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.
It’s always fun for me – and for most minor league observers, those who are paid to do this and those who are not – to try and figure out which players from a Low-A roster will get to the major leagues. Looking at the 2012 Hickory Crawdads roster and trying to guess who from that squad would make is a fascinating exercise in hindsight
The 2012 Hickory Crawdads roster featured FOUR first-round selections and only one – Luke Jackson – made it past AA. Nick Martinez, who threw 26 innings at Fordham University, a program which hadn’t had a former pitcher in the majors since 2001, started the 2012 season in the Crawdads bullpen. He went on to make the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, then put together a strong 2013 season that catapulted him to a major league debut with the Rangers at the start of the 2014 season.
Martinez, now looking to his fourth MLB season, has a key stretch coming up during which he is trying to make the team either as a fifth starter or a bullpen arm.
The first full season for Martinez was somewhat average for the then-21-year-old. He posted a 4.83 ERA over 117 2/ 3 innings, though he did strike out 109 batters to just 37 walks. The native of Miami, FL admitted that 2012 was one in which he was learning to become a professional.
In the interview below – done during last week’s Texas Rangers Winter Caravan held at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C., Martinez talks his rise to the major leagues with Texas and what helped him along the way.
When you were here in 2012, did you ever think that you’d be coming back here in 2017 as a major league pitcher?
Martinez: No, I couldn’t look that far ahead down the road. It is good to be back. The memories are coming to me. I used to play many golf rounds out here at Rock Barn and I had a lot of great memories playing for Hickory.
What is the biggest memory you can recall from that season?
Martinez: Baseball wise, it’s an interesting year because it’s your first full season. You get to learn a lot about yourself mentally and physically. Obviously, that’s one of the milestones of playing a full season. Off the field, though, it’s a chance to really bond with your teammates. We had a lot of great memories playing here at Rock Barn.
You had come out of college, and if I remember right, you had thrown something like 26 innings in college. Who or what circumstance gave you the confidence that you could pitch at a professional level?
Martinez: My father, since high school, kind of prepared me just in case I ever became a pitcher. He had me go to some pitching lessons, so it wasn’t completely bazaar for me to make that transition. I was okay with making that transition before it even happened. In college, I just wanted to play professional baseball. Once the Rangers gave me that chance as a pitcher, I was all in and eager to learn and get better. I still am.
You had pretty much a quick rise when you left here and debuted in 2014. What flipped the switch and gave you the confidence that you could do this on a major league level?
Martinez: 2013 was probably my best minor league season. I was more consistent. I knew what I needed to do to keep that consistency. I was clear mentally and I knew what I needed to do. Obviously, when you transfer up to the major league level, it doesn’t exactly equal the same amount of mental pressure and mental consistency. I went through my ups and downs in 2014, but once you get over that hump, it makes things a lot easier. Again, once you know what you need to do, you kind of establish a work ethic and things to help you maintain that.
Who is somebody that had a big influence for you to get to that level, that you could do this at the major league level?
Martinez: Every pitching coach I came across in the minor league system, as well as the pitching coordinator. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with coaches that have made me better at every level and taken my game to the next step and prepare myself mentally and physically.
What was it like to step on a major league mound for the first time?
Martinez: Surreal. It’s crazy. Obviously, you’re anxious and nervous and stuff like that, but it’s kind of an anxiousness and nervousness that you can work with, because I felt prepared. I felt like I was ready for this. Obviously, it’s something you train for your whole life. It’s something you dream of and I felt like I belonged on the mound and I was ready to go. I was very fortunate, also, to be pitching in my home state, so my family was able to drive up and watch my debut.
Who was the first hitter that gave you the reality check that you were in the major leagues?
Martinez: Evan Longoria. The reality check that said, “this is the show; this is the big leagues.” In my debut.
Did he hit you hard or something?
