On Thursday, the Cal League All-Star roster was announced. The All-Star Game will take place on Tuesday, June 21st at John Thurman Field in Modesto. As usual, they’ll take on the best from the Carolina League. This game and the AAA All-Star Game are the only ones that combine different leagues, which I really like. I know minor league travel budgets are small, but I think this kind of thing is neat for fans. They get to see some different players and teams represented, and the players probably like it too. It would be even better if this could apply to a few regular season series as well. Of course, not every league could execute this. The Bakersfield Blaze can’t afford to fly cross country to play the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Myrtle Beach Pelicans, but maybe Texas League v. Southern League or Florida State League v. Carolina League are more realistic. If that rant sounds familiar, I wrote pretty much the same thing on my blog last year.
Back to the All-Stars. There are 23 players for the California League. That’s one of the nice things about two different leagues meeting in a game. The team is more exclusive since they only need to fill one roster. The Modesto Nuts’ coaching staff including manager Jerry Weinstein will handle the coaching duties, and the staff of the reigning Carolina League champion Potomac Nationals will do the same for the visitors. I’ll talk about each Cal League All-Star, mention some snubs, and then do a brief review of the Carolina League team.
SP Chad Bettis, Modesto: Bettis doesn’t have the most impressive ERA in the world, but for a three start stretch at the end of May, he allowed 19 runs in 16 innings. In his most recent outing, he had maybe his best start of the year, striking out eight in eight scoreless innings. He’s getting a good amount of groundballs and strikeouts, and he’s not walking many batters either, so the Rockies have to be satisfied with their 2010 second round pick. It’s nice that Modesto will have three players representing the Nuts as the host team.
SP Jake Buchanan, Lancaster: Buchanan has one of the more interesting statlines in the Cal League. We all know it’s hard to pitch at Clear Channel Stadium, and his home/road splits bear it out. At home, his ERA is 7.99 with an opponents’ batting average of .356. On the road, his ERA is under 2.00, and opponents are hitting under .200. Overall, his ERA is 3.79, impressive when he has to overcome starts at Lancaster. He only has 19 walks in 71 innings, very impressive for a player in his first full season of professional baseball.
RP David Carpenter, Inland Empire: Carpenter is having a decent season as the 66ers closer, and he’s Inland Empire’s only representative. His ERA is lower than his WHIP which is extremely unusual, but it’s a good year nonetheless. He has 30 strikeouts in 23.2 IP, and he’d probably have more games to save if the team was better.
RP Heath Hembree, San Jose: Hembree is quickly emerging as one of the minors’ best relief prospects. After a ridiculous pro debut in the Arizona Summer League last year where he struck out 22 batters in 11 innings, he continued his success in 2011. He’s only allowed two runs in 21.2 IP, and he has 39 strikeouts. If he stays with San Jose the entire year, which is extremely unlikely, he has a shot to break the saves record that Brad Brach just set last year.
SP Dan Houston, Modesto: After a 2010 season with the Nuts that frankly wasn’t good at all, Houston is back in Modesto and showing a lot of improvement. His ERA is down nearly three runs, and batters are hitting nearly 100 points less against him than last season. His strikeout and walk rates have each improved dramatically, and it’s a good bet he won’t finish the year with the Nuts. He’s top five in the league in ERA and WHIP, and he’s clearly a deserving All-Star.
SP Kelvin Marte, San Jose: Marte got a cup of coffee with the Giants last year and wasn’t very good. His start in the championship series against Rancho Cucamonga was solid, but he really struggled in his other appearances. This season, his ERA is one of the best in the league. He’s not striking out many batters, and never has, but he’s been a ground ball machine this season. His lack of strikeouts against right handed batters might indicate this lefty’s changeup needs work which isn’t uncommon.
SP Chris Sorce, High Desert: This is a real puzzling one. High Desert has another player on the roster (Catricala) so they didn’t take him because they need to be represented. His ERA could be worse, and it likely will be if he continues giving up as many hits. Batters are hitting over .300 at home and on the road, so it’s not just the High Desert factor. I won’t spend the entire space questioning his merits though. His season with Everett in the Northwest League last year was very good, and with a miniscule 1.8 BB/9, he has the control to succeed.
SP Tyler Skaggs, Visalia: Skaggs is one of the best prospects in the league, and his stats have matched the hype this season. He leads the league in strikeouts and at one point earlier this year, led all of minor league baseball. His 1.14 WHIP is 2nd in the league, and it appears the Diamondbacks might be cashing in a little on the Dan Haren trade, although the package they received will never compare to the one they gave up. Skaggs will probably spend the entire season with the Rawhide as Arizona should remain patient with him.
