Thaiss, Gallen join expanding cast of MLB’s Garden Staters

By Bob Behre | July 16, 2019

New Jersey players have always made an impact on Major League Baseball. We have Hall of Famers Ducky Medwick of Carteret and Larry Doby of Paterson to hang our Garden State caps on. And we have such experienced World Series pitchers as Al Leiter of Bayville and Hank Borowy of Bloomfield.

And that’s just scratching the surface of a very deep and talented pool of New Jersey ball players who have not only played with but excelled among the very best in the MLB game. But we don’t have to rest our laurels on the stars of the past like Summit’s Willie Wilson and Cherry Hill’s Orel Hershiser, or even Trenton’s Al Downing or Parsippany’s Richie Zisk.

That’s because our current crop of New Jersey major leaguers is astounding and playing at the highest level. Indeed, our deeply talented Garden Staters seem to be taking MLB by storm. 

Thaiss rocketed through the Angels minor affiliates since being drafted in the first round in 2016. He joined Millville’s Mike Trout and Tommy LaStella (Westwood/St. Joseph (Mont.) on the Los Angeles roster. Trout is only the best player in the game and LaStella, after a long grind through the minor leagues and some starts and stops in the majors, has elevated his game to the point he was named to the American League All-Star team two weeks ago.

When former NJ Super 17 star Matt Thaiss of Jackson hit his first major league home run this weekend, a clutch three-run, game-deciding bomb, we were reminded that Thaiss is one of three — yes three — players from New Jersey playing for the Los Angeles Angels.

LaStella, before being sidelined by a recent injury, was batting .300 with 16 HRs and 44 RBI in 78 games for the Angels. That’s after a part-time role with the Cubs last year garnered just 1 HR and 19 RBI and a .266 average in 123 games. LaStella is truly a marvel of persistence. 

St. Joseph (Mont.) grad Tommy LaStella, right, greets Millville’s Mike Trout during recent Los Angeles Angels game.

Trout, like Thaiss, played for the NJ Super 17 team out of Diamond Nation and is just one of so many examples of the level of baseball being played in New Jersey. Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello of Seton Hall Prep and Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle (Medford/Shawnee) are two high level arms hailing from New Jersey.

The Mets’ Todd Frazier of Toms River continues to deliver in the clutch like he did in Little League, at Toms River South and Rutgers. Frazier is batting .251 with 12 HRs and 36 RBI in 69 games.

Why pine for the days of the Dodgers Don Newcombe of Madison or the Yankees Elliot Maddox of East Orange when you can watch the Marlins’ Zac Gallen of Gibbsboro, the Royals’ Heath Fillmyer of Roebling and Cincinnati’s Anthony DeSclafani of Colts Neck, another NJ Super 17 player, throwing heat in major league rotations today. Perhaps you’d prefer to watch Mike Ford of Belle Mead hit a home run for the Yankees. Ford, also, played for the Diamond Jacks.

Or maybe you are turned on by seeing the Royals Frank Schwindel of Livingston being rewarded for grinding through six years of lower level professional ball before reaching “The Show.” Then there is impressive righthander MIke Shawaryn of Carney’s Point reaching the majors in half that time, joining the Red Sox bullpen last month as they attempt to get back in the American League East race.

Twins righthander Devin Smeltzer, a Bishop Eustace grad from Voorhees, N.J., was called up recently and assigned two starts in which he pitched to a 3.24 ERA., striking out 13 and walking four in 16.2 innings. New Jersey players, it seems, keep getting the call. Mark Zagunis, an outfielder from Willingboro and Holy Cross High School, has played 29 games with the Cubs this season.

And there are so many more where that came from as pitchers like Brian Dobzanski of Delsea and Kevin Herget of Park Ridge make their way through the St. Louis Cardinals system. Dobzanski was recently elevated to Double-A while Herget, though injured, is with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. A former Cardinals first round draft pick, Rob Kaminsky, was promoted recently to Triple-A with the Cleveland Indians. Kaminsky played at Diamond Nation, too, for NJ Super 17.

As New Jersey’s impact on the major league game continues to expand, we, at Diamond Nation, will try our best to keep up with the furious pace of Garden Staters getting the call to “The Show.”

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