With the first full week completed, the Hickory Crawdads go into an off-day on Easter at 5-6 following a split of Saturday’s doubleheader with Kannapolis.
The opening series at Greensboro was a wild one for the pitching staff, as the combined for 37 walks over the first five games, which had much to do with a 1-4 start. Over the last six, that number was cut to 14 and the team’s record is 4-2 in that stretch.
On Friday, I had a chance to catch up with Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes about the team’s start and to ask about some of the names that started the season at Hickory.
First, let me get your overview of the season’s first week on the pitching staff. Control has been a bit of an issue, but for some guys it’s starting to come around a bit. Let me get your assessment of that first week.
Jaimes: Those first four games, we had a tough time finding the zone. Some guys just walked too many guys, especially the starters early in the game. We couldn’t locate our fastball. But, if feel like it’s coming and getting a lot better, especially these last four games in Columbia and yesterday. I feel like guys are starting to make some adjustments. To be honest, the fact that we couldn’t practice before the season and we couldn’t play, I think that had some effect on some guys. They couldn’t face hitters for almost a week. That had a big factor on what happened those first four games.
That was my next question, how much did the rain affect your guys who couldn’t throw side sessions, etc?
Jaimes: Yeah, especially that exhibition game was going to be huge, especially for the starters. Obviously, we couldn’t play and they ended up throwing bullpens, but it’s not the same as throwing to a catcher in a game. I think it was one reason why they couldn’t find the zone as quick as they wanted. But, it’s getting better.
Jonathan Hernandez is back here for another year and honestly, I was a little surprised to see him back as he finished so strong last year. What are the Rangers wanting to see him accomplish starting here a second year?
Jaimes: Consistency with the fastball. Last year, like you said, he finished strong. He put together five good outings towards the end of the year. We just want to see that on a consistent basis. We got to see that in the last outing at Columbia. That’s what we’re looking for. He’s working ahead on the count on every hitter the first time through the lineup. So, that’s the main thing for him, his fastball command. Hopefully, at some point, we’ll get to see him move up.
Jake Lemoine is a name some folks have asked me about. I saw him the first outing at Greensboro. At first, he had a little struggle finding a feel, but then had a strong second inning. Coming off the shoulder troubles, what’s sort of things are ahead for him?
Jaimes: He dealt with a lot of bumps the last few years. He last pitched two years ago. I’m actually pretty impressed, especially with his last outing in Columbia where he pounded the zone. He’s a guy that has a feel for the baseball. He controls his fastball and has pretty good control with his secondary pitches. So, I think he’s going to be a big part of the team. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and let the talent play. A great guy.
Is he going to be getting bite-size outings?
Jaimes: For right now, we’re going to try to keep it to three innings, just because of what happened the last two years with him. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to pitch every two or three days.
Let me ask you about Kyle Cody. Like everybody else, had a rough first outing, then pitched in and out of trouble the last start.
Jaimes: The two outings have been almost the same, Kind of erratic the first two or three innings, but then once he gets it going he gets a lot better. Last night, we saw that. The fourth and fifth innings, he did a really good job of mixing his pitches. His fastball command was a lot better. That was his main issue the first three innings: a lot of deep counts, a lot of 2-1 counts and guys were able to put the barrel to the baseball. A 6-7 guy that’s a really good talent and I’m pretty excited for him. He’s one of our main guys this year, so hopefully he’ll stay healthy. I think once he gets it going, he’s going to keep getting better.
Somebody I’m looking forward to seeing, based simply on the stats from the Dominican – this is his first stateside assignment – is Edgar Arredondo. He had a 56 Ks and 4 walks last year. Like everyone else the first week, he had that wrinkle, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer based on the stats sheet.
Jaimes: He’s a strike thrower. He’s a guy that’s going to feel through it some. He’s going to attack here. It was the first time he was pitching in front of fans and lights. So, I was kind of expecting that, but I after that I saw his first inning, I was really excited. He pounded the first inning 1-2-3. I think he got a little upset when he gave up the first hit on an 0-2 count and then he lost his concentration and couldn’t get it back. Again, he’s a guy that’s going to throw strikes. That was not the Arredondo that I know. I don’t even worry about him. He had a really good bullpen session yesterday. He’s a guy that commands his pitches: fastball and a really good changeup and a really good curve.
Tyler Ferguson hasn’t thrown. What’s happening with him?
Jaimes: He couldn’t make the Greensboro series because he got sick, so we just kept him at home. We didn’t want anybody else to get sick. Then coming back, he had to play catch at least three days. He threw a bullpen a couple of days ago and now he’s ready to go.
Of the guys that I haven’t mentioned yet – there’s so many guys that come in and out – who’s somebody that you’re looking at as someone that will step forward?
Jaimes: I’ve got one guy and that’s going to be Sal Mendez. He’s been a guy that had a really good spring training. A guy that goes out there and competes. He has average stuff, but the way that he throws the ball with the conviction that he has, he makes it look better. In his last outing at Greensboro when he went 4.2 innings. He’s going to command all three pitches coming from the left side. He has some sink and a really good changeup. I think he’s going to be our sleeper.
Emerson(Martinez) is pitching tonight. I know you don’t care about wins and losses, but it seemed that he pitched in a little tough luck when he got into the starting rotation last year. He had a good outing last time.
Jaimes; Actually, we almost made a big deal of it because last year he went 0-6. It seemed like every time he didn’t pitch we’d score a lot of runs. Then every time he’d pitch, we didn’t score. When he got his first win, he was all pumped up. He said, “It’s a new year and a new beginning and I’m going to help the team.” He grew up a lot last year for us. I had him two years ago when I worked in Spokane. He was kind of timid and he didn’t trust his stuff. That was something that last year he realized that his stuff was good enough to get people out. He showed that in his first game. He went out there and just pounded. I’m really happy with what he’s doing.
I’ve seen Tyler (Davis) pitch both in Columbia and here last night and showed some good stuff. Had some good outings here last year before he got bumped up. Doesn’t throw hard, but he spots well and throws a decent slider.
Jaimes: He’s a pitcher, though. He goes out there and pitches. He knows what he has. He knows that he doesn’t have power stuff, so he goes out there and just locates it. He locates his fastball; he locates his changeup, slider. He knows how to pitch. Everybody loves Tyler. When he got here last week, I was pretty excited to have him a part of the team. He not only brings his stuff, but he’s around the bullpen helping me with these kids. I’m really happy for him and having here with me.
Christian Torres is back. Another (Alex) Claudio clone, maybe?
Jaimes: You’re hoping for that. Claudio is one of those guys that knows what he does. Claudio is a little bit bigger, but I can see a little bit of Claudio in Torres. Decent sinker, really good changeup. They’re pretty close.
Best fastball on the staff right now.
Jaimes: Kyle Cody.
Best secondary stuff right now:
Jaimes: Sal Mendez.
Best Breaking ball:
Jaimes: Emerson Martinez and Tyler Davis.
The Hickory Crawdads begin its 25th anniversary season with a bang on Wednesday, January 10 by hosting the 2017 Texas Rangers Winter Caravan at Rock Barn Golf and Spa in Conover, N.C. The Rangers made a two-stop tour of their North Carolina minor league affiliates, as the caravan was part of an event last evening at the new affiliate in Kinston.
On hand from the Rangers were Neil Leibman, chairman of the Rangers ownership group, assistant director of player development Paul Kruger, manager Jeff Banister and 2017 Crawdads manager Spike Owen. Also attending were major league field coordinator Josh Bonifay – who played and coached at Hickory during the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliation – as well as pitchers Tony Barnette and Nick Martinez. Martinez pitched for Hickory in 2012. Rangers radio voice Matt Hicks emceed to post-luncheon event.
Prior to the lunch, I had a chance to interview several of the participants, including Banister. The Rangers manager previously hopped into Hickory while in his role as the Pirates minor league field coordinator late in the last decade. During the interview, we talked about his time as a rover in the minors and the importance of Low-A ball in the future development of major leaguers. We also talked about what he expects Owen will bring to Hickory, as well as Bonifay’s addition to the staff. This is the first of four interview’s from Wednesday’s event.
If I remember right, you came here as a rover with the Pirates not that long ago. It seems like not that long ago, but 10-15 years ago. Now, you come back here as a major league manager.
Banister: Yeah, first of all, I came here as a minor league manager in 1995, when I was with Augusta, and then back again as a field coordinator for Pittsburgh, all the years that Pittsburgh was here. So, I think the last time I was here was in 2008. Somewhere around that time frame.
You know, it’s fun to come back. As I flew into the airport and flew over the stadium (L.P. Frans Stadium), it was fun to see that stadium. I hadn’t really seen it this time of the year before with snow on the ground. It’s feels good to see a lot of people and recognize faces – there are some that I know better than others.
I spent a lot of time here. There were times that I had to manage here. When Jeff Branson (Crawdads manager in 2005-2006) was here and had to take a leave of absence, and Dave Clark (2004 manager) was here and had to take a leave of absence. So, I have a lot of fond memories of Hickory and this ballpark. It was always one of my favorite stops.
How different a world are you in now than in Low-A baseball? Are there times you wish you think, maybe it might not be too bad to come back to a lower level with less pressure, etc.?
