Seattle prospects lead West to Rising Stars win
Royals farmhands also contribute in AFL showcase
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The game could not been more appropriately named.
It definitely lived up to its billing.
Several of the top prospects in the game shone bright Saturday as the West Division powered past the East Division, 11-2, in the sixth annual Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game at Surprise Stadium.
It was a night of hits, misses, strikes and surprises.
And stars, of course.
The highly anticipated showdown on the mound between the East's Gerrit Cole (Pittsburgh), the first overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, and the West's Danny Hultzen (Seattle), the second overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, was overshadowed by the West's offensive onslaught, led by Seattle shortstop prospect Nick Franklin.
Franklin, selected in the first round in 2009 by Seattle, finished 4-for-5 with a home run on a memorable night in Arizona. Franklin's four hits, two doubles, four RBIs and three extra-base hits all set new Rising Stars Game records. His team finished with 16 hits in the game.
"It was really fun," Franklin said. "We had some fans and were enjoying the experience beforehand. We went out there to have a good time and started to put some runs on the board. We started having some fun in the dugout, and it carried over."
Hultzen did his part, and there's no doubt that the front office in Seattle is feeling content right about now. The left-hander struck out the side on 14 pitches in the first inning and did not allow a hit in his two innings pitched. His lone blemish was a one-out walk to Washington's Bryce Harper in the second inning.
"It was a real honor to get selected for this," Hultzen said. "It was exciting. There was a big crowd and a lot of fans. I felt good out there."
How much did Hultzen enjoy the game? Well, he spent several minutes after the game signing autographs and greeting fans.
Thirty minutes later, he was still smiling.
The Royals also had a hand in the resounding victory. Wil Myers played right field and went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs, and Christian Colon was 1-for-2 with two runs scored. Jeremy Jeffress struck out all three batters he faced, including Harper.
Cole did not fare as well. He pitched only two-thirds of the first inning before he was replaced by Steve Ames (Dodgers). In all, Cole was charged with five runs on four hits. He threw 29 pitches and only 16 of them were strikes.
Cole was still able to walk away from Surprise Stadium feeling optimistic.
"I'm going to go back and look at it, but they seem to hit us all pretty well," Cole said with a smile. "It was a fun atmosphere. Even though I didn't pitch well, I was still able to enjoy that part of it. I was excited, but it didn't go as planned. You move on."
Including Hultzen and Cole, the game featured 17 first-round picks. The top two outfield prospects in the game, Harper and Mike Trout (Angels) finished 0-for-2 and 1-for-3, respectively, for the East Division.
Overall, Brian Dozer, the eight-round pick for the Twins in 2009, paced the East squad by going 1-for-2 with a home run. Junior Lake, signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, and Tim Wheeler, Colorado's first-round pick in 2009, were the only other East players with a hit.
By contrast, the West had four players with at least two hits. After the five-run first inning, the West tacked on another run in the second inning and scored four more runs in the third. The game was out of reach when it scored its final run in the fifth for an 11-2 lead.
The hits kept coming, it seemed, and so did the pitchers. In all, the teams combined to use 19 pitchers, who combined to strike out 18 batters.
"Our starter set the tone and the rest of the guys followed him," said West pitching coach Derrick Lewis, who coaches in the Atlanta system. "He was pounding down in the zone and it became contagious. The same way hitting can become contagious is the same way pitching can be contagious. We were just sending them out there and they were getting the job done."
Lewis is only partly correct in his assessment. In the end, the showdown between Cole and Hultzen was not much of a showdown at all.
"I didn't think of it like that," Hultzen said. "It was a little different being in a game like this where you only pitch a couple of innings. I'm sure people talked about it, but I didn't take it like that. Our offense played really well and that's what I was thinking."