It's speed over power for new O's affiliate Organizational change may make 2nd playoff run tough for Delmarva

Shorebirds preview

April 11, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

SALISBURY -- In their maiden season as an Orioles affiliate, the Delmarva Shorebirds have a tough act to follow.

Last summer, while wearing Orioles-type uniforms, the first-year franchise was in the talent-rich Montreal Expos system. The team jumped to a 13-1 start and wasn't through until losing in the South Atlantic League championship series.

"We had a pretty good club," said general manager Keith Lupton. "Now, there are big shoes to fill."

Fortunately for the Shorebirds, the Orioles have stocked them with some outstanding prospects who will be on display for the first time tonight in the home opener against the Capital City Bombers.

If this team can overcome a shortage of power and compile a reasonably high on-base percentage, it should do well.

"If we can get on, we'll wreak some havoc," said ex-Oriole Tommy Shields, the first-year manager. "The big thing is putting the ball in play and cutting down on a lot of strikeouts from last year. You can't steal first."

The swiftness starts in the outfield with Curtis Charles and Darrell Dent, who finished 1-2 in the organization in stolen bases last summer, and Maleke Fowler and Roberto Rivera.

Add second baseman Carlos Casimiro and injured shortstop Eddy Martinez and the potential is there for an exciting attack, particularly when Rivera, Fowler, Dent and Casimiro come the plate consecutively as the eighth through second hitters.

Although he is off to a slow start, first baseman Calvin Pickering should be the big power source. The organization's player of the year at Bluefield in 1996, Pickering had 18 homers and 66 RBIs in 60 games and is a hulking figure who is remindful of Cecil Fielder. He is 6 feet 5, 283 pounds.

More sock is also expected from third baseman Ryan Minor, the former Oklahoma basketball All-American, and catcher Tim DeCinces, son of former Oriole Doug who hit seven homers in 39 Bluefield games.

The Shorebirds suffered a bad break when starting catcher Bobby O'Toole fractured a bone in his hand when hit by a pitch in his first at-bat. He will probably miss at least two months.

"That was a big blow for us," said Shields. "Bobby was the quiet leader on our club, particularly defensively."

As a result, the defense has been shaky in the early going because of inexperience, a lack of playing time together and what Shields labeled the "fastest field I've ever seen" in the opening series in Columbus, Ga.

The pitching rotation is young, but filled with potential in second-rounder Brian Falkenborg, Abraham Hacen, Americo Peguero, Cameron Forbes and Chad Paronto.

Shields said Forbes "may surprise. He may have the best idea of them all of how to pitch at this point."

Lefty Gabe Molina and Ryan Kohlmeier are scheduled to share the closer's role.

"For a while, we'll have to use three or four pitchers every game because their pitch counts have been low," said Shields.

"You can't do a lot of moves. We'll get a better idea after three or four turns."

Lupton is pleased with the schedule, which includes 13 weekends with at least one game. Consequently, Delmarva might break its South Atlantic record of 315,011 fans, including an average of more than 8,000 for the final six home games.

Cosmetic changes include a new picnic deck with a buffet area, a carousel on the third base side and additional parking space.

"It's a little easier to sell tickets with the team affiliated with the Orioles," said Lupton. "We're looking forward to a good season."

Pub Date: 4/10/97

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