Six RiverDogs including left field starter Canaan Smith and hard-throwing righties Luis Gil and Alexander Vizcaino will represent Charleston on June 18 in West Virginia as the league office announced the rosters for the 60th annual South Atlantic League All-Star Game on Tuesday.
Charleston’s All-Star choices also include former second-round selections Josh Stowers as a utility outfielder and Josh Breaux at catcher, along with utility infielder Mickey Gasper. The six selected from the initial ballots are the most for the RiverDogs since 2005, their first season as a Yankees affiliate. It was also announced that defensive coach Francisco Leandro will join the six RiverDogs as a coach on the Southern Division staff.
“It’s very exciting when you have so many players on your team that represent you in the All-Star Game, along with a member of our staff,” said RiverDogs manager Julio Mosquera. “Two pitchers and four position players is outstanding and they each deserve it.”
Smith, a 20-year-old product out of Dallas, TX, gets the nod to start in left field after producing a breakout first two months since joining Charleston five days into the regular season. The former fourth-round selection enters play Tuesday hitting .318 (56-for-176), ranking fifth among qualifying hitters in the league, with three home runs, 20 RBI, and an OPS of .899 that ranks sixth. Bouncing back from a down season with Staten Island last year, Smith has produced consistent hard contact while cutting his strikeout rate 7 percentage points, down from a 30 percent clip last year. He leads the SALLY League circuit with a 29 percent line drive rate according to Fangraphs.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Canaan Smith. We as an organization have always believed that he can hit,” said Mosquera. “He wasn’t excited that he didn’t make the team out of Spring Training, but he worked as hard as he could in Extended and when he came here, he was ready to play. It’s very impressive the way he handles himself on both sides of the ball, defensively and hitting.”
Joining him in the outfield will be Josh Stowers, the Yankees’ preseason No. 25 prospect per MLB.com, who gets the nod for the first time with his new organization after being acquired in a January trade from Seattle. The former Louisville Cardinal has slashed an impressive .273/.363/.442 with five home runs while leading Charleston with 13 stolen bases on the season before being placed on the 7-day injured list on Monday.
“Josh is a great kid. We have a great relationship with him and he works hard... He started out the season a little quiet [in the clubhouse] when he first showed up not really knowing anyone, but the atmosphere that we’ve created on this team has helped welcome him and he feels like he’s part of the team and having fun now. He just has tremendous eyesight when it comes to hitting. He’s very selective, he doesn’t chase too many pitches, and it’s something that’s good to see at a young age with that kind of patience at the plate. It’s only going to get better as he moves up.”
Gil, 21, will start the game on the mound for the Southern Division after toeing the rubber as Charleston’s most dominant starter this season, producing a sterling 2.08 ERA, good for fourth among qualifying pitchers in the league, in 10 starts this season while striking out 63 batters in 47 ⅔ innings of work, an average of 11.9 per nine innings.
“You can see this guy has a tremendous arm, but he also makes adjustments a little bit at a time with his delivery and he’s attacking the zone a lot more this year. It’s exciting for us to see him growing up when he’s on the mound and taking stuff into his own hands. Every time he goes out there, he gives us a chance to win.”
Vizcaino, 22, has also impressed in Charleston’s young rotation, sporting a 3.96 ERA 62 punchouts in 50 innings over his nine starts this season. His 1.06 WHIP ranks T-10 in the league.
Despite residing on the injured list since May 23, Breaux, 21, still ranks second on the team with 30 RBI on the season and was hitting a blistering .295/.323/.500 with his first seven professional homers all coming this season. Last year’s second-round pick by the Yankees was tabbed by the MLB Pipeline as the No. 15 prospect in the organization heading into the year. Gasper has hit wherever he’s played both in the field and in the lineup, producing a .287/.374/.455 line with three home runs and 19 RBI while playing multiple positions.
Lockridge named all-star replacement
Two days after the initial announcement of the 2019 South Atlantic League All-Star rosters that included six representatives from the Charleston RiverDogs, outfielder Brandon Lockridge was added as a replacement, becoming the seventh player from the Holy City who will partake in the festivities in West Virginia later this month.
Lockridge got off to a slow start through the first couple of weeks, a likely reason behind his original omission from the roster. He hit just .169 (13-for-77) and struck out in 38 percent of his plate appearances through his first 19 games.
The Troy product turned it around starting April 26, earning hits in 46 of his next 154 at-bats spanning 40 games for a .299 average, the 11th-best mark in the South Atlantic League during that span. His nine home runs lead the team after he hit just one long ball in his professional debut season in 2018, and his six homers leading off an inning leave him tied with Onil Pena for the most in the SAL. His .935 OPS is good for 7th-best in the SAL since the beginning of May as well.
The power surge has brought Lockridge’s season average up to .255 and his on-base and slugging percentages to .320 and .468, respectively, through his first 55 games overall. His 31 RBI have also overtaken Josh Breaux’s 30 for the best mark on the club.
“I think Brandon is well-deserved to be in the All-Star Game,” RiverDogs manager Julio Mosquera said. “He’s got a high OPS in the last month and a half, he’s got nine home runs and ten stolen bases. He plays every single day, he barely gets days off, and he’s a tremendous athlete. We are very happy and proud of him.”