Banister: You know what, I’ve been a minor league guy, a development guy at heart, really. That’s who I am. The opportunity to manage the big leagues is obviously spectacular, all the superlatives that you can put on it and think about. However, understanding the grassroots level, where you come from, the paths of people, are all woven into what I do every single day. I never forget that.
One of the things that you look at in putting the staff that I put together at Texas, they’re all long-time, minor league guys that understand the development side of this game and what we do. The teaching process is still a part of our life at the major league level. It’s impacted by the stadiums we play in, the travel and the number of people. But, it’s still baseball.
Spike Owen was your third base coach last year, and he had to fill in for another former Crawdads Tony Beasley. He’s coming here to manage this year. What have you seen with Spike over the last year that you think he will bring to this position here at Hickory?
Banister: Well first of all, I’ve known Spike for a long time, even all the way back to his University of Texas days. This is a guy who was a highly competitive player. He loved to play the game – a tremendous knowledge of how to play the game.
I would say that he’s a guy that over the years has learned and transitioned himself into the understanding of teaching the game. He’s a guy that has great patience with players and has a teacher’s mindset and a servant’s heart. A guy that I think is going to be great on the development side and has had success already on the development side.
One, that gives me great comfort to know that our players are getting the best of what I consider both worlds – the teaching aspect of it, but also the knowledge of what it takes to be a major league player. He’s a long time major league player himself and has a great understanding. He refreshed that this past season being on the major league staff. He’s got a fresh set of eyes on what it takes to be a major league player.
From your time as a field coordinator, managing, etc., what is the biggest thing that a player in Low-A needs to learn that will serve him well when he gets to the major leagues?
Banister: First of all, that you’re still going to make mistakes. This is an imperfect business and it’s an imperfect game, as much as we’d like to think that it’s a perfect game. You’re not always going to be successful. It’s an extremely negative game. You’re not going to have production that stands out on paper, visible for everybody to see, but there are contributions that can be made. You have to be able to finish your game off, in a sense that, if you’re a home run hitter and you’re facing a guy that doesn’t hit home runs, what do you have in your skill set that can help a team offensively. Can he run the bases well? Can he play defense?
The thing in today’s game, we have so much knowledge, so much information, understanding the game plan, where you need to play, the tendencies of other players. It’s no longer just a sport of roll out the balls and bats and go perform. There’s an education process of who you’re playing, how you’re playing, and what you need to do to beat this team. Because the bottom line, teams show up every spring training with the thought process and idea to win, and they know everything about you as the opposing team.
What adjustments can you make to have some measurable success day in and day out. You’re not always going to have huge successes every single day. So, it’s small incremental success where you’ve got to build your career on. If you’re looking for huge increments every single day, this game will eat you up, spit you out and put you back in the minor leagues.
Josh Bonifay, who played here with the Pirates and coached here with the Pirates, is now going to be your field coordinator. What did the Rangers see in him to be able to hire him to fill that position?
Banister: First of all, I’ve known Josh since he was probably 10 or 11 years old. 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 afar as he became a highly successful manager.
The thing that I looked for in this position is one, the administrative side of it. Can you put together the things that myself, the scouting staff and the coaching staff want, so that we can put a day together for individual players – how are they going to get better every day individually – but also collectively. Also, we’re look for a guy that had outfield experience, teaching outfield, and baserunning experience and being able to teach baserunning.
He fit that role and he’s had success with players over in the Houston organization. He had success with the Pirates organization. So, that in itself, and how he relates to players, and how can he relate to the other coaches. But also, the thing, for me, is that he’s an open book. A guy that’s not coming in with, “hey, I’ve got all the answers, this is what I’m going to do to put a stamp on this. He’s a guy that’s coming in with a clean slate and wants to learn, but add value to each one of us coaches.
This is the final installment of an interview I did with Mike Daly, Texas Rangers Senior Director of Minor League Operations.
He discusses the progress of prospects Brett Martin, Jonathan Hernandez and Pedro Payano, as well as a few other pitchers making their way onto the parent club’s radar.
In case you missed it: Part I focused on the Crawdads top hitting prospect (at the time) Andy Ibanez and the top pitching prospect Dillon Tate
Part II looked at the Crawdads hitting prospects, including Eric Jenkins and Yeyson Yrizarri.
I was surprised to see Brett Martin come back here. When I talked with him at the start of the season he said there was a checklist essentially: first pitch curve ball for strikes; work on the secondaries deeper in the count, getting through hitters a little bit quicker rather than running up count. How is he doing with the checklist as far as you can tell?
Daly: I think it’s been real good for Brett. Brett came in here last year, I think he was with that group of Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Luis Ortiz, and now he came back to Hickory being one of the lead guys. I think some of the challenges for him last year was to go out there, get deep in games and get guys out. Now, he’s taken like a step and it’s a little bit about pitch development. It’s about throwing that breaking ball when you’re behind in the count. It’s about getting guys out in three or four pitches or less. I think it’s been like a challenge for Brett and we think that it’s something that’s ultimately going to be helpful for him as he starts to move up the ladder.
I think there are a lot of discussions at the end of spring training about challenging him there at high A, or do we have him back to Hickory. We felt there were a number of challenges that he could go through here in Hickory that would prepare him better to go to High A, ultimately AA and on up to the Major leagues. Where Brett’s at, it’s been a challenge, but a very good one and something that we see as helping his career up to this point.
Jonathan Hernandez is somebody I’m beginning to enjoy more and more watching him pitch. He’s a young guy at 19. In his first start at Kannapolis, he was falling all over the place and he’s toned that down a lot. He seems to learn quickly into what he needs to do to make the next step.
Daly: He also comes from a baseball family. His father pitched in the minor leagues for a number of years. He actually was born in the states when his father was playing for Memphis. His father is also a pitching coach in the Dominican Winter League for Aguilas down there. So Jonathan has grown up in baseball and he’s always been a very focused young man.
I give Jonathan a lot of credit. When we signed him, he was very, very skinny. He’s put on a lot of good weight. He’s put in a lot of time in our Dominican complex. He pitched for two years for our Dominican Summer League team. He’s a young man that has some weapons. He can really mix all of his pitches. He has a very good I.Q. and aptitude of what he’s trying to do out there on the mound. It’s been real exciting to see him grow both physically and mentally over the past few years that he’s been in the organization.
Pedro Payano has been at the top of the rotation, when you run them out there one through six. He’s always going to give your five or six innings. He had the one-hitter. In a lot of ways, he came out of nowhere for us when he came here in August last year.
Daly: I think that Pedro is another guy that has a very good I.Q. He’s very good in terms of being able to read what the other hitters are trying to do. He’s able to attack them based on what the hitters are trying to read; so, he’s able to read bats. He’ll throw the breaking ball behind in the count. He’ll throw his changeup in any count. He can throw the fastball up to 92-93 and has good deception.
He’s a guy that took a couple of years in out Dominican Summer League program to kind of get himself going, but he’s been on a rocket ever since. He’s a guy that started 2015 in the Dominican Summer League, jumped to Arizona and then ended up here and was a huge part of the championship team for the Hickory Crawdads. We see a guy that has a very, very bright future.
Erik Swanson is another one that has taken another step forward after not throwing much last year.
Daly: It’s another credit to our scouting department. We get him in the eighth round out of Iowa Western and that was a good job by our scouts to even dig him up.
He’s a young man that has a very, very good arm. He’s really invested in what he’s doing off the field. He’s really invested in the strength and conditioning program and has done an outstanding job with Wade Lamont and Dustin Vissering, our strength and conditioning coach and our trainer, in terms of our arm care program that got derailed last year with some injuries. But he’s a guy that’s come in here this year and taken the ball each and every time that he’s gotten it, and it’s been very impressive.
He’s got a very heavy fastball, sneaky fastball and really pounds the strike zone. He’s a guy that we’ve been really excited about over the first couple of months, and that’s a real credit to Swanny and the investment he’s made in the strength and conditioning program.
Who are we not paying enough attention to on the pitching side, someone who’s not on the radar and then all of a sudden, there he is?
Daly: I think anytime you’re six-foot-seven and left-handed, I think Adam Choplick is a guy that is someone to keep an eye on. He throws up to 94 with a slider.
We got a real interesting guy in Matt Ball in the trade there with the Chicago White Sox for Anthony Renaudo. Again, a good job there by our scouting department to identify him – a 6-foot-4 pitcher with a 94, 95 mile-an-hour fastball and a slider. He’s been real impressive in the short amount of time that he’s been here so far.
I think Jeffery Springs from right up the road here (Appalachian State) is a guy whose fastball has taken a couple of steps up. He’s got a plus changeup. He can throw that changeup at any time in any count. He’s a left-hander with a really good makeup.
This is part two of a lengthy interview I did with Texas Rangers Senior Director of Minor League Operations Mike Daly during the last homestand.
In part one, we talked about two of the higher profile prospects, Hickory Crawdads second baseman Andy Ibanez and starting pitcher Dillon Tate.
Part two is a look at the Crawdads hitters, with a longer look at 2015 second round pick, outfielder Eric Jenkins, as well as at shortstop prospect Yeyson Yrizarri.
