ABERDEEN — Elkton resident, Rising Sun High graduate and former Harford Community College baseball coach Tom Eller has been in Aberdeen less than a week and already his imprint on the IronBirds offense is evident.
The knob on every baseball bat leaning up against the bench inside the IronBirds dugout have been fitted with a clear-colored, electronic motion “Blast” sensor. Their purpose is to analyze swing metrics and record everything from bat speed and launch angle to exit velocity and estimated carry distance.
Just down the first-base line, tucked away near the clubhouse, hitters are stepping into the batting cage and strapping on electronic “K-motion” vests to capture swing style and improve their mechanics.
It’s the tools of the trade for the IronBirds’ newest hitting coach, whose success building Harford into one of the nation’s top hitting programs caught the attention of the Orioles’ new front office, particularly former Astros analytics chief and one-time NASA engineer Sig Mejdal.
“I know he brings a lot of the metrics to the ball club and the organization, so I’m always looking to learn stuff. I’m looking to see what he does with our hitters and how he can make them better,” said IronBirds manager Kevin Bradshaw, who returns to lead the club after a one-year hiatus due to injury. “He brought a lot of guys up that have been in [extended spring training at the Orioles’ base in] Sarasota, [Fla.], so he gets to work with them. It’s great having him be so close. He’s going home at night, sleeping in his own bed, so that’s great for him.”
Eller spent a majority of Wednesday’s open practice directly behind home plate watching as each hitter took swings. While the public workout allowed fans the chance to get to know the team under the lights at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium prior to Friday’s season opener, it also delivered the hitting coach an opportunity to evaluate some of the organization’s youngest talent as they prepare for the grind of professional baseball.
“I’m excited to be here, obviously, because this is the newest group of guys, the youngest group of guys. So they’re the most impressionable. So it’s really good,” Eller said. “The Orioles were always my favorite team, and to be able to live at home and drive to work is pretty cool.”
Eller returns to Harford County after spending the start of the regular season as the hitting instructor for the Delmarva Shorebirds, Baltimore’s Low-A affiliate. Under his tutelage, the Shorebirds led the South Atlantic League in batting average and on-base percentage, en route to a first-half North Division championship and a playoff berth.
Four of Delmarva’s club-record eight mid-season all-stars were hitters.
“It was a big difference going right into pro ball. I was just trying to learn things and incorporate new technologies. I got sent to Delmarva first, and it was really good for me. I got to work with a small group of guys and really start incorporating what we kind of taught at Harford,” Eller said. “We started the “Blast’ sensors, cage-motion vests. It was a really good learning experience.
“The big difference here is, they’re really talented. When we’re at Harford, you have raw guys that you have to kind of mold and get them where they need to be. Here, it’s smooth sailing,” he added. “A lot of the guys have good movements already. So, we’re able to give them little tidbits of information to help them get better.”
Frederick infielder Alex Murphy, a 2013 Calvert Hall graduate, and Delmarva catcher Cody Roberts and infielder Robert Neustram will all open the season with the IronBirds on rehab assignment.
Ian Evans, an infielder who spent a little more than a week with Aberdeen a year ago, is one of 15 returning members from last season’s squad that finished fourth in the New York-Penn League’s MacNamara Division with a 38-37 record.
Evans previously studied under Eller during spring training.
“He’s a cool guy. He’s big on the technology. We’ve got the ‘Blast’ going. We’re still learning a lot of stuff from him. I know he was in Delmarva and they had a lot of success up there. I had him in spring, he seems like a good dude, and I think we’re learning a lot with technology,” Evans said. “It’s different, but we’re still trying to learn.”
A portion of the players selected by the Orioles in last week’s MLB Draft are expected to join Aberdeen over the summer. Eller will be tasked with helping the young hitters transition to wooden bats and dig in against elite pitching on a nightly basis.
“I haven’t been around him too much because he’s been at Delmarva, but you look at their record and what their hitters are doing and it speaks for itself,” Bradford said. “I’m looking forward to working with him.”
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