Archive for the ‘ 2019 Season ’ Category

Confident, Cohesive Group Has Crawdads off and Running

When the Hickory Crawdads returned home from a weeklong road trip 6-1 to open the season, they were at the top or near the top of the South Atlantic League team-statistical rankings in nearly every offensive and pitching category.

This is a 180-degree turn from last year’s squad. The 2018 team also began with a weeklong road trip at Greensboro and Delmarva (Md.) and lost all six games that were played often in abnormally cold conditions for early April. The pitching had trouble with control and the lineup limped home at .182/.239/.251 and were last in runs scored.

In talking to manager Matt Hagen Thursday, he said this year’s team seems to have a better handle on how to handle the troubles that minor league teams must face. The Crawdads started the season with an 11-hour bus ride to New Jersey, then played the first two games in cool, damp weather with temperatures that stayed in the low-40s.

“I think I’m probably most pleased with the way they went about their business despite the adversity with the cold weather,” said Hagen. “We had a rainout, then a doubleheader and then a 10:45 a.m. game. We got punched right away with some odd circumstances, but they responded really well.”

Catcher Sam Huff is one of four current Crawdads that were on the team at the start of last year. In comparing the vibe of the clubhouse from last year to now, he feels this group has more a bond at this point.

“I think, as a team,” said Huff.  “We’re more of a family, where each one of us are fighting for everybody. We’re not just one guy fighting for some guys; we’re all family. As a team, we play as a team. It’s not an individual person.”

Huff senses that part of the camaraderie comes from a group that spent much of the year at short-season Spokane in 2018. Thirteen of the players on the current Crawdads roster were a part of the Indians team that went to the Northwest League championship series last season. And it is a core from that group which has helped to create a cohesive group that carries throughout a long season.

“They all pretty much knew each other,” Huff said. “We all have good chemistry. We don’t disagree with anybody, and if we do, we confront them.”

While it’s nice that everyone gets along, the players still have to produce and to this point they have done so. Before the season, Hagen touted a lineup was deep and so far it has not disappointed. Now at 7-1 after the home-opening win over Kannapolis, the Crawdads are second in the SAL in batting avg. (.273), on-base pct. (.341). slugging pct. (.443), OPS (.784), hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs and steals.

“We had a couple of games where the top half of our lineup carried us,” Hagen said. “Then, we had a couple of games where the bottom half of the lineup really stepped up. I think that speaks to the length that we have. On any given night, the guys batting seventh or eighth for us would be batting third or fourth for some of the other teams.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise over the first eight games has been the pitching. Currently, Hickory is first in ERA (1.41), WHIP (0.86), strikeouts, tied for the fewest walks allowed. Jake Latz, who struck out eight over five innings against Kannapolis on Thursday to pick up his second win in as many starts, said the pitching staff was challenged from the start to be in the attack mode.

“(Pitching coach Jose) Jaimes and Hagen, and really all of the coaches, have done a good job of preaching to us, just be aggressive and trust our stuff,” said Latz. “Go right after the hitters and put them in the defensive mode.”

Because of the hot start by the pitching staff, Hagen said he joked with them that was now going to be the norm.

“I told the guys that they messed up,” Hagen said. “Because now, that’s going to be the expectation.”

Of course, it’s hard to take the small sample size and determine how the team will do and how the season will play out. Last year’s team picked up in the second half and were in the hunt for the second-half title and finished above .500 overall.

This season’s team may have its own turnaround, in the other direction, as there are still 132 games to go. Or, this team just may be this good.

Series Preview: Hickory Crawdads at Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (70-68 in 2018) at Lakewood BlueClaws (Philadelphia Phillies) (87-51 in 2018)

 

The Hickory Crawdads open the 2019 at First Energy Park for a four-game series.

GAME TIMES: Thursday 6:35 p.m., Friday 7:05 p.m., Saturday 4:05 p.m., Sunday 1:05 p.m.

BROADCASTS: Games are streamed live at milb.tv and on the Lakewood BlueClaws website

 

PROBABLES (Hickory/ Lakewood)

Thursday: RHP Hans Crouse vs. RHP Colton Eastman

Friday: LHP Jake Latz vs. RHP Jack Perkins

Saturday: RHP Jean Casanova vs. LHP Jhordany Mezquita

Sunday: LHP John King vs. RHP Victor Santos

 

Recent Series History:

Lakewood won 7 of 10 from the Crawdads in 2018 with a 4-2 mark at First Energy Field. The South Atlantic League schedule tends to send Hickory to Lakewood rather than the reverse. Hickory will play 7 of 11 in New Jersey this season.

