Jake Woodford is rising. The 22-year-old Memphis Redbirds pitcher will pull off a rare trifecta when he takes the mound for the Pacific Coast League in Wednesday's Triple-A All-Star Game in El Paso. It will be Woodford's third All-Star Game in four seasons, across all three primary levels of minor-league baseball. Woodford first earned All-Star recognition with the Class-A Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League) in 2016. He represented Double-A Springfield in last year's Texas League All-Star Game.
Courtesy Memphis Redbirds
Woodford is the second Memphis pitcher in as many years to start for the PCL in the Triple-A extravaganza, following Dakota Hudson (who went on to be named the 2018 PCL Pitcher of the Year). Considering Hudson can now be found in the St. Louis Cardinals' starting rotation, it's not a leap of imagination to see Woodford soon starting a game or two at Busch Stadium.
• The Redbirds have had no fewer than six pitchers start the Triple-A All-Star Game, but the honor seems to bring mixed blessings. Dan Haren started the 2004 game and went on to a fine big-league career, earning 153 wins for eight teams over 13 seasons. As for Larry Luebbers (1999), Bud Smith (2001), and Chris Gissell (2005) . . . not so much. Smith tossed a no-hitter for the Cardinals a few short weeks after his Triple-A All-Star appearance, but threw his last major-league pitch in 2002, still shy of his 23rd birthday.
• If the minor leagues are about developing big-league stars, the Memphis Redbirds have met the mission, and then some. With Cardinal shortstop Paul DeJong — a Redbird for 48 games in 2017 — playing in this year's All-Star Game, a former Memphis player has appeared in every Midsummer Classic since 2003. The most All-Star appearances by a former Redbird? Albert Pujols has been honored ten times and Yadier Molina nine. J.D. Drew — a Redbird in 1998 and ’99 — earned MVP honors at the 2008 event (as a member of the Boston Red Sox).
• I'm asked periodically about my "all-time Redbirds team." Now with more than two decades in the books, such an all-star team actually carries some weight. Here's my starting nine (based solely on players' performances with Memphis):
FIRST BASE: John Gall (2003-06)
SECOND BASE: Stubby Clapp (1999-2002)
THIRD BASE: Patrick Wisdom (2016-18)
SHORTSTOP: Wilfredo Tovar (2017-18)
LEFTFIELD: Allen Craig (2009-10)
CENTERFIELD: Adron Chambers (2010-13)
RIGHTFIELD: Nick Stavinoha (2007-11)
CATCHER: Bryan Anderson (2008-12)
PITCHER: P.J. Walters (2008-11)
• Some All-Star aid appears on the way for both the struggling Redbirds and Cardinals. Outfielder Dylan Carlson represented Double-A Springfield last month in the Texas League All-Star Game. And Carlson was one of two St. Louis prospects to play in last weekend's All-Star Futures Game in Cleveland. The other was third-baseman Nolan Gorman, barely 19 years old and already a top-50 minor-league prospect. Currently slugging for Class-A Palm Beach, Gorman is unlikely to make his Memphis debut this season, but could well be measuring the distance of the outfield wall at AutoZone Park this time next season.