Martinez: He smoked a ball. I got him out, but he smoked a ball somewhere. I think it was right at someone. Thank God, he got a good handle on it. (Note: In the second inning of Martinez’s debut, Longoria grounded sharply off Martinez for a 1-4-3 putout.)
Who was the first hitter you faced that was a dream hitter. Maybe somebody, when you were in high school, that you said, “I’d like to face this guy.”
Martinez: 2014, Derek Jeter’s last year in the major leagues. I got to face him at Yankee Stadium and once again at home in Arlington. It’s just something I’ll never forget, obviously. He does his whole pre-pitch routine in the box. It’s something that you see on TV and on video games, and now he’s doing it to you and letting you know he’s ready. It was a dream come true. It was wild.
Looking ahead to this year, I know the Rangers are looking to solidify the number-five spot. What are you looking for, as far as getting your foot in that door and keeping that spot?
Martinez: Competing. I’m going to go into spring training competing for that fifth spot in the rotation. I’m still in the part of my career where being in the major leagues at all is a goal. I’m going to be competing for the fifth spot, but if a bullpen spot opens up, I’m also going to be eager to land that spot. My main goal, first, is to be in the major leagues, but, obviously, I set my goals a little higher. I know I can help this team at the start.
I meant to ask this earlier, what did (pitching coach) Storm Davis mean to you for that 2012 in Hickory?
Martinez: Storm played a huge part in that mental game of baseball and what to expect in your first full season, mentally and how your body is going to feel physically – how tired you’re going to get and ways to grind through it. He helped me out a lot with different sequences and what to look for in hitters.
Part of the fun of the minor leagues is to play the guessing game of whether this player or that one will make it to the major leagues. However, we rarely consider the same about the managers and coaches. Like the players, they, too, have major league dreams. Josh Bonifay will begin to live his out for the Texas Rangers this season as the team’s major league field coordinator.
Bonifay, who played second for Hickory for all of 2000 and part of 2001 and then returned as a coach in 2008, has put together an impressive resume as a coach and manger in recent years. He was named the South Atlantic League coach of the year in 2012 while the hitting coach with the Houston Astros low-A affiliate at Lexington. One year later, Bonifay was the manager of the year in the Appalachian League while guiding the Greeneville (TN) Astros to the championship series. In 2015 he took home the same honors from the Midwest League while at low-A Quad Cities, which went 88-50.
Bonifay’s work in developing players in the Astros chain caught the eye of the Rangers and his connections with from the Pittsburgh Pirates days played a role in his hiring by the Rangers. During Bonifay’s playing days in the Pirates system (1999-2005), he had the opportunity to play under the tutelage of Tony Beasley at AA Altoona in 2004-2005. The field coordinator at the time was Jeff Banister, now the manager at Texas, for whom Beasley is the third base coach.
“…I’ve known Josh since he was probably 10 or 11 years old,” said Banister of Bonifay. “I had developed a relationship with him, not only as a person, but also as a player, when he played for Pittsburgh, then transitioning to the coaching side of it. And then I watched him from a far as he became a highly successful manager.”
A longer connection has also served Bonifay well – the connection with his father, Cam Bonifay, who was the Pirates general manager from 1993 to 2001. Through that relationship, Josh, now 38, has seen the inner workings of the game at its roots.
From bat boy to player to coach to minor league manager, all of that has prepared him for his first taste of the major leagues as the Rangers field coordinator. He, along with his wife Tiffany and their two daughters are ready to embrace the challenge ahead, which will include a move to Arlington.
In the interview below, Bonifay talks about some of the challenges he faces as he gets ready for spring training.
There have been big changes for you, not just your growing family, but professionally for your career. Let me first ask you about all the changes you’re going through right now.
Bonifay: It’s just a very exciting time for my family and myself. This was just an opportunity that came about. I was at Disney World when I got a phone call from Houston saying the Texas Rangers had asked for permission. After they got permission, I talked to Banny (Jeff Banister) just for a minute and then talked with (Rangers general manager) Jon Daniels about going out for an interview. Everything was kind of a whirlwind. It went really, really quickly, but it’s just extremely exciting and I’m very happy to be a part of the Rangers family. They’re tremendous people and I’m looking forward to working with Banny and Beas (Tony Beasley) again. All these guys are just phenomenal people and it’s a phenomenal organization. I’m just very excited.
