Notes From the SAL All-Star Game

ROME, Ga.–The South Atlantic League all-star game was not as prospect-heavy as it would have been if Henry Sosa hadn’t been promoted, Clayton Tanner sat out because he just pitched on Saturday and Tommy Hanson and Kyle Drabek missed the game with injuries. But as with any Class A all-star game, there were still enough prospects around to make for an interesting evening.

BAPR Plus will return next week when we have the College World Series completed, but until then, here’s some notes from Rome, where the rains thankfully finished up in time for us to get in nine innings.

• You’ve all heard the old cliche that “this player looks like a bat boy.” In the case of Kris Medlen, it’s really true. As I talked to Rome manager Randy Ingle about his closer, I noticed he was gesturing to the guy in Braves gear sitting in the chair in front of us. Until then, I had thought that it was one of the Rome bat boys eating some post-game grub.

But while Medlen isn’t exactly physically imposing at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, his arm is intimidating. Medlen’s fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range, but his curveball is his calling card. Medlen struck out both batters he faced on Tuesday night with the curveball. His strikeout of Greensboro’s Logan Morrison was especially impressive, as he fell behind in the count, but demonstrated his ability to throw his curveball for strikes, dropping a 3-1 hammer over to work the count full. After Morrison fouled off a couple of fastballs, Medlen went back to the curveball, leaving Morrison helpless for his second K.

• Unless you are a serious prospect follower, you may have never heard of South Division starter Kevin Pucetas. One of five Augusta starters who ranks in the top 10 in the league in ERA, Pucetas is accustomed to being in the shadows after being drafted in the 17th round last year out of Division II Limestone (S.C.) College.

Last year he went 7-1, 2.17 with short-season Salem-Keizer, but that doesn’t get you noticed when teammate Adam Cowart is going 10-1, 1.08. This year Pucetas has gone 8-1, 1.54, meaning his career statistics are now a sparkling 15-2, 1.86 with 112 strikeouts and 26 walks in 141 innings.

But Pucetas spent the entire first half of the season on the same staff with Cowart and the now-promoted Henry Sosa. With Sosa going 6-0, 0.73 in Augusta, once again it’s hard not to be shuffled to the shadows.

But when Sosa was promoted to San Jose three days before the South Atlantic League all-star game, Pucetas finally got his chance to step into the spotlight, as he was named the fill-in starter for Sosa. Pucetas needed only seven pitches to retire the side in order in the top of the first, barely getting a chance to show off his 88-92 mph fastball, curve and changeup. While nothing in his arsenal jumps out as a clear plus pitch, he has confidence in all of them, knows how to throw downhill and can hit his spots. It’s the kind of profile that ensures Pucetas will have to prove himself each step up the ladder, but he’s passed the first two tests with ease.

Mitch Hilligoss now has a South Atlantic League all-star game MVP award to go with his 38-game hitting streak, but the Charleston third baseman knows that as impressive as his season has been, he has plenty of work to do to earn a promotion to high Class A.

The former Purdue shortstop says that he’s still getting comfortable at third base. “The ball gets on you quick at third base,” he said. “Making the throws have been an adjustment and learning where to play for different hitters.”

But Hilligoss’ biggest adjustment is trying to improve his power at the plate. He’s worked with Charleston coaches on widening his stance, and he’s also trying to improve his load at the start of his swing. It’s nothing dramatic, but Hilligoss is hoping that the tweaks will help him improve on his first-half numbers, which included a .313 average, but just a .419 slugging percentage. He had two triples and two doubles, as 73 percent of his hits were singles.

• Hilligoss’ biggest competition for the MVP award may have come from another teammate on the losing South team. Columbus center fielder Desmond Jennings went 2-for-4 with a run scored, while showing off his impressive speed. He stole third with a great jump in the fifth inning and played a very solid center field. The jump was a little sneak peek at what Jennings is working on. With his speed, Jennings can steal bags right now purely because of his 80 speed, but he knows that he needs to get better jumps as he moves up the ladder. And even in the South Atlantic League, Jennings said that the pitchers do a better job of holding runners.

“In the Appalachian League I was going on speed,” Jennings said.