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.

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.)

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.

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.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: May 2019

If there were ever a month I could have done co-players (and pitchers) of the month, this month would have been the case. The proprietary formula I use to figure it out came out razor-close in both instances. But after a little bit of overtime figuring, two players came out on top and they are being honored this month.

After struggling through a horrific April, you had to figure that Nick Horvath would begin slowly seeking his level in May. But being about 70 points below his overall average, you would further believe he would right the ship by the midseason break – instead, Horvath basically did it in one month. It turned out he was a hit shy of being 100 points above his April average in May, and while a .264/3/13/.841 OPS slash line isn’t the best ever, it was good enough to be among the top Shorebirds in a league where pitching has dominated thus far. (As of last night, Delmarva’s .251 team average was just off the overall lead, and only 4 of 14 teams have an aggregate OPS over .700, a mark which is considered about average. So pitchers are ruling the roost.)

To be sure, Nick did most of his damage in the first half of the month, starting it out 17-for-42 (a .405 clip). Toward the end he was struggling like several other on the Delmarva nine, which has been carried most of the way this season by its pitching. But add in a solid job in center field, and last season’s 25th round pick out of the University of Florida is working on improving his standing in the Orioles organization. Considering he was not a highly regarded prospect out of Palm Beach Gardens High School in the Sunshine State and only attended UF after a season at a local community college, Nick impresses me as an overcomer. As he’ll turn 23 next month, Horvath is a tick about league-average age but has played well enough to keep his job so far. (If it doesn’t work out, Nick can always attempt to resurrect his career as a pitcher: he made 45 relief appearances for the Gators over a three-season span.)

Nick barely edged out Cadyn Grenier for the honor, as Cadyn put together a good month at the plate as well. It could have went either way.

We’ll stay in SEC country for my pitcher of the month. But while Drew Rom is a Kentucky native – attending Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio – he had 650,000 reasons to be pried loose from a commitment to the Big Ten’s University of Michigan to play for the Orioles. Unlike Horvath, who was probably brought on to fill a roster in the hopes that he may blossom into a prospect, Rom was already highly sought after as a fourth-round pick.

Now Rom had a pretty decent April; well, decent in comparison to an average team and not the studs Delmarva has this season – as a staff they allowed just a .204 average in May – but he rose to the challenge in May. Rom didn’t allow an earned run in his four starts until the fourth inning of his fifth and final start for the month, at a point where the Shorebirds were safely up 8-0. That 0.35 ERA was complemented by a 0.78 WHIP, a 32-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 2/3 innings, and three wins – he was one out short of getting a fourth W in a game Delmarva was leading 2-0 and could have gotten a fifth win had Delmarva scored before the tenth inning – Drew left a 0-0 pitcher’s duel in Kannapolis after five shutout frames.

Drew made a significant jump over the winter – he and fellow high-school draftee (and last month’s SOM pitcher) Grayson Rodriguez were two of the few bright spots on a dreadful GCL Oriole team. Like Rodriguez, Rom is having his innings watched fairly carefully and he has often piggybacked with fellow starter Gray Fenter to cover most of the nine innings needed.

Just like Horvath, Drew had spirited competition for the award, and in his case it was reliever Zach Matson who had really good numbers to show for his month as well. Both are being rewarded with a trip to the SAL All-Star Game in West Virginia later this month. Also picked besides Rom and Matson were pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Ofelky Peralta, catcher Daniel Fajardo, shortstop Adam Hall, outfielder Doran Turchin, and designated hitter Seamus Curran. The Shorebirds have a league-leading eight representatives, their best number since at least 2009.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2019

For the third year, the Shorebird Position Player and Pitcher of the Month returns to my website. Overall, this will the the fourteenth season during which I honor particular Shorebird players, having done so on a weekly basis for the first eleven. 41 of those so honored have made it to the major leagues, either with the parent Orioles or one of the other 29 teams. Only a handful of teams (nine, to be exact) remain territory a Hall of Famer hasn’t played at the big league level.

