June 2015

Series Preview: Charleston at Hickory June 9-11

The Hickory Crawdads begin the final homestand of the first-half with a three-game series against the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Probables:

Tuesday: Luis Cedeno (RH, 3-5, 2.85 ERA) and Luis Ortiz (RH, 2-1, 2.00)

Wednesday: Matt Wotherspoon (RH, 0-0, 6.23) and Cody Buckel (RH, 0-1, 1.80)

Thursday: Matt Marsh (RH, 0-0, 4.50) and Collin Wiles (6-2, 1.92)

Recent Series History: The RiverDogs took three of four from the Crawdads in early May. Last year, Hickory edged Charleston 7-6 and was 5-2 at L.P. Frans. The Crawdads are 40-35 vs. the RiverDogs since the Rangers affiliation began in 2009.

 

Entering the Series:

Hickory (36-20) split a four-game series at Lakewood N.J. over the weekend before an off day on Monday. The Crawdads are 19-8 at home this seaon, but have won just one of the last three series played at L.P. Frans Stadium (6-4). Hickory leads second place West Virginia by 2 ½ games in the first-half Northern Division chase with 13 games left to play. The Power begin a three-game series at home against the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats.

Charleston is just 5-5 in its last 10 games, but has picked up two games in that span and now trails first place Greenville by three games in the Southern Division chase. The top five teams in that division are separated by four games. The Sand Gnats are a game out, followed by Charleston, then Augusta at 3 ½ out and Rome four out in fifth place. Augusta travels to Greenville, while Rome is at Asheville.

Players to watch – Hickory:

IF Carlos Arroyo: With Travis Demeritte out due to a suspension and Michael De Leon nursing a quad strain, the 21-year-old native of Valencia, Venezuela was sent to Hickory from AAA Round Rock to fill the gap. He’s now played in ten games at three separate levels posting a .286/.333/.500 slash. He’ll be looked at to provide some speed as he has 11 triples and 25 steals in 131 pro games.

OF Jairo Beras: The Rangers had hoped that Beras would springboard off a strong finish to the 2014 season, but injuries (quad, back) and discipline issues (running out a pop up) have curtailed his season. He returned on Thursday at Lakewood and went 3-for-7 with a couple of walks, but went hitless in the final two games.

SP Luis Ortiz: He held the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns hitless until the fifth before they got to him with two walks, three hits and two runs that cost him the game in a 2-0 loss. After posting a 0.66 ERA in his first six starts, Ortiz has allowed seven earned runs in 13.2 innings with five walks.

SP Cody Buckel: Strong early on in his last start, Buckel walked five of the last 11 batters he faced. In what is expected to be the hottest day of the early summer, Buckel’s control issues could be key to not taxing the bullpen too early, and keeping the defense active in the hot sun.

RP John Fasola: Moreso for what could be his absence after throwing 3.1 innings to close out the Crawdads 5-3 win Sunday at Lakewood. The SAL all-star selection leads the league with 11 saves.

RP Yohander Mendez: Has yet to give up a run in nine relief outings (19.1 innings) with 14 baserunners allowed and 30 strikeouts.

Players to watch – Charleston:

SS Jorge Mateo: The solo top-30 Yankees prospect (no. 3 by Baseball America and mlb.com) on the roster. Has had marginal success getting on base (.268/.322/.371) but when he does, his speed is a factor. He leads the SAL with 38 steals and has scored a team-high 25 runs.

CF Dustin Fowler: Activated from the disabled list today, Fowler went 5-for-16 against Hickory last month with a homer and five RBI.

1B Connor Spencer: The Yankees 8th round pick out of UC Irvine is the RiverDogs lone all-star selection. He leads Charleston with 23 RBI and a .394 OBP.

C Collin Slaybaugh: Just called up from extended spring, the 26th round pick in 2014 out of Washington State went 8-for-8 in his first two games (June 3-4) against Augusta. He is 10-for-15 with three RBI, a walk and two steals.

SP Luis Cedeno: Has lost his last five starts. Facing lineups the second time through the order has been his downfall. Opponents are hitting .115 in the first inning and .200 in the second, but it just to .345 in the third and .400 in the fifth. He has given up eight runs and walked eight in his last 16.1 innings.

SP Matt Wotherspoon: The Pittsburgh (34th round 2014) product is in his second start with Charleston after pitching for AA Trenton and High-A Tampa. He allowed three runs on five hits in 4.1 in his first start against Augusta.

SP Matt Marsh: Demoted from Tampa, Marsh – teammates with Crawdads pitcher Adam Parks at Liberty Univ. – game up two earned runs on five hits in four innings last week against Asheville.

Baseball Should Be Fun: An Interview with Jose Trevino

No matter the level, professional baseball is definitely a man’s game. Depending on the level, there is the five or six month grind in the regular season – not counting spring training, and if lucky a post-season. Then, there are the off-season workouts, or for some, fall and winter leagues. It’s an arduous marathon of double-digit hour days that strains the body and taxes the mind.

Yet, all who play the game professionally got into the game as Little Leaguers because the game was fun. Along the way, amidst the monotony of ground balls and batting practice and bullpens and flips and shagging flies and meetings and interviews, etc, etc, etc. some forget that the game was once fun.

Hall-of-Fame catcher Roy Campanella once said, “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.”

Campanella never met Hickory Crawdads catcher Jose Trevino, but it’s players like Trevino of which Campanella spoke.

You cannot imagine Trevino not having fun in baseball. Stay around the Corpus Christi, Tex. native for very long and you get the feeling that he loves the game. Talk with him for a 12-minute interview, and you’ll be ready to don the uniform yourself, grab a bat and glove and hit the field.

But his exuberance about the game is not strictly between the lines. You can see it in a player appearance, such as one he did at Southwest Elementary school as a part of their summer reading program. You can see it at a table on Saturday night, or along the left-field fence, as he interacts with those seeking post-game autographs. You can see it, as he chats with preteens from the on-deck circle during a game at Kannapolis.

