It’s a rare occasion when a Minor League Baseball team has a bona fide local player on its roster.
This season, the Carolina Mudcats have not one but two, and both of them are all-stars.
Starting pitcher and Green Hope graduate Max Povse and bullpen stalwart Evan Phillips out of Clayton are both headed to the Carolina-California League All-Star Game on June 21 in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
The battle of Class A Advanced leagues, first contested in 1996 in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is the only regularly played Organized Baseball all-star game below the Triple-A level that matches up players from more than one league.
“It’s a pretty impressive accomplishment,” said Mudcats skipper Rocket Wheeler, who was the Carolina League’s skipper in three of the all-star games when he managed the Myrtle Beach Pelicans from 2006-10. “Both of those guys really go after the hitters.
“Povse had a really good ERA early. He’s hit a little bump, but he deserves to go. Evan’s got a sub-1.00 ERA, and he attacks the zone really well. They’ll both have a great experience.”
The massive 6-foot-8 Povse was the Atlanta Braves’ third-round pick in the 2014 Draft out of UNC Greensboro. Phillips was Atlanta’s 17th-round pick in 2015 out of UNCW.
It’s Povse’s second stint with the Mudcats after pitching 18 1/3 innings in five starts (1-3, 9.33) for Carolina at the end of last season. That was following his promotion after going 4-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 12 starts at Rome of the South Atlantic League.
This season, Povse is 3-4 with a 3.55 ERA through 11 starts, and is second in the league in strikeouts with 64.
“Playing close to home like this is a luxury,” said Povse, who also played high school basketball and was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 42nd round out of high school. “Family is always close by, and there are a lot of people supporting me. My parents are here every night I pitch, and there are always a couple of friends here too.
“I grew up a Braves fan and was pretty excited when I was drafted by Atlanta. I knew I was getting a great opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of it. I’m just trying to stay consistent and do whatever I can to help the team win. I throw a fastball, curve and changeup. I want to have three good pitches and go from there. I’m always trying to improve on all of them.”
Povse didn’t allow an earned run in his first two starts of the season and was awarded the league’s first Pitcher of the Week honor. He had his first 10-strikeout game on May 27 against the Frederick Keys.
Phillips, who was born in Salisbury, Md., pitched in just six games (1-1, 0.68) at Danville of the Appalachian League last season after the June draft. He was then promoted to the Rome Braves in Rome, Ga., going 1-1 with a 0.68 ERA and two saves in 13 1/3 innings.
This season the fireballer is 1-1 with an 0.78 ERA with seven saves through Friday, and led the league in WHIP (0.70) and batting-average against (.115).
“This is awesome,” said Phillips, who was drafted in the 33rd round by the Kansas City Royals out of high school. “I actually get to live at home with my parents. There hasn’t been a game when I haven’t left tickets for somebody. I didn’t expect to be here this quick, but once I knew I was coming here I was pretty excited and happy.
“We have a good team here. We haven’t always had the ball roll quite our way, but I’m optimistic about the second half and I’m looking forward to it. I throw a fastball, slider and changeup and mix in a cut fastball and a two-seamer. I’ve been going back and forth between closer and setup, and I’ve been keeping the hitters off-balance for a couple of innings.”
Mudcats pitching coach Derrick Lewis said both pitchers easily deserved the all-star nod.
“Both of those guys came in in great shape and ready to go in spring training,” Lewis said. “They were both building on last season and have kept going up to now. Phillips has moved up quickly and he’s moving in the right direction. He’s got a great demeanor.
“Povse definitely gets after it. He works hard, and the hitters aren’t going to run into many guys his size.”
The California trip will be the first pro all-star appearance for both players.
“I was really excited when I found out,” Povse said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work this season and it’s paying off. We get to go celebrate and enjoy California for two days.”
“It’s a great honor to be in the game,” added Phillips, who noted that his mom Beth will be making the trip to the West Coast for the game. “I’m just really excited to be competing with so many good players.”