Archive for the ‘ Player Development ’ Category

Looking at the 2016 Crawdads Roster: Pitchers

The Texas Rangers and Hickory Crawdads released the opening-day roster for the Crawdads earlier this week. I’ll take a look at the roster over two parts beginning with the pitchers in this entry.

 

In looking at the roster, the first thing I noticed was how much older the pitching staff is this season compared to season’s past as a Texas Rangers affiliate. During the Crawdads-Rangers tenure over the past seven seasons, Hickory has had such teen pitching phenoms as Martin Perez, Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Joe Ortiz, Robbie Erlin, Andrew Faulkner, Victor Payano, Jose Leclerc, Akeem Bostick, Luis Ortiz, and Ariel Jurado start the season in a Crawdads uniform.

 

In 2015, 19-year-olds Jurado and Ortiz, along with 20-year old Brett Martin were the cornerstones of the starting rotation with LHP pitching prospect Yohander Mendez – himself 20 – waiting in the wings in the bullpen. This season, Jonathan Hernandez is the lone teen wolf (19) on the Crawdads staff.

 

Now, in the past, the Rangers have sent teen-aged pitchers to Hickory in early-to-mid May to save wear and tear on the arms (Joe Wieland, Neil Ramirez, Cody Buckel, Luke Jackson to name a few), with most repeating the Low-A level the following season. That may well happen here and that remains to be seen.

 

I also noticed a heavier – at least it seems to me – tilt towards pitchers with college backgrounds than in years past. Last year, seven of the 14 pitchers on the opening-day roster had four-year or two-year backgrounds. This year, 10 of the 12 have college experience, eight of those from a four-year school.

Last year’s pitching staff was an average of 21.4 years old (Baseballreference.com). At the start of this season, eight of the 14 members of the pitching staff are 22 and older. This is similar to the Pirate-affiliate days.

 

One possible effect of the heavier-than-normal college presence on the roster could be the allotment of innings. In years past, the Rangers would begin skipping starts at the midpoint of the season and heavily monitor the wear-and-tear of the younger arms to limit innings. However, with the older group, I wonder how much of that will be in play with this group. Even the younger pitchers on the roster (Brett Martin and Pedro Payano) have already built up to 90+ innings the past year. One thing to keep in mind, though, is several of the pitchers on the roster (Wes Benjamin, Adam Choplick to name a couple) have had “Tommy John” surgeries in the past and that will, of course, bear watching.

 

SURPRISES:

A couple of surprises, at least to me, related to the pitchers sent to Hickory. The first, for me, is the return of 2015 SAL All-Star Brett Martin. The left-hander had 72 Ks and 26 BBs in 95.1 innings, but at times struggled with consistency (1.07 WHIP first half of 2015, 1.41 second half) and with nagging injuries. Like Collin Wiles from 2015, this season could be about finding that groove of becoming a consistent six-to-seven inning starter each time out.

Brett Martin 2

2015 SAL all-star Brett Martin looks to build consistency during his second season with Hickory (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Another is the return of Dillon Tate, the fourth-overall pick in 2015. A major checklist item from his time at Hickory in August of 2015 was the development of a changeup and that could be better suited during his time in South Atlantic League ballparks rather than in the rarefied air of the high desert of California.

Dillon Tate 2

Dillon Tate rejoins Hickory after a brief stint with the Crawdads last summer (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

 

WHAT ELSE TO LOOK FOR:

Wes Benjamin comes to Hickory after pitching a lone inning in the AZL last summer. The Kansas product had been out since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.

 

Pedro Payano opened a ton of eyes in 2015, pitching at three levels with the final coming at Hickory. His three-pitch combination (fastball, curve, change) was used to great effect here in August and the playoffs, as he showed the ability to use any pitch in any count. Given that ability at age 21, his No. 29 prospect listing by MLB.com seems a bit low, though that could have more to do with the Rangers talent up the chain rather than with Payano’s ability. With his pitchability and poise on the mound, Payano could have a Ariel Jurado-type season that further opens eyes.

Pedro Payano

RHP Pedro Payano dominated the SAL in the final month of the 2015. season (Tracy Proffitt)

Starting rotation likely begins with Tate, Payano, Martin and Hernandez. Others with starting experience in the pros include Bass, Tyler Davis, Peter Fairbanks and Joe Palumbo. Jeffrey Springs started at Appalachian St.