There won’t be photos to start because I haven’t seen the pitcher being honored quite yet. But, as usual, I’ll begin with the position player who shined the brightest among a constellation of stars you would normally find on a team which got off to a franchise-best 18-4 start.

A product of the University of Iowa and Hawkeye born-and-bred, outfielder Robert Neustrom parlayed three straight seasons of hitting over .300 and improving in the vital OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage, a good barometer of a batter’s ability) each year into a fifth-round selection by the Orioles last season (not to mention a $300k signing bonus to forgo his senior campaign.)

Assigned to Aberdeen last season, Robert slashed a solid .272/4/29/.716 OPS for the Ironbirds last season in 61 games. Neustrom wasn’t the top performer in any particular major category (although he led the team in doubles) but was generally in the top three to five of most line items. It was obvious he would be coming to Delmarva this season as the next step in his development.

And what a step it was. In just 19 games, Robert had a slash line of .329/3/14/.957 OPS, numbers that were either first or second for the Shorebirds in April. In just one month – and barely a third of the plate appearances he had for Aberdeen – Neustrom racked up nearly half the RBIs and fell one short of matching his total in home runs.

The only downer to Robert’s month was that of being placed on the 7-day injured list on the first of May due to an injury reported during Tuesday’s game, where he exited “grasping at his calf.” That may slow down the 22-year-old, who was regarded as the 29th-best prospect in the Orioles system to begin this year – although he’s the 18th-best among players the team actually signed or drafted – but hopefully will not become a lingering problem.

It was a close battle between Neustrom and infielder Adam Hall for the top position player spot in April, but I had an even more difficult choice among the pitching ranks as three topped the field.

Tipping the scale toward Grayson Rodriguez: a microscopic 0.54 ERA and a SAL Pitcher of the Week designation for the first week of the season, which was actually a week and a half and allowed him to make two starts – a pair of games against defending league champ Lexington and 2018 SAL North pacesetter Lakewood. In 11 innings between the two starts, Grayson allowed three harmless singles and struck out 20 batters. The only area of concern may have been the five walks.

Grayson ran his scoreless streak to 15-plus innings before allowing his first and only run of the month on a home run by Greensboro’s Rodolfo Castro. The slash line against Rodriguez in April: .123/1/1/.399 OPS.

While success has come early to Rodriguez, it wasn’t entirely unexpected: the 11th overall selection in the 2018 draft, the 19-year-old out of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas had 4.3 million reasons to take a pass on college ball. Instead, Grayson went to the Gulf Coast League and got his initial education as a bright light on a miserable team that won just 13 games out of 55 played – a real school of hard knocks. However, with just 19 1/3 decent but unspectacular innings spaced out among nine appearances in 2018, this is really the first time the training wheels are off. (To an extent, that is: the Orioles brass had Rodriguez skip his last scheduled turn to keep his innings total down.)

So he did not pitch during the last long homestand – his only home appearance was the first Friday night game of the season. Thanks to inclement weather and schedule vagaries, Grayson’s turn won’t come up again until tomorrow night at Augusta – a layoff that went over two weeks.

Already regarded as the #5 prospect in the Baltimore system, Grayson had strong competition for the April honors: a case could have easily been made to instead select Blaine Knight, Delmarva’s opening day starter and owner of seriously good numbers himself. Also in the running was Ofelky Peralta, who began the season on a strikeout tear by recording 12 of his first 14 outs via the punchout and still leads the team with 31.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2018

With one repeat performer and one new guy, it’s time to close out this year’s edition of Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month. Lumping the three September games in with August did change things up slightly among the contenders, but both of these players are deserving of their accolades.

While it wasn’t as torrid of a month at the plate as he had in May, I once again found Trevor Craport had the most solid month. (On day 2 of the month, he hit this home run that I caught the aftermath of for the photo.) It was not the flashiest of months for the 2017 11th round pick out of Georgia Tech, who celebrated his 22nd birthday during August – had they reversed the roadtrip they were on at the time, he could have celebrated at the SAL venue closest to his home (Rome, which isn’t a long trip from Norcross, Georgia.) But he had a significant enough lead in one key category that it tipped the scales his way over April winner Zach Jarrett.

