Victoria HarbourCats’ stars ready to shine at all-star game

Frankie Niemann can’t recall the last time he was named an all-star in baseball. The closest he came, he said with a chuckle, was making his Little League’s rep team.

But Niemann tonight will join five Victoria HarbourCats teammates in the 2019 West Coast League all-star game taking place in Bend, Oregon, in front of scouts from almost every MLB team.

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Batting .396 on the season will certainly do that for you.

“I’ve hit the ball hard this season, and with consistency, and it is an awesome honour to be recognized like this and to be involved in a game with so many good players,” said Niemann.

Everybody likes to get noticed but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

“I am not focusing on the scouts. I am just focusing on playing hard,” said Niemann, who is from the NCAA Div. 1 Tulane University Green Wave in New Orleans.

The HarbourCats’ strong season was rewarded with the six players named to North Division all-star team. It was the second most behind the seven Corvallis Knights selected for the South Division team. Both the Knights and HarbourCats were the first-half champions of their respective divisions and have the two best overall records in the league.

The North team will be led by the blazing bats of ’Cats catchers Niemann and Tyson Hays from Illinois State, the latter batting .377. They are joined by fellow HarbourCats sluggers Parker Bramlett in the infield, Jason Willow and Nick Plaia in the outfield and pitcher Jack Hyde (2-1, 2.10 ERA), listed as the starter for the North.

“This is my third season in the league and the first time I’ve been selected to play in the all-star game, so I’m super-excited,” said Plaia.

The NCAA Div. 1 player out of Cal-Baptist is hitting .265 but getting on base more than when his numbers were gaudier in last year’s team MVP season in Victoria. That’s an important thing for any batter to learn in baseball.

“My getting-on-base percentage has gone up,” said Plaia.

“I’m striking out more but I’m also getting more walks because I’m learning to work up higher count mixes.”

Asked about the MLB scouts in attendance tonight in Bend, Plaia responded: “There’s no pressure. You have good days and bad days in baseball and they happen when they happen. All you can do is always try your hardest, which I always do.”

Hometown Victoria-product Willow, a Baltimore Orioles draft pick and former Canada U-18 captain, was the HarbourCats’ representative in Monday night’s WCL home-run derby in Bend. Willow is hitting .313 with five homers in 23 games.

There could have been even more HarbourCats players selected as all-stars, noted Plaia: “It should have been the whole team.”

The most watched player tonight among the scouts will be South Division infielder Brooks Lee of the Knights. Lee was ranked 37th overall by for the 2019 MLB draft. He was taken by the San Francisco Giants but will instead head to the NCAA to play for his dad at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before re-entering the draft in his junior season.

DIAMOND DUST: The Yakima Valley Pippins touched HarbourCats pitching for 22 hits Sunday afternoon in a 12-4 WCL victory at Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park. The HarbourCats’ highlight was Kyle Sherick’s two hits and three RBIs. . . . Victoria won the three-game set 2-1 and is 9-4 in the second half and 27-13 overall, while Yakima Valley went to 7-6 and 18-21 . . . The rest of the ’Cats will meet up with their all-star six on Thursday and Friday in Ridgefield, Washington, for a pair of games against the Raptors.

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