Baltimore Orioles: RHP Tim Naughton Has Been Lights Out In Delmarva

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 26: The Oriole Bird mascot waves an American flag from the press box during the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 26, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 26: The Oriole Bird mascot waves an American flag from the press box during the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 26, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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The Delmarva bullpen has saved 23 of the team’s victories this season.  Baltimore Orioles’ minor league RHP Tim Naughton has been the anchor of that bullpen.

Entering play on Memorial Day, the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Low-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, are in first place in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League with a 38-11 record.  A record that good is the result of multiple factors: starting pitching, defense, offense, and the bullpen.  All of those have had a hand in the team’s 2019 success.

The Shorebirds’ bullpen has saved 23 of the team’s 38 wins (61%) with seven different relievers recording at least one save.  Overall, the bullpen has had 29 save opportunities this season and owns a 19-4 record.  The anchor and lights out reliever out of the bullpen has been RHP Tim Naughton.

Naughton was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 34th round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of North Carolina State University, where he pitched to a career 3.00 ERA over 14 appearances (15.0 innings pitched).  He spent time in both the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) and the New York-Penn League (A-Short) in 2017 before being assigned to the Shorebirds for the 2018 season.

In 2018 Naughton appeared in 24 games and pitched to a 3-4 record with a 4.45 ERA. He saved five games in nine opportunities, striking out 33 and walking 22 in 32.1 innings pitched.

Naughton’s 2019 numbers show marked improvement.  He is currently 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA over 16 games.  In a span of 21.0 innings, Naughton has struck out 32 and walked nine.  His nine saves in ten opportunities certainly qualify him as a lights out reliever. That’s good for second overall in the Sally League, while his 16 appearances are tied for ninth overall.

With just about 50 games in the books for the Shorebirds, the numbers are no longer a small sample size.  What stands out so far in Naughton’s performance is something that has been talked about quite a bit with the entire Orioles’ minor league system: strikeouts.  In 2018, he had a strikeout/9 inning rate of 9.2 compared to 2019’s rate of 13.7, an almost 50% improvement.  Naughton’s 2019 K/9 rate is, in fact, fifth best in the entire Orioles MiLB system (Frederick’s DL Hall has the best rate at 15.9).

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In addition, Naughton has lowered his BB/9 rate from 6.1 in 2018 to 3.9 in 2019.  While he has lowered his WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) from 1.79 to 1.43, he is allowing a hit per inning on average in 2019 (21 hits, 21.0 innings pitched), a stat I am sure Naughton himself would like to lower. Naughton is holding South Atlantic League batters to a .247 batting average and he is leaving 61% of the batters who reach base.

What I find so promising with Naughton is his ability to keep the ball on the ground.  He has not surrendered a home run this season and has only given up two in his professional career.  Ground balls are a pitcher’s friend and Naughton is producing a 55% groundball rate.  He is also generating 2.3 ground balls for every fly ball he allows.  Keeping the ball on the ground is key, especially for any pitcher who hopes to call Oriole Park at Camden Yards home.

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The Shorebirds’ 2019 success has certainly been aided by Naughton’s performance out of the bullpen.  There is no reason to believe that it will not continue.  The question is, should Naughton’s solid performance continue, will the Baltimore front office move him to Frederick (A-Adv.) to challenge him?  I will continue to follow his progress to see where his career path goes with the Baltimore Orioles.