As the season began, Trevor was pegged as the regular third baseman, but thanks to circumstances over the second half of the season he’s been a nomad. First Trevor took over Seamus Curran’s first base platoon role as Curran was injured and then briefly demoted to Aberdeen. But when August began, Curran was back and there was a new presence at third base as Jean Carlos Encarnacion joined the squad from the Rome Braves as part of the Kevin Gausman trade. Craport’s debut in left field came on the 5th of August, and he played all but 2 of the remaining 21 contests he participated in out in left field.

Perhaps settling in at a position he could reclaim as his own inspired Trevor’s bat, as he broke a two-month hex at the plate with a .280/1/11/.761 OPS mark from August 1 onward. In fact, he was the only Shorebird regular with an OPS over .700 for that period as the squad endured a serious batting funk during the second half of the season.

With the season now complete and two SotM honors under his belt, Trevor is definitely in the running for Shorebird of the Year. On a longer term, it’s pretty likely he will be somewhere in the Frederick lineup come 2019.

On the other hand, one solid month may not quite be enough to push Max Knutson on to the next level. It’s not that he pitched badly – even though August wasn’t his best month statistically, Knutson’s 3 wins and allowing just 3 earned runs over 22 2/3 innings after August 1 was enough to prevail this time around. (It turned out the three shutout innings in his September appearance along with a blowup from fellow reliever Diogenes Almengo pushed Knutson to the honor.)

But sometimes the Orioles don’t think a half-season at a particular level is enough, particularly as Knutson (a 12th round selection in 2016) toiled in Aberdeen for two straight seasons and came here after extended spring – he didn’t break camp with Delmarva, only arriving in early June. (Alas, it was a little too late for him to contend for Shorebird of the Year, which requires roster availability for 2/3 of the season.)

So what was so special about August for the 23-year-old Knutson? It began with his first win of the season when he pitched three near-perfect innings against Charleston on the 3rd to secure the comeback win – his only blemish was a walk. Six of his nine August/September outings were scoreless, but in the other three where he was touched up for runs, he limited damage to a single tally. The month also concluded a campaign where Max set a career high for innings pitched but continued to improve on his ERA and WHIP: the 1.15 of his ERA would be a pretty good WHIP number, but Max put up an outstanding 0.87 WHIP, aided by the fact he allowed a nearly absurd 16 hits in 39 innings. That’s the sort of territory you would find onetime Shorebird and current Milwaukee Brewer All-Star reliever Josh Hader in. All told, batters hit a puny .122 off Knutson this season – and August was his worst month, as batters somehow found an extra hit or two to sneak the mark up to .132 for the month.

If there is one complaint about Max to hold him back, it would be his walk numbers. They’re not terrible by any means, but 18 walks in 39 innings at this level becomes half again as many when batters are more selective at higher levels. Add in the fact that he hasn’t made it through the grind of a complete regular season yet, and this is why Max may repeat the level here like he did at Aberdeen, at least for the first month or two. You haven’t really pitched until you’ve endured a low-40’s game with 200 in the stands at Delmarva. (Then again, as you may guess by the surname, Max is a Minnesota native who only went as far south as the University of Nebraska to pitch at the collegiate level. So cold weather may not be a drawback.)

It will be intriguing to see what they do with Knutson, since he was stretched out a career-high tying three innings on several occasions this season. Admittedly, I only saw him a couple times this season so I don’t know if his stuff would play as a starter. But there is a role for long relief on a team, and the Orioles actually don’t have a guy to consistently fill it right now.

So that is a wrap on Shorebird of the Month for 2018. Next week I will review the seasons for these nine players selected (five pitchers, four position players) as well as recap the Delmarva squad in general before selecting a Shorebird of the Year for 2018. The following week it’s my annual picks and pans, followed in early December with the installation of the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2018 – currently it’s a four-person class but there’s a decent chance it may get to five for this year.

And then we wait for April 4, 2019 when it all starts over again in Lexington.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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