Not very many people go from managing short-season ball to the major leagues. What’s the biggest adjustment you think you will have to make in that huge step?
Bonifay: The thing is just getting to know the players. Once you get to know the players and you understand them on a personal level, then you can start to teaching baseball. Baseball is a sport that, even if you are in the lower levels, you’re still teaching the game a certain way. It’s not that you’re going to teach a different way than you would a player in the big leagues – you’re trying to prepare them for the big leagues. So, you’re going to teach baseball a similar way. Just really getting to know their personalities and know who they are and what makes them tick, understanding what their bodies do and how they do it. Just developing personal relationships with them. I think if you get their trust and you develop the relationships, then you can teach them the game of baseball.
What is your role going to be with the Texas Rangers? I’m familiar with what a minor league field coordinator does, but what a major league field coordinator do?
Bonifay: My responsibilities will be running spring training, developing the schedules through Banny, and through (Rangers pitching coach Doug) Brocail and all the pitching guys, through (Rangers hitting coach Anthony) Iapoce and the hitting guys, and just developing a schedule so all the guys will know where they are going and know their responsibilities. During the season, I’ll be working with outfielders and baserunners.
Is your family going to move with you, or are they staying here in the area? This is a big deal for all of you.
Bonifay: I think we are going to move to Arlington. We’re going to put our house on the market in the next week or two and then we’re going to make the move out to Arlington. We’re very excited. We’re all in as a Texas Ranger. We want to be a part of it. We want to be involved in that community. We want to be involved the team heavily. We’re going to make that move to do that.
Longer term, what are you looking to do, as far as your baseball career? Obviously, you’re getting a major league taste, which you didn’t get as a player? That’s got to entice you for bigger and better things down the road.
Bonifay: I’ve always said this, as I’ve been going up. I really don’t have any personal goals of what I really want to do. This was a goal to get to the big leagues, because I didn’t make it as a player. But, this is just something to be a part of a staff to help players get better and helping the organization to win a championship. There’s really no personal goals. I just want to be involved in baseball. My family has been in it over 150 years combined. We love the game. We love teaching it. We love being a part of it and enjoy the opportunity that we get to teach and we get to part of it and make a living.
What’s the biggest thing that you’ll have to do, in maybe cutting your teeth, where you didn’t get to the majors as a player? Now, you’re here as as field coordinator. You’ve been around guys that have played and coaches and such that have seen the ropes in the majors.
Bonifay: I don’t have personal experience, but I sort of do. My dad was a GM for 10 years, so I grew up in the major league clubhouse. I grew up on the charter flights. I grew up as a bat boy, so I know what they do, the work ethic. I know the toughness, the grind that they go through, having to show up every single day. Long flights, playing a night game, than having to turn around and fly overnight and then play a day game. So, I know the rigors of that, just because of my experience with my father. In terms of that, I understand the complexities of those types of different things.
On a personal level, no, I’ve never been there. I’ve never fully experienced it personally, as a player. You know, it’ll be a challenge, but it’s good that I do have some background.
How wild is that you played here two years, you came back and coached here with the Pirates, now you’re back here in a whole different circumstance?
Bonifay: My wife and I really – she is from Lenoir – we grew up the last five years here. We really enjoyed the area. We loved that our in-laws are really close. We loved that our kids get to see their grandparents very often. But, I think with the move – if we want to get more involved with the Rangers, so we’re going to be closer – that we can spend more time at the ballpark and I can see my kids in the morning before I go to the field. That’s the big key is taking care of my kids.
What is the thing that enticed you about the Rangers?
Bonifay: The people, the organization. It phenomenal. Their success has been tremendous in developing players that also are at the big league level. And also enticing is being able to work with Banny and Beas. It’s a people organization. They care about people and their players.
