Wilmington, DE - The Wilmington Blue Rocks had six players named to the 2017 Carolina League Northern Division All-Star team, the Carolina League office announced Monday. Shortstop Nicky Lopez , outfielder Anderson Miller and pitchers Foster Griffin, Cristian Castillo, Richard Lovelady, and Yunior Marte, have been named to represent the Northern Division All-Star team. The mid-summer classic will be held on Tuesday, April 20 at Hayley Toyota Field in Salem, Virginia as the best players from the Northern Division will play against the premier players in the Southern Division. The six members of the Blue Crew selected is the most since 2011 when Wilmington had five mid-season All-Stars.
Lopez has shined in just his second year in professional baseball. A product of Creighton University, Lopez bypassed Low-A Lexington and has flourished as a top talent in the Carolina League. The 22-year-old ranks in the top-ten in the league in many offensive categories including batting average, at-bats, hits, triples, on-base percentage and is also the toughest batter to strikeout in the league.
Through his 59 games this year, he has recorded a hit in all but nine of them while reaching base in all but five contests. He paces the team in batting average (.314), runs scored (38), and third on the team in stolen bases (13).
"He's a good baseball player," Blue Rocks manager Jamie Quirk said. "He does well with everything. Offensively, defensively, he's a prototypical lead-off hitter. I don't think it matters that it's his first full year or that he is in High-A. He can play and when you can play, it shows. Anything he does on the field doesn't surprise me."
Miller had a tough start to the year, but turned his season around and put together a memorable month of May. After hitting .188 after the first month of the season, the Lexington, KY native turned into one of the best hitters in the league for a 30-game stretch. From April 14 to May 15, the outfielder put together an impressive 30-game on-base streak which still stands as the longest streak in the league this year and the fourth-longest in the circuit over the last three seasons. The 30-gamer was three games shy of the franchise record set by Eric Hosmer who reached base in 33 straight games in 2010. Miller has played all three spots in the outfield this year and has six outfield assists. Offensively, he is tied for the team lead in home runs (7), second in stolen bases (14), third in walks (31), and third in runs scored (30).
"He's been outstanding considering his April was really poor. I didn't think we would be having this conversation in April, but in May he tuned up his game," Quirk said on the returning outfielder. He drove in runs, he got some power going and he's a guy that can play all three outfield positions. He hit in the three hole almost all year and he has taken his game to another level and he definitely deserves to be on the team."
Moving to the mound, the Rocks have four arms that will represent the team with three of them being able to play in the game. Griffin earned a selection, although he won't be able to participate in the contest, after he turned in a tremendous month and a half of the season. Griffin was tabbed the Opening Day starter for the Blue Rocks and continued to prove that he was the ace of the staff posting a 4-2 record with a 2.86 ERA in 10 starts. He held opponents to a .210 batting average and struck out 60 men while walking just 20 before earning a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas on May 29.
"It's a big step for him. He struggled here last year to be honest. He struggled with command and confidence. I think the biggest thing for Griffin was that we gave him the Opening Day start. He took it and said I'm the guy. I think that gave him confidence, made him think they believe in me and he has been great ever since," Quirk said on the former ace for the Rocks.
The other starter who made the All-Star roster is another left-handed hurler for the Rocks in Castillo. He doesn't have dominating stuff on the mound, but steadily, he continues to collect the accolades throughout his career. After earning the Dominican Summer League and Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year Awards in 2015 and 2016, respectively, the Monterrey, Mexico native has a Carolina-League All-Star nod to add to his impressive resume. The lefty has posted a 3-3 record this season with a 3.13 ERA which is the ninth-lowest ERA in the league among starting pitchers. In the course of his starts, Castillo has lasted five innings or more in 10 of his 12 starts and has allowed three earned runs or less in 11 of them.
"It's outstanding that Castillo made it. He's the fifth starter in the rotation because he was picked fifth to try and split the left handers when we had three lefties in the rotation to start the year. It was no reflection of his ability. He just goes about his business. He doesn't light up the radar gun or wow anybody, but he does have a quality fastball, a great breaking ball, a great change up," Quirk praised.
The bullpen has been a strong suit all season long for the Rocks and they have two of the best late-inning arms in the league with Lovelady and Marte. A hard-throwing southpaw, Lovelady has been simply dominant out of the bullpen, primarily pitching in the late innings of the ballgame in majority of his appearances. The Kennesaw State product has an impressive strike out to walk ratio with 30 strikeouts to just two walks. He has a sterling 1.44 ERA in 25 innings of work while holding opponents to a .198 contact clip. In addition, he paces the team with his five saves.
"He has been dominant. The knock on Lovelady was if he was able to compose himself to consistently throw strikes. This year, that has never been an issue. He trusts his fastball, mixes in a little breaking ball and changeup and he just continues to pound the strike zone," Quirk said. "I don't want to say he surprised anybody because everyone knows what his stuff is. It was a matter of being able to contain it and use it in the zone and he has done that."
Marte, a hard-throwing righty from the Dominican Republic has been very stingy, yielding the fifth-lowest batting average against of any Carolina League reliever with opposing hitters hitting just .187 against him. He paces the bullpen with 36 strikeouts while posting an impressive 1.95 ERA in 16 appearances. He is tied for second on the team with four saves.
"Marte is a high-leverage, high-energy pitcher with a plus fastball and a plus breaking ball. He's not afraid to use his breaking ball at any time," Quirk said regarding Marte's pitching arsenal. Everybody thinks he's just going to pound the zone with his 95 m.p.h. fastball, but he can throw his curveball whenever he wants. He's a guy with high expectations in the Royals' organization. I don't want to say he put himself on the map because everybody in our organization knew about him, but he's taken it to another level."
The Wilmington Blue Rocks visit the Lynchburg Hillcats on Monday, June 12 to begin a four-game, three-day series. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. with RHP Andres Machado (2-5, 5.01 ERA) gets the start for the Rocks while RHP Aaron Civale (1-1, 2.61 ERA) makes the start for the Hillcats. Fans can listen to the game as Matt Janus and Cory Nidoh have the call on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
25 Years of Blue Rocks Baseball
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