Minor League Sports Report Names First-Team American Association All-Stars
On Monday the American Association named its Post-Season All-Star team. Today, I, Minor League Sports Report Senior Baseball Editor Robert Pannier, name my own selections for the top players at each position. While there are many selections I agree with, there are some where I have made different choices.
Let’s start by establishing that my criteria is a little different than that of the American Association. To begin with, a position player must have made at least 65 starts at the position to be considered, this is why Abel Nieves was not selected as the third baseman by me. He made just 53 starts at third, and played primarily second base after the Wichita Wingnuts acquired him. There were two exceptions to this rule. Catchers only needed to have 60 games behind the plate because of the rigors of the position. To be selected for DH a player could have played any position.
Secondly, high batting average is not my primary factor in making a selection. It is one of many. I gave a lot of attention to runs and RBI, because they not only show a propensity to get in position to score, but also demonstrate an ability to plate runners when given the chance. Stolen bases also played a part in my decision as did fielding. I wanted well-rounded players.
Lastly, for position players, how they performed in the last month played a part for me in my decision making. There were literally ten teams that had a shot at making the playoffs coming out of the All-Star break. How a player performed to keep his team in the hunt demonstrated whether they deserved this honor or not.
For pitchers, I also included how they performed down the stretch, but there were other factors as well. For starters I considered their number of quality starts, and how many non-quality starts they had. I also looked at total wins they had in comparison to the win total of the team, and how many games the team won in starts they made.
Each position has choices I examined, and a first and second team selection. In addition, in parenthesis is the player that the American Association selected.
Catcher – While not an exceptional group of catchers in the American Association, there is a fairly solid group that deserved consideration. This group includes the Wichita Wingnuts Chris McMurray, Winnipeg Goldeyes Luis Alen, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Travis Higgs, Todd Jennings of the Sioux City Explorers, Gary Southshore RailCats Ryan Babineau and the Amarillo Sox Jeff Farnham. Farnham struggled in the last two weeks of the season, as did Jennings. That leaves just four. All have numbers to back up their selection. Alen has been a consistent run-producer all year, hitting .289 with six home runs and 50 RBI. McMurray established himself as the most solid defensive catcher in the league, and he hit .261 with 44 runs scored and 60 RBI. Higgs only has 24 runs scored and 25 RBI, but to close out the season he hit well in his last 10 games, going 16-40. Babineau hit in 12 of 13 games before the last game of the season. He was 19 for 49 in the span and finished the season with a .292 average with 40 runs and 55 RBI.
First Team: Babineau, Second Team: McMurray (McMurray)
First Base – This is a group where three guys really stand out, but two others deserve to be mentioned. Henry Wrigley was an All-Star for the Saints, but he struggled after the break, and finished the season with Gary. Sioux Falls Canaries A.J. Kirby-Jones has carried a big stick with 23 HR and 69 RBI. He has also walked 50 times and scored 54 runs. Alonso, Haerther and Gac remain, and these are three guys who all have a strong case to make to be the selection. Haerther was leading the league in hitting for much of the year, but going hitless in six of eight games in the last week causing his average to drop 15 points. He did finish second in the league, and added 13 HR and 72 RBI. Before his final four games of the year John Alonzo was 1-14 in the previous four. However in the last four he hit 6-13 with 3 runs and 8 RBI. He finished with a .344 average and 17 HR and 66 RBI. Gac went hitless in his last two games, but that was after his team had clinched the division title. Prior to that he was a hitting machine driving the team toward that title. He led the league in home runs with 27, drove in 77 and scored 63 runs while hitting .349. His last 10 games he went 16-37 with 14 runs, 15 RBI and six home runs.
First Team: Gac, Second Team: Alonso (Haerther)
Second Base – This is one of the easiest decisions simply because Lemurs second baseman Travis Denker had such a monster year. The Wingnuts Jake Kahaulelio was having a great year before getting hurt, and may have made this an incredibly difficult decision to make, but a thumb injury ended his season about a month ago. The RedHawks C.J. Retherford had an outstanding season as well. He hit .312 with 53 runs scored and 72 RBI in 99 games, plus he led the league with 40 doubles. Retherford had an absolutely great last two weeks of the year. In his last 11 games he was 21-45 with 12 runs and 9 RBI. It was a great end to the season, but Denker proved to be the class of the league. He finished with 25 home runs and 85 RBI, which led the league. He also scored 78 runs and had 43 extra-base hits. He did struggle down the stretch, going 7 for his last 40 with just one home run in his last 10 games, however, the body of work earned him the top mark.
First Team: Denker, Second Team: Retherford (Denker)
Third Base – This is a bit of a tough decision as well, because not many of the top hitters played the requisite 65 games at third so they could be considered. Two had solid seasons, the Wingnuts Chris McClendon and Kansas City’s TJ Mittelstaedt. While McClendon has the higher batting average (.296 to .268), Mittelstaedt had 16 home runs to McClendon’s 2. Both were hot down the stretch as well, Mittelstaedt was 12 for his last 37, with 12 runs and 9 RBI. McClendon was 12-34 with 8 runs and 8 RBI. The primary difference between the two is the run producing numbers. MIttelstaedt has 74 runs scored and 52 RBI, plus he has walked a league leading 92 times.