SP Zack Wheeler, San Jose: If Skaggs isn’t the top pitching prospect in the league, it’s probably Wheeler. Wheeler was tremendous in April, but he had some serious command issues in May. In three of his May starts, he walked a combined 15 batters in 14.2 IP which was uncharacteristic after his very good April. He’s striking out a lot of batters, and after the Giants invested a lot in him in the 2009 draft, he’s proving to be one of the better pitching prospects in the league. He’s been involved in a lot of trade rumors, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Giants need to trade him to make a run at repeating.
SP Craig Westcott, San Jose: Craig Westcott was the All-Star Game starter last year, and if it’s his day to start again on 6/21, he definitely could again. He’s first in the league in WHIP, and he’s first in the league in ERA if we don’t count Allen Webster who’s now in AA. He’s not striking out batters, but that’s not Westcott’s game and never has been. He should be in AA himself, but the Giants organization has a surplus of starters, and he lost a numbers game. I’m sure he’ll be back with Richmond pretty soon.
Last year’s roster only had nine pitchers, but 10′s not too crazy. It’s pretty common to have two relievers on the roster, and there were some other guys in contention. Some of the best of the rest include Jose Guzman and Connor Hoehn of Stockton, Miles Mikolas continuing Lake Elsinore’s recent trend of great closers, Michael Marbry of Modesto, and Hector Correa of San Jose who has been fantastic. Stephen Ames would’ve been a candidate for Rancho Cucamonga if he wasn’t promoted, and his replacement Shawn Tolleson has been incredible. Some starters who may feel like they could’ve made it are Chris Heston of San Jose, Daniel Straily and Murphy Smith of Stockton and Pedro Villarreal of Bakersfield.
C Gorman Erickson, Rancho Cucamonga: There are quite a few catchers having very good offensive seasons this year, and Erickson leads the bunch. He was flirting with a .400 average earlier this year, and while that wasn’t realistic, he’s still among the best hitters in the league. He’s 8th in the league in OPS, and all of the players above him are either also on this roster or in AA. He’s among the leaders in OBP and SLG too, and he has more walks than strikeouts. His caught stealing percentage is around the league average.
1B Mike Zuanich, Modesto: Zuanich was a very good hitter for Modesto last year, and this year he’s been the best in the league. He’s also doing it without the benefit of playing in one of the league’s best hitting parks as some of the other top hitters. He’s slugging a Bautista-like .689, and he’s one of three North division players with double digit home runs. He’d have a shot at league MVP, but I’d imagine he’ll be on his way to AA Tulsa at some point in the near future.
2B Mario Martinez, High Desert: Jose Altuve would’ve been an easy choice for the starting nod at second, but he was promoted to AA Corpus Christi recently, and deservedly so. Martinez was possibly the next best option, and ultimately he’s a good choice. He leads all other second basemen in OPS, although he clearly benefits from playing in High Desert with a huge home/road split. He strikes out too much and barely walks, but he has shown power in home games this year.
SS Jake Lemmerman, San Jose: C, 1B and 2B have been solid positions in the league this year, and SS hasn’t been as good. Before the season started, Nick Franklin would’ve been the easy choice, but he’s struggled with some injuries and hasn’t made a great transition from low A to high A. Despite that, he’s probably the 2nd best option at SS counting players that play there regularly. Michael Gilmartin, a reserve on the team, has only played a handful of games at short this year. Back to Lemmerman, he doesn’t hit for much power, but he’s been patient at the plate and been a solid hitter so far.
3B Jedd Gyorko, Lake Elsinore: Gyorko has been one of the best hitters in the league so far, and he somehow already has 28 doubles while second place in the league only has 21. He’s also second in the league in home runs, and it’s easy to see why he’s slugging .648. His bat was never a question in the draft last year, but will he have a defensive home? With Eric Campbell‘s promotion from Bakersfield to AA Carolina, Gyorko is the best option at 3B. Oddly enough, perhaps the second best option would be his teammate, Edinson Rincon.
OF Gary Brown, San Jose: Brown has been the classic leadoff hitter for San Jose this year, and he’s added some expected power. One of the knocks of his career at Cal State Fullerton was that he didn’t take any walks, but if he’s successfully hitting pitches he can hit, why bother? He’s been more patient as a pro, just another element to his game. He’s incredibly fast and leads the league in steals, although he could stand to be a little more efficient. He should probably be promoted to Richmond soon.
