Forty-three players have donned a Power uniform and been selected to be South Atlantic League All-Stars, including Major League stars such as Gregory Polanco, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. This season, four more players were added to that list.
Mitch Keller, Tito Polo and Ke'Bryan Hayes were all initially tabbed to represent the Power in the 2016 South Atlantic League All-Star-Game in Lexington, Kentucky. Keller was named the starting pitcher and Polo the starting left fielder while Hayes was chosen as a utility infielder. After injuries and promotions across the league, Hayes was elevated to start at third base and Daniel Arribas was added to the Northern Division roster as the starting first baseman.
Keller is having one of the best seasons among all South Atlantic League pitchers. The right-hander has used pinpoint command and a devastating fastball-curveball combination to rank among the league leaders in strikeouts and fewest walks. For Keller, the accomplishment is a little sweeter after enduring an injury riddled last season.
The 20-year-old did not throw his first pitch of 2015 until August because of a forearm injury. Once healthy, Keller struggled to find a rhythm after joining the Pirates rookie ball affiliate in Bristol, posting an 0-3 record with a 5.49 earned run average.
This year, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native has returned to form. As of June 16, he's sixth in the league with a 2.42 ERA and fourth in strikeouts with 76.
"It's definitely a little more satisfying this year after bouncing back from last season," Keller said. "It just builds my confidence that much more and hopefully I can build on that for the second part of the season. Once last season ended and I got into instructional league, I really cleared my mind, cleaned up some mechanical stuff and got back to what I was trying to do."
In 2016, Keller has established a different mindset when he's on the mound, one more similar to his prep days when he was the second best prospect in the state of Iowa, than when he was recovering from injury in 2015. He's trusting his pitches and attacking the strike zone with a flurry.
"The season has been really rewarding. I've just come in with same the mentality I had in high school. I was a little timid last year and coming in this year having that mentality I had before has been huge for me."
The former second round pick by the Pirates in 2014 adds the All-Star game nod to the growing list of 2016 accomplishments, having already been named as the South Atlantic League Player-of-the-Month for April. The right-hander allowed just two runs over 28 innings during the month, including fifteen consecutive scoreless innings to start the year.
Keller is now the second member of his family to play in the mid-summer classic, joining his older brother Jon, a pitcher in the Orioles organization, who went as a member of the Delmarva Shorebirds in 2014.
"If it's anything like I've heard from my brother, then it's going to be really fun."
Similar to Keller, Polo's accomplishment is especially gratifying following a disappointing 2015 campaign. The 21-year-old is enjoying a breakout season in his second tour in the South Atlantic League. The Colombia native led the Pirates organization with 46 steals in 2015, however he hit .236 with three home runs.
"I wasn't very happy with my results last season and I had a lot to work on," Polo explained through a translator. "I spent the offseason working in instructs and in Colombia to improve the areas I needed to get better in. I feel the All-Star game is a result of that hard work."
Polo has blasted away any residual concern from last season, belting himself into a tie for second in the league with 12 home runs at the break. Though he was selected to start in left field for the Northern Division, the Power centerfielder has now coupled his always flashy glove with a powerful bat.
"It's a blessing," Polo said of being selected to represent the Power in Lexington. "I've been working really hard since spring training, so I'm going to really try to enjoy it."
Polo has been part of two All Star games in the past, first in the Dominican Summer League in 2013 and in the 2015 offseason in Colombia playing winter ball. Prior to this season the most home runs Polo had hit in a single minor league season was three, and he has blown past that number in 2016.
"Ever since the offseason, I've been focusing on low line drives. I haven't given myself any goals on homers or doubles or anything," he explained. "Every time I go up I'm just trying to hit the ball hard. I'm just going to keep trying to hit low line drives, and, if they go out, they go out."
Polo is not the only player taking pride in his success. His teammates have also enjoyed getting front row seats to one of the best shows in the league.
"It's really fun watching Tito from the dugout knowing every at bat could potentially be a big one," Keller noted. "He's really given our team a surge."
While Keller and Polo are having fantastic seasons, neither came to the club with quite as much fanfare as Hayes, the 32nd overall pick of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft and ninth rated prospect in the Pirates organization according to Baseball America. The 19-year-old is one of the youngest players in the league and has become a mainstay both at third base and in the middle of the West Virginia order.
"I'm really honored to be selected especially in my first full season and I'm excited to represent the Power, the Pirates, and my family."
Hayes has made a stark impression to almost anyone who has watched him play this season, as evidence by the peers who voted for him.
"It makes it even more special that it's all the coaches around the league that choose who they think is the best," he mentioned. "I'm honored to be able to play in the game."
Arribas was added to the festivities just before the final weekend of the first half. The first baseman performed well during the half to garner enough votes to be the choice to replace Greensboro's Josh Naylor, who received and promotion to High-A Jupiter. Arribas has also been tabbed as an All-Star in each of his last two seasons.
Trainer Dom Cappozzo was also tabbed to respresent the Power.
Of the 43 previous Power players who have been selected for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game since 2005, 19 have gone on to play in the Majors. While All-Star honors are no guarantee, the accolades will help boost a player's baseball resume and are a tribute to performances well done. Congratulations are well deserved for all four players and the athletic trainer.