6:40 p.m. (Luke): Greetings from Ripken Stadium as the IronBirds prepare for their first playoff appearance in team history. Tucker Blair and I will be updating Baltimore Sports and Life throughout the game and we’ll be talking about everything Orioles with an emphasis on the minor leagues. You can discuss this live-blog on the Baltimore Sports and Life forums here.
The Short-Season A IronBirds are taking on the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Houston Astros organization. The IronBirds were the McNamara Division champs of the New York-Penn League; the ValleyCats, Stedler Division champs. Sebastian Vader will be on the hill for the IronBirds tonight. Vader has had a terrific year for Aberdeen, tossing 85.1 innings this summer to the tune of a 2.43 ERA. Vader struck out 64 batters and walked 18. It’s a best of three format with the next two games taking place in Troy, New York. Orioles 2013 first rounder Hunter Harvey will start tomorrow and Steve Brault will start game three, if necessary.
The lineups for Tri-City (left) and Aberdeen tonight…
7:05 p.m. (Tucker): The tall and lanky Vader takes the mound against leadoff hitter James Ramsay with a called first strike. Vader, 21, has an extremely smooth delivery for a prospect still in the NYPL. His fastball is sitting 87-90 with some late life on it, which causes some deception. One thing that is very noticeable is the clean arm slot and delivery from Vader. You usually don’t see prospects with such mechanics this low in the minors. Vader was able to induce three quick ground balls in the first, all on fastballs. His deception typically allows for him to roll through a lineup the first time rather quickly.
7:25 p.m. (Luke): Vader’s certainly had a very good year for himself. He was drafted in the 19th round all the way back in 2010, and he’s still only 21. He’s repeating the New York-Penn League after a 3.71 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 24 walks in 70.1 innings last year. I have to think that Vader begins next year in Delmarva’s rotation. The Orioles recently promoted supplemental first round outfielder Josh Hart and second round catcher Chance Sisco to this squad, but the IronBirds are going with a more experienced lineup tonight. One guy that’s had a terrific year with Aberdeen is Trey Mancini, a 2013 eighth-round first baseman out of Notre Dame. He hit .328/.382/.449 in 285 plate appearances. Mancini, 21, is a big, strong right-handed hitter. He set a new IronBirds single season hits record with 85. I talked with Mancini this week:
What do you see out of him, Tucker?
7:29 p.m. (Tucker): Mancini has really swung the bat well. I do think it is important to remember that he is a college guy (Notre Dame) with some experience under his belt, but he has done everything expected out of him so far. The power is certainly real. The home runs are not exactly evident on the stat page, but he has been driving the ball with force all over the diamond. I have been mostly impressed with the amount of contact he has made. He still has some concerns with the overall swing that could get exposed at higher levels, but he has not displayed those quite yet. The swing CAN get loopy at times, but he has done a terrific job at becoming more compact at the plate with Aberdeen. From a college player with an advanced approach, you can’t ask for much more out of Mancini this season. However, the player that might have been the most impressive on the Ironbirds roster this season could very well be Conor Bierfeldt. I know you have seen Bierfeldt on multiple occasions this year, right Luke?
7:45 p.m. (Luke): We’re scoreless after three here in Aberdeen. Bierfeldt is a small school guy out of Western Connecticut State and was taken in the 29th round this summer. Bierfeldt, listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, is another strong right-handed hitter with the IronBirds. Bierfeldt, 22, is hitting .254/.351/.511 in 262 plate appearances and came on strong in August. He hit 12 homers and had 30 hits for extra bases. There’s some swing and miss in his game, but there’s definitely some power in his bat. He’s a corner outfielder, so the power will have to carry him all the way up. It’ll be interesting to see if he can hit for the same power next year at Delmarva and/or Frederick. I also spoke with Bierfeldt this week:
Tucker, who are some other interesting names here?
7:55 p.m. (Tucker): I am hoping we get an opportunity to see Chance Cisco pinch-hit like he did the other night. It’s cruel of the Ironbirds coaching staff to sit him in the only chance I have had to see him! Other guys I am intrigued by could come out of the bullpen later on in this game once Vader hits his limit. Right-handed pitcher Alexander Santana is small figured, standing at only 5’08”. But do not let his size deceive you, the guy can pitch. Solid fastball with some good, late life and explosion. Doesn’t throw extremely hard, only sitting 90 mph on most nights. However, it probably looks 92 at the plate. He also whips out an above average curve that is simply unfair for the NYPL. It’s just too advanced for this league.
Right-handed pitcher Jimmy Yacabonis is a big and sturdy guy, also with an explosive fastball. He sits primarily 90-93 with some late life to it. I really like his ability to pound the strike zone and attack hitters. Certainly a guy to watch. How about Justin Viele this game? This is my first time seeing him, but he just made a terrific play at second on a blazing liner. He also has a stolen base. It seems that this Ironbirds roster has a little more life to it than past years. I wouldn’t necessarily say the talent is extremely better, but at least they are actually performing relative to years past.
