The Appalachian League is a rookie-level league with 10 teams located in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The Orioles are represented in the league by the Bluefield Orioles.
Bluefield has been an affiliate of the Orioles since 1958, which is the longest current connection in professional baseball. The most notable player for Bluefield, as many Orioles fans know, was Cal Ripken Jr. in 1978. Former Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray played for the Baby Birds, as they are often called, in 1973. Orioles starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera played there in 2002.
The Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays are also represented in the league.
The Baby Birds finished in third place in the East Division with a 29-36 record. They were 10 games behind the Pulaski Mariners, who finished 40-27 and won the division. The Elizabethton Twins won the West Division with a 41-25 record.
Elvin Polanco led the Orioles by hitting .311 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs in 62 games. The 21-year-old switch-hitting first baseman had 16 doubles and 36 runs scored. Ronnie Welty hit .314 with three home runs and 34 RBIs in 55 games for Bluefield. The 20-year-old outfielder, who was selected by the Orioles in the 20th round of this year's draft, had 13 doubles and 26 runs scored.
Levi Carolus hit .275 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs. The 21-year-old third baseman committed 20 errors in 49 games for Bluefield. Brian Conley, who played for Towson University, batted .248 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 38 games. The Orioles drafted Conley in the 17th round of this year's draft.
Starting pitcher Kenny Moreland was 6-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 13 starts for Bluefield. The 22-year-old right-hander had 65 strikeouts and only walked six hitters in 67 2/3 innings. Relief pitcher Jose Barajas was 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA and seven saves in 17 appearances. The 20-year-old right-hander had 26 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings.
Moreland allowed two runs in two innings and Barajas gave up three runs and four hits in four innings for the Frederick Keys after Bluefield's season ended.
Elizabethton swept Pulaski in two games to repeat as champions of the Appalachian League. The Twins also won the title in 2005, so they've won three of the past four championships.
Left fielder Evan Bigley was 2-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs to lead Elizabethton to a 7-4 victory in the first game. Third baseman Nick Romero had three RBIs and shortstop James Beresford had two hits for the Twins.
In the second game, starting pitcher Dan Osterbrock struck out 11 hitters in seven scoreless innings to lead the Twins over the Mariners, 7-0. First baseman Jonathan Waltenbury was 3-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs for Elizabethton. Second baseman Dominic de la Osa had two RBIs and Romero was 2-for-5 with an RBI.
Elizabethton became the first team to win two consecutive championships since Bluefield won in 1996 and 1997. The Twins have won five titles since 2000.
Jonathan Waltenbury, Elizabethton Twins – The 20-year-old first baseman batted .319 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 63 games for Elizabethton. Waltenbury finished second in the league in doubles (22), hits (84) and runs scored (49). He led the league with 142 total bases.
Curt Smith, Johnson City Cardinals – Smith led the league with a .378 batting average. The 22-year-old first baseman had eight home runs, 14 doubles and 49 RBIs in 47 games for the Cardinals. He hit .244 with 10 RBIs in 11 games for the Quad Cities River Bandits after being promoted to the Single-A Midwest League.
Jon Gilmore, Danville Braves – Gilmore had the most hits in the league (87). The 20-year-old third baseman also led the league with 23 doubles. He batted .337 with four home runs and 31 RBIs. After being promoted to the Rome Braves of the Single-A South Atlantic League, Gilmore only hit .186 in 27 games.
Dan Osterbrock, Elizabethton Twins – Osterbrock dominated the Appalachian League while leading Elizabethton to the championship. He pitched the most innings in the league (75) and finished 7-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 13 starts. Osterbrock, who was the Twins' seventh-round draft pick in this year's draft, had a league-leading 104 strikeouts with only eight walks.
Matthew Moore, Princeton Devil Rays – Moore was only 2-2 in 12 starts, but he led the league with a 1.66 ERA. The Tampa Bay Rays selected the 19-year-old left-hander in the eighth round of the 2007 draft. He had 77 strikeouts and didn't allow a home run in 54 1/3 innings.