Salisbury, Maryland — Delmarva Shorebirds manager Dave Anderson walked into his clubhouse Tuesday afternoon, 90 games into the season, and saw 15 new faces staring at him. A few hours later, his entire lineup would be full of them.
Such is life on the farm in 2021, when the Major League Baseball draft being pushed back to July and only full-season minor league affiliates playing outside the Florida and Arizona complex leagues means this year’s draft picks are arriving in droves for the stretch run after orientation periods with their new organizations.
For the Orioles, that meant top 2021 draft picks Colton Cowser and Connor Norby, 2020 prep draftee Coby Mayo and 12 other additions to the organization joined Low-A Delmarva for the last five weeks of the season — an experience all parties are excited for.
“We knew we were going to have some changes,” Anderson said. “We knew we were going to have a bunch of players come up here. We’ve been looking forward to it. We’re excited about it. They’re excited. They’re young players. It’s like the season is starting all over again, especially for the staff. We’ve been through 90 games already. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to it.”
The first night of the new-look Shorebirds didn’t disappoint in a 10-1 win over Fredericksburg. They were no-hit into the fifth inning, but broke out for three runs in the fifth and seven in the sixth. In that seventh inning, the first nine batters reached base as they sent 12 men to the plate. Throughout, the hallmark of this draft class shined through: the Orioles targeted hitters who don’t strike out, and the only strikeout of the game for a Delmarva batter came when Mayo struck out looking at a full-count, borderline pitch in the ninth.
Catcher Connor Pavolony homered and had one of two two-hit games for the team, along with first baseman Jacob Teter. Everyone but leadoff man Reed Trimble had a hit, but Trimble walked twice.
New pitchers Conor Grady, Carlos Tavera and Peter Van Loon chipped in scoreless innings in what was an impressive start in an unprecedented situation.
Anderson said the team won’t be trying to overplay the new players’ arrival much, going over some basics with the group before meeting individually with their coaches over the course of the week. He joked that he had plenty of names to learn, but having two Connors and a Conor will ease that a bit.
Mostly, they want these players to experience pro ball outside of Florida before their season is over so they’re ready for a full-season assignment in 2022, either back here in Delmarva or High-A Aberdeen. They’ll get to experience it all, from night games each day to the team’s upcoming two-week road trip through Salem and Carolina. Anderson said it’s a “earning experience from when they walked in that door today.”
“We want them to have some fun,” he said. “This is their first experience of professional baseball. We’re going to try to have them learn a little bit about playing every day, about preparing for games, which I think is important. Because sometimes, in professional baseball, not doing anything is preparing for the games. There’s a lot of things, but I think we’re going to go more big-picture with them.”
The players, all of whom were recently playing in the Florida Complex League, include a group of productive college hitters the Orioles targeted high in the draft this year and have shown their mettle early.
Cowser, the fifth overall pick, played in 11 FCL games and hit 11-for-22 with a home run and three steals. Trimble, their competitive balance round B pick, is 5-for-15 with a double and two steals. Fourth-round outfielder Donta’ Williams reached base in half of his 12 plate appearances.
Third-round pick John Rhodes looked around down in Florida and saw “a talented bunch” who fit the team’s preferred profile: hitters who make contact often, don’t strike out and get on base as much as possible.
“I haven’t gotten a large sample size, but I just see hitters,” Rhodes said. “Colton is a great example. Man, he’s a hitter. He barrels everything, just gets hits. I think that’s the biggest thing, we don’t have any huge power hitters, anybody like that who’s going strike out 200, 250 times, but we’ve got hitters. We’ve got guys who are going to put the ball in play, hit for high average and hit for some power, too.”
But with a sporadic schedule, made more so by constant rainouts for the two FCL teams, regular baseball is now the setting for this draft class to show off. Many of the team’s top 2019 draft picks have had good minor league seasons, too, with Mayo joining Jordan Westburg as having an encouraging year among the 2020 group.
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This 2021 class, however, features advanced hitters who the Orioles hope can move quickly through the minors and help the major league team sooner rather than later.
Their path to doing so, however, means they’re essentially taking over a team that’s mostly through its season. Delmarva promoted eight players to Aberdeen, sent two down to the FCL teams and released two, meaning they now have very few holdovers from the beginning of the season. Among position players, only shortstop Darell Hernaiz remains active from their break-camp roster, along with a few pitchers.
The new arrivals are excited to help out the cause for the final month of the season.
“It’s pretty cool, honestly,” Rhodes said. “We kind of feel like a team in our own sense. We got drafted together, we came up the last month together and now we’re going to finish out the season together. It’s been nice in that sense, but it’s definitely been different, flying up together with one month left and trying to take over a team that doesn’t feel like yours. We’re trying to grow accustomed to the guys here and grow accustomed to each other some more.”
Said Trimble: “I love it. We’ve gotten pretty close as a group in the past few weeks that we’ve been able to get to know each other, and we get to stay together for at least right now and hopefully keep moving up as a group, maybe, and keep building relationships with these guys that are already here and the guys we keep moving up with.”
Left-hander Ty Blach, who came to Delmarva on a rehab assignment with this group after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction last year with the Orioles, has enjoyed seeing the young players experience all that pro ball has to offer for the first time.
“It’s been awesome,” Blach said. “You can tell they’re all really excited. They’re champing at the bit to get out there. It’s been fun to get to know them the last few weeks down in Florida as they’ve come in and played some games down there. It’s been really neat to get to know the guys. … They can play. It’s going to be fun to see how they can play at this level.”