Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Press Release: Chris Gittens, Others SAL Postseason Honorees

RiverDogs First Baseman Chris Gittens, Pitching Coach Justin Pope among SAL Postseason All-Star Honorees
Gittens four shy of the Charleston franchise record for home runs, RiverDogs pitching staff has set franchise record for strikeouts under guidance of Pope



CHARLESTON, SC –With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Charleston RiverDogs have already had one of their most memorable seasons to date. Clinching their first playoff berth in 11 seasons with a 42-27 first half, the RiverDogs are gearing up for the South Atlantic League divisional round beginning on Wednesday, September 7. With postseason baseball almost upon the Lowcountry, RiverDogs first baseman/designated hitter Chris Gittens was named to the SAL Postseason All-Star team as the designated hitter while pitching coach Justin Pope also garnered All-Star accolades as announced by the league office on Tuesday.

Gittens becomes the first postseason all-star player for the RiverDogs since IF Rob Lyerly was Charleston’s lone representative in 2010 and Pope becomes the first RiverDogs coach to be selected to a postseason All-Star team in the Riley Park era. It is just the second time since 1997 that the RiverDogs have had two or more of their members selected to the Postseason All-Star team with three RiverDogs players collecting All-Star honors in 2009 (RHP David Phelps, OF Melky Mesa, IF Corban Joseph).

Gittens, 22, has been the heartbeat in the middle of the RiverDogs’ lineup since Opening Day. The Sherman, TX native is currently hitting .253/.359/.478 with 21 homers that ranks second in the South Atlantic League while driving in a team-high 70 runs. With seven games remaining in the regular season, Gittens is four home runs shy of Charleston’s single-season franchise record and three behind the league leader, Jose Pujols, who has 24 long balls for Lakewood. After making a diving stop on Friday night in Hickory and sustaining a lower body injury, the 6’4”, 250 pound slugger was placed on the 7-day disabled list on Saturday.

“You are always looking for a power first baseman and we certainly have one with Gittens,” said RiverDogs manager Luis Dorante. “He’s had his up and downs but he’s one of those guys that keeps his composure and tries to work through it and shows maturity to get through that. The Yankees are definitely thinking about this kid down the road.”

Gittens’ most impressive game came on the road in West Virginia on June 16 when the native Texan smashed three home runs, one of just two hitters in the league to complete the trifecta, while going 3-for-5 with a career-high six RBI. Along with his eye-popping power, the Yankees’ former 12th round pick in 2014 has shown solid plate discipline, reaching base safely in a league-high 33 straight from April 21-June 2 while drawing 56 walks on the season that ranks fifth in the league.

Pope garners All-Star accolades in his first season as the RiverDogs pitching coach and his seventh in the Yankees organization. The former Yankees minor leaguer has led Charleston to a league best 3.06 ERA with RiverDogs hurlers piling up a franchise record 1,183 strikeouts, already 14 more than the 2011 RiveDogs team still with seven games still remaining. Charleston also leads the league with 15 shutout victories this season, needing just one more to surpass another franchise record accomplished twice (1986 Charleston Rainbows & 1980 Charleston Royals) while also leading the SAL in WHIP (1.17), fewest runs (475) and fewest hits allowed (963).

Along with the success that the Charleston staff has had, Pope has also excelled in moving players up the ladder and maintaining success amongst a record level of turnover. Charleston has seen 36 different pitchers suit up for the RiverDogs this year, the most in the franchise’s history, with 14 different pitchers being called up to High-A Tampa this year. Two players who spent time in Charleston this year have made it up as high as Double-A (RHPs Will Carter and Travis Hissong).

“It’s well deserved,” said Dorante of Pope. “The numbers speak for themselves with the pitching staff that we have that has impressed at this level with guys coming in and going out and it’s not easy to deal with that and Popey has done a tremendous job with that to get guys to fill in, throw strikes and have success. It’s one of the keys to us being in the playoffs.”

Pope comes to the Lowcountry by the way of the Appalachian League where the West Palm Beach, FL native lead the rookie ball Pulaski Yankees to a league best 3.08 staff ERA in 2015. Pope served as the manager of the Short-Season Single-A Staten Island Yankees in the

New York-Penn League from 2012-13 with the Baby Bombers compiling a 64-86 record under his tenure. He previously worked on the Double-A Trenton Thunder staff as the pitching coach in 2011 after beginning his coaching career with Staten Island as the pitching coach in 2010.

Originally selected as the 28th overall pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1st round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, Pope accrued a 38-34 record with a 3.34 ERA over eight minor league seasons with the Cardinals (2001-03), Yankees (2003-07), and Phillies (2008) reaching as high as Triple-A. Prior to his professional career, the 6’0” righty attended the University of Central Florida where he was named an All-American after his junior season in 2001. Pope still stands as the Knights’ all-time leader in career wins (32) and strikeouts (335) and was inducted into the University of Central Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.

The Annual All-Star Team was also highlighted by the selections for Most Outstanding Pitcher, Most Outstanding Major League Prospect and Most Valuable Player. Mitch Keller of the West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh Pirates) was selected as the Most Outstanding Pitcher. Keller has an 8-5 record and an ERA of 2.46 in 23 games. Brendan Rodgers from the Asheville Tourists (Colaorado Rockies) was named the Most Outstanding Major League Prospect. Brian Mundell of the Asheville Tourists was chosen as the Most Valuable Player. Mundell is leading the league in hits (164), extra base hits (72), total bases (265) and runs scored (90) in 129 games, including a SAL and Minor League Baseball record 57 doubles.

Without their All-Star slugger, the RiverDogs wrap up their final homestand of the regular season in a three-game series in a potential SAL Championship preview with the Hagerstown Suns, the Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, from August 30-September 1 at The Joe. The RiverDogs will send RHP Daris Vargas (10-6, 2.66) in the opener with Hagerstown starter to be announced. The RiverDogs await their first round playoff opponent with the Rome Braves and Augusta GreenJackets separated by just a half game in the second half standings.

Ticket information for the homestand can be secured by contacting the box office at (843) 577-DOGS (3647) or online at www.riverdogs.com. Tickets for Game 2 of the SAL Divisional Series on Friday, September, 9 at 7:05pm are also available. Those that can’t make it to the park can follow every pitch on WTMA 1250 AM and streaming online at riverdogs.com.

2016 South Atlantic League All-Star Team



Manager
Patrick Anderson
Hagerstown
Coach
Justin Pope
Charleston
RH Pitcher
Mitch Keller
West Virginia
LH Pitcher
Brian Gonzalez
Delmarva
Relief Pitcher
CJ Robinson
Greensboro
Catcher
Yermin Mercedes
Delmarva
First Baseman
Brian Mundell
Asheville
Second Baseman
Josh Tobias
Lakewood
Shortstop
Brendan Rodgers
Asheville
Third Baseman
Kelvin Gutierrez
Hagerstown
Utility Infielder
Ian Sagdal
Hagerstown
Outfielder
Yonathan Daza
Asheville
Outfielder
Tate Matheny
Greenville
Outfielder
Jose Pujols
Lakewood
Utility Outfielder
Luis Alexander Basabe
Greenville
Designated Hitter
Chris Gittens
Charleston



Most Outstanding Pitcher
Mitch Keller
West Virginia
Most Outstanding MLB Prospect
Brendan Rodgers
Asheville
Most Valuable Player
Brian Mundell
Asheville

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