Betts’ Blasts Bookend Midwest League All-Star Showcase

(L to R) Nolan Gorman, Chris Williams, Jerar Encarnacion, Alek Thomas, Chris Betts, Niko Hulsizer, Jake Brodt, Jonathan Sierra by Rikk Carlson

In a game dominated by pitching on both sides, the 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game was decided by one of the feats of strength: a sudden death Home Run Derby.

The festivities began on Monday, June 17 as a crowd of 5,000 came to Four Winds Field in South Bend for the MWL Home Run Derby. They were able to witness Rays prospect Chris Betts of Bowling Green bash 24 homers overall and best Alek Thomas of Kane County and the Diamondbacks organization.

Moving on to game day on Tuesday, the South Bend Cubs created a fan-friendly atmosphere. The 7,464 in attendance were treated to an autograph session with all of the All-Stars prior to the game. After a rousing version of the National Anthem by Chicago area legend Wayne Messmer, the fans settled into their seat for game action.

East starting pitcher Josh Winckowski (Lansing Lugnuts) by Tom Usiak

Lansing’s Josh Winckowski, the starting pitcher for the East squad, made short work of the West in the first inning. Using a 96 MPH fastball, Winckowski struck out the first batter, with no others making solid contact.

West pitching coach Cale Johnson (27) with starting pitcher Chris Vallimont (Clinton) and catcher David Fry (Wisconsin) by Tom Usiak

However, West starter Chris Vallimont had trouble to begin the game. Fort Wayne’s Xavier Edwards led off for the East with a pop single and a stolen base. But Vallimont regrouped and struck out the next two batters before stranding Edwards at second.

The second inning was more of the same for the West. South Bend’s Riley Thompson gave up a lead-off single to Clinton’s Jerar Encarnacion, but retired the side with little effort.  But in the bottom half of the inning, the pace began to pick up.

Back-to back singles by Lansing’s Jake Brodt and Miguel Vargas of Great Lakes put Burlinton’s Jose Soriano in trouble. A walk to Betts and Ulrich Bojarski‘s (West Michigan) sacrifice fly brought in Brodt with the game’s first run.

Brailyn Marquez by Tom Usiak

The third inning became a pitcher’s showcase as South Bend’s Brailyn Marquez lit up the radar gun for the East. While the scoreboard showed Marquez at 98 MPH, independent sources had him in triple digits.  After giving up a two out double, Marquez yielded to Alan Strong of Bowling Green for the final out. It was a similar result for Humberto Mejia of Burlington, as he was pumping the ball in the mid 90’s. Mejia was hard to square up as he set down the side in order.

As the game moved to the fourth inning, the batters took over. Following a walk to Peoria’s Nolan Gorman, Encarnacion but the West in the lead with a 2-run homer. Encarnacion showed easy power in stroking the ball out to the opposite field.

But the East seized back the lead in the bottom of the frame. A double by Vargas brought in Niko Hulsizer of Great Lakes. After another walk to Betts,  Bojarski lifted his second sac fly to score Brodt,  who had singled earlier.

Pitching took over again, with nine players reaching base over the next four innings. The greatest threat came in the top of the seventh from the West. With two outs, Quad City’s Austin Dennis and Buddy Kennedy of Kane County were at second an third. But at fielder’s choice from Trey Dawson of Quad City wiped out any further chance.

The game moved into the eighth inning with the East in the lead 3-2. But then, defense took a hand in the game. South Bend infielder Andy Weber attempted to turn a double play. Instead, Weber air mailed his throw to first base and allowed Delvin Perez of Peoria to second. Perez then stole third and came home on an overthrow by catcher Pabel Manzanero of Dayton to tie the score.

Both sides had their chances to break the deadlock in the ninth. Kennedy doubled off of Fort Wayne’s Henry Henry, but Dawson struck out to end the inning. Weber got some redemption by drawing a walk to become the potential winning run in the East’s half of the ninth. However, Weber was stranded and the game went to a sudden-death home run derby to determine the winner.

The West team made an odd selection of Kane County’s shortstop Blaze Alexander to represent them. Alexander had only 4 home runs for the season. The East chose Betts, who had just won the Midwest League Home-Run Derby the day before. Alexander only poked one over the fences in his allotted 90 seconds, and Betts struggled to get into the groove. After calling a time out at 30 seconds left, Betts regrouped and slammed two out and gave a bat flip for the ages.

Born and raised on Chicago's Northwest side, Tom is entering his tenth year covering the Cubs minor league system, writing for prestigious sites such as Chicago Cubs Online, Locked On Cubs, and Cubs Den. Over that period, Tom has published interviews with top prospects such as Aramis Ademan, Miguel Amaya, Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario, Dylan Cease, Ian Happ, Eloy Jimenez, Cole Roederer, and Gleyber Torres.

Known as "Tom U" across the internet, Tom also has a close working relationship with the front offices of all four of the Cubs' full season minor league teams. A frequent guest of the South Bend Cubs on WSBT radio, Tom has also written monthly articles for the South Bend Cubs' stadium program.

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