The Sugar Land Skeeters last week announced their annual player honors, naming Anthony Giansanti as the Most Valuable Player, James Russell as the Pitcher of the Year, and Alvaro Rondon as the Community Man of the Year.
Giansanti, 30, had a batting average of .295, and on-base percentage of .357, and a .456 slugging percentage to go with 79 runs, 22 doubles, 17 home runs, 58 runs-batted-in, and 35 stolen bases. He placed sixth in the league in runs scored, seventh in home runs, fifth in stolen bases and 10th in slugging percentage. Giansanti is the first player in Skeeters history to hit at least 15 home runs and steal at least 30 bases in a single season.
The former Chicago Cubs farmhand was named an Atlantic League Post-Season All-Star and was also named to the league’s All-Defensive Team. Giansanti was one of the most versatile defenders in the league, making over 40 appearances in both the outfield and the infield. He was one of just two players in the league to accomplish that feat.
Giansanti, who was appearing in his ninth professional season in 2018, set single-season career highs in runs, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases. His .295 average was also a career-high for a season in which he played at least 80 games.
Giansanti was a key contributor for the Skeeters through their postseason run to the Atlantic League Championship. He hit .310 with a home run and four RBIs through 10 games in the playoffs and his eight runs scored in the postseason were the third-most of any player in the league. Giansanti’s solo home run in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Freedom Division Championship Series kick-started a three-run rally that helped lead the team to a come-from-behind victory in extra innings over the Lancaster Barnstormers.
The Oakland Athletics selected Giansanti in the 49th round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of Siena College. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in June 2010 and spent seven seasons in their Minor League system, reaching as high as Triple-A.
Russell went 8-4 with a 2.36 ERA over 20 regular-season appearances (18 starts), capturing the Atlantic League’s ERA title. He’s the first pitcher in Skeeters history to accomplish the feat. His 2.36 ERA was also the lowest qualifying ERA in Skeeters history, surpassing right-hander David Pauley’s mark (2.66 ERA, 2014).
The former Major Leaguer carried his superb year into the postseason, going 2-0 with a 1.36 ERA in three starts in the playoffs, all three of which the Skeeters won. Russell capped off the postseason by allowing one run in a complete-game effort in Game 5 of the Atlantic League Championship Series against the Long Island Ducks, helping him garner the Atlantic League Championship Series MVP honors.
The 32-year-old led the Skeeters and was eighth in the Atlantic League with 98 strikeouts in the season. His 17 walks were also the fewest of any pitcher in the league who logged at least 95 innings. Russell was second in the league with a .233 opponent’s batting average, trailing only Lancaster’s Nate Reed (.216), who was voted this season’s Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year.
Russell, the son of former Major League All-Star right-hander Jeff Russell, was appearing in his first season with the Skeeters. He’s a veteran of seven Major League seasons, spending time with the Chicago Cubs (2010-2014, ’15), Atlanta Braves (2014) and Philadelphia Phillies (2016). He’s 10-18 with a 4.09 ERA in through 394 appearances (334.2 IP) at the Major League level. The Cubs selected Russell in the 14th round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of the University of Texas.
In his first season with the Skeeters, Rondon made himself a staple in the Sugar Land and Fort Bend County communities.
As part of the Skeeters’ community service initiatives, Rondon made an appearance at the Texas Children’s Hospital in early September, going from room-to-room visiting patients through the B.I.G. Love Cancer Care Program.
“Alvaro exemplifies the conduct we hope every member of our organization will display toward the community,” said Skeeters President Jay Miller. “His value to the Skeeters and Sugar Land goes far beyond what he does on the field and we immensely appreciate his contributions.”
Rondon also made an appearance at the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center in June, spending several hours visiting with the children in attendance, along with signing a plethora of autographs and giving away merchandise.
The Santiago, Dominican Republic, native was a regular volunteer for Skeeters Buddies Kids Club events, holding hitting and fielding lessons, giving tours of the Skeeters clubhouse and the rest of the stadium and providing insight on what it takes to be a professional baseball player — on and off the field.
Alongside with his work toward the Skeeters’ community initiatives, Rondon regularly could be seen signing autographs before and after games, while also taking time to interact with the Skeeters’ loyal fan base.
The 28-year-old also served as a mentor for fellow Latin players who joined the Skeeters throughout the season and assisted as a translator when needed at events and media availabilities.
Rondon appeared in his fifth season as a professional in 2018. Prior to joining the Skeeters, he played two seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks Minor League system, a season with the Laredo Lemurs of the American Association and a season with the Texas AirHogs of the American Association.