SEE ALSO: Midseason Top 100 Prospects
CHARLOTTE—The Triple-A all-star game has always been a mix of former big leaguers and fast-rising prospects. But the 2016 version in Charlotte saw the roster thin out of prospects in the two weeks leading up to the game.
Four of the top hitting prospects scheduled to come did not, as Josh Bell (Pirates) and Trea Turner (Nationals) were each called up, Aaron Judge (Yankees) got hurt, and Orlando Arcia (Brewers) missed for personal reasons, according to BA correspondent Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The lack of high-level bats was evident in the game, as the teams combined for just 11 hits in the International League’s 4-2 win over the Pacific Coast League.
“We saw a lot of good arms and some good defensive plays,” said International League manager Chris Tremie of Columbus (Indians). “Obviously, those guys are really good players and they’re going to have to really good careers. But the guys who were here are really talented, and it was a pleasure being around them.”
All three of Tremie’s Columbus players shone on the night, highlighted by 24-year-old shortstop Erik Gonzalez. The Indians’ No. 12 prospect turned on a hanging breaking ball from Brady Rodgers of Fresno (Astros) and hit it over the left field wall for a home run.
Then, in the ninth, Gonzalez ranged up the middle from shortstop and caught a grounder, then flipped the ball with his glove to Rochester’s Jorge Polanco—Gonzalez’s teammate with Escogido in the Dominican Winter League and the No. 97 overall prospect—to start a double play.
Columbus righthander Mike Clevinger—the No. 71 overall prospect—said he lost it on that play, and Gonzalez was extremely happy he could flash the glove and turn it with Polanco.
“I try to work on that and have fun in the game,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the key for me, to enjoy the game.”
Clevinger, meanwhile, impressed with a clean third inning, using a fastball that sat 93-94 mph, and a good slider. The Indians prospect used an 86-mph slider for the first strikeout, and froze No. 66 overall prospect Hunter Renfroe (Padres) with his best fastball of the night, a 96 mph dart on the outside corner for a called strike three.
“I felt definitely good for having a few days off,” Clevinger said. “It felt weird, especially out of the bullpen for only I think the second time this season. It was weird, but it’s been a lot of fun. This whole event has been amazing.”
The final Columbus player, Shawn Armstrong, struck out both batters he faced to end the seventh. Tremie said he was “very proud” of all three of his guys.
Twins prospect Jose Berrios—the No. 20 overall prospect—was the youngest player at the game at 22, falling one day shy of being a full year younger than the next closest guy. But Berrios pitched well in the fourth, sitting 93-95 mph on the fastball and using both of his offspeed pitches for strikes.
“You don’t have to change anything,” Berrios said. “Just do work like you do everyday. You have to make your pitches, throw down in the zone. The most important part is to have fun with a new teammate for one game.”
Berrios’ changeup was especially nasty tonight, biting down and in to get Colorado Springs catcher Manny Pina to swing and miss. Berrios got three swing-and-misses on just 20 pitches, highlighted by a swinging strikeout of Las Vegas’ Travis Taijeron with a 95-mph fastball.
“I feel pretty great with the changeup tonight,” Berrios said. “I threw it for strikes, and I’m really confident with that pitch.”
Polanco (Twins) was the only player to get multiple hits on the night, squibbing a 40-foot single in the third and blooping a double to right in the fifth.
Gonzalez’s homer was one of four on the night in Charlotte. Taijeron blasted a two-run homer to right-center in the second for both of the PCL’s runs on the night, earning him the PCL Top Star Award for the night.
Phillies catching prospect Andrew Knapp went the other way for a solo homer to left in the fourth. And Home Run Derby champion Chris Marrero destroyed a ball to center in the eighth, clearing the shrubbery that’s about 20 feet above the playing surface. The blast earned Marrero the IL Top Star Award.