A Legend Retires: Bunker Hill coach Marty Curtis hangs ’em up

I have a personal blog and occasionally – if not sporadically –  I will write about other things.

One such post I did back in March was about a baseball lifer in this area, Bunker Hill High School baseball coach Marty Curtis. Today, it was announced that Curtis has retired after 47 seasons in the game, the last 35 with the Bears.

A Hall-of-Famer in his profession, Curtis was inducted into the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame in 2017 and into the North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015. As great as he was as a coach, Curtis is an even better human being.

While covering a Bunker Hill game in early March, I was struck by Curtis meticulously working the on-deck circle to get it just right. So I wrote the following post. For those not from this area, I hope you get a sense of who he is. The game is richer and the players that played under his tutelage are better men because of giants like Marty Curtis.

This story is a reminder that you (me) are never too old or too important to do the work that needs to be done.

My sports assignment this afternoon was a high school baseball game between Maiden and Bunker Hill played at M.M. Curtis field on the campus of Bunker Hill High. I arrived in time to see the final inning of the JV game, and thereafter, had to wait out the preparation of the field for the varsity game.

While this is going on, I’m passed time on my phone before looking up to check on the progress for when my game might start. I looked around and saw players from both teams stretching in the outfield, and then my glance saw a lonely figure with a push broom walking circles smoothing out the dirt at home plate and the surrounding area.

On the second circular walk, I realize it is Bunker Hill head coach Marty Curtis. Yes, the guy for whom the field is named.

For those that don’t know, Curtis is a high school baseball coach legend in this area. I was privileged to cover the game in 2016 in which he picked up his 400th win.

Never one to focus on himself, the grizzled coach told me in an interview after getting the milestone win, “Well, I’m glad it’s over with, to be honest with you,” Curtis said. “I don’t like that. It just means you’ve been around a long time and you’re old. There’s been a lot of players that have contributed to that. It’s good today and now I’m glad it’s over with.”

Curtis is a throwback of a baseball lifer, who has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised with him being out there getting home plate just right, before he chalked out the batter’s box and foul lines. I thought, “How many times has this man gone through this mundane ritual?”

There, on the field, while his players were getting ready, he was doing his part for the game. It was marvelous reminder that no matter how great one is in their profession, one is never too good to get out there, get dirty, and do what one needs to do to help others succeed.

It’s true in sports. It’s true in every walk of life.

I’m thankful for people like Marty Curtis and my hope is to strive to be more like him when I grow up.

Marty Curtis

Bunker Hill High School baseball coach Marty Curtis, as he prepared the batter’s box prior to a game in March 2018. Curtis announced his retirement Friday after 35 seasons with the Bears.

At the Quarter Pole: A look at the Crawdads progress with manager Matt Hagen

Prior to Thursday night’s game at Kannapolis, the Hickory Crawdads hit the quarter mark of the 2018 season. Since losing the first seven games to start the season, Hickory has been right around the .500 mark and is currently at 14-22.

Over the past week, the entire outfield got a makeover. Eric Jenkins was promoted to high-A Down East, Miguel Aparicio went to extended spring and Pedro Gonzalez. Up came 2017 first-round pick Bubba Thompson – along with first baseman Tyreque Reed – and suddenly the Crawdads are 5-3 since.

The three-headed monster behind the plate went to two as Rangers minor league player of the month Melvin Novoa went to Down East. The pitching staff is looking for consistency and two of the early season sparks have come in the former of utility players Justin Jacobs and Ryan Dorow. All in all, the Crawdads are in a better spot than they were in mid-April and with a tweak here and there, they could be a team to watch later this half and all of the second half.

I took a few moments to chat with Crawdads manager Matt Hagen at the end of the last homestand on Tuesday about the first 35 games of the season and what the hopes are for the next 35 games as the season churns along.

 

It’s the quarter point of the season and, record aside, I know this is about development. First, I want to get an overview of the positives you see in the development side?

Hagen: Record aside, we are trying to develop the ability to win games, too. We put ourselves in such a hole early on the way we came out. We did not swing the bats real well early in the season. The weather was cold and the ball wasn’t carrying. You look at the games we’d win, typically there were some home runs involved.

I think that all three of our catchers have gotten better, that’s why one of them moved up. Infield play has been one of our strengths this season, making the routine plays.

We had the ability to promote an outfielder that had been here for two years, so the work he’d put in paid off.

Our starting pitchers have been better the last few outings If you look at Tyree (Thompson), there’s a few things. AJ Alexy as been throwing the ball better the last few starts. So, we’re definitely getting better on the pitching side. Then I look at the way (Joe) Barlow threw today, (DeMarcus) Evans threw the ball well his last time, Sal’s (Mendez) been throwing lately and the way (Alex) Speas threw yesterday. Those are things to get really excited about from a pitching perspective.

 

There are a lot of changes that can happen at this level and suddenly you have a whole new outfield.

Hagen: The guys that have shown up have contributed right away. Getting a little fresh blood was great for us and when we get Pedro (Gonzalez) back and healthy – at some point in the future – he’s only going to make us better, too.

 

And Miguel was sent down, what is he going to be working on at this point?

Hagen: Well, at this point, he’s going to be working on a little bit of everything. He does a lot of things that the organization values, but just like everybody else, he’s got things to work on and hopefully he will make the most of his time down there.

 

You mentioned at the beginning of the year that you had a lot of hope for the two utility players – Justin Jacobs and Ryan Dorow – and both have really contributed some good innings for you?

Hagen: They’ve been awesome, the ability to plug both those guys in anywhere. JJ might play second one day, first, third, or right field the next day. Ryan, for me, has been a plus infielder no matter what position we’ve put him in. Like I said, they’re both hitting over .300. So, they’ve given us a lot of value and we’re not going to go anywhere without those two guys.

 

Next step that you’ve got to get to in this second-half of the first half

Hagen: I think we’re just looking for some consistency. We had some games in the first month, or whatever, where we weren’t in the game; we weren’t competitive. I looked over the past week, most of them we’ve been competitive in every game. I think that’s kind of the standard now, is to be in every game when you look up in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning, and feel like we have a chance to win.

Series Preview: Hickory at Kannapolis May 17-20

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (13-22, 6th SAL North) at Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (25-14, Tied for 1st North)

The Hickory Crawdads take a short road trip to Kannapolis where they will face the Intimidators for four games at Intimidators Stadium.

 

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Tuesday through Thursday 6:30 p.m.

PROMOTIONS:

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday, Mega Money Drop (A helicopter will drop $1,000 after the game).

Friday – Chicken-Fried Friday, Kids Run the Bases

Saturday – Post-Game Fireworks

TICKETS: Advance tickets: Adult General Admission $6.50/ Children $5.50; Adult Reserve $8.50/ Children $7.50. Add $1.50 to each ticket the day of the game.

WHERE IS IT?: From I-85 take Exit 63 (Lane Street). From I-85 South, turn left; I-85 north, turn right. Stadium Drive will be on the right.

PARKING: All parking is $2.

CONCESSIONS: Intimidators Stadium is your no-frills ballpark with traditional burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, BBQ sandwiches, etc.

 

PROBABLES (Hickory/ Kannapolis)

Thursday: RHP Alex Eubanks vs. LHP John Parke

Friday: RHP AJ Alexy vs. LHP Parker Rigler

Saturday: RHP Jean Casanova vs. TBA

Sunday: RHP Reid Anderson vs. RHP Lincoln Henzman

 

Recent Series History:

Kannapolis swept earned its first sweep of the Crawdads of any kind since at least 2004. Hickory won the season series in 2017 12-10, which included a 7-5 edge at Intimidators Stadium. Since the start of the Crawdads affiliation with the Rangers in 2009, Hickory is 96-66 against Kannapolis, 51-35 at Intimidators Stadium. The Intimidators last won a season series vs. Hickory in 2010 (7-9).

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads split a four-game series at home against Rome (Ga.) and went 4-3 during their recent homestand…The offense at times continues to struggle at scoring runs. Though it is at .256/.332/.381 with runners on base, Hickory is third-to-last in runs scored as the Crawdads have trouble starting rallies early. Leading off an inning, the Crawdads have a .223/.290/.394 mark. Also 22 of the team’s 29 homers have been solo shots. Oddly, Hickory is last in doubles. In the middle of the pack of the SAL statistically, the slash line of .226/.294/.343 on the road has been a big part of why they are 3-13… Though better in recent days – Hickory allowed four or fewer runs in four of the last six contests – the staff ERA (4.86) during May is 12th out of 14 teams in the SAL. Overall, the Crawdads have give up the second most walks in the SAL and are 12th in WHIP (1.42).

