As I made a quick trip to Harford County over the holiday weekend, my brain was jogged that the Aberdeen Ironbirds exist (sorry, short-season A baseball). In all honesty, short-season ball is rather entertaining to keep an eye on -- fresh faces are everywhere, and storylines are abundant at the lower levels.
So while short-season ball doesn't get exactly provide the best caliber of competition, it shouldn't be ignored all together. With that said, it's time for a quick spotlight on Aberdeen and the potential future Orioles playing at Ripken Stadium.
Here's a look at the top early performers showing off in beautiful, historic Harford County.
Far and away the most impressive starting arm for Aberdeen this season has been Alex Wells, the Australian-born left-hander. The 19-year-old was signed at the end of last season as a shot-in-the-dark option for low-A ball this season, a move that looks rather impressive through four starts with the Ironbirds.
Wells, whose twin brother Lachlan is also beginning his pro career (Twins), has mowed down hitters at an impressive rate over his first 24.1 innings. He's fanned 16, walked just one batter and is sporting a well-earned 1.48 ERA paired with a 0.86 WHIP.
If command is the name of the game, Wells is certainly winning. And considering he just turned 19 in February, there's good reason to keep him on the horizon.
Other than Wells, Aberdeen has largely stuck with a non-conventional approach to their "starting pitching". There seems to be a lack of long-inning depth, at least early, as the rotation seems to be moving on a very fluid basis.
Travis Seabrooke, the 20-year-old former 5th-round selection out of Canada, is the only other starter who has made more than two starts. After spending a full year with Aberdeen in 2015, he's piled up a 3.24 ERA over 16.2 innings, striking out just five.
Last year, Seabrooke went 3-7 with a 4.95 ERA and 1.40 WHIP.
This year's 19th-round pick Cole Billingsley is making a very impressive early splash for Aberdeen. He's hitting at a .355/.429/.548 clip, spraying balls around the diamond.
Though he's had just 31 at bats, the former South Alabama standout is regularly contributing. Known as a brilliant outfielder and scrappy hitter, Billingsley has already hit two home runs after knocking just one out of the yard in his 2016 college season.
21st round pick Chris Clare is, too, contributing to the Ironbirds' daily lineup. He's batting .313 with three doubles, a home run and four RBI in 32 at-bats. The infielder was named to the 2016 All-Big South squad at High Point University, where he hit .345 over the course of 55 starts.
Austin Hays, the O's third-round pick in this year's draft, is a particular outfield bat to keep an eye on as the season progresses. He's only made five starts, but is six for his first 18 with a pair of walks and just two strikeouts. Hays crushed the baseball at Jacksonville University on 2016, hitting 16 home runs and batting .350 over the course of 54 games.
Out of the ‘pen
We're just a few weeks in, and it'd be a complete lie to state anything other than the following: there isn't much to watch out of the Aberdeen bullpen at the moment.
So far, the late-inning performances have been from prospects bouncing around in the organization for a few years, players who have already been advanced to Delmarva, or first-year guys who have had a brutal time adjusting to professional baseball.
In a nutshell: "nothing to see here!"...
The only guy who fits the mold of "young prospect who has excelled greatly" is 2016 10th round pick Cody Dube.
The 21-year-old righty has tossed just four innings, allowing two hits, one walk and fanning a pair. So, there's that.
But across the board, Aberdeen will certainly be worth watching throughout the rest of the summer. Prospects will be filing in and out, while 2016 Draft picks will continue to make their debuts at Ripken.
So get out there, locals! Go support your local squad and enjoy the Ripken complex. It's a beautiful stadium full of proud Marylanders and the smell of steamed crabs coming from the right field line.
What could be better?
All stats prior to Tuesday night's action in Aberdeen.