This was an ugly one for Hickory Crawdads fans, but a delight for many of the 4,998 fans (announced as such anyway) cheering on their hometown Greensboro Grasshoppers at First National Bank Field. The Grasshoppers took the lead in the bottom of the first and went on to the easy win in the season opener for both.
A cool, brisk night had little effect on the offenses as they combined for 36 baserunners. Unfortunately for the Crawdads, 25 of them wore the Grasshopper white uniforms. The hit column was fairly close (13-9 Greensboro) as were the extra-base hit totals (6-4 Greensboro). What killed Hickory was 12 walks. Well that, and RF Dalton Wheat who had a chance at the reverse cycle by the fifth inning.
Wheat, signed by the Miami Marlins after being named the top independent league prospect by Baseball America in 2016, literally put on his work gloves and went to work on the Crawdads pitching staff.
After Hickory settled for a run in the first, despite three hits and walk, the left-handed hitting Wheat – he is from Kansas – lined a two-run shot just over the fence in left. The liner was most impressive given that it was into a 15-25 mph wind. Wheat capped a five-run second with a two-run triple and later scored on Colby Lusignan’s double. In the fourth, Wheat got a hustle double into the Bermuda triangle between three Crawdads defenders meeting in CF and later scored.
Wheat’s attempts to complete the cycle fell through as he walked in the fifth and seventh. A snag of Wheat’s hot smash by 1B Yanio Perez in the eighth spoiled the chase for history.
Alex Jones and Corey Bird each had three hits, and Justin Twine walked three times.
Hickory’s night was salvaged at the plate on homers by Anderson Tejeda and Ti’Quan Forbes. Yanio Forbes went 2-for-4 with an RBI double.
Texas Rangers 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Lemoine made his pro debut after missing two seasons with shoulder problem. He walked two and struck out two over 1.2 IP.
Kaleb Fontenot was the most effective of the quintet of Crawdads pitchers on the mound, allowing just one hit and striking out two over 1.1 IP.
Momentum thwarted early:
Hickory had a chance to put its collective claws between the Grasshoppers thorax and head early.
Blaine Prescott opened the season with an infield hit, but was caught stealing. Tejeda walked and moved to second as Leody Teveras reached on an infield hit. Perez sliced a long flyball that rainbowed just inside the line in right to score Tejeda and putting runners at second and third.
To that point, Grasshoppers starting pitcher Jordan Holloway had struggled with his command, as with a bit of bad luck on the three hits. Facing Jose Almonte, a 1-0 fastball went up and in, but Almonte was unable to check his swing. Now 1-1 instead of a 2-0 count, Holloway gathered himself and went on to fan Almonte. The next hitter Ti’Quan Forbes went ahead 2-1, but missed a fastball and eventually whiffed.
Wheat’s two-run blast in the bottom put Greensboro in front and it never relinquished the lead.
He’s only 18, but at 5-11, 185-pounds, Anderson Tejeda showed he can crank a fastball with the best of them at this level. His solo blast in the third was legendary. Greensboro’s staff has the technology to measure these things and they said it was 106 mph off the bat and it went 441 feet.
Here is the pic off the field. Above the red Budweiser sign there is what looks like 2/3 of a goal post. Above that is a LED decorated tree. It went past that tree.
In the fifth, Tejeda just missed a bunt single as the ball traveled up the third-base line before trickling foul at the bag.
Forbes 2016 carry over:
I can make an argument that 3B Ti’Quan Forbes was most improved Crawdads player in the second half of 2016. His slash line was remarkably better and his defense at third was stellar.
He’s continued to bulk up and the power was on display with a lined two-run homer to left. Greensboro’s stat folks had the blast timed at 109 mph off the bat. He had the best play of the night when he charged and barehanded a bunt halfway down the line and fired a bullet to first on the run for the out.
These cleats were made for walking:
Twelve walks by Hickory pitching will certainly get the ire of coach Jose Jaimes. With the guys coming from Arizona last week and two days of hard rain here, Tuesday was the only day the pitchers could get side work in. I don’t know if that would have an effect, but almost no one had command of the fastball, save Lemoine’s sixth inning.
Starter Jonathan Hernandez appeared bothered by the cold or wind or lack of control or whatever. He put together a strong final month in 2016, but last night’s start was a step back. Three walks, just five of 16 hitters started with a first-pitch strike, and 32 balls to 33 strikes on the evening. Fastballs were 92-94 range according to the Greensboro board, but often missed Valencia’s target arm side. Those that stayed over the plate were often punished.
Luke Lanphere at 90-91 mph fared little better as he walked three of the 14 he faced and threw 32 strikes over 58 pitches.
Jake Lemoine took a bit to find his feel and threw more secondary offerings than anyone I saw. From my high angle, many of those looked to be sliders. He had a strong sixth and point the exclamation point on things with a 91 on the glove-side corner to catch Aaron Knapp looking.
CD Pelham had a forgettable debut with four walks to the six batters he faced.
Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (0-0) at Greensboro Grasshoppers (Miami Marlins) (0-0)
The Hickory Crawdads and Greensboro Grasshoppers open the 2017 South Atlantic League season with a four-game series at First National Bank Field in Greensboro.
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Games Thursday through Saturday are at 7:00 EDT with a 4 p.m. start on Sunday.
TICKETS: Ticket prices range from $7-11.
PARKING: Parking at the ballpark is $5. There are independently operated parking lots nearby that charge a varied amount. Metered parking about a block away from the outfield is free after 6 p.m. on weekdays and is free on weekends.
