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Three former Anglers selected as 2023 MLB All-Stars

by Tyler Schiff
Sunday, July 09, 2023

Three former Anglers selected as 2023 MLB All-Stars
Three former Chatham Anglers were named to the 2023 MLB All-Star Game. First-time selections Zac Gallen and Josiah Gray will suit up as pitchers for the National League. Whit Merrifield garnered his third selection and will feature for the American League as a position player reserve.

Gallen, in his seventh professional season, made his major league debut as a Marlin in 2019 before being traded to Arizona later that season. This year, with the Diamondbacks, the righty has recorded 10 wins in 18 starts and boasts a 3.15 ERA.

Gray, who is in his fifth major league season, was drafted 72nd overall by Cincinnati in 2018 but was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers shortly after. Gray found his stride after he was traded in 2021 to Washington, however, and has charted 86 strikeouts across 17 games in 2023.

Merrifield, a veteran second baseman for Toronto, spent six seasons with Kansas City before the Royals dealt him to the Blue Jays in 2022. A member of the 1,000-hit club, Merrifield has notched 32 RBIs and holds a .286 batting average this year. His selection this season will mark his second All-Star appearance in the last three years.

The 93rd annual Midsummer Classic will take place at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on July 11. Here is an overview of Gallen, Gray and Merrifield during their tenure in Chatham with insight from former Anglers manager John Schiffner.

Zac Gallen (2014, 2015 - Arizona Diamondbacks)

Gallen arrived in Chatham following his freshman year at North Carolina where he produced a 4.64 ERA in 17 games. The Tar Heel started every game he featured in and totaled 62 strikeouts.

In 2014, Gallen struggled during his first year with the Anglers, who floundered with a 17–26–1 record and a last place finish in the East Division. Yet, he displayed consistent improvement after every outing. In Gallen’s second appearance on the mound, the Somerdale, N.J. gave up six earned runs and eight hits. But by his penultimate contest, the righty conceded just one score in five innings pitched.

“Zach was one of the most complete freshman pitchers I ever saw,” Schiffner said. “He commanded all five pitches as a freshman and just had the work ethic that was above and beyond. He just mowed guys down.”

When Gallen returned the following season after his sophomore year at UNC, he helped Chatham reach the 2015 playoffs with a 22–22–0 record. The highlight of his second summer with the Anglers came on July 3, 2015, when he registered six scoreless innings and eight strikeouts in a 4–2 win over Orleans. According to Schiffner, Gallen improved in his return to Veterans Field, but not by much, purely because there weren’t enough facets of his game that needed refining.

“With Zac, you could be up by five or down by five and he’s just grinding,” Schiffner said. “He would just go after hitters and hated to come out of the game.”

Josiah Gray (2017 - Washington Nationals)

Heading into Schiffner’s last season with Chatham, the former skipper watched Gray throw once before deciding the righty deserved a roster spot. Schiffner said Gray entered the summer as an underrated prospect because he played at the Division II level with LeMoyne, but that it didn’t take long for Gray to “get a lot of credit and a lot of respect.”

“Teams were making fun of him because he was D-II and then he turns around and struck them out,” Schiffner said. “You’re getting that in the first at-bat. He comes in at 98 and then he throws a slider that’s just, you know, a death slider.”

In the 2017 collegiate season, Gray played as both a shortstop and a closer but Schiffner envisioned him solely on the mound. As an Angler, Gray concentrated on rounding out his pitching and excelled, barring a brief adjustment period. Following two mediocre outings, Gray didn’t allow a single run in his final 10.5 innings pitched for Chatham. During that stretch, he gave up five hits while notching 20 strikeouts, propelling the A’s to their third straight postseason.

“He's the best story,” Schiffner said. “He did not and has not forgotten where he came from. And he’s still going to get better.”

Whit Merrifield (2009 - Toronto Blue Jays)

Dubbed by Schiffner as “one of the first of what they now call a hybrid player,” Merrifield reported to Chatham for the 2009 season after his sophomore year with South Carolina. During Merrifield’s time with the Anglers, his .225 batting average and four RBIs didn’t jump off the page, but Schiffner said Merrifield stood out because he perfected the “little things.”

“He does everything like moving runners over, bunting for base hits, stealing bases and playing solid defense wherever they play him,” Schiffner said. “Whit’s wired and he grinds and that’s what got him to where he is today.”

Offensively, Schiffner often placed Merrfield in the two-hole and lauded his ability to steal bases or tack on a much-needed hit. Merrifield finished the summer tallying 16 hits in 71 at-bats. A versatile figure on the defensive end as well, Schiffner said Merrfield could start in multiple positions in the lineup, which included his current Major League assignments at second base and outfield.

“Whit’s a hitter and he can hit anywhere in the lineup,” Schiffner said. “To play defensively in a Major League position with that kind of offense makes him a very, very important part of the team.”