Jose Trevino (center) at a summer reading event at Southwest Elementary in Hickory

Jose Trevino (center), along with Luke Tendler and Conrad at a summer reading event at Southwest Elementary in Hickory (photo by Debbie Parker)

I spoke with Trevino Friday about his season and how the team is faring as they push for a playoff spot with 13 games to play. He also spoke about his infectious personality and the joy he had in a former college teammate – Chi Chi Gonzalez – getting to the majors.

First of all, I want to ask as a totality, how do you feel your season going?

Trevino: I’m feeling good and I think our team’s playing good. We’re not as hot as we were in the first month, but that’s baseball. You’re going to have streaks, but you just keep grinding it out and just keep having fun. Keep playing for the guys around you and do whatever the team needs you to do. We just try our best every day and trying to win a ballgame every day.

What’s been the highlight for your season so far?

Trevino: Just being a part of this team. It’s a good group of guys. I’ve never seen so many guys work so hard for something that they want. I mean, it’s everybody. It goes on down the line from me to the pitchers. Everybody knows what they want. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues, but everybody is so focused on the now. Everybody wants to do good now for their teammates, for Rags (manager Corey Ragsdale). We’re always trying to play hard for each other. I like being a part of this group. These guys are really good guys.

As you guys are in the midst of the playoff chase, what’s been the mood of the club overall?

Trevino: Just keep playing. Nothing has changed from the beginning. Baseball is far from being easy. If it were easy, everybody would be playing. We’ve just got to keep grinding it out and keep having fun every day. Go out there and do your best and the end of the day we’ll see where we are. That’s usually the way we go about it. Just give everything you have, and if we win, we win. If we lose, we tried our best. There’s really nothing else to it.

You’ve got West Virginia starting to creep up a bit. Are you guys feeling any pressure from that, or do you guys feel like we’re going to take care of thing on our end and not worry about it?

Trevino: We’re not really worried about them, that much; we’re just worried about ourselves. We’re just trying to keep positive attitudes in the clubhouse. We’re not really worried about them. We can’t control what they’re doing; we can only control what we’re doing. As long as you’ve got a good attitude and a good effort every day, we should be alright.

You got off to a hot start in April; May’s been a little bit of a different story. What are the adjustments that you’re been working on to get back to where you were earlier in the season?

Trevino: Nothing really. It’s baseball, you know, and it’s going to happen. People are going to find holes and people are going to expose them until can hit them. That’s pretty much what’s been going on.

Jose Trevino had six homers in April (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Trevino had six homers in April (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

I feel like we’ve all ran into some bad luck as a team. We’re all hitting the ball, but it’s just getting caught. Last night’s game (Thursday’s win at Lakewood), finally, we got one of those hits where it’s, alright, we’ve got one. Here comes another one and here comes another one until finally you saw the team that we had in the first month. I think at any moment – this team is that good for where we can be like – okay, we can score eight runs right here and we can put this together. We’ve just got to keep being positive and keep grinding it out. Our team’s a really good team.

What has been the biggest adjustment for you from this time last year when you were coming out of Oral Roberts and just getting started in pro ball?

Trevino: I can’t think of anything. Pro ball is pro ball and you’ve got to play every day. It’s a good thing because it’s like in school, you have recess every day and this is fun. Playing every day, I’d love to play every single game, every single inning. Sometime people say, you need to get your rest. But, it’s fun and I have no problem with it. I feel like, if you’re doing something you love, there’s no way you can really get tired of it.

Your pitching coach (Sean Snedeker) at Oral Roberts spent some time at Hickory. Have you had a chance to talk with him about your pro career any?

Trevino: Yeah, I talked to him at Oral Roberts, too.  He’d ask me, “you’re going to love pro ball, are you interested in playing?” I’d go, “yeah.”  He’d talk to us a couple of times and he’s just, “keep doing what you do.”

It’s just a thing that I’ve always had. I’ve always loved to play the game. I feel like everybody on this team loves to play the game, too. That’s why we’re good. That’s why we have fun doing what we do.

Coach Snedeker, he’s a great guy – our pitching coach. For the two years I spent with him, he was great and I love the dude. Good guy.

You seem to have an infectious personality. You’ve talked several times about the love of the game. I see you at Kannapolis when you are fist bumping kids from the on-deck circle. Where does that come from? Where did that develop for you?

Trevino: I don’t know. I guess I just get it from my family. My family, we just like people. We like meeting people. We’re really open to people. I just feel like it comes from my family and from my roots. My whole family is like that. We love to meet new people to welcome to new things.

Trevino greets a fan while waiting his turn at the plate.

Trevino greets a fan while waiting his turn at the plate. (photo by Mark Parker)

This game, you can’t take this game too seriously. I found that out right from the beginning in college ball and in high school ball. You can’t take this game too seriously, or it’ll come back and bite you. As much as it is a job, it’s a more of thing you love to do… For me, being out in the field, having a say-so in the young kids coming up, I feel like you can have a positive way in their life. Whether it’s a fist bump, or like, “hey, man, what’s going on,” or giving a baseball to a kid, or something like that, I just keep having fun.

If you just talk to a little kid that I just talked to, you’ll probably say, “Hey, what did he tell you?” He’ll probably say, “He told is to ‘have fun, keep having fun.’” I talk to the kids in the off season, and I’m always like, “keep having fun, just have fun.”

A big part of the story of this team has been the pitching staff, which night in and night out will give you guys five, six, seven strong innings and then turn it over to a bullpen that’s been really good. What have you seen from behind the plate from this group?

Trevino: Ah, the pitching staff, they’re unbelievable. It’s a really good group of guys and everybody cares for each other, like I said in the beginning. If our starter has a runner on second base, that reliever’s coming in is saying, “I’m not giving up that run.” They don’t say it to each other, but you know already that’s the mind set, “I’m not giving up this run.” It just goes to show that they don’t want to give up his run, and they don’t want to give up a run for the team. It all comes back and they’re all giving it back to us. It’s a great pitching staff. They know what they’re doing and they’re unbelievable. They’re really good guys.

