A new league has proved to be no problem for the Lake County Captains.
The team's inaugural Midwest League campaign has been by all accounts a roaring success. The Captains head into the All-Star break with the league's best record, sprinting off to a 44-25 start and the first half Eastern Division championship.
But despite all that success, the team is only sending four players to this year's All-Star Game, which will be played on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Fort Wayne's Parkview Field. The most impressive part of all this is the fact that the team will be sending both of its catchers to the contest.
The team's backup catcher, Chun-Hsiu Chen will be the starting DH for the Eastern Division. He's currently one of the hottest hitters in the Midwest League, providing eye-popping offensive numbers (.318, six homers, 36 RBIs) to help lead the Captains' charge. It's going to be interesting to see how Chen adjusts to the confines of Parkview Field, as he's hitting only .245 on the road this year.
While Chen brings the bat, fellow backstop Roberto Perez brings the leather. Perez's average has been hovering around the Mendoza line all season at just over .200 but he's established himself as one of the best defensive catchers in the entire Midwest League, throwing out would-be base stealers at a 55 percent clip this season. He starts for the Captains and will back up Lansing's A.J. Jimenez for the Eastern Division.
The other Captains selected to this year's Midsummer Classic are outfielder Bo Greenwell, who is the son of former Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell, and right-handed reliever Nick Sarianides (5-2, 5.18). Pitcher Trey Haley (4-2, 4.91) was also selected to this year's team but is currently on the disabled list.
Quite a Catch: The Captains aren't the only players to keep an eye on in this year's game. Cedar Rapids Kernels outfielder Mike Trout has been living up to the hype and then some as one of the Angels' top prospects. Trout has made opposing pitchers feel like fish out of water this season, hitting them at a .364 clip while using his blazing speed to swipe 33 bases, putting him atop the league in both categories. He's one of five 2009 first-round Draft picks taking the field in this year's contest and the second youngest star at 18 years, 11 months.
But Wait, There's More!: Trout's hardly the most ballyhooed prospect taking part in the festivities though. That honor goes to Beloit outfielder Aaron Hicks. Baseball America has consistently ranked Hicks among the top prospects in the Minors, but he's struggled somewhat during his second campaign in Beloit. Hicks had a swoon during the month of May, posting an underwhelming .214 average while striking out more than once every four at-bats. Nevertheless, he's gone on a tear though in his past 10 games, hitting better than .300 with 8 doubles and 10 runs scored.
It's Been Awhile: This is the first time the All-Star Game has been held in Fort Wayne since 1994. That game featured a number of future Major Leaguers including current Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez, Mariners DH Mike Sweeney, legendary closer Billy Wagner, and Red Sox fan-favorite first basemen Kevin Millar. Current Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez was also selected to appear in that year's contest but was promoted just prior to the game. Since the game, both the Fort Wayne franchise and the Midwest League itself have undergone some drastic changes.
The team was formerly known as the Wizards and played in Memorial Stadium. Now the franchise is known as the TinCaps and plays at Parkview Field. Both facilities hosted the game in their second seasons. Meanwhile, the League itself has since expanded to include 16 teams. Also, three of the cities that were on the league's map back in 1994 (Springfield, Rockford and Madison) aren't in the league anymore, and all of the teams that are still in the league have since switched parent Major League affiliates at least once in that time.
Around the Horn: Cedar Rapids was crowned the first-half Western Division champion on Saturday after Quad Cities fell to Peoria, 7-2. The Kernels and Captains will both enjoy home-field advantage once the playoffs start thanks to their first-half titles. The Western Division will be managed by Burlington's Jim Gabella, and the Eastern Division will be managed by Fort Wayne's Jose Flores. Great Lakes and Cedar Rapids both have the most representatives on this year's squad, sending seven players each.