FREDERICK–The 2019 season hasn’t been a memorable one for the 29-40 Keys. But Tuesday night, Frederick was the epicenter for a celebration of minor league talent.
Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium played host to the Carolina League All-Star Classic, and a number of Keys players contributed to the Northern Division All-Stars’ 8-7 comeback victory. A packed house of 6,927 was on hand for the festivities.
Third baseman Willy Yahn went 2-for-4 with a two-run double, and centerfielder Cole Billingsley delivered the game-tying hit in the seventh. Four Keys pitchers combined to work 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
The Northern All-Stars trailed by five runs in the sixth inning before scoring eight runs in the next three frames, then survived a ninth-inning comeback attempt to seal the win.
“That’s pretty awesome, for these guys to be able to come out and come back from the deficit that we had, especially in front of a crowd like this,” said Keys manager Ryan Minor, who led the Northern All-Stars.
The Keys were the most well represented club in the 10-team Carolina League. The Orioles’ High-A affiliate sent nine players to the All-Star Classic; no other team had more than five. Minor and his entire coaching staff were in the dugout.
“It was a blast,” Yahn said. “It was so much fun being able to do it here in Frederick. All the fans, they were getting into it pretty loud. It was a blast to play with such great players, especially those other eight guys from Frederick. It was a real treat.”
Several top prospects were elected to the All-Star club but weren’t part of the final roster because of injuries or promotions. That included the Kansas City Royals’ top two prospects, Wilmington pitchers Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch — ranked the No. 45 and 94 overall prospects in baseball by MLB Pipeline — and Winston-Salem infielder Nick Madrigal (No. 40) of the Chicago White Sox organization.
Still, there was plenty of talent assembled in Frederick for this matchup, featuring 10 players who rank among their organization’s top 30 prospects. For the Keys, the best prospect was right-hander Mike Baumann, ranked No. 25 in the Orioles’ system by MLB Pipeline. Baumann, a third-round pick from Jacksonville University in 2017, has opened eyes with his swing-and-miss stuff. He’s racked up 77 strikeouts, tied for the league lead, in 11 starts this season.
Baumann got the starting assignment for the Northern Division All-Stars. He pitched a clean inning, retiring the top of the lineup in order on a grounder and two flyouts. Baumann threw nine pitches, six for strikes.
Things turned south for the North after Baumann departed. His replacement, Lynchburg left-hander Juan Hillman, surrendered four runs in the second inning to put the Northern All-Stars in an early hole. That inning featured an appearance by another Key, right-hander Luis Perez, who retired the final batter to quash the threat and then worked past a leadoff double in the third. Perez, who carries a 2.58 ERA in 18 games for the Keys, finished with 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
The Keys’ group of All-Stars included late-round Orioles draft picks who have excelled in 2019, including Yahn (a 25th-rounder in 2017), outfielders Billingsley (19th round, 2016) and Zach Jarrett (28th round, 2017) and right-hander Steven Klimek (33rd round, 2015).
Jarrett and Yahn were in the starting lineup for the North. Neither got a hit in their first two at-bats, but they deserved a better fate. In the fourth, Jarrett smoked a hot shot to the left side that Down East third baseman Ryan Dorow speared with a dive, throwing him out at first on a close play. An inning later, Yahn’s deep gapper to right-center was hauled in by Fayetteville centerfielder Jacob Meyers.
Trailing 5-0 in the sixth, the Northerners finally came to life. A pair of Keys played, well, key roles. Billingsley, who replaced Jarrett in center field, flashed the speed that’s helped him steal 64 bases in 83 attempts in his minor league career. After reaching on a fielder’s choice, Billingsley stole second and third base, then scored on an RBI single.
Yahn followed with a two-out, two-run double to the wall in left field that brought his club within a 5-4 margin. The hit was par for the course for Yahn, who leads Frederick with 35 RBIs and has sparked his team with his positive energy.
“You want every player to play like him,” Minor said. “That comes from his desire and his willingness to want to compete and play at a higher level. Coming from where he did, not being drafted real high, not being one of the biggest guys on the field.
“He’s one of those guys that, if you had nine of him, you’d never lose a game. Unfortunately, those guys don’t come around very often, and when they do, they stand out.”
In the seventh, Billingsley completed the comeback, ripping a two-out, RBI single to center field to knot the score at five. His .322 average for the Keys this season would rank third in the Carolina League if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
The offensive onslaught continued in the bottom of the eighth. Yahn sparked the Northeners’ rally with a single, and Potomac rightfielder Nick Banks delivered the go-ahead blast, a three-run homer to left field. With that, the Northern club had scored eight unanswered runs to take the lead.
“You never know what’s going to happen in this game,” Yahn said. “You just have to stay as positive as possible.
“We’re trying to compete. We’re really happy to be here, but also we’ve got a lot of guys here trying to win a ballgame.”
The Northern pitching staff, after its sluggish start, did an admirable job of holding the line long enough for the offense to rally. Right-hander David Lebron, whom the Orioles acquired from the Texas Rangers in February for international bonus slots, gave up a pair of singles but no runs in the fifth. Klimek, whose 2.48 ERA leads Keys relievers, also stranded two baserunners in the seventh.
Every Keys All-Star pitcher appeared in the game with the exception of Cody Sedlock, the Orioles’ 2016 first-round pick, who’s enjoying a renaissance season for the Keys. The right-hander saw his prospect status diminish after disastrous 2017 and 2018 seasons with Frederick, in which he had a 6.28 ERA in 19 games, but he’s put himself back on the map with a 3-0 record and 1.44 ERA in eight starts this year, holding opponents to a .140 average.
Sedlock hasn’t pitched since May 25 because of elbow discomfort, as first reported by MASN.com’s Steve Melewski. He’s slated to return to the mound for the Keys this week.
Although Fayetteville leftfielder Corey Julks hit a two-run homer for the Southern Division All-Stars in the top of the ninth, the Northern crew held on, 8-7. The win was a team effort, with both promising prospects and organizational players playing their part.
“That’s what you see in these types of games,” Minor said. “You have top-of-the-line talents along with ones who are considered non-prospects, and they’re all equal out there, playing the same game.”