Eric Jenkins struggling now. The speed doesn’t go into a slump and he’s been able to use that some, but a bit of a work in progress at the plate. We’re noticing sometimes he’s having difficult in fastball counts being able to be ready for those pitches. He seems to be seeing the breaking ball a little bit better. How is his progress as you see it at this point?
Daly: Any time that a young player, especially a high school kid, comes out and plays his first full season here in the South Atlantic League, it is a challenge. It is a grind of 140 games. It’s something that these guys have never gone through before. So understand that each and every night, no matter if you’re in a slump or if you’re hot, you have to be ready to play at 7:00 in front of fans with the scoreboard on. That’s a great challenge.
Eric’s got tremendous speed. He has a game-changing type speed. He’s a plus defender in the outfield. But these guys, as they start to play teams, professional pitchers that know how to attack hitters, that have scouting reports on Eric and other players it becomes like a big challenge for these guys. Eric, Yrizarri (Yeyson), (Ti’Quan) Forbes, they need to make adjustments and understand that when the league adjusts to you, you need to adjust to the league.
So where Eric’s at, we think that it’s just him going through the first year of playing each and every day. His speed tool is great. It allows him to bunt. It allows him to put the ball on the ground and make some of the infielders really hustle in terms of having to throw to first base. Frankly with that speed, it should never be a prolonged slump, but I think with Eric, the fact that each and every day he’s healthy, he’s on the field and getting through that first year grind here in Hickory.
I have some people asking, “Why are they keeping him at the top of the order, why not drop him down?” And my response has been he’s got to learn how to hit lead-off and this is the place to do it. Have the Rangers basically wanted to see that through. at least at this point?
Daly: Most definitely, I mean it’s game-changing type speed. He’s a guy that had some success last year when we drafted him right away out in Arizona and was a part of the championship team here last year. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Eric. He’s going to have some struggles, but Eric needs to work through that and he needs to know that the organization is behind him and he has the confidence to go up there and try to set the table for the meat of the lineup.
We want him to feel that pressure, if you will, batting leadoff. We want him to go up there and find a way to get on base and identify what the pitcher is throwing that night. So, we think it’s really good for Eric and he’s going to be at the top of the lineup here for some time to come.
I’ve enjoyed watching Yeyson Yrizarri play. I love defense. I loved watching Michael De Leon play shortstop the last two years. You guys have run some guys through the last two years that can flat out play defense and (Yrizarri) is certainly at the top of the list for me. He’s very well put together for a 19-year-old and does some things well for his age and his level. Let me ask you about his progression.
Daly: He’s a strong and durable young man. Obviously, he’s got some strong blood lines there, being the nephew of Deivi Cruz. He was a guy that had a really strong body when we signed him. It’s been step-by-step. He started out in the Dominican Summer League and he earned his way to Arizona. Last year, he played under the lights out there in Spokane.
You’re right, he’s here in a long line of shortstops that we’ve been lucky enough to send here to Hickory. It’s a cannon. It’s a bazooka over there at shortstop. He loves to play. I think it’s the same kind of thing that Eric Jenkins is going through – the grind of playing each and every night, playing against teams that have seen him multiple times and have an idea of how to pitch you and have an idea what some of your weaknesses are. It’ s a great challenge for Yeyson to make some adjustments with the bat. But he shows some power at the plate. He’s a plus shortstop with an absolute bazooka.
He seems like at the plate to be somebody that is a little bit more advanced than a Jenkins or a Forbes or other 18, 19 year olds. He’s able to work deeper into counts. He may eventually strike out or hit a week groundball, but he seems to have a better idea of how to go about an at-bat at this point.
Daly: Definitely, and I think it’s a credit to him. Yeyson has a very good aptitude and he’s also in a situation in where he signed in July of 2013, where Eric signed in June of 2015. So, Yeyson’s had a little bit more at-bats. He’s been in the organization almost two years longer. He’s been through more games in Arizona and Spokane, so I think that might be a little bit of a difference in terms of just a little bit more experience for Yeyson Yrizarri versus a guy like Eric Jenkins. But I think both those guys have great aptitudes and it’s exciting to see them go through their first full season here together. Yeyson has a clear idea of what he’s trying to do at the plate and it’s exciting to see.
Who is somebody at the plate that is maybe under the radar that a fan might want to pay attention to that is otherwise not being talked about?
Daly: I say, it’s like a few guys. I think it’s been a really good catching tandem with Chuck Moorman and Tyler Sanchez. I think those guys have really invested in our pitchers. They’ve done a really good job behind the plate and put together some really nice at-bats.
Dylan Moore playing first base, second base, shortstop and third base as been a really good player right in the middle of the lineup there for Steve Mintz. He’s a guy that brings a lot to the table and is able to bring lots of versatility for Steve Mintz every night to be able to play him at a lot of different positions.
I think Ti’Quan Forbes over there at third base is another guy that played next to Yrizarri last year at Spokane and the year before that in Arizona. He’s a guy that continues to get bigger and stronger and put together good at-bats and he’s been real exciting.
Eduard Pinto is a guy that certainly the Hickory fans have had some experience with and they see how he’s come back from the tragedy that was going on in his life. He’s a guy that’s been in the organization for four or five years, but always puts together a good at bat.
LeDarious Clark is an interesting guy that really lit it up last year in Spokane and is as athletic as they come, and has tools, and just being able to see how he’s gone about it each and every game and how he’s continued to get more and more experience and he’s starting to tie in his physical attributes with what he’s learned here on a daily basis.
I think all of the position players are very interesting at this point for the Crawdads.
Do you like how the team is developing with the speed game?
Daly: Definitely. I think it’s a credit to Steve Mintz to push our guys to run and to give a lot of them green lights and not to hold them back. I think it’s about development and how these guys are learning what they’re capable of doing and to see them have a lot of success. We have some speed on the team and it’s good to see these guys be aggressive and to take chances on the base paths and to see the success that they’re having.
It’s a dog fight. Hagerstown is a really good team and this whole South Atlantic League is really good. It’s good to see these guys compete and battle to try and win the first half.
There are figures who get into managing after being groomed for the position as players. St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny entered the job with no coaching or managerial experience. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose prior coaching experience was leading Team Israel for three seasons in international competition. Both, however, were seen as students of the game as long-time major league catchers.
However, most get into managing pro clubs after lengthy careers as coaches. Case in point: new Hickory Crawdads skipper Steve Mintz.
Mintz is a baseball lifer. Now 47, the native of Leland, N.C. was originally drafted as a catcher by the Dodgers out of Mt. Olive College. The Los Angeles Dodgers quickly converted him to the mound and his playing career took off. After spending time with the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox organizations, it was with the San Francisco Giants that Mintz made his big-league debut in 1995. After the proverbial cup of coffee and tenures with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres systems, Mintz got another brief chance with the Anaheim Angels in 1999. He played out his career with the Angels AAA farm team at Salt Lake in 2001 before signing on as a short-season pitching coach with the Angels to finish out the 2001 season. He then spent ten seasons as a pitching coach in the Minnesota Twins organization before coming to the Texas Rangers chain in 2012.
With the Rangers, Mintz has spent the last three years as the pitching coach at high-A Myrtle Beach and High Desert. He was slated for a promotion to AA Frisco to start this season. However, when Texas Rangers third base coach Tony Beasley was diagnosed with cancer, the wheels went into motion throughout the organization. Spike Owen, originally assigned to manage the Crawdads this season, replaced Beasley in Arlington and Mintz was assigned in late February to manage at Hickory.
Mintz had his first taste of managing this offseason with the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League. With former Crawdads players Travis Demeritte and Chris Dula on the roster, Mintz led the Bite to a 30-26 record and a spot in the ABL’s championship game.
But now, after 12 seasons as a player, 14 seasons as a pitching coach in 20 different cities altogether, Mintz will finally get his first gig as a stateside manager with Hickory. He comes into the job with a host of connections from around baseball and Mintz will quickly tell you that a lot of good baseball people had a hand in preparing him for his first managerial job. But Mintz is looking forward to creating his own style on the field and in the clubhouse.
Mintz is married to his wife Cathi, with whom they have three children: Abby, Hunter and Jacob.
(Mintz’s connection with Beasley is an interesting one to note with Mintz coming to Hickory in light of Beasley’s health issues. Not only is Beasley a former Crawdads manager (2002-2003), but both Mintz and Beasley played junior college ball at Louisburg (N.C.) College.)
This is the first time managing after 14 years, other than the Australian thing?
Mintz: I’m super excited. I thank the Lord every day. I’m a blessed man for the opportunity that the Texas Rangers have given me. Not just this, but in the previous three years in the things they’ve let me do to get better at managing, to understand managing and allowing me to go to Australia and the different things they’ve let me do. I’ve been preparing for this a long time, hoping that I would get one some time or another. Then, with the situation that took place with the organization, and then overnight, it happened. I’m very excited and very blessed and grateful, and I’m looking forward to the season. I’m ready to get started.
And you get to do this close to home?
Mintz: That’s icing on the cake, as they say. Especially last year, being in California and then going to Australia. I think I was away from my wife and kids over nine months last year, in just the one year. My wife was able to come out here this weekend and help me get set up, and being able to spend those things with her. My daughter’s at North Carolina State, so she’s two-and-a-half hours away and she can come whenever she wants. Obviously, that’s a plus with the job, but I would have took wherever it was at.
