Six on the Lexington Legends' roster were voted all-stars while playing for a team that resides in the cellar of the South Atlantic League's Southern Division.
A curious fact considering that only two teams in the South Atlantic League had more players voted to the All-Star Game than the Legends. The Hickory Crawdads will send seven players to the event in Asheville, N.C., on Tuesday, and the Greenville Drive will send eight.
Hickory and Greenville sit in first place in their respective divisions. So what gives in Lexington? In truth, it's no different here than anywhere else in the minor leagues.
The balance between winning and developing young players is a fine one. It's one that minor-league organizations have to contend with when weighing the desire to please the fans against the need to move talent up the professional ladder.
"Developing has to come first," pitching coach Carlos Reyes said. "And the winning comes second."
That mindset is the core concept of the minor leagues. The young players are focused on reaching the majors. The manager's job is to hone in on and fine tune the players' skill sets, presenting them with the best opportunity to be called up to the big leagues.
"Numbers, of course they count, but we have to teach these guys how to play winning baseball," Legends head coach Omar Ramirez said. "And that's by doing the little things."
The inability to do the little things has placed the Legends on the wrong side of .500 heading into next week's All-Star break.
Entering Friday's game, the Legends were 29-38.
"We didn't play well the first month," Ramirez said. "We've played better lately. The pitching and defense got better. Offensively, we've been there all season, but we played some bad baseball defensively the first month. Hopefully during the second half (of the season) we can play the way we have been."
Ryan O'Hearn, who leads the South Atlantic League with 16 home runs, has been the Legends' most visible All-Star. Outfielders Elier Hernandez and Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado, and pitchers Zach Lovvorn and Pedro Fernandez will also represent Lexington on the Southern Division roster.
Pitcher Matt Strahm was also voted an all-star but won't play. He was promoted to the Class A Advanced Wilmington Blue Rocks last week.
With the Legends' wealth of talent, the goal of the manager is to prod the players to the next level — at times, to the detriment of the team's record.
"Our biggest thing is creating an industry of moving guys to the big leagues," Reyes said. "We try to get our best players and keep on pushing them and keep on developing them to get them to the top. As we develop we're going to keep on winning, though we're going to have our ups and downs. But they're learning and they're still getting better. Their tools will start playing out and you'll start seeing the production on the field."
That's not to say that winning doesn't matter. Losing "sucks," Ramirez said. "I manage to win games. I try to do whatever is in my hands to win games."
So, should fans be worried about the Legends' record?
According to Ramirez, no.
"We get better every single day," he said. "We played bad defensively with bad pitching the first month of the season. Now, we're getting better and we're proud of that."
The Legends were 7-14 in April, which included a seven-game losing streak. They were 14-15 in May and 8-9 in June, entering Friday night.
The Legends get a fresh start after next week's All-Star break. After first-half champions are crowned, every South Atlantic League team starts the second half of the season with a 0-0 record.
"The prize is going to be at the end of the season. We hope to be in the playoffs," Ramirez said.