CONCESSIONS: First National Bank Field is more of a AA park and so the concession offerings are a vast upgrade from what a smaller Low-A ball park provides. Other than basic ballpark fare, there is a BBQ stand, Sausage Shack, Philly Steaks Sandwiches, Mexican fare, and a Burger of the Month. There are also veggie options. Here is the entire menu.
Where is it?:
From Hickory, take I-40 East to exit 218 B / Freeman Mill Road. That will turn into Edgeworth St. and the ballpark will be on the right. (Edgeworth and Bellemeade St.)
Thursday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. RHP Jordan Holloway
Friday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. RHP Alejando Mateo
Saturday: RHP Emerson Martinez vs. RHP Dustin Beggs
Sunday: RHP Edgar Arredondo vs. LHP Dylan Lee
rRecent Series History:
Hickory took an 12-9 season-series win vs. the Grasshoppers in 2016, which included a 7-4 mark at then-called NewBridge Bank Park. Since the stadium opened in 2005, Greensboro is 55-42 at home vs. the Crawdads, 35-34 during the Rangers affiliation (since 2009).
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No. 17 MLB.com and Baseball America): Given the strong finish by Hernandez in 2016, it was a little surprising to see the right-hander back donning the Hickory uniform again. After an 8.87 ERA and a .305 OBA in July, the 20-year old gave up just 10 ER over his final 28.2 innings in August/ September (3.14 ERA) and opponents hit just .210 in that stretch. Development of his changeup and keeping his delivery under control was under the agenda last year. Now as the “senior” member of the staff, Hernandez may be primed to step forward as a more dominant force on the mound. He can rack up Ks (10 in a game vs. Lexington last May), but his success comes with groundball outs (1.19 GO/AO).
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): The big righty (6-4, 225) had a dominant tenure with Spokane (1.78 ERA, 46 Ks/ 10 BBs 30.1 IP), then struggled to find his command after he joined Hickory for the final month of 2016 (10 Ks/ 18 BBs 13.1 IP). Brings an overpowering fastball/ slider, but the Vanderbilt product’s goal is simple to start the season: find the plate.
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America): Observers say he has an intriguing combination of power and speed, along with a good makeup for an 18-year-old. Had an adequate K/BB ratio (55 K/ 25 BBs over 333 plate appearances) and 21 extra-base hits in 73 games last year. The curious thing will be to see how he adjusts to SAL pitchers that spin the ball. For former top-end, 17-18-year-old Crawdads outfielders that spent two seasons here (Lewis Brinson, Nomar Mazara, Jairo Beras for example), the first year was frustration personified as each racked up Ks swinging at breaking balls off the plate. Patience with the process could be needed by fans.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 8 MLB.com, 16 Baseball America): Over the first 24 seasons of Crawdads baseball, only 2013 OF Nick Williams put together a season that had double-digit totals in doubles, triples and homers. Tejeda did that over three levels last season when he had 14 doubles, ten triples and ten homers in just 66 games. Will need to work on plate discipline (73 Ks in 269 ABs), but his gap-to-gap approach at a young age is certainly an interesting proposition to monitor as he gets older and wiser. Played exclusively at shortstop last year and will have to work on slowing the game down as he made 17 errors in 45 games.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Seems strange to type 2B by his name as he led all SAL shortstops in fielding last year. Shows good range and the arm is a cannon. At the plate, showed good power for a young player. But, Yrizarri could be frustrating to watch. Seemed to take his time in the field in making plays, though his arm bailed him out. He also swings at EVERYTHING. Does make decent enough contact, but had ONLY 9 WALKS. Hopefully the second season will be the charm on developing plate discipline.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): The biggest hurdle for the 20-year-old last year was staying on the field. A bit of surprise when he was assigned to Hickory last year, Almonte made the player development folks look smart when he put up a .278/.343/ .444 slash and popped eight homers in 57 games. Missed a lot of the 2016 season with injuries to both shoulders. He worked in the offseason to strengthen his upper body. Like Yrizarri, plate discipline will be a key for him as well (55 Ks/ 8 walks with Hickory).
Others to watch – Hickory:
3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Started slow, but gained confidence and seemingly strength as the season wore on. Came to Hickory with a reputation of the game being too fast for him in the field, he was as solid defender as there was in the league last year. In the first half, he hit for a .239/.299/289 slash. The second half, it went to .261/.316/.376. Twenty of his 28 extra-base hits came in the second half. Will be interesting to see if that confidence continues to build in his second season with the Crawdads.
C Ricky Valencia: Played just 41 games last year – 22 behind the plate – the organizational soldier will get a chance to play on a fulltime basis for the first time in his pro career. Brings a power bat to the lineup, but how much he can hold up through the rigors of catching in the heat of North Carolina summers will be something to watch.
RHP Jake Lemoine: The 2015 fourth-round draftee will make his pro debut with Hickory after struggling with a shoulder injury. The Univ. of Houston prospect will start the season in the bullpen with bite-sized game appearances for now.
Prospects to watch-Greensboro:
RHP Jordan Holloway (No. 15 Baseball America, 16 MLB.com): After a solid short-season with Batavia in 2015, he took a step backwards when he struggled with control with the Grasshoppers (15 walks/ 31 innings over eight starts) then was shut down with a triceps injury after a demotion back to Batavia. MLB.com has his fastball and curve both at 60 on the 20-80 scale, but can he control it?