Since 2009, the teams have played 97 games. Sixty-eight of those have been played in Lakewood, where the BlueClaws are 37-31 against the Crawdads. Overall, the BlueClaws are 54-47 against Hickory since 2009, the start of the Rangers-Crawdads affiliation.

 

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

RHP Hans Crouse No.1

OF JP Martinez No. 2

SS Chris Seise No. 12

IF Jonathan Ornelas No. 18

C Sam Huff No. 21

3B Sherten Apostel No. 22

 

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

3B Alex Bohn No. 1

SS Luis Garcia No. 4

RHP Francisco Morales No. 8

C Rafael Marchan No. 14

RHP Dominic Pipkin No. 23

RHP Kevin Gowdy No. 24

LHP Jhordany Mezquita No. 26

 

NOTES; Hickory opens on the road for the fourth straight season. The last home opener was in 2015, a 5-2 win over Hagerstown (Md.) … The Crawdads opened the previous two seasons at Greensboro, losing 6-1 in 2018 and 14-4 in 2017. The Crawdads last opening day win was in 2016 when they beat Kannapolis 5-1… This is the first time since 2010 Hickory opened a season outside of the state of North Carolina. The Crawdads opened that year at Hagerstown and lost a 1-0 game to the Suns.

 

2019 Hickory Crawdads bios

PITCHERS                                                                                                           

Grant Anderson (6-0, 180 lbs., 21 y/o) RHP

Was the 21st round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2018 out of McNeese St. (La.). Native of Port Arthur, Tex. Obtained by the Rangers in a trade on April 1. Struck out 13 in 13 innings with three Mariners farm teams last summer.

Dylan Bice (6-4, 220, 21) RHP

Was the 23rd round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2016 out of Heritage High in Ringgold, Ga., where he is a native. Signed away from a commitment to East Tennessee St. Made four appearances with the Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers (rookie) in 2018 and registered two saves.

Tim Brennan (6-4, 200, 22) RHP

Was the 7th round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of St. Joseph’s Univ. Native of Philadelphia. Named first-team All-ECAC last year after leading Division I with a 16.80 K/BB ratio and 0.51 BB/ 9 IP ratio. Will make his pro debut with Hickory.

Hever (eh-vehr) Bueno (6-2, 179, 24) RHP

Was the 9th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Arizona St. Missed 2018 with a right elbow injury. Has made just 11 appearances (8 starts) in pro seasons following “Tommy John” surgery in 2016. Signed with Texas eight days after the 2016 surgery. A native of Meza, Ariz.

Jean Casanova (6-3, 155, 21) RHP

Was the 35th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukegan (Ill.) High. Moved to the U.S. in fifth grade from the Dominican Republic. Made 27 appearances (8 starts) for the Crawdads in 2018 with 55 Ks in 71.1 innings. His cousin Raul played in the majors from 1996 to 2008.

Sean Chandler (6-5, 200, 22) RHP

Was the sixth-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of Iowa Western CC. Native of Bellevue, Neb. Named Iowa Community College Athletic Conf. player of the year in 2018 after striking out 123 in 74 innings. Played two years at Nebraska before transferring. Posted 1.27 ERA with Spokane (short-season) last summer.

Hans Crouse (6-4, 180, 19) RHP

Was the second-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Dana Hills High, Dana Point, Calif., where he is a native. Led Dana Hills to championship game of the National High School Invitational in Cary in 2017. Pitched for Team USA in the under-18 gold-medal winning game against Cuba. Had committed to USC. Tabbed a Short-Season All-Star by Baseball America after fanning 47 in 38 innings and posting a 0.95 WHIP. Made five starts for Hickory (0-2, 2.70 ERA, 15 Ks in 16.2 IP). Currently the Rangers No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com.

Scott Engler (6-4, 220, 22) RHP

Was the 16th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Cowley County (Kan.) CC. Native of Wichita. Returned to action with Spokane last year after missing 2017 following “Tommy John” surgery. Fanned 49 in 53.2 innings over 13 games (9 starts).

