Archive for the ‘ Season preview ’ Category

2019 Hickory Crawdads bios

PITCHERS                                                                                                           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CATCHERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

INFIELDERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUTFIELDERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

When the Hickory Crawdads take the field on Thursday at Lakewood, N.J. to start the 2019 South Atlantic League season, the roster will contain nine players that are currently or have been on MLB.com’s Rangers top-30 prospect list. This doesn’t include Curtis Terry, the slugging first baseman who was the Northwest League MVP a year ago.

Given the task of working with this group is hitting coach Jared Goedert, who moved up to Hickory after spending last year at short-season Spokane.

I had the chance to speak with Goedert on Tuesday about the individuals that will suit up for Hickory this year. The interview took place at day after the Crawdads played their exhibition game against Lenoir-Rhyne. Here is that conversation.

 

 

I just want to get a snapshot of the different guys that are here this year that you will have the pleasure to work with. There’s a lot of talent here. I guess the top one is Julio Pablo Martinez, who will have his first full season here. From everything you read, he is the top or second prospect. What have you seen from him so far?

Goedert: He is a dynamic player in that – I got to be with him a little bit in Spokane – he can attack you in so many different ways at the plate. In one at-bat, if he’s facing a left-handed pitcher, he may pull a bunt past the pitcher to the first-base side for a base hit. The next at-bat, he may fake bunt, do a running slash and pop it past the third baseman for a hit. He may follow those two at-bats with a homer to deep right-center field. So, his skill set is so dynamic. He knows his abilities and he uses them at the right time. That’s what really impressed me last year is he knows when to take it, when they give him a bunt for a base hit. If they lay a cookie over the middle, he can drive the baseball, too. So, he’s very impressive that way.

 

What will he have to work on at this level that he hasn’t had to face at Spokane, or the Dominican, or wherever?

Goedert: As we get going, I think that will show itself a little better. But, I think he, along with the majority of the guys, will be playing a full season in the United States. He got a taste of a lot of baseball last year in Spokane, but that’s only 70 games. I think that one of the things that will dictate where he will need to work on some things, just as we go over the course of 140 games.

 

I’m just going to popcorn as names come to mind. You have Chris Seise, who didn’t get to play last year. Now, he’s going to get to play a full season, assuming he stays healthy. What do you see from him at this point?

Goedert: Chris is electric. His swing is controlled, but violent. He has electric athleticism. He’s a gamechanger in the box with his swing, but then also his speed on the bases. He’s just an electric player all around. I think that the thing I’m most excited for him is getting him back to be able to play every day. And you can tell from just being around him a little bit, he’s so fired up right now to be back on the baseball field and to be playing meaningful again. I’m fired up about him and for him.

 

One of the guys coming back from last year led the team in home runs, and that is Sam Huff. That’s pretty impressive to hit 18 at this level, given the grind of catching. What do you see from him so far?

Goedert: With Sam, the power, you can’t doubt that at all. It’s there, so now it’s going to be a matter of him taking that next step on the offensive side of things, which he is more than capable of. He’s a year older. He’s matured a year. He understands baseball a year better than he did. So, it’s going to be controlling his at-bats, in my opinion. Being able to get better and better as the year goes on, and moving on from one at-bat to the next, no matter if it was good or bad. So, I think just taking that next step and understanding his strike zone and what he can do damage on, and what he can’t. When he does, it’s pretty special. The power is undoubtable.

 

Matt Whatley, like Chris Seise, missed a lot of time last year from injuries. It looks like he will split time with Sam behind the plate. What are the expectations for him this year?

Goedert: He is another guy, like Chris, that I’m very excited for to just play baseball again and just be a baseball player. He’s an absolute gamer. He’s a leader behind the plate. In my opinion, he has an infectious personality. So, he’s a guy you love to have in the clubhouse and in the dugout every day, over the course of a long season, that’s fun to have around. I’m excited for him just for the maturity that he’s going to bring to this group. The leadership that he’ll going to bring to this group is going to be valuable with a lot of young talented. Matt’s extremely talented, too.