RHP Sam Perez (No. 18 MLB.com, 23 Baseball America): A reliever for Missouri State, Perez may get a chance to start in the Marlins system, though he is not expected to do so in this series. Scouting publications note his durability (91 innings over 36 games his senior season) as well as his intelligence. The combination may serve him well vs. the younger players of the SAL. He may get a chance to move up the ladder quickly if the Marlins decide to keep him in the pen.
2B Justin Twine (No. 26 MLB.com, 28 Baseball America): An athletic kid that played several sports in high school, the Falls City, Tex. native – the second-round pick of the Marlins in 2014 – has struggled to put that into baseball ability. Has K’d 276 times over 970 ABs and works very few walks. Drafted as a SS, the Marlins moved him to 2B where he led the SAL in fielding last year. This will be the third year with the Grasshoppers, and although he is still just 21, time is pressing for him to put things together.
Notes of Interest: Holloway is the Grasshoppers youngest player and one of just two 20-years-olds on the roster. Eleven of the Crawdads 25-man roster are younger than Holloway, five of those are expected to be in the lineup this evening (Almonte, Forbes, Taveras, Tejeda, Yrizarri) … Hickory manager Spike Owen was originally slated to be the team’s manager last year. However, Owen became the Rangers interim third-base coach when Tony Beasley (Hickory manager in 2002) was diagnosed with cancer and left the team to receive treatment… Grasshoppers manager Todd Pratt, a 14-year major league veteran, played for the old Greensboro Hornets in 1986, then an affiliate with the Boston Red Sox. Owen played shortstop for the Red Sox in that season’s World Series… Crawdads RHP Edgar Arredondo is the youngest player ever to appear in a Mexican League game. He was 15 when he suited up for Quintana Roo in 2013.
IT’S OPENING DAY!
Over the next 152 days, 25 players that will start the season at Hickory seek another step on their individual journeys toward what they each hope will end at the major leagues. But for now, they are all teammates and will work towards the common goal of winning games and hopefully playoff spots.
As the season’s first pitch is thrown, the Crawdads roster will have eight returning players from the 2016 squad, including tonight’s starting pitcher Jonathan Hernandez and his batterymate Ricky Valencia.
Three 2016 starting position players will rejoin the squad at the start, including third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes and shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri – who will play more at second this season. – and right fielder Jose Almonte.
Other pitchers returning to the mound are Emerson Martinez, Luke Lanphere and Tyler Ferguson.
The Crawdads top prospects are led by the Texas Rangers No. 1 overall prospect CF Leody Taveras. Others include SS Anderson Tejada (No. 8 MLB.com), Yanio Perez (No. 15) – who will play OF and 1B – Yrizarri (17), Hernandez (18) and Almonte (29).
Here is the expected lineup for the Crawdads to start the season: C Ricky Valencia, 1B Yanio Perez or Preston Scott, 2B Yeyson Yrizarri, 3B Ti’Quan Forbes, SS Anderson Tejada, LF Travis Bolin, CF Leody Taveras, RF Jose Almonte. Perez and Scott are both expected to see some time in outfield. Yrizarri and Tejeda will switch spots on occasion with Yrizarri likely to also see some time at 3B. Forbes may get some reps at 1B. Isaias Quiroz will back up Valencia behind the plate.
The starting rotation announced so far: Jonathan Hernandez, Kyle Cody, Emerson Martinez, Edgar Arredondo, Argenis Rodriguez and a tandem of Tyler Phillips and Demarcus Evans in the sixth slot.
The collection of bullpen arms are as follows: Reid Anderson, Tyler Ferguson, Kaleb Fontenot, Luke Lanphere, Jake Lemoine, Sal Mendez and C.D. Pelham.
Below is a snapshot view of each player that will start the season at Hickory.
2017 HICKORY CRAWDADS PLAYER CAPSULES
REID ANDERSON (RHP, 6-3, 185)
2016 Pro Season: 14 games (2 starts) at Spokane (Wash.), 36 2/3 IP, 1 HR, 20 BB, 18 K, 3.44 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .238 OBA.
About Anderson: A native of New Egypt, N.J., Anderson, 21, was the Texas Rangers 17th-round pick in 2016 out of Millersville (Pa.) Univ., where he was a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Scholar Athlete. Pitched two innings in Division II College World Series championship game. Entered college as outfielder, began pitching while a sophomore.
EDGAR ARREDONDO (RHP, 6-3, 230)
2016 Pro Season: 12 games (12 starts) at Dominican Summer League (DSL) Rangers 1, 62 IP, 0 HR, 4 BB, 56 K, 3.97 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .260 OBA.
About Arredondo: A native of Novalato, Sinaloa, Mex., Arredondo, 19, signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. Appeared for Quintana Roo of the Mexican League in 2013, the youngest ever to debut in a Mexican League game at 15 years old. Had elbow surgery in November 2013 and missed all of 2014.
KYLE CODY (RHP, 6-7, 245)
2016 Pro Season: 12 games (9 starts) at Spokane, 47 1/3 IP, 4 HR, 13 BB, 53 K, 5.13 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, .293 OBA.
About Cody: A native of Chippewa Falls, Wisc., Cody, 22, was the Rangers sixth-round pick in 2016 out of the University of Kentucky. Was 4-1 with a 2.77 ERA in ten SEC starts in 2016. Drafted in the second by the Minnesota Twins in 2015 but returned to the Wildcats for his senior season. Was the 2012 Gatorade Wisconsin High School player of the year.