Ryan Dorow

Ryan Dorow went 5-for-11 in the recent series against Rome (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Bubba Thompson (No. 6): 2018 stats: 8-for-25, 3 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 3 K, 2 SB. Last series vs.Rome: 4-for-16, 2 2B, R, 2 RBI. First-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of McGill-Toolen High, Mobile, AL. Joined the team last Wednesday. Had at least one hit in five of the six games he played, two or more hits in three of them.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 7 games (6 starts), 24 IP, 23 H, 19 R (18 ER), 2 HR, 4 HB, 18 BB, 32 K, 6.75 ERA, .256 OBA, 1.71 WHIP. Last start 5/11 vs. Columbia: 4 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 2 HB, 7 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd walks allowed, T-4th hit batters.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 12 games, 3 saves, 17 IP, 12 H, 8 R (6 ER), 1 HR, 16 BB, 30 K, 3.18 ERA, .190 OBA 1.65 WHIP. Last game 5/14 vs. Rome: 1 IP, 2 K. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (15.88), T-8th walks.

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 26): 2018 stats: .219/.286/.396, 5 2B, 4 HR, 6 BB, 36 K. Last series vs. Rome: 2-for-9, 1 BB, 5 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Alex Eubanks: 2018 stats: 6 games (6 starts), 28.2 IP, 39 H, 24 R (24 ER), 6 HR, 5 BB, 36 K, 7.53 ERA .328 OBA, 1.53 WHIP. Last start 5/19 vs. Columbia: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 8 K. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Clemson Univ. A native of Duncan, S.C. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th HR allowed, 8th earned runs allowed.

RHP Jean Casanova: 2018 stats: 7 games (4 starts), 23.2 IP, 23 H, 12 R (9 ER), 5 HR, 1 HB, 9 BB, 15 K, 3.42 ERA, .247 OBA, 1.35 WHIP. Last start 5/12 vs. Rome: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 4 K. Thirty-fifth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukegan (Ill.) HS. Born in the Dominican Republic. Has allowed at least one HR in all four of his starts. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-10th home runs allowed.

RHP Reid Anderson: 2018 stats: 7 games (6 starts), 31.2 IP, 30 H, 14 R (13 ER), 2 HB, 10 BB, 32 K, 3.69 ERA, .250 OBA, 1.26 WHIP. Last start 5/13 vs. Rome: 3 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 HB, 2 BB, 4 K. Seventeenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville (Pa.) Univ. Attended New Egypt (N.J.) HS.

RHP Joe Barlow: 2018 stats: 9 games, 15 IP, 10 BB, 26 K, 0.60 ERA, .095 BA, 1.08 WHIP. Last game: 5/15 vs. Rome 2 IP, 1 H, 5 K. Eleventh-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Salt Lake CC. Attended Riverton (Utah) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd lowest OBA by relievers (5-for-42, .127). 4th SAL among relievers Ks per 9 IP ratio (16.39).

UT Ryan Dorow: 2018 stats: .300/.383/.471, 3 2B, 3 HR, 8 BB, 31 K. Last series vs. Rome: 5-for-11, 1 SB, 4 K. Thirtieth-round pick in 2017 out of Adrian (Mich.). Attended South Haven (Mich.) HS. Has started to see more playing time, rotating around the infield. Played in four straight and five of the last six games.

OF Franklin Rollin: 2018 stats at Down East: .209/.277/.279, HR, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 2 CS. Played in just 16 games at Down East, sent to Hickory on Monday and will slide into a fourth outfield role at Hickory. Signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. Native of La Romana, D.R.

RHP Tyler Ferguson: 2017 stats at Hickory and Down East: 36 games, 1 save, 47.2 IP, 48 H, 40 R (35 ER), 9 HR, 13 HB, 26 BB, 57 K, 6.61 ERA, .254 OBA, 1.55 WHIP. Sixth-round pick by the Rangers in 2015 out of Vanderbilt Univ. Attended Clovis (Calif.) West HS. Started the season on the disabled list, assigned to Hickory last Saturday.

RHP Derek Heffel: 2017 stats at AZL Rangers: 11 games (6 starts), 44.1 IP, 40 H, 16 R (14 ER), 1 HR, 14 BB, 50 K, 2.84 ERA, .242 OBA, 1.22 WHIP. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Madison Area (Wisc.) Technical College. Attend St. Catherine’s HS in Racine, Wisc. Started season at Extended Spring, assigned to Hickory last Saturday.

 

About the Intimidators:

Kannapolis is managed by Justin Jirschele in his second season with the team (93-82). The Intimidators won the SAL North first-half title and went on to the playoffs before losing in the championship series to Greenville (S.C.)…The Intimidators have the SAL’s best mark in May at 11-3 after winning five of seven during the recent road trip to Asheville and Greenville (S.C.)…Kannapolis far outpaces the rest of the SAL with a .285 batting avg. (Delmarva is second at .267). It also leads in OBP (.351), runs scored, hits, RBI, total bases, and OPS (.774). The Intimidators are second in doubles and slugging pct. (.423)…The team’s pitching has also been solid with a staff ERA of 2.97… Kannapolis has been nearly unbeatable at home in 2018, going 15-3. The Intimidators have yet to lose back-to-back home games this season.

 

Prospects to watch-Kannapolis (rankings by MLB.com):

CF Luis Gonzalez (No. 18): 2018 stats: .328/.389/.547, 8 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 14 BB, 33 K, 3 SB. Last series at Asheville: 7-for-20, 4 2B, 3 HR, 5 R, 6 RBI, 3 K. Third-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Univ. of New Mexico. Born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Attended high school at Catalina Foothills in Tucson, Ariz. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd batting avg., T-3rd total bases, 4th OPS (.936), 4th hits, 5th slugging pct., 6th OBP, T-8th home runs

C Evan Skoug (No. 22): 2018 stats: .204/.325/.398, 6 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 19 BB, 36 K. Last series at Asheville: 2-for-11, 2B, 3 R, RBI, 3 BB, 3 K. Seventh-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Texas Christian Univ. Native of Libertyville, Ill. Big 12 Co-player of the year in 2017. First-team All-American). Has thrown out 6-of-15 base stealers in 2018. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-6th walks

RHP Tyler Johnson (No. 25): 2018 stats: 13 games, 15.2 IP, 12 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 HR, 2 HB, 8 BB, 30 K, 2.30 ERA, .211 OBA, 1.28 WHIP, 6 saves. Last series at Asheville: 2 games, 2 IP, 1 H, 3 K, 2 saves. Fifth-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of South Carolina. Native of Midlothian, Va. and attended Trinity Episcopal HS there. Pitched for USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st Ks-per 9-inning ratio among relievers (17.23), T-2nd saves, T-5th games.

RHP Lincoln Henzman (No. 26): 2018 stats: 8 games (8 starts), 43.2 IP, 43 H, 20 R (12 ER), 5 BB, 36 K, 2.47 ERA, .249 OBA, 1.10 WHIP. Last start 5/14 at Asheville: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K. Fourth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of Louisville. Native of Lexington, Ky. and attended Lexington Christian Academy. First-team All-American and NCBWA Stopper of the Year in 2017. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st innings pitched, 3rd fewest walks per 9 innings among starters (1.03), T-10th hits allowed.

1B Justin Yurchak (No. 28): 2018 stats: .254/.372/.303, 6 2B, 23 BB, 123 K. Last series at Asheville: 6-for-14, 2 2B, 2 R, 5 RBI, 1 K. Twelfth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Binghamton (N.Y.) Univ. Attended Shenendehowa HS in his native Clifton Park, N.Y. Played at Wake Forest his freshman season. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-3rd walks.

 

Others to watch-Kannapolis:

LHP John Parke: 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 36 IP, 28 H, 10 R (9 ER), 1 HR, 3 HB, 6 BB, 31 K, 2.25 ERA, .214 OBA, 0.94 WHIP. Last start 5/11 at Greenville (SC): 1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 1 BB. 21st round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of South Carolina. Attended Greenville (SC) High. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-2nd wins (4), 8th WHIP.

