(Photo credit to Daniel Gorman)
Strong representation was a theme for the Cardinals Class A Affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, in Tuesday’s Midwest League All-Star Game. Of the five Chiefs on the roster, three started the game, the most for any one affiliate.
The trio taking the field for first pitch included Yariel Gonzalez (1B), Elehuris Montero (3B), and Irving Lopez (2B). Dennis Ortega (C) was a late add to the crop of All-Stars after the initial roster release due to the promotion of Thomas St. Clair (RHP) to Class A Advanced Palm Beach. Bryan Dobzanski (RHP) was the fifth Chiefs representative, a former starter for the Chiefs who has become a strong bullpen arm, posting a 1.87 ERA through 33 2⁄3 innings of work.
Each phase of Tuesday’s festivities in Lansing, MI provides a in-depth look at future Cardinal talent and other top-tier prospects.
Montero is the name most Cardinal fans will recognize. Although he wasn’t on VEB’s top prospect list, he earned an honorable mention from Fangraphs’ list. His batting practice was impressive, squaring up line drives with his 6-foot-3 frame to all fields and showing advanced interaction of his lower half into his swing. Montero starts slightly open, with a toe tap that is more pronounced in-game, and possesses a fair amount of movement in his body and hands as he builds momentum towards the ball.
One positive is that Montero is seeing Midwest League pitching well early in the season, evidenced by his 22 percent strikeout rate to go with his plus-power profile. Only 19 years old, Montero has ample room for growth from both a power and hit-tool perspective. The future potential of his tools and current level of polish will become clearer as he progresses to Plam Beach and advanced pitching becomes a steadier part of his diet.
In stature and swing, Lopez is different from Montero. Lopez’s barrel path into the zone is much longer than Montero’s, but one would presume his pitch recognition might be slightly more advanced given his sub-20-percent strikeout rate and .370 OBP through 55 games. He’s loose at the plate, with a line drive swing and quick hands which partially make up for the noticeable synchronization of his “hand pump” and leg kick. Lopez played JUCO ball for two years before finishing his collegiate career at Florida International University, hitting above .315 in each of his two seasons in Division-I baseball.
Drafted in the 19th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Lopez has the inherent bat-to-ball to become an interesting utility commodity for the Cardinals in higher levels of the minor leagues.
Teammates Royce Lewis (above) and Alex Kirilloff (below) were the two premier talents on display, both from the Minnesota Twins organization. Lewis was the first-overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, a high school bat with the intangible makeup and skillset that likely won over Thad Levine and other Minnesota decision makers.
The righty cut his strikeout rate by five percent compared to his stint last season in the Midwest League and has upped his power output in the process. Lewis’ leg kick causes some aesthetic concern for those seeing him for the first time on video, but in-person, it works demonstrably better than I anticipated. His drop in strikeout rate from 2017 in the Midwest League provides even more confidence that some of his fluidity may not be to his detriment.
He also obliged when I asked if he’d let me snap a picture of his batting practice socks...
Kirilloff underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2017. This year is both his first post-surgery and with a full-season affiliate.
Kirilloff has one of the more advanced bats I’ve seen in this level of the minor leagues in some time. He possesses exceptional torque and subsequent bat speed in his upper body when hitting to his pull side, but regularly stays gap-to-gap with hard line drives. His finish is smooth and compact, with natural loft in his swing that is absent in many bats with this sound of a line-drive approach.
Both hitters will likely advance to Ft. Myers, the Twins Class A Advanced affiliate in short time.
Jazz Chisholm - Diamondbacks
Ryan Costello - Mariners
Alex Kirilloff - Twins
Will Benson - Indians **Runner-up
Hendrik Clementina - Reds
Ronaldo Hernandez - Rays *Champion
Three minutes to hit as many home runs as you can - an event that never gets old. I had a fantastic perspective of one of the biggest raw power tools in the Midwest League: Indians outfielder Will Benson.
This was the first time I saw Will Benson since tape of him back in high school and the improvements since have been impressive. His approach is still very raw, but you’d consider him relatively polished now comparing to 2016. His 30 percent strikeout rate is somewhat tolerable with his impressive 18 percent walk rate, which has increased about four percent from the prior year.
Kirilloff’s display of aggression with time running out on his clock in the first round was also impressive. With his father, David Kirilloff, throwing to him, the lefty zoned in and strung together some impressive high-intensity swings to finish with 12 home runs, tying him for third in the first round.
The winner, Rays catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, may not have possessed the most raw power or best hit tool in the event, but surely had the most tuned, effortless swing for the competition.
Yariel Gonzalez - 1 for 4, 2 R, K
Elehuris Montero - 0 for 2, K
Irving Lopez - 0 for 2, K
Dennis Ortega - 0 for 2
Bryan Dobzanski - 2⁄3 IP, K, 9 pitches, 8 strikes
Representing the Cardinals, one could argue Dobzanski posted the most impressive line, despite only throwing nine pitches. Otherwise, the Chiefs’ bats were quiet for most of the game, with a line-drive single from Gonzalez in the eighth inning the only noise.
One home run in the game came from Dodgers’ third baseman Jared Walker in the fifth inning, putting the East up 2-1.
Kirilloff tied the game in the eighth inning on a two-out, RBI single, which eventually extended the game into extra innings.
Dayton Dragons outfielder, Montrell Marshall, won the game’s MVP Award for his 10th-inning heroics.
Final Score - East 3, West 2 F/10
Tomorrow I will be publishing a piece on Bryan Dobzanski, reliever for the Peoria Chiefs. Our conversation at the All-Star Game went from wrestling to Jack Flaherty to slider grips. Stay tuned.