“He is almost like an orchestral conductor sweeping a baton across his body. But when the ball connects solidly with the barrel of the bat, the loft of the ball doesn’t so much streak through the air as it ascends like a white dove in an air current.” Hickory Daily Record article published June 20, 2013
Today, it was announced that Joey Gallo would make his big league debut with the Texas Rangers Tuesday night in a game against the Chicago White Sox.
Now a consensus top-ten, major league prospect, the Las Vegas native was as struggling A-ball minor leaguer. On June 5, 2013, Gallo had a slash line of .211/.316/ .485 with 90 strikeouts in 56 games. His season turned over the next five games when he went 11-for-18, which included a three-homer game at Hagerstown. Gallo went on to finish with a Crawdads single-season club records of 38 homers and a .610 slugging pct.
I interviewed Gallo about a week after his June hot streak in preparation for a feature article I wrote about him. He talked about the struggles of the first two months of the season, as well as the development of his powerful swing. Following the interview are some quotes by several of the Crawdads and Rangers player development staff.
How did you get started in baseball?
Gallo: I’ve been playing baseball ever since I literally can remember. My parents said I just kind of picked up a bat and just started swinging and ever since then, the rest is history. I just started playing. I didn’t ever play any other sports, but just stuck to baseball and had that one goal in mind to play pro baseball and hopefully make it to the major leagues. I’ve been playing baseball since I was three years old.
Was there a moment where you said, “I’d like to do play major league baseball?”
Gallo: It was always major league baseball. There was not one second of my childhood that I didn’t think “maybe I don’t want to play major league baseball.” It’s always been my goal throughout my whole childhood.
What positions did you play in high school?
Gallo: I played short and then my senior year I played third for the draft.
How did it come about that you would be a position player rather than pitch?
Gallo: Some teams wanted me as a pitcher. Actually half of them wanted me as a pitcher and I just didn’t want to. I always wanted to hit and play every day and be on the field every day. I love to be out there and helping the team win, not every five days, but every single day. I just always loved hitting. Obviously, hitting home runs is fun and I didn’t want to give that up. In the long run, if things turn and maybe I can’t be a major league baseball player as a hitter, I can always switch to pitching.
What are some of the highlights you had at Bishop Gorman?
Gallo: We won seven (state championships) in a row, including the four years I was there. Obviously, every time you win a state championship it’s a huge highlight and it’s great. My freshman and senior year we ended up being national champions. That’s probably the two biggest highlights of my time there. Winning a state championship every year is not easy. Every time you dogpile on the field at the end of the year is a great feeling.
How did you go about developing your swing?
Gallo: Ever since I could swing and understand how to be taught how to hit, my hitting coach has been a guy by the name of Mike Bryant. He son was just drafted second overall – Kris Bryant – in this last draft. Me and him used to hit together all the time, so he was my hitting coach since I was five years old all the way up until I graduated from high school. Mike’s the person that has had the biggest influence on my swing today. He really helped me put that swing together.
How did the power develop?
Gallo: He helped me out a lot with that. His son, too, has tremendous power. He led college baseball in home runs this year. It’s been kind of weird because we’ve both been compared to each other. He’s a righty and I’m a lefty, but even though we’re on different sides of the plate we have the same package of power.
It’s hard to tell people how you hit for power. I’ve just always been able to hit for home runs, ever since I was eight years old and I hit my first one. Ever since then, I could always hit home runs. Maybe it’s my leverage or hand strength or arms. I’m not really sure; I just know I can drive the ball.
In watching you take batting practice, even in games, it’s not like you have a violent swing. It seems so easy and flowing.
Gallo: Obviously, being a big guy helps you out, too. You really don’t have to swing as hard as you can to hit the ball out. I don’t really ever swing as hard as I can. I just usually try to get the barrel to the ball. If I’m fortunate enough to get it over the fence, then it goes over the fence. I don’t really like to tense up and swing hard. That’s going to prevent you from hitting the ball farther. I just use the hands to get the barrel to the ball.