John King (6-2, 215, 24) LHP

Was the 10th-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Univ. of Houston. Native of Missouri City, Tex. Missed 2017 after left elbow surgery. Made one start each for AZL Rangers and Spokane (4.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 K). Pitched two seasons at Angelina College before going to Houston. Went 8-1 with a 3.11 ERA as a senior with the Cougars.

Jake Latz (6-2, 185, 22) LHP

Was the fifth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Kent State. Born in Boerne, Tex., but attended school at Lemont High near Chicago. Pitched for LSU in the NCAA regional championship before transferring. At Spokane in 2018, was among top-10 Northwest League leaders in wins (2nd), strikeouts (4th), WHIP (7th)and ERA (8th). Fanned 67 in 71 innings.

Abdiel Mendoza (5-10, 160, 20) RHP

Originally signed with Oakland in 2015, traded to the Rangers in 2018. Native of Chitre, Panama. Made one appearance with Hickory in 2018 after the trade (3 IP, 2 H, 1 K.) Had a 3.32 ERA in 57 IP at short-season Vermont.

Wes Robertson (6-2, 190, 23) RHP

Signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Rangers in 2017 out of Washington College (Md.). Native of Cheshire, Conn. Transitioned from catcher to pitcher in college. Posted a 1.53 ERA in 17.2 IP last year between AZL Rangers and Spokane.

Yerry Rodriguez (6-2, 198, 21) RHP

Signed as an international free agent by the Rangers in 2015. Native of Santiago, D.R. Split last season with AZL Rangers and Spokane. Led AZL in fewest walks/ 9 innings (0.70) and Ks/ 9 IP (12.91). Posted a 1.82 ERA with 27 Ks in 24.2 innings over four starts for Spokane.

Nick Snyder (6-4, 190, 23) RHP

Was the 19th-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Indian River St. (Fla.) College. Native of Palm City, Fla. Was a shortstop in college and named Florida NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. Threw just 2.2 innings in college. Struck out 12 in 12 innings last year with AZL Rangers.

Tai Tiedemann (Tie Tee-de-man) (6-6, 195, 22) RHP

Was the eighth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Long Beach (Calif.) CC, where he is a native. Named South Coast Conference player of the year as a sophomore. Posted a 4.84 ERA in 57.2 innings over 13 games (12 starts) for Spokane last year.

Cole Uvila (6-4, 206, 25) RHP

Was the 40th-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of Georgia Gwinnett Univ. Native of Port Angeles, Wash., where he attended high school. Also pitched for Pierce College (Wash.) and Georgia St. Had 80 Ks in 55 innings his college senior season. Posted a 1.42 ERA and fanned 48 over 31.2 innings for Spokane last summer.

Grant Wolfram (6-6, 210, 22) LHP

Was the 18th-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of Davenport (Mich.) Univ. Native of Hamilton, Mich., originally pitched for Central Michigan Univ. before transferring. Struck out 13 in a no-hitter last year at Davenport. Made eight appearances (1 start) for AZL Rangers with 10 Ks and 6 BBs in 10.2 IP.

 

CATCHERS

Sam Huff (6-4, 215, 20) B-T: R-R

Was the seventh-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia High in Phoenix. Named to Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona baseball team in 2016. Tied for the AZL lead in 2017 with nine homers. Played for Hickory last year and posted a .241/.292/.439 slash line. Named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game. Tied for the Crawdads lead in homers with 18. Currently the Rangers No. 21 prospect, according to MLB.com.

Isaias Quiroz (Key-Rose) (5-10, 234) B-T: R-R

Was the 20th-round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, N.J. Born in New York City. Played at Spokane last year and threw out 37% of attempted base stealers while posting a .224/.333/.402 line. Played 11 games for Hickory in 2017 going 3-for-35.

Matt Whatley (5-10, 200, 23) B-T: R-R

Was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Oral Roberts Unix. Native of Claremore, Okla. Received the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s best college catcher in 2017. Three-time first-team all -Summit League pick. Played in 52 games for Down East (high-A) and Hickory last year, missing time due to an illness. Went 3-for-19 in seven games last year with the Crawdads.