 

 

2016 HICKORY CRAWDADS PITCHER CAPSULES

 

BLAKE BASS (RHP, 6-7, 265)

2015 Pro Season: 13 games (4 starts) at Spokane (Wash.), 33 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 15 BB, 29 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .242 OBA.

About Bass: A native of Lubbock, Tex,. Bass, 22, was the Texas Rangers eighth-round pick in 2015 out of Angelo (Tex.) St., where he was a first-team All-Lone Star Conference pick. Was an All-State performer as a senior at Coronado High.

 

WES BENJAMIN (LHP, 6-1, 197)

2015 Pro Season: 1 game (1 start) at Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers, 1 IP, 1 BB, 2 K.

About Benjamin: A native of St. Charles, Ill., Benjamin, 22, was the fifth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Kansas. Was an All- Big 12 Freshman Team selection. Underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2014 (Tommy John). Formerly drafted by the New York Yankees (48th round) in 2011.

 

ADAM CHOPLICK (LHP, 6-8, 275)

2015 Pro Season: 16 games at Spokane, 33 IP, 1 HR, 23 BB, 35 K, 2.18 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .242 OBA.

About Choplick: A native of Denton, Tex., Choplick, 23, was the 14th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Oklahoma. Was formerly drafted by the Chicago White Sox (32nd round) in 2014 and the Arizona Diamondbacks (17th round) in 2011. Underwent Tommy John surgery while a junior at Denton Ryan High. Was second team All-State pick in baseball as a high school senior and a first team All-State performer as a senior in basketball.

 

TYLER DAVIS (RHP, 5-10, 190)

2015 Pro Season: 16 games (2 starts) at Spokane, 35 1/3 IP, 4 HR, 12 BB, 30 K, 5.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .293 OBA.

About Davis: A native of Seattle, Davis, 23, was the 23rd round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Washington. Was the Northwest League Pitcher of the Week (Sept. 1-7) after throwing six no-hit innings in a start for Spokane. Holds the Huskies record for innings pitched at the school, second in starts and fourth in wins and strikeouts. Was an All-Pac 12 selection his junior and senior seasons and an All-American in 2014. His brother Erik pitched for the Washington Nationals in 2013.

 

PETER FAIRBANKS (RHP, 6-6, 219)

2015 Pro Season: 13 games (11 starts) at Spokane, 57 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 22 BB, 47 K, 3.14 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .246 OBA.

About Fairbanks: A native of St. Louis, Mo., Fairbanks, 22, was the ninth round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Missouri. Was a first-team All-Conference infielder in high school at Webster Grove in 2012.  Underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school junior. His father played one season in the Houston Astros chain in 1983.

 

JONATHAN HERNANDEZ (RHP, 6-2, 173)

2015 Pro Season: 11 games (9 starts) at AZL Rangers, 45 IP, 0 HR, 12 BB, 3 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .250 OBA.

About Hernandez: A native of Santiago de los Caballos, D. R., Hernandez, 19, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.Baseball America has Hernandez as the 20th best Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 28. His father, Fernando, pitched briefly for the Detroit Tigers during a 14-season pro career.

 

JOHAN JUAN (RHP, 6-1, 180)

2015 Pro Season: 18 games at Dominican Summer League (DSL) Rangers, 43 1/3 IP, 2 HR, 7 BB, 46 K, 1.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .218 OBA.

About Juan: A native of La Romana, D. R., Juan, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013. After posting a 1.95 ERA over three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Juan will be making his U.S. debut this year.

 

OMARLIN LOPEZ (RHP, 6-3, 162)

2015 Pro Season: 20 games at Spokane, 36 IP, 3 HR, 16 BB, 36 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .267 OBA.

About Lopez: A native of Payita, D.R., Lopez, 22, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.

 

BRETT MARTIN (LHP, 6-4, 190)

2015 Pro Season: 10 games (18 starts) at Hickory, 95 1/3 IP, 6 HR, 26 BB, 72 K, 3.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.65 OBA.

About Martin: A native of Morristown, Tenn., Martin, 20, was the fourth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Walters St. (Tenn.) CC. Named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in 2015. Threw four shutout innings against Asheville in Game 2 of the 2015 SAL Championship Series. Originally attended Tennessee before transferring to Walters St. He is the Rangers No. 11 prospect, according to MLB.com and No. 18 tabbed by Baseball America.