LHP Parker Rigler: 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 33.2 IP, 26 H, 15 R (12 ER), 1 HR, 18 BB, 31 K, 3.21 ERA, .208 OBA, 1.31 WHIP. Last start 5/12  at Asheville: 4 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 5 K. Thirty-first-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Kansas State. Attended Edmond (Okla.) Memorial HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-3rd walks

2B Tate Blackman: 2018 stats: .305/.381/.430, 4 2B, 4 HR, 14 BB, 41 K, 1 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Asheville: 4-for-11 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K. Thirteenth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Ole Miss. Attended Lake Brantley HS (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) SAL Top-10 Rankings: 9th batting avg., 9th OBP, T-8th hits, T-9th total bases

SS Laz Rivera: 2018 stats: .365/.408/.511, 8 2B, 4 HR, 4 BB, 21 K, 4 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Asheville: 5-for-14, 2B, 2 HR, 4 R, 5 RBI, 2 K. Twenty-eighth round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of Tampa. Played at Univ. of Miami and Chipola CC (Fla.) before going to Tampa. Played at Columbus High in Miami. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st batting avg., 1st hits, T-3rd total bases, 4th runs scored, 5th OBP, 5th OPS (.919), 8th slugging pct.

LF Craig Dedelow: 2018 stats: .270/.285/.453, 13 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 3 BB, 32 K. Last series at Asheville: 6-for-15, 3 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 K. Ninth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out Indiana Univ. Attended Munster (Ind.) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st at-bats, 1st doubles, 6th hits, T-8th RBI.

3B Anthony Villa: 2018 stats: .364/.419/.494, 10 2B, 8 BB, 24 K. Last series at Asheville: 6-for-13, 2B, 4 R, 2 RBI, BB, 3 K. Nineteenth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of St. Mary’s (CA) College. Attended San Ramon Valley HS (Danville CA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-3rd doubles. T-3rd triples, T-8th total bases.

Catching the Wave: An interview with Texas Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones

I will not be partial here. I love catchers. For me, the position is greatly undervalued. The good ones not only swing the bat and play the position almost flawlessly, but they are also full-time field generals and part-time psychiatrists. Most World Series teams have a guy behind the plate that is the heart, the soul, the pulse, the lifeblood, etc. of the team: Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Jorge Posada, Salvador Perez to name a few.

When the Texas Rangers were in the midst of their 2016 playoff run, they chose to give up prospects Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz – both former first-round pics – and Ryan Cordell to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. It was hoped that Lucroy would play a big role handling the pitching staff and bring another consistent bat into the lineup and put the Rangers in World Series contention.

Part of the need for Lucroy was because the Rangers had not developed their own catcher. A possible starter, Jorge Alfaro, was used in a trade in 2015 to get pitcher Cole Hamels. The lack of a homegrown catcher is something that Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones wants to see rectified.

Since joining the club in 2015 as the catching coordinator, Briones is helping the Rangers build a stable of young catchers in the minor-league system that may one day put “THAT GUY” in the forefront of leading the team. According to MLB.com, among the Texas Rangers top-30 prospects six are catchers at least part-time.

Crawdads catcher Sam Huff is a part of that top-30 group, but two others that started the season at Hickory are perhaps not far behind the list. Yohel Pozo hit .338 for Hickory in the second half of 2017 and Melvin Novoa showed good defensive skills (threw out 5 of 6 base stealers with Hickory) with a bat that was quickly deemed too good for this level and his now at high-A Down East. The three started the year at Hickory and rotated catching duties, then played first or DH’ed when not behind the plate, so as to keep the bat in the lineup.

Briones was in the area this week to check on his pupils and, as he calls his visits, to refill the tanks. I had a chance to talk with him about the Hickory catching situation, but also touch on the state of the Rangers catching prospects.

 

You had a three-headed monster here and now it’s down to two. I know it wasn’t the perfect scenario for what you wanted, but you had to get guys at bats. The three of them that were here, Novoa, Huff and Pozo, how did you see them working through that together?

Briones: It was a really unique situation to where you had three young catching prospects that are the same age and they needed to play. Like you said, the three-headed monster were going to get 45 games apiece for the season, rotate through at first base, rotate through as the designated hitter, and days they weren’t catching they were going to get the extra work with (coach) Turtle (Thomas). It was a challenge. As you think about it, was it going to be enough to consider really developing three catchers? And it was working out well.

The fact that Melvin came out swinging the bat really well, it created an opportunity to move him up and the opening up at Down East was there for him to basically slide in and split some time up there with Matt Whatley. In my opinion, it just creates a better opportunity for Sam and Pozo to get more reps. The more that they’re back here, I think the more opportunity there is to develop.

The game action is the most important thing to get versus the drills and all the practice. The more games and innings that they can add to that line, that’s where they get to develop – the game action.

 

I’ll just go through one at a time. Sam Huff, who I just talked to. He seems like a kid that just wants to win, period. He mentioned several times ”I just want to win, I just want to win.”

Briones: Absolutely. He actually gets that from Jose Trevino. He has a really good relationship with Jose. Jose’s bottom line is to win. He won here and Jose won at the next level. They spent a lot of time together in spring training. If that’s the goal, to win, then everything else will take care of itself. The way that Trevino went about his business, Sam is trying to follow in his footsteps.

Huff Jaimes Mendez mound visit

Catcher Sam Huff (r) during a mound visit with pitcher Sal Mendez and pitching coach Jose Jaimes (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

What are some of the examples that Trevino set that Sam and some of the other guys are trying to follow? Are they the intangibles or other areas?

Biones: Definitely the intangibles, paying attention to the opposing team. Everything that we ask of the catchers, Trevino did: From taking care of the pitching staff, knowing the opposing hitters, just knowing everything that he could possibly know. From a catcher’s standpoint, that’s what I’m asking them all to do. Pay attention to all the little things, and create relationships, and have good communication with his pitching staff, have good communication with his manager and pitching coach. I always looked at the catcher as another part of the coaching staff, to where they need to know everything that is going on.

Jose Trevino catching

Catcher Jose Trevino during a 2015 game against Hagerstown (Tracy Proffitt)

To have the opportunity to have Trevino my first year and to see what he was like, he set the bar for all the young catchers extremely high. I use him as the example for the Pozos, the Novoas, the Sam Huffs, the Matt Whatleys. It’s like, this guy does it the way that you want to do it. Watch how he does it. He’s got his second Gold Glove a couple of weeks ago. In a short period of time, he’s got a tremendous resume and Sam looks at that. All of the other kids look at that and see how he does what he does. He’s got a great game plan and recipe for success.

 

What is Sam working on now? What do you see him working on for the remainder of year? Well, let me refocus, this is such an evolving position, what is he working on at this point?

Briones: From the defensive standpoint, just getting the innings and playing.

It’s the first time that he’s out of the complex. He’s an Arizona kid. He had the ability to go home every evening. Every Saturday, he could jump in his car and drive 40 minutes to go home and see Mom and Dad. This being his first opportunity to be away from home, I’m constantly checking on him to make sure he’s not homesick.

What is he working on the field? Every aspect you could possibly think of: running a pitching staff, learning to communicate, learning to pace himself with the grind of playing every single day and having one or two days off a month. This is something that he’s never done. In Arizona, they play 10:30 games and then they have the rest of the day off. Here, he’s got to learn how to time manage and know how to get everything that needs to be done in a day done, and be ready to play. We try to keep an eye on his workload, and keep an eye on his fatigue, and keep an eye on his diet and hold him accountable to do all of that also, and make sure he shows up ready to play every day.

Pozo. He came here and had a tremendous second half with the bat. A little slower to start this year, is part of that was, last year he was catching a lot in the second half last year, where as this year he is having to split more of that time?

Briones:  He’s splitting the time but he’s still in the lineup with the innings at first base and the innings as a designated hitter. So, he’s getting his at bats. It’s a little harder to get the rhythm defensively. The defense for me has been fine.

Offense, that’s a tricky one. It comes and goes. He’s getting his at bats. It’s not like he’s catching and hitting, and then getting two days off, and then catching and hitting, and then getting two days off. He’s still getting the consistent at bats. That’s how this game goes with scouting reports to where, they have last year’s scouting reports to go off of and they have an idea on how to pitch him. Whether you are in A-ball or AA or AAA, they’re going to find out what your scouting reports are – whether you are aggressive, if he chases. Repeating this level, they have notes on him and what he can do and what he looks for. That’s what scouting reports are for.

Yohel Pozo catching

Yohel Pozo during a 2018 game vs. Columbia (Tracy Proffitt)

What is he working on at this point?

Briones: Learning to love the work of defense. That’s where Turtle Thomas comes in on a daily basis. The kid loves to hit. He loves to hit. We’d love for him to get to where he loves the defensive side and the practice that goes into it. Running a staff and just working like Sam did last night – work his but off for nine innings and be able to separate the offense from the defense. Pozo, we’re trying to get him to where he loves the defensive side as much as he loves the offensive side.

 

What are the biggest intangibles that catchers at this level have to pick up on? Catching is such an intangible position beyond the defensive and offensive skills?

