Aberdeen IronBirds are more than just Adley Rutschman - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Aberdeen IronBirds are more than just Adley Rutschman

Photo Credit: Kelley Dentry/Aberdeen IronBirds

ABERDEEN—In a season in which more attention is focused on the Orioles’ minor league teams than any in recent memory, even more attention has been focused on the Aberdeen IronBirds.

Almost all of the focus has been on Adley Rutschman, the overall No. 1 pick in the nation who made his debut on July 27. But the IronBirds are more than just Rutschman.

For years, the IronBirds, who play from mid-June to Labor Day in the New York-Penn League, have been known for lovely Ripken Stadium, by far the nicest ballpark among Oriole affiliates and for being owned by Cal Ripken Jr.

Opened in 2002, the year after Ripken retired from the Orioles, the IronBirds have made the playoffs just once, in 2013.

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This year, there’s a lot more than just Rutschman. Vi Ripken, the mother of Cal Jr. and Billy, who also has an ownership stake and widow of Cal Sr., is still a regular at the team’s games.

The games that Vi Ripken and other fans are watching include a much more talented roster than they’ve seen in recent years. Eighteen draft choices, including Rutschman, are from June’s draft.

Two of those draft picks, Jake Lyons (22nd round), Kyle Martin (15th) and undrafted free agent James Ryan, combined to throw the first no-hitter in team history on Monday.

Aberdeen is managed by Kevin Bradshaw, a 55-year-old in this third season. Bradshaw has been a coach, manager or instructor for 29 minor league seasons, and likes the team he has.

“I am impressed,” Bradshaw said. “We’re starting to get to the time of year where we’ve got to do reports. Overall, talking to the coaching staff and some of the reports we’re going to have to write, we can see these guys definitely playing up and through to Double-A, which in the past, we haven’t been able to see.

“We have had some talent here that you think,’ If they get to A-ball, they’re going to be lucky.’ This group, you can definitely see playing Double-A ball and maybe higher.”

Aberdeen is one of two short-season rookie teams, which serve as entry level in the Orioles’ organization. Prospects from high school are normally sent to Gulf Coast in Sarasota and college prospects to Aberdeen. Rutschman was briefly sent to Gulf Coast because he hadn’t played for several weeks.

The most accomplished current Oriole, Trey Mancini, began his professional career at Aberdeen in 2013. Five of his teammates on that team have played in the majors — pitchers Steven Brault, traded to Pittsburgh for Travis Snider; Donnie Hart; and Jimmy Yacabonis as well as catcher Austin Wynns and outfielder Mike Yastrzemski.

The Orioles will be disappointed if Rutschman isn’t joined by several teammates in the majors.

Bradshaw, who coordinated minor league spring training, likes what he sees on his team and throughout the organization.

“I felt like there were some guys that loved to play the game, Bradshaw said. “I don’t know if I thought the talent level is high, but as far as the want-to, we have a lot of those guys with that attitude. In spring training, I could see a big difference in how we were teaching stuff and when you combine a different way of teaching with a better way of teaching with some guys who now want to learn and some guys that have talent, you’re going to get some pretty good ballplayers.”

One of those teaching in a new way is IronBirds hitting coach Tom Eller, longtime coach at Harford Community College. Eller spent the first two months of the season with Low-A Delmarva before yielding to veteran coach Dan Radison, who wanted to work a reduced schedule.

Eller is a firm believer in analytics to monitor swings.

“He’s brought out the K-Vest, we got the blast [motion] on our bats,” Bradshaw said. “… All this stuff is adding up to improvements, and he’s brought that forward.

“I’ve typically been old school. I wasn’t into the analytics as much, so I’m learning a lot from him. We brought in [assistant general manager Sig Mejdal] and Tom brought in a guy for a two-day seminar on hitting, the analytical side of it. He’s brought in all the new, modern stuff that’s out there so now we’re combing the old school with the new school and hopefully the hitters are benefitting from it.”

One of those hitters is Andrew Daschbach, an 11th-round draft pick. Daschbach, outfielder Kyle Stowers (competitive balance round) and backup catcher Maverick Handley (6th) played together at Stanford, and against Rutschman, who went to Oregon State.

“It’s funny, I never thought I’d be playing with [Rutschman] or two of my former college teammates,” Daschbach said.

“It’s been a huge blessing more than anything. It’s fun for us to see a lot of faces that you know, competed with or against. All three of those guys are great players, whether it’s Adley or Mav or Stowers. It’s definitely fun playing with Adley. I love talking hitting with him. I drive him to the field and back every now and then, conversations about hitting.”

For Daschbach and his West Coast teammates, there is an adjustment.

“The heat and humidity are crazy, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “The ball doesn’t fly quite as well as I’d like it to with the heavy air sometimes.

“I think we have a great fan base here. They show up, night in and night out. The travel is very different from college … The baseball’s not that much different. You see a lot of similar quality arms and similar quality stuff.”

