The Fayetteville Woodpeckers made No. 3 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays this weekend thanks to a defensive gem from newcomer Chad Stevens.
In Saturday’s game at Segra, the 2021 MLB draft pick out of Portland fielded a chopper beyond the third-base line, pivoted mid-leap and overhanded a 150-foot-long heave from the outfield grass in foul territory to beat the Fredericksburg Nationals’ baserunner, who was subsequently ejected for arguing the call.
In Sunday’s matinee the next afternoon, Stevens made a diving stab from shortstop and popped up with a hard throw to first to rob Zach Cornell of a hit up the middle.
Stevens’ playmaking was an introduction of sorts. He is one of seven newly drafted players who joined the roster for last week’s homestand.
“Some of the guys that have been here will see them make a play and they look at me like, “Who are these guys? Where did we get ‘em?’” Fayetteville manager Rey Hernandez said after Sunday’s game.
“It’s a good thing. They’re good baseball players. It’s nice to see the good work from our scouting department to bring in that talent.”
Stevens is part of a Woodpeckers draft class that includes infielders Kobe Kato (13th round out of Arizona), Justin Williams (17th round out of Penn State), Will Wagner (18th round out of Liberty), outfielders Quincy Hamilton (fourth round out of Wright State), Joey Loperfido (seventh round out of Duke) and Michael Sandle (10th round out of South Alabama).
The new guys debuted Tuesday to start a six-game home series against the Nationals with a 10-0 steamroll and went on to take the series 4-2, averaging more than five runs per game while giving up an average of less than three.
“They’re coming from college, four years of experience at a decent level of baseball,” Hernandez said. “It’s nice to have them here and get to know them and just see their personalities on the field and their play.”
Billy Wagner’s son on Woodpeckers roster
One of those draftees’ names should be familiar to baseball fans.
Will Wagner, who hit .333 with a team-high 52 RBIs and a .989 fielding percentage at second base for the Atlantic Sun champion Flames, is the son of Billy Wagner — a seven-time MLB All-Star ranking sixth all-time with 422 career saves.
The younger Wagner was drafted 28 years after his father, by the same team, the Houston Astros.
They shared another special moment Saturday when Will belted his first minor-league home run in the Woodpeckers’ 6-4 win over Fredericksburg on the same night Billy was inducted into the Astros Hall of Fame.
Another baseball bloodline shared the field with Wagner in last week’s series. Nationals shortstop Jake Boone is the son of three-time All-Star Bret Boone and his uncle Aaron is the New York Yankees’ manager. Jake’s grandfather, Bob Boone, and his great-grandfather, Ray Boone, both played Major League Baseball, starting in 1948.
A first for the minors
This type of roster influx is unprecedented, brought on by Major League Baseball’s reorganization of the minors and a draft pushed back a month to July.
“Typically what happens is the short-season would get all of these draft guys and that would be the start of their season,” Hernandez said. “But since we don’t have short-season in Tri-City and the draft was later, past the GCL season, it was like, well let’s have a little mini-camp in Florida and just go.”
So, players who laced it up in college less than three months ago are stepping into Low-A baseball now.
“I’ve never dealt with seven new guys in one day,” Hernandez said. “It’s just different. It’s a different team now.”
Besides the seven newcomers from the draft, the Woodpeckers have recently added catcher Yanier Diaz through a trade that sent former Buies Creek Astros outfielder Myles Straw from Houston to Cleveland, and pitchers Carlos Calderon, Carlos Hiraldo, Elian Rodriguez and outfielder Adonis Giron have come to Fayetteville via the Florida Complex League (formerly Gulf Coast League) Astros rookie-level affiliate.
Diaz brings a .314 batting average with five home runs and 50 RBIs from Fayetteville’s fellow Low-A East-member Lynchburg.
Calderon, signed as a free agent in 2018, was 1-0 in five games (two starts) for the FCL Astros this season, striking out 28 in 20.1 innings with a 4.43 ERA.
Hiraldo put up a 0.66 ERA in five appearances with two starts for the FCL Astros this season in 13.2 innings pitched.
Rodriguez, a free agent signed in 2017, struck out 21 in 13.2 innings pitched with a 1-1 record and 3.95 ERA for the FCL Astros this season.
The new guys
Hamilton is the highest-drafted of the new Woodpeckers. He hit .374 and led Wright State in RBIs with 65 on his way to winning the Horizon League Player of the Year and first-team All-American honors as a redshirt junior.
Loperfido was named tournament MVP after leading Duke to its first ACC baseball championship in 60 years last season, homering twice in a semifinal win over Virginia. He led the Blue Devils with a .374 batting average, ranking second in the ACC.
Sandle hit .331 as a senior at South Alabama with 50 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, and an eight-RBI game.
Stevens made All-West Coast Conference first team as Portland’s shortstop, hitting a team-high .333.
Kobe had more walks (43) than strikeouts (34) with a .368 batting average in Pac-12 play last season. The Hawaii native hit a record-high .441 in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League in 2019.
Williams, who made only four errors in 42 games at third base for Penn State, hit .302 as a junior last season.
The Woodpeckers (37-46) are 13.5 games behind Low-A East Central Division-leading Carolina (51-33) and 3.5 games behind second-place Down East (47-36) heading into a series at the South Division’s Columbia Fireflies (38-45).
Fayetteville will be back home on Aug. 17 to begin a six-game series against the South’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans (42-42) and former Terry Sanford ace DJ Herz.
Sports editor Monica Holland can be reached at [email protected]
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