Not many Texas League pitchers have been able to figure out what to throw Mike Moustakas
It's unfortunate for them, then, that Moustakas will be one of the many phenoms on hand at Midland's Citibank Ballpark on Wednesday night for the Texas League All-Star Game.
The 21-year-old Royals prospect leads the circuit in batting (.336), home runs (18) and RBIs (66) and is among league leaders in several other offensive categories. Considering he joined his Northwest Arkansas Naturals on April 22 -- almost three weeks into the season -- his numbers are all the more impressive.
Moustakas, who was taken with the second pick of the 2007 Draft, is in the midst of his finest year as a pro so far. He homered twice in his first Texas League game, and he's hardly looked back since. In fact, he had three two-homer games in the first half of the season, and he's homered in back-to-back games three times. It's commonly said that the biggest jump in a Minor Leaguer's trajectory is from Class A or Class A Advanced ball to the Double-A level, but if Moustakas has noticed a difference it's been to his advantage; he had 16 homers over 129 Carolina League games last year, two fewer than he has coming into the All-Star break this season.
As good as Moustakas has been, though, he's not the only hitter capable of giving Southern pitchers a headache. Springfield's Curt Smith has had a pair of two-homer games himself this season, and he's always a threat to go deep. Smith's teammate Aaron Luna, who leads the league with 38 bases-on-balls and has 11 homers and 40 RBIs, and Northwest Arkansas' Clint Robinson are capable of inflating the score, too.
If any collection of hurlers can stop Moustakas and the Northern Division lineup, though, it's the staff of the Southern Division All-Star team.
Corpus Christi's Douglas Arguello leads the circuit with a 2.39 ERA, and his seven wins and 74 strikeouts also have spots on the leaderboard. The left-handed Astros prospect could be just what the doctor ordered against Moustakas and company -- Arguello has allowed just one home run in 94 1/3 innings this season. Fellow Hooks hurler Jordan Lyles had been all but untouchable prior to his June 25 start, in which he gave up four runs in six innings. Over his three previous starts, he'd allowed just one run in 18 innings of work, all the while piling up 21 strikeouts.
Wins leader Blake Beavan (10-4, 2.50) of Frisco is another potential roadblock for Northern Division hitters. San Antonio's Craig Italiano, who leads the league in saves and has been one of the most dominant closers at the Double-A level this season, would love to shut the door in this game.
The Northern Division's staff is anchored by Naturals southpaw Edgar Osuna, who's 2.59 ERA trails only Arguello and Beavan. Tulsa's Bruce Billings, who last pitched on Friday night, has held opponents to a .225 batting average in 2010.
The Southern Division lineup, in the meantime, also boasts several imposing sluggers. The Hooks' Koby Clemens and the Missions' Matt Clark have a combined 30 home runs and 102 RBIs coming into the All-Star break, making for quite a tandem. Look for each of them to get some good wood on the ball. Midland's Alex Valdez, who will be playing in front of hometown fans, is among league leaders in runs scored.
In a game between two teams as well-balanced as these, the difference is likely going to be the big hits. If the Southern Division pitchers can't find a way to contain the likes of Moustakas and Robinson -- and that remains an unanswered question -- they can at least hope the Northern Division hurlers get just as much trouble from Clemens, Clark and the rest of the Southern Division hitters.