Briones: The biggest one is building the relationships and learning the pitching staff. Having the consistency of 12 to 15 pitchers to work with on a daily basis and to know who are the ones you have to wrap your arm around and who are the ones you have to kick in the butt. That’s something that Sam and Pozo and Novoa, when he was here, that’s not a physical thing that we can practice, but that’s something that’s highly important.

That’s something with which Trevino did a great job. When you build that relationship, you’re going to build trust. When you have that trust and you get out on the field – last night there was trust built between Casanova and Huff. It started off shaky, but they fed off of each other and it was a beautiful game. That’s something that Sam’s gotta learn. When you’re in Arizona as a catcher, there’s fifty pitchers there and it’s hard to build trust and a relationship when you have a pitching staff that’s huge.

Novoa Huff.jpg

Melvin Novoa (left) congratulated by Sam Huff after scoring (Tracy Proffitt)

 

You look at almost every World Series team they have that catcher, the Poseys, and Yadier Molina, and Varitek and Posada. For the average fan, and probably for the average me, what is the thing behind the scenes that most fans don’t see that really goes into that position to make a major league team successful?

Briones:  The fact is that all the names that you mentioned, they are homegrown. I think that is something that is a key for a championship team. You mentioned the Buster Poseys, the Posadas, the Yadis, they all came through the system. They’ve known the system from the first time that they signed a professional contract. That’s something that we need to develop.

I look at the wave of catchers that we have from Trevino to Chuck Moorman to Novoa to Matt Whatley, who is the newest one in the mix. We have five, six, seven, eight guys that are in the system that are all homegrown. Now, we just need to graduate one and the first one, that hopefully we’ll graduate, will be Trevino. Actually Brett Nicholas was one of the first homegrown ones, but we need to create that. They know the system. They know what we’re looking for. They know they’ve got that trust with all their pitchers throughout the organization. We have waves of it. Every age bracket, we have them coming.

 

Trevino ready to take the next step forward?

Briones: Behind the plate, for me defensively, absolutely. Defensively, he can do the job. In the industry, the way he’s swinging the bat, he’s a backup catcher. He just came back from the disabled list and in his first game back he went 2-for-2 with two homers.

Pitching has gotten better as he got to AA. It’s going to get better at AAA and it’s better in the big leagues. I think he can hit. I’ve seen him hit and we’ve just got to keep him healthy and get his bat right. If his bat is correct and it improves, he’s a front line, every day catcher. If the bat doesn’t improve, he’s a really good backup catcher.

 

Who’s behind him in your system right now?

Briones: Josh Morgan, who you saw as an infielder. He’s like the sleeper because it took a couple of years for him to agree to do the job and put the gear on and get there.

A guy who’s already in the big leagues who could do it, who I would love to see, is Kiner-Falefa. Kiner-Falefa, I mean, I could name 10 names right now of catchers that are in the wave. But Kiner-Falefa is 23-years-old, he’s two years younger than Trevino. If he gets the opportunity to catch, he’s going to hold his own and it would be wonderful. And he swings the bat.

You’ve got Trevino, 25, Kiner-Falefa, 23, Josh Morgan, 22, Chuck Moorman, 24, all these guys, given the opportunity, they can catch. So, there’s a lot of “next guy’s up”.

isiah Kiner-Falefa

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a Crawdads shortstop in 2014-15, is possibly among the future mix of the Texas Rangers catching corps. (Tracy Proffitt)

Walk-off Winner: Ratliff’s single gives Hickory 2-1 win

Tyler Ratliff lined a single into left to bring in pinch runner Franklin Rollin and sent the Hickory Crawdads to a 2-1 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

With the win, Hickory (13-21) has won two of three during the current series and it will try for the series win Tuesday morning starting at 10:30 a.m. Rome (22-15) dropped into second place, a game behind Augusta (Ga.) in the South Atlantic League Southern Division.

Facing Braves reliever Brandon White (0-2), the Crawdads started the ninth with a booming double off the wall in center field by Tyreque Reed. Austin O’Banion’s grounder to first moved Reed to third from where Rollin took over. Reed wasted little time for the walk-off winner by lining an 0-1 pitch from the side-arming White into left.

Pitching dominated Monday’s contest as a pair of No. 30 prospects – Rome’s Huascar Ynoa and Hickory’s Tyler Phillips – started the game.

Ynoa held the Crawdads hitless through five innings with the help of center fielder Drew Waters. The Braves No. 18 prospect made an on-the-run, leaping catch of a liner at the wall off the bat of Bubba Thompson in the first. Near the same spot, Waters – who also had two of the Braves seven hits – made an even better grab on a ball hit by Ratliff in the fourth when he scaled and reached over the wall to bring back a home run. Otherwise, Ynoa’s night was uneventful, as he struck out six and walked three. The lone hit against Ynoa was a home run by Justin Jacobs in the sixth.

Tyler Phillips matched zeroes on the scoreboard with five shutout innings. The Crawdads right hander allowed five hits and a walk with four strikeouts. He, too, got defensive help as Hickory turned two double plays behind him. The lone trouble for Phillips came in the fourth when William Contreras and Kurt Hoekstra each singled with two outs to put runners and first and third. Phillips got out of the inning by striking out Jean Carlos Encarnacion.

New reliever Derek Heffel entered the game for Hickory in the sixth. He allowed just two base runners over three innings and struck out three. However, the first base runner was a leadoff home run by Hoekstra to start the seventh and tie the game.

Alex Speas (1-0) dominated the Braves in the ninth with fastballs registering 96-98 mph. The right hander retired the side and struck out two.

Casanova and Huff go to “Plan B”: Crawdads get the benefit in 4-3 win over Rome

Down three runs early, Hickory Crawdads starting pitcher Jean Casanova settled down and his teammates fought back to take a 4-3 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (12-20) in the series opener with the Braves was the third in four games of the current homestand. Despite the loss, Rome (21-14) remained in a tie for first the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League.

Hickory scored the decisive run in the eighth after two were out. With Austin O’Banion on first, Ryan Dorow put up his third single of the game. Cristian Inoa then hit a grounder that got past second baseman Derian Cruz and allowed O’Banion to score from second.

It looked as if the Crawdads would be run out of the stadium. Facing Jean Casanova, Braves center fielder Drew Waters hit the second pitch of the game out of the ballpark. Two outs later, William Contreras, Kurt Hoekstra and Jean Carlos Encarnacion hit consecutive doubles and suddenly Rome held a 3-0 lead.

The Crawdads pecked away at the lead, starting in the second with Tyreque Reed’s second home run of the season. In the third, Cristian Inoa and Bubba Thompson steered back-to-back doubles just inside the bag at third to get Hickory within 3-2.

Tyler Ratliff worked an eight-pitch at bat into a walk in the fourth. He stole second with two outs and came home when Ryan Dorow lifted a soft liner into right center.

After giving up the homer and five doubles into the third, Casanova settled down and retired 12 straight before he walked Encarnacion to start the seventh.

Sal Mendez (2-2) got out of the inning and worked around an error with two outs in the ninth to seal the win.

Casanova and Huff Work Plan B:

Simply put, the Braves were pounding the fastball of Casanova early. So Casanova, pitching coach Jose Jaimes and catcher Sam Huff decided to alter the attack against an aggressive Braves lineup that had six extra-base hits through the first 11 hitters. After Riley Delgado doubled on a first-pitch fastball in the third, Casanova started the next nine hitters with an offspeed pitch. The right-hander retired the next 12 hitters, striking out four.

Huff and Casanova talked about the change of strategy and what went into the decision to use plan B.

 

It didn’t look like there wasn’t much of a fastball at the start and they were hitting it. You guys made the decision to go offspeed. I think I had one time where you went through the whole order and started everybody offspeed. How did that decision come about?

Huff: Before pregame, we were talking about the hitters. A lot of them, their percentages were they’re early swingers. They’re going to swing at first-pitch fastballs no matter what. Their two-hole shortstop (Riley Delgado), he is ten-percent on striking out, so he’s putting the bat on the ball. The first inning, we kind of got an idea and we got on the same page and we just started working it. I knew he had a good curveball, slider and changeup and we started mixing those in and then just get guys thinking and uncomfortable.

They hit you and hit you hard early. There were five doubles and a homer over the first three innings. What was your part in this decision to make a change in what you were going to throw?

Casanova: The first inning, that came from my head. I was like, “I’m not going to give up. I’m still going to attack the zone.” We all went over to the side with our pitching coach (Jose) Jaimes and we talked about, “Let’s start over and use the offspeed, curveball. Then, when the guy’s got two strikes on them, throw the slider because the slider is way faster than your curveball.” Then we started with the changeup and then the fastball and it started working. So, we just kept doing that throughout the rest of the game after the first inning. That helped a lot.