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Fareastern89

    August 16, 2019 at 8:41 am

    Thanks, Rich. It’s good to see players who actually have considerable potential start out in Aberdeen, but why did the players on previous teams have such a low ceiling? Did the former front office do such a poor job of drafting college players that Aberdeen’s roster was just basically minor league depth pieces?

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 16, 2019 at 9:04 am

      Some top draft picks like DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, went to Gulf Coast instead. Last year, Cadyn Grenier started at Delmarva. Some of the draft choices this year have already been promoted to Delmarva. Gunnar Henderson is at Gulf Coast this year.

    • Baltimore Castaway

      August 16, 2019 at 9:20 am

      It seems to me that the Elias/Megdal team has taken an entirely new approach to drafting talent compared to the Duquette Era. It is showing results already. Take Toby Welk as an example; he is hitting and playing very well at 3rd base. He was a four year player at Penn State Berks, pretty much an unknown. Don’t think that too many teams had him on their RADAR in this June’s Amateur Draft.

      I am very impressed with the direction that this team is taking…

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        August 16, 2019 at 2:37 pm

        Really? More Duquette hating?

        Who do you think drafted Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Chance Sisco, Ryan Mountcastle, Mike Baumann & Zac Lowther amongst others? And Duquette certainly didn’t have the number one slot to draft from either. His hands tied by the old man most of the time unlike the current regime. He certainly didn’t have the free reign to TANK like the 2nd coming of George S Patton either.

        Hey, I like what Elias did in drafting Rutcschman & Gunnar … but let’s wait a few years to see what these guys do before breaking out the anointing oil! Frankly, I liked being a winner, which is what Danny D gave us after QUITE a few years (15?) of of losing baseball .

        • Birdman

          August 16, 2019 at 4:07 pm

          Boog, I’m not a Duquette basher, and I agree that any GM who had to operate under PA was at a real disadvantage. That said, we have to acknowledge that the competitive 2012-2016 teams were, in very large part, the product of moves made by DD’s predecessor, Andy MacPhail. It was MacPhail who made the trades for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, JJ Hardy, and Chris Davis. And it was Macphail who drafted Manny Machado.

  2. LincolnDD

    August 16, 2019 at 8:57 am

    Minor, ultimately unimportant point, but Aberdeen is classified as an A-level team (Short Season A, specifically), not Rookie like the Gulf Coast team.

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 16, 2019 at 9:18 am

      Thank you, Lincoln, but the point I was attempting to make was that both Gulf Coast and Aberdeen are entry-level teams with players from high school generally beginning at Gulf Coast and college players beginning at Aberdeen.

      When I’m writing about the levels, I do differentiate by referring to “Rookie Level Gulf Coast” and “Short Season Aberdeen.”

  3. SpinMaster

    August 16, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Thanks for the great article Rich. When I read yours and others on your staff articles on the O’s farm system, I start to see why we are now ranked 8th out of 30 in minor league systems. We can only hope that the success that we are having in Aberdeen, Sarasota and Delmarva will radiate upwards in the next few years and we see that success in Frederick and Norfolk.

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 16, 2019 at 9:19 am

      Thank you, Spin. I think that you’ll see more success in the minors and ultimately in the majors in the next several years.

  4. Jim-Considine

    August 16, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Rich, Thanks for a great “off-day” story. One of the interesting things I saw this year was the 3 players drafted from USC. It seemed very intuitive to surround your 1st and 3rd picks with a couple of their friends. That’s good old fashioned common sense.
    Question, was Yastremski on the 2013 Ironbirds? Do you have any insights on the two trades where the Giants got players who are contributing on major league rosters?

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 16, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      Thank you, Jim. Thanks to your prompting, I double checked, and not only was Mike Yastrzemski on the 2013 IronBirds, but so was Austin Wynns. I changed the article to reflect that.

      As for Yastrzemski, he had never had an excellent minor league season. In fact, he had been at Bowie for parts of five seasons, and hit just .202 in 27 games there last year. Nothing in his past indicated that he was likely to have this kind of success in the major leagues.

      The Orioles did briefly have him at spring training this year, but he was behind Anthony Santadner,, DJ Stewart, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna among young outfielders. They did him a favor by trading him, and they’re very happy to see him do well.

      I assume you’re referring to Joey Rickard, who was not traded but claimed on waivers by the Giants. Rickard had been given four years worth
      of opportunities and while he showed some ability, they felt all the young outfielders mentioned as well as Dwight Smith Jr. had more promise.

  5. Bhoffman1

    August 16, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Dean Kremer starting for Norfolk tonight. Next stop Baltimore I hope with Mason Williams, Mountcastle and DJ

  6. Bhoffman1

    August 16, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    And Hays

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 16, 2019 at 1:36 pm

      Bruce, I assume you don’t follow me on Twitter, @RichDubroffMLB, because I tweeted out the news that Stewart has been reactivated.

  7. PA Bird Lover

    August 16, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Rich, great report on our young newcomers. Elias will prove he knows how to organize and manage drafting,

    • PA Bird Lover

      August 16, 2019 at 2:29 pm

      Whoops sorry, finger was quick with the draw. Obviously he is well organized.

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