The Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds (86-44) have won a lot of games this year as a well-rounded team that can beat you many ways. But pitching has been the constant. They lead the 14-team South Atlantic League in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
It’s success like this at Delmarva, where they have a pitching coach in his first year in the Orioles organization, that the O’s brass hopes they can build on. This is the start of producing what general manager Mike Elias has called the “elite talent pipeline.”
And we can look at what has happened this year with Delmarva under new pitching coach Justin Ramsey to get a glimpse at the future of pitcher development in the Orioles organization.
A couple of years ago, when Ramsey met Chris Holt, neither man knew then they’d be working together one day for the Orioles. But Elias brought Holt here and Holt brought Ramsey, who spent 15 years coaching in the college coaching ranks, the last four as pitching coach at Nova Southeastern University near Miami. Previous stops included Long Beach State and Sacramento City College for the San Jose, Calif., native.
Now he works for Holt, the Orioles’ coordinator of minor league pitching, who was hired by Elias in November.
“We speak a lot of the same language and that has made for a pretty smooth transition. We have the same vision of how the delivery works,” said Ramsey.
And it’s much more than that. Beyond a lot of talent, the young Shorebirds pitchers were described by Ramsey as eager to learn how to get better through the technology the club has added including the high-speed cameras. And the technology that allows the Orioles to improve a pitcher’s spin rate of the baseball.
“For pitch development we’ve got a lot of technology that helps us look at things differently, whether it’s TrackMan or the Edgertronic (cameras),” Ramsey said. “We see how we can impart the most efficient spin on the baseball, whether it’s to create truer hop to the fastball or sharper break to the breaking ball. Whatever it is that we want for that particular guy. We can look at his delivery and see how that works, slow it down to see what we need to see. It is nice to have the information at our fingertips.
“With this information and technology, you can speed up that process (of getting better). I never had this as a pitcher. Then there was more of just trial and error. Now we can go right to the source and we can figure out what needs to be done. That allows for adjustments to be made a lot quicker.”
Delmarva has had several pitchers produce strong seasons. Just a partial list includes Grayson Rodriguez (9-4, 2.86 ERA), Gray Fenter (7-2, 1.91 ERA), Ryan Wilson (6-4, 2.57 ERA), Drew Rom (6-3, 3.09 ERA), Ofelky Peralta (6-2, 3.03 ERA, now with Frederick) and reliever Tim Naughton (12 saves, 13.6 strikeouts/nine innings and now with Frederick).
Ramsey, 37, was an All-American closer at Oral Roberts from 2003-04. He played independent ball after college. I asked him which Shorebirds pitcher has benefited the most from the technology.
“Honestly, it’s been across the board,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate with the group of pitchers we have here that love to come to work each day. They’ve all been very open to the new information from the new regime. It’s affected everybody in a positive way. There is not one guy that has done something crazy good (with the technology) over the others. Because they have all made some adjustments and improvements over the year.”
So just how do the pitchers improve? More break on the breaking balls? More velocity on the heaters?
“It can be as simple as putting more bite on a slider,” Ramsey said. “It can be something like the ability to throw it to a better location for the quality of the pitch. Having the ability to throw that slider down and away to a right-handed hitter with more repeatability, so you don’t hang it. It can be something as simple as that. But having the tools and resources has allowed our guys to make such improvements.”
The players bought into all this back in spring training and have been learning and growing ever since, Ramsey said. At Delmarva, with such young talent, they are on the ground floor so to speak of an organization that will only be doing more of such teaching in the future.
“That is what is exciting for the future of the organization. Obviously there is talent throughout all the different levels. But being with the younger guys you can look ahead a little bit. This is Low-A and success here doesn’t guarantee success at the highest level. But you can see where things are trending and that’s exciting,” said Ramsey.
Photo by Joey Gardner