Sam Huff

Catcher Sam Huff from an early 2018 game (photo courtesy of Sam Huff

Is there are a macho thing where guys will say, “I’m going to throw my fastball, come hell or high water” and you overuse it?

Casanova: As a pitcher, I like to be aggressive with my fastball. Tonight, after they were hitting my fastball, I just worked with whatever was working earlier in the bullpen, which was my curveball and the slider and the changeup looked pretty good. So, I mixed those up. Then, a couple of times I threw a fastball when they were waiting for a breaking pitch and that’s when my fastball started playing.

 

At what point are you watching him and saying, “Okay, this is what we need to do.”? They’re hitting the fastball and you have your pregame stuff and you see what is actually taking place. At what point do you make a decision to call it this way?

Huff: First thing, once I saw them being aggressive throughout the at bat, I was just like, “We’ve got to go curveballs now. We’ve got to switch it up and we’ve got to get them out on their front foot and get them uncomfortable.”

We were talking about going in and they were sitting there. So, we started going away and then hard away and then soft away. I mean, we tried to get them uncomfortable and thinking.

Four guys I knew for sure were like, “he’s throwing a curveball right there” and we’d throw a fastball the first pitch. And then, he’s pretty much already given up on his at bat and then we’d throw two sliders inside.

I have to read hitters, too, and know which guys are going to be swinging no matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fastball or a curveball or a changeup or slider, they’re swinging. And then the guys that are more picky and will take – because the guys that take, they take a curveball right down the pike and, okay, it’s strike one. Here comes another curveball, fouls it off and they’re 0-2. Alright, you can go fastball, curveball, changeup or slider. It just depends on what he wants.

We were pretty much on the same page. He shook me off maybe two or three times and we executed it. We took what we wanted from the first inning and built off of it. We’re taking that as a learning experience and the next time that we play them, maybe not go straight fastballs, but more working counts and getting guys uncomfortable.

 

Have you ever thrown that many offspeed pitches in a row to start a hitter?

Casanova: No, that was the first time where I had to start with my curveball or my slider or my changeup.

Huff: He’s a big fastball guy. This is the total opposite of what he does. He looked the part. He showed you that he can pitch both ways and still carve. You don’t need to just to just trust your fastball. You can use other things. Seeing that, I was really happy to see that from him. For him to hold and get out of that first inning and then come in and go back out there and just say, “You know what, hit it. Try and hit this.” It was really cool to see.

Casanova: It was special to me because he is the catcher that knows me the most. We’ve been together for like three years now. We got onto the same page and everything. After the first inning, I put it away and throw it in the garbage. This is a new inning and I’m going to try and compete and stay in the game as long as I can. That’s what I tried to do and it worked out.

Jean Casanova.jpg

Jean Casanova (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

In a game like this, you had the golden sombrero tonight and I know you’re not happy about that, but you had to take a lot of pleasure in working in that way. That was more important win wise than what you did at the plate?

Huff:  As a team, we want to win. If it means I go 0-for-4, it means I go 0-for-4, but if I’m helping my pitchers and my whole staff and my team to win a ballgame behind the plate, then I’ll take it every day of my life. I love to win. I want to win.

 

Ratliff’s battle rewarded

It seemed innocuous at the time, but Ratliff’s at bat in the fourth played a big part in getting the Crawdads the tying run. An eight-pitch plate appearance turned into a walk and began the process of running up the pitch count of Odalvi Javier, who had thrown 42 pitches one out into the fourth.

“The first at bat, I was kind of late on his fastball and I got a hit off his changeup or slider,” said Ratliff about his approach for the key AB. “I actually got into an advantage count to 2-1. I fouled it off and got back even with a 3-2 count. He just kept throwing fastballs, fastballs. He kept trying to get me to chase the fastball up, which I couldn’t lay off of. They weren’t quite up enough to take. He just kept aggressively throwing the fastball up, up, up. I was sitting fastball and then the last pitch was kind of a spiked changeup. It was nice to get rewarded for a long 3-2.”

After hitting .167/.254/.250 in April, Ratliff has come around in May and is now at .371/.421/.486 for the month. He has multi-hit games in six of his last nine contests.

:I was working with Chase Lambin (Crawdad hitting coach) and Josue (Perez), our hitting coordinator, and (coach) Turtle (Thomas) and (manager) Matt (Hagen). They were all like, ‘You just have to go back to you, which is not chasing pitches up.’ I was trying to do too much, like I said. I was trying to go for the big home run. I’m not that type of player. I’m the type of player that’s going to hit balls in the gap, and hit doubles, and make hard contact and grind out at bats.”

Rome roaming out of runs:

The Braves baserunning cost them a couple of scoring opportunities. In the second, Isranel Wilson hit a liner to deep right. Through right fielder Justin Jacobs quickly retrieved and relayed the ball back in, Wilson hustled and reached second well ahead of the throw. However, he slid well past the bag, even avoiding the tag of Inao at short. Inao was able to snare Wilson in the ensuing rundown.

The more perplexing play happened in the seventh. After Encarnacion walked, Drew Lugbauer hit a swinging bunt in front of the plate. Mendez hopped down the mound and quickly got the out at first. Meanwhile, Encarnacion sped around second and made tracks to third. First baseman Tyreque Reed’s strong throw to the waiting Ratliff at third was well ahead of Encarnacion’s slide.

Tyreque Reed’s blast:

Check out Dan Victor’s (@slydanno70) video of Reed’s blast.

 

Series Preview: Rome (Ga.) at Hickory May 12-15

Hickory continues a weeklong homestand at LP Frans Stadium with a four-game series against the Rome Braves.

Rome (Ga.) Braves (Atlanta Braves) (21-13, T-1st SAL South), at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (11-20, 6th SAL North)

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Saturday 6 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m., Monday 6 p.m., Tuesday 10:30 a.m.

Promotions:

Saturday – Crawmoms Weekend

Sunday – Church Bulletin Sunday (Bring a church bulletin for a $6, $4 is donated back to that organization), Wine & Design, Mother’s Day Celebration.

Monday – Make-A-Difference Monday (Bring canned goods $5 or more in value and receive a free ticket.)

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

Where is it?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (Rome / Hickory):

Saturday: RHP Odalvi Javier vs. RHP Jean Casanova

Sunday: RHP Drew Harrington vs. RHP Reid Anderson

Monday: RHP Huascar Ynoa vs. RHP Tyler Phillips

Tuesday: RHP Alan Rangel vs. RHP Tyree Thompson

 

Recent Series History:

Rome swept a three-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium in the only games played between the two teams in 2017. Since 2009 – the start of the Crawdads/ Rangers affiliation – Hickory is 30-26 overall, but the Braves own the advantage 18-16 at L.P. Frans.

 

About the Crawdads:

Hickory took the first two games of the homestand vs. Columbia (S.C.) before dropping the finale of the series on Friday… Overall, the pitching continues to take a beating in May. The team has allowed seven or more runs in five of the nine games played this month. Collectively, Hickory is second in the SAL in walks allowed and are next to last in WHIP (1.46)… Conversely, the sticks have turned it around this month. After a .242 team batting avg. in April, it is at .272 in May.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Bubba Thompson (No. 6) 2017 stats at AZL Rangers: 30 games, .257/.317/.434, 7 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 5 SB, 5 CS. Last series vs. Columbia: 4-for-9, 2B, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI. First-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of McGill-Toolen High, Mobile, AL. Joined the team on Wednesday.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 6 games (5 starts), 24 IP, 23 H, 19 R (18 ER), 2 HR, 4 HB, 18 BB, 32 K, 6.75 ERA, .256 OBA, 1.71 WHIP. Last start 5/11 vs. Columbia: 4 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 2 HB, 7 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd walks allowed, T-4th hit batters.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: .224/.288/.346, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 9 BB, 20 K. Last series vs. Columbia: 3-for-10, 2B, 3 BB, 2 K. Signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 11 games, 3 saves, 16 IP, 12 H, 8 R (6 ER), 1 HR, 16 BB, 28 K, 3.38 ERA, .200 OBA 1.75 WHIP. Last game 5/10 vs. Columbia: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 3 K. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (15.75), T-5th walks.

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 26): 2018 stats: .218/.277/.414, 5 2B, 4 HR, 5 BB, 31 K. Last series vs. Columbia: 2-for-8, 2 HR, 3 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Jean Casanova: 2018 stats: 6 games (3 starts), 17.2 IP, 17 H, 9 R (6 ER), 4 HR, 1 HB, 8 BB, 11 K, 3.06 ERA, .243 OBA, 1.42 WHIP. Last start 4/28 vs. Delmarva (Md.): 5 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 2 HR, 1 BB, 4 K. Thirty-fifth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukegan (Ill.) HS. Born in the Dominican Republic.