DEMARCUS EVANS (RHP, 6-4, 270)
2016 Pro Season: 14 games (12 starts) between Arizona Summer League (AZL) and Spokane, 55 IP, 3 HR, 37 BB, 75 K, 2.95 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .193 OBA.
About Evans: A native of Petal, Miss., Evans, 20, was the 25th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Petal High School. Allowed fewer than two runs in 4 of 6 starts in the AZL before a promotion to short-season Spokane on 8/3.
TYLER FERGUSON (RHP, 6-4, 225)
2016 Pro Season: 23 games between Spokane and Hickory, 43 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 28 BB, 56 K, 3.92 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .190 OBA.
About Ferguson: A native of Fresno, Calif.., Ferguson, 23, was the Rangers sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Named to the Northwestern League All-Star Team while at Spokane, he struck out 37 percent (46 of 124) of the batters he faced in the circuit. Made several relief appearances for Vanderbilt en route to the 2014 College World Series title. Three-time Southeastern Conference Honor Roll.
KALEB FONTENOUT (RHP, 6-1, 180)
2016 Pro Season: 19 games (3 starts) at Spokane, 36 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 16 BB, 41 K, 4.17 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .266 OBA.
About Fontenout: A native of Ville Platte, La., Fontenout, 23, was the Rangers 21st round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Was an All-Southland Conference starter his senior season at McNeese St., set a school record with 28 straight scoreless innings.
JONATHAN HERNANDEZ (RHP, 6-2, 173)
2016 Pro Season: 24 games 2 starts) at Hickory, 116 1/3 IP, 14 HR, 49 BB, 85 K, 4.56 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .252 OBA.
About Hernandez: A native of Santiago de los Caballos, D. R., Hernandez, 20, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.Baseball America has Hernandez as the 17th best Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 18. His father, Fernando, pitched briefly for the Detroit Tigers during a 14-season pro career.
LUKE LANPHERE (RHP, 6-2, 198)
2016 Pro Season: 13 games at between Spokane and Hickory, 71 2/3 IP, 9 HR, 22 BB, 57 K, 3.64 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, .272 OBA.
About Lanphere: A native of Highland, Calif., Lanphere, 21, was the Rangers 21st round pick out of Citrus Valley (Calif.) High School in 2013.Was promoted to Hickory on August 4.
JAKE LEMOINE (RHP, 6-5, 199)
2016 Pro Season: Did not pitch.
About Lemoine: A native of Bridge City, Tex., Lemoine, 23, was the Rangers fourth round pick in 2015 out of Univ. of Houston. Suffered a should injury in 2015 while at college and has not pitched professionally. Had rotator cuff surgery March 2016. Named to USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team in 2014. Rangers picked him the 21st round in 2012, but Lemoine opted to attend Houston.
EMERSON MARTINEZ (RHP, 6-1, 199)
2016 Pro Season: 24 games (6 starts) between Hickory and AA Frisco (Tex.), 64 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 28 BB, 53 K, 3.48 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .249 OBA.
About Martinez: A native of Guigue, Venezuela., Martinez, 22, signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. Completed six or more innings in four of six starts with Hickory. His twin brother Kevin is a catcher in the Milwaukee Brewers system.
SAL MENDEZ, (LHP, 6-4, 185)
2016 Pro Season: 14 games (9 starts) at Spokane, 57 2/3 IP, 5 HR, 24 BB, 46 K, 3.75 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, .276 OBA.
About Mendez: A native of Weehawken, N.J., Mendez, 22, was the Rangers 40th round pick in 2013 out of Weehawken High. Had Tommy John surgery in 2014, made his pro debut in 2015 and posted a 2.58 ERA over 52 1/3 innings with the AZL Rangers. Tossed a no-hitter while a senior in high school.
CD PELHAM (LHP, 6-6, 238)
2016 Pro Season: 16 games (7 starts) at Spokane, 38 IP, 0 HR, 43 BB, 50 K, 6.16 ERA, 2.08 WHIP, .243 OBA.
About Pelham: A native of Lancaster, S.C., Pelham, 22, was the Rangers 33rd round pick in 2015 out of Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College. Drafted in the 25th round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, but he opted to attend college.
TYLER PHILLIPS (RHP, 6-5, 191)
2016 Pro Season: 13 games at Spokane, 58 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 20 BB, 57 K, 6.44 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, .307 OBA.
About Phillips: A native of Lumberton, N.J., Phillips, 19, was the Rangers 16th round pick in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace Prep (N.J.). Went 18-0 in his high school career, including a 9-0 mark with a 1.02 ERA in his senior year. Was to attend Manatee CC (Fla.) before opted to sign a pro contract.
ARGENIS RODRIGUEZ (RHP, 6-3, 192)
2016 Pro Season: 14 games (9 starts) at AZL Rangers, 56 2/3 IP, 4 HR, 5 BB, 54 K, 4.76 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .272 OBA.
About Rodriguez: A native of La Vega, D.R., Rodriguez, 21, made his stateside debut last season and walked just two percent of the batters he faced, the second-lowest among all qualifying minor leaguers in 2016. Threw 17 scoreless innings as a reliever.
SHAQ MATTA (B-T: S-R, 5-8, 175)
2016 Pro Season: 6 games at Frisco (Tex.), 1-for-14, 6 K.
About Matta: A native of San Juan, P.R. signed with the Rangers in 2015 as an international free agent. Made is stateside debut in 2016 with the Rangers AA squad. Spent 2015 with DSL Rangers. He will start the season on the disabled list.
