July 22, 2010
By David Driver
For the Howard County Times
Used with permission
David Walters, 22, stood outside the home clubhouse at Ripken Stadium, in Aberdeen, as rain started to blow in from the southwest. Tarp had been placed on the infield and, for at least one night, batting practice had been canceled before the IronBirds hosted a game in the New York-Penn League.
Even though Camden Yards is less than 30 miles south, the majors are a long way from Ripken Stadium. There are four more minor-league teams above Aberdeen in the Orioles' farm system and Walters seemed eager to start moving up the ladder.
Walters, a graduate of River Hill High School, was signed by the Orioles last year as a non-drafted free agent out of Francis Marion University, a Division II school in South Carolina. He was in extended spring training this year before he reported to Aberdeen last month.
On that rainy night last week, he was asked if he hoped to be promoted to the low Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds in the South Atlantic League by the end of the season. "I hope so. I go out there and do what I can do on the field and let (the Orioles) make that decision," he said.
The next day Walters got his wish, when he was told he was promoted to Delmarva. As a closer for Aberdeen, Walters had allowed just two hits and no runs in 10 innings for an ERA of 0.00 with three saves in nine games.
Aberdeen pitching coach Scott McGregor, a former Orioles' lefty, was impressed with Walters this season. "He has been really consistent," McGregor said the day before Walters was promoted. "He keeps the ball down and has a heavy sinker and his slider is improving. He is coming along."
McGregor, who won the clinching Game 6 for the Orioles in the 1983 World Series against Philadelphia, said Walters throws a fastball that has reached the low 90s and has an above-average sinker that makes hitters pound the ball into the ground.
"He is very intense. He is very durable. He competes out there. He comes right after you," McGregor said of the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from Marriottsville.
Walters continued to excel at Delmarva. In his first game with the Shorebirds, he pitched one scoreless/hitless inning with one strikeout July 14 against the West Virginia Power. Two days later, he pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts and got his first save with the Shorebirds.
On July 18, in his third outing in Salisbury, he struck out three batters in two scoreless innings, which gave him an ERA of 0.00 in his first four innings for Delmarva.
During his time in Aberdeen, Walters wasn't the only product of a Howard County high school who was a closer in the 14-team New York-Penn League.
Drew Permison, a graduate of Oakland Mills High, was drafted in the 42nd round by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Towson University last month. He was assigned to the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays, another member of the New York-Penn League.
A 5-foot-10, 170-pound right-hander with a fastball that reaches 94 mph, Permison was given the chance to be a closer in several games earlier this month. He recorded his first professional save in a 1-0 home win over Batavia July 1, but allowed two runs (one earned) with two walks and one hit and recorded just one out in his only appearance in Aberdeen, on July 13, during a three-game series.
Permison bounced back to allow no runs or hits in his next two outings. In his first 11 games as a pro he was 1-1 with an ERA of 3.68 with one save.
"I know it is a long way" to the big leagues, Permison said. "I just have to keep working hard. I feel if I work hard I can get there. But there is a lot of hard work to get there. There are a lot of good players to get past.
"I have already blown two saves. I am not going to waste my time thinking about it," he added. "That is not going to hold me back, thinking about it. I am going to be fine. I have definitely learned a lot" since turning pro in June.
Auburn manager Dennis Holmberg, who has been working with Toronto minor league players since 1978, said Permison has opened some eyes in the Blue Jays' system. "He has been a great asset to the club," Holmberg said. "He has had some bumps on the road, but he competes. He throws strikes for the most part. He has a plus arm," meaning Permison's arm is considered above-average as a big-league prospect.
Vince Horsman, Auburn pitching coach and a former big-leaguer with Oakland and Minnesota, said he was surprised that Permison could throw so hard with a such a slight stature.
"I was really surprised with his velocity when I first saw him," Horsman said. "When you see a little guy like that you think 88 (miles per hour at best). He has a fastball that reaches 94 and he pitches at 92 on a regular basis. He has a big-league arm. His change-up is above average. Size will always be against him, in a sense. He has major-league stuff, he has major- league potential. He has shown me some good breaking balls."
Permison said the biggest adjustment from the college level to the pros is the down time before getting to the park. "You are pretty much at the field all day," he said. "I don't mind it. I love baseball. It is a job. It is eight hours a day. But that is what I want to do."
The same can be said for Walters, who grew up as a fan of Cal Ripken Jr. and the Orioles. "He was my idol growing up," Walters said. "I would go out and always try to get a ball signed (by Ripken). It finally happened."
Walters doesn't believe not being drafted will impede his movement up the Orioles' minor-league system.
"I have had the work ethic. I have always had to prove myself," said Walters, who played at Spartanburg Methodist in South Carolina before transferring to Francis Marion. "I don't want it to be given to me anyway."