RHP Reid Anderson: 2018 stats: 6 games (5 starts), 28.2 IP, 24 H, 10 R (9 ER), 2 HB, 8 BB, 28 K, 2.82 ERA, .229 OBA, 1.12 WHIP. Last start 5/7 at West Virginia: 4 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 HB, 2 BB, 7 K. Seventeenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville (Pa.) Univ. Attended New Egypt (N.J.) HS.

RHP Tyler Phillips: 2018 stats: 6 games (6 starts), 32 IP, 34 H, 15 R (14 ER), 2 HR, 1 HB, 4 BB, 34 K, 3.94 ERA, .266 OBA, 1.19 WHIP. Last start 5/7 at West Virginia: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R (0 ER), 1 HB, 1 BB, 6 K. Sixteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken, N.J.

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 6 games (5 starts) 25.1 IP, 30 H, 22 R (19 ER), 4 HR, 2 HB, 7 BB, 10 K, 6.75 ERA, .294 OBA, 1.46 WHIP. Last start vs. Columbia 5/9: 4 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 1 K. Twenty-sixth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Edna Karr HS, New Orleans. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-9th hits allowed.

1B Tyreque Reed: 2017 stats at AZL Rangers: 35 games, .350/.455/.617, 13 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 22 BB, 26 K. Last series vs. Columbia: 4-for-9, HR, BB, 3 K. Eighth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Itawamba Community College in Mississippi. Attended Houlka (MS) HS. Named to Arizona Summer League All-star team in 2017.

LF Austin O’Banion: 2018 stats at AA Frisco: 4 games, .188/.235/.188, 1 BB, 7 K. Last series vs. Columbia: 5-for-11, 3B, BB, 4 K, 1 SB. Thirty-seventh round pick by the Rangers in 2016 out of Cal State-Fullerton.

 

About the Braves:

Managed by Rocket Wheeler, in his 26th season overall as a minor league manager, the 16th in the Braves organization. Wheeler (240-209 with Rome) returned to Rome this season. He last managed the R-Braves from 2003 to 2005 and won the SAL title with the team his first season… Rome comes to Hickory after winning 3 of 4 at Augusta to gain as a share of first in the SAL Southern Division… In the middle of the pack statistically, the pitching staff has allowed three or fewer runs in five of the last nine games.

Prospects to watch- Rome (rankings are by MLB.com):

C William Contreras (No. 17): 2018 stats: .246/.370/.361, 1 2B, 2 HR, 11 R, 4 RBI, 9 BB, 14 K. Last series at Augusta: 3-for-13, 2 BB, 3 K. Signed as an international free with the Braves in 2015. Native of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. Appalachian League all-star in 2017 at Danville (Va.). Brother of C Wilson Contreras of the Cubs. Joined the Braves on April 24.

CF Drew Waters (No. 18): 2018 stats: .225/.286/.408, 6 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 8 R, 9 RBI, 3 BB, 3 SB. Last series at Augusta: 2-for-12, 2 2B, 6 K. Returned from DL on 5/9 after over two weeks out with an injury. Second-round pick of the Braves in 2017 out of Etowah HS in Woodstock, Ga.

2B Derian Cruz (No. 19): 2018 stats: .227/.270/.361, 4 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 15 R, 10 RBI, 6 BB, 44 K. Last series at Augusta: 4-for-13, 2 2B, 4 K. Signed as an international free with the Braves in 2015. Native of Puerto Plata, D.R. SAL Top-10 rankings: T-2nd strikeouts, -7th triples.

RF Isranel Wilson (No. 21):  2018 stats: .184/.283/.316, 5 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 20 R, 10 RBi, 13 BB, 38 K, 8 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Augusta: 3-for-10, 2 2B, 3B, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 SB. Signed as an international free with the Braves in 2014. Native of St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles. Gulf Coast League All-star in 2015. SAL Top-10 rankings: T-6th steals.

RHP Freddy Tarnok (No. 24): 2018 stats: 8 games, 15 IP, 9 H, 7 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 10 BB, 22 K, 0.60 ERA, .167 OBA, 1.27 WHIP. Last Game 5/7 vs. Asheville: 2 IP, 1 BB, 4 K. Third-round pick of the Braves in 2017 out of Riverview (FL) HS.

C-3B Drew Lugbauer (No. 28): 2018 stats: .217/.300/.358, 3 2B, 4 HR, 12 R, 13 RBI, 12 BB, 44 K, 1 SB. Last series at Augusta: 2-for-11, HR, 4 RBI, 4 K. Eleventh-round pick of the Braves in 2017 out of the Univ. of Michigan. Native of Pleasant Valley, NY, attended Arlington HS in Poughkeesie. SAL Top-10 rankings: T-2nd strikeouts.

RHP Huascar Ynoa (No. 30): 2018 stats: 6 games (6 starts), 21.2 IP, 21 H, 18 R, 16 ER, 3 HR, 2 HB, 16 BB, 26 K, 6.65 ERA, .253 OBA, 1.71 WHIP. Last start 5/9 at Augusta: 5 IP, 3H, 2 R (1 ER), 1 HR, 6 K. Obtained by the Braves in a trade with the Twins for RHP Jaime Garcia last July. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-5th walks.

 

Others to watch-Braves

LHP Hayden Deal: 2018 stats: 6 games, 11.1 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 2 HB, 2 BB, 18 K, 1.59 ERA, .227 OBA, 1.06 WHIP. Last game 5/9 at Augusta: 2 IP, 3 H, 6 K. Signed with the Braves as a non-drafted free agent in 2017 out of Presbyterian College (Clinton, SC). Played at Bandys HS in Catawba.

RHP Odalvi Javier: 2018 stats: 6 games (5 starts), 29 IP, 19 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 2 HR, 6 HB, 12 BB, 30 K, 4.03 ERA, 1.90 OBA, 1.07 WHIP. Last start vs. 5/7 Asheville: 6 IP, 1 H, 2 HB, 2 BB, 8 K. Signed as an international free with the Braves in 2014. Native of Puerto Plata, D.R. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st hit batters.

RHP Drew Harrington: 2018 stats: 6 games (1 start), 15.1 IP, 20 H, 13 R (9 ER), 2 HR, 3 HB, 4 BB, 10 K, 5.28 ERA, .323 OBA, 1.57 WHIP. Last start 5/9 at Augusta: 3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 HB, 1 BB, 2 K. Third-round pick of the Braves in 2016 out of the Univ. of Louisville. Attended Central Hardin HS, Cecilia, KY. Named to Florida State League All-Star Game in 2017.

RHP Alan Rangel: 2018 stats: 7 games (5 starts), 24 IP, 23 H, 16 R, 2 HR, 6 BB, 25 K, 6.00 ERA, .245 OBA, 1.21 WHIP. Last start 5/10 at Augusta: 4 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 3 K. Signed as an international free with the Braves in 2014. Native of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.

RHP Brandon White: 2018 stats: 12 games, 5 saves, 17 IP, 10 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HB, 2 BB, 17 K, 1.59 ERA, .159 OBA, 0.71 WHIP. Last outing 5/11 at Augusta: 2 IP, 1 H, 1BB, 4 K. Twelfth-round pick of the Braves in 2016 out of Lander Univ (Greenwood, SC). Attended Chapin (SC) High. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-3rd saves, T-4th games pitched.

SS Riley Delgado: 2018 stats: .313/.355/.426, 10 2B, 1 HR, 12 R, 23 RBI, 4 BB, 12 K. Last series at Augusta: 2-for-11, 2B, RBI, 2 K. Ninth-round pick of the Braves in 2017 out of Middle Tennessee St. Also played at Columbia State CC (Tenn.) Played at Palmetto HS, Miami, FL. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-1st doubles, 5th hits, 6th RBI, 9th batting avg.

Scoreless third changes Crawdads fortunes: Columbia wins 8-3

The Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies rallied back from an early deficit and salvaged the final game of a three-game series with an 8-3 win Friday night over the Hickory Crawdads at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Fireflies (18-16) snapped a three-game losing streak and now return home to face Delmarva (Md.) in a four-game series. Meanwhile, the Crawdads (11-20) host Rome (Ga.) for four games starting Saturday night.

The Crawdads put up single runs in the first and second to build a 2-0 lead. Tyreque Reed singled in Miguel Aparicio and Sam Huff popped his second home run in as many games.

