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Former first-round pick Smith shines in Savannah victory

By Mitch Vingle, Sports Editor

If you go to Appalachian Power Park expecting to see a home victory these days, you might be disappointed.

The West Virginia Power is now 11-21. It is firmly in last place in the South Atlantic League Northern Division. Even attendance is down. The Power was next-to-last in the SAL to start Wednesday, averaging 1,475 fans. On a kids’ day, but 1,781 showed for a game bathed in sunshine.

Then form held true on the field. The Savannah Sand Gnats, an affiliate of the New York Mets, swarmed the Power in the sixth inning and posted a 9-3 victory. The Gnats are now 21-9 and in first place in the Southern Division.

In sum, it hasn’t been a good year for the Power. But while Charleston fans wait for their team’s improvement, there are still perks to hitting the APP.

Take Wednesday, for example. At second base for the Gnats, there was the Mets’ former fourth-round draft pick L.J. Mazzilli.

Yes, he’s the son of Lee Mazzilli, who proved to be a spark for New York’s 1986 World Series team and a media darling in the Big Apple. On Wednesday, the younger Mazzilli sparked that six-run outburst with a bloop single.

At first for the Sand Gnats was Dominic Smith, who was a first-round draft pick of the Mets in the 2013 June Amateur draft. The California native has been called the team’s No. 3 prospect. And, if Wednesday is any indication, he’s starting to take off.

Smith appeared to have four hits in five at-bats, although one was later changed to a Power error.

“It was pretty good,” Smith said. “We did a nice job of coming back. The Power has a pretty good team and they started off with a 2-0 lead. I’m glad our team was able to grind it out, come back and win the game.”

Indeed, West Virginia starting pitcher Justin Topa was cruising. In five innings, he allowed six hits and two runs with four strikeouts and no walks. In the top of the sixth, though, manager Michael Ryan inserted Jerry Mulderig, who proceeded to allow five runs, three earned, before being lifted after recording just two outs.

“We knew we were going to score runs,” Smith said. “We have great hitters We just wanted to work the count and work the pitchers deep. We just laid off the breaking balls. And our team doesn’t miss many fastballs.”

That includes Savannah’s Gavin Cecchini, who blasted the first pitch of Mulerig’s replacement, Clario Perez, off the left-center field scoreboard in the sixth.

Like Smith, Cecchini is a former first-round pick of the Mets, joining the club in 2012. The shortstop is now batting .280.

The Power also has a first-round pick in catcher Reese McGuire, who is struggling with a .235 batting average. In this three-game series, though, one can still check out Smith, who projects as New York’s future first baseman. After the Mets traded Ike Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Lucas Duda is getting most of the at-bats in New York with Josh Satin in reserve.

“I watch,” Smith said of the Mets, “but I try not to worry about those things. I try to just go out and do my job. I mean, I have 100-and-some games down here. I have to get my at-bats and my repetitions. I’m only 18, so I’m blessed to be here at this age and compete with guys who are 21 and 22. Just happy to be out here.”

He pointed to the older Gnats and credited them with helping him through the tough days. Maybe now, though, is Smith’s time.

“I feel like I’m doing better as the days and games go on,” Smith said. “I started off slow last year so I wasn’t bothered by [a slow start] this year. I’m just taking it one day at a time, one at-bat at a time and coming around a little bit.”

He’s now batting .262. Oh, and about the elder Mazzilli, now an announcer?

“I’ve met Mr. Mazzilli,” Smith said. “He’s a really great guy. He gave me some little tips and pointers. L.J. is a phenomenal player as well. The whole team is good. I hit sixth or seventh [in the batting order] and we scored a lot of runs. It shows how good our lineup is.”

The two teams will meet again today at 7:05 p.m.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/mitchvingle.


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