What’s a successful season look like for you?

Trevino: Getting a ring would be awesome. I haven’t had a ring in a couple of years, since college. I would love a ring and would love to bring a ring to Hickory to Rags and for Guzie (Ronald Guzman) and all the guys that got moved up and stuff, and also for all the guys that are on the team now. We all worked so hard in the off-season and in spring training and in spring training and this is fun for us. Just to get a ring and to be able to celebrate with these guys would be the best thing – no individual things or anything, just for these guys.

To who will it mean the most when you get a call up to the big leagues?

Trevino: I’d have to go on a speakerphone to all my family. It’d be awesome. I just really want to see my family in the stands, when I’m in the big leagues. If I’m fortunate to get the call, I just want to see my family the way that Alex “Chi Chi’s” (Gonzalez) was. That was awesome. I felt like I was a part of that. Me and Chi Chi go a long way back, so it was awesome to see him there. I want to see my family just like that.

Have you talked with Chi Chi since he got up?

Trevino: Yeah, I talked to him. We’ve talked a little bit. We had a little conversation. He was pretty excited and it was fun. I sent him a text and he was real excited about it. It was awesome. The year he got picked in the first round by the Rangers, our whole college felt like we were picked first. We were like, “Yeah, Chi Chi!” It was awesome to see him up there. It was good.

The Lessons of Baseball at Low-A: Reflections on Travis Demeritte’s Suspension

I have two adult children (plus one who is a middle schooler), including my son, who is currently 20-years-old at college. We can see him pretty much anytime we want to make the hour drive up the mountains to Boone. But my wife and I generally leave him to be who he is and make his own path. It was difficult to drop that first kid off to college; it was no easier for the second.

I can’t help but think about my kids – they will always be my kids – as I meet the players who come to Hickory to play baseball each year. Many of them are 18-20 years old, the approximate age of my son.

When they come here, they have already accomplished a great deal. They were the best of their various hometown high schools, or travel teams, or baseball academies. A few of them were among the best in their state or region. They may have been the best at a showcase event. Then they come to Hickory and the real learning about baseball begins.

You see, playing baseball as an 18-20 year old is more than about the game. Where most kids – especially U.S. kids – have had everything in life done for them, now they’re on their own. Part of learning the game at low-A is the “off the field”. It’s simply learning how to be an adult.  How to get an apartment, how to turn on the electricity, the water, the cable… how to find your way around a new city… (If you’ve never been to Hickory, it’s an adventure to find such things as 15th Street Place NW; trust me on that one.)… if you don’t speak the language, finding teammates that do and leaning on them for support and rides to the ballpark… how to budget your time away from the park – what little off time you do have – how to budget the meager money you make … finding a way to get your car fixed, and the money to do so… How to make a home in a strange city, but then to be ready to pack it all up at a moment’s notice and move to another city. There’s so much you have to pick up and learn, especially off the field.

Often I will ask the younger players what’s the hardest part of adjusting to pro ball. Their answers are almost always about learning to deal with stuff off the field.

When I look at these kids, and then think about my own, I wonder how they do it. How do they grow up in a few short months after living at home? I wonder how much they miss home, just like my kids did. I wonder what goes through their minds when they struggle to find that same groove they had “back in the day” that for many was just a few months earlier.

I imagine they have parents, who wonder like I did:  Are they ok? Are they getting enough to eat? Are they being treated well? Are they happy? When they struggle in a game, or in a stretch of games, do they call home longing for a kind word from a parent after being reamed out by a manager or coach, or after tough run-ins with teammates? Among the struggles of life itself, they’re still there to do one thing: play baseball for 140 games in 152 days. And you’d better be good, or else you’re out of your dream job at an early age.

It’s a man’s game, this baseball is; but at this level, it really is played by boys learning to be men. Some can handle it; some can’t… even the top-round picks. Baseball is a game about failure. At this level, failure is a new experience for the kids who were once the best. Some figure it out quickly and have the drive and self-motivation to work through the rough patches of their profession. The others, who were all-world at home, can’t understand the failure they now wallow in.

I thought about this stuff tonight after finding out about Travis Demeritte’s suspension for the use of a banned substance. Demeritte is from the area (Winder, Ga.) where my grandmother grew up, so we occasionally struck up conversations about the area—me about the past, him about the present. I did a feature column on him last year and spoke in passing a few times this year about how things were going. Demeritte has always been positive in my conversations. He never ducked questions about his strikeouts or his struggles at the plate. He had his ups-and-downs, but more positives than negatives, especially with his defense. Now this. All I could say when I saw the news was, “Damn.”

Here is a kid 20 days older than my son, who apparently felt so much pressure to succeed that he committed “an error in judgment” (the term used in his statement) to take a substance used in horse racing. Ironically, in this race to succeed, he’s likely now further behind than at any point of his pro career and that’s sad.

Having a 20-year-old who’s trying to figure out life, and struggling to do so, I can see him taking a shortcut here and there, hoping no one finds out. I think many of us at that age have had those moments. And I think many of us have learned it never really works out.

Unfortunately, that’s another lesson a 20-year-old learns; it’s just far too late with potentially far bigger consequences for his career.

I wish Travis the best and hope he gets it together… lesson learned.

Series Preview: Hickory at Lakewood June 4-7

The Hickory Crawdads are on the second half of a two-city swing through the Northern tier of the South Atlantic League, as they visit the Jersey Shore to face the Lakewood BlueClaws.

Probables (Hickory listed first):

Thursday: Collin Wiles (RH, 5-2, 2.01) vs. Ranfi Casimiro (RH, 2-3, 2.96)

Friday: Nick Gardewine (RH, 4-3, 2.89) vs. Chris Oliver (RH, 3-4, 2.93)

Saturday: Brett Martin (LH, 3-1, 2.50) vs. Elniery Garcia (LH, 2-5, 3.65)

Sunday: Ariel Jurado (RH, 7-0, 2.29) vs. Ricardo Pinto (RH, 5-1, 2.68)

Series History: Since 2009 during the current Rangers-Crawdads affiliation Hickory is 28-25, 16-16 at Lakewood. The Crawdads were 5-2 at FirstEnergy Park in 2014, 6-4 overall.

