The Carolina League season is rapidly winding down for the Lynchburg Hillcats, with just seven games remaining on their regular season schedule. Their ticket to postseason baseball in September was punched with a first half Northern Division crown, but they are sitting atop the league again with a 37-26 record and a one-game lead over the Potomac Nationals after breaking a tie in the standings with a walk-off win on Sunday. Earlier in the week, they had completed a sweep over Wilmington before dropping the first two games of their three-game set with the P-Nats.
The Hillcats will take their final road trip of the regular season this week, heading to Myrtle Beach for three games with the Pelicans beginning Tuesday before returning home for four straight against the Salem Red Sox. The playoffs are scheduled to begin on September 7.
In other Hillcats chatter:
Lynchburg’s Bobby Bradley is your Carolina League Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season, as the third-year pro brought home the second consecutive league MVP award for the Hillcats.
The Carolina League also announced its 13-man postseason All-Star roster, nearly half of which was filled by Lynchburg players. In addition to Bradley, outfielders Greg Allen and Anthony Santander, second baseman Mark Mathias, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, and catcher Francisco Mejia also were honored by the end-of-the-season accolades. Hillcats manager Mark Budzinski was named the league’s Manager of the Year.
The six players honored with postseason All-Star selections fell just one short of Lynchburg’s record for selections in a year, set in 2002 when the club had seven players picked.
The Lynchburg Hillcats will see two new opponents in 2017. Minor League Baseball announced on Monday that two California League teams will cease operations at the end of this season while the same amount will begin play in the High-A Carolina League next year.
The Bakersfield Blaze (Seattle affiliate) and the High Desert Mavericks (Texas affiliate) will both close their doors on baseball operations in their respective sites as the Class-A Advanced level looks towards realignment.
Despite a strong first half, Cleveland Indians’ minor league outfielder Connor Marabell was left out of the Midwest League’s midseason All-Star Game in June while four other members of his Lake County Captains club traveled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the annual festivities.
That slight may have been righted some as the Lynchburg Hillcats prospect was selected by his former league as one of its postseason All-Stars on Tuesday.
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.”
Tyler Krieger’s memorable first professional season continued on Monday as the Lynchburg second baseman was named the Carolina League’s Player of the Week for games played August 15 through 21.
Krieger’s impressive debut continues to garner attention as he was honored with his first professional player of the week award and became the second consecutive Hillcats position player to earn the honor. First baseman Bobby Bradley was joined by pitcher Luis Lugo in a clean sweep of the weekly player and pitcher awards last week.
The Lynchburg Hillcats have charged back into the top spot in the Carolina League’s Northern Division as the Potomac Nationals have fallen apart.
The Hillcats wrapped up play on Sunday with a 33-24 record in the second half of the season and are tied with the P-Nats, who had dropped seven straight games and nine of their last ten before winning Sunday. The Hillcats have already secured a trip to the postseason with their first half divisional crown, but are going for the clean sweep. The club went 4-3 over the last seven days, with a pair of rainouts last Monday and Wednesday while the club visited Frederick. They played a pair of doubleheaders with the Keys instead, splitting both days, before taking the first two games over the weekend from the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The Pelicans won on Sunday, scoring two in the ninth to tie it and one more in the tenth to walk off.
In other Hillcats chatter:
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.”
The Lynchburg Hillcats have won on the field all season long and have received plenty of hardware off of it. Monday was more of the same as first baseman Bobby Bradley and starting pitcher Luis Lugo each took home their first Carolina League weekly honors of the season.
The Indians’ High-A affiliate has now won four Player of the Week awards and four Pitcher of the Week awards this season.
The Lynchburg Hillcats continued their fight for the second half crown in the Carolina League’s Northern Division, but ended the day on Saturday four games in back of first place Potomac. The Hillcats have already secured a playoff berth with their first half title, but remain in the hunt for home field advantage in the High-A postseason.
The Hillcats finished last weekend on a down note, dropping three straight in a four-game set to the rival Salem Cubs. After a day off on Monday, they took two of three from the Nationals to cut into that deficit in the division, winning the games on Tuesday (2-1) and Thursday (3-2). Returning home for three against Winston-Salem, the Dash won 10-2 on Friday and won on Saturday 7-5 on a two-run home run in the tenth inning.
Lynchburg will wrap up their series with Winston-Salem at 4:00 PM on Sunday before hitting the road for seven straight with Frederick (four games) and Myrtle Beach (three). After that road trip, they will play ten of their final 13 regular season games at Calvin Falwell Field.
In other chatter from Lynchburg:
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.”
Those pesky rival Salem Red Sox ruined the Hillcats’ weekend, taking three of four from Lynchburg. It was the first time since the middle of May that the two teams have not split a series against one another.
August has not been kind to the Hillcats (26-18) in general as the club is just 3-5 to start the month. With a playoff berth already clinched with their Northern Division win in the first half, they are still fighting for the second-half crown too, but trail the Potomac Nationals by four games. They split their series at home against those same Nationals to begin the final month of the regular season, but the pitching staff was lit up over the weekend, giving up 13, 12, and 11 runs in three straight games from Friday to Sunday against Salem.
The ‘Cats will take a needed day off on Monday to recoup before spending three days in Potomac, where they can make up some ground and hope to end the P-Nats’ five-game winning streak. They will return home at the end of the week to host Winston-Salem for three, only to hit the road again for another week.
In other Hillcats chatter: