Delmarva honored, plus a look at a pitcher eligible in the Rule 5

Earlier this week, the Orioles’ Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds affiliate was named the Minor League Team of the Year by Milb.com.

Delmarva went 90-48 and earns this honor for the first time in its 24-year club history. The Shorebirds topped the previous team high for wins by seven (83 in 1996) and became the first South Atlantic League team to win 90 or more since the 2006 Augusta GreenJackets. That team featured future major league All-Stars Pablo Sandoval and Sergio Romo. Stretched out over a major league season, the Shorebirds’ .652 winning percentage would equate to 106 wins.

Earlier this week I spoke with Shorebirds manager Kyle Moore, who reacted to the honor.

Moore-Home-Plate-Meeting-Shorebirds-Sidebar.jpg“I was a bit surprised, even with how great a year we had,” he said. “But it’s a great honor from Milb. Awesome. As proud as I was of the guys and year we had, it is nice to get this recognition after all the hard work put in over a long time.”

The Shorebirds recorded the best half-season in franchise history (48-21) to win the Northern Division first-half title, clinching their first postseason berth since 2005. They led the SAL with eight Mid-Season All-Stars, as well as in team ERA (3.00), WHIP (1.18) and strikeouts (1,389), and also had the fewest home runs allowed (67).

That strikeout total was a new SAL record. Moore was named Manager of the Year, pitching coach Justin Ramsey was named Coach of the Year, and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez was named SAL Most Outstanding Prospect.

That club put up some numbers and superlatives that might hold up for a few seasons. Maybe many seasons.

“That would be special, but I hope we can have more seasons like that,” said Moore. “Take this group through the organization and build on that. What a year to build on.

“While the playoffs (a first-round exit) left a bit of a bitter taste in our mouth, it might have well been good for this group in the future. We won a lot but we’re still hungry and I can imagine this group will feel this way starting off next year,” said Moore.

He added that Delmarva was very talented but there were other factors that led to 90 wins.

“I think we had a talent advantage, especially on our pitching staff. But we played over 20 one-run games and came out on top so much, so for me, that’s not all talent. That is character and imposing what you want on the other club. Some games we played well and just got beat, like those two games in the playoffs. But all those close games are a testament to the huge character we had in our clubhouse,” he said.

The decision on Fenter: While the Orioles will obviously be adding Ryan Mountcastle soon to their 40-man roster, they have others expected to join him, like pitchers Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Cody Sedlock. They will all likely be added to be protected from the club losing them in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings this December.

The Orioles also may have a tough decision to make on right-hander Gray Fenter. He was the O’s seventh-round pick in 2015 and was signed to a $1 million bonus that was well above the figure allotted for that slot. But he underwent Tommy John surgery on April 7, 2016 and was set back for quite a while. But in 2019 his stuff came all the way back.

Fenter, who turns 24 on Jan. 25, went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA for Delmarva. That ERA led all O’s minor leaguers who threw 90 or more innings. In 94 1/3 innings he gave up 61 hits, walked 43 and fanned 123 with a .185 average against and 1.10 WHIP.

“His fastball is plus, it’s in the 95 plus range and has big-time backspin on it, so it’s a swing-and-miss pitch,” said Moore. “His curveball is his best pitch, kind of what I would call a hammer curveball. Kind of straight down, like 12 to 6 with big-time spin on it. Those two pitches alone allow him to him survive.

“He’s developing the other two: a changeup and slider. We would always remind him to throw those pitches and he did a great job of owning it and throwing the pitches. Next thing you know, his slider showed up and then he had three (plus pitches). He was special. That slider never got squared up. He has weapons and he definitely has the stuff to go get outs.”

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias will have to make the final call on Fenter. His last look at the pitcher was one where Fenter dominated.

In a must-win Game 2 of the South Atlantic League semifinals against Hickory, Fenter pitched 6 1/3 scoreless on four hits with no walks and a career-high 13 strikeouts in a 1-0 loss.

“Fortunately for Mike Elias, he got a chance to see him pitch that last playoff game in person,” Moore said. “He was right behind the plate. If I was at the game watching him, I would say we absolutely have to protect that guy. All the strikeouts, and he dominated a good Hickory offense. Yes, was that Low-A ball and do you put a guy on from Low-A?

“But Gray’s a special guy. I would put him on. If someone else gets him, he’s a guy that could really come back to haunt you. You might look up one day and he’s winning 20 games.”

Plus the fact Fenter is older and will start the 2020 season at 24, the Orioles could look to move him faster now that he’s healthy with a full year under his belt.

“For sure. And if he gets out to a hot start - no matter where they start him - the sky is the limit for him,” Moore said. “He could run fast through the system, all the way to the big leagues. Guys with his stuff are hard to find.”

Click here for the game story on Fenter’s playoff gem and here for a story I wrote on Fenter early in the 2019 season.

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