Entering the series:

After coasting in the standings much of the first 50 games of the season, Hickory (34-18) suddenly finds itself in a tight race for the first-half Northern Division title race. Once leading by six games, the Crawdads now lead West Virginia by 2 ½ games with 18 to go. After finishing up with Lakewood, Hickory will face only one other Northern Division squad in the first half—it closes the season with three games at West Virginia… The Crawdads were swept by Hagerstown in a doubleheader on Wednesday in what was an abbreviated series with the Suns… The Jekyll-and-Hyde offense has suddenly returned into the Hyde mode. After a four-game stretch when the Crawdads scoring 37 runs, they have put up just ten on 26 hits in losing four out of six… The power has also evaporated as the team has not homered since Travis Demeritte and Marcus Greene went deep in the seventh inning against Delmarva on May 25 (8 games). Hickory has only eight extra-base hits in six games – all doubles. Only Travis Martin has more than one in that stretch… The pitching continues to remain strong overall, giving up only 12 runs in five games. As a group, the starter’s ERA is 2.59 for the season with a 1.14 WHIP. Also, the starters have not allowed a home run in 22 games (111 2/3 innings)… Scoring first has been crucial. The Crawdads are 27-3 when they do so…Once Hickory has a lead in the middle innings, it is tough to beat. The Crawdads are 28-2 when they lead after five innings, 30-0 when they lead after six.

Lakewood (25-25) won the only game it played during what was to have been at three-game series at Delmarva on Monday. The BluesClaws have won 8-of-13 and are in fourth place, eight games behind Hickory…Lakewood is 12-12 at home, 13-13 on the road…Facing a struggling Hickory lineup, the BlueClaws have given up 24 earned runs in the last ten games and trailing only Hickory (2.76) and West Virginia (3.06) in team ERA (3.09). They are second in WHIP (1.19)…At the plate Lakewood has hit only 16 homers in 50 games, but has shown good gap power with 95 doubles…Despite having the fourth highest batting avg. (.257) in the SAL, they have scored the third fewest runs… The team will put the ball in play. Lakewood has the fewest walks in the SAL and the second fewest strikeouts.

Players to watch- Hickory:

SP: Collin Wiles: He is looking to rebound after a rough seventh inning when he allowed a season-high of three runs. It was only the second multi-run inning given up by Wiles this season. He has not surrendered a homer this season.

SP Ariel Jurado: Named the SAL pitcher of the week (May 25-31). In four of his last starts, Jurado has thrown at least five innings and allowed no earned runs with four or fewer hits. He has struck out 12 and allowed nine base runners in his last 17 innings pitched.

SP Nick Gardewine: Threw four shutout innings in his last start on Saturday before the Rome Braves scratched one against him in the fifth. Has been tough on the road with SAL hitters batting .189 against him (.322 at home). SAL has touched him up the second time through the order. His OBA in the first and second innings are .158 and .063 respectively. From then on it blows up to .316 in the third, .280 in the fourth and .364 in the fifth.

SP Brett Martin: Hopes to return after last pitching on May 22 due to a stiff back and rainouts. SAL hitters are batting .182 against him on the road.

RP: While John Fasola (10 saves) is inactive, who will the Crawdads turn to in a closing situation? Likely candidates could be RH David Perez (30 Ks/ 22.1 IP) or LH Yohander Mendez (0.00 ERA, 0.66 WHIP in 16.2 IP).

1B Rock Shoulders: Has struck the ball well as of late. The team could look to the big first baseman for a veteran presence in the midst of its funk. Shoulders has a mini four-game hitting streak and has put the ball in play in recent days (1 K in four games).

LF Eduard Pinto: Had two hits on Sunday and one during the doubleheader, he is another player that has put good contact on the ball, only to come up short (3-for-15). He has only six strikeouts this season to go with six walks. Pinto is the leading hitter on the road at .333.

RF: Luke Tendler: Has only four XBH since ending April with 21.

Players to watch- Lakewood:

SP Ricardo Pinto: The No. 11 Phillies prospect (MLB.com, No. 14 in BA). Has struck out 54 to only 13 walks in 57 innings. Been especially tough at home, where batters are hitting just .229 against him with a 2.08 ERA.

SP Chris Oliver: The Phillies fourth-round pick in 2014 out of Arkansas is the Phillies 21st-best prospect on MLB.com’s listings. He has proven to be a pitch-to-contact hitter with 24 K/ 18 BBs in 46 innings. He has given up two runs in each of his previous two starts, but has walked three or more (13) in his last four covering 22 innings. Oliver has yet to give up a homer this season, but hitters are batting .273 against him – .281 at home.

CF Carlos Tocci: Though just 19, he is in his third full season with the BlueClaws. The Venezuelan native is second in the SAL in hits, batting avg. (.330), and sixth in OBP (.393). Tocci is the Phillies 5th best prospect according to Baseball America, 18th according to MLB.com.

C Deivi Grullon: The 19-year-old is currently the No. 12 Phillies prospect (MLB.com, No. 13 BA). Has thrown out only 26.7% (12-45) of base stealing attempts. Had a .193/.228/.273 slash in May.

LF Cord Sandberg: Signed away from a commitment to Mississippi St. to play quarterback, the No. 14 prospect (MLB.com, No. 21 BA) has yet to homer after putting up six at SS-A Williamsport in 2014. Currently sporting a .207/.268/.251 slash.

1B Rhys Hoskins: The Phillies fifth-round pick in 2014 out of Cal-State Sacramento is raking. He leads the SAL in OPS (.921), slugging (.513) total bases, and OBP (.407). Hoskins is third in batting at .328.

