About David Freier
For some players, baseball is in their blood. High-A Lynchburg Hillcats outfielder Connor Marabell has that distinction.
“My dad was a professional baseball player, my uncle Luke played college baseball, and my grandpa played baseball,” said Marabell. “The minute I was born I was holding a baseball.”
One of the starting pitchers more recently added to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats staff is the 6’0”, 195 lb. left-hander Thomas Pannone. He was promoted from the Low-A Midwest League on July 13 and made his first appearance for the Hillcats the next day. Pannone pitched five and one-third innings in relief in a game suspended by rain to earn his first win in the Carolina League.
He was originally drafted out of Bishop Hendricken High School in Rhode Island as an outfielder, but chose not to sign.
“I had signed with the University of Miami, but didn’t want to go three years of college and then try to get redrafted,” said Pannone. “My advisor at the time knew people at the College of Southern Nevada and helped get me on the team.”
Tyler Krieger, a 22-year-old second baseman who grew up in Duluth, was born in Orange County, California, but moved to Georgia at the age of five. He still maintains ties with family back in California, and spent some summers out there playing baseball before he went on to college.
Originally drafted by Seattle in the 35th round of the 2012 draft, he chose to attend Clemson and was their starting shortstop for his freshman and most of his sophomore year before suffering a right shoulder injury.
“They treated me well in my time there [Clemson],” says Krieger. “I learned a lot, grew as a person, and I’ll always be following them just because of what they have done for me.”
Francisco Mejia was a shortstop growing up in Bani of the Dominican Republic. That’s not an uncommon position for someone with a 5’10”, 175 lb. build.
Instead, in the last few months before the International Signing Period at his coaches suggestion, Mejia shifted to catcher. He has been learning to handle the position ever since.
“I love catching, but it’s a hard position to play,” said Mejia. “My first year, I was a bit scared of catching. I played mostly designated hitter.”
He is the quintessential southern California guy. Taylor Murphy grew up alternately surfing and playing baseball in the San Diego area. The 6’2”, 200 lb. righty hails from Torrey Pines, just north of the city proper, and had to decide early whether to follow the athlete’s path to surfing or baseball.
“I’ve surfed just about as long as I’ve played baseball,” said Murphy. “I was eleven years old when I had to make a decision on surfing competitively or picking up travel ball. I think I made the right decision.”
Coming out of Torrey Pines High School, he was drafted by the hometown Padres in the 40th round of the 2011 first year player draft.
You generally only see Cameron Hill at two times between when the gates open and the end of the game – pre-game, when he is wearing his headphones and getting his mind focused on the upcoming game, or late in the game, when he is summoned from the bullpen to shut down opposing hitters.
For the current season, Hill has made 29 appearances out of the bullpen – 28 for High-A Lynchburg, and one for the AAA Columbus Clippers. The 6’1”, 185 lb. right-hander out of El Reno, Oklahoma, has put up strong numbers, earning a brief promotion to AAA when the organization was short on pitching following the 19-inning marathon game between Cleveland and Toronto to open the month of July.
Hill grew up with a love of baseball, in part because his father had been a ballplayer.
Sean Brady was selected out of Ida Baker High School in Cape Coral Florida in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Though he has only been pitching professionally for four seasons, baseball has been part of this life for as long as he can remember.
“Like everybody, I’ve been playing since I was 3 years old,” said Brady.
Anthony Santander hails from Margarita, Venezuela. He began playing baseball at the age of four and has been playing professional baseball since the age of 16. Now at 21, his current season is shaping up as the high water mark for his personal performance.
“Growing up in Venezuela, I played basketball, volleyball and baseball,” said Santander. “When I was 14 I was told I could play [baseball] professionally, so I started to take it more seriously.”
Sunday, June 19, Father’s Day, marked the end of the Carolina League’s first half of play. The High-A Lynchburg Hillcats captured the Northern Division first half crown with a 45–25 record, equaling the win total of the 2009 team which went on to win the Carolina League Championship, their last season as a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate.
The 70 games played in the first half by the Hillcats are distinguished by three elements – a strong offense, top-notch pitching from the starters and the bullpen, and a true sense of team effort. No one player on the Hillcats has completely dominated the rest of the Carolina League. Instead, each night a different player steps up to deliver a strong performance that leads his team towards victory.
On the third day of May, Nick Pasquale was assigned to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. That day would be the first of three games cancelled over the next week as heavy rains swept through the Central Virginia area. This forced a doubleheader against the Carolina Mudcats and the loss of an off day in order to make up a game against division rival Potomac.
More importantly, it would produce an opportunity for Pasquale to move out of the bullpen and get an opportunity as a starting pitcher.
As the college baseball Super Regionals are underway to determine which eight teams get to make the trip to Omaha this year, Justus Sheffield is content that he made the right decision when he chose the Indians over Vanderbilt two years ago.
“It was tough. Vanderbilt had welcomed me in as a family member. I loved everything about it, the campus was beautiful, but I followed my heart,” said Sheffield. “I felt like I was ready to start my professional career.”
A 6’0″, 190 lb. right-handed outfielder out of Cal Poly Pomona, David Armendariz was selected in the 23rd round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft. Now in his third year as a professional, he has reached the High-A level with Lynchburg.
A cursory glance at his stats, sitting at about league average, would not usually draw further attention, but since joining the Hillcats team on May 15, he has played in 19 of the team’s 23 games. In all of these appearances he has been in right field, with the exception of two relief innings against Salem on May 19, and has used the opportunity to become a key player in the team’s continued success as they charge towards the first half title of the Carolina League’s Northern Division.
Growing up in Southern California, Armendariz was a three-sport star in baseball, basketball and football. When he reached high school, he cut back to just football and baseball, where he was principally a pitcher. From there he moved on to become a Bronco at Division II Cal Poly Pomona.