 

INFIELDERS

Sherten Apostel (6-4, 200, 20) B-T: R-R

Originally signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a non-drafted free agent in 2015. Traded to the Rangers in 2018. Native of Willemstad, Curacao. Spent last year at Bristol (Pittsburgh-rookie) and Spokane. Posted a .351/.469/.459 line in 12 games after the trade. Currently the Rangers No. 22 prospect, according to MLB.com.

Frainyer Chavez (5-10, 170, 19) B-T: S-R

Was the 22nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of Midland (Tex.) JC. Born in Valencia, Venezuela, but attended Little Elm (Tex.) High School. Named to first-team All-Western JC Athletic Conference after batting .387 with 13 HRs and 66 RBI. Posted a .306/.378/.405 line in 45 games at AZL Rangers.

Jonathan Ornelas (6-1, 178, 18) B-T: R-R

Was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of Kellis High school in Glendale, Ariz., where he is a native. Named 5A co-player of the year by the Arizona Baseball Coaches Assoc. Won 5A state title with his school in 2017. Posted a .302/.389/.459 line in 48 games with the AZL Rangers and named as the 10th best prospect in the Arizona Summer League. Signed out of a commitment to Tennessee. Currently the Rangers No. 18 prospect, according to MLB.com.

Chris Seise (cease) (6-2, 175, 20) B-T: R-R

Was the first-round pick (29th overall) of the Rangers in 2017 out of West Orange (Fla.) High in Winter Garden. Born in Schenectady, N.Y. Named to Arizona Summer League All-Star team in 2017 after posting a .336/.395/.509 line in 27 games with the AZL Rangers. Missed all of 2018 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Currently the Rangers No. 12 prospect, according to MLB.com.

Curtis Terry (6-3, 264, 22) B-T: R-R

Was the 13th-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Archer High in Lawrenceville, Ga. Native of nearby Snellville. Named Northwest League MVP after leading the league in home runs (15), RBI (60), total bases (149), runs (51) and OPS (1.040). Batted .337, the second-best in the Rangers minor league system. Named to Baseball America’s short-season all-star team.

OUTFIELDERS

Jose Almonte (6-3, 205, 22) B-T: R-R

Signed by the Rangers as international free agent in 2013. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R. Played 57 games for Hickory in 2016 and posted a .278/.343/.444 line with 8 homers and 26 RBI. Missed parts of the season with shoulder injuries. Returned to the Crawdads in 2017 and again struggled with injuries, playing only 66 games with a .185/.251/.300 line. Played in 11 games last year in the AZL.

Miguel Aparicio (6-0, 188, 20) B-T: L-L

Signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela. Spending his third season with Hickory. Named South Atlantic League hitter of the week for July 9-15, 2018 after batting .385/.407/.769 with two homers and eight RBI.

Pedro Gonzalez (6-5, 190, 21) B-T: R-R

Originally signed by the Colorado Rockies as an international free agent in 2014. Traded to the Rangers in 2017. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R. Played in 92 games for Hickory and posted a .234/.296/.421 line. Battled leg injuries through the year with two DL stints due to quad strains.

Julio Pablo (J.P.) Martinez (5-9, 174, 23) B-T: L-L

Signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2018. Native of Baracoa, Cuba, currently resides in Miami. Tabbed the 6th-best prospect in the Northwest League by Baseball America. Posted a .252/.351/.436 line in 60 games with Spokane. Debuted in the Cuban National Series at 16-years-old and played five seasons in the country’s top league. Currently the Rangers No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com.

 

Young Talented Lineup Ready to Hit: An interview with Crawdads Hitting Coach Jared Goedert

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.

 

Starting Fresh: A look at the Crawdads pitching staff with pitching coach Jose Jaimes

When Hans Crouse toes the rubber at First Energy Park in Lakewood, N.J. he will be one of just three pitchers that threw for Hickory in 2018. In contrast, a year ago at this time, Hickory had seven returnees, including two three rotation members from the previous season. The three that will return to Hickory, only Jean Casanova had more than five appearances. One of the five, Abdiel Mendoza, showed up the final weekend of the season and made one relief outing.

So, this is an inexperienced group to full-season baseball. In fact, for a couple of guys, pithing is relatively new to them after their conversion to the mound in college (Nick Snyder was a shortstop, Wes Robertson a catcher). Yet, It is the task of Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes to see what he has and take the same developmental magic he used to turn relative unknowns such as Kyle Cody, Joe Palumbo, Tyler Phillips, Demarcus Evans and CD Pelham, to name a few, into ready-made MLB prospects.