You had signed a commitment to go to LSU, but I’m guessing with your potential draft position that was never really a possibility of going there, was it?
Gallo: There was actually a very, very strong possibility that I was going to go to LSU. Absolutely, I was committed to going there and getting a college education. That was actually really big to me. That’s something that when draft time came around that maybe some teams started to get scared off a little bit because I was very interested into going to LSU. Obviously, going to the College World Series with a great program and stuff like that. I wasn’t signed there just because I had to sign and go to a school. I really wanted to go there.
What prompted you to come out?
Gallo: The Texas Rangers organization had a really big influence on it. They’re developing players everywhere and they’re coming out of nowhere with all of these great players. There’s not really a better team to play for than the Texas Rangers at the major league level. So I had to sit down and say, do I want to risk it again in three years, or do I want to take the opportunity to make the best of it with an organization like the Texas Rangers. That was probably the biggest thing.
What would you major have been?
Gallo: Sports management.
What are some adjustments that you’ve had to make in the past year since high school?
Gallo: Obviously being away from home. That’s a huge adjustment, especially for teenaged kids. That’s probably the biggest one. It just being able to live on your own now and not having the college campus right there and taking care of ourselves now.
Playing every day and getting your body ready to play all the time. That’s always the toughest thing is to be mentally prepared every day to play and to be physically prepared to play at a professional level every single day.
Who’s been the biggest help for you in the past year?
Gallo: My parents (Laura/ Tony) have been the biggest help to me. They are always there for me. When I hit a slump, they’re always there picking me up. They watch videos on me all the time to see if they can point out something. They’ve been with me for the last 19 years and they know me better than anyone else.
Mashore (2013 Crawdads hitting coach Justin Mashore) has been a huge help to all of us. And our teammates, without them this isn’t fun. They’ve been the biggest help in picking each other up and having fun together. Most of the time, you see us out there having fun and smiling. We get along.
Let me ask you about this current group being together the past year. How much have you all leaned on each other the past year?
Gallo: A lot, because we’re going through the same stuff. Most of the time, we’re going through the same struggles. It’s always better to have somebody who’s been through it with you at the same age that you get along with. That’s the biggest thing with us, we’ve known each other for the last year. We’ve been a team for almost two years now. That’s the good part about us is that we know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. We know how to help each other out, like when we see each other’s swing go wrong.
A guy like Lewis Brinson can tell me, “You’re doing this wrong,” and will just automatically help me out. Other than a guy that I just started playing with this year can’t really tell me too much because he hasn’t seen me as much.
Was the first six weeks more of a struggle than you expected?
Gallo: It was definitely a struggle and was probably the worst baseball I’d play in my life. I don’t want to say that I didn’t expect it, but obviously making a jump to full-season ball there’s going to be a little jump where maybe the average comes down. But you’ve got to make adjustments to that. I’m starting to do that now and starting to get the hang of it and getting my swing down. I wasn’t too impressed with how I was doing, so I wasn’t too happy about what was going on. I just had to keep my head up and keep going at it and see things get turned around.
When can you tell when things are going to start clicking for you?
Gallo: I think the biggest thing that I can tell that things are turning around is when I start hitting balls to centerfield and line drives and hitting balls the other way and not just pulling balls. It’s almost like, sometimes when I go up there, like the last couple of days, I felt like whatever this guy throws, I’m going to hit it hard and maybe hit it out. That’s the biggest thing with me is if I go up there with confidence I feel like I can be better than anybody else up there. I think that’s the biggest thing, that if I see balls go to centerfield hard and I’m sitting back on off-speed and have an idea that I’m in a good hitting position, then I know that I’m doing things right.
I talked with scouts to hear what they say about you. One scout compared you to Adam Dunn, in a power sense. What goes through your mind when you hear or read stuff like that?