 

JOE PALUMBO, (LHP, 6-1, 168)

2015 Pro Season: 13 games (9 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 58 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 25 BB, 43 K, 3.07 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .253 OBA.

About Palumbo: A native of Holbrook, N.Y., Palumbo, 21, was the Rangers 30th round pick in 2013 out of St. John the Baptist (N.Y.)  High. Made a start for Hickory on the final regular season game in 2015. Named to the Arizona Summer League All-Star Team in 2014.

 

PEDRO PAYANO (RHP, 6-2, 207)

2015 Pro Season: 17 games (12 starts) at DSL Rangers, AZL Rangers, Hickory, 89 IP, 1 HR, 22 BB, 101 K, 1.11 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .244 OBA.

About Payano: A native of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., Payano, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2011. Named Rangers minor league pitcher of the month in July 2015 after going 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA. Allowed one or fewer runs in five of six starts for Hickory after joining the club August 1, 2015. Threw six shutout innings vs. Asheville in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Championship Series.

 

JACOB SHORTSLEF (RHP, 6-5, 235)

2015 Pro Season: 16 games at AZL Rangers and Spokane, 37 IP, 1 HR, 8 BB, 33 K, 1.95 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .271 OBA.

About Shortslef: A native of Sterling, N.Y., Shortslef, 21, was the Rangers 26th round pick in 2015 out of Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC. As a sophomore, ranked ninth nationally with a .157 opponent batting avg. Struck out 20 of 21 batters in a game while a senior at Hannibal (N.Y.) High. Brother Josh pitched for Hickory in 2003 and 2004, as part of his ten-season, minor-league career with the Pirates.

 

JEFFREY SPRINGS (LHP, 6-3, 193)

2015 Pro Season: 17 games at Spokane and Hickory, 27 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 15 BB, 39 K, 2.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .200 OBA.

About Springs: A native of Belmont, N.C., Springs, 23, was the Rangers 30th round pick out in 2015 of Appalachian St. Left the Mountaineers third in career starts and fourth in strikeouts. Attended South Point High and led the Red Raiders to the state 3A title in 2011 and named the MVP of the championship series. Named 2011 North Carolina 3A player of the year.

Jeffrey Springs

Appalachian St. product Jeffrey Springs returns to Hickory after a brief stint last August. (Tracy Proffitt)

 

ERIK SWANSON (RHP, 6-3, 250)

2015 Pro Season: 10 games at AZL Rangers, Hickory, Frisco (Tex.) and Round Rock (Tex.) 15 1/3 IP, 1 HR, 7 BB, 14 K. 2.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .185 OBA.

About Swanson: A native of Terrace Park, Ohio, Swanson, 22, was the Rangers eighth round pick in 2014 out of Iowa Western CC. Made seven appearances for Hickory before landing on the disabled list (elbow strain) on July 23 through the remainder of the season. Named Most Outstanding Pitcher while leading Iowa Western to NJCAA Division I College World Series title in 2014. Was to attend Pittsburgh before deciding to sign with Texas.

Erik Swanson 2

Erik Swanson pitched across four minor league levels with the Rangers in 2015 before an elbow strain ended his season in July (Tracy Proffitt)

 

DILLON TATE (RHP, 6-2, 197)

2015 Pro Season: 6 games (6 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 9 IP, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K. 1.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, .100 OBA.

About Tate: A native of Claremont, Calif., Tate, 21, was the first round pick (fourth overall) of the Rangers in 2015 out of California-Santa Barbara. Was highest-drafted player to appear in a Crawdads uniform since Brad Lincoln (4th overall) did so in 2006.Named 2015 Louisville Slugger All-American and a Golden Spikes Award semi-finalist in 2015. Allowed 2 runs over four innings in three appearances for Hickory during the 2015 postseason. Currently the No. 4 Rangers prospect by Baseball America and No. 5 by MLB.com, which has Tate as the No. 36 prospect in the minors and the eighth-best right-handed pitching prospect.

The South Atlantic League Schedule: An exercise in randomness

As near as I can tell, putting together the South Atlantic League schedule each year is an exercise akin to something like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-wg1LjDdOI

How else to explain that for a second-straight season in 2016, the Hickory Crawdads will make three trips to Lakewood, N.J. – with the Crawdads hosting the division rivals just once – but not make a trip to Columbia, S.C., just a little over two hours away.