However, Columbia put together four straight hits to start the fourth. Scott Manea’s infield hit broke up a fledgling no-hit bid by A.J. Alexy. Gio Alfonzo followed that with a single and both runners scored on Hansel Moreno’s triple into the corner. Raphael Gladu singled in Moreno.

Matt Winaker blasted his second home run of the season in the first before Austin O’Banion got the run back by tripling in Reed to make it 4-3 Columbia.

Hickory missed a chance at a double play and that contributed to a two-run seventh. Quinn Brodey singled and then Jeremy Vasquez hit a grounder to Huff at first. Huff quickly fed a throw to Cristian Inoa who relayed the throw to the pitcher Joe Kuzia covering at first. Kuzia caught the ball but he was unable to find the bag behind him with his foot. Winaker walked before Rigoberto Terrazas and Manea each singled with Manea’s hit scoring Vasquez. A wild pitch scored Winaker and the Fireflies led 6-3.

Columbia added the final two runs on Brodey’s run-scoring double and Vasquez’s single.

 

The game’s turning point:

I didn’t get to see the dominant performance of Alexy at West Virginia last Friday, but if it was anything like the first inning on Friday, it must have been special. Alexy overmatched the Fireflies in the first, needing 11 pitches to get through the inning. The big right-hander threw all fastballs in the 93-95 mph range before he capped the first with a high-heat 96 that Brodey couldn’t catch up to.

The second inning gave clues as to the direction the remainder of Alexy’s start would go. A first-pitch curveball missed and then another one hit Vasquez. The fastball settled into the 92-93 range and began to miss spots. Winaker flew out to deep center and Terrazas drove a pitch to deep left. Both were outs, but both were squared up well. Manea was hit by a curveball – the umpire ruled he didn’t attempt to get out of the way – and then was walked on four straight. Alexy rebounded to paint the corner with a fastball to fan Alfonzo.

Though the Fireflies didn’t score, the third inning had much to do to foul up Alexy’s night. With one out, Gladu and Blake Tiberi both walked, as Alexy started to bring in the changeup for the second time through the order. Brodey joined them after he was hit by a pitch. Alexy completed the 28-pitch inning by striking out Vasquez and then Brodey. The Brodey strikeout seemed to charge the Crawdads battery as Yohel Pozo gave an emphatic fist pump when he left his crouch and ran to the dugout, while Alexy strutted resolutely from the mound.

Up to that point, the Crawdads hitters had the chance to feast on the offerings of Joe Cavallaro. Using a three-quarter delivery that occasionally dropped lower, the right-hander had trouble getting his slider to bite and the flat, middle-in changeups he served to Reed and Huff were punished accordingly. Combine that with an 87-88 fastball that Cavallaro had trouble spotting. With the Crawdads sending up hot hitters in the bottom of the third, the game seemed ready for the taking facing an ineffective pitcher that had thrown 41 pitches already. A long inning like the previous two would give Alexy a chance to regroup and give him a bigger cushion with which to work.

Reed grounded to short on three pitches. O’Banion struck out on four. Pozo lined to right on the first. Eight pitches total and a wearied Alexy was back to the mound.

The fourth started well as Alexy fanned Terrazas. However, an 0-2 breaking ball was beaten into the ground. Third baseman Ryan Dorow valiantly tried to make the run-and-grab throw to first but bounced it on what was ruled Columbia’s first hit of the game. The small leak in the dam became a steady flow as Alfonzo, Moreno and Gladu each squared up Alexy’s pitches that turned into three runs.

The Fireflies and Crawdads traded runs, but Columbia never trailed again and put the game on ice with the runs in the seventh and eighth.

Sweet Music in Hickory: The new quartet making a joyful noise with the bats

Four new players joined the Hickory Crawdads this week. Two games in, each member of the quartet has contributed to the lineup as the Crawdads won the first two games of the current three-game series against Columbia (S.C.).

On Wednesday, Cristian Inoa walked with the bases loaded and scored during a six-run sixth, then one inning later he singled and scored. Austin O’Banion started the same sixth inning on Wednesday with a single and last night he reached three times, including two singles, and stole a base.

 

However, the big names to join the Crawdads were first baseman Tyreque Reed and 2017 first-round pick Bubba Thompson, who will play center.

Reed made his presence felt on the team immediately. His first at-bat on Wednesday was in a pinch-hitting role to lead off the ninth. On a 2-1 pitch, Reed hit a one-iron like shot that carried over the fence off the Pepsi sign in left center that gave the Crawdads a walk-off 11-10 victory.

“It felt great,” said Reed of his heroics. “I was great being out here and getting called up. When I got my chance, it was great to do something good.”

After putting up big numbers in the Arizona Summer League in 2017 (.350/.455/.617 in 35 games) Reed is expected to provide pop in the middle of the lineup.

The Rangers eighth-round pick in 2017 out of Itawamba Community College (MS) was expected initially to join the team out of spring training. However, with three good catching prospects on the Crawdads roster that needed at-bats – and thereby rotating at first and DH-ing – Reed had to bide his time at extended spring in Arizona.

“Definitely disappointed not to be here at the start,” Reed responded when asked about staying back at Surprise, AZ. Yet, rather than sulk, the took the time to sharpen his skills. “I knew there were some areas I needed to work on and I’m glad I stayed back and got them polished up.”

Reed said he specifically worked on his defense at first and is expecting to make his first start there on Friday.

Last, but certainly not least, is Leslie A. Thompson, otherwise known as Bubba. Thursday night, he joined Reed in the home-run column with a line shot down the right field line and the ball found a pocket in the corner just over the RF fence. He added a double that one-hopped the center field fence to bring in a run. So far in two games, Thompson is 4-for-9.

Crawdads manager Matt Hagen has positive reviews of the 19-year-old, thus far.

“From a player’s perspective, you get the call to come out of Arizona and you get the opportunity to come play at night in front of fans,” said Hagen. “That’s pretty energizing in itself. Sometimes, it can be a bit overwhelming for guys, because it’s new. But it doesn’t seem to faze Bubba at all.”

In the initial look, Thompson appears to have the ability to cover the plate quite well. On Wednesday, Thompson singled to left and later in the game, he stayed on a 1-2 curveball and got enough on it to steer it into the 3-4 hole and into right. Thursday’s homer was a fastball off the plate and the double was a fastball that caught the heart of the plate.

“I try to work on that kind of stuff in the cage, so I can hit both sides of the plate,” Thompson said of his early success. “Tonight, I just trusted my eyes and my hands and I ended up hitting a home run the other way.”

Like Reed, Thompson was also disappointed not to be on the Crawdads opening-day roster. In an interview in April, Rangers general manager said Thompson was recovering from a minor knee injury from last year.

Thompson said he feels well and, like Reed, used the time to hone skills.

“I also needed a little help on my defense here and there,” said Thompson. “So, I think that time back there helped me and now I’m ready to lock and load. I’m healthy and I’m just ready to win some games.”

In an interview after Thursday night’s win, Hagen was in full agreement with his center fielder.

“I think getting some new blood in helped. It’s always invigorating when new guys come in and they contributed right away, which is great.”

Bubba Thompson

Bubba Thompson bats in a game vs. Columbia on May 9. (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Series Preview: Columbia (S.C.) at Hickory May 4-7

Columbia Fireflies (New York Mets) (17-14, 3rd SAL South), at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (9-19, 7th SAL North)

 

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Wednesday 6:00 p.m., Thursday 7:00 p.m., Friday 7:00 p.m.