But the fact that it was back in North Carolina, and going to Louisburg Junior College and then to Mount Olive College, and all the people that I know around here, and the support and the excitement of a lot of friends and family have shown has been overwhelming at times. You just keep doing your job and try to get better in different areas and stuff, and you never know when something’s going to pop up. You just feel like, I’ve been prepared and I guess I’m going to find out if I am.
How did you find out you were coming here and how quick was the whirlwind when Spike had to go to Arlington and here you are?
Mintz: It all started with Tony Beasley, when he got his diagnosis and, obviously for health reasons, making sure that he was doing what was best for him and his family. Then they went through the process of who they wanted to be the third base coach. Spike was the one that they chose.
Knowing my desire to manage and what I had did in Australia, from what they relayed to me, it was an easy decision to offer me the position, knowing that I wanted to do it. I had managed instructional league and during the season, if the manager left, I would take over. Or, if they got ejected in a game, I would take over.
Doing the duties in and out for the last three years with the Rangers, I guess it kind of showed them that I at least had an idea of what was going on. Then Mike Daly got to come over to Australia and see the operations over there and what I was doing and such. I’m sure that helped me out a lot, him being able to come out and see exactly what we were doing over there. Obviously, when the position arose they said, “Hey, this is available. Is this something you’d like to do?” I said, “Yes, sir.” That was kind of how it happened. We had a 5:30 meeting in the morning and they sent me a text to be there. I was there already, but I didn’t really understand what it was. When they told me, I was super excited, I can tell you that. I had waited a long time for somebody to say that.
What is the biggest adjustment you will have to make as a manager? Obviously, you did some of this in Australia and got some of that under your belt, but being a pitching coach as opposed to a manager. There’s not really a lot of pitching coaches that go that route, essentially.
Mintz: What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I caught my whole life. I got drafted as a catcher by the Dodgers, and so being able to see the whole game from both sides of the plate, I think, has helped me over the last 27 years.
I think the biggest thing, for myself is, the game, I have no problem with the game. I’ll make a wrong pitching change, or I’ll put on a hit-and-run when I’m not supposed to. All those things, I’m not worried about that. Now, you basically get to take over 25 guys, as opposed to 12 or 13. Doing those relationships with the guys and making sure they understand what we’re doing, kindness and harshness, and all the things that come with being the manager and in charge of everything, and obviously letting my staff do their job – Frankie with the hitting and Jaimes’ got the pitching, and Hagen will work with the catching the most – but basically overseeing and making sure that, as an organization, the things that we have in place are being taken care of.
Obviously, you have to be the bad guy from time to time, but then encouragement and staying positive, especially with these young kids, and not getting in any kind of panic and making sure that they understand that we’re behind them one-hundred percent. They’re going to make mistakes and this is a hard game, and making sure they understand that. But, those aspects are where I will have to work maybe a little more to make sure that everything is happening as it is supposed to be, as opposed to looking at just the pitching and making sure that it is right. You’re in charge and if it’s not going right, it’s all on you and nobody else.
Is there somebody, maybe at the start that you look to and say, “I want to pattern myself as a Jim Leyland or Ned Yost, or whomever?”
Mintz: I guess I’ll have my own style. I guess I’m more of a laid-back guy. I don’t like to yell a lot. I don’t curse, that’s just some things that I don’t do. When my voice goes from here to hollering, there’s no doubt about it; I’ll just put it that way.
Guys that I came up with: Jerry Royster is obviously one of my favorites; he coached me when I was playing. A couple of years ago when I interviewed for a managing job with the Rangers, that was the first person I called; I called Jerry Royster and I asked about the interview process and what I should do. Then I played with Garry Templeton; he was another manager of mine when I was in AAA, and the wisdom and stuff that he gave me. Another huge guy is Dusty Baker. When I was in the big leagues for him, we got to be pretty good, buddy pals. Him being over with the Nationals now, I’ll call and talk with him from time to time.
I’ve had some really, really good people in my life, as far as managing and learning and understanding this game. Once again, I’ve very blessed for the people that have been in my life, playing and coach. Another guy that really gave me a lot of what I have now is Rick Knapp; he used to be the big league pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers. He was the guy that hired me on with the Twins as a pitching coach, when my shoulder went out. The things that he taught me for 8, 9, 10 years with the Twins, not so much just from the pitching standpoint, but baseball itself. The players and the caring and what you need to be able to do to develop these players and things, I owe him a ton. Even now, he’s with the Dodgers as their pitching coordinator, I still call him a lot and bounce things off him. I’ll ask for his advice for different things. Those handful of people have been instrumental on me.
If we want to go back further, Carl Lancaster back here at Mt. Olive College. I learned a great deal from him just playing one year of college baseball with him. He’s one of my best friends, even to this very day. He was one of the guys most excited about me getting this position. I’ve had a ton of people in my life that have actually helped me along the way and preparing me for this day.
What’s the biggest piece of advice that you’ll bring with you into this?
Mintz: Oooh, the biggest piece of advice? (Laughing) I’ve got a lot of them. I guess talking to Jeff Banister, our big league manager. I guess me and him got a little closer this spring training. I knew him from the past and obviously last year. I spent a lot of time talking to him this year, not so much always on baseball things, but I, myself, am big on, we’re trying to develop these guys as baseball players, but first and foremost, I want them to be good human beings. I want them to be able to be in society.
They’re going to have to be husbands. They’re going to have to be fathers. They’re going to have life after this baseball field. I spent a lot of time on that. I want to make sure that the guys are growing up and that they’re turning into men, and not just ballplayers.
But me and Banny had a talk about that one day and making sure that, we’re pouring baseball into these guys, but we’re also pouring in humility and humbleness and all these things into these guys, so they know how to react in the world when everybody’s not screaming their name out on the baseball field. That aspect, for me, is huge, being in the position that I’m in now and being able to have these guys watch me and my actions and how I go about doing stuff each day, it’s very important to me.
I have three kids that watch it every day, also. Hopefully, I’ve had the same impression on them as I have the players that I’ve been around the past 14 years in coaching. But that’s one thing, I guess as far as advice goes, is to continue doing that, even though I’m a manger, but continue pushing these things into these guys’ heart and soul, and making sure that they understand that you have to be a decent human being.
It has been well-documented that the Texas Rangers organization seeks talent from anywhere at any level. Over the past several years, the Hickory Crawdads have benefitted from that philosophy.
Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez came to the Crawdads in 2012 after throwing only 26 innings in college. Former manager Bill Richardson – who led the team to two playoff spots – was a high school coach at the time the Rangers hired him.
On this year’s squad, the Crawdads have several individuals that are further examples of finding individuals in one field to do a specific job in another. Catcher Jose Trevino was a shortstop his final season at Oral Roberts. Pitcher Scott Williams was a junior college catcher that threw ten innings in 2014. He had ten saves in the second half of this season.
But arguably the biggest impact such a person has made for this year’s team has been pitching coach Oscar Marin, who was just named the South Atlantic League’s (SAL) coach of the year.
A native of Southern California, Marin, 32, played college ball at L.A. Valley College (LAVS) before moving up to Arkansas-Little Rock. After his playing days ended, he stayed on as an assistant for a year in 2005 before returning to LAVC as its pitching coach for two seasons. Marin then was the pitching coach in 2008-2009 for Harvard-Westlake High in North Hollywood.
The Rangers hired Marin in 2010 and he worked his way up to low-A Hickory for the first of two seasons starting in 2014.
Marin has put in tremendous work this season and the results showed. The Crawdads had six pitchers – four starters – selected for the mid-season SAL all-star game, with Marin himself picked as the pitching coach. The staff finished the season with club records in ERA (3.19) and WHIP (1.21), and were just two homers shy of setting a club mark in that category.
In the interview below, Marin talked about the work his pitchers did this season, and he spoke of the process of becoming a pro coach without pro-playing experience.
You got chosen as the South Atlantic League coach of the year. Where you surprised?
Marin: Yeah, I was surprised. It’s something you don’t expect. But, it’s a great honor to know that your peers think that much of you. A lot of it’s due to the pitching staff that we’ve had that has given me the opportunity to do the things that we did this year. I’m just really excited about it and really happy about the award. I’m just thanking some of the people like our coordinator Danny Clark, Mark Connor that’s been with us, and Jeff Andrews have really kind of helped me throughout my career along the way here with the Rangers. A lot of credit goes to them too, but I’m really happy about it and blessed that I was able to get an award like that.
Your guys have set the club ERA mark and the club WHIP mark. That’s probably a testament to your work and some of the coordinators that you’ve mentioned. What have you been able to instill in these guys this year as a total staff?
Marin: I think as a team staff – and one of the things that we keep reminding these guys of – is how aggressive we started in the season after the first week. After the first week, we didn’t do so well. It took us until a series in Asheville to really get going. From that series in Asheville, we really started pitching off our fastball, attacking off our fastball and demanding that inner part of the plate. I think that was a big testament to what these guys did throughout the year and are still trying to do.
