There were so many big stories with the Delmarva Shorebirds this past season. Long a relatively forgotten outpost in the Orioles’ minor league chain, the farthest of the four Maryland affiliates from Baltimore, Delmarva never got the attention that Bowie, Frederick or Aberdeen gets.
That changed this season when the Shorebirds, packed with intriguing prospects, won a franchise record 90 games.
Last Saturday, the Orioles honored its manager, Kyle Moore, named the South Atlantic League’s manager of the Year; pitching coach Justin Ramsey, who won the Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development award; and Grayson Rodriguez, who shared the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year with Mike Baumann, who pitched for Delmarva in 2018.
Bowie’s Buck Britton, who was the Shorebirds’ manager last season, received recognition as Eastern League Manager of the Year.
Moore (pictured above with Orioles general manager Mike Elias), who managed the Ironbirds in 2018 after Kevin Bradshaw had season-ending knee surgery, saw the bigger picture of his team’s regular-season accomplishments.
“Even though we got a lot of praise for the 90 wins and all that, a lot of the guys got better,” Moore said.
The Shorebirds lost the first two games in a best-of-three playoff series to the Hickory (North Carolina) Crawdads to end their season.
“It was pretty disappointing,” Moore said. “In a three-game series … we had guys who had some of the best numbers in the league that didn’t get to pitch. When you go into minor league playoffs, it’s a crapshoot. I was really happy with how we played. We just didn’t get the big hit.”
Hickory beat Delmarva, 4-3, in the first game. In the only game at Salisbury’s Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, the Shorebirds were shut out, 1-0, in 10 innings.
“Would have loved to see a club like we have play more than a three-game series,” Moore said. “I didn’t think that was fair, right.”
Rodriguez and Gray Fenter, who struck out 13 in 6 1/3 innings, started the two games. Drew Rom, who was the Orioles’ fourth-round pick in 2018 and went 6-3 with a 2.93, didn’t get a chance to start.
Late in the season, Delmarva got to add overall No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman, who hit .154 in 12 games.
“Great dude. Hard worker,” Moore said. “The type of character that you kind of hope for when you see somebody picked so highly … incredibly excited about a catcher like that. Just absolutely polished as a catcher.”
Ramsey, who was in his first season as a professional coach after coming from college coaching, had an exciting year.
“It’s gratifying because I got to establish better relationships with these players and watching them grow,” Ramsey said. “The fact that it’s the first year is great. The fun of it, honestly, the gratification came from just seeing the development over the course of the year and putting that as the priority, and seeing the wins just follow.”
Fenter’s breakout year: Fenter, one of the older players on Delmarva at 23, has been in the Orioles’ organization since 2015 when he was drafted in the seventh round at the behest of Buck Showalter’s son, Nathan, who scouted him at West Memphis (Arkansas) High School.
In 2016, Fenter missed the entire season after Tommy John surgery. Though he spent time at Delmarva in 2018, it wasn’t until this season that he reached his potential.
Fenter was 8-2 with a 1.71 ERA in 22 starts, striking out 123 in 94 1/3 innings.
“2019 was good for me,” Fenter said. “I finally started to get a set routine and understand what I needed to do to be ready to play, to stay healthy, to keep my body ready and my mind right to pitch every five days.”
He became close with Rodriguez, a mature 19-year-old, and thought that being older than many of his teammates was a benefit.
“We’re all here trying to reach the same goal,” Fenter said. “Sometimes having those young guys that have more energy, don’t really treat it so much as a job as you do when you get older.
“It puts it in a little bit different perspective in your head and allows you to get back to just having fun playing ball and not worry about it so much.”
Fenter’s overpowering performance in Game 2 couldn’t prevent the season from ending.
“It was tough, it was unexpected,” Fenter said. “We thought we had a really good chance of winning it or playing more than two ballgames. We did what we could, we just didn’t play when we needed to play, I guess.”
Fenter said that having gone through the disappointment of missing a season after Tommy John surgery gave him some perspective on the loss.
“It definitely helps … but it’s still not any fun, losing those first two games and being done,” Fenter said. “That’s just the way it went. There’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
Fenter, Rodriguez and Rom stayed with Delmarva the entire season.
“About halfway through the year, I was really kind of disappointed that I was still down there, especially with how I’d pitched,” Fenter said.
After reflection, Fenter found it to be a positive.
“It allowed me to spend more time with a really good pitching coach,” Fenter said of Ramsey. “That helped me a lot, really helped me figure things out. Getting able to play with the same guys, share that opportunity to play in the playoffs was really good, was really fun.”
Fenter, Rodriguez and Rom could begin 2020 at Frederick ,with Rutschman as their catcher.
“I didn’t think I’d get a chance to throw to him this year, but having him up there for my last three or four starts was nice,” Fenter said. “He makes you feel comfortable out there on the mound. He’s a really big guy and when he gets behind that plate, he makes the strike zone look bigger. That helps us a lot.”