We're down to the final five!
The last part of our series highlights the best athletes to play baseball on the Eastern Shore.
The Delmarva Shorebirds' Opening Day is less than a week away, officially taking the diamond May 4 at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.
Since 1996, the Baltimore Orioles’ Low-A affiliate has featured future MLB stars, minor-league legends and top draft picks.
To commemorate the 25-year anniversary, Delmarva Now put together a Top 25 Delmarva Shorebirds of all time with help from the team's former radio broadcaster, Will DeBoer.
This is the fourth of a five-part series. Players were selected based on their performance with the Shorebirds, success beyond Delmarva, community impact and ability to drive fans to Perdue Stadium.
Here are Nos. 5-1
5 — Ryan Minor
Third base, 1997
Before Ryan Minor became the manager of the Delmarva Shorebirds, he was a player — a really good player.
Known best by Baltimore Orioles’ fans as the man who replaced Cal Ripken Jr. at third base, Ryan Minor’s professional baseball career took off on Delmarva as a member of the legendary 1997 squad.
At 6 feet 7 inches, Minor was a second-round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers for his play on the hardwood with the University of Oklahoma, but opted for a career on the diamond.
Manning the corners with teammate Calvin Pickering, Minor was an unstoppable force both on the field and at the plate. Tallying 150 hits and 24 home runs, Minor to this day remains in the Shorebirds’ Top 5 in batting average (.307), runs (83), slugging (.554) and HBPs (15).
His play helped the Shorebirds win a South Atlantic League championship in 1997. Minor was also a league all-star and named the South Atlantic League's Top MLB Prospect — something no other Delmarva player would claim until 2019.
Minor, a 33rd round draft pick in 1996 by the Orioles, advanced to play for the Double-A Bowie Baysox, where, in 1998, he earned a late season call-up to make his MLB debut.
He eventually replaced Ripken in the Orioles' lineup, ending the Iron Man's streak of 2,632 consecutive games played. Minor split time between Baltimore and the organization’s Triple-A affiliate over the next two seasons before being traded to the Montreal Expos in 2000.
Minor only played 142 games at the Major League level, playing in the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and Florida Marlins systems. He later joined the independent Atlantic League and tallied 42 homers and 144 RBIs before retiring in 2005.
“His bat was just out of this world,” said Gil Dunn, president of the Shorebirds’ fan club. “It’s a shame he didn’t do better at the Major League level, but he was a good player when he was here. I really got to know him over the years, and he’s just a nice guy.”
Minor transitioned to coaching the following year, and in 2008, he returned to Delmarva as its hitting coach. Two years later, he was promoted to manager, holding the position from 2010-12 and 2014-17. Minor spent the 2013 season with the Frederick Keys, Baltimore’s then-High-A affiliate.
The former third basemen won 435 games with the Shorebirds. He is currently a coach in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system, but still resides on the Eastern Shore.
“You can make an argument that he is Mr. Delmarva Shorebird,” DeBoer said. “He is the picture of the guy who shows up in a minor league town, falls in love with it and after his playing days are done decides that’s where he wants to be. He’s probably the first guy a lot of people think of when you think of Shorebirds’ baseball.”
4 — Manny Machado
When baseball fans think of their top Delmarva Shorebirds’ player, the majority will probably say Manny Machado.
At the time, Manny Machado was the Orioles’ highest draft pick to ever play on Delmarva, picked at No. 3 overall in the 2010 MLB Draft. Even though he played just 38 games at Perdue Stadium, those who watched knew they were witnessing a star in the making.
“He was the next big thing for the Orioles,” said Tyler Horton, Shorebirds’ public-address announcer from 2016-19. “We got him in a loaded draft, and boy did he develop. People came and left if he was pulled by the sixth inning. He just had that wow factor.”
Machado finished his tenure at Delmarva with a .276 average, 40 hits and 24 RBIs. From April 25 to May 3, he went on a hot streak, putting up a .500 average, two doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs and eight runs in an eight-game span.