 

Curtis Terry, who you had last year at Spokane. We haven’t seen many slugging first basemen anymore. We had Tyreque Reed here last year and it looks like maybe we’ll start to see a few more of that type of player. Let me ask you about his growth and what he will need to do to step forward at this level.

Goedert: I think that if he continues the professional work, day in and day out that he had last year, he’s going to be fine here. I think it’s more of just looking to build off of last year and understanding that last year was a good year, but now it’s a new year and nobody cares. Nobody in this league is going to care about what he did last year. I think if he just continues to do professional work and professional preparation, day in and day out, he’ll be alright. I’m excited for him to finally get that opportunity to take that next step at this level.

 

Sherten Apostel. He’s a tall kid for a third baseman and I’m guessing that’s going to bring some power with it.

Goedert: Yeah, it does. He’s got power that is impressive, but to me, the most impressive thing with him is strike-zone discipline. With that, he manages to get himself into good hitter’s counts. When he does, the maturity for his age, as far as knowing he has a lot of power, he doesn’t try to do too much. I think that combination is pretty special for someone his age. His strike-zone discipline, his power, he has a beautiful swing, but then he doesn’t try to do too much. He stays within himself and he controls his at bats.

 

Ornelas is going to be the young guy. He was playing high school ball at this time last year. Obviously, he showed enough to get the full-season assignment. What has impressed you about him?

Goedert: I wasn’t around him at all last year, but what I’ve seen from him so far, and getting to know him, he’s a spark plug. That’s what’s exciting about him. When he steps in the box, he’s a spark plug. He has tremendous barrel-to-ball skills. If it’s over the plate, he gets the barrel to it. I’m still learning him as much as he’s still learning me.

 

Frainyer Chavez. That’s not a name I know at all, so what do you know about him?

Goedert: Similar boat as Ornelas, in that he was in Arizona last year. So, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him. I go to know him a little in spring training, but he’s a gamer. A switch-hitter that has really good at-bats from both sides of the plate. He controls his at-bats very well. For his age, he is composed. He doesn’t get rattled. He can hit with two strikes and he strikes me as a line drive hitter from both sides of the plate. I’m excited for him because he gives us a good at-bat regardless of whether it’s right-hander or left-hander on the mound.

 

Pedro Gonzalez is a guy that was a little snakebit last year with injuries. He had some flashes last year. He seems like he’s ready to take another step forward.

Goedert: That would be it, just taking that next step. I think just the consistency. It’s in there, but we need to help him get that out on a consistent basis. Not results, but just being healthy and having consistent quality at-bats.  If we can get that, those are controllable, I think the numbers are going to be where we would all like them to be.

 

Miguel Aparicio is a guy that’s been here a couple of times now. He’s been given a third shot. Is he starting to mature? What do see from him that will help him to stay at this level all year and to take the stride to where people saw the ability that made him a top-30 prospect previously?

Goedert: The word out of January, Dominican early camp was that he’s a different guy. In spring training, I could confirm that he’s a different guy just by how he goes about his business every single day, in a professional manner and in a mature manner. That’s what we need him to do is to continue that into the season. If he does, if he goes about that every day the right way, he’s going to be a good player, because he has that in him. I think at times, he may have been his own worst enemy. I see a maturity and an understanding at his at-bats. I’m excited for him. They role we have is to get the best out of him and making sure he approaches every day the right way. So far, he’s doing that well.

 

Isaias Quiroz had some playing time last year at Spokane and nosed himself into some more playing time.

Goedert: I hope so, because he’s a tremendous human being and a great leader in the clubhouse and with the pitching staff as well. He’s fallen into the category of it’s tough for some guys on some rosters because of who else is there. He handles it professionally every year. Baseball can change quickly and when it feels like you don’t have an opportunity, all of a sudden you do. When that opportunity comes, I think he’ll be ready and take another step as well.