 

Promotions:

Wednesday –Wine Wednesday

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday; Dunder-Mifflin Night

Friday – Craw-moms Weekend; Hickory vs. Cancer Night; Boy Scout Night; Post-game Fireworks

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

WHERE: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (Columbia/ Hickory):

Wednesday: RHP Marcel Renteria vs. RHP Tyree Thompson

Thursday: RHP Tony Dibrell vs. Alex Eubanks

Friday: RHP Joe Cavallaro vs. RHP AJ Alexy

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads and Fireflies split a four-game series at Columbia in April. The Fireflies moved from Savannah, Ga. to Columbia at the start of the 2016 season. Since then, the Crawdads are 13-8 overall but just 5-5 at L.P. Frans. Hickory is 41-33 overall, 20-16 at home since 2009, which is the start of the Crawdads/ Rangers affiliation.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads limp home after finishing a rain-shortened, 1-5 road trip with two walk-off losses at West Virginia on Monday… A revamped roster will greet fans at L.P. Frans Stadium at the start of the homestand. Outfielder Eric Jenkins and catcher Melvin Novoa were both promoted to high-A Down East and shortstop Yonny Hernandez is now with AA Frisco (Tex.). Center fielder Pedro Gonzalez is on the disabled list with an undisclosed injury. Coming to the Crawdads are outfielders Bubba Thompson (extended spring) and Austin O’Banion (Frisco), infielder Cristian Inoa (Frisco) and first baseman Tyreque Reed (extended spring)… What had been a strong suit prior to the series at West Virginia stumbled over the weekend. After entering the series with the fewest errors in the SAL, Hickory committed six errors in three games… The pitching staff continues to struggle with walks. Though they have given up the fourth fewest hits in the SAL, the Crawdads are 11th in ERA on the backs of the second most walks allowed in the league.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Bubba Thompson (No. 6) 2017 stats at AZL Rangers: 30 games, .257/.317/.434, 7 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 5 SB, 5 CS. First-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of McGill-Toolen High, Mobile, AL.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 5 games (4 starts), 20 IP, 19 H, 16 R (15 ER), 2 HR, 2 HB, 15 BB, 25 K, 6.75 ERA, .257 OBA, 1.70 WHIP. Last start 5/4 at West Virginia: 6 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 12 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 5th walks allowed.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: .216/.260/.340, 2 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 6 BB, 16 K. Last series vs. West Virginia: 1-for-12, 1 HR, 1 K. Signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 10 games, 14 IP, 11 H, 7 R (5 ER), 1 HR, 13 BB, 25 K, 3.21 ERA, .208 OBA 1.71 WHIP. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (16.07).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 26): 2018 stats: .215/.279/.354, 5 2B, 2 HR, 5 BB, 28 K. Last series at West Virginia: 1-for-3, 1 BB, 1 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 5 games (4 starts) 21.1 IP, 22 H, 16 R (13 ER), 2 HR, 2 HB, 4 BB, 9 K, 5.48 ERA, .265 OBA, 1.22 WHIP. Last start at Kannapolis 5/2: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 HB, 2 BB, 2 K. Twenty-sixth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.

RHP Alex Eubanks: 2018 stats: 5 games (5 starts) 21.2 IP, 34 H, 23 R (23 ER), 6 HR, 5 BB, 28 K, 9.55 ERA, .358 OBA, 1.80 WHIP. Last start 5/3 at Kannapolis: 2.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R (7 ER), 2 HR, 1 BB, 3 K. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Clemson Univ. SAL top-10 rankings: T-2nd earned runs allowed, T-2nd home runs allowed, T-5th runs allowed.

1B Tyreque Reed: 2017 stats at AZL Rangers: 35 games, .350/.455/.617, 13 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 22 BB, 26 K. Eighth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Itawamba Community College in Mississippi. Attended Houlka (MS) HS. Named to Arizona Summer League All-star team in 2017.

IF Cristian Inoa: 2018 stats combined at AA Frisco and AAA Round Rock (Tex.): 5 games, .083/.214/.083, 2 BB, 3 K. Played mostly at SS last season at short-season Spokane. Signed with the Rangers in 2016 as an international free agent. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

OF Austin O’Banion: 2018 stats at AA Frisco: 4 games, .188/.235/.188, 1 BB, 7 K. Played mostly in LF at short-season Spokane in 2017. Thirty-seventh round pick by the Rangers in 2016 out of Cal State-Fullerton.

 

About the Fireflies:

Managed by Pedro Lopez in his first season at the helm of the team… Went 5-2 during their homestand over the past week including a 3-1 series win over Lakewood (N.J.). The Fireflies are off to a hot start at the plate in May. Currently, their .278 avg. is second in the SAL for the month and they scored six or more runs in four of the seven games at home. However, the road has been tough for Columbia as it has posted a .240/.367/. 325 slash line away from home. Overall, they are third in the SAL in batting avg. (.257) and second in OBP (.349). It is a patient team as the Fireflies lead the SAL in walks with players occupying the first, second and fifth spots individually. Columbia is second in the league in runs scored, third in hits and total bases…  On the mound, it’s a group that throws a lot of pitches. Columbia leads the SAL in both strikeouts and walks allowed.

Prospects to watch-Columbia (rankings by MLB.com):

LHP David Peterson (No. 2): 2018 stats: 3 games (3 starts) 23.2 IP, 20 H, 8 R (6 ER) 1 HB, 8 BB, 121 K, 2.28 ERA, .227 OBA, 1.18 WHIP. Last start 5/7 vs. Lexington Ky.: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K. Pitched for US National team in 2016. First-round draft pick by the Mets in 2017 out of the University of Oregon. Attended Regis Jesuit HS in Aurora, Colorado. Native of Denver.

LHP Anthony Kay (No. 14): 2018 stats: 5 games (5 starts) 26.1 IP, 21 H, 12 R (10 ER), 9 BB, 24 K, 3.42 ERA, .221 OBA, 1.14 WHIP. Last start 5/5 vs. Lakewood (N.J.): 6.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 HR, 1 HB, 2 BB, 6 K. First-round pick of the Mets in 2016 out of the University of Connecticut. Native of Stony Brook, N.Y. Made pro debut this spring after recovering from “Tommy John” surgery.

C Ali Sanchez (No. 27): 2018 stats: .220/.298/.280, 3 2B, 6 BB, 9 K. Last series vs. Lakewood: 3-for-12, 2B, RBI, 2 BB, 2 K. Signed by the Mets in 2015 as an international free agent. Native of Carora, Venezuela.

CF Quinn Brodey (No. 28): 2018 stats: .231/.305/.453, 5 3B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 12 BB, 42 K, 3 SB. Last series vs. Lakewood: 4-for-17, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 K. Third-round pick by the Mets in 2017 out of Stanford Univ. Native of Glendale, Calif. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd RBI, 2nd strikeouts, T-5th triples, T-5th home runs, 8th total bases.

 

Others to watch-Columbia

RHP Marcel Renteria: 2018 stats: 4 games (4 starts), 23.1 IP, 24 H, 11 R (10 ER), 1 HR, 2 HB, 6 BB, 22 K, 3.86 ERA, .273 OBA, 1.29 WHIP. Last start 5/2 vs. Lexington (Ky.): 7.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. Sixth-round pick of the Mets in 2017 out of New Mexico State. Played at Pima CC (Tucson, AZ) and high school ball in his native Nogales (AZ).

RHP Tony Dibrell: 2018 stats: 5 games (5 starts), 25.2 IP, 22 H, 16 R, 14 ER, 2 HR, 1 HB, 15 BB, 37 K, 4.91 ERA, .232 OBA, 1.44 WHIP. Last start 5/3 vs. Lexington: 6 IP, 1 H, 1 R (0 ER), 4 BB, 6 K. Fourth-round pick by the Mets in 2017 out Kennesaw (Ga.) State. Attended Chattahoochee HS, Alpharetta, Ga.

RHP Joe Cavallaro: 2018 stats: 5 games (4 starts), 28 IP, 19 H, 11 R (6 ER), 3 HR, 20 RBI, 2 HB, 9 BB, 28 K, 1.93 ERA, .196 OBA, 1.00 WHIP. Last outing 5/4 vs. Lakewood: 4 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K. Twenty-fourth round pick by the Mets in 2017 out of the Univ. of South Florida. Attended Sarasota HS.

RHP Trey Cobb: 2018 stats: 10 games: 11 IP, 12 H, 4 R (2 ER), 2 HR, 2 BB, 1 BB, 16 K, 1.64 ERA, .273 OBA, 1.18 WHIP. Eighth-round pick by the Mets in 2017 out of Oklahoma State. Attended Broken Arrow HS (Okla.). SAL Top-10 rankings: T-4th saves (4).

1B Jeremy Vasquez: 2018 stats: .343/.457/.559, 9 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 23 BB, 22 K. Last series vs. Lakewood: 7-for-17, 2B, HR, 4 R, RBI, 1 BB, 3 K. Twenty-eighth round pick of the Mets in 2017 out of Nova Southeastern Univ. (Fla.) Played at Univ. of Florida as a freshman and sophomore. Attended Martin Co. HS and a native of Palm City, Fla. SAL Top-10 rankings: 1st OPS (1.016), 1st walks, 2nd batting avg., T-2nd doubles, T-3rd hits, 4th slugging pct., T-4th total bases, lT-10th RBI,

2B Blake Tiberi: 2018 stats: .309/.433/.402, 6 2B, 1 HR, 20 R, 9 RBI, 21 BB, 25 K. Last series vs. Lakewood: 7-for-15, 2B, 3 R, RBI, 3 BB, 4 K. Third-round pick of the Mets in 2016 out of the Univ. of Louisville. Attended Holy Cross HS in Covington, KY. SAL Top-10 rankings: 2nd walks, 4th OBP, T-8th runs, 10th batting avg.