That’s one of the things we engrained in these guys and part of the things that we have in the Texas Rangers organization is attacking the zone, winning your 1-1 counts, throwing your first-pitch strikes. Those little philosophies might seem simple, but if these guys can execute those things they’ll probably be on the winning end of games.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you this year, even for somebody that maybe even started slow and has really come on that jumps out for you?
Marin: Ariel Jurado. You bring him in from the AZL the year before, you don’t really have expectations of what you might get. For him to suffer his first loss not too long ago, to be 12-1 and have the composure that he did on the mound and to be able to have the feel that he does, it’s a big surprise. Like I said, you don’t what’s going to happen, but when a guy like that comes in the first year and does something like that, it has to surprise you. How could it not? After watching a while and having for a certain amount of time, you get to see why he’s doing the things that he’s doing.
The whole staff in general: how they’ve stayed together as a unit and they’ve backed each other up. That was huge. You don’t have many staffs that do that kind of stuff, but when they do they’re special. I think this is a special group. That’s why these guys did a good job of keeping together and holding each other accountable the whole year.
You have so many guys that have come in and out this year, whether it’s promotions or injuries, or whatever. What has helped you to be able to individualize lessons and development for Jurado and Williams and Wiles and so on?
Marin: I think it’s more of an environment that you put out there around these guys. I know that every guy is different. We don’t cookie-cut anybody for what they do. We work with what that have. In general, what we teach these guys, while these guys are together, is basically in the same idea. We put things in terms of the same idea with everybody and creating that dynamic about, this is what we do, this is what we’re all about. So whether you leave or whether you come in, that dynamic stays the same, even with the guys that are leftover.
We lost several guys, especially from the bullpen. From those guys that are left, there’s a little of the philosophy behind, and these guys have taken it over and are teaching the guys coming in. I think that’s the biggest difference as to why we’ve been able to do the things we’ve done this year. You come in or you leave, everybody’s getting, “this is what we do here.” I think that’s the biggest thing that’s helped.
What were the adjustments, or maybe the biggest adjustments you had to make going to the pro level as opposed to the amateur level?
Marin: I think the biggest adjustment for me was, at the high school level or at the junior college level, you get who you get. You’re kind of stuck trying to recruit in high school and guys get into the school or they don’t. They show up and there’s a tryout and that’s what you get.
Here, the amount of talent that we get brought in, it was a lot easier to teach guys that might have more of that ability and not really have to go around and do different things to try and teach somebody. The learning curve is a lot easier. I think that was one of the biggest adjustments.
The other thing was you have that first rounder, second rounder and different type guys. You’re used to teaching; this is how we do it- this one way. Because of the people I’ve been around and the guys that I’ve already mentioned – like coordinator Danny Clark – you learn different ways on how to teach different guys. Not everybody’s going to be the same. I think that was the biggest adjustment coming into pro ball. Everybody has their own personalities and you find the best way to try to teach those personalities.
Did you have to earn respect coming into the pro game? Did you have to learn a certain level of being listened to?
Marin: I think everybody tries to earn that respect. The best thing about this organization is you earn that respect by working hard and making sure you’re doing the things to get guys better. That’s how you earn their respect.
There wasn’t really too much of that, “this guy didn’t play professional baseball.” I never saw that. I think that’s one of the best things that our organization does. There’s not bad talk about, “this guy never played.” Everybody just came together. If you’re here to get somebody better, that’s what they care about and that’s why I love this organization.
You’ve been here two years now. What do you know now in September of your second year that you maybe didn’t know in April of 2014?
Marin: I think the biggest thing is – going from short-season ball, where I was at before, whether it was the AZL or at Spokane – limiting what these guys do. Throughout the year, you might start of doing certain things, working heavier with guys on certain things, whether it’s mechanics or a certain pitch and stuff like that and you keep doing it throughout the year. But over time, if they keeping doing those, those guys are going to wear down. Over time, just training responsibly and having those guys keep doing the things that they need to do to get better. Instead of overworking, just more quality work than anything else.
Looking ahead, what do you see yourself doing in three to five years? Do you look to keep moving up, or do you have a niche here?
Marin: This is a great place and I love coaching here. This isn’t a bad place to coach, whatsoever. But like anybody else, just like the players do, you have those thoughts of moving up. You have those thoughts of eventually, just like everybody else, having an idea of coaching in the big leagues and getting to the big leagues in whatever capacity it is.
That’s what I want to be. I want to keep growing as a person. I want to keep growing as a pitching coach and try to move up as much as much I can and try to succeed at some of the things you wanted. One of the other things is eventually – I guess you can call it a five-year plan –be a pitching coordinator. I want to keep growing and I want to keep growing in whatever capacity that’s gets me moving up to the next level.
The Hickory Crawdads open their tenth playoff run in 23 seasons as they start a three-game series with the West Virginia Power. Game one is at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, WV with games two and three coming to L.P. Frans Stadium Friday and, if necessary, Saturday.
I took a moment to talk with Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale about the series, as well as how the team ended the regular season heading into the playoffs.
You guys have been waiting for the playoffs since June and here we are finally. First, let me ask how did the guys adjust to the second half when they knew they were going to be in the playoffs? There wasn’t really anything to play for, although they’re playing for development purposes.
Ragsdale: I think they’ve done good. Yes, coming out of the break and had won the first half, it’s tough when the team goes and they decided at some point we’re going to win this thing and they win it. They completed their mission right there. It took a few days to kind of get back in line and refocus.
They know now that there’s still work to do. There’s a job to do and I’ve got to get better for myself and continue to get better as a player. So it took a few days, but they’ve done very well. Obviously, we haven’t won as many ballgames this half as we did the first half, but overall they competed well and the efforts been there. Honestly, I’ve got no complaints.
Obviously the big story of the year has been pitching, pitching, pitching. I’m guessing that looking ahead to West Virginia, that will be the make or break for y’all.
Ragsdale: We’ve been very fortunate, yes. Our starters, our pitching has been very good all year. The first half of the year we were so good, primarily because of pitching and defense and timely hitting and things like that. But there’s no doubt that pitching and defense carried us. Going into the playoffs, we like our chances. We’re running out three guys that have had very good years. Whatever happens is going to happen, but we’ve got as good a shot as anybody.
This first round we’re running Yohander (Mendez), (Ariel) Jurado and (Collin) Wiles out there 1-2-3. We like our chances.
When y’all get here on Saturday, you’re going to win this because____?
Ragsdale: In any playoff situation pitching and defense is always number one. We’re running three guys out there that we have a lot of confidence in and we’ve also got to play defense behind them. If we do that and take care of things that we need to, we’ve got a pretty good shot.
You played West Virginia a couple of weeks ago after not seeing them since the first half, what did they bring that maybe has concerns for you?
Ragsdale: I know we’re going to see (Yeudy) Garcia and (Stephen) Tarpley one-two. Obviously they’re two of the better pitchers in the league. So they’ve got some good arms going out as well. They probably do a little bit of the same stuff we do. Their pitching has probably carried them a little bit. I think they’ve swung it a little bit lately.
When we played them the last time, we definitely weren’t playing our best. But, that’s no excuse. We’re definitely going to have to be on our A game. They’re playing very well. They’re steamrolling everybody they’ve played. We’re definitely going to have to come out and play our best games and play a good series to win. But, I think we’ll be alright. It’ll be a fun series.
In the first half you had a pretty set group of guys but in the second half for various reasons you’ve had a lot of in and out.
Ragsdale: We lost some of the guys in the first half, which is good. Some guys went up that did well. It is stuff, not necessarily about finding players. That group in the first half, they were all playing for the same thing. When you get an influx of new guys coming in there and switching around and all that stuff, it’s tough to make sure everybody’s on the same page all the time. That’s tough, but I think the guys that have come in, we’ve had great guys come in, guys that pretty much fall in line that want to do good and be good teammates. It hasn’t been hard on me or anything like that. I just think for them there’s a little bit of an adjustment for each guy having new teammates in and getting them comfortable.
On the infield, I know you’ve toyed around with some different arrangements, especially at first, and trying to find a mix and the lineup. How do you see this playing out?
Ragsdale: To be honest, the alignment took a hit the other day when (shortstop Michael) De Leon went down. With Dylan (Moore) coming in, we have a chance to move some things around. To be honest, at first base we’re still trying to figure that out. The other three positions, it’s probably going to look like what it looks like tonight. We’re trying to figure out just what gives us the best options and who’s most comfortable where. Obviously De Leon and J-Mo going down, that’s two very good defenders – two guys on the left side of the infield that were very good for us. It’s a little swift kick, but I think we’ve got guys that can step up and fill the void. It’s kind of like, “next man up, here we go.”
In the outfield (Luke) Tendler, (Jairo) Beras, (Jose) Cardona with (Eduard) Pinto at DH?
Ragsdale: I think Eric (Jenkins) gives us a nice new dimension. He’s obviously playing very well. He’ll be a guy that can possibly come off the bench and do something like that. He can run; he has very good speed. He’s shown some very good at bats and has shown some spark being in the leadoff position… he gives us something that, to be honest, we don’t have. So we’ll see over the next couple of days how that plays in and how that mixes in. We may try to get him some at bats and get him in there as well.
