RubberDucks Help West to Win in Eastern League All-Star Game
Mike Brandyberry | On 16, Jul 2014
Some of the best and brightest prospects at the Double-A level shined Wednesday evening in the Eastern League All-Star Game at People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
The difference was a grand slam home run from Detroit Tigers’ prospect Steven Moya that was so big it took a roller coaster to knock it down. The fifth inning slam gave the Western Division a 5-2 victory over the Eastern Division in front of 6,055 spectators.
This year’s Eastern League All-Star Game rosters featured four former first-round picks, five of the top-100 prospects according to MLB.com (entering 2014) and a total of eight players that were selected to participate in this year’s SiriusXM Futures Game in Minnesota. Celebrating a strong first half, the Akron RubberDucks had three players selected for the game; Francisco Lindor, Shawn Armstrong and Joseph Colon.
At any level, All-Star games are intended to celebrate a strong first half and to have fun. All three RubberDucks enjoyed the two-day event to see and talk to players around the league and relax. In addition to a break from the regular season, each wanted to give the fans in attendance a show.
“It’s all about fun,” Armstrong said. “Last night, watching the home run derby watching all those guys was a great time. Tonight’s game, in front of a packed house, is fun, but when it’s that time to get on the mound and pitch, you want to do well for yourself, but this is for the fans too.”
Armstrong may have enjoyed the game and the atmosphere, but unfortunately, the game’s first run was at his expense. Derrik Gibson of the Portland Sea Dogs, a Boston Red Sox farmhand, took Armstrong deep to left field for a solo home run in the top of the third inning. Armstrong also allowed a single to another Sea Dog, Sean Coyle, but was able to not allow any further damage in the inning.
Armstrong has had a solid first half with Akron, going 4-1, with a 2.09 ERA in 38.2 innings. The hard throwing right-hander has struck out 48 hitters in Eastern League action this year and is very similar to Tribe closer Cody Allen in make-up. At the beginning of the season, Armstrong was splitting closing duties with left-hander Kyle Crockett. However, since Crockett was promoted to Cleveland in mid-May, Armstrong has manned the back end of the bullpen on his own. Friends with both Crockett and Allen, Armstrong likes the comparisons to the two and is excited to see his former teammates succeed. Their success is something he feeds off in his own progression to the big leagues.
“Those guys, Allen and Crockett are two of my good friends and they deserve to be there,” Armstrong said. “The Indians have a plan for all of us and when it’s my time in their plan, I’ll be ready to join them.”
Armstrong was also an All-Star in 2012 at High-A when he represented the Carolina Mudcats in the Carolina vs. California League All-Star Game.
In the fifth inning, Lindor did his part to help the West squad to victory. With two runners in scoring position, Lindor worked a walk after being down 1-2 in the count to New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ pitcher, Dustin Antolin. Lindor walked to load the bases before Moya crushed a grand slam to right field—hitting the roller coaster beyond the wall that’s part of the originality of the Curve’s home field.
“It was a fastball, a little bit up,” Moya said. “I was going to take a strike because I didn’t think they would want to throw me a fastball. The second pitch was a fastball for a strike, so I said, ‘ok, I’m going to look for one,’ and the next one was a fastball and I just reacted to it.”
Lindor was 0-for-2, with a strikeout and that key walk before leaving after the fifth inning. The Indians top prospect, and the highest rated prospect in the Eastern League All-Star Game, has had a big week, appearing in both this game and the SiriusXM Future’s Game on Sunday in Minneapolis. Tonight, Lindor played second base—a rarity—in favor of hometown prospect, Alen Hanson of Altoona.
A minor league All-Star and Future’s Game participant the last three years, Lindor hopes it will be his final minor league All-Star Game.
“I hope so,” Lindor said. “I’m progressing well and every time I put the uniform on, I just try to play hard and let everyone else worry about the plan.”
With Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera’s contract expiring at the end of the 2014 season, many believe Lindor will be Cleveland’s Opening Day shortstop in 2015. In the meantime, Lindor will continue to lead the RubberDucks on the field. This year the switch-hitting shortstop is hitting .284, with six home runs, 46 runs batted in, 24 stolen bases and 50 runs scored in his third full season as a professional.
Keeping the RubberDucks in the Eastern League Western Division race during the second half could center more squarely on Lindor’s shoulders. Injuries to both Tyler Naquin and Joe Wendle have slowed the RubberDucks offensive attack. For most of the season Naquin has hit leadoff, in front of Lindor, and Wendle has hit third, behind Lindor. However, Lindor doesn’t feel any added pressure.
“I just go to the plate and have good at bats,” Lindor said. “I can only do what I can control. If you come up to the plate with no one on, you can’t hit a grand slam. You just have to be yourself and do the best you can.”
If Naquin and Wendle were healthy, each likely would have joined Armstrong, Lindor and Colon in Altoona on Wednesday evening. Naquin was hitting .313 on the season and Wendle led the team with 45 runs batted in at the time of their injuries. Both broke bones in their hands and have no timetable for a return. It’s possible they miss the rest of the 2014 season.
Colon did not appear in the game because he pitched five innings in the first half finale on Monday evening in Trenton. Selected to his second minor league All-Star squad—he was a member of the 2012 Midwest League All-Star Game when he was with the Lake County Captains—Colon may be the biggest surprise of the three All-Stars this season. After an injury-riddled 2013 he’s compiled an 8-4 record, with 2.53 ERA in 19 starts. Colon has worked very hard on attacking hitters and going deeper into games, a process of getting ahead of hitters, trusting his stuff using all his pitches in any count.
“I am working hard and my pitches have been very good,” Colon said. “I keep doing what I do and trying to get the next guy out.”
The three All-Stars will travel home quickly and be in uniform Thursday evening when they resume Eastern League action at Canal Park against the Erie Seawolves, led by All-Star Game MVP, Moya. Lindor, Colon, Armstrong and the rest of the RubberDucks trail the Richmond Flying Squirrels by one game for the Western Division lead. Akron is six games ahead in the Wild Card standings for a playoff spot.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer