SL All-Stars boast plenty of Star power

Four Huntsville hitters honored while Sanchez, Redmond earn awards

(Tony Farlow/MLB.com)

By Bryan Smith / MLB.com | August 28, 2008 12:39 PM

The Huntsville Stars boasted, by far, the Southern League's top offense, so it was no surprise that the Southern League postseason All-Star roster was dominated by Huntsville position players.

The Stars make up four of the top seven spots in the Southern League batting race, and as one might expect, all four were named All-Stars. Catcher Angel Salome leads the team, and the league, with a .357 average. Third baseman Mat Gamel, who earned a late-season promotion to Nashville, leads the league with 96 RBIs while his .329 batting average puts him in fourth. Furthermore, Gamel's 19 home runs are sixth in the league, giving the third baseman a strong showing in all three Triple Crown categories.

Not left out in the postseason honors was the top of the Stars' lineup, shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielder Michael Brantley. Escobar's .330 average is third in the league, and his 34 steals on the season are good for second. The shortstop has earned rave reviews in the past for his defense, but his work with the bat this season marks career highs in nearly every offensive category. Finally, Brantley has shown a similar propensity for hits and steals, batting .317 and stealing 28 bases. Brantley also has nearly twice as many walks (48) as strikeouts (26) in 101 games.

The Stars might have had five position players on the team had the Milwaukee Brewers not traded Matt LaPorta earlier in the season. LaPorta, who joined the Cleveland Indians organization and ultimately the Olympic team, had 20 home runs and a .576 slugging percentage in 84 games with Huntsville.

The league's top slugger, Tennessee's Jake Fox, was not to be outdone, earning a spot as the league's All-Star designated hitter. Fox also spent time earlier in the year with Triple-A Iowa, where he hit six home runs and slugged .479, giving him a career-high 31 home runs on the season. Fox is one of three Smokies to earn postseason billing, tying the club with Carolina for the second-most selections in the league.

Joining Fox from the Tennessee club is outfielder Doug Deeds, who stands second behind Salome with a .335 batting average. Deeds also is second in the league with 37 doubles. Smokies infielder Nate Spears walked away with the league's esteemed "Best Hustler" award. Spears is currently batting .299, and was named a midseason All-Star in July.

Despite all this offense, none of the above would walk away with league Most Valuable Player honors. Instead, the spot was given to Carolina Mudcats first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who obviously also ended up as the All-Star at his position. Sanchez proved one of the league's most complete players, batting .320 with a .413 on-base percentage, good for second in the league. He also is second in total bases with 242 in 129 games, thanks in no small part to a league-leading 41 doubles. For good measure, Sanchez also proved an adept basestealer, swiping 17 bags this season.

Joining Sanchez from the Mudcats, who clinched the second-half North Division title on Wednesday night, are a pair of speedsters -- second baseman Chris Coghlan and outfielder John Raynor. The latter leads the league with 47 stolen bases, and also has shown good patience (.400 OBP) and power (.491 SLG) in Carolina. Coghlan makes it an all-Mudcats right side, as his 32 steals put him third in the league, and he's also walked (66) more often than he has struck out (65).

As all the aforementioned players have come from the league's North Division, it's no surprise to report the South Division was handily trumped in the All-Star list. The division walked away with all three pitcher spots, but only one position player was honored with selection.

Former No. 1 overall Draft pick David Price, who has since been promoted to Triple-A Durham, walked away as the league's All-Star southpaw. Price was 7-0 in just nine starts with the Montgomery Biscuits, allowing just 42 hits in 57 innings and striking out 55 batters. He is 11-1 with a 2.24 ERA across three levels this season.

Birmingham closer Jon Link was given the reliever All-Star spot, as his 34 saves are six higher than the league's next highest. Link has a 2.91 ERA in 54 games this season. He has also finished out a league-high 48 contests. Link has been lobbied as a potential September callup for the first-place Chicago White Sox.

The league's top pitcher was Mississippi's Todd Redmond, who was named the league's Pitcher of the Year. Redmond was 13-5 this season, and his 128 strikeouts are tied for first in the league. He is fourth in the league in ERA, ranking in the top five in all three Triple Crown categories. Redmond's 5-1 record in the second half must be considered a big reason for the team's turnaround.

In fact, the Southern League also recognized the Braves' turnaround in their All-Star selections, naming manager Phillip Wellman the Manager of the Year. When Mississippi struggled to a 30-40 first-half record, fifth in the South Division, Wellman didn't let his team give up. The Braves stormed back with a 40-25 mark in the second half, and on Wednesday, clinched a spot in the Southern League playoffs.

If the All-Star rosters predict the future, the Southern League championship should pit strength vs. strength as the offensive North battles the well-armed South.

Bryan Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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