WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla Sweets outfielder Andrew Mendenhall’s sizzling summer got another boost as he, along with teammates Jarod Gonzales and Sean Bouchard, were named West Coast League All-Stars late last week.
Mendenhall will make his second All-Star appearance after being named to the team in 2011, while Gonzales and Bouchard will both make their All-Star debuts. The game will be played at Kiger Stadium in Klamath Falls at 6:35 p.m. on Monday.
And for Mendenhall, who entered the season recovering from shoulder surgery, it’s been a long road back.
“I tested it out the first few weeks,” Mendenhall said of his shoulder. “It’s been sore every now and again, but for the most part it’s been good. I’ve been happy with it.”
It hasn’t slowed down his bat, as Mendenahll leads the team with 22 hits, is tied for the team lead in home runs with four and his .329 batting average ranks second. His nine doubles rank him second in the WCL and his .507 slugging percentage places him seventh league-wide.
“He’s kind of been a mainstay at the top of the lineup for us,” Sweets manager J.C. Biagi said of Mendenhall. “He’s hammered left handers and had a fair amount of success against right-handed pitching. He’s kind of a guy for us. He’s a good player and a good guy and he’s worked at it — this is well deserved.”
Mendenhall will also take part in the Home Run Derby, which starts at 5:10 p.m. on Monday.
“I did them a long time ago when I was like 12,” Mendenhall said. “That was with an aluminum bat and the fences were a little shorter. Just to experience it will be pretty fun.”
The two-time WCL All-Star’s advice for his rookie teammates? Simply — have fun.
“Gonzo (Gonzales) has been leading off for us, he’s been getting on base a ton,” Mendenhall said. “Bouchard is just out of high school and he’s been doing pretty good for a high school guy. I’m happy for those guys too. Hopefully we can go down there and represent Walla Walla.”
For Gonzales, who played at Walla Walla Community College the past two seasons, the All-Star nod is a testament to his dedication, Biagi said.
“He’s one of those guys that has truly made himself a ballplayer,” Biagi said of Gonzales, who has lost more than 50 pounds since coming to Walla Walla. “He’s 175 right now and cut and ripped. It’s incredible. He’s in the weight room every day. He’s in the cages every day. He’s doing agility stuff — just trying to make himself better. Through two short years, it’s paid off.”
Gonzales’ statistics may not jump off the page, but a closer look reveals how important he is to the Sweets’ attack. He ranks first on the team with a .433 on-base percentage, he has scored a team-leading 27 runs and his 34 walks lead the league.
As a leadoff hitter, Gonzales has exceeded Biagi’s expectations, but Gonzales remains hungry to hunt for hits.
“I feel like I’m seeing the ball well and tracking the ball well, (I’m) just hitting the ball hard at people right now,” Gonzales said. “You can’t get mad about that — that’s baseball.”
The Sweets’ final All-Star selection was a rather surprising one, considering he’s only played 20 games with the Sweets, but it’s hard to argue with Bouchard’s production.
“He’s a young guy — raw talent,” Biagi said of the 18-year-old Bouchard. “He’s one of those guys that can get out of bed and hit. Obviously there’s been a great deal of work in years past that leads him into the West Coast League after high school and among the elite really in the league.”
After graduating from San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High School in June, the youngster boasts a batting average of .317 with 26 hits in just 82 at-bats. Bouchard has also driven in 15 runs during his short stint with the Sweets.
“Everything in the game is a little (bit) faster,” Bouchard said of the differences between high school and the WCL. “The guys are faster, they’re bigger. The pitchers are throwing faster, they’re stronger. I think the key is to slow the game down yourself. If you try to speed yourself up, that’s when you start to make mistakes.”
Bouchard, who will attend UCLA in the fall, said he’s still adjusting to the pace of summer ball and his teammates have been nothing but helpful along the way.
“I kind of got thrown in the deep end and it’s trying to keep my head above water,” Bouchard said. “It’s fun out here. These guys — they’ve all been through it. It’s not their first rodeo. I’m just learning from them.”
But for opposing pitchers, overlooking Bouchard simply because of his age hasn’t worked out.
“I’ve always kind of played with the older competition,” Bouchard said. “It’s funny, they all joke about me being the young one and still being in high school and whatnot. It’s fun. I want to challenge myself and these guys are all obviously great players. Age is nothing but a number. It’s a baseball game — no matter how old or young someone is — the talent level will be there. (I’m) trying to challenge myself and get better everyday.”
The WCL All-Stars, per the league’s new three-division alignment, will be divided between a “North” and “South” team. Klamath Falls manager Mitch Karraker will lead the South, which consists of players from Bend, Corvallis, Cowlitz, Kitsap, Klamath Falls and Medford, while Wenatchee manager Ed Knaggs will pilot the North, which features players from Bellingham, Kelowna, Victoria, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and Yakima Valley.