OF Adam Eaton, Visalia: Eaton isn’t a huge prospect, but he’s done nothing but hit since being drafted by Arizona last year. He leads the league with a ridiculous .497 OBP, and it’s crazy to think of a player getting on base half the time he steps up to the plate. His power has been decent, but he’s been making great contact with a .369 average. Visalia as a whole has been struggling, but Eaton has been a bright spot. With 19 steals, he’s showing good speed, but he’s only been around average efficiency.
OF Angelo Songco, Rancho Cucamonga: I don’t know if I’d have Songo in the starting lineup, but he has a place on the team for sure. His .888 OPS is among the outfield leaders, and he’s showing pretty good power as one of the league leaders in doubles to go along with nine home runs. He’s part of a deep Rancho Cucamonga lineup that’s well represented in this game. Songco is among the league leaders in many offensive categories.
DH Vincent Catricala, High Desert: The knock on many High Desert hitters is that they don’t hit well away from High Desert, but that’s not the case with Catricala. His stats are no doubt enhanced at home, but he’s been a great hitter on the road as well. DH is a good spot for him since he’s been all over the diamond for the Mavericks this year. His 14 home runs have him tied for the league lead, and he’s making great contact too. Catricala has walked a decent amount, and his strikeouts have been under control.
OF Josh Fellhauer, Bakersfield: Fellhauer is the one position player selection that’s most questionable to me. It’s certainly a big improvement on his 2010 season with Lynchburg, but there are a lot of outfielders having good seasons. His .322 batting average is certainly good, but it’s mostly singles, which certainly have value. Modesto native Blake Smith is having a similar season for the Quakes, and he was a potential option for this spot. Perhaps they value his ability to play different outfield positions.
IF Mike Gilmartin, Stockton: Gilmartin is a very good choice as a backup infielder. He can play multiple positions, and for a middle infielder, he’s having a good season at the plate too. He doesn’t have the patient approach many people expect from Oakland minor leaguers, but he’s shown decent power. Dean Anna of Lake Elsinore is a player that could’ve been chosen here, and Cal League and ML veteran Travis Denker is having another good season.
C Yasmani Grandal, Bakersfield: About a month into the season, it seemed like a lock that Grandal would be the starter. He’s cooled off a bit since, but he’s still a deserving All-Star coming off the bench. His caught stealing percentage is above the league average, and of course he can hit. He’s only hitting .279, but with 37 walks, his OBP is at an even .400. His eight home runs lead all Cal League catchers, and he could be promoted any time if the Reds want to get a little aggressive.
1B Kody Hinze, Lancaster: Going by OPS, Hinze is the 2nd best hitter still in the Cal League. Unfortunately for him, 1st plays the same position he does, and the league’s coaches felt Catricala should be the DH and not Hinze. He’s tied for the league lead in home runs, and it’s not just because of Clear Channel Stadium. Somehow, he’s an even better hitter on the road. He had 19 home runs in the South Atlantic League last year, and he’ll easily surpass that this season.
It’s a deep group of catchers this season, and one that might’ve been robbed is Jason Hagerty on Lake Elsinore. He was actually a college teammate of Grandal and had to move to 1B at Miami for Grandal to get behind the plate. Despite missing time with an injury, his OPS is over .900. Erickson’s teammate, J.T. Wise, is having a good season, and Hector Sanchez would’ve been a candidate if he wasn’t promoted. If he hadn’t been promoted, Henry Rodriguez of Bakersfield could’ve started at 2B.
The list of outfielders that could be on the roster instead of Fellhauer include Modesto’s Kent Matthes who’s enjoying a breakout season at the plate. He’s another guy who missed time with an injury, but he’s been hitting for a lot of power this season. He’s a bit of an older player, but Jon Mark Owings of Visalia could’ve joined teammate Adam Eaton here. Daniel Carroll of High Desert could’ve provided another athletic option and potential pinch runner off the bench, and Kole Calhoun of Inland Empire has been great as well.
I’m not too familiar with the Carolina League roster, but the pitching stands out to me. Their staff is headlined by a couple of very good prospects, Jake Odorizzi of the Royals organization and Drew Pomeranz of the Indians organization. Odorizzi went from Milwaukee to KC in the Greinke trade, and Pomeranz was a top pick in the 2010 draft. Robert Bundy, brother of future Orioles farmhand Dylan, joins them on the staff. Two former Cal Leaguers are on the team as well, pitcher Joe Wieland who used to pitch for Bakersfield, and Rey Navarro who was traded from Arizona to Kansas City last season.
I’ll take a stab at the starting lineup if I was the manager of the team and not Jerry Weinstein.
Image: Modesto Nuts