Here are some other oddities for the 2016 schedule:

*The Crawdads will host only three Northern Division teams in the first half. One of those teams – Greensboro – will come to Hickory for ten of the first 28 home games.

*Hickory will host Rome, Ga. (from the Southern Division) for a four-series from May 12-15. Then after a week-long road trip, the Crawdads come back home for three more against Rome. So in short, 17 of the first 28 home games will be against Rome and Greensboro.

* Hickory will host Rome for 11 home games, more than any other team – yes, more than any in-division team.

*Hickory will play Asheville six total games, all during the final two week of the season. Asheville is 65 minutes away. Yes, Hickory will go 17 MONTHS without seeing Asheville at L.P. Frans.

*It’s Hickory’s year to play Lexington, Ky. After only three games in 2015 against the Legends – another out-of-division team – the Crawdads face Lexington 15 times in 2016 (two trips there, two series here).

The major issue of compiling a schedule in the SAL is the geographic footprint. Lakewood’s closest rival Delmarva is over four hours away. Lexington’s closest Southern Division rival (yes, Southern, it is north over all three of the Northern Division teams that play in North Carolina) is Asheville, just 274 miles away. (Charleston, West Virginia of the Northern Division is 177 miles). Teams must have a day off when traveling more than 500 miles.

With all the travel those clubs have to endure, I’m sure there is little sympathy by the BlueClaws and Legends for the travel woes of other teams. However, when the BlueClaws set up shop after moving from Cape Fear, N.C. – and thus expanding the footprint of the SAL – they and the SAL knew that travel was going to be a major issue. Honestly, given the number of double-digit hour trips that Phillies minor league players would be making – and other teams going to the Jersey shore to play the BlueClaws – I’m surprised that farm directors didn’t raise more of a stink.

Nothing says player development like sitting on a long-distance bus trip.

Lakewood is a AA-sized affiliate playing in a AA-sized park, yet remain in the SAL. Seems to me it’d be a great fit in the Eastern League. However, I know the BlueClaws want to keep a Phillies affiliation and the current AA Phillies affiliate at Reading would fight tooth-and-nail to keep that intact.

Lexington is closer to several Midwest League teams, including in-state Bowling Green – which began its existence in the SAL in 2008 before bolting with Lake County (Ohio) to the MWL – than most of its SAL foes.

The powers that be at MiLB have been talking re-alignment of the various leagues for years to minimize travel. The transfer of Bowling Green and Lake County was to be a part of that, yet it’s gone nowhere since. So year after year, the ridiculous schedules are released and people who follow and cover the SAL laugh in amazement and derision of the finished product.

If the SAL wants to keep its footprint from near New York City to the South Carolina Low Country and out beyond the Appalachians, so be it. But come up with a schedule that makes some sort of sense and has some kind of integrity. Every other bus-travel league that has a large footprint (Texas, Midwest) has figured out how to it. Surely, the SAL can as well.

In fact, I’ll start the conversation:

For each 70-game half:

Each club plays the other six division rivals 7 games (4 at one site, 3 at the other) = 42

Each club plays the seven out-of-division rivals 4 games (facing 3 teams at home, 4 teams away or vice versa) =28

Flip the 70-game set for the second half.

SAL stop the insanity!

When He Was a Crawdad: The Journey of Jerad Eickhoff from High School 3B to Major League Pitcher

In the space of three seasons, Jerad Eickhoff has gone from low-A starter to a highly-sought trade piece that brought then- Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers. In many ways, the ascension of Eickhoff to major league pitcher is a continuation of a series of events that started at Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind.

Jerad Eickhoff was the 15th round selection of the Texas Rangers in 2011 out of Olney (Ill.) CC (photo Tracy Proffitt)

Jerad Eickhoff was the 15th round selection of the Texas Rangers in 2011 out of Olney (Ill.) CC (photo Tracy Proffitt)

In many ways, Eickhoff was the normal midwestern kid who played whatever sport was in season at the time, but it was in baseball that he excelled. A third baseman mostly in high school, Eickhoff said he threw only about six innings in junior season before his coaches convinced him to give pitching a longer look. He increased his work load to 45 innings in his senior season before heading off to the junior-college ranks.

After his freshman season at Olney (Ill.) Community College, Eickhoff was the 46th round pick of the Chicago Cubs. However, he chose to return to Olney CC  for his sophomore season, during which he struck out 116 in 88.1 innings and earned NJCAA All-American honors. The Rangers picked him up in the 15th round pick in 2011 and signed him away from a commitment to Western Kentucky.