We’ve still got a couple of days. With those new guys, we’ll just see what they can and what they can’t do. It’s not exactly the position you want to be in going into the playoffs, but we’ll get it done.
The Hickory Crawdads scored three runs over the first two innings and made them stand up Wednesday night in a 3-2 road win over the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns.
The victory was a milestone win for Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale, as he set the club’s all-time mark for managerial wins at 229. The record was formerly held by Ragsdale’s predecessor Bill Richardson, who managed the team from 2010 to 2012. Ragsdale’s record with Hickory currently stands at 229-169.
The native of Jonesboro, AR played with the Crawdads to conclude his career in 2009. He returned in 2011 as an assistant under Richardson, before taking the managerial reins for the first time in 2012 at Arizona Summer League Rangers, where the club won the league title.
In Ragsdale’s first season as the manager in 2013, the Crawdads went 76-63, highlighted by a SAL record 178 homers by the power-laden lineup that included soon-to-be major leaguers Ryan Rua and Joey Gallo.
Last season, the Crawdads won 80 games for the first time since 2004.
This year, the team has already clinched its first playoff spot since 2011 and currently holds the South Atlantic League’s best record. He was rewarded this season with a selection to manage the Northern Division in the SAL All-Star Game.
Last week, I took a moment to interview Ragsdale about the impending record-breaking win, what he’s learned along the way over three seasons, and about some of the players that have already broken into the big leagues.
I know you are going to play this down, but you’re coming up on the club mark for wins by a manager. I know you’re not going to say,” It’s not my wins and losses,” but it’s still a nice thing. You’ve had some guys that have come in here and played hard for you and that’s no small thing. A lot of that comes from what you and the coaching staff do.
Ragsdale: I couldn’t care less about it, to be honest. I think what I do appreciate, as I look back on the last three years, is a couple of things. The players have done a great job. Obviously, they go out and perform. From the first year of that talented team, they went out played, and last year winning 80 games with the club. This year making the playoffs and winning the first half and are continuing to play pretty well, at times. I’ve had a lot of good players and a lot of good kids that play hard.
And I think, as an organization, they’ve done a great job of getting players that can play. I’ve just been fortunate that I’m at a level where I’ve had a bunch of guys that are pretty good come through here the last three years. As far as the wins and losses go, I’ve just reaped some of the benefits of what the players and the organization as a whole has done. I’m lucky. I’m just here as a small part of it. I’m happy for the kids and happy they’ve won a lot of baseball games.
What do you know now that you didn’t know three years ago, or how do you think you’ve gotten better?
Ragsdale: Probably just with each individual player how tough it is a times and how you have to relate to each guy individually. You can’t just blanket certain ideas over everybody and expect guys to be able to react. You’ve got to be able to get into each and every guy and have different ways to say the same thing so that it clicks with certain guys. You’ve got to find out what motivates one guy and what motivates the next guy.
I try to get them go out and compete every day because it’s a hard game. It’s a long, long season and these kids don’t necessarily know how to go about it each and every day. So, you’ve got to help them along the way. That’s what we’re here for. I think that’s probably the big thing is figuring out how to get each and every guy ready to go every day. We don’t get the job done every day, but most days, they go out and they’re ready to play and they’re motivated. Most days it’s pretty good.
What did you learn from Bill when you were here in 2011?
Ragsdale: A lot of stuff. Whether it was on-field stuff and how to go about things and just adding on to how to get guys ready at this level, being with him. Whether it’d be days off and whether it’d when to work out and when not to work out. Things like that – everyday things – everything from writing a lineup out. I remember how he used to write the lineup out and I still do it the same way.
There’s a lot of things I take from him and I take from other guys that I’ve been around and that I’ve played for in the 16 years that I’ve been doing this. Bill helped me out a lot. He kind of took me under his wing a little bit and I am very appreciative of everything he did for me and allowed me to do when I was here with him.
You want to keep doing this a few more years?
Ragsdale: I love it. It’s a challenge some days. It’s a long season, but when you see the kids, when it clicks for those guys and they get the thing that you’ve been working on and they have success, it just makes you feel good. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to be a part of. It’s fun to stand in the third-base box and to be a small part of the game still. Not that wins and losses matter, but we do put value in wins and kids learning how to win and kids wanting to win. So, it is fun to still be out there and have a small part of the game that goes on every day and to see the kids have success. It’s fun and I enjoy it a lot.
How cool is it now to see the Claudios and Ruas and Gallos, etc. get to the big leagues and you having a part of it way back when?
Ragsdale: I’m just happy for those guys and it does put a smile on your face when you see guys that work hard and see guys that have some talent and finally put some things together.
You see guys like Claudio that maybe the talent wasn’t anything that jumped off the table, but he always came in and competed and you’re so happy for guys like that that have been able to have success and continued success and reach the big leagues and stay there, and hopefully stay there for a long time.
It puts a smile on your face. I enjoy watching the games on TV – all those guys. Hopefully that’s the case for a lot of more years and a lot of more players can continue up the ladder and help our big league club win ballgames.
Sunday’s game (July 19 vs. Augusta) marked the two-thirds point of the South Atlantic League season for the Hickory Crawdads and the story of 2015 has been the pitching staff. Five starting pitchers and a reliever claimed spots on the South Atlantic League’s all-star team and the group has a chance to rewrite the Crawdads record book.
With the final 46 games of the season still left to be played – plus the playoffs – the Crawdads have the potential to set single-season records in fewest hits, runs, earned runs, and homers allowed, as well as in ERA and WHIP.
Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark was in Hickory this week to fill in for Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale during his vacation. Clark had an extended, first-hand look at most of the pitching staff during his visit and he sat down with me to give an assessment of several individual pitchers.
First I just want to get just an overview. We are almost two-thirds of the way through the season and this has been one of the better pitching staffs we’ve had here. Let me first get your overall impression from what you’ve seen.
Clark: I think from the experience level that these guys have right now, coming into pro ball, most of them are one to two-year starters, to be able to do what they’ve done to this point, I think the biggest accomplishment to me is to make every start. That’s been a goal of ours to see from start to finish them being healthy. We’ve got two or three guys in the rotation who haven’t been able to do that in the past. So I think first and foremost, that’s our main goal.
Let me ask first about the guy that wasn’t talked about a lot coming in – seeing him pitch, I don’t know why – and that’s Ariel Jurado. Pretty much from day one he’s six, seven innings when he’s started. He kept down the opposition and has developed some pitches along the way.
Clark: I think in Jurado’s case, obviously, I’ve got to admit I didn’t see the high ceiling leaving instructs last year. Some of our pitching coaches were talking about changing a little bit on his arm slot and trying to get more of a run or a sink to his fastball. I think he took that in the winter and came back to spring training and was very impressive.
He had a very good spring training, so he earned his right to get here. Then from that point on I think just the confidence level that he’s had. Oscar Marin has done a good job of trying to keep him continue to go forward. A lot of times guys, especially young pitchers that jump out record wise, they look at their stats. We throw out new competitions for him and his mind to keep that cultivating. That has been a big plus for him.
Yohander Mendez and Jurado are in the tandem right now. Mendez started the season in the bullpen and I know the plan was to get him back into the rotation at some point. I know a lot of the focus with him has been to keep him healthy.
Clark: Last year we only had him for 31 innings and we had to shut him down. Our goal for this year was to get him to around the 90-inning mark. We see Mendez as a high-ceiling starter. He has a good feel for all three of his pitches. Sometimes a pitcher like that can become bored on the mound. So, just keeping those small, short-term challenges for Mendy has been the thing for him mindset wise, versus just looking at the results all the time.
The two of them have gone in tandem the last four or five starts. Is there a a point where they will break back out as individual spots? I know with Mendez you want to build up the innings and do you see that with Jurado as well?
Clark: Both of them, we’ve got to control their innings. You won’t see them be by themselves, other than the tandem, until the playoffs. We’ll keep them that way. We’re committed to keeping this rotation together.
We’ve tried to build this rotation how we have in the past with a couple of different rotations that’s been here to kind of keep five or six guys together, as they go through the system, I think competing against each other. But to answer the question of those two, I think they’ll have to stay on those things just from the innings standpoint.
Let me get an update on Luis Ortiz’s progress after being out the past month.
Clark: He went to Dr. (Keith) Meistner, our team doctor today. He should be back. We got good reports from him. We didn’t think it was nothing severe in anyway. We’re going to start seeing him do his throwing program next week and he’s going to start doing bullpens. So, we’re probably looking to see him realistically sometime in mid-August.
Stuff wise, for the most part, he looked really good.
Clark: Obviously, he’s got stuff. He was drafted in the first round for a reason. Our job is to not worry about stuff, but to cultivate all the maturity things that goes in to being a starting pitcher at a high level. So that’s the process that he’s going through. He’s doing a lot better in his workouts.
He’s doing a lot better, really, just paying attention to detail that goes into it. Obviously, we have a high ceiling for Luis. We think a lot of Luis. It’s just the process that he and a lot of guys have to go through.
Collin Wiles. Everyone I’ve talked to raved about his off-season work and how he put it into practice this year. What sort of challenges does he have left at this level before he moves up? Or has he shown you that he’s about ready?
