Big names, fan faves highlight IL All-Star team
Six Knights including Josh Fields highlight squad
By Kristen Zimmerman / Special to MLB.com
Every vote has been counted, and the final results are in. Twenty-eight International League players, ranging from big-name prospects to fan favorites, will be heading to Toledo on July 12 to take part in the 2006 Triple-A All-Star Game.
Indianapolis ace and the league's strikeout leader Tom Gorzelanny will be one of 11 pitchers representing the IL at Fifth Third Field.
"It's an honor to be chosen by fans and coaches to represent the International League," Gorzelanny said. "Just the fact that fans are supporting you and want you to be in the All-Star Game makes it a great honor."
This will be Gorzelanny's first Triple-A All-Star appearance, but he's been named to the South Atlantic League and Eastern League All-Star teams in his Minor League career.
"[All-Star Games] have always been a lot of fun -- hectic, but fun," Gorzelanny said. "But this ranks towards the top because it's a higher level. It shows I'm ready to pitch and compete in the big leagues."
A handful of big names join the Indy left-hander on the All-Star pitching staff -- two of whom have spent the season in Charlotte's starting rotation. The Minor League leader in wins, Heath Phillips, and Charlie Haeger, whose 1.57 ERA is second in Triple-A, highlight the starters.
Ottawa closer Julio Manon will man the IL bullpen in Toledo. Manon is the Triple-A leader in saves with 16 and has a 2.87 ERA for the Lynx. He's joined by the ultimate fan favorite, Rochester's Pat Neshek. Neshek received more fan votes than any other player in either the IL or PCL, prompting his All-Star selection.
This season MiLB.com conducted the first-ever online fan ballot for the Triple-A All-Star Game, which accounted for one-third of the total vote (the other two-thirds is made up of votes from the media and club field managers and GMs).
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's second baseman Joe Thurston will be making his third Triple-A All-Star Game appearance, but this time he'll be sitting in the dugout on the other side of the field. Thurston was selected to the PCL team in 2002 and 2005 when he played for the Las Vegas 51s.
"Anytime you make an All-Star team or something it's exciting because it means other people see what you're doing and are taking notice," Thurston said. "I've been working hard all season and I want to do my best for the team, but it's great when you get a little bonus as far as making an All-Star team."
Thurston represents the IL well, ranking among the league leaders in doubles with 19 and batting .292 with the Red Barons, but he also recognizes the importance of the fans' role.
"It's great to get everybody involved," Thurston said. "It might come down to fans voting, it might be that one little kid's vote."
Playing to Thurston's left will be the IL's home run and RBI leader, Durham's Kevin Witt. The 30-year-old first baseman is having a standout year with near Triple Crown numbers.
Highlighting the other side of the infield are Durham shortstop B.J. Upton and Charlotte third baseman Josh Fields. Upton, the No. 2 overall pick in 2002, leads the league in stolen bases and ran away with the fan votes among shortstops. Fields, who joins five other Knights teammates on the squad, is batting .328 for the team with the best record in the Minors.
The IL batting leader, Chris Denorfia, is having another impressive year in Triple-A after being named the Reds' Minor League Player of the Year in 2005. Louisville's only representative will anchor the outfield along with Toledo's Ryan Ludwick and Rochester's Josh Rabe.
Although he may no longer be considered a "prospect," Charlotte's designated hitter is still a big name and is still producing. Ernie Young, at 36 years old, was selected to his third Triple-A All-Star game, this time as the league's DH.
And behind the plate will be Red Barons catcher Carlos Ruiz along with Durham backstop Shawn Riggans, who's batting .304 with seven home runs.
Toledo's Larry Parrish will manage the star-studded squad that will take the field against the PCL All-Stars -- who will be announced Thursday -- in his home stadium. The first pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.