by: Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti)
After exactly one month, the ValleyCats have cruised out to a New York-Penn League-best 22-8, holding a six game lead over the Vermont Lake Monsters. The team has simply been dominant in almost every category (click here to see why this might be the best ValleyCat team of all time). Stellar pitching, aggressive base running, and timely hitting are the main reasons why this team has built this early lead. They have put together winning streaks of 11, seven, and are currently riding an 11-game road game streak heading into a quick two-game series with Vermont on Thursday. If this kind of baseball continues you’re not only talking about one of the seasons in ValleyCat history, but maybe one of the best in NYPL history.
In almost a month from today Mahoning Valley will play host to the 2012 NYPL All-Star Game, which got me thinking. How many players on this current team have a shot of making the “National League” roster?
In terms of position players, you have to assume that outfielder Andrew Aplin is the only sure-fire All-Star on this ValleyCats roster (we’ll get to others in a minute). In his first season of professional baseball, Aplin leads the league in batting average, on-base plus slugging (OPS), on-base percentage, and stolen bases (he’s a disappointing second overall in slugging percentage). He has hit in every spot in the top third of the line up and produced superbly, been a leader in the clubhouse, and has done whatever it takes to make sure the team comes away with a “W”. He has done all of that while playing a stellar center field, seemingly snagging everything that has been hit his way.
You could make the argument that Aplin is the MVP of the league right now. It’s funny to think that after seeing State College Spike outfielder Barrett Barnes in person, that Aplin is the no-doubt starting center fielder for the NL squad.
You could seemingly name the entire ValleyCats starting rotation and bullpen to the NL in the All-Star team and feel good about it. They have the best ERA in the league at 2.25, almost a half-run better than Batavia. Now, putting the entire Tri-City pitching staff on the team might be a little ridiculous, you better believe that a few of them will be penciled onto the roster on August 14.
Aaron West and Brady Rodgers are two starters that I expect to be on the roster, and I believe both have a shot at starting the game for the NL side. West has been almost perfect this season. He has gone 3-0 in his first five starts, logging a 1.14 ERA in 23.2 IP. He has shown great control, a 19:2 K:BB ratio, and has an even more impressive WHIP (0.63). Rodgers, who might be the most polished of the starters, is a measly 3-1 with a 1.37 ERA. Rodgers is tied for the team lead in strikeouts (28), and has shown exceptional command of both sides of the play with his wide assortment of pitches.
Blake Ford, who is close to breaking the ValleyCats all-time record in saves (10), is another ‘Cats pitcher I fully expect to be donning a Tri-City uniform in the game. Ford has been perfect on the mound this year, closing out all nine attempts for saves. He has been quietly effective, with some fans calling him the ‘Cats version of Yankees great closer Mariano Rivera. Ford is currently the league-leader in saves.
Catfish Elkins and Vincent Velasquez have strong cases to be selected to the All-Star Game in Mahoning Valley. Elkins is second in the league in batting average and in hits, while rounding out the top three in stolen bases. Clearly he has a case, but there are second baseman behind him who might get selected to avoid favoritism. Velasquez, like Rodgers, is 3-1, but has a slightly higher ERA at 2.39 (landing him just outside the top 10). When he is on, he might have the best pure stuff on the team. But sometimes he keeps hitters in it by surrendering two-strike hits. The 20-year old might have the highest ceiling of anyone on the team.
Someone that might not get an equal shot to make the team, but really should get more notice. When it comes to getting other lefties out, he has been the best lefty reliever in the league this year. He has faced 15 left-handed batters so far and retired them all, including nine strikeouts. But lately, he has started to really take it to righties as well (.154 opposing BA), which only boosts his shot in my book. In his last ten outings (8.0 IP), Long has only allowed two base runners (one hit and one walk).
The ‘Cats have the best record in the league and are deserving of the most spots on the National League roster. If it were up to me, there would be at least six players representing Tri-City in this year’s All-Star Game.