Machado was selected to the SAL All-Star game that season, which Delmarva hosted, and took the field with other hot prospects like the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper (No. 1 overall in 2010 MLB draft). The Shorebirds’ shortstop went 2-for-4 with a run scored in the game.
He was elevated to the Frederick Keys the following day and worked his way through the minors before making his Orioles debut in August 2012.
Machado spent the next six seasons in Baltimore, transitioning primarily to third base while becoming the face of the franchise. He earned four MLB all-star selections, won two Rawlings AL Gold Gloves and placed in the Top 5 of American League MVP voting on two occasions.
The Orioles also advanced to three postseasons during Machado’s tenure.
"I've got one professional jersey signed, and he's the one," Shorebirds assistant general manager Jimmy Sweet said. "He's the youngest one in the locker room, and he was a leader.
"He's the best kid without a doubt that I've run across here as a combination of talent and community."
In 2018, Machado was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers as the Orioles began the rebuilding process. He later signed a $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres for 10 years.
Machado was an All-MLB First Team selection in 2020, during which he put up 47 RBIs, 68 hits and a .304 average in the shortened season.
Since leaving Delmarva, Machado’s had multiple bobble heads — including one as a “Star Wars” Stormtrooper — and a life-size cutout, speaking to the impact he had with the Shorebirds in just a short span.
“You knew he was going to be the face of the Orioles, and he was," DeBoer said. "He was a pure superstar, and the Shorebirds haven't had a lot of pure, unadulterated superstars pass threw their ranks, but Manny's one of them."
3 — Grayson Rodriguez
Right-handed pitcher, 2019
Fans may not guess it by looking at him, but Grayson Rodriguez was just 19 years old when he took the mound for his first appearance with Delmarva.
The 11th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Grayson Rodriguez was the face of a 2019 Shorebirds squad that won 90 games, claimed a first half division title and advanced to the postseason for the first time in 15 years.
In his eight home starts, Rodriguez went 6-0 (the best of any pitcher on the 2019 staff) with a 0.82 ERA. His debut with Delmarva included 10 strikeouts over five scoreless innings for a shutout victory against Lexington.
He finished the season with a 10-4 record, 2.68 ERA and 129 strikeouts through 94 innings.
The awards rolled in for Rodriguez, starting with being named the season’s first SAL Pitcher of the Week. In May he was named the Orioles’ Minor League Pitcher of the Month, and earned an All-Star selection mid and postseason.
The Texas native was also a Futures Game selection, finished in the Top 10 in the league in wins (10) and strikeouts (129), and was the runaway pick for Most Outstanding MLB Prospect. He shared the Orioles’ Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award with Bowie pitcher Michael Baumann.
“The dude is built," said Chris Bitters, Shorebirds general manager. "He was great for us, very pleasant to be around and really did anything we needed. I remember seeing his arm and could tell this was the guy to watch."
Rodriguez is currently No. 23 on the Top 100 MLB Prospect list and is No. 2 on the Orioles’ Top 30, trailing only catcher Adley Rutschman.
Rodriguez is expected to begin the 2021 season with the Aberdeen Ironbirds and could make his MLB debut as early as 2022.
With his early success, Rodriguez could be a major piece of the Orioles’ pitching staff for years to come.
“We’ve got a bright future if he plays the way he’s been playing,” Dunn said. “He’s got his head on straight and isn’t letting all the spotlight go to his head. He’s well on his way to doing great things.”
2 — Trey Mancini
First base, 2014
There may not be a more beloved Baltimore Orioles player at the moment than Trey Mancini.
After battling stage 3 colon cancer throughout 2020, Trey Mancini has received multiple standing ovations from Orioles’ and opposing teams’ fans as he retook the diamond for the current MLB season.
The eighth-round pick out of Notre Dame wasn’t on Delmarva for long, but he’s someone the Shorebirds’ faithful will proudly claim as their own.
“He’s just a sweet guy,” DeBoer said. “He shows up, you see him just once or twice and think, ‘I really like that guy.’ I’m glad he’s getting the recognition in Baltimore of becoming the face of the franchise, because a guy like that deserves it.”