When I sat down with Jaimes, the fourth-year Crawdads coach started with a laugh as he said, “So many new names”. So, Jaimes is still learning who has what and where to begin with the young pros that are here. The feeling from him is this group, overall, will not have light-up-the-radar stuff, but will throw strikes. 

This interview was conducted an afternoon following Hickory’s exhibition win over Lenior-Rhyne. We tried to get through everybody, but without a roster at hand, we didn’t make it.

Here is an overview of several key members of the 2019 pitching staff to start the season.

You’ve got all new guys except for Hans (Crouse) and Jean Casanova. How do you work with that?

Jaimes: I’m excited about having a complete new group. I feel like our rotation is going to be pretty good for the most part. Then, when you look at our bullpen we have a bunch of guys that can run it up to 95, 96. That’s pretty exciting.

 

Hans is obviously the focus of a lot the attention here. He came here and got a little last year. How has grown from last year at this point?

Jaimes: A lot. He had a great spring training and did really good. The expectations for him is really high. He knows he’s coming here to prove something because of what happened last year. So, I think he’s going to handle the league a lot better than last year. We’ll see what happens but I’m pretty excited about him.

Hans Crouse Salinas

Hans Crouse returns to Hickory as the Texas Rangers No. 1 prospect (Ashley Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

You’ve got all new guys except for Hans (Crouse) and Jean Casanova. How do you work with that?

Jaimes: I’m excited about having a complete new group. I feel like our rotation is going to be pretty good for the most part. Then, when you look at our bullpen we have a bunch of guys that can run it up to 95, 96. That’s pretty exciting.

 

Hans is obviously the focus of a lot the attention here. He came here and got a little last year. How has grown from last year at this point?

Jaimes: A lot. He had a great spring training and did really good. The expectations for him is really high. He knows he’s coming here to prove something because of what happened last year. So, I think he’s going to handle the league a lot better than last year. We’ll see what happens but I’m pretty excited about him.

 

He dominated so much at Spokane, then he got hit a little bit. Was that a wakeup call for him? Was it surprising to him?

Jaimes: Maybe surprising to him. I think, maybe, he wasn’t expecting that, especially happening multiple times. He’s taking that as a challenge, and I think he’s ready for it.

 

The other guy coming back is Casanova. Is he going to be in the rotation this year?

Jaimes: He’s going to be in the rotation.

 

He’s a guy that doesn’t run it up on the radar gun real high, but has some moxie and pitch backwards if he needs to.

Jaimes: He has four pitches he can throw for strikes. Last year, with it being his first time with a full-season club, we tried to control innings and that was the main reason why he pitched out of the pen for the most part of the year. We feel now that he’s growing. he’s bigger and stronger. I think he’s going to be able to handle the innings as a starter.

Jean Casanova

Jean Casanova is the only pitcher returning to the Crawdads that made more than five appearance for the team. (Tracy Proffitt)

 

So what is your rotation starting Thursday night and going through the six-man?

Jaimes: We’re going Crouse, (Jake) Latz, Casanova, (John) King, (Tim) Brennan and (Yerry) Rodriguez

Seeing Latz last night, the fastball looked like it had some life. He was able to drop a curveball in there and used a change a couple of times. What can you tell me about him?

 

Jaimes: King is another lefty and is very similar to Latz. Maybe the biggest difference is he throws a two-seam fastball, which is probably his best pitch. He throws a really good changeup. Again, another guy that competes and throws strikes. I think he’s going to help the team a lot.

Brennan has a two-seam fastball. He’s a low, three-quarter kid. He doesn’t have much experience in pro ball, but I think he’s ready. It’s going to be a challenge for him, no doubt, to pitch every five or six days.

Yerry Rodriguez is a kid from the Domincan. A good fastball and he can get it up to 95-96. He can throw strikes. He pitched in Spokane last year a little bit. He’s working on his offspeed pitches.

 

Seeing him pitch last night, it looks like he slings it more to the plate.

Jaimes: He has a really different mechanics and arm action, but he makes it plays for him. That’s what makes him good. The hitter really can’t see the ball that well.

 

Over the last couple of years, you’ve had Kyle Cody, Tyler Phillps, Reid Anderson, and so on. From this group, who do you see in that sort of mold that has the potential to take that step forward?

