Reno Trio Highlights Triple-A All-Star Game
Buffalo Hosts Its Own Midsummer Classic
BUFFALO—Scoring runs for Triple-A Reno this season has been as easy as 1-2-3. The Aces have touched home plate 591 times already, tops in the Pacific Coast League and second in the minor leagues only to high Class A High Desert of the equally-charged California League.
Reno's recipe has been a simple one: Start things off with center fielder Adam Eaton
and his league-leading .383 average; follow up with middle infielder Jake Elmore
, who has parlayed a 31-game hitting streak into a .382 mark; and let third baseman Ryan Wheeler
knock them in. The Diamondbacks prospects have wreaked so much havoc upon the PCL this season that all three were easy selections to represent the league in the Triple-A all-star game.
This is the 25th annual Triple-A all-star game, as it returns to Buffalo, where both it and the Bisons franchise were born in 1988. As usual, it is the biggest event on the sports calendar on the day following the major league All-Star Game. It will be broadcast live on MLB Network beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern, and on radio in all 30 Triple-A markets.
The Triple-A game is not the prospect showcase that the Futures Game is, but it does feature plenty of players worth watching. Wheeler's 88 RBIs established a first-half record for the Reno franchise and have him one away from tying his personal best of 89, set last year in 131 games for Double-A Mobile. Twenty-eight of those came in June, when he hit .442/.467/.655 and tallied 20 multi-hit games, good enough to capture player of the month honors in the Diamondbacks system.
A fifth-round pick in 2009 out of Loyola Marymount, Wheeler has bounced around the field and the lineup, starting games at third base, first base, left field and DH, and hitting in five different spots in the order before finally settling into the three-hole.
"I feel like I've got to lead the country in at-bats with runners on second and third," said Wheeler, 23. "It's been a fun year. It's been fun hitting behind them."
If Wheeler's RBI total is eye-popping, consider Eaton has scored 90 runs, and he didn't even join the team until April 18. The undersized outfielder opened the year in Mobile, hitting .300 and scoring 11 times in 11 games. That was just a warmup for his PCL performance. The 23-year-old immediately claimed leadoff duty and won't give up the role until he graduates to the big leagues. He has 32 walks, giving him a .457 on-base percentage, second in the league only to Elmore's .465.
At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Eaton has proven a lot of skeptics wrong since being selected in the 19th round of the 2010 draft as a senior out of Miami (Ohio).
"It's been there through every step of my baseball career," Eaton says. "You always take something away from someone else what they say about you, and you try to prove the person wrong and use that as fuel. I've just had a lot of fuel throughout my career."
Eaton opened his professional career by hitting .385 for Rookie-level Missoula and hasn't slowed down much since. His career average stands at .352, and rising. With 29 stolen bases and 40 extra-base hits this season, including 32 doubles, he puts himself in scoring position just about every time he steps to the plate.
"I don't have the kind of power where I hit the ball to the wall and get to second," Eaton said. "My doubles are traditionally balls down the line that there's a close play at second or a ball that's hit in the gap that I try to stretch into a double."
Elmore, 25, came into this season the least-known of the trio. After two seasons at Wallace State (Ala.) CC, he saw limited action in his only year at Arizona State in 2008, batting .111 in 45 at-bats on a club loaded with big league talent, including Jason Kipnis, Ike Davis, Brett Wallace and Mike Leake. Elmore lasted until the 34th round of the 2008 draft. While he's always drawn walks, he had a .273 career average over his first four seasons in the Diamondbacks organization. He credits the difference this season to fixing a longstanding mechanical flaw.
"My entire career I've been trying to work on really one thing, and that is not drifting to the front side, because you have no power when you drift," Elmore said. "I hit like that my entire life. I had coach after coach—every level I was at—try to fix it, and it got progressively better, and literally this year it clicked. I'm not drifting at all and it just makes hitting so much easier."
Las Vegas manager Marty Brown has already faced the Reno trio 12 times this season, so as the PCL manager tonight he said he'll be relieved to have them on his side, causing headaches for the manager in the opposite dugout.
"You've got to keep Eaton off the bases," Brown said. "And once he does get on base, you've got to watch out because Elmore knows how to handle the bat, so Brett (Butler, Reno's manager) can start runners or it makes you very cautious, and then after those two guys get on you've got to face Wheeler, who can handle the bat as well, so it's a tough trio to try to get out."
That's an understatement. Only one time all season have all three gone hitless when in the starting lineup together. If one of them doesn't get you, the other two will. At least, that's what Brown will be hoping for tonight.
Cloyd Gets All-Star Start
After tossing six perfect innings on Opening Day, righthander Tyler Cloyd
had nowhere to go but down. Which is exactly where the Phillies sent him.
Summoned to fill in as a spot starter for Triple-A Lehigh Valley when Dave Bush was slapped with a five-game suspension for an incident in spring training, Cloyd made the short journey from Double-A Reading and dazzled, retiring all 18 batters he faced before being removed due to a pitch count.
Still, it was back to Reading, where he went 6-3, 2.78 in 18 games in 2011. Four starts and three wins later, he was back in Lehigh Valley, where he continued to pitch well, compiling an 8-1, 2.01 mark in 14 starts to earn the starting nod for the International League in the Triple-A all-star game.
Cloyd, 25, has always taken pride in his ability to throw strikes, a trait that's essential for him because his fastball hits 90 mph on a good day and typically sits at 86-87. He mixes in a cutter, a changeup and a slider.
"Over the years I've just kind of learned to throw any pitch in any count, and that's probably the biggest thing that's helped me," said Cloyd, who has walked just 20 and struck out 60 while surrendering 65 hits in 90 Triple-A innings. "I'm not an overpowering guy, so for me it's getting ahead of hitters, being aggressive with them, and making them feel uncomfortable. And with that obviously being able to change speeds on them."
When the Phillies drafted Cloyd in the 18th round in 2008, the selection was a surprise even to him because he hadn't played amateur ball that season. After two years at Division II Nebraska-Omaha, he was academically ineligible and missed the season. He attended junior college and got his grades in shape—and worked out for a handful of scouts prior to the 2008 draft—but he didn't expect anything to come of it. He was prepared for a summer playing in Havasu City, Ariz., to get back in shape for a return to college. Instead he was starting a professional career.
The bigger surprise has been the way he has sprinted through the upper levels of the system. Since taking three tries to master the high Class A Florida State League, he has made things look easy at Reading and Lehigh Valley.
"I look up there and sometimes see 88, 89 miles an hour, and I see broken bats all over the field because he's getting inside on the hitters," Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Both ways, with the two-seam fastball running in on hitters and a cut fastball going the other direction. He's got movement on the ball and I think the hitters have a hard time picking that up and anticipating his ball moving the way it does because of the lack of spin that it has. It has more of a natural movement on the pitch and the hitters just don't react to it."