Elizabethton Review: Twins In First Place

The Elizabethton Twins are the reigning Appalachian League Champions, so they will be playing this entire season with a target on their heads. But after winning 28 of their first 41 games, the Twins are in the driver's seat in the Apply League West, and are once again the favorites to win it all.

The Elizabethton Twins are running away with the Appalachian League Western Division, thanks to some clutch pitching, and some decent bats in the lineup. While only two of the Twins position players are batting over .300, their pitching has been solid all season long, and the bats have come alive when a clutch hit has been needed. With 41 games in the books, the Twins have a 7.5 game lead in the Apply League West, with only Kingsport visible in the rearview mirror.

The main bat in the lineup for the Twins this season has been infielder Danny Valencia, who continues to mash since signing with the organization. Valencia, who was a College World Series hero for the Miami Hurricanes, is batting .351 in his 21 appearances, and he has yet to commit an error. He is currently riding a six-game hitting streak, and he has posted eight multi-hit games.

Another bat that has put together a .300 season has been Steven Singleton, the shortstop who is batting a nice .333 for the month of July. Singleton was the Twins' 11th round selection in this past draft, and he has posted seven multi-hit efforts in 22 games this season. He has struggled with the glove though, committing nine errors this season already.

Danny Santiesteban, the five-tool outfielder who many expected to make his full-season debut this season, has been struggling with his batting average, but it has not affected his ability to hit for power and drive in runs. The speedy centerfielder currently leads the team with 21 runs batted in, and his 14 extra-base hits are also tops. If he can work on his consistency at the plate, then he should be able to get his average a lot higher than his .239 mark at press time.

A few other position players who are playing decently right now are J.W. Wilson, who currently leads the team with six home runs, Garrett Olson, who's .278 batting average is one of the higher marks on the team, and Jeffrey Christy, who has looked solid behind the plate for the Twins. If the Twins are to repeat as Appalachian League Champions, they are going to have to be more consistent at the plate, because the pitching staff can only take them so far.

Speaking of the pitching staff, the Twins boast one of the best in the league, having possibly the best starter and closer in the league. Sean Land, the young left-hander, has been dominant in his first season with the Twins, posting a 1.86 earned run average in his seven starts. In 38.2 innings of work, Land has struck out 38 batters, and has held the opposition to a .185 batting average.

Danny Hernandez, the young righty who leads the league with 12 saves, has been almost unhittable this season. Though he has an ERA in the 3's, Hernandez is holding the competition to a .182 average, and he has struck out more than one batter per inning (25 strikeouts in 18 innings). He has struggled with his control though, walking eight batters to alongside three wild pitches.

Two more bright spots on the pitching staff have been Jose Castillo and Matthew Fox. Fox is a former first round draft pick who is coming off a potentially career-ending injury. He has posted a 3.24 earned run average in his 11 appearances, and even started a game for the Twins. Castillo has a 2.84 earned run average in his seven appearances, making six starts, and has teamed with Land to form one of the best 1-2 punches in the Apply League.

The Twins also boast two of the best strikeout pitchers in the league, with Alex Burnett and Jose Lugo in the rotation. Lugo started the year in Beloit, and has come on to strike out 42 batters in his eight starts this season. Burnett leads the league with 46 strikeouts, and also has a complete game shutout under his belt.

Right now, the Twins are the favorite to repeat in the Appalachian League, and in a season where Manager Ray Smith notched his 500th win, a championship would be the icing on the cake.

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