LAKE ELSINORE, Calif.—The Diamond, home to the Padres’ high Class A California League affiliate, was the site of the 2009 Carolina-California League all-star game on Tuesday night. Before a sellout crowd of 6,689, the Cal League all-stars won the briskly played contest 2-1 in 10 innings.
Lancaster’s Jon Gaston (Astros) blasted a walk-off home run to straightaway center field in the bottom of the 10th inning to provide the winning margin. Gaston, who leads the minors in total bases, was named MVP of the Cal League squad.
For prospects, high Class A represents a midway point in a player’s journey to the big leagues. They are now accustomed to rigorous 140-game campaigns, having graduated from 30-game high school schedules, 56-game college schedules and 76-game short-season minor league schedules.
Wilmington third baseman Mike Moustakas (Royals) acknowledged that fact prior to the game. The second overall pick in the 2007 draft, the young slugger conceded that he had a hard time adjusting to the wildly uneven weather and season length in 2008 in the Midwest League, his initial full season experience.
“I got off to a slow start, no question,” he said. “But after a while I got used to it, I was able to adjust. I really feel very comfortable now (with the 140-game season), I’ve really settled in.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the all-star game was the wide range of draft picks on each roster. Participants ranged from first-round picks Moustakas, Corey Luebke (supplemental), Lonnie Chisenhall and Buster Posey to over a dozen players selected after the 10th round in their respective draft years.
The lowest pick was San Jose’s Thomas Neal (Giants), who was a 36th-round draft-and-follow taken in 2005. Refusing to take a back seat to anyone, the righthanded-hitting Neal entered the game hitting .342/.423/.615 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs.
The long afternoon and evening began with batting practice, infield/outfield and a home run contest, followed by the obligatory all-star pregame festivities. Scouts, of course, are interested in BP much more than a fireworks show or jet flyover.
Several hitters raised eyebrows in batting practice. Carolina Leaguers Lonnie Chisenhall of Kinston (Indians) and Cody Johnson of Myrtle Beach (Braves) flashed provocative lift-and-pull power. Righthanded-hitting Brandon Waring of Frederick (Orioles) came close to cracking the windshields of cars parked beyond the left field fence, utilizing his unusual swing which emphasizes a dominant top hand.
On the Cal League side, Gaston and Neal both were impressive. A loft-and-drive lefty power hitter, Gaston waits for a pitch middle-in that he can hammer, letting outside pitches pass by even in BP. A righthanded batter, Neal utilizes more of an all-fields, line-drive approach.
High Desert’s Joe Dunigan (Mariners), a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, tries to hit a 600-foot home run with every BP swing. When Dunigan connects he can airmail the ball in the 400-450 foot range, flashing terrific bat speed and plus hitting and power potential.
BP was followed by infield/outfield pregame. The Cal League did not take pregame, and the Carolina League all-stars snoozed through a listless and lethargic drill.
One player stood out defensively: Frederick shortstop Pedro Florimon (Orioles). Loose and lanky, Florimon displays soft hands, fluid fielding actions, outstanding playmaking ability and a strong and accurate buggy-whip, slingshot throwing arm. Florimon projects as a plus defensive shortstop, but his bat needs improvement. His stance appears awkward and uncomfortable, and he will flick his head up and off the pitch at the last instant.
Any 2-1 game is obviously dominated by the pitchers, and four hurlers stood out during the 10-inning battle, including:
Cory Luebke, LHP, Lake Elsinore (Padres): Luebke was the Cal League’s starting pitcher. He struck out three in a scoreless two-inning stint, featuring a low 90s fastball, a hard high-70s curveball and a circle change.
A veteran pro scout broke down Luebke: “His arm slot varies, it’s all over the place. He also doesn’t use his legs a great deal in his delivery, and he struggles to keep the ball down.”
The scout continued: “But he’s tall, lefthanded and has excellent stuff. He’s definitely a dude. He’s just not ready yet.”
In the locker room after the game, Luebke acknowledged that he is the proverbial work in progress. “I’ve come a long way since I first stared pro ball,” he stated. Luebke is working with the Padres minor league staff to “create more of a downward plane in my delivery.”
Ryne Miller, RHP, Salem (Red Sox): Miller was named Carolina League MVP of this game after a two-inning stint in which he struck out five of the six hitters he faced. Poised, calm and mature, Miller exhibits advanced pitchability.
Miller skillfully delivers a low 90s fastball, 80 mph changeup and 78 mph curve. He mixes his pitches adroitly, craftily moving the ball around the strike zone, altering speeds and changing locations. Miller is a nightmare for any guess hitter to face, since his variety of pitches and ability to locate make it nearly impossible for any hitter to predict what is coming next.
Danny Duffy, LHP, Wilmington (Royals): Duffy was the youngest all-star on the field, and perhaps the player with the most upside. The 20-year-old lefty out of Lompoc, Calif., showed an excellent descending angle to his 90 mph fastball, reaching back to touch 94 when needed. Duffy adds an old-fashioned over the top 74 mph curve.
Duffy’s herky-jerky mechanics need refinement, and he will need to develop his changeup. However, with the brilliant young Zack Greinke at the big league level and promising lefthanders like Duffy and Mike Montgomery in their system, the Royals have the potential for a dominating starting staff in the next decade.
Wynn Pelzer, RHP, Lake Elsinore (Padres): Pelzer works quickly and is a man in a hurry, pitching as if he can’t wait to attack the post-game clubhouse buffet. He hammers the strike zone with a 93-95 mph fastball. Just when a hitter begins to sit on the heater, Pelzer deftly slips in a 75 mph change or deadly 88 mph split.
A starting pitcher currently, Pelzer’s stuff and approach indicates he may profile best as a closer or middle inning set up man.
From a scout’s perspective, observing prospects in Class A is a fascinating experience. It provides the scout the opportunity to assess how much progress a player has made since his amateur days. On the flip side, it also illustrates the vast amount of improvement a player at the Class A level requires to reach the big leagues.