Eickhoff spent his first pro season in the bullpen, splitting time between the Arizona Summer League Rangers and Spokane. He went on to make 25 starts for Hickory in 2012, when he posted a 13-7 mark and a 4.69 ERA in 126.2 innings.

His repertoire with Hickory was a fastball that sat in the 90-94 mph range with an occasional cutter to go with a changeup and curve.

As his pitching career rocketed from a high school junior third baseman to a spot as a major league starting pitcher, Eickhoff’s stop in Hickory was about learning how to understand what he could and could not control.

The start I remember most from Eickhoff’s 2012 season came during a game on July 3rd at Greensboro. Much of the early-inning events worked against Eickhoff.. A misplayed, inning-ending grounder turned into a two-run homer in the first. Two more errors, a passed ball and a disagreement with the umpire’s strike zone led to three more runs in the second. At that point, Hickory Crawdads pitching coach Storm Davis made a mound visit.

“I just wanted to remind him that all that stuff going around him, you can only control what you can control,” said Davis in an interview I did with him the next day. “What can you control? I can control the next pitch I throw, period.  I can’t control if the umpire calls it a strike, if we field it, they call him out or safe, none of that.  I can’t control where the ball is hit.”

“So we’ve really been pounding that into him all year. Not getting involved in stuff I can’t control, just the stuff I can control.”

Eickhoff eventually battled through five innings and the Crawdads rallied back for a 7-6 win – a victory that manager Bill Richardson said was to that point the highlight game of the season.

“He was player of the game for me,” said Richardson. “With any other pitcher, they couldn’t have hung in there with the umpires and the sloppy defense.  He just kept battling and showing that yeoman’s work.  I think our offense fed off of that.  He wasn’t giving up, so we better get in the fight or we are going to get pummeled here. Yesterday, I was pleased, because, number one, what he went through.  That was probably his best stuff.  That could’ve easily been zeroes all the way across.”

Eickhoff went on split the 2013 season at high-A Myrtle Beach and AA Frisco and then returned to the RoughRiders in 2014. He was added to the Rangers 40-man roster last winter and spent this season at AAA Round Rock before going to the Phillies chain, with whom he pitched at AAA Lehigh Valley.

Below is an interview I did with Eickhoff, during which he talked about learning to come to terms with what he could and could not control, as well as how he got into pitching.

2012 Crawdads pitcher Jerad Eickhoff will make his major league debut on Friday, August 21 for Philadelphia at Miami (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

2012 Crawdads pitcher Jerad Eickhoff will make his major league debut on Friday, August 21 for Philadelphia at Miami (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

How did you get started in baseball?

Eickhoff: My dad (Ron) got me swinging a plastic bat at a whiffle ball when I could first walk. He kind of got it kick started. I enjoyed being in sports.

Did all of you play sports?

Eickhoff: Yeah, we did. We had a pretty athletic family…I played football from 5th grade until my freshman year. I put that aside. I didn’t want to get hurt as baseball was my priority. I played baseball and basketball all four years.

What did you play in basketball? 

Eickhoff: Shooting guard. I just kind of got some mismatches because I was a taller guy for that position.

How did baseball become a priority for you?

Eickhoff: I guess for me, I just enjoyed me and my dad and my brothers would go out on a Sunday. My grade school had a baseball field there. I just enjoyed taking ground balls and taking fly balls. When you are younger you enjoy, “Dad, see how high you can hit it up; see how high you can hit it and I’ll see if I can catch it,” and stuff like that. I just enjoyed being on the field and enjoyed getting better at it. It helps that I could hold my ground. I could compete and I just liked having fun.

Did you play other positions in high school?

Eickhoff: I actually didn’t pitch. I only pitched six innings my junior year. I pitched like 45 (innings) my senior year. I played more third base.

How did the transformation to the mound get started and what was it like for you?

Eickhoff: It’s kind of funny, because when I was playing in high school summer baseball, I had some coaches tell me, “hey, you’re playing third base now, but I think your future is going to be in pitching.”

You kind of accept that; you don’t think about it then. As the years kind of took place and I didn’t know college was going to be coming about. Some junior colleges started calling and wanted me to pitch and liked me on the mound. That kind of kick started it and I saw my future started opening up. Maybe I could do this in college and see where it takes me. I just needed to get bigger and get more apt to pitching.

