7 standouts from the Appy League All-Star Game

July 26th, 2023

KINGSPORT, Tenn. -- The 2021 Appalachian League All-Star Game ended with a home run derby, and the 2022 edition concluded with a walk-off single in the 10th. The latest version of the wood-bat collegiate circuit’s midsummer classic was a less powerful, but equally exciting contest.

The West took home a 3-2 victory over the East on Tuesday in Kingsport’s Hunter Wright Stadium, thanks to an eighth-inning sacrifice fly off the bat of Greeneville outfielder Nick Barone (West Virginia). The contest featured 19 pitchers and 24 position players, and despite the relatively low score, it presented a solid mix of pitching, defense, baserunning and timely hitting.

Thirty-one Appy League alums were selected in the 2023 Draft, an all-time high since the league switched to its current format two years ago, and nine of those went in the first five rounds alone led by 38th overall pick Ty Floyd (Reds). The loop’s Draft success highlights just how soon some of Tuesday’s All-Stars could become prominent names in the professional baseball sphere and the upper levels of college ball even sooner.

Here are seven of the biggest standouts from Tuesday’s game in Kingsport:

Mike Mancini, 2B, Kingsport/James Madison
Named game MVP in his home ballpark, Mancini opened the scoring with a full-count RBI triple to right-center in the first inning. The Axmen’s three-bagger was one of only two extra-base hits on the entire night and was the result of the left-handed slugger doing a nice job of sitting back on an 80 mph breaking ball on the inside corner. From there, Mancini, who is tied for the Appy League lead with 23 steals, put on the jets when East right fielder Jesse Robinson Jr. slammed into the wall. While he typically is a contact-over-power hitter, the James Madison product proved he can run into a ball on the big stage.

Hollis Fanning, RHP, Kingsport/NC State
The 6-foot-8 right-hander was once worried he would never pitch again after a freak wire fence-cutting accident left him blind in his left eye. Not only is he pitching, he’s thriving in the Appalachian League. The Tennessee-turned-NC State hurler got seven whiffs on only 14 pitches during his one-inning appearance in the fifth frame. Fanning, who throws a low-90s fastball along with a mid-80s cutter, worked around a Jordan Taylor single to work his scoreless inning, ending on back-to-back strikeouts of Michael Callan Moss and Robinson – the latter swinging-and-missing on three straight heaters up in the zone.

Hayden Cooper, RHP, Johnson City/Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
Cooper owns the Appy League’s top max velocity with a 97.2 mph fastball, making him an ideal candidate to close out the West’s win on Tuesday. But the 6-foot-3 right-hander also showed some good feel for spin, working two upper-80s sliders away for strikeouts against Carrington Aaron and Taylor. His throwing error on a tough bouncer may have extended the inning, but he rebounded nicely enough to get Moss to ground out to short for the game-winner.

Tyler Cerny, INF, Greeneville/Indiana
West manager Mike Guinn pointed to Cerny as the player who was most excited to manage for the first time, and as such, he batted the Hoosier leadoff. Strong move. Cerny singled to left and doubled to right in his first two at-bats, showing a whole-fields approach in the process. After playing 59 games during the NCAA season, Cerny has kept up his momentum with the Flyboys, ranking fifth in the Appy League with a .561 slugging percentage and eighth with a .946 OPS entering Tuesday.

Jordan Taylor, OF, Danville/Florida State/Portal
Ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 83 prospect in the 2022 Draft, Taylor has been arguably one of the Appy League’s most talented players with run, fielding and arm tools that all grade out as at least plus. He showed something with the bat on Tuesday too, going 2-for-5 from the East leadoff spot with one single that measured in with a 100 mph exit velocity. He was also the only All-Star with multiple steals after swiping both second and third in the fifth inning. Taylor entered the transfer portal after not getting much playing time at Florida State this spring and showed multiple ways he could provide impact at his next stop Tuesday.

Ciaran Caughey, RHP, Bluefield/Kent State
Fans who prefer their pitchers with a little funk might have found a new favorite in Caughey, who acted like a right-handed Nestor Cortes at times with the way he differed his delivery to mess with hitters’ timing on Tuesday. The Kent State product struck out a pair in his perfect fourth inning for the East and showed good rise on a low-90s fastball and fade on a mid-80s changeup along the way.

Sam White, 3B, Pulaski/West Virginia
The Mountaineer was the only All-Star to reach three times after he went 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored for the East. A former junior hockey goalie back home in Canada, White also flashed good reaction times and a strong glove at the hot corner to add another layer to his impact. He already got a good amount of playing time (50 games) as a freshman at WVU in the spring and stands to build on that in 2024 and beyond, if Tuesday’s showing was any indication.