BURLINGTON, N.C. -- Even Hollywood doesn’t know drama like the Appalachian League All-Star Game knows drama. Last year’s edition -- the first under the collegiate wood-bat format -- concluded with a home run derby in Pulaski. This year’s edition found new ways to excite Appy League fans.
Following a two-run comeback by the West in the top of the ninth, the East walked off with a 6-5 win at Burlington Athletic Stadium on Tuesday, thanks to an RJ Johnson (Danville) bouncing-ball single to short that scored Woody Hadeen (Princeton) from third.
As theatrical as the ending was once again, there were a number of standouts from both sides that took something away from the Appy League’s premier prospect showcase. Here are five of the top performers from this year’s All-Star Game.
Woody Hadeen, 2B, Princeton/UC Irvine
Scoring the winning run wasn’t the sole reason why the East middle infielder won game MVP, though it didn’t hurt. His was by far the most complete performance of Tuesday’s exhibition. The switch-hitter, who entered the day slugging just .330 in Appalachian League play, homered from the left side in the fourth inning. He finished 2-for-3 with the long ball, a walk, two RBIs, two runs scored and a game-high four stolen bases, all while handling himself well defensively at second base.
Ryland Zaborowski, DH, Pulaski/Miami (OH) University
The right-handed slugger entered the All-Star break as the Appy League leader in OBP (.516), slugging (.755) and OPS (1.271), and he didn’t disappoint at the plate, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. The Arizona native’s night also took an inspirational turn on the MLB Network broadcast when he discussed how he’s grown through baseball following an Asperger’s diagnosis at a young age. A former Grand Canyon University freshman, Zaborowski is headed to Miami (Ohio) University in the fall.
Roberto Peña, DH, Johnson City/Kansas State
Peña, who uses a spring-loaded swing from the right side, was ticketed for power entering the break, with 16 of his 29 hits having gone for extra bases this season for the Doughboys. He showed off some of that pop with 10 homers in a derby as part of Monday’s All-Star Skills Competition and then carried it into the game Tuesday.
The right-handed slugger teed off on a 74 mph breaking ball from East left-hander Cole McDaniel (Princeton) and sent it deep beyond the fence in left-center field for the West’s only homer. The day was already a big one for Peña; earlier Tuesday, the Johnson City infielder announced he was transferring from the University of South Florida to Kansas State.
Brock Daniels, 2B, Greeneville/University of Missouri
Only one West player picked up more than one hit Tuesday, and it was Daniels, who collected three hits as the losing side’s No. 5 hitter and starting second baseman. The latter two were the most important. The left-handed hitter drove a double the other way to open the eighth and scored two batters later to bring the West within two runs. He nearly played the hero an inning later, when his lined single plated the game’s tying run at 5. Set to transfer to Mizzou from Oklahoma this upcoming year, the St. Louis native is slashing .336/.399/.463 in the Appy League.
Riley Taylor, RHP, Greeneville/Oklahoma State
Pitchers typically only get one inning to show off in an All-Star setting, hurting their chances to become a standout. Taylor still made the most of his single frame, striking out the side for the West in the bottom of the third. All three third strikes came on 89-91 mph fastballs that the 23-year-old landed with conviction in the strike zone. Taylor’s heater has shown good spin rates this summer, adding some deception to the pitch, and it sure looked tough to pick up Tuesday. The former Oklahoma State walk-on has a 3.65 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings in the Appy League.