What did people see in you and maybe who was the first person to get you started in that direction?

Eickhoff: I think the biggest thing, first of all, was my body type. I was 6-3 at the time, 175 (pounds) and skinny. I had a decent arm. I could get it across the infield from third base. I guess coaches noticed that that I had played with. I had a good motion; (the ball) looked good coming out of the hand. I think that was the starting point for it. Baseball is such a mental game and mentally I was able to do that sort of thing.

Is there somebody that kickstarted you into that direction, or did it evolve?

Eickhoff: I think it just sort of evolved. My high school coaches, Jeff Schulz, and my pitching coach at the time, as well as Buddy Swift. He was my summer coach. They were all three together in the idea that my feature was in pitching.

Did you have the opportunity to go to a four-year school?

Eickhoff: I did have some opportunities to maybe walk-on and get a smaller scholarship. But the way it was panning out was that I’d fight for a spot. It might take two or three years to see some actual playing time. For me, it was important to get playing right away. If I’m playing, I’m getting better. That’s what my coaches always preached from day one, my dad as well. I think that was the biggest thing, just getting to play every day and being a key factor on the team and really contributing.

What were some highlights for you in high school?

Eickhoff: When I was a sophomore (2007), we went to the state finals (against Norwell High). I wasn’t on the varsity team.  I was on the reserve and I got moved up. Although I wasn’t on the field, I got to be with the atmosphere of the state finals.

We faced the number 9th overall pick that year, Jarrod Parker, who’s now pitching for the Oakland Athletics. That, for me, was a thing I wanted to experience again when I was on varsity the next two years and try to get to things like that. That was a great experience for me.

When you were drafted by the Rangers, was there a thought of waiting a year to see if you could bump up, or the opportunity was there and you took it?

Eickhoff: It was pretty tough for me and my family. I’ve always been a school guy. I’m pretty apt on the academic side. It was tough to weigh the options. People were saying, “Yeah, there might be more down the road, but you have this chance you have to take right now.” It’s hard to weigh that. The college is upping their scholarship and Texas is calling and wanting you bad. I think I’d been wanting it for so long to play professional baseball and that opportunity was there, I just felt the opportunity was right and I made the decision.

How did the adjustment to pro ball go for you?  What were some things that you had to learn pretty quick?

Eickhoff: I think the biggest thing, which I kind of learned of myself, and my junior college coach (Dennis Conley) instilled in me, it’s about yourself and what you can do for yourself as an individual. It’s about a team, but what do you do off the field to get yourself ready for that. That’s what being a profession is all about is taking care of your business. Your individual goals will come together in a team goal.

That’s the biggest thing is taking care of yourself. Keeping your body in check and maintaining your arm care and the conditioning.  Take everything upon yourself.

You’ve gotten off to a 10-4 start (at the time of the interview in early July 2012). I know some of that has been run support, but what’s been the key to your success so far?

Eickhoff: I can’t complain about the run support. The defense and offense has been really great for me. I tip my hat to those guys and what they’ve done. I’m just trying to stay consistent and do my best for them as well and get outs and help my team win.

Being a 15th round choice, do you feel like you have to work extra hard because of the draft selection and the coming from a not well-known baseball school?

Eickhoff: Knowing me and my nature, I’ve always worked as hard as I can. If I was a first-round pick I’d work the same amount as I do now. That’s a big thing, to work hard from day one. That’s what my mom and my dad instilled in me. I just continue taking it day by day and keep working to see where things take me.

One of the things Storm Davis said in talking about you is having you learn how to let things go that you can’t control.  Has that been a part of the process of learning to be a pro, whereas before you could strike out a bunch of guys?

Eickhoff: Absolutely. Me and Storm talk every day, and D.C. (Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark) as well, about focusing on what you can control and that is when the ball leaves my hand. That’s the end of my control. That’s all I can do is do that. I can’t make the plays at shortstop; I can’t make the plays at second. So, what happens, happens. What I can do is make good pitches and hopefully get good results by ground balls and strikeouts. That’s the biggest thing, just letting things pass that I can’t control.

Is that a continuation of learning about letting go of things you can’t control, like being a 15th-round pick?

