Estee Harris came to the Ducks as struggling former prospect looking to revive his career despite being just 22 years old in 2007.
Less than two years later, the Central Islip native is thriving in a league many players and coaches equate with Triple-A. Harris was one of six Ducks named to the Atlantic League’s All-Star game, which takes place Tuesday at Newark’s Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium.
No major league experience was required for the Ducks four positions players who made the Liberty Division squad. Ray Navarrete gets the nod for a second straight year, joining Harris, catcher John Pachot and Brooklyn native Johnny Hernandez. Former big leaguers Joe Valentine and Bill Simas, the club’s set-up man-closer combination, also earned the selection.
“We’re very happy for the players selected to represent our ball club in Newark,” says Ducks general manager Michael Pfaff said in a statement. “They deserve the honor and I’m sure they’ll put on a good show for the fans.”
Just 24 years old, Harris is showing the bat speed and power that made him the Yankees second-round draft choice in 2003. The Ducks (28-24) still trail first-place Southern Maryland by four games with 18 contests remaining in the first half.
The Ducks has won seven of its last 10. Harris, who enters Thursday with a team-high .319 batting average, said he is excited about stellar pitching complementing a resurgent lineup. Harris drilled his second grand slam of the season Sunday and has belted six home runs and driven in 30 runs while slugging .556. The outfielder continues to compensate for the injured Preston Wilson, recording an impressive .399 on-base percentage.
“It’s great when you see the consistency from both sides,” Harris said before the Ducks started a four-game road trip to Somerset. “That just makes us a complete team. It’s good right now. We’re just trying to keep it going.”
Somerset beat the Ducks in the opener before the Flock evened the series with a 6-3 win last night. Navarrete is helping the club and earned his second straight All-Star selection in a Ducks uniform. The one-time Mets minor leaguer continued his high-level play while learning a new position, starting the season as the Ducks everyday third baseman.
Navarrete is batting .288 with a team-high 10 home runs and 34 RBIs. After participating in last year’s home run derby, Navarrete is candidate for the exhibition again. His home run total leaves him just one behind Bridgeport’s Brandon Sing for the league lead.
Pachot will return to Newark after another good start. The former Bear was traded to Long Island in a trade that worked out well for both teams. Carl Everett was sent to New Jersery in exchange for the backstop, who in addition to brining his defensive ability has also batted .295 with 20 RBIs. Hernandez missed all of 2008 but shrugged off the rust to bat .303 with 21 RBIs in registering a .427 slugging percentage.
Valentine continues to thrive in the eighth inning, posting a 1.23 ERA and a 2-0 record through 28 appearances. Simas’ 11 saves is the league’s third most. Simas has struck out 27 batters in just 20 innings.
With media taking a part in the All-Star balloting, here was my list of starters. Bold indicated the player was selected to start while a double asterisk denotes a player made the team but as a reserve.
Liberty Division Freedom Division
1st Eric Crozier (SMD) Josh Pressley (Somerset)
2nd Mike Just (SMD) Keoni De Renne (York)**
3rd Ray Navarrete (LI) Jeff Nettles (Somerset)
SS Travis Garcia SMD** Ramon Nivar (Newark)**
OF Jeremy Owens (SMD) L.J. Biernbaum (Lancaster)
OF Chris Walker (Camden) Sean Smith (Somerset)
OF Johnny Hernandez (LI)** Michael Woods (Lancaster)
OF Estee Harris (LI) Michael Hernandez (Newark)
C John Pachot (LI) Jed Morris ( Lancaster)**
DH Vito Chiaravolloti (Camden)** Matt Hagen (Somerset, selected at second base)
Click here for a full list of players and pitchers: http://atlanticleague.com/cgi-bin/dist/news.cgi?id=1245279074