|Generals’ pitching pair better with baseballs than fishing poles |
|Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 7:00 pm |
|By BILL SORRELL |
Special to The Messenger
JACKSON — On a rare day off, Jackson Generals pitchers Danny Hultzen and Carter Capps went fishing on Lake Graham, east of Jackson.
They threw a no-biter.
“We were expecting to catch everything, and we caught nothing over six hours. That was pretty bad,” said Hultzen.
Seldom have Hultzen and Capps come up empty. They helped lead the Generals to the first half North Division championship in the Southern League, were both named all-stars and have been part of a pitching staff regarded among the most potent in minor league baseball.
The 42-28 first half record — the Southern League’s best — was Jackson’s third most first-half wins and fourth first-half championship.
“Obviously, the talent is ridiculous,” said Capps. “You can look around the locker room and look at any guy and all are extremely talented. It is one of the best pitching staffs I have ever seen.”
The first round pick by the Seattle Mariners and second overall in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, lefthander Hultzen was promoted to Tacoma, Seattle’s AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, on June 20. He left with an 8-3 record, tied for most wins in the Southern League, a league-leading 1.19 ERA in 13 starts and held opponents to a .151 batting average, the league’s best. He struck out 79 batters in 75.1 innings, second in the SL.
Through July 3, Capps, a righthander who was selected as Seattle’s 121st overall pick in the third round of the 2011 MLB Draft, was 2-2 with a 1.14 ERA. He had 58 strikeouts in 39.1 innings and 13 saves.
Capps has mowed batters down with a vicious, triple-digit fast ball that has reached speeds of 101 mph.
“This year, we have a lot of good hitters and good pitchers. Last year, we had a lot of good hitters but not a lot of good pitchers,” said Jackson infielder Leury Bonilla. “Pitchers control the game.”
Taijuan (pronounced TIE-wahn) Walker, a righthander with a 4-4 record, a 3.79 ERA and 98 mph fastball was one of eight Generals selected as all-stars. The 43rd overall first-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, was also chosen to play in the 14th annual Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game along with Hultzen Sunday in Kansas City. Jackson manager Jim Pankovits will be one of the coaches.
Clinching the first half division championship was among Walker’s most memorable moments.
“I had not experienced anything like that before. I thought it was pretty awesome,” he said.
Seattle’s fourth-ranked prospect, lefthanded pitcher James Paxton returned to the mound on July 3 after a knee injury. His usually low-to-mid 90 mph fastball has topped out at 98 mph. His 3.88 ERA has paced the Generals to the best ERA (3.08) in the league. Starting 10 games, Paxton is 3-3.
There has been a revolving door from Jackson to Tacoma, especially among pitchers. Andrew Carraway, Steve Garrison, SL All-Star Bobby LaFromboise, Stephen Pryor, who is now on the Mariners’ roster, Jandy Sena, Steven Hensley, Brian Moran each has played this in Jackson.
Huntsville Stars centerfielder Josh Prince said, “Their pitching staff is some of the best pitchers that I have ever faced, from one to five of their starters to everyone who comes out of the bullpen. We all believe they can all pitch in the big leagues and will pitch in the big leagues.”
A step away from the big leagues is shortstop Nick Franklin, an all-star who was promoted to Tacoma with Hultzen. The Mariners’ No. 5 prospect, started the all-star game. In Jackson he hit .322 with 17 doubles and four triples and four homers.
Franklin was named the Topps Southern League Player of the Month for May, an award voted on by SL field managers. His .394 batting average in May was the eighth best in all of the minor leagues and he led the SL with a .457 on-base percentage and .648 slugging percentage.
All-Star Joe Dunnigan, an outfielder who is batting .271, is second in the Southern League with 14 home runs. He won the Home Run Derby at the all-star game when he hit eight over the fence. His .514 slugging percentage is the league’s third best. All-star centerfielder Denny Almonte is batting .275 and catcher Jesus Sucre, also an all-star, is batting .290.
Stefen Romero, activated in June from High Desert, currently has the team’s top batting average (.405) and Nate Tenbrink, an infielder, has a .348 average.
“You can look out at some of the talent on the field and see why somebody was drafted. They have great arms or can hit the ball a mile,” said Capps. “They stick out like a sore thumb. They lucky ones can do all of it.”
Another reason the Generals have been successful is team chemistry.
“We have a better camaraderie among us. Everyone gets along,” said Dunnigan. “We have confidence in each other that no matter who is out there, we know that everyone can do the job and everyone backs each other up.”
Before Hultzen left for Tacoma he said, “We had some struggles this season but we have all stayed together to fight through those and I think that has helped us a lot.”
For Paxton, who won a bronze medal playing for Team Canada at the Junior National level, it’s about competition, which he terms “real strong.”
“These are the best players in college and players around the world. Playing with them now is a lot of fun. It’s a great challenge,” he said.
Published in The Messenger 7.10.12