Casey Stengel once opined, "You have to have a catcher, because if you don't, you're likely to have a lot of passed balls." Imprudent of us to doubt the Old Perfesser, the backstop position is where we begin unveiling the Shorebirds' Silver Anniversary team for Delmarva's 25th season in the South Atlantic League.
The most grueling position of any in the everyday lineup, the Shorebirds have been fortunate to see so many elite prospects behind the catcher's mask. From 12-year major league veteran Michael Barrett on the inaugural 1996 club to No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman on last season's 90-win squad, elite backstops have been the foundation of any of Delmarva's championship-caliber teams. To serve as the foundation of the Silver Team, our esteemed panel voted for a man who turned in one of the finest hitting seasons in franchise history and brought first-of-its-kind hardware back to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.
Catcher: Chance Sisco, 2014
114 games, .340/.406/.448, 56 R, 27 2B, 5 HR, 63 RBI, .854 OPS
Through the first month of the 2014 season, Chance Sisco looked like he bit off more than he could chew. The 19-year-old catcher, drafted in the second round the previous summer, was hitting just .245 in April before suffering a left elbow strain that sidelined him for two weeks. By the time he returned to action, though, Sisco was ready for primetime.
"[That season] was big for developmental reasons," said Sisco via text earlier this month. "It was my first full season as a professional, so it was about learning the ups and downs and how to keep my body healthy for so long. There were plenty of learning curves that year, on and off the field."
The biggest curve upward, of course, was his batting average. From Sisco's return on May 8 through the end of the year, Sisco hit .353, a mark astounding for any Class-A player but almost unheard of for a primary catcher. At season's end Sisco stood above all with a .340 average, beating out only one serious challenger to take home the first SAL batting title in Delmarva Shorebirds history.
"It was a pretty cool moment to end the year," said Sisco. "I had to learn how to get out of that slow start I had and not let it affect the whole year, so it was nice at the end to be able to see how big of a change my season took. There were plenty of teammates and coaches that played roles that whole season for me."
A natural hitter who could spray to the gaps all over the field, Sisco saved one of his best performances for one of the season's biggest stages. He set the tone for the Shorebirds' 17-5 Fourth of July shellacking of Lakewood with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first, finishing the game with three hits, three runs, and four RBIs to thrill the sellout home crowd of 7,685.
"The fans were always so supportive of us," said Sisco. "The players for sure appreciate that!"
While his pedestrian start kept him from joining seven of his teammates at the All-Star Game, Sisco got his due and then some by the end of the year. He made the Sally League Postseason All-Star Team and picked up minor league All-Star nods from MiLB.com and Baseball America.
Sisco built on his Delmarva success and became one of Baltimore's most decorated prospects of the 2010s, earning slew of All-Star selections and playing in two Futures Games. In 2016 with Bowie, Sisco earned the Brooks Robinson Award as the Orioles' top minor league hitter after batting .320 with an .828 OPS. He made his major league debut the next September and bounced between Triple-A and the bigs before establishing himself as the O's primary backstop in June of 2019.
Still young for an established major leaguer - he turns 25 in February - Chance Sisco is still writing his post-Shorebirds story. But for the franchise's first batting champion, his legacy in Delmarva is assured.
Best of the Rest
Michael Barrett (1996) - Barrett provided steady backing for the inaugural Shorebirds, who won 83 games and made it to the SAL Championship Series. One of 10 original 'Birds to make it to The Show, Barrett spent 12 seasons in the major leagues (1998-2009), winning a Silver Slugger with the Cubs in 2005.
Jayson Werth (1998) - A catcher when he donned the Shorebird orange and black, Werth helped Delmarva win 81 games and reach the SAL postseason for the third straight season. After transitioning to outfield and cracking the bigs with the Blue Jays in 2002, Werth helped the Phillies win the World Series in 2008 and made the NL All-Star team the next year. He capped his 15-year big-league career as a fan favorite with the Nationals in 2017.
Mike Ohlman (2010-12) - After moonlighting with Delmarva in 2010, Ohlman became an All-Star for the 2011 Shorebirds, who hosted the event, and hit .304 over the final two months of an injury-shortened 2012. The O's sold him to St. Louis before the 2015 season, and he eventually got a cup of coffee in the majors with Toronto in 2017. Last season Ohlman played in the independent Atlantic League, where he became an All-Star for the Somerset Patriots.
Yermin Mercedes (2015-16) - Author of the highest single-season average in franchise history, Mercedes won the SAL batting title in 2016, hitting .353 with 25 doubles, 14 home runs, and 60 RBIs in 91 games before an August promotion to Frederick. The White Sox took him in the Rule 5 Draft after the 2017 season and he put up solid numbers in Double- and Triple-A over two seasons, earning a spot on Chicago's 40-Man Roster in November.
Delmarva Shorebirds Silver Anniversary Team
Catcher: Chance Sisco (2014)
First Base: January 16
Second Base: January 23
Third Base: January 30
Shortstop: February 6
Left Field: February 13
Center Field: February 20
Right Field: February 27
Designated Hitter: March 5
Starting Pitchers: March 12
Relief Pitchers: March 19
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.