Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sights and Sounds from the South Atlantic League All Star Game

Tuesday night in Columbia, SC was the perfect night to be a baseball nerd. It was the 2017 South Atlantic League All Star Game. The night was far from perfect. A steady rain kept most folks at home and it led to a seven inning game that ended in a tie. Bud Selig is somewhere wincing. 

Despite the weather, a collection of talented young players were all in one place. Which of these players will end up being the biggest star in MLB in say 14 years? I had my eye on two of them. Cristian Pache of the Rome Braves and Alec Hansen of the Kannapolis Intimidators. 

Pache is just 18 years old, plays centerfield and is part of a loaded Atlanta Braves farm system. He is real smooth, plays older than his age and reminds me of a young Andruw Jones with more speed. He went 1-3 in the All Star Game and is batting .300 on the season. 

Alec Hansen was drafted last June in the second round by the White Sox after playing his college ball for the Oklahoma Sooners. He is 6'7" 235 pounds and is nasty. He pitched one inning in the All Star Game giving up a hit, a walk and a run while striking out one. It wasn't his most impressive outing but his stuff was clearly electric. Hansen is 7-3 on the season with a 2.48 ERA in 13 starts. He has struck out 92 batters in just over 72 innings pitched and has a WHIP of just 1.10. His days in the South Atlantic League are numbered. 

In 2003 I covered my first South Atlantic League game with press pass in hand. It was the Capital City Bombers (Mets) against the Augusta Greenjackets (Red Sox). There were two big time prospects in that game, Scott Kazmir of the Bombers and Hanley Ramirez of the Greenjackets. Kazmir was unhittable in the South Atlantic League. He looked like a kid in Little League who was really in high school and lied about his age. 

The stage was set as Kazmir would face Ramirez and Kazmir would strike him out on four pitches. I was sure that Kazmir was going to be the next great pitcher, he wasn't but he hasn't been bad. He is currently on the disabled list for the Dodgers. He made his debut a year after I saw him pitch and has compiled a career record of 108-96 with a 22.2 WAR. 

Hanley Ramirez lost the battle with Kazmir that day but has had a better career than the pitcher. Ramirez has a .293 career average and 249 home runs. While Hanley has had the better career he doesn't look to be destined for Cooperstown. Will we be saying the same thing about Pache and Hansen in 2031? 

Hansen and Pache would square off in the All Star Game and unlike the Kazmir/Ramirez matchup fourteen years earlier, I was able to take video of it. Thank you modern technology and Mr. Steve Jobs. Here it is.

Hansen would win the battle on Tuesday night, will he win the battle over Pache for better career though? That's what makes minor league baseball and prospects so much fun to follow. Pache has faced Hansen three other times prior to Tuesday night's at bat and is 1-3. 

Here is video of Pache's first inning single off of Nick Fanti

Here is video of Alec Hansen striking out Estevan Florial

As I mentioned, the All Star Game would end in a 3-3 tie as rain suspended the game after seven innings. Dash Winningham, of the hometown Columbia Fireflies, would be named MVP. Pretty fitting since the game was being played in Columbia where inexplicably there was no professional baseball for several years. Here is video of Dash Winningham's first inning double that would score Pache and fellow Fireflie teammate Michael Paez. It was the first two runs of the game.

2017 South Atlantic League All Star Game Boxscore

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