Mid-season has come upon us quickly, and with it comes the baseball All-Star tradition. The annual Eastern League All-Star Game brings together the best players the league has to offer and pits them against each other in one glorious contest. In a way, it is a showcase of future stars and names that may one day be household. Twenty-four players are on each of the 12 EL team rosters, and only 48 of those 288 players will be chosen to participate in the mid-season classic. The Akron Aeros had the honor of six of their players selected for the contest. Pitchers Matt Packer, Jose Flores, Toru Murata, and Austin Adams, along with outfielder Carlos Moncrief and first baseman Jesus Aguilar, will all take place in the All-Star event.
Packer has been one of the most dominating pitchers in the EL. He started the season off a little rough, but Aeros pitching Coach Greg Hibbard helped Packer find the gimmick that would take his pitching to the next level. Packer had focus issues, not a lack of focus, but too much focus. He would stare at the catcher’s glove too long, and it would cause him to zone in too much. Hibbard and Packer worked on a little change in his delivery. Packer now looks away as he begins his delivery, then picks up his target again, clearing his mind and allowing him to maintain a healthy focus level. Before the change, Packer was 0-4 with a 4.60 ERA, since then, he has gone 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA. His seven wins on the season are second in the EL, and he is currently leading the EL in ERA at 2.50. He is the ace of the Akron Aeros, and certainly deserving of this All-Star selection.
Jose Flores stepped into some big shoes in 2013. As the Aeros closer, he takes over for last year’s saves leader, and current Columbus Clipper closer Preston Guilmet. Thus far this season, he has filled those shoes quite well. Flores has only 10 saves on the season, but he boasts a very nice 2.43 ERA. He has a 5-2 record on the season, and has struck out nearly a third of his batters faced with 51 strikeouts in 40.2 innings pitched.
Murata is sort of a mainstay with the Aeros, since this is his second stint with the club. He posted a 3-3 record so far in Akron, but a very nice 3.07 ERA to go with it, good enough for sixth place on the EL leaderboards. He also has a very impressive 1.24 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) which leads the Aeros starting staff. Murata was called up to Columbus twice this season, but is currently pitching for the Aeros. He has pitched into the seventh inning four out of his 12 starts, and has gone less than five innings just once this season. He has given up one earned run or less in six of his starts on the season.
Adams is sort of a feel good story for the Akron Aeros. After a quick rise through the Indians organization as a starting pitcher, Adams missed the entire 2012 season with shoulder surgery. In 2011 he made it to the Akron and won 11 games with a 3.77 ERA, he looked poised to make it to Columbus the next season, and soon see some time in Cleveland. The injury put a halt to those plans. He has pitch exclusively out of the bullpen for Akron in 2013, appearing in 25 games. He has a 0-1 record with a 2.59 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. His arm has remained strong after his surgery, hitting the high 90’s on the radar gun this season. He has the stuff to work his way up the ladder and eventually find a home in the Indians bullpen down the road. This All-Star selection is a step in the right direction.
Aguilar was probably the biggest name on the Aeros roster coming into the 2013 season. He is a big, young, powerful first baseman that carried the Aeros offense down the stretch and into the playoffs last season. He began the year with Akron, and many thought he had a chance to dominate the EL with his homerun power. That reputation was built on the 23 home runs he hit in 2011 and his .500 slugging percentage in the last 20 games for the Aeros last season. That hasn’t exactly been the case as he heads into the contest with just eight home runs on the season. He has driven in runs at a furious pace, leading the EL in RBI with 67. He continues to add patients to his repertoire with an 11% walk rate on the season, boosting his OBP to .348. With his quickly developing defensive skills, Aguilar has the ability to be a future star. 2013 All-Star honors will certainly not be the last accolades given to this young prospect.
Moncrief is quite possibly the best all-around athlete on the Aeros team. He began his professional career as a pitcher, and the Indians converted him to an outfielder in 2010, and the then 21 year old took the change in stride. He had to learn how to hit all over again, and it was a trial by fire. He rose to the challenge, and has now emerged as arguably the best hitter on the Aeros team. He is leading the Aeros with 11 home runs, and 94 hits; his hit total is good enough for sixth place in the EL. He is second on the team with 50 RBI, and his .299 batting average is eighth in the EL. He is a real five tool player with a rocket arm and speed to match his power.
The Eastern League All-Star game will be played Wednesday July 10 at 7:00pm. New Britain Stadium, home of the New Britain Rock Cats will hose the 12th annual classic.
Photo: Jesse Piecuch/DTTWLN photographer