Jaimes: That’s a tough question, right now. I hope everybody does.

 

But at this time last year, you told me about Reid and his improvement maturity-wise.

Jaimes: Crouse will be one of them, simply because of the name and he pitched here last year. Latz and King both have the potential to be our best starters.

 

Out of the bullpen, who are some arms to keep an eye on at the beginning.

Jaimes: I’ve got a lot of names. (Nick) Snyder, he’s been a surprise for me. You saw him yesterday in the eighth. A good fastball and he throws strikes and a decent slider. Wolfram is one to keep your eyes on. I think he has the potential to be a starter.

(Cole) Uvila could be another guy. We like his fastball and it has a lot of life. If he’s able to throw it over the plate consistently, I think he’s going to be good. A lot of vertical movement with his fastball and I think it will play good.

 

Hever Bueno had the top speed last night

Jaimes: He’s another one that I think could be good. He’s at 95-96 and he’s been up to 98. I think his biggest challenge is going to be consistency. He’s done it for the past two weeks finishing up spring training and he threw the ball well last night. He gave up the one run, but I think it was more lucky for the other guys than him making bad pitches. I thought he throw the ball well.

 

Engler is another one that threw well.

Jaimes: He struck out the side. He’s a strike thrower. When you’re able to throw strikes, you’re going to have the advantage. He a decent fastball and a decent breaking ball.

 

Matt was telling me that the two of you talked about the difference this year where you have guys that don’t light up the radar gun like Demarcus Evans or CD Pelham in the past. They are more strike throwers than guys who light up the radar gun. Is that a fair read?

Jaimes: That is correct. The guys this year are going to be able to handle the strike zone better the guys from the past two years did the first two months, when they struggled. I think these guys are going to be able to throw strikes more consistent than in the past.

 

The last couple of years, I know you guys are always emphasizing the fastball, guys worked on command, they struggled. Do you see more success for that this year because they are able to strikes as opposed to the last couple of years where you guys had tough starts and it took a while to get it together?

Jaimes: It definitely will be a lot easier (laughing). I hope so. We’re still emphasizing a lot on the fastball, but this year we are taking a different approach. We are actually preaching a lot of swing-and-miss stuff, so we are going to be using the breaking ball early on and the changeup. It’s not going to be fastball, like we did in the past the first time through the order.

 

Jaimes: At the end of the year, what do you see as success for these guys?

Like I said, we are talking about swing-and-miss. So at the end of the year, we are at the top of the league in strikeouts. Obviously, a minimal amount of walks.

I know the Rangers are going through a deal with the American guys, they are drafted and then they will sit out for the summer and retooled to the Rangers way of doing things. There are no teenagers this year. As you get these younger guys, do you expect to see more maturity at this level than perhaps before?

Jaimes: Definitely, yes. I think it’s going to make it easier to handle the failure and all that stuff, because you’ve got  more mature group.

Crawdads 2019 Preview: Interview with Manager Matt Hagen

The Hickory Crawdads began the 2018 season with six straight losses and were 1-8 before winning two straight for the first time. The season took a big turn in the second half as the pitching, which struggled mightily early on, carried the team.

Matt Hagen will take the reins of the team for the second time and there are high expectations for a group that will have six of the Texas Rangers top-30 prospects, according to MLB.com. Five of those are position players, which will also have four more teammates that were once on that heralded list.

However, the expectations aren’t simply because of the pedigree of the players that will start the year here. The expectations are there because Hagen and his staff has raised the bar of accountability that he admitted wasn’t present until several weeks into 2018.

The Crawdads will be young in the field, older on the mound and it could be an interesting combination as they go forward.

I talked with Hagen on Tuesday a day after his team’s exhibition win over Lenoir-Rhyne.

You and I talked late last year and this January at the hot stove banquet about setting up accountability right off the bat. You start this year at Lakewood with the long bus trip and the weather that’s up there in April. With that in mind, let me ask you about the start of the season and hitting the ground running.

Hagen: I think we get some adversity right away with the long bus trip and some cold weather. But, at the end of the day, these guys are going to be better off facing some adversity. With that said, we want to push them simply hold them to a higher standard and level of accountability right out of the gate.

