When you see the scores for the Orioles’ low Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, you notice some big offense. When the season started, they scored seven, eight and 11 runs among the first few games. Then they spent a week hammering struggling Fredericksburg during a six-game sweep. The bats didn’t slow much last week against Carolina. The Shorebirds (13-5) won 12-8 on Saturday and 13-3 on Sunday.
We’ve seen a group of young hitters and their young hitting coach thriving and Delmarva is the top hitting club in the 12-team Low-A East.
The Shorebirds rank first in runs (141 with 7.8 per game), on-base percentage (.401), walks (107) slugging (.449) and OPS (.850). No other club in the league has an OPS over .800. Delmarva is second in team batting average (.273) and fourth in stolen bases with 29 in 32 tries.
The Shorebirds hitting coach was hired by the Orioles before the 2020 season for his first pro job. He is Patrick Jones, 29, who was born and raised in Cincinnati. He played at the famed Moeller High School and in college at nearby Xavier. He played two seasons of independent ball in 2016-2017.
Now he and the Shorebirds staff are enjoying watching their players excel. They are not a slo-pitch softball team, they just have the stats of one on offense.
“We’ve got some really, honestly great people on our team and our staff that want to be pushed and want to get better,” Jones said during an interview yesterday. “They are not afraid to fail in practice and they carry that over to the game. Anytime you can work with players who genuinely want to get better and get pushed, it’s fun as a coach and also really cool to see them get better and to see them shine. A big part of this is they are very good hitters to begin with, but they’re also hungry to get better. On top of that we have good people and humble personalities. It really and truly is fun to watch.”
Jones said his batters have also learned how to be productive with their two-strike approach. Delmarva hitters bat a league-best .200 with an 0-2 count and their OPS in those spots at .545 also leads the league. They are not just feasting on cookies on the shore.
“We have guys not afraid to hit with two strikes,” said Jones. “Sometimes with two strikes, hitters get into a defensive mindset and they chase pitches you normally would not. These guys have done a good job and bought into the mindset that just because it’s two strikes doesn’t mean we expand the zone a lot. If anything, pretend it’s less than two strikes. Because if you had less than two strikes, you wouldn’t swing at some of the pitches you do with two strikes.
“I would say the mindset and approach is a big part of it and these guys are awesome to work with. They are honest in their feedback - what they like and what they don’t like. It’s great to have healthy conversations. As a coach, I don’t want it to be me telling them what to do and them just have to go do it. We have a conversation and both of us ask questions to grow and get better. That is a theme with this team. They want those conversations to get better.”
Jones provided some nice insights on several of his hitters who are thriving right now. We’ll post some of those thoughts today and provide more of them in another entry later this week.
The headliner in the lineup is 19-year-old infielder Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles’ second pick in the 2019 draft, No. 42 overall. He’s batting .339/.417/.661 with five doubles, five homers, 25 RBIs and an OPS of 1.078. He leads the league in RBIs, is tied for first in homers and is fourth in OPS. All five of the lefty batter’s homers have gone to left field.
Jones on Henderson: “Just watching Gunnar take batting practice, the ball comes off his bat differently. But what I have been most surprised about with him, being he is so young, it is very intriguing to listen to him and talk to him during a game. I admire for his age how far ahead he is just with baseball instincts. He really understand pitchers and how they are trying to pitch him.
“We’ll talk in the dugout and try to guess, while we are watching another hitter, what the pitcher will try to throw. His baseball intelligence is impressive for his age. He has a plan up there and pays attention during the game, watching his teammates and the pitcher. He wants to know the scouting reports we have. That is what stands out to me the most, even more than what he has done on the field. Studying the game like he has done could allow him to climb the ladder at a much faster rate.
“He definitely has legit power. Just watching him every single day, the power is real. I’m excited about him because, yeah, he has power, but I think he’s going to hit (for average, too). I think he’s going to walk, because he’s a complete hitter. He’s moreso a hitter first, with the power coming over time.”
Delmarva infielder Jordan Westburg, 22, who has produced eight straight two-hit games, was named Low-A East Player of the Week on Monday. Henderson got that honor last week. During the eight games, Westburg is 16-for-29 (.552) with two homers and nine RBIs. For the season, he’s batting .400/.521/.636 with three homers, 18 RBIs and a 1.157 OPS. He leads the league in OBP and OPS, ranking second in average and third in RBIs.
He was the Orioles’ No. 30 overall draft pick last June out of Mississippi State, where he played three seasons.
Jones on Westburg: “Westy is awesome. Have loved getting to know him as a person. He is so disciplined as a person and it is cool to see the consistency of someone want to work every single day. He has a great swing and moves extremely well. I would say with him the conversations haven’t been about anything mechanical. There is nothing wrong with his mechanics. More has been about mindset and approach. Just reminding him he’s got some juice in there and not just put a ball in play. He hit a homer the other day with two strikes.
“He’s done a nice job of having conversations and implementing them in the game. He knows who he is as a hitter, similar to Gunnar. He’s had success in the past and knows what works for him. Just want him to reach his potential as a hitter, and he is on the right track with a very high level of self awareness.”
Infielder Anthony Servideo, 22, was the club’s third-round draft pick last June out of the University of Mississippi. He has a very unusual batting line with elite on-base numbers. He’s hitting .239/.507/.304/.811 with no homers and seven RBIs. The lefty hitter is the grandson of Curt Blefary, who was the 1965 American League Rookie of the Year for the Orioles.
Servideo’s walk rate of 34.2 percent leads all of Minor League Baseball.
Jones on Servideo: “He is someone (that struggled early) who could have easily changed his approach at the beginning of the year. A lot of the pitches early on he would normally barrel up, he was fouling off. It would have been very easy for him to start to panic and change who he is. He stuck to the plan and it’s starting to pay off. That, to me, is really impressive. It is easy when you are going well to stick to the plan but go into panic mode when you are not doing well. He didn’t do that at all. Really cool to see.”
Delmarva is one of just three O’s farm teams leading its league in walks right now. Double-A Bowie ranks first in its league in walks and is third in OBP. High Single-A Aberdeen ranks first in walks and OBP.