and two pitchers previously being rewarded as Shorebirds of the Month. This month we make it three straight with a new pair; in this case they are a pair of holdovers from last season (but first-time winners.)

For Cadyn Grenier, Delmarva is the only pro team he’s ever known. Plucked out of 2018 NCAA champion Oregon State’s lineup with the “Competitive Balance A” pick (37th overall), the former Oriole regime decided to pre-emptively advance Cadyn past Aberdeen and onward to Delmarva. His July 2018 debut was highly anticipated, but for a player known as a great-fielding shortstop in college, neither the fielding (10 errors and a .939 fielding percentage in 39 games) nor batting numbers (.216/1/13/.630 OPS in 43 games) were enough for Grenier not to repeat here for 2019.

Cadyn, who was initially drafted out of a Las Vegas high school by the Cardinals in 2015 before heading to OSU, now shares time at shortstop with fellow prospect Adam Hall, with the odd man out usually playing second base. And it looked for a time like that transition wasn’t going to work well for him, but Grenier has slowly picked up the pace: a .229 mark through April had edged up close to .260 by June’s end thanks to a .278/3/11/.832 OPS month that was good enough to win him Shorebird of the Month honors. Cadyn hit in 16 of 17 games at one point and that’s bound to increase the average.

The test will be in the next couple months, as the now-22 year old wore down a bit at the tail end of last season – however, given the fact Grenier now has a full season under his belt one would think he’s a bit more accustomed to the routine. Another question is whether the Orioles will keep him here to participate in playoff baseball – it’s a spot where the CWS experience may come in handy but the case could also be made that, since he’s already won a College World Series, Cadyn needs to compete against a higher level after a full season at A ball.

And speaking of Adam Hall, for the third month in a row he was right there in the mix for position player of the month in what really became a two-person race once Will Robertson was promoted. Had he not missed a few games with a family issue, Hall may have taken the award.

On the pitching side, this month’s honoree has overcome a mid-season demotion last year to step up his game at this level in 2019.

Gray Fenter was placed here to start last season but never really got untracked, allowing runs in his first seven appearances and 10 of 13 overall before being demoted to Aberdeen once their season began. The numbers weren’t stellar but certainly good enough to give him another bite of the apple this season, and Fenter began June by pitching his first 13 2/3 innings as shutout ball, finally yielding a single run on June 30. He wrapped June with a 2-0 record, 0.59 ERA, and 0.72 WHIP for the month.

Fenter’s been in the system awhile as he was the 7th round selection out of West Memphis High School in Arkansas back in 2015. He turned in a nice 2015 GCL season and would probably have been ticketed for Aberdeen to close the 2016 season, but missed the entire campaign due to TJ surgery. Basically Gray had to start all over in 2017, repeating the GCL except for one forgettable Aberdeen appearance. Perhaps the intention was to demote Fenter all along last season, but his mediocre performance here didn’t change anyone’s mind off that idea.

He has been very successful this season as part of a tag team with May pitcher of the month Drew Rom, but at some point those training wheels have to come off. Fenter has pitched seven innings once in his career, doing so last season in a start for Aberdeen; his longest appearance this season was six innings in a doubleheader start against Augusta. (Both were shutouts, by the way.) So he has the ability, just has to develop consistency.

This month was a tight contest between Fenter and starter Nick Vespi, who turned in his own outstanding month (and arguably deserves the honor based on slightly lesser numbers but several more innings pitched.) But the head-to-head favored Fenter so I went with him.

Since this is the post for Independence Day, I hope you have a happy one! And in case you’re wondering, the Shorebird of the Week has never taken a break for the July 4 holiday, although the leap year calendar has meant the concurrence has only come once: pitcher Matt Taylor was that fortunate honoree back in 2013. (Maybe that was his career peak: the lefty never made it past Frederick in two subsequent seasons.) I suspect we may do better with at least one of these two monthly honorees.