Eckhoff: Yeah, I wish I was a first-rounder, but that’s passed and what’s happened, happened. I just continue to work every day and do what I can. What I control is conditioning and the effort I put in and the throwing program and things like that and keeping my body in check. I’m a competitive guy and I’m going to do what I can to try to make it in this game.

What’s the thing that you will need to work at most moving up the chain that you’ll have to work hardest at?

Eickhoff: One of the biggest things is just letting things go. No matter how bad things may seem on the field, if I give up six runs or so, just reel it in and work on keeping those innings shorter and keeping those innings from exploding. Maybe keeping it at one or two runs instead of five runs. Just continue to pitch instead of walking out and letting negative things seeping in with doubts. Keeping and staying positive, as skip (Bill Richardons) says, “Stay the course” and continue with what I can do and what I can control and be myself as a pitcher.

What do you think has been the biggest success of your season so far?

Eickhoff: I think the success is, obviously, I’ve been very fortunate to stay healthy. I’m very fortunate for that. I know a lot of guys that have had injuries here and there. I continue to work on things with Storm and Danny Clark and translating that from the bullpen to the game mound when the hitter steps in.  I think that’s the biggest thing that has helped me translate the success that I’ve had.

What others said about Eickhoff in 2012:

Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark:

The reports we are getting is that he’s a very durable guy. The biggest thing for Jerad is to be able to make adjustments during the game. I think that’s one of the positives he has at a young age. I think his work ethic comes into play during the competition. So, Jerad has got a really high up-ceiling, for him. We see a lot of good things that he’s doing. He’s starting to be able to command the baseball when he’s behind in the count. So, I think there’s a lot of combinations there that’s leading to that success that he has.

Clark on Jerad’s work effect:

With guys at this level, a lot of times quantity is not always quality. I think he separates himself with the quality of work that he puts in along with the quantity. I think that’s the way he looks at it and I think that’s what we see. So, he is separating himself. A lot of times with young pitchers they don’t know how to work.  I think he will seek out that information and he’s put it into his play.

What’s the biggest thing he’ll need to work on from here going up the chain?

He’s no different than anybody. Obviously, being able to throw strikes behind in the count is one. Number two, just having overall better command. As you go higher, obviously mistakes are not as forgiving. I think he’ll adjust to that. I think he’s got the capability of adjusting to that and he’s got the aptitude to adjust to that.

Storm Davis on Eickhoff:

What are some things that have set him apart in his first full season?

Jared is a really hard worker, so he’s physically up to the challenge, not that the other guys aren’t.   I’d think he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not blessed with a lot gifts that some are blessed with.  He’s got a good arm.

He’s retaining better.  He’s not fighting himself as much out there. He’s very perfectionist oriented.  When things aren’t going perfect, it’s a bit hard for him to slow pitch-to-pitch.  He’s getting better at it.

The last few starts, where we’ve been able to score runs for him, he’s felt like he’s not been able to pitch up to what he’s capable of pitching. That’s been good for him because he’s had to learn a) to pitch with a lead and b) to fight those inner demons, so to speak, when it comes to not getting into all the negative thoughts that comes with, “Hey I’ve got this big lead and I’m letting my team down.“

What is the thing he’ll need to work on moving up?

I think physically, he’s going to have to get bigger. I think he’s going to need to put on some weight. He was weighs about mid 220s. He’s going to have to get into the mid 230s, maybe 240 before it’s over with.

I think his stuff, like I tell these guys, mostly their stuff and delivery is going to look the same now as it will five years from now. There’ll be tweaks here and there.

I think he needs to keep commanding the fastball which sets up his cutter and curve ball. When he’s doing that, he’s going to be successful.

A Gaucho Becomes a Crawdad: Dillon Tate Takes the Mound in Hickory

At 6:01 EDT on Saturday, August 15, 2015 at L.P. Frans Stadium, pitcher Dillon Tate threw his first pitch as a member of the Hickory Crawdads – a 98 mph heater low and away to fellow first-rounder Kevin Newman of West Virginia.

The bespectacled, right-hander went on to throw 15 pitches in his maiden outing as a Crawdad before turning the game over to teammate Brett Martin.

Thirteen of the 15 pitches Tate threw were fastballs, all reading between 97-99 mph on the stadium radar gun (which is currently a tick or two fast). Seven went for strikes and two of those missed bats – both by Jordan Luplow on the only strikeout.

The fourth-overall selection by the Texas Rangers in June 2012, also threw two sliders: one taken for a strike at 90; the other at 92 was swung through.

