By Pete Zamplas- Asheville Tourists closed their season this week with star power such as South Atlantic League MVP Brian Mundell and fellow all-star slugger Sam Hilliard.
The Tourists, a low Class A affiliate of Colorado Rockies, finished near .500 for the season and missed playoffs but entertained fans.
SAL all-star Sam Hilliard Swings, against Hickory. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Asheville has nurtured star, first round draftee shortstops in Trevor Story in 2012, who clubbed 27 homers in a partial Rockies season in ’15, and now Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers, 20, was tabbed by SAL officials as the league’s top MLB prospect. The Floridian batted .281 with 19 homers (fourth-best in the SAL), 31 doubles and 73 runs batted in 110 games. He homered twice on Aug. 18.Mundell was chosen as SAL most valuable player. He set a modern minor league record for doubles, with nearly 60. He had 58, heading into the finale Monday. The gap power for doubles went with 14 homers.He also hits for contact, batting nearly .320. The Californian is 6-foot-3, and 230 pounds.Mundell told The Tribune after the game Thursday he is determined in each at bat to “hit the ball hard,” with strong follow-through. He relaxes with confidence, to better focus.He led the SAL in hits with nearly 170, extra base hits with over 70; also total bases with 270, 83 runs batted in and 94 scored in 135 games with one left. He was second with a .316 average, .386 on-base mark, .508 slugging and .894 OPS combo of on-base and slugging. He knocked in two late runs, giving Asheville a lead in a dramatic, see-saw 5-4 loss to Hickory (Rangers’ affiliate) on the final “Thirsty Thursday.”Mundell, who fields at over .990, was also named best SAL first baseman. Manager Warren Schaeffer has credited his improved defensive instincts and footwork.The Tourists’ prior league MVP was Rosell Herrera. in 2013. He hit .343, with 16 homers and 21 steals. The leftfielder hit .292 in AA this year.Lefty-batting Hilliard and fellow Asheville corner outfielder Yonathan Daza joined Mundell and Rogers as SAL all-stars. Hilliard blends power and speed. He stole 28 bases — tied with fellow outfielder Mylze Jones for ninth in the league.
Hilliard swatted 17 homers (tied for sixth. He drove in 82 runs before Monday, which tied for second — just one behind Mundell. Hilliard hit .265. He homered twice in a four-game stretch last week. The Texan and Wichita State alum is 22, 6-5 and 235.
“I’m seeing the ball better, and not striking out as much” he said when asked how his hitting most improved by season’s end.
Brian Mundell tags out the Hickory runner. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Daza, 22, of Venezuela, hit .307 which was third best in the SAL. His 35 doubles was fourth. He threw out 22 runners. Daza then played nearly 10 games with Modesto (Calif.) Nuts, in advanced A ball. Third baseman Josh Fuentes, 23, was batting .398 in late May, when promoted.
Trey Killian (12-6, .387) is second-best in SAL wins, and fourth in strikeouts (136). Closer Alexander Guillen is third in saves with 17; Sam Thoele added 12 saves.
Hilliard said strong team chemistry forged ability after tough defeats to “bounce back.”For next season’s schedule and other info, check www.theashevilletourists.com.