First Team: Mittelstaedt, Second Team: McClendon (Nieves)
Shortstop – There are a lot of great shortstops in the league, but two had outright exceptional seasons, Winnipeg’s Tyler Kuhn and Wichita’s Ryan Khoury. Khoury is one of the two best lead-off men in the league, hitting .315 and is second in the league with 87 runs scored. He also has 39 extra-base hits, 61 RBI and 12 home runs. While those numbers are impressive, he did an amazing job in the lead-off role with the Wingnuts, posting a .436 OBP and stealing 31 bases. Kuhn is an offensive machine himself. He finished second in batting average at .360 with 70 runs scored and 56 RBI. He finished 10th in OBP at .415. While Kuhn was one of the most dominant middle of the order hitters in the league, Koury has proven to be a threat in every aspect of the game, including that he is an outstanding defensive player as well.
First Team: Khoury, Second Team: Kuhn (Kuhn)
Outfielders – This is another deep group, but six have distinguished themselves a little more. St. Paul Saints Willie Cabrera does not have the huge run producing numbers, scoring 48 runs and driving in 39. He did hit 12 home runs and batted .317. What made him standout was his last month to the season. He hit 8 home runs in August, including three in one game, and had 21 RBI. Brian Joynt had a great year for Lincoln, hitting .307 with 59 runs scored, 10 home runs and 58 RBI. He did an amazing job of protecting Gac in the order. The RailCats Drew Martinez was fourth in the league in batting at .358 and added 64 runs and 62 RBI. He also hit 13-36 in his last 10 games. The Lemurs Nick Van Stratten challenges Khoury for the recognition as the top lead-off man in the league. He finished at .349 with 81 runs scored and 49 RBI. He also stole 19 bases and was 14 for his last 35 with nine runs scored. Van Stratten is not the only Lemurs outfielder having a huge season. Denis Phipps finished at .335 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI. He ended the season on a five-game winning streak, going 8-20 with 5 runs. Wingnuts outfielder Brent Clevlen is the leading MVP candidate, ranking in the top ten in several offensive categories, including batting average (1st), runs scored (7th), RBI (2nd), home runs (4th), doubles (2nd) and OBP (2nd).
First Team: Clevlen, Van Stratten, Martinez, Second Team: Joynt, Phipps, Cabrera (Clevlen, Van Stratten, Martinez)
Designated Hitter – Of the players I have addressed so far there are two that hve not been mentioned, because they did not technically fit into a category. The Wingnuts Abel Nieves is one. Nieves started out with Grand Prairie, where he was playing third, but after being dealt to Wichita he moved to second, making him ineligible for either spot. He finished sixth in the league with a .354 batting average, scored 52 runs and had 45 RBI. He was incredibly hot after being acquired from the AirHogs, hitting .558 in 12 games with 11 runs scored and 10 RBI. Gary’s Dan Pulfer is another option. He proved his versatility, playing all over the infield and was a huge table-setter at the plate. He hit .307, and led the league with 82 runs scored and he drove in 61. He also added 47 walks.
First Team: Haerther, Second Team: Nieves (Gac)
Starter – Jon Link may have been the runaway winner of this selection, but he joined the Miami Marlins organization two weeks ago opening the door for four other candidates, including two of his former teammates. Wingnuts starter Tim Brown has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the league. He is tied for fifth in the league in wins with 10 and is third with a 3.12 ERA. He has had quality starts in his last nine outings. Of his 20 starts, 16 have been quality starts. His teammate Jason Van Skike tied for the league lead in wins with 12. The big right-hander did not start the season in the rotation, but quickly proved he deserved a place there. Nine of his 15 starts were quality outings, and the Wingnuts won 10 of his starts. The Goldeyes Nick Hernandez was tied with Van Skike with 12 wins. He made 20 starts, pitching two shutouts. He was hit hard in this first three starts, but was virtually unhittable afterward. He finished second in the league with a 3.05 ERA. Hernandez won his first five decisions, then lost two, but has won his last seven. Lincoln’s Marquis Fleming was tied for fifth with 10 wins. He won his last six decisions. He had 13 quality starts in his 19 starts. He also was the winning pitcher of the All-Star game.
First Team: Hernandez, Second Team: Fleming (Hernandez)
Closer – With the amazing year that Lincoln’s Marshall Schuler had and the fact that former Wingnuts closer Matt Nevarez was signed by the Pirates organization, this has become a one horse race. Schuler set an American Association record for saves in a season with 34, but did have a troubling 4.26 ERA. The Lincoln closer comes through when needed, including saving five games in five days from the 3rd through the 7th of August. The race for second is between new Wingnuts closer Dan Sattler and Winnipeg’s Chris Kissock. Sattler finished with an outstanding 1.84 ERA and 22 saves between Wichita and St. Paul. He has only given up 25 hits in 44 innings, but has also walked 35, while striking out 60. Kissock has saved 17 and has a quality 3.18 ERA. He has struck out 45 in 45.1 innings of work, and has saved five games in his last nine appearances.
First Team: Schuler, Second Team: Sattler (Schuler)
Rob will be naming his league award winners later this week:
Thursday: Manager of the Year
Friday: Pitcher of the Year
Saturday: American Association MVP
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA