Entering the summer, few would have expected Justin Slaten to be one of the biggest names around the Northwoods League.
Understandably so. After going 2-9 and posting a 7.02 ERA at New Mexico this spring, expectations for the Eau Claire Express pitcher might have been understandably modest.
And yet here he is.
Slaten was one of four Express players named a Northwoods League All-Star on Friday. Entering his start against La Crosse on Friday night, the right-hander had the league’s best ERA among starters at 1.11, and had posted a 5-1 record. He struck out 52 hitters — also best in the league — in 40q innings pitched.
“I wasn’t expecting to have as good of a summer season as I am right now,” Slaten said. “I’ve been trusting my stuff, and just knowing that I have the capability of getting the job done every time I go out there.”
Some self-belief has helped him get his game on track this summer.
“I always expect myself to do pretty well. I hold myself to a pretty high standard,” he said. “Having conviction behind every pitch is a huge part of pitching, so you’ve got to use that mental aspect of going out there and thinking you’re going to do well. If you don’t think you’re going to do well, you’re not. So that’s been the biggest thing for me.”
Slaten is joined by two-way player Phillip Sikes, infielder Scott Ogrin and outfielder Spencer Myers as Eau Claire’s representatives at this year’s All-Star Game on July 24 in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Sikes also plays at New Mexico. He hit .246 as a position player for the Lobos, but he didn’t get to spend much time on the mound this spring.
He’s making a case to see it a lot more next year with the way he’s pitching as Eau Claire’s closer. Entering Friday night’s game, he had not allowed an earned run all season and had tallied seven saves.
At the plate, he had a .267 batting average for the Express.
“I’m really excited for him to get the chance to go out there and experience it. He’s put together a really good summer, and I’m really happy for him,” Slaten said of his New Mexico teammate.
The Lobos duo has locked things down for the Express when they’re on the mound, and Myers and Ogrin have provided some of the team’s sweetest swings at the plate.
Myers, who plays his college ball at Notre Dame, entered Friday with a .323 batting average this summer, which is by far the best on the team. He slugged seven doubles and drove in nine runs in addition to nine stolen bases.
“When I found out (I was an All-Star), it was pretty cool,” Myers said. “It was kind of rewarding. You put in all the work, play every day, take long bus rides. It paid off today.”
He has provided an unmatched spark atop the team’s lineup, routinely getting on base for the heart of the order.
“I’ve just been trying to play my best, I haven’t been too caught up in stats or anything like that,” Myers said.
Ogrin’s power numbers were undoubtedly the reason he was named an All-Star. The second baseman’s .225 batting average won’t get much praise, but his home run totals certainly will. He’s hit six homers this season, which is tied for the third-most in the league. The Cal Poly product has almost half of Eau Claire’s home runs this summer, and has also driven in 18 runs.
He’s on a bit of a cold streak as of late, going 4-for-26 in his previous seven games, but it wasn’t enough to freeze him out of the All-Star Game.
“I’m not doing too hot right now at the plate, but it’s a great honor to be in that group,” Ogrin said.
This year’s total of four All-Stars is an improvement on last year for the Express. They had two a year ago.