Gallo: First of all, it’s very humbling. That’s pretty special to be named like that in a power sense. But it doesn’t really mean much to me because you’ve still got to go out there and prove it.
It’s obviously a great honor to be named and for a scout to say that, but still, you’ve still got to go out there and prove that you can do that and prove that you have power. It’s pretty cool to hear things like that and obviously it’s what you work for to be named in groups like that and for scouts to say stuff like that. That’s pretty cool.
You had the big three home run night at Hagerstown the other night. How special was that for you and what do you take from that?
Gallo: It’s very special. It was a pretty cool day. It was good after that, because I felt like I was confident again and I can turn my season around and maybe start helping my team win a little more and hit hitting the ball out a little more and getting a few more hits a game.
What is the biggest thing for you to work on between now and the majors?
Gallo: Probably just consistency. Coming out there and having my best at bats every game and not just having games where I go 0-for-4 with four Ks. Instead of being 0-for-4 with four Ks, I get a hit in between there or go 2-for-4 and coming out here consistently and having my swing every single day and not letting that go away and throwing away an at bat.
Become a complete player is important for you, isn’t it?
Gallo: That’s something I’ve worked on my entire life. Swinging the bat can only get you so far. Sometimes in order to help your team win every day you’ve got to be able do the little things well like field ground balls and make plays that maybe some other people couldn’t make and run the bases the right way. That makes a difference in the game.
In a one-run game, it’s who can run the bases better, not always about who’s going to hit more home runs that game. So, I’ve always prided myself in being an all around good player, not a good hitter or a power hitter.
Quotes about Gallo:
Tim Pupura, 2013 Texas Rangers Director of Player Development
I think he’s outstanding. He is the one player here that we did push last year. He had already won the home run title in the Arizona League. We felt like he had kind of conquered the competition there, so we decided to challenge him and send him up to Spokane for the last few weeks and get him exposed to a little bit higher level of pitching, a different quality of competition. To his credit, one of the things he told us this spring was he realized that we sent him up there for a reason, and that was to show him how difficult it is as you move level from level. I think it was a great experience for him, because he learned about failure.
Even though he had had great success he went up there and he struggled. I think it was a great lesson for him and I think it was a great lesson for the rest of these guys. Even though you win a home run championship in one league, moving up to the next league doesn’t insure that you’ll automatically step up and be successful. You’re going to have to adjust; you’re going to have to get better as the talent gets better above you.
Joey’s a great kid. He has a great family and is from a big sports-oriented school. There was a lot of good training that he got and he’s got some natural ability. He’s got the ability to hit with power. To me, you learn a lot about power, but a lot of it’s God-given to be able to hit balls like he can hit them. He’s fun to watch and he had a great spring, so we feel really good about him here.
Hickory Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale
What have you seen in Gallo’s development over the past year?
I think just the maturity factor on a day-to-day basis. I’m sure a lot of people will want to talk about his ability and stuff like that, but we knew he was a special player last year when we got him. But, I just think on a day-to-day basis about how he goes about his business, the routines that he’s settled into and learning how to be a professional I think more so than anything.
On Gallo’s defensive:
To be as big as he is he’s a very good athlete and has very good speed. He can more around as good as any of them to be honest. He’s just learning how to get into a better position more consistently and be ready for the ball to be hit to him. It’s kind of a focus deal learning how to focus for a full game over there. Sometimes, especially as a young kid, they haven’t had a ball hit to them in a few innings and it probably gets a little monotonous over there. Learning to keep their focus and to stay into it, because sooner or later you are going to get one and you’ve got to be ready for it.
As far as raw power goes, who have you seen that compares to Gallo?
Nobody!. Eighteen, nineteen-years-old the last two years, not at that age, especially, anywhere near that age. It’s obviously pretty special. It’s pretty cool to see him hit b.p. every day and see a kid that can hit one in the lights and all that stuff. That don’t happen very often.
2013 Hickory Crawdads hitting coach Justin Mashore:
What have you seen in his improvement over the last year?
