The 2017 season will be the first time since 1998 that the Carolina League hosts its own cavalcade of stars. The last time the Carolina League held an All-Star game featuring the Northern Division stars versus the Southern Division stars, High-A Lynchburg pitcher Triston McKenzie was not even a year old and was still living in Brooklyn, New York. The relocation of two franchises from the California League to the Carolina League during the previous off-season followed the end of the cross-country California-Carolina League All-Star contest.
The Lynchburg Hillcats are once again well represented in the Carolina League’s All-Star Game, set to pit the North and South Divisions against one another on Tuesday, June 20.
With the first half winding down, the Hillcats are still in the race for the first half crown and some of the players to put them in that position were recognized with selections to the North squad for the exhibition event next week. Three pitchers and two position players were picked to fill out the roster initially, with one more late addition giving Lynchburg six total representatives.
The strength of the 2017 High-A Lynchburg Hillcats is pitching. Right-hander Triston McKenzie, Cleveland’s third ranked prospect according to Baseball America, heads up a staff that leads the competition of the ten-team Carolina League. This overall pitching performance puts the Hillcats only two games behind Central Virginia rival Salem, with four games remaining before the All-Star break, heading into play on Thursday.
“Our starting pitching has been our strength,” said manager Tony Mansolino. “We have some guys here that have had some success in the past and continue to get better.”
The first thing you notice about Triston McKenzie is his size. He stands a spindly 6’5”, weighing in at only 165 lbs. When shaking hands with McKenzie you can feel the strength of his grip as his hand envelops yours. It is no wonder he has an intuitive feel for pitching that led the Indians to draft him 42nd overall in 2015.
Born in Brooklyn, New York his family moved to Royal Palm Beach, Florida, when he was young and he readily adapted to life in the south.
“I kind of like the setting down there a lot more, a slower lifestyle,” he said about growing up on the east coast of Florida.
After a couple of tough patches earlier in the month, the Lynchburg Hillcats have found that winning recipe in Carolina League play.
Winners of six of their last seven contests, the Indians’ High-A affiliate have charged back into the race in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. At 24-19, they trail the rival Salem Red Sox by three and a half games in the standings.
The Hillcats will play eleven of their next 15 games on the road, which could help them gain even more ground in the division. The ‘Cats have had a tough time at City Stadium this season, going just 11-13 on their home field, but are 13-6 on the road, a mark trailing only Salem’s 14-6 road record for best in High-A.
A gem of an outing last Tuesday by Lynchburg starter Triston McKenzie caught the eyes of all of minor league baseball and the Carolina League rewarded his efforts by naming him the league’s Pitcher of the Week for games played between May 8 and May 14.
The 19-year-old right-hander made just one start during the week, but he made his mark in a dominating effort at home against the Carolina Mudcats that he will likely remember for some time.
Rains again washed away another game for the Lynchburg Hillcats as Thursday’s game against the Carolina Mudcats was postponed. The two teams do not meet again in the first half of the Carolina League schedule, so the game will not be rescheduled.
The cancellation marked the fifth time this season that the Hillcats could not play baseball because of the weather and the second time in the last week after last Thursday’s game in Potomac with the Nationals was under water. It stopped Lynchburg from putting an end to a tough battle with Carolina after dropping two of three in a low scoring three-game series. The abbreviated set featured a total of eleven runs between the Hillcats (five) and the Mudcats (six).
It has been a good week for the Lynchburg Hillcats as they carried a five-game winning streak through much of the week before losing game one of their series with the Potomac Nationals on Thursday.
Last Friday, Lynchburg dropped a 4-0 decision to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the series opener before winning three straight to start off their seven-game road trip. After being shut out, they put up five runs over each of the next three games of the series before moving on to Carolina to take on the Mudcats from Zebulon. Mother Nature interfered with the festivities on Monday, but Tuesday’s doubleheader went on as planned. The ‘Cats swept that double dip, winning by 1-0 and 7-1 finals before an off day on Wednesday. The pitching staff allowed eight runs on Thursday in an 8-2 defeat in the opener from Lynchburg with the P’Nats before a 4-2 win on Friday night.
Baseball America released its minor league All-Star teams across all minor league levels on Monday and four prospects from the Cleveland Indians farm system claimed spots on the annual rosters.
The biggest winner was 19-year-old right-hander Triston McKenzie, who was not only named as one of the five starting pitchers selected to the roster, but was announced as the Baseball America Short-Season Pitcher of the Year for his 4-3 record in nine starts while with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
The Lake County Captains are playing out the string as they finish their 2016 regular season on the outside of the Midwest League’s playoff picture.
A tough series with the Bowling Green Hot Rods from August 22 to 25 effectively spelled the end of the run for the Captains (71-68), who dropped five in a row in the series. They bounced back with three straight wins against Lansing before dropping the finale with the Lugnuts and went on the road to Dayton, winning the first game of the series before dropping the final two contests. They have split a pair with Lansing in the final games of the season, with a 1:00 PM start on Monday marking the final game on the 2016 calendar for the Captains.
In other news and notes from the Captains’ log:
Despite winning the first three games of their four-game set with the Lansing Lugnuts, any dreams of a division crown fizzled out for the Lake County Captains this week after getting stomped in five straight games in a four-day span by Bowling Green to start an eight-game homestand at Classic Park in Eastlake.
The season is winding down in the Midwest League, as the Captains (29-34 in the second half) have seven games left on their regular season schedule while clinging to a slight chance of a postseason trip. They trail the Great Lakes Loons by three and a half games for the final Eastern Division second half qualifying spot. Lake County has a game against Lansing on Monday night before heading to Dayton for a three-game series to wrap up the road schedule from Wednesday to Friday. They will then return home to host the final three games of their season as they face the Lugnuts again on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
In other scribblings in the Captains’ log:
With the season winding down to its final two weeks, the Lake County Captains are staring down elimination from the postseason picture while working their way back to the .500 mark on the year.
The Captains (26-29) took both of their series over the last week, sweeping four straight from the West Michigan Whitecaps before taking two of three in Fort Wayne from the TinCaps. In winning six of their last seven and seven of their last ten, they have pulled their record within three games of reaching the even mark while tying the Great Lakes Loons for fourth place in the Midwest League Eastern Division. They will host five games in the next four days against Bowling Green before welcoming in Lansing for four home games over the weekend.
In other news and notes from the Captains’ log: