June 27, 2018
Last night it was the top of the sixth. The IronPigs were leading the hated Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders 2-1 and lefty starter Cole Irvin–the IronPigs co-ace along with RHP Enyel De Los Santos–was still on the mound. By the middle of the inning, it was still 2-1 after Irvin had struck out the side–all swinging. He was looking really good, getting stronger as the game was progressing, and the narrow lead looked to be manageable given the relative strength of the IronPigs bullpen and perhaps another inning or two of the magnificent Irvin.
Last night it was the top of the seventh. After 78 pitches (54 strikes), and after striking out the side in the top of the sixth, Cole Irvin’s night was done. He was replaced by fellow-lefty Hoby Milner. What happens next isn’t what this story is about, but Milner loaded the bases, Leiter, Jr bailed him out, Leibrandt got a shot at late-inning leverage, failed, and the ‘Pigs lose 3-2, falling behind in the IronRail now 6-8, with six games remaining at Coca Cola Park in the 2018 series. It is what it is.
This story is about All Stars. No, not Little League All Stars–the stuff so many helicopter parents are so worried about. No, not MLB All Stars–the Midsummer Classic so to speak, which we can still debate but remains a pretty good TV show for baseball fans regardless. No, we’re talking about minor league all stars. The A, AA, or AAA version of the MLB showcase.
Certainly, it’s an “honor.” That’s what every player will tell you when selected for the game. A couple years ago veteran reliever Edward Mujica even delayed his planned “opt out” until after the selection and appearance, thinking it would give him better exposure for an MLB deal. It’s fun to host–we had a blast back in 2010 with all of AAA in town–and fun for the local fans.
But remember, as much of a fan of the IronPigs as I am, the mission around here baseball-wise is to prepare guys for the big leagues. Last season our delegation to the AAA All Star festivities turned out much smaller than anticipated based on our players who were selected. Why? Well, it’s an “honor.” But, it’s also a trip across the country (sometimes), and back, during the only three-day break the players will ever get during the long grind of the baseball season. It’s a chance to visit family, or heal minor injuries, or just rest peacefully is sacrificed for the “honor.” And, for players trying to get to the big leagues–particularly young players on their way up the ladder and for pitchers who may be asked to contribute into September or even October–it’s not necessarily an “honor” that fits the mission.
And, that brings us back to LHP Cole Irvin. Waking up this morning and scanning back through my Twitter feed of last night’s game, I was trying to figure out what happened with Irvin last night. I didn’t “yell and scream” on social media about it at the time because I didn’t know if the reason had already been posted–and Hoby was digging the hole so fast I had other worries. I didn’t expect the worst–although it was in the back of my mind given recent shoulder trouble by RHP Ben Lively of the IronPigs and RHP Edubray Ramos of the Phillies–because Irvin seemed so dominant in his last inning. He seemed to be getting stronger and not laboring. I’m certain the RailRiders were happy to see a different pitcher in that next inning–similar to how the Braves felt all the way back in the MLB opener when Aaron Nola was pulled. (Also for Hoby Milner, although that wasn’t my point and all due respect to Hoby.)
Curiosity got the best of me, so I send a Tweet to The Morning Call beat reporter Tom Housenick to see if he had heard why. “Was it simply to make sure the relief corps was getting their work in?” I asked. Tom responded that it was a move made to manage Irvin’s workload. “The mission,” I thought.
This morning the IronPigs AAA All Star selections were announced: LHP Cole Irvin, RHP Enyel De Los Santos, and 1B Joey Meneses. They only have to go as far as Columbus, OH this season. But still, despite the “honor,” I think you’ll probably see that the two pitchers will “manage their workload” and take advantage of the available resting time. But, we’ll see, I guess it could always be that the “managing” was so that Irvin could subsequently get a couple innings at All Stars. Golly, I hope not; I hope we didn’t just give away an IronRail game for that exhibition–I’d much rather give it up so that Cole (and, Enyel) can pursue their season into the fall. The mission, as it were.
And, it’s not that I begrudge any player the exposure or the “honor.” I just don’t know who wants it and who would rather rest. That’s part of the reason that I no longer vote in the fan voting portion of the selection, year-to-year. For Joey Meneses, who came to us as an unhearalded minor league free agent from Atlanta’s AA affiliate, I think it’s great. He’s having that type of year, and as a free agent, it will be great to highlight his skills in front of the league and possibly create opportunities for himself for the future. Right there’s a spot where the system works.
Footnote: Thanks to Tom for answering my tweet, as mentioned above. I didn’t have this piece in mind when I asked, but when the All Star selections came through, I couldn’t help but put the pieces together.