The Athletic named its 2021 A's MiLB All-Stars, and it's loaded with Lugnuts
On October 8, The Athletic's Melissa Lockard released her picks for the Oakland Athletics' 2021 organizational All-Stars. Lansing Lugnuts fans, prepare to recognize a ton of players who were themselves recognized for their excellence this past season: The top catcher was Tyler Soderstrom, the Athletics' 2020 first-rounder who spent the
On October 8, The Athletic's Melissa Lockard released her picks for the Oakland Athletics' 2021 organizational All-Stars.
Lansing Lugnuts fans, prepare to recognize a ton of players who were themselves recognized for their excellence this past season:
The top catcher was Tyler Soderstrom, the Athletics' 2020 first-rounder who spent the season in Low-A Stockton before an injury felled him just before he was scheduled to be moved up to Lansing. One of the top prospects in all of baseball, Soderstrom is likely to be on the Lugnuts' 2022 Opening Day roster. Honorable mention at catcher went to Carlos Pérez, a 2011-2012 Nut from the Blue Jays affiliation years, who popped a league-leading 31 home runs for Triple-A Las Vegas.
Lawrence Butler (pictured above) received top first base honors, and deservedly so! After hitting 17 homers and stealing 26 bases with Stockton, the Atlanta native joined the Lugnuts at the very end of the season and hit .340 with a .929 OPS in 14 games. He finished the season sizzling hot, batting .500 in his last six games and was named the High-A Central's Player of the Week. Nuts teammate William Simoneit received honorable mention at first base, with Lockard writing, "His long hair and beard make him look like a Viking, and he swung a mighty sword for the Lugnuts this season".
Max Schuemann, who stole 52 combined bases between Lansing and Midland, including two games with five steals apiece, received honorable mention at second base. The Portage native and Eastern Michigan University product began the season off the prospect radar with the Lugnuts before seizing a role at the top of the lineup and then making the most of his promotion to the Double-A Central.
At third base, the top honor went to 21-year-old Lugnuts slugger Jordan Díaz. "Outside of Soderstrom," wrote Lockard, "Díaz is arguably the best pure hitter in the A's system." The native Colombian homered with his first swing of the season, no. 1 of what would turn into a team-leading baker's dozen worth of roundtrippers by year's end. He later reeled off four homers in a five-game stretch at Fort Wayne, slugged a pair of homers in the same game against Lake County pitching prospect Daniel Espino, and was one of two Lugnuts honored on the High-A Central Postseason All-Star Team.
Speaking of sluggers, Shane Selman, who finished with 12 home runs in a breakout season, was named as an honorable mention among organizational outfielders. Selman ascended to the leadoff role following Max Schuemann's promotion and went on to lead the Lugnuts with a .362 on-base percentage and an .831 OPS.
Lockard's top two starting pitching organizational All-Stars were Colin Peluse (pictured above) and Jack Cushing, each of whom excelled at Jackson Field before earning promotions to Double-A.
Peluse made his first appearance for the Nuts in piggybacking Jeff Criswell and Shohei Tomioka on the fifth day of the season before asserting himself as rotational ace with 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings vs. South Bend on May 12. He led the Lugnuts with five quality starts before a September promotion to Midland, whereupon he burst out of the gates with 11 scoreless innings in his first two Double-A starts.
Cushing opened the year in Low-A Stockton but was in Lansing by July. In his first start, he tossed six innings of one-run ball against Dayton; in his second, he twirled a seven-inning complete game at Great Lakes; and in his third, he blanked the Lake County Captains over five masterful innings of relief. The right-hander earned the win in each of his first four appearances and in six of his first seven for the Lugnuts. Two weeks later, he was pitching for the RockHounds.
Lockard saved the Organizational All-Star relief pitchers, a category in which the Lugnuts received excellence throughout the year, for last. Three All-Star Lugnuts were named, Garrett Acton, Aiden McIntyre and Charles Hall, and three honorable mention Nuts were named, Jack Weisenburger, Brock Whittlesey and 2017 Nut Zach Jackson.
Acton (pictured above) delivered sheer dominance from the moment he arrived in Lansing from Stockton in late July, turning in 11 scoreless outings out of 14 total, with 34 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. At one point, the fireballing Acton set down 19 consecutive batters, 18 by strikeout.
McIntyre served as de facto bullpen coach while in Lansing, impressive considering that it was his first season converting to a relief role from starting ace. In 21 1/3 innings with the Lugnuts, he struck out 31, walked just five, and posted a 1.27 ERA, earning a June promotion to Midland. (At season's end, by the way, he became engaged!)
Hall, nicknamed "Captain Hook" by Lugnuts broadcaster Adam Jaksa, served in a set-up role to start the year before stepping into closer duties and finishing second in the High-A Central with 12 saves. Using a wipe-out 12-6 curve as his out pitch, Hall went from July 29 to September 5 without allowing a run, striking out 21 batters in those 13 1/3 scoreless innings. He joined Jordan Díaz on the High-A Central All-Star Team at season's end.
Compared to the others, it is likely that Whittlesey (pictured above, middle) posted the subtlest effective line of the year. After turning in 10 1/3 scoreless innings in Stockton to begin the year, Whittlesey closed 2021 as one of the Lugnuts' most reliable arms, striking out 30 batters in 21 1/3 innings over the final two months of the year and finishing with six straight scoreless outings. He is now on his way to the Arizona Fall League to build on his progress.
Weisenburger was the first Lugnuts pitcher promoted in 2021, and for good reason. Complementing a mid-90s fastball with a sharp slider, the former Michigan Wolverine ended May with 22 strikeouts in just 9 2/3 innings, climaxed by five straight strikeouts at Fort Wayne on May 20. He posted four saves and boasted a 1.76 ERA with the Nuts before heading up to Midland in mid-June.
Lastly there's Jackson, who was highly effective in 15 appearances for the Lugnuts four years ago but struggled with his command somewhat while in Triple-A Buffalo in 2019. Picked up from Toronto in the Rule 5 Minor League portion in December 2020, the former Arkansas ace whiffed 34 hitters in 16 1/3 innings with Midland, posting a 0.55 ERA, before finishing the year at hitter-friendly Las Vegas. There is potential for him to crack the Oakland bullpen in 2022 and make his MLB debut.
All told, that's two Blue Jays-era Lugnuts and 12 2021 Lugnuts among the Athletics' organizational All-Stars, not bad at all for the Nuts in their first season as an A's affiliate and providing plenty of optimism for the future, both in expecting great talent to arrive in Lansing and in watching former Lugnuts ascend up the Oakland ladder on their way to MLB success.
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