You face the league runner-up (Lakewood, N.J.)– and I know there is turnover and such, but traditionally it’s a strong club that always has good pitching. You’ve got a lineup that looks like, on paper, a good group of prospects that you’re going to put up there every night.

Hagen: Our team, opening day, the depth of our lineup is one of our strengths. On any given night, our four-hole (hitter) could be batting eighth and the next night our eighth-hole could be batting fourth. There’s not a differentiation between the two. So, we have some length in the back half of our lineup, which is, on paper, a good look.

You’ve got Chris Seise, J.P. Martinez, (Jonathan) Ornellas. You’ve got, at least from MLB’s point of view, five prospects that are in the top-30. To run five out every night, that’s a nice group to play with.

Hagen: I think it’s more the names you didn’t mention that are going to be a big deal for us. You’re talking about Matt Whatley, who is coming off a year where he was misdiagnosed and was battling illness all year and was a Johnny Bench award winner coming out of college. You’ve got Jose Almonte, who had a heck of a year here before he got hurt. He’s been spending the last two years just getting healthy to get back to Hickory. You’ve got Pedro Gonzalez, who showed some electrifying stuff last season and has a chance to come back here and start off with some familiarity.

So, I think it’s nice to have guys that are on prospect lists, but at the end of the day, a prospect list just means you haven’t done anything yet. You’re a guy who has the potential to someday do something. We try to drive that point home to them that you don’t get to make it to the big leagues because you are on a prospect list in Low-A. You’ve still got a lot of work to do.

You do have some guys that were on that top-30 list: Matt and Pedro and Miguel (Aparicio). It’s almost a group that has something to prove to get back into that conversation.

Hagen: When Miguel came back last year after going to Spokane for a little bit, we saw a different player in terms of his preparation, his effort and his hustle on the field. From that time, which I want to say was July, all the way through Instructional League, through the winter programs in the Dominican, through spring training, that’s the guy we’ve seen. So, I’m excited to see that same guy for a whole five months, now.

Miguel Aparicio will start his third season with the Crawdads (Crystal Lin)

Is this a similar situation to Pedro? Like you said, there were spurts when he would electrify in the lineup, but there were times he was out for injuries. Was there disappointment for that last year, or was it more of a luck of the draw that he couldn’t stay healthy?

Hagen: I think it’s par for the course for athletic players, who happen to be 6-foot-5 and possess a lot of power. They’re going to get pitched like a AA hitter would get pitched in Low-A baseball. They’re not, “here’s three fastballs within the at-bat” with something to hit. It’s right away, “we don’t want to give in, let’s see if we can get you to chase” and take something off. It doesn’t matter if Pedro bats third or hits eighth or ninth, him and guys like Sam Huff and Curtis Terry are going to get pitched the same, no matter what, because everybody knows what they can do with one swing of the bat.

Pedro Gonzalez returns to the Crawdads after posting a .234/.296/.421 slash a season ago (Ashley Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

So, it’s just part of the education process for Pedro. If he can add one base hit for week over the course of a season for him, you add 20 hits in there and all of a sudden, he’s a uber-prospect, when he has 20 more hits over the course of 500 at-bats. So, just making those little adjustments where he becomes a little more patient on getting a pitch that he can hit. I think that’s just part of the natural process of all hitters.

Chris Seise is healthy?

Hagen: He’s healthy and ready to go. He’s really excited. He spent a whole year in the training room himself, which for a young kid is frustrating. He wants to be out there every day. He’s healthy and I think that some of the game clock things are going to have to come back to him, because he’s had time off. And Almonte taking a couple of years off is going to have to have the game clock come back to him. But, two three weeks into the season, I think they’ll be right back to where they were before.

What have you seen from J.P. so far?

Hagen: A superior athlete. When he gets on base, it’s really fun to watch. I put him in that Eric Jenkins, LeDarious Clark mold – guys in our organization that can change the game on the basepaths. He can go get it in the outfield. Then at the plate, if you’re not careful, you might look and realize this guy not only can defend and run, but it turns out he can hit the ball pretty hard for a guy that’s his size. The sky’s the limit for him and it’ll be exciting to see him get four or five bats every game, probably at the top of the order.

Apostel – he’s a big kid, for some reason he’s not what I was expecting. I was thinking he would be a smaller guy for a third baseman.