When He Was a Crawdad: Joey Gallo

“He is almost like an orchestral conductor sweeping a baton across his body. But when the ball connects solidly with the barrel of the bat, the loft of the ball doesn’t so much streak through the air as it ascends like a white dove in an air current.” Hickory Daily Record article published June 20, 2013

Today, it was announced that Joey Gallo would make his big league debut with the Texas Rangers Tuesday night in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

Now a consensus top-ten, major league prospect, the Las Vegas native was as struggling A-ball minor leaguer. On June 5, 2013, Gallo had a slash line of .211/.316/ .485 with 90 strikeouts in 56 games. His season turned over the next five games when he went 11-for-18, which included a three-homer game at Hagerstown. Gallo went on to finish with a Crawdads single-season club records of 38 homers and a .610 slugging pct.

I interviewed Gallo about a week after his June hot streak in preparation for a feature article I wrote about him. He talked about the struggles of the first two months of the season, as well as the development of his powerful swing. Following the interview are some quotes by several of the Crawdads and Rangers player development staff.

How did you get started in baseball?

Gallo: I’ve been playing baseball ever since I literally can remember. My parents said I just kind of picked up a bat and just started swinging and ever since then, the rest is history. I just started playing. I didn’t ever play any other sports, but just stuck to baseball and had that one goal in mind to play pro baseball and hopefully make it to the major leagues. I’ve been playing baseball since I was three years old.

Was there a moment where you said, “I’d like to do play major league baseball?”

Gallo: It was always major league baseball. There was not one second of my childhood that I didn’t think “maybe I don’t want to play major league baseball.” It’s always been my goal throughout my whole childhood.

What positions did you play in high school?

Gallo: I played short and then my senior year I played third for the draft.

How did it come about that you would be a position player rather than pitch?

Gallo: Some teams wanted me as a pitcher. Actually half of them wanted me as a pitcher and I just didn’t want to. I always wanted to hit and play every day and be on the field every day. I love to be out there and helping the team win, not every five days, but every single day. I just always loved hitting. Obviously, hitting home runs is fun and I didn’t want to give that up. In the long run, if things turn and maybe I can’t be a major league baseball player as a hitter, I can always switch to pitching.

What are some of the highlights you had at Bishop Gorman?

Gallo: We won seven (state championships) in a row, including the four years I was there. Obviously, every time you win a state championship it’s a huge highlight and it’s great. My freshman and senior year we ended up being national champions. That’s probably the two biggest highlights of my time there. Winning a state championship every year is not easy. Every time you dogpile on the field at the end of the year is a great feeling.

How did you go about developing your swing?

Gallo: Ever since I could swing and understand how to be taught how to hit, my hitting coach has been a guy by the name of Mike Bryant. He son was just drafted second overall – Kris Bryant – in this last draft. Me and him used to hit together all the time, so he was my hitting coach since I was five years old all the way up until I graduated from high school. Mike’s the person that has had the biggest influence on my swing today. He really helped me put that swing together.

(photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

(photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

How did the power develop?

Gallo: He helped me out a lot with that. His son, too, has tremendous power. He led college baseball in home runs this year. It’s been kind of weird because we’ve both been compared to each other. He’s a righty and I’m a lefty, but even though we’re on different sides of the plate we have the same package of power.

It’s hard to tell people how you hit for power. I’ve just always been able to hit for home runs, ever since I was eight years old and I hit my first one. Ever since then, I could always hit home runs. Maybe it’s my leverage or hand strength or arms. I’m not really sure; I just know I can drive the ball.

In watching you take batting practice, even in games, it’s not like you have a violent swing. It seems so easy and flowing.

Gallo: Obviously, being a big guy helps you out, too. You really don’t have to swing as hard as you can to hit the ball out. I don’t really ever swing as hard as I can. I just usually try to get the barrel to the ball. If I’m fortunate enough to get it over the fence, then it goes over the fence. I don’t really like to tense up and swing hard. That’s going to prevent you from hitting the ball farther. I just use the hands to get the barrel to the ball.

You had signed a commitment to go to LSU, but I’m guessing with your potential draft position that was never really a possibility of going there, was it?

Gallo: There was actually a very, very strong possibility that I was going to go to LSU. Absolutely, I was committed to going there and getting a college education. That was actually really big to me. That’s something that when draft time came around that maybe some teams started to get scared off a little bit because I was very interested into going to LSU. Obviously, going to the College World Series with a great program and stuff like that. I wasn’t signed there just because I had to sign and go to a school. I really wanted to go there.

What prompted you to come out?

Gallo: The Texas Rangers organization had a really big influence on it. They’re developing players everywhere and they’re coming out of nowhere with all of these great players. There’s not really a better team to play for than the Texas Rangers at the major league level. So I had to sit down and say, do I want to risk it again in three years, or do I want to take the opportunity to make the best of it with an organization like the Texas Rangers. That was probably the biggest thing.

What would you major have been?

Gallo: Sports management.

What are some adjustments that you’ve had to make in the past year since high school?

Gallo: Obviously being away from home. That’s a huge adjustment, especially for teenaged kids. That’s probably the biggest one. It just being able to live on your own now and not having the college campus right there and taking care of ourselves now.

Playing every day and getting your body ready to play all the time. That’s always the toughest thing is to be mentally prepared every day to play and to be physically prepared to play at a professional level every single day.

Who’s been the biggest help for you in the past year?

Gallo: My parents (Laura/ Tony) have been the biggest help to me. They are always there for me. When I hit a slump, they’re always there picking me up. They watch videos on me all the time to see if they can point out something. They’ve been with me for the last 19 years and they know me better than anyone else.

Mashore (2013 Crawdads hitting coach Justin Mashore) has been a huge help to all of us. And our teammates, without them this isn’t fun. They’ve been the biggest help in picking each other up and having fun together. Most of the time, you see us out there having fun and smiling. We get along.

Let me ask you about this current group being together the past year. How much have you all leaned on each other the past year?

Gallo: A lot, because we’re going through the same stuff.  Most of the time, we’re going through the same struggles.  It’s always better to have somebody who’s been through it with you at the same age that you get along with.  That’s the biggest thing with us, we’ve known each other for the last year. We’ve been a team for almost two years now. That’s the good part about us is that we know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. We know how to help each other out, like when we see each other’s swing go wrong.

