When the Hickory Crawdads take the field on Thursday at Lakewood, N.J. to start the 2019 South Atlantic League season, the roster will contain nine players that are currently or have been on MLB.com’s Rangers top-30 prospect list. This doesn’t include Curtis Terry, the slugging first baseman who was the Northwest League MVP a year ago.
Given the task of working with this group is hitting coach Jared Goedert, who moved up to Hickory after spending last year at short-season Spokane.
I had the chance to speak with Goedert on Tuesday about the individuals that will suit up for Hickory this year. The interview took place at day after the Crawdads played their exhibition game against Lenoir-Rhyne. Here is that conversation.
I just want to get a snapshot of the different guys that are here this year that you will have the pleasure to work with. There’s a lot of talent here. I guess the top one is Julio Pablo Martinez, who will have his first full season here. From everything you read, he is the top or second prospect. What have you seen from him so far?
Goedert: He is a dynamic player in that – I got to be with him a little bit in Spokane – he can attack you in so many different ways at the plate. In one at-bat, if he’s facing a left-handed pitcher, he may pull a bunt past the pitcher to the first-base side for a base hit. The next at-bat, he may fake bunt, do a running slash and pop it past the third baseman for a hit. He may follow those two at-bats with a homer to deep right-center field. So, his skill set is so dynamic. He knows his abilities and he uses them at the right time. That’s what really impressed me last year is he knows when to take it, when they give him a bunt for a base hit. If they lay a cookie over the middle, he can drive the baseball, too. So, he’s very impressive that way.
What will he have to work on at this level that he hasn’t had to face at Spokane, or the Dominican, or wherever?
Goedert: As we get going, I think that will show itself a little better. But, I think he, along with the majority of the guys, will be playing a full season in the United States. He got a taste of a lot of baseball last year in Spokane, but that’s only 70 games. I think that one of the things that will dictate where he will need to work on some things, just as we go over the course of 140 games.
I’m just going to popcorn as names come to mind. You have Chris Seise, who didn’t get to play last year. Now, he’s going to get to play a full season, assuming he stays healthy. What do you see from him at this point?
Goedert: Chris is electric. His swing is controlled, but violent. He has electric athleticism. He’s a gamechanger in the box with his swing, but then also his speed on the bases. He’s just an electric player all around. I think that the thing I’m most excited for him is getting him back to be able to play every day. And you can tell from just being around him a little bit, he’s so fired up right now to be back on the baseball field and to be playing meaningful again. I’m fired up about him and for him.
One of the guys coming back from last year led the team in home runs, and that is Sam Huff. That’s pretty impressive to hit 18 at this level, given the grind of catching. What do you see from him so far?
Goedert: With Sam, the power, you can’t doubt that at all. It’s there, so now it’s going to be a matter of him taking that next step on the offensive side of things, which he is more than capable of. He’s a year older. He’s matured a year. He understands baseball a year better than he did. So, it’s going to be controlling his at-bats, in my opinion. Being able to get better and better as the year goes on, and moving on from one at-bat to the next, no matter if it was good or bad. So, I think just taking that next step and understanding his strike zone and what he can do damage on, and what he can’t. When he does, it’s pretty special. The power is undoubtable.
Matt Whatley, like Chris Seise, missed a lot of time last year from injuries. It looks like he will split time with Sam behind the plate. What are the expectations for him this year?
Goedert: He is another guy, like Chris, that I’m very excited for to just play baseball again and just be a baseball player. He’s an absolute gamer. He’s a leader behind the plate. In my opinion, he has an infectious personality. So, he’s a guy you love to have in the clubhouse and in the dugout every day, over the course of a long season, that’s fun to have around. I’m excited for him just for the maturity that he’s going to bring to this group. The leadership that he’ll going to bring to this group is going to be valuable with a lot of young talented. Matt’s extremely talented, too.
Curtis Terry, who you had last year at Spokane. We haven’t seen many slugging first basemen anymore. We had Tyreque Reed here last year and it looks like maybe we’ll start to see a few more of that type of player. Let me ask you about his growth and what he will need to do to step forward at this level.
