Remember the name Eli Whiteside. He has a bright future in the Orioles' organization.
"Before he came to us, we were throwing out like 10 percent of opposing base runners," Delmarva manager Joe Ferguson said of the catcher drafted in the sixth round last June. "Now, it's up to 50 to 60 percent. This kid can control the running game. He's big and strong and very quick for his size. An athlete."
Whiteside, 21, whose first name is actually Dustin, prefers Eli. He's 6 feet 3, 210 pounds and batted .402 for Division II Delta State University last spring with 10 home runs and 75 RBIs.
He left school for the draft after his junior season because "I felt I had done as much as I could there. We won a regional and got to the College World Series."
Whiteside slid into a perfect opportunity. The Orioles are thin in catching talent in the system, and John Kessick, the Shorebirds starter early this spring, is probably out for the season with an injury. Other than Octavio Martinez at Frederick, there is not a top-flight prospect anywhere else.
"I was a little surprised at coming right here," said Whiteside, who expected to start at the rookie level. "When they told me Delmarva after I spent about a week in Sarasota, I was really excited."
At Salisbury, he can learn the trade under Ferguson, the former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher.
"I'm trying to pick up all I can from him," Whiteside said. "I realize he can teach me a lot about the game. That's why it's great for me to be here."
Ferguson said Whiteside eventually will be a good hitter at the pro level. The rookie flashed that promise recently at Delmarva, when he unloaded a tape-measure home run. He was hitting .237 through Saturday.
"I wasn't expecting to come here and just tee it up," he said. "I think I've done pretty well so far considering there is a lot better pitching than I've ever seen."
A native of New Albany, Miss., Whiteside grew up tending the goal on the soccer team at W.P. Daniel High School, good training for blocking balls behind the plate. He said his arm is his biggest asset, though.
"I'm working on my release," he said. "But I knew I had a good arm in high school."
Two years ago, outfielder Wady Almonte earned the Brooks Robinson Prize as the Oriole organization's Player of the Year. Last week, he was released from the Rochester roster after batting only .215 with 31 RBIs in 87 games. Also released was catcher Willie Morales (.232, 15 percent throwing out base runners), who has seen some time with the Orioles. To replace them, Damon Buford returned from a stint on the disabled list with a fractured thumb and catcher Geronimo Gil was acquired in a trade. ... Tim Raines, who seems to improve his statistics every time he advances in the system, reached base in eight of his first nine Red Wing games and batted .372. ... The Wings went on a four-game winning streak with a sweep of a 10-hour, 22-inning doubleheader at Pawtucket. ... Rick Bauer is six innings short of qualifying for the International League ERA leaders. He is 5-1 on the road. ... Ivanon Coffie has been playing first base after being reactivated. Calvin Pickering slumped in July (.250, three homers) after a torrid June. ... Sean Douglass is second in the International League with 121 strikeouts.
The buzz at Bowie last week was about John Stephens, who pitched the fifth no-hitter in Baysox history against Harrisburg, stretched his record scoreless innings streak to 32 2/3 , and lowered his ERA to 1.89, just 0.1 off the league lead. The inning streak is the longest in minor-league baseball this season. The seven-inning masterpiece by Stephens was punctuated by 13 strikeouts, including a final-out strikeout of Scott Sandusky. A seventh-inning line drive directly to shortstop Joey Hammond was the biggest scare. The Australian-born Stephens was signed as a non-drafted free agent in July 1996, and has steadily climbed through the organization, making a brief stop at Triple-A this season. He is a control specialist, a la Josh Towers. ... Bowie won four straight games for the first time since May 1, 2000, and climbed out of last place in the Eastern League's Southern Division. ... The Baysox received free-agent catcher Dave Ullery and left-hander Jimmy Hamilton, who was sent down from Rochester. ... Hammond had a stretch in which he batted .444 and reached base in nearly 54 percent of his plate appearances.