8:21 p.m. (Luke): Still scoreless here after five and a half. Vader is mowing ‘em down. Alex Santana is definitely one of the more interesting arms with Aberdeen this year. Santana earned two starts at the end of the year with the IronBirds, but I suspect the 22-year-old will start next season in the Delmarva ‘pen. It definitely seems like he relies heavily on deception, and although he’s been crazy good in Aberdeen (48 strikeouts in 33.2 innings), he’ll be tested at higher levels. Another interesting pitcher I’ve seen here is Jon Keller, a 22nd round this year out of Tampa University. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 206 pounds, he’s a big right-hander that has some velocity and sink. He’ll be 21 on opening day next year and I’d think he has a shot to begin the year in Delmarva’s rotation. A pitcher that will definitely begin the year in Delmarva’s rotation is Hunter Harvey. Tucker, what do you think he has in store for next year?
8:32 p.m. (Tucker): Harvey is the real deal. I have scouts telling me that his fastball and curve are legitimate, with a scout throwing a 60 grade on both for the future. It’s not entirely out of the realm that he becomes a solid No. 2 in the long term. But let’s be real here, he is a long way from that still at the age of 18. He has a lot of maturing left in terms of growth into his frame, stamina, and command. He has an extremely lively arm that was ridiculously overwhelming for the NYPL. It was not even fair watching him pitch here. It was equivalent to Peyton Manning against the Ravens defense the other night.
There is still much left to work on with Harvey’s change. The pitch is far behind the curve and fastball. This should not be surprising because he never has found it necessary to throw and work on his change based off the competition he has faced. Most high school lineups can barely hit a 90 mph fastball, making it completely unnecessary to work in a change. The pitch is the key to his development in terms of sticking as a starter long term.
Now let me ask you Luke, are there any other under-the-radar prospects that have caught your eye this season?
8:46 p.m. (Luke): We’re through seven scoreless in Aberdeen as Vader takes the hill for his eighth inning of work. As far as sleepers go, the team I’ve seen the most this year is Aberdeen, and we’ve already discussed a lot of under the radar prospects that are here. I saw Glynn Davis with Frederick this year, and while he’s a really impressive athlete, I don’t know if he’ll hit. I don’t know if Zach Davies would be considered a sleeper, but he won’t show up in any top-100 prospect lists. Davies has extreme pitchability, throwing changeups effectively to both left- and right-handed hitters, which is rare to see anywhere in the minors, let alone the lower levels. He also has a curveball that keeps hitters honest, but Davies’ small frame (listed at six feet and 150 pounds) and pedestrian fastball velocity will keep some wary of him. Tucker, what do you think of Davies and two other quality arms we’ve seen this year, Mike Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez?
8:59 p.m. (Tucker): First off, I just want to reiterate how terrific Sebastian Vader has been tonight. His curveball has really progressed since the beginning of the year, and his fastball has been a steady weapon for him. He induces a ton of groundballs, mostly based off the late deception on the pitch. Hitters at the NYPL seemingly have a hard time barreling up on the pitch. The change is definitely still a work-in-progress. It has average fade, but it might be a struggle at the next level, which he should absolutely be at already. I stand by my ground saying that Vader is playing a level too low. His rival tonight, Tri-City Right-hander Michael Feliz, was equally impressive.
Back to Davies, he really has been impressive all season. The size is obviously the biggest hindrance to his prospect allure, but size is often the most overrated portion of a prospect in my eyes. If a guy can play, does it really matter that much? Well, it does to an extent because it usually correlates with their arsenal, but it doesn’t affect pitchability and movement. Davies knows how to work the ball through the zone, and he is a master of changing speeds and fooling batters with different looks on the same exact type of pitch. I actually thought he threw a slider to right-handed hitters for the longest time, but its just a change with more fade than his usual. He is fun to watch, possibly my favorite pitcher to watch in the system.
Mike Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez have probably garnered the most buzz based off their performances this season. Wright has the big frame, the big fastball, and has continually improved his mechanics, command, and secondary arsenal. I think he has forced himself into the Orioles’ plans for the future. Eduardo Rodriguez has proven that the uptick in velocity is there to stay, and he was terrific for Bowie as the youngest pitcher in the entire Eastern League.
Luke, have I mentioned how I am the curse for any minor league offense? Every time I come to a game a pitchers duel breaks out. It’s in the 9th here in Aberdeen and we are tied 0-0.
9:22 p.m. (Luke): Sebastian Vader goes eight and a third scoreless. Left-hander Donnie Hart relieved Vader and faced two lefties, one of which — Conrad Gregor — took him deep, while the other reached. . It’s 1-0, Tri-City, in the ninth here in Aberdeen. Alex Santana came on in relief of Hart and the final two outs were recorded on a strike him out, throw him out double play. The IronBirds need a run in the bottom half to extend the game.
9:33 p.m. (Luke): Tri-City closes out Aberdeen in the bottom of the ninth and the IronBirds lose their first playoff game in team history by the score of 1-0.
10:18 p.m. (Luke): After the game, the media spoke with Sebastian Vader about his start (8.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K). Apologies for the fireworks that are heard at times in the background:
Manager Matt Merullo also spoke after the game:
And Hunter Harvey spoke about his start Saturday night in a must-win game in Tri-City: