Aeros right fielder Thomas Neal and first baseman Chun Chen have been there before, but that doesn’t make their selection for next month’s Eastern League All-Star game any less meaningful.
The two, along with right-handed pitchers Steven Wright and Kyle Landis, will play for the Western Division team July 11 in Reading, Pa.
“Every time is a unique and exciting situation, and at the same time, humbling,” said Neal, a former San Francisco Giants farmhand who was an all-star in the California League in 2009 and in the E.L. in 2010 with the Richmond Flying Squirrels. “Any time you’re selected by your peers as one of the best players in the league is an awesome thing.”
Neal, 24, joined the Indians’ organization last season in a deal that sent veteran infielder Orlando Cabrera to the Giants at the trade deadline. But he played in just 10 games at Triple-A Columbus because of a right shoulder injury.
This season, Neal is batting .297 with five home runs and 27 RBI. All of his homers have come in June, after his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Chen, 23, is making his second consecutive all-star appearance. In addition to making a swift transition to first base after spending his career as a catcher, Chen leads the Aeros with a .320 batting average, fifth best in the league.
“He’s real balanced right now, staying inside the ball,” Aeros manager Chris Tremie said recently. “He’s driving the ball the other way and turning on inside pitches.”
Chen, who had a 12-game hitting streak from June 5 to 16, during which he batted .390, has a league-leading 24 doubles.
The Aeros top the league with a 3.07 team ERA, led by knuckleballer Wright.
Wright, 27, is 6-5 with a 1.98 ERA (second in the league) in 14 starts. He has 75 strikeouts (fifth in the league). He pitched the Aeros’ first shutout since 2009 on May 6 against the Bowie Baysox.
“It’s awesome for Steven and for anyone who is an unconventional pitcher,” Aeros pitching coach Tony Arnold said. “It’s good because it’s hard to break stereotypes. It seems everybody wants to see a 100-mph fastball. While everything [Cincinnati Reds’ flame-throwing closer Aroldis] Chapman does gets notice, another guy might be getting the same results with a splitter or a change-up but doesn’t get half as much of the limelight.”
Landis, 26, is the kind of pitcher who tends to get lost in the shuffle in terms of recognition simply because of the nature of his role. Landis has been a mainstay in the Aeros’ bullpen with a 4-3 record and a 3.52 ERA in 24 appearances. In 38? innings, he has 36 strikeouts and nine walks.
“It’s a really great honor to be recognized,” said Landis, who was an all-star in his first professional experience at short-season Mahoning Valley after being the Indians’ 18th-round pick in the 2007 draft out of Pittsburgh.
“To me, it exemplifies your hard work over the season and your focus during the season. But mostly, it speaks to your ability to contribute to your team’s success. It’s been great to be a part of this team because what we’re doing is pretty special.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Aeros blog at www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.