When he got to us last year, he was put together very well. There wasn’t a whole lot of adjustments made to his swing, besides to what he was thinking at the plate and trying to get used to pitchers challenging him with the fastball and not always throwing breaking balls to him. We haven’t really wavered from that.
He got off to a slow start here, but I never really had a doubt that he was going to do what he did last year and then some. When you see somebody do what he did last year, you’re kind of, you know it’s in there and it’s just a matter of time before his mind and his body sync up and he takes off.
What contributed to his slow start?
I just think the huge expectations that the outside world, or himself, or anything else puts on a kid like that, or for that matter, most of these guys. They got here and they’re all young and they’re going through the same things.
2013 Texas Rangers Field Coordinator Casey Candaele:
I think defensively he’s been playing real well for me. He’s 6-foot-5 at third. He moves well real and he’s agile. I just try getting him to get a little bit of movement before the ball crosses the plate so he can get that big frame moving. Basically, the big thing for him is to have a wide base so he can get down and field the ball. Guys of that stature, you’ve got to make sure they use their legs a lot in the field.
He’s got good hands. He can handle third. He’s obviously got a lot of things to work on, but I’m pleased with the way he’s playing defense. He’s a very good instinctual baseball player. He runs the bases really well for a big man. When you see those kinds of things in a player, those are special traits that a lot of guys don’t have.
Back in 2012, Hanser Alberto, in many ways, was an afterthought in the infield. Three years later, he is a major leaguer.
At the time that Alberto came to Hickory in April 2012, the Crawdads had Luis Sardinas, who was to be the starting shortstop. However, because of injuries to Sardinas in 2011 – and the wish to keep a prized prospect healthy for a full season – Alberto was here to split time with Sardinas, as well as spell regular third baseman Drew Robinson.
By putting up a .337/.385/.463 slash line in 62 games, Alberto made the South Atlantic League All-Star Game roster and then received a promotion to Myrtle Beach after the first game of the second half. In the locker room the night of that bump-up, he was grinning ear-to-ear and hugging everyone he could find, myself included. I can only imagine what the scene was in Round Rock, Texas when he was told he was going to Arlington.
I thought fans might enjoy some of what was said about Alberto when he was a 19-year-old kid in Hickory back in 2012.
Here is a feature write-up I did on Alberto for the Hickory Daily Record in May 2012, followed by a couple of other quotes from the Crawdads field staff at the time
Prospects in minor league baseball sometimes are hidden. An organization may have such a wealth of players at a particular position that an otherwise decent prospect may get lost in the shuffle.
The Texas Rangers, the parent club of the Hickory Crawdads, have such a problem at shortstop. At the big league level, Elvis Andrus is fast becoming an elite shortstop in the American League. Other names at short include 2011 Crawdads shortstop Jurickson Profar – currently among the elite prospects overall in the minors – and Luis Sardinas, currently one of two shortstops with the Crawdads and a top-20 prospect with the Rangers.
But there is hiding in the wings at Hickory is another shortstop: 19-year old Dominican Hanser Alberto.
Over the first six weeks of the season, the native of San Francisco de Macoris, D.R has been among the most consistent player for the Crawdads. With that he has begun to make waves within the Rangers organization.
He got his start in baseball like most kids in the Dominican, playing pickup games with other kids around town. But it was his father – a public address announcer at a local stadium – that saw the potential in Alberto to become a pro.
“My dad was always watching me and whatever I did in the field,” said Alberto through the translation of Crawdads assistant coach Humberto Miranda. “He had me thinking that I had a chance…Since he was an announcer, he taught me how to play the game. I learned how to field and how to hit just being around the coaches.”
Alberto was signed to a local baseball academy at age 13. A few years later, in 2008, he was part of a team that played in Chicago as part of a tournament set up by Major League Baseball.
“After that, I started taking baseball more seriously because I had a chance to make it as a pro” Alberto said.