ISAIAS QUIROZ (B-T: R-R, 5-10, 210)
2016 Pro Season: 25 games at AZL Rangers, 6 R, 16 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 9 BB, 27 K, .222/.332/.333
About Quiroz: A native of Bergenfield, N.J., Quiroz, 20, was the Rangers 20th round pick in 2014 out of St Joseph’s High (N.J.). Spent all three previous pro seasons in the AZL, had 18 starts behind the plate in 2016. Had committed to Howard (Tex.) JC before signing with the Rangers.
RICKY VALENCIA (B-T: R-R, 6-0, 216)
2016 Pro Season: 41 games at Hickory, 12 R, 31 H, 5 2B, 4 HR, 21 RBI, .244/.342/.378.
About Valencia: The native of Valencia, Venezuela, Valencia, 24, was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2011. Split time behind the plate and a first in 2016, played in a career-high 41 games last year. Went 4-for-13 in four games for Hickory in 2015. Had a brief stint at AA Frisco (Tex.) in 2015.
TI’QUAN FORBES (B-T: R-R, 6-3, 188)
2016 Pro Season: 120 games at Hickory, 50 R, 107 H, 16 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 6 SB, 25 BB, 106 K, .252/.316/ .335.
About Forbes: A native of Columbia, Miss., Forbes, 20, was the Rangers second round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High. In 2016, led all SAL 3B in fielding pct., assists and double plays. Made just 16 errors at the position over 108 games. Had originally committed to Ole Miss before signing with the Rangers.
BLAINE PRESCOTT (B-T: R-R, 5-10, 181)
2016 Pro Season: 54 games at Spokane, 33 R, 64 H, 16 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 11 SB, 20 BB, 50 K, .282/.345/.447
About Prescott: A native of Amarillo, Tex., Prescott, 21, was the Rangers 28th round pick in 2015 out of Midland (Tex.) College. Finished 2016 ranked among Northwest League leaders in doubles, OPS and homers. Missed all of 2015 pro season and much of the college season with hamstring injury. Played in 2014 JUCO World Series and named to All-Tournament Team. Drafted in 16th round by Los Angeles Angers in 2014. Had committed to Texas Tech before signing with the Rangers.
ANDERSON TEJEDA: (B-T: L-R, 5-11, 160)
2016 Pro Season: 66 games combined at DSL Rangers, AZL Rangers, Spokane, 46 R, 76 H, 14 2B, 10 3B, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 7 SB, 18 BB, 73 K, .283/.326/.520.
About Tejeda: A native of Bani, D.R., Tejeda, 18, was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2014. Named by Baseball America as the number four prospect in the Northwest League and No. 11 in the Arizona League. Had the most triples of any Rangers minor leaguer in 2016.
YEYSON YRIZARRI: (B-T: R-R, 6-0, 193)
2016 Pro Season: 118 games at Hickory, 53 R, 121 H, 27 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 53 RBI, 20 SB, 9 BB, 91 K, .269/.292/.389.
About Yrizarri: A native of Puerto de Ordaz, Venezuela, Yrizarri, 20, was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. Named to South Atlantic League All-Star game in 2016. Led all SAL shortstops in fielding percentage, assists and total chances. Named to the Northwest League All-Star team while at Spokane in 2015. Hit in seven of nine games while filling in as the shortstop at AAA Round Rock. He is the nephew of former major league shortstop Deivi Cruz.
JOSE ALMONTE (B-T: R-R, 6-3, 205)
2016 Pro Season: 61 games at AZL Rangers and Hickory, 33 R, 54 H, 8 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 8 SB, 9 BB, 59, K, .277/.341/ .451.
About Almonte: A native of Santo Domingo, D.R., Almonte, 20, signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. Had two shoulder injuries in 2016 that limited his playing time. MLB.com rates him as the 29th best prospect in the Rangers system. Played in the Perfect Game World Showcase and named to the Dominican Prospect League All-Star Game in 2013.
TRAVIS BOLIN (B-T: R-R, 5-11, 208)
2016 Pro Season: 34 games at AZL Rangers and Spokane, 18 R, 33 H, 8 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 19 RBI, 7 SB, 12 BB, 41 K, .270/.350/ .426.
About Bolin: A native of Berrien Springs, Mich., Bolin, 22,was the Rangers 32nd round pick in 2016 out of Davenport Univ. (Mich.). Named NAIA All-American and Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference player of the year in 2016.
YANIO PEREZ (B-T: R-R, 6-2, 205)
2016 Pro Season: Did not play.
About Perez: A native of Havana, Cuba, signed with the Rangers in 2016 as an international free agent. Played on Cuba’s 18 and under team at the World Cup in Taiwan. Currently resides in Mexico City.
PRESTON SCOTT (B-T: R-R, 6-2, 210)
2016 Pro Season: 47 games at Spokane, 28 R, 39 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 14 RBI, 3 SB, 30 BB, 49 K, .239/ .382/.288.
About Scott: A native of Hanford, Calif., Scott, 23, was the Rangers 34th round pick in 2016 out of Fresno Pacific Univ. (Calif.). Named first-team All-Pac West in 2016. Played one season at Fresno City College and was first-team all CVC. His father Tim played major league baseball with San Diego, Montreal, San Francisco and Colorado.
LEODY TAVERAS (B-T: S-R 6-1, 171)
2016 Pro Season: 73 games combined at DSL Rangers, AZL Rangers, Spokane, 42 R, 83 H, 14 2B, 6 3B, 1 HR, 33 RBI, 18 SB, 25 BB, 55 K/ .271/.324/.366.