“He heated up the radar gun that says 99 a few times. Obviously, his stuff is there,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. Getting to see it for the first time, it’s obvious why we took him as high as we did. I’m looking forward to watching him grow.”

Dillon Tate made his first start for Hickory on August 15 at LP Frans Stadium (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Dillon Tate made his first start for Hickory on August 15 at LP Frans Stadium (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

For his part, Tate was pleased with how the short stint played out.

“I felt pretty good out there. It was fun to be out there. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a W.” (The Crawdads went on to lose to West Virginia 9-0.)

After signing with the Rangers, Tate pitched just two one-inning stints with short-season Spokane, sitting out for six weeks in between the two after resting a tired arm.

The product of UC Santa Barbara threw 103.1 innings during his junior season with the Gauchos. With the amount of work during the college season, the plan for the remainder of the season is to limit the young hurler to one and two-inning stints.

“Right now, with where my body is at, with the amount of throwing that I did previously, I think I’m fine with that for now,” said Tate. “That’s kind of just what my body is telling, that one and two is enough for right now.”

Ragsdale said that the abbreviated starts will enable Tate to adjust to life as a pro.

“With the amount of innings he’s thrown, we’re just trying to get him acclimated a little bit.”

As far as his repertoire goes for now, Tate plans to stick mostly to the two-pitch mix during the short stints while developing his change

Tate said, “Right now, I’m just pitching to my strength. So when my changeup starts to develop a little bit more, I think that’s something that I’ll throw within a one-inning stint or a two-inning stint. I just didn’t think I had the best feel for it at this point, so I’m still working on it.”

Dillon Tate pitched one perfect inning with one strikeout in his debut.

Dillon Tate pitched one perfect inning with one strikeout in his debut.

Jairo Beras is figuring it out… and it’s exciting!

I keep getting asked, how does Beras look? There’s no way I can describe what I am seeing in a 140-character tweet. So, I will try here.

Now, I will preface the comments below by reminding the readers that I am not a scout, or even a pretend one. There are a zillion people smarter at seeing and describing the baseball tools they see and give it the proper context than I am. With that said, here is what I see.

The biggest thing I can see over the past 4-6 weeks is the ability to not force himself upon the game, but rather let it come to him. What I mean, he is more willing to “do what the game asks him to do”, as the saying goes.

For July he put up a .326/.369/.471 slash with ten of his 34 hits going for extra bases. It’s how he got there that gives indicators that he is figuring out some things.

In June, I put out a couple of tweets that I expected him to have a big second half.

https://twitter.com/CrawdadsBeat/status/611000351538442240

https://twitter.com/CrawdadsBeat/status/614241980382638080

He’s better suited to avoid sliders low-and-away and if he gets a pitch away (fastball or otherwise) he can handle out there, he will serve it to right. With that said, he is ready to crush inside fastballs with authority.

In his first at bat on Friday, he fouled off a fastball away, then took a fastball just off the plate. The next pitch from Van Orden was a fastball in and down – not a bad pitch, it appeared – that Beras pulled the hands in for muscled it well out to left-center – a no-doubter.

With two quick outs in the sixth on five pitches, Beras took a great approach to what could’ve been a ho-hum at-bat in a no pressure situation. He took a curveball away for a strike, then another that bounced for a ball. A 94 mph fastball off the plate was taken for a 2-1 count and then Beras ignored a back-to-back sliders to bring the count full before taking a fastball just off the plate for a walk. His patience there to take what the game showed him took a banal 1-2-3 inning into a three-run inning that turned out to be huge in the game.

One inning later, Beras slapped a fastball away into a sharply hit 4-1 grounder.

Thursday night’s 4-for-5 night – his lone out was a rocket to first – it was a fastball in for a single, a change away for a single, and in the eighth got enough on a 95 mph heater in to steer it through the hole at short. With two outs in the ninth, he scorched a fastball away for a single.

Plate appearances are no longer given away.

There are still some fits-and-spits in the field on occasion, but for now there is not the harried need to make every play a highlight-reel play. Throws are strong and on target to where they need to be. There’s no longer a rush to try and make a play that’s not there when a runner rounds first on a hit.

It’s cool to see players figure it out. The month of June 2014 for Nomar Mazara, which prompted his promotion to AA, will live in my memory bank for a long time. As good as he was in July, if Beras holds up in the August heat… well.