His exploits on the field garnered the attention of several teams, including Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Kansas City before signing with the Rangers, who Alberto felt offered him a better chance to achieve his dream of playing in the big leagues.
“I liked the way that Texas played the game,” he said. “They way the chemistry is with the team and all that… I liked the way they worked and the way they played. I saw there was a chance that if I kept doing the right thing I could move up.”
He made his pro debut with the Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team in 2010. After starting slow due to a groin injury, Alberto caught fire for the Rangers leading his team to a playoff berth. He led the league with a .358 batting average, collecting 64 hits in 50 games.
The Rangers decided to challenge their young shortstop by having him skip the rookie level in the Arizona Summer League and move up to short-season A-ball in Spokane (Wash.). The combination of an ankle injury, plus making the adjustment in moving from the Dominican Republic to eastern Washington made for a tough season, relatively. Against competition often three to four years older, he hit.267 with the Indians and committed 20 errors at short in 53 games.
“Whenever I got back to 100% and I got back (in the lineup), I struggled a little bit and I couldn’t find myself,” Alberto said. “I went to Josue Perez to get help on the hitting side. I had to work on my defense too.”
Perez, who served as the hitting coach at Spokane last season before coming to Hickory this season, said that Alberto had to learn to experience things different than what is in the Dominican.
“When he came over here, it was a little bit of a different animal,” Perez said. “He didn’t know what to do on some pitches. In the Dominican at their age, they don’t see that good two-seamer and that good changeup at different counts. He was dealing with that last year.”
Coming into this season, Alberto feels that he has made the adjustments and the results have kept him in the top ten South Atlantic League hitters with a .326 average, while defensively he has made only seven errors.
“I’m very happy where Alberto is right now,” said Rangers field coordinator Jayce Tingler. “To see him make the transformation from Spokane last year, he’s learning how to go about his work before the game. He’s able to concentrate a little more in the game. He’s controlled the strike zone. Those are all the steps you want to see in the first four or five weeks.”
With the log jam at shortstop, Alberto is spending some time at third base and may experiment some at second to stay in the lineup as much as possible now and in the future.
“He wants to do anything it takes to help the team,” says Miranda, who works as the infield coach for Hickory. “If he has to play third, or if he has to play second, he’s going to do it. He’s fundamentally sound that he can play any position in the infield.”
For his part, Alberto is not afraid of the competition that he is a part of in the Rangers organization. When asked about what he looks to do to set himself apart, Alberto responds:
“(I’m) being blessed by God, first of all and my work ethic, where I give my 100% every day. That’s what I think is setting me apart from everybody else.”
Quotes about Alberto:
“Defensively, at shortstop, I didn’t know what we had until he started taking ground balls. He takes care of all the routine ones. He’s kind of a bigger shortstop and you think he’s not going to get to it and you look at where the other shortstops are, and he is.” 2012 Crawdads Manager Bill Richardson.
“A couple of years ago, when we signed Profar and Sardinas and all those guys, he was part of it, too. Obviously we couldn’t have them all at the same spot, but we always talk about having waves. So, okay, here’s the first wave and then the second wave and he’s part of the next wave. But we never thought about him as he’s behind them. No, he’s right there with them.” 2012 Crawdads hitting coach Josue Perez about how Alberto fit in among the other Rangers’ infield prospects at the time.
“Hanser is a nice sleeper. When I first got into this organization and saw all the middle infielders, I liked the way he played the best. He played with energy. He was always talking, always communicating. He played the game hard, always ran balls out. He played the game, from my perspective, the way it’s supposed to be played.” Casey Candaele, who was the Rangers infield coordinator in 2012.
“It’s a God-given ability. You don’t teach that. I just try to keep doing what Josue tells me to do. Get on top of the ball and find the pitch that I’ve been looking for and hit it. Now, when I get to two strikes, I think about putting the ball in play. Before two strikes, I try to find that pitch that I want.” Hanser Alberto, when asked how he learned to hit.