All-Star games are the theme of the week as one day after Major League Baseball hosted its annual Midsummer Classic and several days after top prospects united for the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday, both the International League and the Eastern League will play their respective games on Wednesday night.
The Indians’ top farm affiliate, the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, have just two representatives in Tacoma, Washington, for the Triple-A All-Star Game between the best of the International League and the Pacific Coast League. Richie Shaffer received the early invitation through voting, but middle infielder Eric Stamets was also asked to participate as a reserve.
Shaffer was also invited to the Home Run Derby on Monday. He hit nine homers in each of the first two rounds to total 18 blasts, falling one short of advancing to the final round. Bryce Brentz (Pawtucket) defeated Dan Vogelbach (Tacoma) in the championship round, outslugging the hometown representative, 18-7.
Shaffer will serve as the starting designated hitter and will bat fourth for the IL squad. A former first round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012, Shaffer was claimed off of waivers by the Indians after a busy offseason, when he was traded from Tampa to Seattle, claimed off of waivers by Philadelphia, and claimed several days later by Cincinnati before joining the Indians organization formally on January 26. He was again designated for assignment a few days later, but was retained and outrighted to Columbus.
His power numbers have been on display much of the season. In 82 games for the Clippers, he has hit .258 with a .358 on-base percentage and a .495 slugging mark with 13 doubles, a triple, 18 homers, and 62 RBI while playing both corner infield and corner outfield spots. His RBI production is good for the second-most in the league, while his homer output ranks third. He is on pace to surpass his previous career best of 26 homers, hit between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham in 2015.
The 25-year-old Stamets will provide some flexibility off of the bench for the International League, having played primarily shortstop this season while also logging some innings at second base in Columbus and third base in Akron.
The Dublin, Ohio, native was a sixth round pick by the Los Angeles Angels in 2012 and joined the Indians organization just prior to the 2015 trade deadline. He started the season with the Clippers, but after hitting just .036 in his first ten games and with Yandy Diaz earmarked to return to the club when Jason Kipnis rejoined the Indians roster from his stay on the disabled list, Stamets was transferred to Akron for a three-week period from April 22 to May 14. He hit .289 in 13 games for the ‘Ducks and directly benefited from the Indians’ trade of Michael Martinez to Tampa Bay and the promotion of utility man Erik Gonzalez to the big league club.
In 53 total games between his two tours in Columbus this season, Stamets is hitting .272 with 14 doubles, a career-high eleven homers, and 30 RBI. He was robbed of a Player of the Week honor at the end of May after hitting five home runs in a three-game span in a home series against Norfolk, driving in 12 in the process. The back-to-back two-homer games were split between Sunday and Monday, cutting into his weekly totals. He later hit three solo homers in the June 16 series opener at Huntington Park against Gwinnett. It is his first career All-Star selection.
“This is a huge honor playing for the minor league team in the city you grew up watching,” said Stamets in a story in The Columbus Dispatch on July 11. “I saw all those Yankees players when they were here on rehab. I came to a lot of games during the summer. [Manager Chris] Tremie called me into his office when we were in Toledo and said, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get you to the All-Star Game.’ I thought that was pretty cool. I put together a good couple of weeks, but I didn’t even know I had the at-bats to qualify for the team.”
The International League will look to extend its four-game winning streak in the Triple-A All-Star Game in the 30th edition of the contest, scheduled for a 9:08 PM ET first pitch on Wednesday night. The league has also claimed seven of the last eight competitions overall. The game will be broadcast on MLB Network, as well as several other viewing and listening options. The winning league will serve as the home team in the Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday, September 19, from PNC Field in Moosic, Pennyslvania.
The Eastern League All-Star Classic, pitting the Eastern and Western Divisions against one another, will take place from Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, New Hampshire, the home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Reliever Cameron Hill, starting pitcher Thomas Pannone, catcher Francisco Mejia, and shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang will represent the Akron RubberDucks and the Western Division All-Stars in the game. Mejia and Pannone were selected through the fan voting.
It will be the second All-Star game this week for Mejia, the 21-year-old switch-hitting backstop, after participating in the All-Star Futures Game in Miami over the weekend.
He has lived up to his top prospect billing again this season in his fifth season of professional baseball. In his first full season at the Double-A level, he is hitting .339 with a .382 on-base percentage with 16 doubles, two triples, nine homers, and 34 RBI in 59 games. It is the third time that he has been named to a midseason All-Star team, joining his selection in 2014 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and last season with the Lake County Captains. He was a post-season All-Star for Lynchburg last year and has participated in the Futures Game in each of the last two seasons.
Pannone, a 23-year-old left-hander, is in his fifth season with the Indians organization after being selected in the ninth round of the 2013 draft out of the Community College of Southern Nevada. He started his season with a perfect mark in High-A Lynchburg, making five starts while allowing just one unearned run on ten hits with seven walks and 39 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings of work, earning a 2-0 record with a 0.61 WHIP and a .111 batting average against.
Since his promotion to Akron, he has gone 4-1 in eleven starts with a 2.39 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.
Pannone was a midseason All-Star last year with the Class-A Lake County Captains and a post-season All-Star in 2014 in the Arizona League. He was named the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Month in April of this season.
Hill, working in his second season with the RubberDucks, has put together a quality year out of the Akron bullpen. He has made 25 appearances, posting a 3-3 record with six saves in seven opportunities. He has limited opposing hitters to a .222 average this season and is averaging more than three strikeouts per walk.
It is the first All-Star selection for the 17th round pick of the 2014 draft by Cleveland out of Redlands Community College.
Chang, 21, entered the All-Star break riding a seven-game hitting streak. In 79 games this season, he is hitting .229 with 15 doubles, three triples, 19 homers, and 50 RBI. His All-Star selection marked the second straight season that he was named a midseason All-Star after representing Lynchburg in the High-A All-Star Game last season. He has also twice been named a post-season All-Star (2014 and 2016).
The fourth-year pro also participated in the league’s Home Run Derby on Tuesday. He was the number two seed in the eight-man tournament with the third-most homers in the Eastern League. Chang defeated one of the hometown representatives, Ryan McBroom, before being eliminated in the semifinals by Gabriel Quintana, who lost in the championship round to Aderlin Rodriguez.
The Akron coaching staff, as last season’s Western Division and Eastern League champions, will handle the managerial duties. Manager Mark Budzinski will be joined by pitching coach Tony Arnold, hitting coach Johnny Narron, bench coach Omir Santos, and athletic trainer Jeremy Heller.
Akron’s Canal Park hosted the 2016 Eastern League All-Star Game and its corresponding activities. Columbus and Huntington Park will be the site of the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2018. Tickets are expected to go on sale for the event in the fall.
Photo: Andy Grosh/MiLB.com