Luke Little – Picture by Todd Johnson

Welcome to North Side Bound’s First Half All-Star Team and Awards. It’s always such a strange article to do because in two weeks, I turn around and do an All-Star team for the month of June that will have quite a few different names. But the All-Star team for the first half is really built on guys proving over time that they can perform at the level they are currently assigned. I know there were several surprises this year, especially when it comes to the awards, but also, just who exactly made this year’s squad. There are some familiar names, but we have several new ones that broke out.

Rather than break it down by position, let’s do it by affiliate.

Myrtle Beach – Reivaj Garcia, Felix Stevens, Rafael Morel, Moises Ballesteros, Brody McCullough, Michael Arias, Grant Kipp, Yovanny Cabrera, Saul Gonzalez, and Johzan Oquendo

South Bend – Ezequiel Pagan, James Triantos, Connor Noland, Brandon Birdsell, Sheldon Reid, Frankie Scalzo, Joe Nahas, Adam Laskey, Jarod Wright, and Manny Espinoza

Tennessee – PCA, Owen Caissie, BJ Murray, Luis Vazquez, Jordan Wicks, DJ Herz, Luke Little, Bradlee Beasley, Haydn McGeary, Pablo Aliendo, and Scott McKeon

Iowa – Yonathan Perlaza, Jared Young, Ben Brown, Matt Mervis, Chase Strumpf, Bryce Windham, Jake Slaughter, Chris Clarke, and Hunter Bigge

A Few Hitting Thoughts

At the Beach, Reivaj Garcia batted his way into the lineup when it was thought he would just be a bench player. He regained the form that he had in 2018 as a 17-year-old at Mesa. No, Felix Stevens was not a surprise. For him, it was more about hitting for average rather than power. Everybody and their mother knew that he could hit home runs. This spring, he turned into an all-around hitter. Ezequiel Pagán showed that he could hit last year at Myrtle Beach and he’s not stopped hitting for South Bend. At Double-AA, Bradlee Beasley was outstanding in April for South Bend, and he continued that at Tennessee. Everybody thought that Hayden McGeary could hit, but not to this extent or at the high-level that he’s at, which is currently at Tennessee. Scott McKeon looks rejuvenated after spending  the winter in Arizona. He earned a promotion to Tennessee after hitting .286 in April and May for South Bend. After some struggles and a 1-for-16 start for the Smokies, he is back hitting. Otherwise, everyone else was expected to pretty much do what they’re doing. And that’s a good thing that they did live up to those expectations.

Random Pitching Recaps

When it comes to pitchers, this is where all the surprises kick in. Brody McCullough, Michael Arias, and Grant Kipp have basically been shut down starters the past seven weeks for the Pelicans. Connor Noland and Brandon Birdsell have been very good for South Bend and DJ Herz is coming on strong For Tennessee. Jordan Wicks was outstanding through April and May, but hit a rough patch here in June, but he should recover just fine. Ben Brown still has to work on consistency from start to start. But he leads the system in strikeouts and is the next man up. should there be an opening in Chicago for a starter.

When it comes to relievers, there were some pretty good ones in the first half. Jon Nahas was outstanding for South Bend along with Jarod Wright, Frankie Scalzo, Adam Laskey, Sheldon Reed.

Hitter of the First Half

It wasn’t any surprise that Haydn McGeary broke out. Everybody and their mother could see that coming. What was surprising was the adjustments that he made after struggling in Tennessee for a couple weeks to then return to dominance over the past five weeks. His season long stats are a thing of beauty and his time in Tennessee is short-lived. I would not be surprised to see him promoted at some point in July. And no, he is not this year‘s Matt Mervis. He is this year‘s Haydn McGeary.

Starting Pitcher of the First Half

And some of you may have noticed, but our first two winners are both from D2 schools and were both taken in last year‘s draft. Brody McCullough broke out this year from D2 Wingate and has just flat out rocked at Myrtle Beach. What McCullough has been able to do is to spot a 93 to 95 mile an hour fastball up in the zone with movement. He does have a slider that he uses, but he’s using fastball command to set everything else up, which is perfect. That’s what a pitcher at this level should do. Hopefully, he will be in Beloit with South Bend in 10 days as there is really no reason to keep him in Myrtle Beach any longer.

Reliever of the First Half

This was a tough choice. They were for really good candidates in Luke Little, Joe Nahas, Hunter Bigge, and Yovanny Cabrera. But Mr. Little gets it done, mainly because of his high strikeout rate and his low batting average against. Between South Bend and Tennessee, he’s been outstanding since moving to relief role. And that 40 man spot has to look very tempting for later this fall.

Affiliate of the First Half

I didn’t see Myrtle Beach contending for a title at the beginning of the season. I thought Buddy Bailey would have his hands full. But Buddy may have turned in his greatest managerial job yet. Most of his hitters tended to struggle last year in Arizona. Even Stevens struggled in Myrtle Beach. But somehow Buddy got them to put it all together and they supported a lockdown pitching staff who just dominated the Carolina League since May 1. As a result, they are the affiliate of the first half.

In the Second Half…Predictions

We should see Jefferson Rojas continue to garner a lot of buzz while as well Alexis Hernandez down in Mesa. DJ Herz and Yohendrick Pinango look to be returning to form for Tennessee and South Bend respectively. We have been seeing glimpses of Kevin Alcantara figuring some things out as well. Scott Kobos and Zac Leigh are also back at Tennessee and who knows what we or who we will get in the draft that can play immediately. Let’s go!