A guy like Lewis Brinson can tell me, “You’re doing this wrong,” and will just automatically help me out. Other than a guy that I just started playing with this year can’t really tell me too much because he hasn’t seen me as much.

Was the first six weeks more of a struggle than you expected?

Gallo: It was definitely a struggle and was probably the worst baseball I’d play in my life. I don’t want to say that I didn’t expect it, but obviously making a jump to full-season ball there’s going to be a little jump where maybe the average comes down. But you’ve got to make adjustments to that. I’m starting to do that now and starting to get the hang of it and getting my swing down. I wasn’t too impressed with how I was doing, so I wasn’t too happy about what was going on. I just had to keep my head up and keep going at it and see things get turned around.

When can you tell when things are going to start clicking for you?

Gallo: I think the biggest thing that I can tell that things are turning around is when I start hitting balls to centerfield and line drives and hitting balls the other way and not just pulling balls. It’s almost like, sometimes when I go up there, like the last couple of days, I felt like whatever this guy throws, I’m going to hit it hard and maybe hit it out. That’s the biggest thing with me is if I go up there with confidence I feel like I can be better than anybody else up there. I think that’s the biggest thing, that if I see balls go to centerfield hard and I’m sitting back on off-speed and have an idea that I’m in a good hitting position, then I know that I’m doing things right.

I talked with scouts to hear what they say about you. One scout compared you to Adam Dunn, in a power sense. What goes through your mind when you hear or read stuff like that?

Gallo: First of all, it’s very humbling. That’s pretty special to be named like that in a power sense. But it doesn’t really mean much to me because you’ve still got to go out there and prove it.

It’s obviously a great honor to be named and for a scout to say that, but still, you’ve still got to go out there and prove that you can do that and prove that you have power. It’s pretty cool to hear things like that and obviously it’s what you work for to be named in groups like that and for scouts to say stuff like that. That’s pretty cool.

You had the big three home run night at Hagerstown the other night. How special was that for you and what do you take from that?

Gallo: It’s very special. It was a pretty cool day. It was good after that, because I felt like I was confident again and I can turn my season around and maybe start helping my team win a little more and hit hitting the ball out a little more and getting a few more hits a game.

What is the biggest thing for you to work on between now and the majors?

Gallo: Probably just consistency. Coming out there and having my best at bats every game and not just having games where I go 0-for-4 with four Ks. Instead of being 0-for-4 with four Ks, I get a hit in between there or go 2-for-4 and coming out here consistently and having my swing every single day and not letting that go away and throwing away an at bat.

Become a complete player is important for you, isn’t it?

Gallo: That’s something I’ve worked on my entire life. Swinging the bat can only get you so far. Sometimes in order to help your team win every day you’ve got to be able do the little things well like field ground balls and make plays that maybe some other people couldn’t make and run the bases the right way. That makes a difference in the game.

In a one-run game, it’s who can run the bases better, not always about who’s going to hit more home runs that game. So, I’ve always prided myself in being an all around good player, not a good hitter or a power hitter.

(Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

(Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Quotes about Gallo:

Tim Pupura, 2013 Texas Rangers Director of Player Development

I think he’s outstanding. He is the one player here that we did push last year. He had already won the home run title in the Arizona League. We felt like he had kind of conquered the competition there, so we decided to challenge him and send him up to Spokane for the last few weeks and get him exposed to a little bit higher level of pitching, a different quality of competition. To his credit, one of the things he told us this spring was he realized that we sent him up there for a reason, and that was to show him how difficult it is as you move level from level. I think it was a great experience for him, because he learned about failure.

Even though he had had great success he went up there and he struggled. I think it was a great lesson for him and I think it was a great lesson for the rest of these guys. Even though you win a home run championship in one league, moving up to the next league doesn’t insure that you’ll automatically step up and be successful. You’re going to have to adjust; you’re going to have to get better as the talent gets better above you.

Joey’s a great kid. He has a great family and is from a big sports-oriented school. There was a lot of good training that he got and he’s got some natural ability. He’s got the ability to hit with power. To me, you learn a lot about power, but a lot of it’s God-given to be able to hit balls like he can hit them. He’s fun to watch and he had a great spring, so we feel really good about him here.

Hickory Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale

What have you seen in Gallo’s development over the past year?

I think just the maturity factor on a day-to-day basis. I’m sure a lot of people will want to talk about his ability and stuff like that, but we knew he was a special player last year when we got him. But, I just think on a day-to-day basis about how he goes about his business, the routines that he’s settled into and learning how to be a professional I think more so than anything.

On Gallo’s defensive:

To be as big as he is he’s a very good athlete and has very good speed. He can more around as good as any of them to be honest. He’s just learning how to get into a better position more consistently and be ready for the ball to be hit to him. It’s kind of a focus deal learning how to focus for a full game over there. Sometimes, especially as a young kid, they haven’t had a ball hit to them in a few innings and it probably gets a little monotonous over there. Learning to keep their focus and to stay into it, because sooner or later you are going to get one and you’ve got to be ready for it.

As far as raw power goes, who have you seen that compares to Gallo?

Nobody!. Eighteen, nineteen-years-old the last two years, not at that age, especially, anywhere near that age. It’s obviously pretty special. It’s pretty cool to see him hit b.p. every day and see a kid that can hit one in the lights and all that stuff. That don’t happen very often.

2013 Hickory Crawdads hitting coach Justin Mashore:

What have you seen in his improvement over the last year?

When he got to us last year, he was put together very well. There wasn’t a whole lot of adjustments made to his swing, besides to what he was thinking at the plate and trying to get used to pitchers challenging him with the fastball and not always throwing breaking balls to him. We haven’t really wavered from that.

He got off to a slow start here, but I never really had a doubt that he was going to do what he did last year and then some. When you see somebody do what he did last year, you’re kind of, you know it’s in there and it’s just a matter of time before his mind and his body sync up and he takes off.