Clark: In some ways, yes he has. I go back to Collin finally committed to having ownership of his career. I think it started there. I don’t think there was no one that was involved other than Collin.
Going forward, I do see sometimes, do we challenge Collin and send him to High Desert? I think it goes back to the philosophy of what we build the pitching rotations around, competing against each other more than the opposition. So we’ve decided to keep those same six guys together. Could he go? Yes, he probably could, but I think long term it allows him to compete against this team.
Let me ask you about a couple of guys of interest to me. Scott Williams was a guy that didn’t pitch a lot in college. He had trouble hitting the strike zone last year and a little bit at the start this year. Since early June, he’s found a groove and found the plate. He seems more comfortable with the off-speed pitches. Your view on him.
He’s a converted guy, who was a position player in college. So, anytime you convert someone it’s usually a year process before you start seeing more fluidity as a pitcher. Last year, he kind of threw like a position player.
I think Oscar’s done a good job as far as getting his hands more relaxed on the mound and getting his body in a better position, and then obviously confidence and results. When you have good results, confidence builds it, and it continues to go for him.
Yesterday, I was very impressed with him. More than anything, yes I saw the velocity, but I saw the easiness of the delivery. It wasn’t compared to last year, where I thought he forced a lot of things on the mound and tried to muscle the ball there, versus allowing his arm to carry the ball.
Let me ask you about Cody Buckel and his ups and downs. I know it’s been a long process. He’ll have some good days and he’ll have some not good days. Where do you see him in that process?
We all know Cody and he had a lot of success at an early age. Sometimes, that’s a fault, because we push him and he goes to big league camp as a 19-year-old and flies through A ball and AA.
Cody’s in a situation right now where I’m more concerned with how Cody is as a person. I focus on those things with Cody. We don’t try to focus on what he’s doing on the mound. Cody’s an outstanding person, a young man that’s got a lot of upside in whatever he does after baseball. So, I think we focus more on that with him right now and try to get some of the attention off of him, as far as being a pitcher, but just being an everyday person.
You’ve got a couple of guys sent here in Erik Swanson and Shane McClain. McClain seems to be a guy that can be used in various roles. Swanson at the back end can throw some heat. What are they here to work on?
Swanson, we held him back coming out of spring training. I see him as a starter eventually, so you’ll probably see him the next six weeks start building into more of a starter role, as we do some different things with some of the starters, maybe giving some guys some breaks. I do like his fastball. He does have to do some things to keep himself in top shape.
I think McClain is a guy who had a very good spring. He signed as a free agent last year after the draft. We felt like maybe we could push him a little bit to High Desert. Probably looking back, and I have told Shane this, we should have started him at Hickory and let him get his feet wet before we sent him going forward. So I take the blame for that more than anything. We can use Shane in a lot of different roles. He started for us in High Desert for a couple of spot starts. He can give his length and multiple innings, back-to-back days. So, he’s a very versatile pitcher.
Austin Pettibone has been interesting coming into the rotation. I know he started for you before. He can throw low to mid-90s and he’s talked about developing his changeup. What can you say about his development?
Austin was a starter in college. Coming out of spring training, you can only send six starters to a full-season club, so we had him starting in extended knowing that at some point that we were going to send him here. We just had to find the right time.
I see him as a sinkerballer, groundball type guy, He’s a mature guy. He’s a mature college pitcher. So, we kind of expect some of these things to happen here. We’re just now getting him stretched out. Really, in my mind, it’s a little early to make a decision on Austin whether he is going to the bullpen or if he is going to be a starter.
Let me ask you of one other guy and that’s Nick Gardewine. Another guy, like Pettibone, who started in the bullpen before coming to the rotation. He’s had some ups-and-downs, but had a nice last outing.
Nicky was a guy coming out of spring training who got hampered with a foot issue. So, we brought him here out of the bullpen. He was building up as a starter, so I felt like he got behind the eight ball there for about the first month. Nicky, for me, if his slider is on, he’s going to go deep in the game. He’s got to be able to have a better feel for his change. Until he can do that, I feel like that he, right now, is a two-pitch pitcher from what I saw a couple of days ago. He knows that and that’s things that he’s got to work on.
I still think Nicky’s a young guy – he’s a little older than most of the starters here – but when we get some innings on him, I foresee him down the road. Could he be a starter? Yes. Could he go into the bullpen? There’s a lot of options there because he does have a good fastball.
This year has been the first year, I can recall, of having a six-man rotation, with the idea that you’re not going to skip starts in the middle of the year like what has happened in the past. Has that gotten the results that you were looking for, as far as keeping guys healthy for the year?
We hope so. I don’t want to speak too quick on it because we’re doing it here and High Desert and Spokane. We’re doing it at all our lower levels. I’ve seen, as far as our velocity goes, more consistent velocity going across the board.
Typically in a five-man rotation at the lower levels, you hit June and August, you start seeing velocity drop. So, I haven’t seen the drastic drop as I have in the past. So, that’s one thing. Obviously being healthy, we’re seeing good signs of that. There’s a lot of positives to it. I think if you ask me the same question when the season’s complete and we start getting more concrete data, I might have a different opinion about it. As of right now, I like the flow of it. I like what I’m hearing from the pitchers and from the pitching coaches.
I’ve got to ask you about Brett Martin. He had a rough time in his last outing, but was obviously very sharp tonight (July 16 vs. Greensboro). He talked about having to stay within himself to make things work for him.
I thought he showed stuff early. Then after his stuff early, around the fifth inning he had to work himself out of some jams. I thought Martin’s fastball obviously was probably 93-95 tonight. His breaking ball for me was probably the least pitch of the secondaries. He tended to pitch to his changeup.
Brett’s got a very high ceiling. What I don’t think a lot of people understand with Brett is that you don’t teach the things that Brett has and he’s got a lot of God-given talent.
To me, I was more pleased to see him finish the seventh. I went out there to basically talk to him and see where he was at. He said he wanted to finish the seventh, and so I thought it was a huge development for him.
The Hickory Crawdads currently has the best record in the South Atlantic League at 50-29 (through July 5). While the Crawdads cruised to the first-half Northern Division title – clinching a playoff berth in September – the name of the game is first and foremost player development. In that aspect, the Texas Rangers have much to celebrate with the Crawdads roster, especially where the pitching staff is concerned.
Mike Daly, the Senior Vice President for Scouting and Player Development of the Texas Rangers, was in town during the recent weeklong homestand to get an extended look at the Crawdads in action.
The following is an interview I did with Daly during which he talked about some of the top pitchers on the staff – and assigning them to High Desert – a few of the top hitters, as well as the on-going struggles with Jairo Beras.
In the first half of the season the Crawdads were the best team in the South Atlantic League by record, and a lot of days, the best team on the field. The Rangers brass had to be excited with how the team played in the first half.
Mike Daly: Yeah, we’re certainly proud of the players and the staff. I think it starts with Corey Ragsdale, an outstanding manager who’s closing in on the all-time record for number of wins here – not only for the number of wins in Hickory – but with what he’s done taking on a really young group of players and bringing them together.
Each of the players get better individually but also as a collective group. They’re playing for each other, pulling for each other and ultimately winning a bunch of games. We’re very pleased and very proud of the group here in Hickory.
You mentioned the staff and Rags is here for the third year and seems a lot more comfortable with himself. You see the growth from him over the three years. It’s obvious that he’s in charge and the guys like playing for him, to a man.
Daly: Absolutely. Corey does a number of things very well. First, he has outstanding baseball knowledge. He knows the ins and outs of a baseball game. He has a very keen eye for what players need to do and how they need to develop on the field.
But then off the field, he has presence and he knows how to handle the clubhouse and the players. They respect him and enjoy playing for him, but otherwise they know who is in charge. We’re thrilled to have Corey in the organization and we’re very, very happy with what he’s done with the club so far in 2015.
As far as the first half the pitching staff, almost night in and night out, is getting five, six, seven innings in every night and then turns it over to a what’s been a pretty good bullpen for the most part.
Daly: I think that was reflected there in the all-star game with how many selections we had off our pitching staff. I think what’s really good is these guys push one another. So, when Ariel Jurado goes out and has a good outing, now Brett Martin wants to go out there and top him. Then Luis Ortiz, he wants to go out there and do better and Yohander Mendez wants to show where he’s at. Nick Gardewine wants to do that and Collin Wiles wants to do it better.
So it’s a real good internal competition amongst these guys each and every night. It certainly gives our ballclub an opportunity to win and it always starts with the starting pitching. These guys have really stepped up. It’s really, really fun to watch these guys compete against one another.
Jurado was not somebody that people read a lot about before this season. He took the ball the first night and for the most part at every start he toes the rubber and goes seven innings.
Daly: He’s been outstanding. He was one of the six starters that we wanted to send out here. That’s a big credit to Brian Shouse, who is our pitching coach in the Arizona League and pitched a number of years in the major leagues. He dropped down Jurado’s slot from a high slot to more of a low three-quarters slot, which he throws now and really helps his fastball move. He gets a ton of ground balls with his sinker. He throws a lot of strikes and mixes in his breaking balls and his changeups very well.
He’s throwing a curveball now, which is another nice toy for him?
