Brooklyn coaching staff, five players headed to Norwich for Late-Summer Classic
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Rich Donnelly intimated just last summer that All-Star Games weren't exactly his thing.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not a big fan of All-Star Games during the season because they're exhibition games," Donnelly admitted last August before shipping four of his hurlers -- Luis Mateo, Hansel Robles, John Mincone and Gabriel Ynoa -- to the New York-Penn League's annual late-summer classic at Mahoning Valley's Eastwood Field.
While he was proud that his players were selected, and even prouder when they helped pitch the National League squad to an 8-1 victory that night, Donnelly, who celebrated his 67th birthday on Monday, felt the two-day break might interrupt his team's rhythm.
And, even worse, leave him with a couple of days to simply watch tape of Brooklyn's next opponent, rather than indulging in his favorite activities: managing the game and coaching his players.
Fortunately for Donnelly, he won't be sitting in front of the video machine longing for his customary spot in the dugout, or inside the third-base coaches' box, come next Tuesday night in Norwich, Conn.
Instead, he and his coaching staff, featuring pitching coach Marc Valdes and batting instructor Bobby Malek, will be leading the NL All-Star team into battle against the AL unit at Dodd Stadium.
For the second straight summer, four Brooklyn pitchers have made the cut. Staff ace Miller Diaz, who leads the NY-Penn with 55 strikeouts, will get the start for the senior circuit. Also, working out of the bullpen for the NL will be Cyclones right-handers John Gant and Rob Gsellman, and southpaw reliever John Mincone, who earned his second consecutive All-Star nod.
The only position player to make the cut from the Cyclones' roster was none other than highly touted second-base prospect LJ Mazzilli, the son of former Mets great Lee Mazzilli.
Mazzilli, who arrived in Coney Island amid a whirlwind of media attention and high expectations as the Mets' fourth-round pick out of the University of Connecticut, has more than lived up to the hype thus far this summer.
The 22-year-old infielder ranks 15th in the league with a .298 batting average, and has been Brooklyn 's most consistent day-to-day performer during his first full season of pro ball. Mazzilli leads all Cyclones regulars with 18 RBIs, a .725 OPS and boasts a sizzling .315 average in 27 road games this year.
“I think that I’m a good hitter. I’ve been working on my all-around game as well, fielding, instincts and base-running as well," Mazzilli said of his ongoing development. “I feel like this is my first step. I hope to be playing for the Mets one day at Citi Field.”
As for Diaz, the former NY-Penn Pitcher of the Week has made an astonishing rebound after yielding at least four earned runs in each of his first three starts. The 21-year-old Venezuelan right-hander has won his last three outings while surrendering just four earned runs combined in his last five starts, spanning 28 frames.
Perhaps more impressively, Diaz (4-1, 2.34 ERA) has fanned at least eight batters in all but one of his last five starts. Opponents are batting just .185 against him this summer.
Gsellman (2-2) leads the Brooklyn starting staff with a 2.09 ERA, winning his last two outings, including a seven-inning, two-hit gem in a victory at Staten Island on July 26. The 20-year-old right-hander from Santa Monica, Calif., is enjoying his time in the Brooklyn spotlight, and figures to get the ball at some point during Tuesday night's All-Star fete.
“Yeah, they said (playing in Brooklyn), it’s like the closest thing to the big leagues," Gsellman said. "They told me (I’d be dealing with a lot of media). That will probably help me on a higher level.”
Gant (3-2, 2.47 ERA) is just behind Diaz in the strikeout race with 54 through eight starts this summer. The 21-year-old Georgia native, who shared Donnelly's Aug. 6 birthday, has allowed two earned runs on four hits with 11 strikeouts over 11 innings in winning his last two starts.
Mincone (2-1, 1.76 ERA and five saves) continues to be the stalwart of the Brooklyn bullpen, having made 12 appearances while limiting the opposition to a paltry .143 average. The 24-year-old Huntington native has racked up 13 strikeouts against only one walk in 15 1/3 innings of work.
He anchors a Brooklyn bullpen which has helped the Cyclones climb back to .500 (23-23) and move within just one game of first-place Hudson Valley in the tightly packed McNamara pennant race after the Baby Bums wallowed in the division cellar for the better part of June and early July.
"Guys like Mincone, he can get lefties and righties out," Valdes told MiLB.com. "He changes speeds very well, he's got a good two-seamer and gets ground balls. He attacks guys early in the count and then puts them away, and he's done that all year."
This, That and the Other Thing: The Cyclones got the day off Monday after dropping a 9-5 decision in Jamestown, N.Y., on Sunday. 2B Mazzilli went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and belted his first pro homer during the defeat, which prevented Brooklyn from earning a share of first place. The Cyclones will now open a seven-game homestand, surrounding next week's All-Star break, beginning with Tuesday night's contest against the Connecticut Tigers at MCU Park. ... RHP Akeel Morris, who did not receive an All-Star nod despite a brilliant summer thus far, finally yielded his first two earned runs of the summer during Sunday's loss in Jamestown. The 20-year-old reliever from the Virgin Islands had held opponents off the board for 26 1/3 consecutive innings before this past weekend. ... Also accompanying the Brooklyn coaching staff to next Tuesday's All-Star Game in Norwich will be team trainer Eric Velazquez.