About Smith: A native of Tenares, D.R., Taveras, 18, was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2015. Named by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Arizona League and the Northwest League in 2016. Cousin of former major league outfielder Willy Taveras.
SPIKE OWEN (Manager)
2016 Pro Season: Was the interim third base coach for the Texas Rangers. Originally named to manage at Hickory in 2016 before going to Arlington.
About Owen: A native of Cleburne, Tex., Owen,, 55, is currently in his ninth season with the Rangers organization. He was the manager at High-A High Desert (Calif.) in 2015 and led the Mavericks to the semifinal round of the California League playoffs. Before managing, Owen was a coach at AAA Round Rock and the system’s infield coordinator. Owen had a long major league playing career, suiting up with Seattle, Boston, Montreal, the New YorkYankees, California and Texas. He played in the World Series with Boston in 1986. In college, Owen played in the College World Series with Texas in 1981 and 1982, picking up a selection to the All-Tournament team in 1982. He also received All-Southwest Conference honors both seasons.
JOSE JAIMES (Pitching Coach)
2016 Pro Season: Was pitching coach at Hickory.
About Jaimes: A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Jaimes, 32, is currently in his ninth season as a coach in the Rangers organization. He has spent time with the Rangers AZL and DSL clubs before moving up to Spokane for the past two years. Jaimes signed with the Rangers as a player in 2001 and pitched for six years in the system. He and his wife Karina had their first child Stephanie this past offseason.
KENNY HOOK (Hitting Coach)
2016 Pro Season: Was the hitting coach at Spokane.
About Hook: A native of Kansas City, Mo., Hook, 46, is in his fourth season with the Rangers, which has also included two seasons at AZL Rangers. Prior to joining the Rangers, Hook was the manager of the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent American Association. Other coaching stops include Benedictine (Kan.) College and Odessa (Tex.) College. He played professionally at Amarillo in the independent Texas-Louisiana League.
SHARNOL ADRIANA (Assistant Coach)
2016 Pro Season: Coached at AA Frisco (Tex.)
About Adriana: A native of Willemstad, Curacao, Adriana, 46, is in his second season as a coach in the Rangers system after a long playing career. Adriana played eight seasons of affiliated baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays chain before bouncing 14 seasons in Mexico. He also has international experience with the Netherlands national team in =three Olympic games and two World Baseball Classics. He was the captain of the Dutch team in the 2008 Olympics at Beijing.
DUSTIN VISSERING (Trainer)
About Vissering: A native of East Peoria, Ill., Vissering, 28, is in his second season with Hickory and his fourth overall with the Rangers. He was previously at Spokane in 2015 and the AZL Rangers in 2014. Vissering has also worked in the Kansas City Royals organization. He did his undergraduate work at Illinois St. and has a master’s degree from Western Illinois.
ADAM NOEL (Strength & Conditioning)
About Noel: A native of Joplin, Mo., Noel, 27, is in his second season with the Rangers after he served in the same role for the AZL Rangers. He earned a Masters of Art in Kinesiology while working as a grad assistant at San Jose State. He graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2012 with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology.
As the 2017 season begins, 29 former Hickory Crawdads will dot major league rosters. That is up from 25 to start the 2016 campaign.
Ten of those are on the Crawdads parent club, the Texas Rangers. Among American League clubs, only Toronto has two former Hickory players. Thirteen former Crawdads are on National League teams, including three on the Pittsburgh Pirates, left over from the days of their affiliation with Hickory. The Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres each have two.
Three players on MLB rosters will start the year on the disabled list: Hanser Alberto (Texas), Robbie Erlin (San Diego) and Zach Duke (St. Louis).
Here is a synopsis of each player in the majors:
Hanser Alberto (’12): The infielder will begin the season on the disabled. He has played the last two seasons with Texas, posting a .194/ .204 /.226 slash over 76 combined games.
Jose Bautista (’02): The right-handed hitter will be in his 14th major league season, the ninth with the Toronto Blue Jays. Battling injuries in 2016, Bautista hit 22 homers in 116 and posted a .234/.366/.452 slash. He signed a one-year contract with Toronto during the off-season to remain with the club.
Alex Claudio (’13): The soft-tossing, lefty reliever will be in his fourth major league season with the Texas Rangers. In 39 games in 2016, he put up a 2.79 ERA over 51.2 innings with 34 Ks and 10 walks.
Rajai Davis (’02-’03): The speedy outfielder will be in his 12th major league season, his first with the Oakland A’s after signing a free agent contract in the off-season. The right-handed hitter posted a .249/.306/.388 slash with Cleveland in 2016 and led the American League with 43 stolen bases. He is expected to start in centerfield for the Athletics, with whom he played for from 2008-2010.
Joey Gallo (’13): The left-handed hitter will be in his third major league season with the Texas Rangers. He has played in 53 games the previous two years, putting up a .173/ .281/.368 slash. Gallo will start at third in place of the injured Adrian Beltre.
Leury Garcia (’09-’10): The switch-hitter will be in his fifth major league season, most of those with the Chicago Cubs. Out of minor-league options, Garcia was kept on the big league club and will fill a utility role. He spent much of last year at AAA Charlotte.
Jose Leclerc (’13): The right-handed reliever will be on his first opening-day roster after he made 12 relief appearances for the Texas Rangers in his debut season last year. He put up a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings with 15 Ks and 13 BBs. He split last year at AA Frisco and AAA Round Rock.