What contributed to his slow start?

I just think the huge expectations that the outside world, or himself, or anything else puts on a kid like that, or for that matter, most of these guys. They got here and they’re all young and they’re going through the same things.
2013 Texas Rangers Field Coordinator Casey Candaele:

I think defensively he’s been playing real well for me. He’s 6-foot-5 at third. He moves well real and he’s agile. I just try getting him to get a little bit of movement before the ball crosses the plate so he can get that big frame moving. Basically, the big thing for him is to have a wide base so he can get down and field the ball. Guys of that stature, you’ve got to make sure they use their legs a lot in the field.

He’s got good hands. He can handle third. He’s obviously got a lot of things to work on, but I’m pleased with the way he’s playing defense. He’s a very good instinctual baseball player. He runs the bases really well for a big man. When you see those kinds of things in a player, those are special traits that a lot of guys don’t have.

Series Preview: Hickory at Hagerstown June 1-3

The Hickory Crawdads start a week-long road trip to the Northern tier of the South Atlantic League as they visit the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns for three games and then travel to Lakewood, N.J. for four to face the BlueClaws.

 

Probables:

Monday: Luis Ortiz (RH, 2-0, 1.76 ERA) and Luis Reyes (RH, 1-3, 5.44)

Tuesday: Cody Buckel (RH, 0-0, 0.00 in two starts) and Matt Purke (LH, 0-1, 4.50)

Wednesday: Brett Martin (LH, 3-1, 2.50) and TBA

Entering the series:

Hickory (34-16) scored only six runs on 12 hits the past three games, but took two of three from Rome to salvage a split in the four-game series with the Braves and complete a 5-2 homestand. The Crawdads now lead the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division by four games over West Virginia and by nine over third place Hagerstown… The team waited until the night of May 31 to make their first overnight road trip, leaving after Sunday night’s extra-inning game against Rome…Hickory went 3-1 against the Suns to open its 2015 season at L.P. Frans Stadium and is now 35-34 since the current affiliation with the Rangers began in 2009.  However, the Crawdads are 24-16 at Municipal Stadium… Despite having the second overall youngest pitching staff in the SAL, Hickory leads the league with a 2.52 ERA, trails only Lakewood in WHIP (1.19) and is third in strikeouts. Their 18 saves is second to Charleston, S.C.…The starters have not given up a home run since May 11.

Since a 1-4 start, the Suns (25-25) have hovered around the .500 mark much of the opening two months of the season. Hagerstown lost three of four to visiting Kannapolis during the weekend…The Suns roster is usually loaded up with college products and this year is no different. Hagerstown has the second oldest group of position players (22.7 age) in the South Atlantic League and the third oldest pitching staff (22.4)… The Suns trail only Hickory in errors allowed (47) and fielding pct. (.975), and has the second-best caught stealing ratio in the SAL (34.7%)…The Suns .260 team batting average is second in the league and they have struck out the fewest times.

Players to watch – Hickory:

RF Luke Tendler: After hitting .229 during a homerless May, Tendler looks to get healthy against a team he had success with to start the year. Tendler went 6-for-15 with two homers, four RBI and five runs scored during the four-game series vs. the Suns in early April. He is tied for third in the SAL in doubles (14) and total bases (85). A day off during the series may not be out of the question, as he has played in all but one game this season.

3B Josh Morgan: Though he ended May with his first back-to-back hitless games since May 1-2, Morgan still finished May with a .323/.411/.419 slash. He also showed good patience at the plate with ten walks in 109 plate appearances.

SS Michael De Leon: Hit .206/.241/.290 in May, but began to see pitches batter over the past week. He was 5-for-14 vs. Hagerstown in April.

Closer John Fasola: Only a game-tying, broken-bat RBI single with two outs in the ninth on May 31 kept Fasola from having a near perfect month. Fasola closed out seven of eight save opportunities in the month with just the one earned run allowed. He also posted 16 strikeouts to just two walks over 13.1 innings. Fasola leads the SAL with ten saves overall.

SP Luis Ortiz: Struck out 17 and walked three in 19.1 innings in May. After giving up a lone run in three starts, Ortiz was hit up for four runs allowed in 3.1 innings against Delmarva last Tuesday. With the uncertainty of the two starters to follow, Ortiz will be looked at to complete at least his normal five innings, if not longer, as his pitch count allows.

SP Cody Buckel: In his two starts since coming to Hickory, Buckel has been unscored upon in seven innings with three walks and five hits allowed.

SP Brett Martin: He hopes to return to the mound after a stiff back cancelled his previous start last Thursday.

Relief Corps: With Buckel still getting stretched out and the uncertain of Martin’s back – and his longevity on the mound will likely be limited at best – the relief corps will likely see a lot of innings in the series. Yohander Mendez has thrown 16.2 scoreless innings (eight appearances) since joining Hickory. David Perez gave up one unearned run during six games in May and struck out 16 to go with ten walks in 11.2 innings.

 

Players to watch – Rome:

SP Matt Purke: The former unsigned first-round pick (2009) of the Texas Rangers is making his second start (4 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 K vs. Kannapolis on May 28) for the Suns since returning from “Tommy John” surgery. He also had shoulder surgery in 2012 and has made only 30 starts in the five seasons since the Washington Nationals took him in the third round in 2011. Ranked the 11th best Nationals prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2014 season, he has dropped of its top-30 list. Purke is still No. 28 on mlb.com’s rankings.

SP Luis Reyes: He held Hickory to just three hits and struck out over five innings in a start during the season-opening series at L.P. Frans Stadium. He’s been hit hard over his last five starts, allowing 17 earned runs on 28 hits over 25.2 innings. Opponents are batting .342 against Reyes at Municipal Stadium.

C Raudy Read: The lone top-30 prospect (mlb.com) on the Suns roster has struggled the past three weeks, as he is 7-for-39 (.179) since May 10. Read belted his first homer of the season on April 10 against Hickory as part of a 2-for-4 game with four runs scored.

