Delmarva Giving O’s Fans Reason for Hope

Blaine Knight pitches.
MiLB.com

When we think Low-A professional baseball, ‘excitement’ and ‘compelling’ probably don’t come to mind, but that’s exactly what the Delmarva Shorebirds have been in 2019. Off to a 24-4 start, the Shorebirds are starting to turn some heads. Mainly, they have been led by a young pitching staff full of recent Oriole draft picks. This list includes 2018 picks Grayson Rodriguez (1st Round), Blaine Knight (3rd round), and Drew Rom (4th Round).

The Orioles are in full-blown rebuild mode, and to give fans any hope for the future, their lower minor league teams are going to need to produce and so far the Shorebirds are doing just that. Delmarva’s .857 winning percentage is tops in all of minor league baseball and these kids have just been having fun along the way.

Let’s take a look at some of the players who have been contributing to this run and how their success could potentially translate to the big league level.

Hitters

JC Encarnacion: Acquired in the Kevin Gausman deal, Encarnacion was considered to be a raw prospect who possessed many tools, but just needed to put it all together. Thus far, he has fit that mold to a tee, sporting a mere .645 OPS, but Encarnacion has mammoth power, as showcased below when he hit this moonshot walk-off grand slam.

Encarnacion is only 21 years old, so he has plenty of time to develop and move through the Oriole system, but he’s where he should be right now and if continues to show flashes, one would expect him to put it all together soon.

Cadyn Grenier: Grenier was considered a glove-first prospect when the Orioles took him 37th overall and he still very much is. His slash line doesn’t look that impressive (.248/.347/.327) but he has been on-base his last nine plate appearances (five of those being walks). Grenier doesn’t have much power, but his glove and on-base ability may pave a path for him and he may even be joined by his old college buddy Adley Rutschman soon.

Robert Neustrom: Neustrom is the Orioles’ 29th Ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline and there’s a good reason why he made the Top 30. This dude can swing the bat. Neustrom currently owns a .957 OPS with Delmarva and flashed a bit of speed, swiping five bags in only 19 games. Oriole scouts were initially attracted to Neustrom after his performance in the Cape Cod League, where  he posted a .924 OPS along with 11 home runs, showing that he could swing a wood bat at a near elite level. The Orioles took a shot on Neustrom in the 5th round of the 2018 draft, meaning the first five 2019 Draft Picks are all together at Delmarva.

Adam Hall: Hall may be the most highly regarded bat of the bunch. Hall is sporting a nice .330 average and a .424 OBP, and he’s got speed. Hall was my preseason ‘prospect to watch’ and so far he’s making me look smart. Drafted out of Canada in the 2nd Round of the 2017 Draft, Hall impressed the Orioles brass so much, they paid him an over slot price of $1.3 million. Oddly enough, the defensive scouting grades on Hall are more favorable, ranking him a 55 on both his fielding and his throwing arm (20-80 scouting grade scale). This bodes well for Hall, because if his defense ranks ahead of his offense and he’s hitting .330, he will be well on his way to a promotion.

Pitchers

Grayson Rodriguez: Gray-Rod, as he’s otherwise known,  has looked like a man among boys so far in Low-A. Grayson dominated the Gulf Coast League after getting drafted out of High School (Nacogdoches, TX) and has carried that momentum into the 2019 season. Mike Elias & Company want to be cautious with Rodriguez and are limiting his innings, but when he has pitched, he’s been lights out. He currently owns a 0.89 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. Gray-Rod possesses an upper 90’s fastball, complementing it with a slider and curve. Rodriguez creates an interesting angle with his tall frame coupled with his unique almost ¾ arm slot. Like I said, the Orioles will limit his usage, but he may force their hand at some point if he keeps up at this rate.

Blaine Knight: Knight might have the smallest frame I’ve seen on a pitcher in person. But it doesn’t matter. Knight can sling it and possessed one of the highest spin rates among sliders in the draft last year. He was the ace of the Arkansas Razorbacks and pitched in the College World Series against the aforementioned Cadyn Grenier and his Oregon State Beavers. Hitters are posting a pedestrian .125 average against him so far and Knight is striking out more than a batter an inning. His ERA is somehow even lower than Rodriguez’ at a 0.67 clip. Besides the talent, Knight knows how to pitch on the big stage, and being a college arm, I expect him to move through the system rather quickly if he can meet the challenge at each level.

Drew Rom: Rom was another name who was signed over slot in order to assure he signed in Baltimore. He, along with Gray-Rod, impressed in the GCL, posting a 1.76 ERA in 31 innings. Rom’s 1.41 WHIP thus far could be viewed as worrisome, but he strikes out enough hitters to prove he has upside potential.

Ofelky Peralta: Perlta is just 22 years old, but I feel like he’s been in the Orioles system for quite some time now. Ofelky started his career with the Orioles in 2014, debuting in the Dominican Summer League. Since then, he’s had many bumps in the road, never posting a sub-4.00 ERA. This year, along with what seems every other starter for Delmarva, he’s beginning to figure it out. Peralta so far has a 12.4 K/9 to go along with a 0.75 WHIP and 1.07 ERA. His fastball is still rated far and away as his best pitch, so if he can harness the swings and misses he gets on the fastball, his path might best be served as a high leverage reliever, though he has time to develop his other secondary pitches.

Orioles fans are likely in for another season of misery, but you gotta take the good with the bad. And right now the Delmarva Shorebirds are a spectacle. More important possibly than some of these gaudy statistics, is the fact that these guys are learning to win together. Instilling this at Low-A ball could be crucial for future success. Their torrid pace probably won’t last forever, but right now they’re doing what Brandon Hyde is telling the current Orioles: “just go out there and try to win today.”

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