Nomar Mazara (’13-’14): The left-handed hitting outfielder will be in his second major league season with the Texas Rangers after playing in 145 games during his debut season. He posted a .266/.320/.419 slash with 20 homers and 64 RBI. Mazara will start the season in right.
Rougned Odor (’12): The left-handed second baseman will be in his fourth season with the Texas Rangers and recently signed a six-year extension with the club. Last year, Odor hit 33 homers and collected 88 RBI in 150 games. His posted a .271/.296 /.502 slash.
Steve Pearce (’07): The right-handed hitter will be in his 11th major league season, the first with the Toronto Blue Jays after signing a two-year deal during the off-season. Pearce split last year between Tampa Bay and Baltimore, posting a .288/.374/.492 slash over 110 games. He his expected to start in left.
Martin Perez (’09): The left-handed pitcher will be in his sixth major league season with the Texas Rangers. Perez went 10-11 with a 4.39 ERA over 33 starts in 2016. He is expected to be the No. 3 starter for the Rangers.
Jurickson Profar (’12, ’15): The switch-hitter will be in his fourth major league season with the Texas Rangers, but is on his first opening-day roster. Profar had a .239/.321/.338 slash over 90 games in 2016. He is expected to play a utility role for the Rangers this year.
Drew Robinson (’12): The left-handed hitter will make his major league debut with the Texas Rangers this season after spending last year at AAA Round Rock. Robinson will play a utility role with Texas.
Robbie Ross (’10): The left-handed reliever will be in his sixth major league season, the third with the Boston Red Sox. Ross posted a 3.25 ERA in 2016 and fanned 56 over 55.1 innings.
Ryan Rua (’13): The right-handed hitter will be in his fourth major league season with the Texas Rangers. Rua posted a .258//331/.400 slash over 99 games last year. He is expected to split time in left and at first.
Chris Young (’01-’02): The right-handed pitcher will be in his 13th major league season, the third with the Kansas City Royals. Young went 3-9 in 34 games (13 starts) in 2016 with a 6.19 ERA. He lost out in a battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation and will be a long-man out of the bullpen.
Zach Duke (’03): The left-handed reliever will miss the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is currently with the St. Louis Cardinals after the team acquired him from the Chicago White Sox in a 2016 trade.
Carl Edwards, Jr. (’13): The right-handed reliever will be in his third major league season with the Chicago Cubs. This will be his first opening-day in the majors. In 36 games last year, Edwards posted a 3.75 ERA with 52 Ks and 14 BBs over 36 innings. The National League hit just .123 against Edwards.
Jerad Eickhoff (’12): The right-handed starting pitcher will be in his third major league season with the Philadelphia Phillies after he completed his first full year with the club in 2016. He went 11-14 with a 3.65 ERA over 33 starts, striking out 167 and walking 42 over 197.1 innings. Eickhoff will be the No. 2 starter for the Phillies.
Robbie Erlin (’10): The left-handed pitcher will begin this season on the disabled list with the San Diego Padres while he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2016. He hopes to return to the club this midseason for what would be his fifth major league season.
Justin Grimm (’11): The right-handed reliever will be in his sixth major league season, the fifth with the Chicago Cubs. In 68 appearances in 2016, Grimm went 2-1 with a 4.10 ERA and fanned 65 to just 23 walks over 52.2 IP. Grimm will pitch in middle relief.
Odubel Herrera (’11): The left-handed hitter will be in his third major league season with the Philadelphia Phillies after he took a big step as one of the National League’s best young centerfielders in 2016. During a season in which he represented the Phillies on the National League All-Star Team, Herrera posted a .286/.361/.420 slash and stole 25 bases in 159 games.
Jared Hughes (’07-’08): The right-handed reliever will be in his seventh major league season and recently just signed with the Milwaukee Brewers after the Pittsburgh Pirates released him last week. Hughes went 1-1 with a 3.03 ERA over 67 appearances in 2016. He will pitch in middle relief for the Brewers.
Andrew McCutchen (’06): The right-handed hitter will be in his ninth major league season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. McCutchen struggled over 153 games last year and posted his career-worst slash (.256/.336/.430). He hit 24 homers, but stole just six bases in 13 attempts. After manning center his entire career, McCutchen will shift to right this year.
Jordy Mercer (’08): The right-handed shortstop will be in his sixth major league season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played in 149 games last year and posted a .256/.313/.377 with 11 homers and 59 RBI.
Neil Ramirez (’09-’10): The right-handed pitcher will be in his fourth major league season, the first with the San Francisco Giants. Ramirez signed a minor-league contract with the club during the offseason and made the club out of spring training. Ramirez made 18 relief appearances with three clubs (Cubs, Milwaukee, Minnesota) and struggled to a 6.00 ERA over 24 innings. He did strike out 24, but walked 18 and had a 1.67 WHIP. He will come out of the bullpen for the Giants.
Luis Sardinas (’12): The switch-hitter will be in his fourth major league season, the second with the San Diego Padres after the team acquired him from Seattle during the 2016 season. Sardinas played in 66 combined games last year with a .244/.295/.356 slash. He will play some shortstop, but will start the season in a utility role.
Neil Walker (’05): The switch-hitting second baseman will be in his ninth major league season, the second with the New York Mets after resigning in the offseason. Despite battling a back injury, Walker still posted a .282/.347/.476 over 113 games with the Mets and blasted 23 homers.