Hagen: A tall kid for a third baseman, but he can play the position. Just seeing the amount of adjustments he made over the course of spring training, working on his feet to get them better. He’s got a strong enough arm and he’s starting to get better angles on his ground balls. At the plate – he’s only 19 or 20 years old – the maturity of his at-bats and the inner confidence that he brings is beyond his years. We’re going to plug him in the middle of the order.

Ornellas looks like he was pretty smooth last evening.

Hagen: Johnny is going to be all over the field for us because he’s just that athletic. That allows a manager, like myself, to plug him wherever I want. He can play third base one night. He can play centerfield, left, second, short, right field. His role on this team will be mostly to bounce around and be that super-utility guy for us, just because that’s what we need with this particular group of guys. He’s smart enough and athletic enough to handle that.

I think we’ve mentioned all the prospects, but there’s one guy who is not on any of the prospect lists and it’s the guy Curtis Terry who was the MVP of the Northwest League last year, Curtis Terry. You lose Tyreque Reed from last year and now you plug another one in.

Hagen: I’m surprised they didn’t find him a house and sign him to a long-term contract in Spokane. Two years ago, he led the league in home runs. He went back to repeat last year simply because we have a log jam at first base with Tyreque. He goes back and winds up winning the MVP. So, you look at guys, that prospect status is what it is, but track record is more important to me. And his track record says, based on his last two years, the dude hits. He puts up his number. Just read the baseball card – the baseball cards don’t lie. You are what you are. So, you look at the back of his baseball card, you get excited for what he can potentially do over 140 games.

Looking at the roster, usually when you look at this level it’s been the tendency for the Rangers to bring in a bunch of young guys, but have a couple of college guys. You don’t have that his year, other than Matt behind the plate. Does that concern you to have so many young guys around the infield? Is the expectation for the guys to grow up on their own a little bit?

Hagen: Yeah, they’re going to have to learn on the fly. Luckily, Matt has the leadership skills to count as two or three people. He really does. Then, if you watched (Frainyer) Chavez last night, his inner clock that he plays with is so under control. There’s no panic. He plays like a kid that’s been playing infield professionally for six years, and it’s only his second season. That’s a bright spot for me.

We’ll lean leadership wise on the guys who have been here in the past, and also on our two catchers. We’ve Sam’s maturity and Matt’s been at a higher level. They both possession good leadership skills.\

One of the worries from last year was getting the guys that were here enough playing time as catchers, getting repetition. Right now, how do you see that playing time shaping up?

Hagen: I think 50-50 coming out of it. They’re both guys that need to play. They’re both guys that are going to be instrumental to the success of our club. Sam was an all-star here last year and he’s earned the right to play every day. Matt was arguably our best hitter two years ago at Spokane and had some adversity last year. He’s also earned the right to play a lot, too. They are two guys in the organization the organization is high on for good reason. So, one of those guys will be catching and the other guy will probably be DH-ing most nights.

Sam Huff hit 18 home runs for the Crawdads which finished in a tie for the team lead (Tracy Proffitt)

What is your general impression of what you have among the pitching staff? You, obviously, have Hans Crouse at the top and Jean Casanova who was here last year. Everybody else is pretty spanking new to this level.

Hagen: (Pitching coach) Jose (Jaimes) and I were talking about this just the other day. It’s a stark contrast to what we had last year. We had a lot that were lighting up the radar gun early in the season, but not the strike zone. This year, we have more guys that, I think, have the ability to throw more strikes – more pitchers than throwers. Last year, we started the season with more throwers and we had to make them pitchers. To have guys that can throw a couple of pitches in the zone to start the season. I think it’s encouraging, as we learn the value of free bases and not walking guys every night. It gives our defense a chance to make plays.

It’s the first group I can recall that doesn’t have a teenager on the pitching staff. I know the Rangers have put together a program in which the high school guys they drafted last summer were shut down until instructionals. Is this older group of pitchers a part of that intentional process by the Rangers?

Hagen: Yeah, I think it’s a hundred percent intentional. When we signed the American kids out of high school, we want them on our program, doing things our way. Sometimes that means you have to take a step back and get them back to neutral as an athlete. Then, we can take two or three steps forward. You have to be willing to have the patience to give that a year to take place, so therefore you don’t have kids that are 19, but now they are 20. I think it’s a plan that has the player’s best interest at heart long term.