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Spruill faces Northern power in All-Star Game06/22/2009 10:00 AM ET
By Josh Jackson / Special to MLB.com
When the Southern and Northern Division teams take the field Tuesday at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va., for the 50th annual South Atlantic League All-Star Game, one thing is certain: the fans will see stars.
Zeke Spruill of the Rome Braves is only 19, but he's already shown he's a serious competitor. After being picked out of a Georgia high school in the second round of the 2008 Draft, Spruill led the Gulf Coast League with seven wins and posted a 2.93 ERA last year.
Now, in his first season at the Class A level, he's been tabbed to start for the Southern Division in the All-Star Game.
Spruill (7-3) has had little trouble putting down league hitters so far, putting up a 3.33 ERA over 11 starts and 12 appearances -- picking up a save in his one relief outing. The right-hander threw eight shutout innings against the Lexington Legends on May 8, and he's only allowed more than three runs in a game once this season.
Although Spruill clearly deserves the honor of starting the All-Star Game, he was hardly the only legitimate candidate after the promotion of Boston prospect Casey Kelly from the Greenville Drive to the Carolina League's Salem Red Sox. Supporting Spruill on the Southern Division staff will be standout hurlers such as Charleston's Hector Noesi (3-4, 2.44 ERA), Lexington's Robert Bono (6-4, 2.27 ERA) and Savannah's Robert Carson (4-5, 2.63 ERA).
Of course, the Southern Division team can also look forward to summoning Charleston's Pat Venditte out of the bullpen. Venditte, the ambidextrous pitcher the Yankees grabbed in the '08 Draft, leads the league with 20 saves and has 39 strikeouts and one walk in 28 2/3 innings. He's allowed only three earned runs thus far for a 0.91 ERA.
Offensively, the Southern Division will look for help from Bowling Greens' Tim Beckham, Asheville's Jordan Pacheco, league batting leader Tim Federowicz (Greenville) and league home run leader Melky Mesa (Charleston).
The Northern Division, in the meantime, can count on solid pitching from Hagerstown's Marcos Frias (4-2, 2.65 ERA), Lakewood's Tyler Cloyd (7-3, 3.05 ERA) and Greensboro's Johnny Dorn (7-5, 3.15 ERA). While Cloyd and Dorn each started Saturday and aren't likely to turn in long performances in Tuesday's game, the presence of both will give the club a boost.
Frias, who was roughed up for four runs -- only two earned -- by Lakewood on June 18, is likely to start. While he's only gone longer than five innings in four of his 11 starts, he's held opponents to a .238 batting average and has 55 strikeouts compared to 15 walks on the season. Frias has also never surrendered more than three earned runs in an outing this year.
While such a pitching staff gives any team a good chance to win, the Northern squad's real power is, well, it's power. With Hickory teammates Michael Bianucci and Erik Morrison, Hagerstown catcher Derek Norris and Greensboro first baseman Ben Laseter in the lineup, the Northern team can rely on big swings and longballs to get runs across the plate.
Bianucci, Norris, Morrison and Laseter are all among the league leaders in slugging percentage, and Bianucci and Norris have been among the league's home run leaders throughout the season. Laseter and Bianucci are also paving the way in extra-base hits.
Savannah outfielder Sean Ratliff, who has seven big flies this season, will look to power the Southern team, and he'll be joined by Mesa (14 homers), Pacheco (7) and Augusta's Juan Perez (7).
The Northern team will send Bianucci, Laseter and Greensboro's Justin Bass to the plate in the home run derby. Bass has 11 home runs this season, and 17 of his 46 hits in '09 have been for extra bases. West Virginia's Calvin Anderson, who has seven homers this season, will also be swinging for the Northern cause. Norris, who's hammered 14 bombs, may also participate.
More is at stake than divisional pride. The contest is divided into two rounds of 10 outs per batter. In the first round of the derby, players representing the winning division will be treated to dinner at Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center in the neighboring town of Nitro, W.Va.
Only the top three sluggers from the first round move on to the second round, and the champion will be awarded a "Road Trip Prize Package," which will include an MP3 player, noise canceling headphones and a portable DVD player.
The winner of the bash contest, though, may not even be a member of any South Atlantic League team -- the Power have announced that a local high school player will participate in Slugfest.
More than a game
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.