The Orioles’ low Single-A Delmarva affiliate got off to a great start this year. With players like Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and JD Mundy bashing baseballs, the Shorebirds won 15 of their first 20 games and were 19-6 on June 2.
During a season where Delmarva has dealt with an ever-changing roster and now used 50 players, the moves started happening even before the first month was out. Westburg and Mundy played just 20 games for the Shorebirds and Henderson played in 35 games before their respective promotions to high Single-A Aberdeen.
And while they have lost more games recently - going 6-13 over the past few weeks - the Shorebirds still have the fourth-best overall record in the Low A East at 41-30. They are contending for the postseason with that changing roster that has left them currently with just one top 30 O’s rated player in infielder Darell Hernaiz.
So it’s not a roster of big names or highly rated prospects anymore, but the Shorebirds do know this - that roster will get an infusion of 2021 draft picks over the next few weeks. If it seems like they’ve had two or three different teams on the Eastern Shore this year, get ready for yet another one.
But credit to the Shorebirds for maintaining a winning record long after some of their best players moved on. And in recent weeks they’ve also seen other key players promoted, like outfielder Hudson Haskin and pitchers Ignacio Feliz, Zach Peek, Ryan Watson, Brandon Young and Xavier Moore.
The current six-man rotation for the Shorebirds includes Shane Davis, Griffin McLarty, Noah Denoyer, Houston Roth, Jake Lyons and Jean Pinto. Pinto is a 20-year-old right-hander from Venezuela the O’s got along with pitcher Garrett Stallings from the Angels in the José Iglesias trade of Dec. 2, 2020. He went 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings with 28 strikeouts in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and will make his Shorebirds debut and start tonight at Fredericksburg.
But while some of their players have been moving up and new ones moving in for the Shorebirds, they now have a .577 (41-30) win percentage.
“We basically lost a whole infield, our center fielder, both catchers and a lot of starting pitching,” said Delmarva manager Dave Anderson, who recently won his 600th career game. “We are going to see more turnover with the draft picks. It’s been great to see so many different players. The fans here have gotten to see so many players and there will be more. It’s been exciting to see how the players we move up do also. I think it will be exciting to see how the second-half goes for all these players and the new ones that will come in. This is part of managing at this level.”
Delmarva had a prolific offense early on with Henderson, Westburg and Mundy and they’ve had to be more resourceful and manufacture more runs since that trio moved up. In the season’s first month in May, Delmarva averaged 7.56 runs per game with a team OPS of .830.
But in their league, the Shorebirds offense continues to rank well months later. They are fifth in team batting (.249), third in OBP (.359), second in slugging (.408), first in home runs (78), third in runs (413) and third in team OPS (.757).
On the pitching side, Delmarva ranks second of 12 teams in staff ERA at 3.69, ranking third among the league in rotation ERA at 4.25 and second among bullpen ERA at 3.29. Denoyer has the best stats among the current starters, going 5-2 with a 2.70 ERA with 25 walks and 62 strikeouts over 53 1/3 innings.
“He’s gotten better as the year has gone on and stood out his last couple of starts,” said Anderson of a pitcher with an 0.86 ERA in four starts this month. His fastball sits mostly in the low 90s.
In June, the Delmarva pitching staff recorded a team ERA of 2.84 allowing a .203 batting average and with 276 strikeouts over 222 innings.
Showing they are still having plenty of fun, Anderson said his players gave him a bit of a hard time when they realized that now he manages Hernaiz after managing his father, Juan, on the 1998 Double-A Jacksonville Suns team that went 86-54.
“They always get on me about that,” said Anderson. “I want his dad and him to sign a ball that I can put in a trophy case.”
Anderson’s offense has fallen off from the prolific start but some new players that came aboard, like first baseman TT Bowens and outfielder Cristopher Cespedes, have been productive and the runs were still coming, just not as the same clip.
“Early on, we scored a lot of runs. A lot of runs,” Anderson said. “This team now is finding different ways to score runs. That can be fun to try and find other ways to score and create opportunities. Early on, the runs covered up a few mistakes and some of those mistakes now have led to some recent struggles. But we go out and work on it and try to figure it out.
“You learn quite a bit at this level. It’s their first time playing this much. This is where hopefully the mistakes they make they learn from and don’t make those mistakes as they move up. We look at video and talk to the players and add things as we go as far as offense and defense, giving them more challenges and watching them just learn the game. It’s a big, big learning opportunity at this level.”
Bowens, signed after the draft last year out of Central Connecticut State, has helped pick up some of the offensive slack recently. For the season over 46 games, he’s batting .242 with 12 homers and 36 RBIs, to go with an OPS of .851. He has homered seven times in 40 at-bats versus lefty pitching with an OPS of 1.360.
“He’s done a good job for us in the middle of the order,” said Anderson. “He’s a big, strong, athletic kid who also has played really good at first base. Has power throughout the ballpark. It’s been right field, center, left field. Tremendous power to all fields. Like most of the guys here, he’s been working to be consistent.”
Anderson emphasizes that a big part of the job for him and his staff is to get players promoted and moving through the farm system. As they await the addition of some of the 2021 draft class, they can look back and realize they have surely done that well this year at Delmarva.
“The players that were here and then went up, it’s exciting to see that with guys like Gunnar and Westburg and all the guys we moved up,” he said. “It tells me we are on the right track with some of the players we have added. The main thing is you need numbers. When you have a lot of numbers, you have a better chance to get these guys to the big leagues. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’ve had some great kids here. We really are on the right track.”
Radio note: The Shorebirds have announced that beginning with tonight’s game at Fredericksburg, all road games for the rest of the season will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 960 AM and on iHeart Radio streaming services.
Voice of the Shorebirds Sam Jellinek will be on the road to cover the team and bring all the action to the airwaves. Fans can tune in either on the radio on 960 AM or online on the iHeart website.