There's an old saying that states "two is better than one." Thus is the case for the Kane County Cougars, who have two players named to the Midwest League All-Star Game: 19-year old catcher Max Stassi (Yuba City, CA), a 4th round pick in 2009, and fellow 19-year old Ian Krol, a left-handed pitcher (Naperville, IL) who was selected with the A's 7th round pick in 2009.
Entering Sunday, Stassi was hitting .251, with a team leading eight homers and 31 RBIs. Krol, who makes home just 15 minutes away from Elfstrom Stadium, has been the Cougars' ace. He boasts a 1.87 ERA, which puts him third in the Midwest League.
When Krol joined the Cougars, he found immediate success. In addition to his low ERA, the lefthander ranks second in base-runners per nine innings (8.08), second in batting average against (.189) and third in WHIP (0.91).
On the other hand, Stassi overcame major struggles to earn his trip to the All-Star game. The 19-year old backstop saw his batting average drop substantially as he suffered through a 1-23 slump. In addition to that, Stassi struggled on defense, but through the help of his manager Aaron Nieckula, a former catcher, Stassi was able to improve behind the plate.
Nieckula was very pleased when he learned two of his youngest players would be honored at the All-Star game.
"I'm very proud of those two young men," Nieckula, a former catcher in the A's and Giants' organizations, said. "They're both having very good seasons. Obviously (with) Krol, his numbers speak for themselves. He goes out there and does a great job. He's very deserving. And Max, he got off to a slow start defensively, but he's made some adjustments, made some improvements, and he's hitting the ball very well for us."
The A's future pitcher-catcher battery continue to make a name for themselves with these individuals honors, but they each admit that they wouldn't have the same success if it weren't for each other.
This isn't the first time that Stassi and Krol have played on a team together. The two have traveled down the same path on their road to the big leagues. The two players grew to know each other when they played in high school showcase games prior to being drafted. Stassi and Krol took part in the Aflac All-Star Game, which showcases the best high school juniors, and the Under Armor All-American Game at Wrigley Field. So when Stassi and Krol were drafted on the same day by the same team, it was a thrill for the two players to know they would continue to play together."Maxy (Stassi) has been one of my great buddies ever since the Aflac game (in high school)," Krol said. "We're very fortunate to be drafted in the same organization and move up together in the same levels. He's a great friend of mine, he's a great guy, I love the kid to death, he plays his position very well, and it's just awesome that we're both going together."
Once Stassi and Krol were drafted, the two traveled to Arizona, where they took part in rookie training. After that, they were both sent to Vancouver, to play for the A's short-season A affiliate. It only seemed natural that the two players join each other in Kane County.
When Stassi learned that Krol would be joining him on the All-Star team, he was very excited.
"It's awesome," Stassi said of Krol. "He and I have played summer ball and stuff. We've gone through that whole deal together. We both signed on the same day. He's my roommate. So it'll be pretty cool being there with him. He and I came up together; he and I went to Vancouver then here. It's pretty awesome that he and I are going (to the All-Star game)."
The All-Star game wraps up the first half of the season After the game, the two will return to work together, and look to continue to build on a successful career.
"I hope they have a good time and experience," Nieckula said. "I hope this is something they can build upon for bigger and better things in their career."
As the years go on, Stassi and Krol should advance on to bigger and better things should everything go according to plan. Along the way, the pitcher-catcher battery will work together, and continue to build on their early success. Two is company, and Stassi and Krol wouldn't have it any other way.