Despite a tumble last season, the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds have been the most successful Orioles farm club on the field recently, and there is hope that trend will continue.
"This looks like it's going to be a good club with pretty good pitching and a lot of enthusiasm and eagerness that you like to see in young kids," said new manager Joe Ferguson.
Ferguson has moved to Salisbury after three seasons with the Double-A Bowie Baysox. He is building a home in the area and looking forward to dealing with more rudimentary skills.
"Not that I didn't enjoy the time in Bowie," he said. "But I really wanted to be with younger players who are ready to learn."
The Shorebirds will begin their South Atlantic League season tonight at Savannah, Ga., with 16 players who have experience at the lower Single-A level and a talented first-round draft pick -- left-handed pitcher Richard Stahl, who did not sign with the Orioles until late last summer and is making his debut.
Stahl will operate out of the No. 2 spot in the rotation after dominating hitters in spring training. The lead hurler for now is Jancy Andrade, a converted reliever who is "tough when he's right," Ferguson said. "He has a tendency to overthrow, and when he keeps himself under control, he's hard to handle."
Behind them will come left-hander Randy Perez and right-handers Mike Paradis and Sonny Garcia, who had some brilliant flashes before being injured last year.
With six bullpen pitchers, Ferguson will have flexibility to experiment with his closers and middle relievers until the roles are better defined. He has two left-handers, providing balance, and a potential standout in Gilberto Bello, who finished with a big kick in 1999.
At bat, two batters bring long-range power projections -- Rick Elder and Keith Reed, both No. 1 draft picks. Elder knocked in 40 runs in 46 games at Bluefield, and Reed had four homers in August after joining the Shorebirds.
"Keith has had a big spring with a bunch of homers," Ferguson said. "And Rick has the strength to hit them 500 feet.
"But we can attack a lot of different ways. We have speed throughout almost the whole lineup, and this is a very free-swinging group. They're very aggressive, so we're going to see what they're capable of doing."
Delmarva will be buoyed when infielder Edward Rogers, a product of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, recovers from an injured hand.
At the ballpark, general manager Jim Terrill said "two lower tiers have been added to the picnic deck so we can accommodate 500 people, and we're going to have some live pre-game concerts with local bands."
Delmarva has been the league leader in attendance, and "we've made big strides in group sales," Terrill said.