Manager Matt Merullo referred to his Aberdeen IronBirds roster as “floating” at Thursday’s media day, as many recently drafter players were still coming to terms with the Orioles.
Not unlike any farm team, the Orioles' short-season Single-A affiliate welcomes an array of change heading into its season opener Monday night at Ripken Stadium against Hudson Valley.
“The biggest thing was starting out by evaluating players and trying to get as many guys out on the field as possible and see what they can do, then start designating the right people in the right areas that they need to work on,” said Merullo, the first-year manager under a new front office, who oversaw the team’s extended spring period in Florida.
“This level of baseball,” Merullo added, “is really about trying to evaluate the level of talent we have and make sure that they’re working on the right things to start their progression to the big league.”
With a new logo and a promised revamping of a gameday experience for fans, the IronBirds have face-lifted their brand after a last-place finish in the New York-Penn League in 2012. The club, having only one winning season going into its 12th year of existence, calls 2013 its “new era.”
Players said they were excited to be a part of the change.
“Hopefully we can start playing some better baseball and winning more games, too,” said catcher Scott Kalush, the Orioles’ 39th-round pick last year who played 35 games for Aberdeen.
“We come up with a more seasoned group of pitchers than we did last year,” said pitching coach Alan Mills, the former Orioles reliever in his second year with the IronBirds. “I look forward to this year. We got a few more guys with more experience than we had last year. It should be fun.”
Mills said Thursday he expected Sebastian Vader to start on the mound Monday.
Vader, an 18th-round choice in 2010 who spent time on the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League rookie team in 2010 and 2011, finished 1-8 but with a 3.71 ERA in 70.1 innings last year as a starter with Aberdeen. He said he spent the spring developing a changeup to add to his arsenal, previously comprised mainly of fastballs and sliders.
“I love playing here, it’s real fun,” said the 21-year-old right-hander. “Every day, it's a new battle. I have to do good. It’s like my job now, so there’s no room [to say]. ‘OK I’m gonna take this day off.’ No. Every day, it’s as hard as I can go.”
Also in the rotation to start the season will be David Richardson, drafted a round before Vader by the Orioles in 2010. The righty went 3-4 last year and recorded more strikeouts (54) than any IronBirds pitcher currently listed on staff.
“Having those guys spearhead the staff should help a little bit better than it did last year,” Mills said.
Anthony Vega and Sam Kimmel return as the IronBirds' most experienced position players.
A 23-year-old who posted a .211/.300/.219 line in 34 games with Single-A Delmarva this year, Vega brings the most Aberdeen experience of any on roster with his 64 games last season. The center fielder led the IronBirds in run (34), triples (5), walks (33) and stolen bases (14).
Kimmel, transitioning to left field from catcher, batted .282 with 18 RBI in 47 games in 2012.