Tony Watson (’07): The left-handed reliever will be in his seventh major league season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After the midseason trade of Mark Melancon, Watson took on the job of the Pirates closer in 2016 and will serve in the same role this year. He went 2-5 with 15 saves last year over 70 games with a 3.06 ERA. Watson struck out 58 and walked 20 over 67.2 IP.
When I spoke with 2012 Hickory Crawdads hitting coach Josue Perez about the opening of that season, I asked him the question about who would be the run-producers. For that season, Perez mentioned the college guys, Trever Adams, Jeremy Williams and a physically imposing Jordan Akins. He then mentioned the young guns Jorge Alfaro and Rougned Odor, both of who were 18 then. Perez then added, “(Drew) Robinson is a sleeper.”
One could argue that Robinson’s minor-league career has been in sleeper mode and not very sexy at all. He’s moved around the diamond, struck out a lot, hit for a mediocre average. But Robinson has worked and persevered and survived the climb up the organizational chain and can forever call himself a major leaguer.
My memory of Robinson at Hickory was a kid that was okay at the plate (123 Ks in 507 PAs) and in the field (28 errors in 103 games at 3B). Yet, there are kids who have the work ethic to learn the game and to make themselves into an indispensable piece of an organization. Robinson did that and he is now a big leaguer as he will start the 2017 season with the Texas Rangers.
There were a couple of things that stood out for me about Robinson in 2012: the ability to be patient and to come up big in pressure situations. He didn’t start out that way, and early on it looked like he might never get there.
One must remember that he was 19 on opening day 2012 and most kids take time to figure it out at the pro level. It can certainly be frustrating to not have the same results a player at high school.
After posting a .163/ .266/ .265 slash over 45 games at short-season Spokane and starting at .189/ .283/ .340 after 15 games at Hickory, Robinson admitted at the time that he was still learning to slow the game down and make the necessary adjustments.
:It’s been a rough start,” said Robinson during a late-April interview. “I went through this a little bit last year. Just having a good mindset will help with a lot of things. I was down a lot last year and I never really got out of it. We have a good team right now and the coaching staff is sticking with me, so I just have to stick with it right now.”
What turned out to a key in Robinson’s development that season was the ability to let the game come to him more.
“Right now they’re working on my pitch selection and trying to slow the game down,” said Robinson in an interview I did with him in late April 2012. “I get a little amped up at times when I get a big opportunity, a big RBI on second base. Just slowing the game down and hitting my pitches rather than swinging at the pitcher’s pitches.”
Whatever lessons Perez and others taught him that year, Robinson learned them well. He went on to walk 86 times that year – still the second most in a season by a Crawdad – which led to a .409 on-base percentage, the fifth highest in team history.
“We try to teach that,” said then Rangers director of player development Tim Purpura of Robinson’s strike-zone discipline. “But honestly, I don’t know if you can teach that. When we emphasize it, we push it, but, some guys get it and some guys don’t… I think as a general philosophy, if you control the strike zone, you’re going to get better pitches to hit. Guys like Drew are a rare breed. Some guys, it just clicks early.”
Robinson also had a knack to be in the middle of late-game, clutch situations. During the 2012 season, Hickory had eight walk-off wins. Robinson was involved in five of them, including three game-ending RBIs in a ten-day span and was named the South Atlantic League’s hitter of the week on June 11, 2012.
As Robinson moved up the ladder, he had to continually make adjustments on how he might get to the majors. He was the fourth-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2010 out of Silverado High School in Las Vegas, listed as a shortstop. However, with names such as Leury Garcia, Jurickson Profar, Hanser Alberto and Luis Sardinas at short, as well as Elvis Andrus establishing himself in the majors, Robinson was shifted to third
After moving up to play third at High-A Myrtle Beach in 2013, the drafting and subsequent rising of uber-prospect Joey Gallo necessitated a position change. After playing third full-time from 2011 to 2013, he’s played just 46 games there since. Robinson’s played a lot of outfield, dabbled around at first and second – he filled in for Rougned Odor at Hickory after Odor suffered a dislocated shoulder – whatever it’s taken to get him on the field.
Back in 2012, Pupura hinted that might be Robinson’s path to get to the majors someday.
“I will say that one of our (Texas Rangers) philosophies is to make sure that guys have some versatility,” said Pupura. “That they learn how to play other positions … Here, I want guys to become proficient at a primary position, but also have a secondary or in some cases have a third position that they’re good at. All it does is create more opportunities for them to get playing time as they move up the ladder.”
*Robinson’s promotion by the numbers at Hickory:
*He is the 151st former Crawdads player to get to the major.
*He is the 43rd player during the Rangers affiliation to go to the majors
*He is the 10th member of the 2012 team to get to the majors (Hanser Alberto, Jorge Alfaro, Jerad Eickhoff, Andrew Faulkner, Luke Jackson, Phil Klein, Nick Martinez, Rougned Odor, Luis Sardinas)
*He is the 10th Crawdads third baseman to eventually play in the majors (Greg Norton, Pete Rose, Jr., Carlos Lee, Joe Crede, Yurendell DeCaster, Jose Bautista, Matt Hague, Matt West, Joey Gallo)
*98 of the 151 players came through the draft, 33 of them high schoolers.
*107 of the 151 players were U.S. born, five from Nevada (Rocky Biddle, Steve Lerud, Joe Wieland, Joey Gallo)
*He is the Crawdads sixth fourth-round draft pick (out of 16) that came to Hickory then went to the majors (Jeff Abbott, Jeff Keppinger, Brent Lillibridge, Jared Hughes, Joe Wieland).