Working second shift, Shorebird finds calling Ex-infielder Brown blooms in relief switch to closer

Minor Leagues Notebook

July 06, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

He was first drafted as an infielder, but found his offensive skills lacking.

Converted to the mound in 1996, Derek Brown was simply another face in the Delmarva Shorebirds' bullpen this spring, a guy looked on for spot duty and long relief.

But, in one of the most dramatic rises in the Orioles' farm system, the Hagerstown native has climbed the mountain to become a Single-A South Atlantic League All-Star-- as a closer.

"I just got lucky," said Brown, who turns 22 this month. "Tod Lee got hurt playing pepper near the first game and there I was."

Now, he is tied for the league lead in saves while bedazzling foes with a decent fastball and a sharp breaking curve, his money pitch.

"He wasn't a closer candidate," said Delmarva pitching coach Dave Schmidt, the former Oriole. "He had been a starter, but he was told in the spring he was just going to help out in the 'pen.

"We really left Florida without a closer and needed someone to step up in the spot. He did early. That curve caught my eye. Derek grabbed it and won't let go."

"I don't think anyone in the organization knew he could do this," said director of player development Syd Thrift.

A 40th-round draftee in 1994 as a second baseman, Brown has been strikingly consistent, walking fewer than two batters per nine innings and blowing only two of 24 save opportunities.

"I always liked playing defense more than hitting in high school," said Brown. "In the pros, I got discouraged because I couldn't hit like I used to. So Moe [Drabowsky, minor-league pitching coordinator] asked me to do a bullpen stint during my third spring training and I was converted."

He had immediate success at Gulf Coast, going 6-1 with a 3.11 ERA.

Arm problems intervened, slowing his progress in the lower echelons of the organization. Now, he appears to have found his niche.

"I don't consider myself a prospect now," Brown said, "but a couple of years from now I do."

Triple-A Rochester

Joel Bennett continues to win at Rochester -- and somehow avoid a call-up. He is now 10-0, putting him one victory away from the best start in Red Wings' history -- 11-0 by Norbert "Nubs" Kleinke in 1937. Others who have prospered -- left-hander Terry Burrows, 22 1/3 scoreless innings; Richie Lewis, 13 strikeouts in a seven-inning start; Steve Ontiveros (4-0); and closer Bobby Munoz, no earned runs in 15 appearances. With both shortstops, Orlando Miller and David Lamb, hurt, Chip Lawrence returned from Bowie and outfielder Jesus Tavarez filled in as an infielder.

Double-A Bowie

Matt Snyder's roll goes on for Bowie. He faced 67 batters over 19 1/3 innings, struck out 24 and only seven reached base, none via a walk. Ryan Minor had a Baysox record two triples in one game, prompting one wag to joke: "After all those triple doubles [in basketball], he finally has a double triple." Howie Clark's 10-game hitting streak ended. Bowie has won the first and last game of every month.

Single-A Frederick

The Keys' pitching staff gave up a club-record 25 hits in a loss to Salem, bringing to 72 the total of opposition hits over five games. Chris Bryant's game-winning grand slam against Winston-Salem marked the second time the Keys have won on NTC slam in their final at-bat (Craig Daedelow hit the other). Bryant leads the Carolina League in RBIs. Rick Short has a Keys' record 72 doubles.

Single-A Delmarva

Delmarva is serious about a second-half title in the South Atlantic League. The Shorebirds have won 20 of 26 games, including 15 of 19 at home. William Wise had a stretch of seven games in which he pitched to an 0.93 ERA. Darnell McDonald continues to flourish in the leadoff role, with a 13-game hitting streak and .350 average since moving there. Luis Matos has succeeded in 21 of his last 25 steal attempts.

Others

Joey Hammond (Frederick) got off to a .393 start at Bluefield. Joe Carter's cousin, Shannon, leads the Orioles with seven steals. At Gulf Coast, Tim Raines Jr. had a six-game hitting streak.

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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