Playing first base with Delmarva, Mancini took the diamond in 68 games and finished with a .317 average, 85 hits and 42 RBIs. He also forced 45 double plays.
His play easily made him a SAL All-Star selection and also earned the Florida native a midseason promotion to Frederick.
Mancini spent the next two seasons in the minor league ranks before making his MLB debut in September 2016. Coming to Baltimore near the beginning of a rebuilding process, Mancini quickly became a fan favorite at Camden Yards.
“Trey was always a little bit more sophisticated, a little bit more wise in the ways of baseball,” said Jack Graham, Aberdeen Ironbirds general manager and a teammate of Mancini in 2014. “He’s a genuine dude that loves playing ball and is just outrageously talented.”
Mancini performed well in his first three seasons at the Major League level, but 2019 proved to be a breakout year for the first baseman-turned-outfielder.
Perdue Stadium to Camden Yards: Trey Mancini reflects on time in Delmarva
In 154 games, Mancini put up 175 hits and 106 runs. His batting average was .291 and he put up 35 homers with 97 RBIs. He was voted the Orioles’ Most Valuable Player and earned the MLBPAA Orioles Heart and Hustle Award.
Missing the 2020 season due to his cancer diagnosis, Mancini has currently played 24 games in 2021. He has a .225 average with 20 hits and 11 runs, and has primarily set up shop at first base.
“Our contact with the Orioles told me, ‘Watch out for this kid, he’s going to be good,’ ” Sweet said. “The kid could just flat out hit. He’s not flashy, will never be flashy, but can hit and plays the field hard. When he played here, he was amazing.”
1 — Nick Markakis
One of the most iconic Orioles’ players in recent history tops our Top 25 Delmarva Shorebirds of all time list.
Nick Markakis was a hot commodity when he stepped foot on the diamond at Perdue Stadium in 2004. Drafted No. 7 overall in the 2003 MLB Draft, Markakis wasted no time establishing his identity.
Playing just 96 games, Markakis finished with a team-best .299 batting average and 106 hits. His 11 homers, 41 doubles and 64 RBIs helped the Shorebirds to a 69-69 overall record.
“He was a talented ballplayer, that’s for sure,” Dunn said. “He’s probably one of the best that came through the minor league system.”
Markakis suited up for Greece in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Though born in New York, the Greek national team recruited American players of Greek descent, allowing Markakis to suit up and help the team to a seventh place finish.
The following season, the outfielder advanced to Frederick, where he continued his great production at the plate. In 2005, Markakis tallied 105 hits and 12 homers for a .300 average. His play earned him a mid- and postseason all-star selection.
“The ball just comes off his bat differently than everyone else,” Sweet said. “You didn’t have to look, you knew it was him batting. He had a cannon for an arm, and he’s definitely one of the top players to come through here.
“He was a stud all the way, and you knew he was making it to the big leagues.”
Markakis made it to the big leagues in 2006 and was instantly plugged into the lineup.
In 147 games his rookie season, the outfielder put up 143 hits, 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.
Markakis spent the next eight years in Baltimore and became a figurehead for Orioles’ baseball. He was a two-time Rawlings AL Gold Glove recipient, won the MLBPAA Orioles Heart and Hustle Award in 2008 and 2009, and was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player in his second season.
In right field, Orioles’ fans knew they could rely on No. 21.
“Clearly the most consistent and decorated big league player we had that came through here,” Bitters said. “He never had the big power numbers, but he was consistent, a gap hitter and someone fans from here can say they saw first play in their backyard.”
After helping the Orioles win the AL East in 2014, Markakis signed with the Atlanta Braves the following season. In 2018, he earned his first all-star selection, his third Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger.
Markakis spent the next six seasons in Georgia before officially retiring in 2021. His career numbers include 1,119 runs, 2,388 hits and 189 home runs.
"He's beloved everywhere he goes," DeBoer said. "We went around for a while on who was going to be No. 1 on this list, and maybe Markakis isn't the first name you think of. But Markakis is your bread and butter, build the foundation of an organization around him kind of guy.
"He was consistency excellent all around."