Daly: Absolutely, and he has a real good feel. When guys have power – nd he has a fastball that he can run up there over 90 miles an hour – and then he’s able to break out his offspeed pitches, it really puts hitters on their heels. His sinker is obviously his money pitch and when he’s able to throw the other offspeed pitches for strikes, it puts hitters on their heels. We’ve seen that with the performance of Jurado.
Luis Ortiz has had a couple of wrinkles, but numbers wise he has a low ERA, good WHIP, a ton of strikeouts. I know you’re kind of pacing him along, especially with the arm fatigue. What is your evaluation of him at this point?
Daly: We’re really happy with Luis. I think our goal was for him to get out here on opening day and to get through the whole season. A player learns a ton, especially a player coming out of high school, going out for the first time and getting through a full season at a full-season club. We’re really happy with what he’s done throughout the year.
Obviously there’s a little bit of a setback here with the arm fatigue. We’re looking to get him back here probably in about a month or so. But we’re really happy with where Luis is. He’s working on all his pitches. His changeup continues to develop as does the power fastball and a good breaking ball.
Collin Wiles is another guy that has been good night in and night out. I’m honestly a little surprised he’s still here. Let me ask you about his development and where he goes from here.
Daly: We give Collin a ton of credit. He had a very good offseason. I think he really took ownership in his offseason program and really invested in where he was at in his career and it’s paying dividends on the field. He’s able to throw all of his pitches for strikes at anytime in the count. He has an extreme amount of confidence on the mound and that come through. I think that’s due in large part to the work that he did in the offseason. He came into spring training very, very focused and that’s carried through here in the season.
We have had some conversations about challenging him at the next level, but we’re really happy with where he’s at, how he’s pitching and how he’s performing. With his age, as a high-school player coming out of Kansas City, we still feel that there’s some challenges for him here at the low-A level. But we’re really happy where he’s at.
This is not necessarily about Collin, but just in general. How much does the High Desert situation play into you advancing guys and not wanting to tax them at that spot versus maybe they need that challenge?
Daly: I don’t think it’s so much about High Desert. I think it’s more about the individual player and where he needs to be challenged or where he’s at in his career.
If you look back when Arizona was at High Desert, they sent John Patterson and Brandon Webb and Brad Penny. So there have been pitchers that have been very successful major league pitchers that have gone through High Desert.
But I think our decisions are based more on the individual player and what they need and where we see they’re at in their careers in terms of promoting them or having them go through High Desert or not.
We’ve had some success. Frank Lopez is a guy who pitched here and had some success early on at High Desert and he earned a promotion up to Frisco. There are pitchers that can go out there and have had some success. I think it’s a very good learning experience if you’re able to pitch in High Desert in those type of conditions.
Is there a mental component that plays into that at times, where you might be hesitant to send somebody there because if they get lit up with the easy home run, you worry about the psyche?
Daly: I think that’s part of like each individual guy. I think our coaches have a very good feel for each individual player. We do talk about it amongst our staff, amongst our coaches about what’s best for each individual player. Some guys have gone out there and taken on that challenge and were able to overcome High Desert. That usually bodes pretty well for success at the next level.
Let me ask you about one other guy and that’s Yohander Mendez. He was here and there last year because of the shoulder and other injuries health wise. He had a good year out of the bullpen, but I know the object has always been to get him back into the rotation. You’ve got to be pleased with where he is at this point.
Daly: We’re very happy with Yohander. We had a couple of setbacks with some injuries in his career. I think the goal was to start him out in the pen this year with some short stints to try to keep him healthy. He’s done that and has been able to post every time that we’ve asked him to pitch.
Now, I think, his goal has changed in terms of, can we build strength. He’s done a nice job with Wade Lamont, our strength and conditioning coach, in terms of putting more weight on his body. I know it doesn’t really show, but he’s up to over 200 pounds. That’s a huge credit to Yohander and the tireless efforts of Lamont. Obviously Oscar Marin (Crawdads pitching coach) has done a real nice job with him last year and this year. We’re really happy with where Yohander is at and obviously it’s showing on the field.
Let me go to the hitting side of the team and start with Josh Morgan, who had a rough start getting his feet wet, but the last two months has done well.
Daly: Definitely, he’s certainly found it. He’s one of the guys going through his first full-season year. I think in April the hits weren’t falling, but he continued to have an outstanding makeup. He’s a very, very hard worker. He believes in the talent and we believe in the talent as well. I think that we’ve seen that over the past couple of months with the consistent approach and the consistent work ethic and those hits are falling. Obviously, he’s been a huge part of the 2015 Crawdads.
A guy that has been the glue or spark plug, or whatever cliché you want to use, has been Jose Trevino. I know it’s been his first full year of catching and I know that’s gone well. But all around he’s a guy that keeps the clubhouse together.
Daly: We’re very, very, very happy with Jose Trevino, not only defensively, but offensively. There’s a lot of stuff as a catcher that you need to work on in terms of your own defensive, knowing the pitching staff , being able to help your pitchers get through each count. But then he’s able to step into the box with his bat and be very productive in the middle of the lineup. So, we’re really happy with the things that Jose has accomplished so far both offensively and defensively. You see the makeup and you see how he’s able to keep his focus together.
I’m going to go to Jairo Beras, who had the rough start not running out a batted ball the first night. He had a good couple of weeks here where it seemed like he was seeing everything, but then he gets into another thing last night where he doesn’t run it out. Let me ask you about him and what is a tough situation.
Daly: Jairo is somebody there have been some ups and been some downs. I know last year he had a very good second half here in Hickory. It looked like he was going on that path again here and have another strong second half in 2015.
Part of the process is not about numbers, but part of the process is about playing the game the right way. I think Corey’s done a really good job of handling the situation with Jairo.
We’re still very excited about Jairo and I think he’s still going to be a big part of this Crawdads team over the last couple of months. I think his at bats are getting more consistent. He’s seeing balls batter and he’s using the whole field. He had a nice double down the right field line. He’s walking a little more. I think that there’s some stuff, just with player in development, there’s some ups and some downs, but we’re still very bullish on where Jairo is and his status in the organization.
You mentioned that you’re excited about Jairo and the Rangers are excited about Jairo. Is there a point where Jairo is excited about Jairo and there are not the mental lapses?
Daly: You hope so, yes. I would fully expect that to happen. When that happens, I’m not sure that anybody knows. It’s really up to the player to decide that they’re going to do the things each and every day that’s part of being a professional player. I think it’s really up to Jairo. Our job as an organization is to support him and when he doesn’t do the things that he’s supposed to do to correct them and teach him and to make sure he learns from him. Ultimately, it’s up to Jairo to make those changes.
Michael De Leon. The hitting is still not quite there. He’s still only 18 and the strength is getting there, but defensively, what a wizard.
Daly: With Michael last year, it was really the year of opportunity. When we signed him in 2013, nobody thought that in 2014 that he would play the majority of his games in Hickory. None of our guys that we had signed in their first year – Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor – none of those guys spent any time in Hickory. There was an opportunity last year with the number of injuries. To his credit, he took advantage.
I think there are still challenges for Michael here at this level, but he’s done an outstanding job. When he can play defense like he can play defense at shortstop, he’s always going to have the opportunity to play. The manager is going to want to get you in the lineup based on the defense that he provides.
He hits at the top of the lineup and makes a ton of contact. He’s going to get bigger and stronger. I know that Wade Lamont is working with him relentless to try to get him faster and try to get him bigger and stronger. But, when you have a shortstop that can play that type of defense, the pitchers really appreciate you, and the manager’s always going to find a way to get you into the lineup. That’s his calling card is his defense right now.
Let me ask you about one more guy and that’s Tendler. He had a hot start and then went into the slump, but you get the feeling that he’s coming out of some things.
Daly: I give Luke a ton of credit. Luke came into the organization last year and right away has been all about baseball. After Spokane – he had a real nice year there – he spent the winter in Columbia. He went down there on his own and went to the Columbian Winter League. The first time we’ve ever had a player right out of the draft make the decision on his own to go down to Colombia. So, he really invested in his career. He really wants to be as good as he can.
I know that he came into Hickory this year and was on fire in April and in May. He was producing maybe better than he thought that he was. Right now in the slump, he’s better than he’s showing now.
We’re really happy with Luke. Once again, a guy going through his first full season and it’s hard. A hundred-and-forty games is a long season; it’s a grind. He’s done a real nice job. He’s a big part of the Crawdads team. I know that Corey has a lot of confidence in him and we’re going to continue to run him out there and he’s going to figure it out and be a big part of the team here.
Who has surprised you that maybe you didn’t expect to put together the season they have?
I think like the back end of the bullpen was really good. Parks and Fasola, both of those guys, especially Fasola, coming in and closing the door and saving a lot of games. I know that Corey had a ton of confidence looking down there in the eighth or ninth inning and bring in big John to close out the game.
Obviously, John pitched very well and earned himself a promotion up to High Desert. So, I think John Fasola coming in and taking the reins of the closer role and earning a promotion was the biggest surprise here so far.
Daly: Been good. He can always hit. He hit close to .400 in the Dominican Summer League his first summer out. I think his big key is staying healthy. That’s something he continues to manage each and every day. He can hit, but his ability to on the field is the key.