 

At the end of the year, when you guys go home in September, what’s a good year for your group of guys, as far as the work you put in and the progress you see?

Goedert: I think that, to me, it’s going to be more on how – it’s not quantitative, it’s tough to quantify and be subjective. If I can look out on a nightly basis and every time we step in the box, and we’re ready to hit mentally. I mean, truly ready to hit. Just because we’re standing in the batter’s box with our batting gloves on and with a bat in our hand doesn’t mean we’re ready to hit. So, I think if we can get guys in the box ready to hit, one through nine, for 27 outs or 24 outs on a nightly basis, I’ll feel like all the number and the wins will take care of themselves. Obviously, the goal is to make the playoffs and to make a run here, but on my end specifically, if I can get our guys ready to hit and understanding the importance of that at 7:00 every night, that’s my goal for these guys.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Hans Crouse Salinas

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Jean Casanova

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Hever Bueno had the top speed last night

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

 

Engler is another one that threw well.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Crawdads 2019 Preview: Interview with Manager Matt Hagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Seise is healthy?

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

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

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

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

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

Ornellas looks like he was pretty smooth last evening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2018 Crawdads: Pitchers – An interview with pitching coach Jose Jaimes

The first half of the 2017 Hickory Crawdads season was a tough one to watch. Most of the games were blowouts early as pitchers were under an organizational mandate to throw fastballs and learn how to use the pitch before infusing secondary pitches. Some of them figured it out and moved on – Kyle Cody being the best example – others struggled with the concept and went down to Spokane for more seasoning.

Of the pitchers to start the 2018 season, eight spent time at L.P. Frans Stadium last year. Tyler Phillips and Demarcus Evans figured out some things at lower levels and are back again with Phillips snagging a top-30 prospect ranking along the way.

With the returnees and a healthy load of college pitchers, the 2018 version could – and should? – be better equipped to handle what is being asked of them: place the fastball correctly, throw strikes and get outs. A group of eight of them did that during Monday night’s exhibition game against Catawba Valley Community College. Save for a second-inning hiccup by Alex Eubanks, the group that pitched threw gas and made quick work of the overmatched JUCO club.

Starting with Phillips on Thursday at a hitter’s park at Greensboro, we’ll begin to see where he and the Crawdads are to start the 2018 season.

I interviewed Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes about the pitching staff and basically went down the list to get a sense of where everyone is at the start. At least until he had to get to on-field workouts before we could finish.

So below is an overview of many, but not all, of the Crawdads pitchers to start the season.

 

 

 

That was impressive last night. There was no gun, but I’m guessing you ran guys out there throwing 93, 94, 95 pretty much all along the line last night.

Jaimes: Yeah, it was exciting. We have a pretty exciting group. Starting with our rotation, our rotation is a little more experience than last year, so that’s going to make a difference. We’ve got a few college guys and that’s going to help the young kids. Then, when you look to the bullpen, everybody’s around the mid-90s, which is exciting. Hopefully, they can do what you saw yesterday and keep getting better.

 

There was a lot of talk last year about the Rangers wanting the guys to work fastball, fastball, fastball. They had to spot it so many times, or whatever percentage was set before they started to bring in the secondaries. Are they staying with that or is it being tweaked any?

Jaimes: It’s still going to be a priority to control the fastball. That’s still the number one thing, so we’re going to keep preaching that. Definitely, we’re making some adjustments on the plan, but for the most part it’s going to stay the same. It’s fastball and they’ll learn how to use it and learn how to get outs with it and learn to how to play with it. You’ve got basically six pitches with the fastball – going down and away, down and in, up and in, up and away, middle – so you can do anything you want with your fastball. That’s going to be the main focus again this year. I think with the group that we have this year, they have more experience and a little better command than last year.

 

Will it be as strict the first time through the order as it was last year?

Jaimes: (hesitating) No, no, no.

