14 October 2011

MiLB Year in Review: Delmarva Shorebirds

Machado, Schoop shine for Shorebirds

The 55-85 record of the Delmarva Shorebirds (Class A, South Atlantic League) speaks for itself. While the 'birds boasted a handful of our favorite prospects for portions of the summer, the overall collection of talent was thin, with limited upside. With that said, Delmarva housed the top two prospects in the system for a combined 408 plate appearances and 89 games -- Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.

Clayton Schrader and David Baker topped a short list of arms with successful campaigns in 2011.

Delmarva By the Numbers:
Record: 55 - 85
Top Arm: Clayton Schrader, rhp (2010 Draft, 10th Round)
Top Bat: Jonathan Schoop, inf (2008, international FA)

Player of the Year:
Manny Machado, ss (170 PA, 145 AB, .276/.376/.483, 8 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 23 BB, 25 SO)

The third overall selection in the 2010 Draft, Manny Machado put together strong first year of pro ball, split between Delmarva and Frederick. The stat line does not do justice to Machado's successes as the youngest player in each of the Sally and the Carolina League. While not as flashy as the triple-slash of equally unbaked Bryce Harper (.318/.423/.554), Machado's season included about a month's worth of missed time due to a patella subluxation of his left knee.

Machado is a four-tool player, with speed fringe-average and likely to decrease further as his thin lower-half fills out his broad frame over the next few years. He generates good bat speed through his core, and possesses the hands to consistently center the ball on the barrel. Already showing solid power, it could be a true "plus" weapon once he adds some strength and does a better job identifying pitches to drive.

His hands and arm are more than adequate for a shortstop, and his footwork is clean and effortless. The big question that remains is whether the inevitable loss of lateral quickness will hit Machado earlier or later in his pro career. If the former, he could switch to third where his bat will play closer to average, but still above. If the latter, he could enjoy some productive years as an offensive-minded ML shortstop with above-average defense to boot before shifting to the hot corner.

Players to know:

David Baker is currently a fastball-first arm, but it's a good fastball, straddling the line between average and plus. He tends to roll his curve, and his arm slot may ultimately be better suited for a slider. Long and lean, Baker still struggles to repeat his motion and will lose his release and command periodically. He tackled full season ball at age 20, showing good maturity on the mound over seven starts in which he averaged 8.0 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 6.6 H/9. He could start 2012 back in Delmarva or as part of the Frederick rotation, depending on his instructs and spring.

Matt Bywater throws out of a true side-armed slot, sitting upper-80s with a three-way fastball and flashing a solid average breaking ball and change-up. He profiles as a lefty/groundball specialist but will need to find a lot more consistency in his arm action and release, as his command/control has taken a step back since his time at Pepperdine, now grading out as below-average.

Jake Cowan (discussed in more detail in our short-season/rookie review) has a solid four pitch mix, with his secondaries often utilized as his primary weapons. He tired as the season wound down, stumbling to the finish line in Delmarva after a solid showing in Aberdeen and a couple good starts for the 'birds. He'll likely start 2012 back in the Sally but needs to get start 1) logging innings, and 2) moving up the ladder in order to find a spot in Baltimore's future.

After blowing out his elbow as a prep, Randy Henry has been brought along slowly (throwing just 11 innings at his community college and just 23 and 52 innings, all in relief, in his first two years of pro ball). Henry profiles as a middle or late inning reliever with a plus fastball and average to above-average breaking ball. He has the frame and mechanics to start, but considering he'll be 22 next year, has an elbow surgery under his belt and has never thrown more than 55 innings in a year, a conversion to the rotation may be a long shot. If Baltimore goes that route, they could start him in the pen in Frederick and shift him to the Aberdeen rotation once short season starts up (totaling around 80 IP for the summer). He has no issue throwing strikes, but too often lives in the middle of the plate where more advanced hitters will benefit from his limited repertoire.

Trent Mummey missed time after crashing into an outfield wall in May, then again due to hamstring issues later in the summer. While he only logged 29 games and 134 plate appearances this summer (14 and 69 in Delmarva, respectively), he needs to be on the radar of Orioles fans. Mummey has limited ceiling, but plays a good center field, runs well, and has a short swing capable of spraying the gaps. He's undersized, but strong, and likely fits best as a future 4th outfielder. He gets tied up on the inner half when faced with good velocity, and his ability to adjust to more advanced secondary stuff at Class AA Bowie will say a lot about his future potential.

Johnny Ruettiger was a 9th Round selection in this year's Draft, and put together a lackluster debut in full season ball after slapping around some teens in a three game stay in the Gulf Coast League. Ruettiger is a plus runner with good instincts in the outfield, but little experience in center field. He has a history of success with wood, including a Cape Cod batting title in 2010, but can get overly aggressive at the plate and needs to shift to a top-of-the-order approach in order to carve out a role as a professional. Ideally, he'd develop his on-base skills to the point he is serviceable at the top of an Major League lineup. More likely, he profiles as a 4th outfielder capable of holding down all three outfield positions as needed while providing a bottom-third offensive skillset.

While Machado was the top overall talent at Delmarava, Jonathan Schoop was the most impressive bat (though, as noted above, Machado had a significant knee injury slowing his game some from June on). Schoop's trunk is thickening, and with it he is generating more and more bat speed and manifesting more and more in-game power. Schoop's strength is his ability to stay compact from load to contact, which allows him to deliver an accelerating barrel to ball. He will continue to improve consistency in his balance and weight transfer, which will aid him in squaring off-speed offerings from more advanced arms. Schoop has the athleticism to shift across the diamond to second base, and the arm and hands to hold down third.

Clayton Schrader will be a polarizing arm come "prospect season" in the blogosphere. He has perhaps the most electric stuff in the system, averaging 14.3 SO/9 between Delmarva and Frederick, but also averaging 6.3 BB/9. His bread and butter is a mid-90s fastball that he brings with good downhill plane out of a high three-quarters slot. He can break-off both a hard, tight mid-80s slider and a downer 78-82 mph curve. A hard head whack and max effort delivery portend a BB/9 above 3 or 4 as a Major Leaguer, but he has the raw arsenal to succeed as a late inning arm in spite of it due to his ability to miss bats and match arm slot and pitch plane with his offerings. He easily overmatched hitters this year, and will face his first true challenge at Bowie next spring. He could debut in Baltimore late next summer if he tightens his game some over the next ten months.

Kipp Schutz has some offensive upside, but his overall status as a prospect is hampered by average bat speed and a defensive profile that limits him to left field. He has some lift in his swing, and some raw pop that will develop into solid power down the line. But there's too much action in his hands as he loads and a lengthy swing, neither of which issues are overcome by his average bat speed. He struggled upon arriving at Frederick, which was not unforeseeable.

Like Schrader, Ashur Tolliver is an undersized reliever with a live arm. Tolliver sits low-90s with his fastball and can generally throw it to both sides of the plate, though at times he struggle on the inner-half to lefties. His change and slider can be average pitches down the line, but both are too inconsistent to be weapons right now against more advanced bats. He is slated to start 2012 in Frederick, and could move to Bowie for the second half if he shows better command and a better understanding of how to set-up his pitches to more effectively implement his repertoire.

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