One of the more notable aspects of this season's Carolina/California League All-Star Game is not the players on the field, but the field itself.
Few are complaining this summer about having to make the trip to Myrtle Beach for Tuesday's midsummer classic, even though the Pelicans are hosting it for the second time in three years. Myrtle Beach is a replacement venue for the contest, having offered to host in 2008 when Potomac passed up its turn. The game, which alternates locations between the two leagues, was due to be hosted by Winston-Salem, but construction delays on the Dash's new ballpark changed plans.
"The only team who thought they could do it was Myrtle Beach, and they stepped forward and saved the day," Carolina League president John Hopkins told the Myrtle Beach Sun News. "So it was a tremendous service to the league that they were able to host. Myrtle Beach did a tremendous job in 2008 and it's a great venue. We have one of the best playing surfaces in Minor League baseball there, everybody enjoys going to the beach."
The beach aside, the game is shaping up to showcase some of the elite talent at the Class A Advanced level. The California League, known for big offensive seasons, will likely face expected Carolina starter T.J. McFarland, a former fourth-round pick who is 7-2 with a 1.98 ERA with Kinston.
Only one pitcher in the Cal League has numbers to compete with that: San Jose's Craig Westcott, who is undefeated with five wins and leads the circuit with a 1.55 ERA in a dozen starts. So it's only fitting that Westcott will get the start for the Cal League squad.
The Cal League's top hitter, San Jose's Brandon Belt takes his .392 average to Myrtle Beach as one of the hottest bats in the visitors' lineup. The 2009 fifth-round pick has nine homers and ranks second in the league with 58 RBIs.
High Desert first baseman Rich Poythress leads the Cal League with 65 RBIs and ranks second with 14 home runs, forming a powerful combo with Belt in the middle of the lineup.
The 2008 Carolina/California All-Star Game was anything but an offensive showcase, though -- Carolina's Edgardo Baez hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to lead Carolina to a 3-1 win. The '09 edition featured typical California power when Jon Gaston, who led the Minors in homers last year, was named the All-Star MVP after hitting a walk-off shot in the 10th to give the West Coast crew a 2-1 victory.
Myrtle Beach manager Rocket Wheeler will lead the Carolina squad from his familiar dugout, and you can bet he'll give his prized ace, Julio Teheran, an opportunity on the mound. Teheran (3-1, 1.38 ERA) struck out 12 over seven shutout innings in his last start.
The Carolina League also has its share of hitters, including former No. 3 overall pick Eric Hosmer, the Royals' top selection in 2008. Hosmer leads the league with a .356 average.
Salem catcher Ryan Lavarnway is having a huge year for the Red Sox to date and leads the league with 14 homers and 54 RBIs.
It's a safe bet that no one will be looking forward to facing Lake Elisnore closer Brad Brach, who has 37 strikeouts in 33 innings to go along with a league-leading 25 saves. The 6-foot-6 right-hander was MLB.com's Class A Relief Pitcher of the Year last season.
Belt and San Jose teammate Juan Perez are among the five Cal Leaguers who will participate in the Home Run Derby before the game at BB&T Park, which has yielded just 38 homers in 2010, the third-fewest in the Carolina League. The derby shapes up like this:
- Michael Burgess (Potomac Nationals)
- Ryan Lavarnway, Oscar Tejeda (Salem Red Sox)
- Justin Greene, Seth Loman (Winston-Salem Dash)
- Brandon Belt, Juan Perez (San Jose Giants)
- Drew Cumberland, Blake Tekotte (Lake Elsinore Storm)
- Rich Poythress (High Desert Mavericks)
The game will be televised live on MiLB.TV
for fans who couldn't make it to the beach this week.
"It's like the Vegas of the Carolina League," Potomac general manager Jon Griffiths told the Sun News. "I don't think you'll hear any general managers complain about having to go there."