LF Jeff Gardner: Hit .298/.319/.423 in May and finished the month with at least one hit in 17 of the last 18 games (27-for-69, .391), eight of those multi-hit games. Gardner (8th round, 2014, Louisville) went 2-for-10 against Hickory in April, with both of the hits coming on April 10 to go with two walks and four runs scored in that game.

3B Grant Debruin: Snapped at 10-game hitting streak on Sunday vs. Kannapolis (16-for-39, .410). Overall, his .319 average is sixth in the South Atlantic League. He signed with the Nationals as a free agent after playing two seasons with Joliet of the Frontier League.

1B Carlos Lopez: Played college ball at Wake Forest (12th round, 2012), he joined the Suns last week for his third straight season with the Suns.

UT Cody Dent: The son of former major leaguer Bucky Dent. The 22nd round pick of the Nationals in 2013 out of the University of Florida.

Learning to Provide Relief: An Interview with Adam Parks

Numbers don’t always tell the story of what a pitcher can do in the long term. When looking solely at the numbers of current Crawdads relief pitcher Adam Parks in college, one would think a pro career for him would be a stretch.

Named an all-state performer in 2010 and 2011, the native of Easton, Md. was a member of St. Michaels High’s state title team during three of his four prep seasons. Two summers ago, Parks threw a seven-inning perfect game while with Charles Town (WV) of the collegiate Valley League.

However, his college career on paper at Liberty (VA) University was somewhat underwhelming.  He posted an 8.33 ERA in 27 innings with 20 strikeouts and 19 walks combined during his redshirt-freshman and sophomore years. That came after a year away from the mound due to “Tommy John” surgery.

He offers a 92-94 mph fastball, but it’s his wipeout slider that caught the attention of Rangers amateur scout Jonathan George, who convinced the club to draft Parks in the 33rd round last June.

So far in the successive 12 months since his selection, Parks has rewarded the Rangers’ interest in him. Last summer at short-season Spokane, he allowed just six earned runs in 25.1 innings (2.13 ERA) with 31 Ks and only five walks over 18 relief outings.

This year, he’s been one of the Crawdads most reliable “bridge” relievers, putting up a 2.93 ERA (10 earned runs in 30.2 inning) as a reliever with 44 Ks and eight walks. In his last relief outing on May 26, (he made his first pro start on Saturday, May 30) Parks struck out seven in 3.2 innings to defeat Delmarva. It was the seventh time in 11 relief outings that Parks has fanned at least five in three or more innings.

Reliever Adam Parks delivers a pitch in a game against Delmarva on May 26 (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Reliever Adam Parks delivers a pitch in a game against Delmarva on May 26 (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

I talked with Parks after the relief outing against Delmarva about his season so far, the adjustment to the bullpen, and the development of new pitches to his arsenal.

 

From what I’ve seen this season number wise, you’ve been a big strikeout guy. Is that what you’ve been known for?

Parks: Last year in Spokane, I always seemed to get a strikeout an inning. Being with the Rangers, they’ve really helped me develop my fastball command and my slider. Now, it’s been adding a changeup and now a curveball, so it’s easier to set up hitters. As you can see, I usually put people away with my slider or a located fastball.

What’s been the key to developing those pitches that you’ve had, as well as the new ones you’re working on?

Parks: In Spokane, I worked with my pitching coach a lot in standing tall and working on different pitching mechanics. Especially here, when I got to Hickory, Oscar’s (pitching coach Oscan Marin) been working with me with my direction, which has really helped me with my pitch location. It’s helped me with my slider and it’s helping me to locate my slider better to lefties and righties. The pitching staff of the Texas Rangers has been the best for me.

What was the biggest pitch that you had to develop this year to be able to step up to another level?

Parks: I had to get more consistent with my changeup and in the offseason I worked on a curveball, so I can have a four-pitch mix, instead of just a two-pitch. Last year in Spokane, I was a closer. Now, I’m more of a long relief, throwing multiple innings. So having four pitches instead of two is more beneficial. Plus having changeups, it’s key to pitching.

What type of change are you throwing?

Parks: I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s just a two-seam changeup. I just put my fingers on it and let it rip.

Long term, staying in the bullpen, is that where you think you’re career will go at this point?

Parks: I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. I enjoy the bullpen, so I will not be upset if I stay in the bullpen,

Do you think you have more of a mentality for that role rather than as a starter?

Parks: Yes and no. Last year in Spokane was my first full year in the bullpen and I learned to love it and I learned that mentality. But, I have had a routine and I like to have a routine. I love being in those tight situations and I love being called on. I would say yes and no.

At the end of the year, what does a successful year look like for you?

Parks: Just knowing that I got better every day, because I’m still developing as a pitcher every day. As long as I can tell that I got better. Numbers are great, ERA’s great and all this, but as long as I’m developing the way the Rangers want me to, I’d say that’s a successful year.

You had a big game on Tuesday, where you struck out seven in 3 2/3 innings during a tight ballgame. You had another game – the 17-inning game comes to mind – when you struck out a bunch of guys in a short span. Do you look more to the strikeout in tight situations?

Parks: If I get a hitter 0-2 or 1-2, I’m looking to strike him out. In tight games, the last thing you want to do is to give in, because one swing of the bat can dictate the game. I would say throwing my pitches with conviction, knowing what strengths are and knowing how I get outs.

When you come into a situation with runners in scoring position, you’ll do anything not to let those runs score, especially if it’s the starter’s runs. The last thing I want to do is to give up the previous pitcher’s runs. So, yeah, strikeouts can get you out of jams.

If there’s a runner and second and third and they hit the ball to second base, a run scores. So I would say you want to come and punch somebody out in those tight situations.

You use your slider for a strikeout, but do you have a go-to pitch for when you need a ground ball or trying to get a double play?

Honestly, I haven’t had many double plays in my career – maybe two or three in my entire career, which hasn’t a long career. I pitched all last year at Spokane and I don’t think I had a double play once.

I know if I need a strike I can go to my fastball. When I’m looking to put somebody away, I usually use a slider.