Goedert: I think that if he continues the professional work, day in and day out that he had last year, he’s going to be fine here. I think it’s more of just looking to build off of last year and understanding that last year was a good year, but now it’s a new year and nobody cares. Nobody in this league is going to care about what he did last year. I think if he just continues to do professional work and professional preparation, day in and day out, he’ll be alright. I’m excited for him to finally get that opportunity to take that next step at this level.
Sherten Apostel. He’s a tall kid for a third baseman and I’m guessing that’s going to bring some power with it.
Goedert: Yeah, it does. He’s got power that is impressive, but to me, the most impressive thing with him is strike-zone discipline. With that, he manages to get himself into good hitter’s counts. When he does, the maturity for his age, as far as knowing he has a lot of power, he doesn’t try to do too much. I think that combination is pretty special for someone his age. His strike-zone discipline, his power, he has a beautiful swing, but then he doesn’t try to do too much. He stays within himself and he controls his at bats.
Ornelas is going to be the young guy. He was playing high school ball at this time last year. Obviously, he showed enough to get the full-season assignment. What has impressed you about him?
Goedert: I wasn’t around him at all last year, but what I’ve seen from him so far, and getting to know him, he’s a spark plug. That’s what’s exciting about him. When he steps in the box, he’s a spark plug. He has tremendous barrel-to-ball skills. If it’s over the plate, he gets the barrel to it. I’m still learning him as much as he’s still learning me.
Frainyer Chavez. That’s not a name I know at all, so what do you know about him?
Goedert: Similar boat as Ornelas, in that he was in Arizona last year. So, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him. I go to know him a little in spring training, but he’s a gamer. A switch-hitter that has really good at-bats from both sides of the plate. He controls his at-bats very well. For his age, he is composed. He doesn’t get rattled. He can hit with two strikes and he strikes me as a line drive hitter from both sides of the plate. I’m excited for him because he gives us a good at-bat regardless of whether it’s right-hander or left-hander on the mound.
Pedro Gonzalez is a guy that was a little snakebit last year with injuries. He had some flashes last year. He seems like he’s ready to take another step forward.
Goedert: That would be it, just taking that next step. I think just the consistency. It’s in there, but we need to help him get that out on a consistent basis. Not results, but just being healthy and having consistent quality at-bats. If we can get that, those are controllable, I think the numbers are going to be where we would all like them to be.
Miguel Aparicio is a guy that’s been here a couple of times now. He’s been given a third shot. Is he starting to mature? What do see from him that will help him to stay at this level all year and to take the stride to where people saw the ability that made him a top-30 prospect previously?
Goedert: The word out of January, Dominican early camp was that he’s a different guy. In spring training, I could confirm that he’s a different guy just by how he goes about his business every single day, in a professional manner and in a mature manner. That’s what we need him to do is to continue that into the season. If he does, if he goes about that every day the right way, he’s going to be a good player, because he has that in him. I think at times, he may have been his own worst enemy. I see a maturity and an understanding at his at-bats. I’m excited for him. They role we have is to get the best out of him and making sure he approaches every day the right way. So far, he’s doing that well.
Isaias Quiroz had some playing time last year at Spokane and nosed himself into some more playing time.
Goedert: I hope so, because he’s a tremendous human being and a great leader in the clubhouse and with the pitching staff as well. He’s fallen into the category of it’s tough for some guys on some rosters because of who else is there. He handles it professionally every year. Baseball can change quickly and when it feels like you don’t have an opportunity, all of a sudden you do. When that opportunity comes, I think he’ll be ready and take another step as well.
At the end of the year, when you guys go home in September, what’s a good year for your group of guys, as far as the work you put in and the progress you see?
Goedert: I think that, to me, it’s going to be more on how – it’s not quantitative, it’s tough to quantify and be subjective. If I can look out on a nightly basis and every time we step in the box, and we’re ready to hit mentally. I mean, truly ready to hit. Just because we’re standing in the batter’s box with our batting gloves on and with a bat in our hand doesn’t mean we’re ready to hit. So, I think if we can get guys in the box ready to hit, one through nine, for 27 outs or 24 outs on a nightly basis, I’ll feel like all the number and the wins will take care of themselves. Obviously, the goal is to make the playoffs and to make a run here, but on my end specifically, if I can get our guys ready to hit and understanding the importance of that at 7:00 every night, that’s my goal for these guys.