 

I don’t mean to have you give away things, but it at almost seemed like last year, “You will throw the fastball to everybody pretty much the first time through the order.” Like you said, it’s six pitches, but still guys are sitting on it.

Jaimes: Yes, it was tough and you saw it. But it’s a great plan and we saw it pay off towards the end of the year in the second half. Guys learned how to use their fastball and learned how to get outs with it and once they implemented the other pitches, it made a huge difference. I think that was one of the biggest turnarounds that we had in the second half of last year, because they were able to pitch with it. They relied too much on their secondary stuff, so again, that’s going to be a main thing.

 

The rotation, is it still going to be six guys?

Jaimes: Yes, it’s still a six-man rotation. Tyler Phillips will be our opening-night guy. Alex Eubanks will be our second guy. AJ Alexy, that you saw last year, Noah Bremer. Reid Anderson is going to join the rotation and then Tyree Thompson will be the sixth guy.

 

I’m just going to go down the list and if you can give me a little bit about their stuff and your expectations for them. I’ll just start with Tyler. He just seemed overmatched here last year when he started. Like Miguel (Aparcio), he seemed overmatched and then found himself when he went to Spokane. What do you see from him coming back here that he learned from last year?

Jaimes: I think last year was a big learning year for him. He had a good spring training. He showed up this spring stronger, bigger, but most important, more mature. So, I’m expecting him to lead the rotation and be that guy that’s going to teach the young kids. Stuff wise, I was watching down in Arizona, he was 94-95 (mph) fastball. He’s got a really good changeup and a breaking ball. I think he’s come really far physically and mentally and I’m expecting good things about him this year.

Slider?

Jaimes: Curveball and it’s improved a lot since last year.

 

Alex Eubanks.

Jaimes: A strike thrower. He’s a very mature guy. I love the way that he handles himself on the mound. It seems like nothing bothers him when he doesn’t have his best stuff. You saw him last night, the second inning he gave up three hits in four pitches. He never lost his composure; he stayed within himself and minimized the damage. So, that’s him. He’s going to be that guy that’s going to be able to bounce back quick. I love the stuff that he brings. He has good movement on his fastball and a really good changeup, cutter and slider. Good command of every pitch.

 

AJ, he came here and was pretty impressive for a guy who got bounced from his first organization all of a sudden. He had some moments, but all in all not a bad August.

Jaimes: No, he was actually one of our best guys in August. We’re going to continue to build onto what he did towards the end of the year. He had a good spring training, too, so again he’s another guy that’s bigger and stronger, which is good for him. Command wise, it definitely has improved from last year. Again, it’s another guy that we have a lot expectations for.

 

Curveball for his breaking ball, if I remember?

Jaimes: Yes, curveball and it’s a pretty good one and a really good fastball, which is mid-90s that looks harder than what it is.

 

Noah Bremer.

Jaimes: He’s a funky guy delivery wise. He hides the ball really well – I think that’s his biggest weapon – the hitters don’t really get a good pickup of the ball. Again, he’s another gut that can play with his fastball on each side of the plate. He has a really good changeup and a nice breaking ball, too. He’s kind of like what you’re going to see from Eubanks; they’re pretty similar guys.

 

Reid Anderson. He pitched better in the second half, but he always seemed to be the guy that had the one quirky inning or the one quirky moment that would fell him. He’d get 5 2/3 and we could see you’re trying to get him through six and he’d have that one moment where the guy would hit the ball out of the ballpark and you’d be like, “doggone it.” Did he grow up from that last year?

Jaimes: I think so. In spring training at one of his last games, it was the first time he was going to five innings. He got through four innings without any issues, really good. He got to the fifth, the first two pitches he spiked the fastball and threw one over the catcher’s head and went to 3-0. I’m thinking, maybe it’s going to happen what happened last year and he’s not going to get through the fifth and he’ll lose everything. But he did. He went to a 3-0 count and then came back with two good fastballs and struck the guy out and then retired the next two guys with no issues. The next outing, he went six innings without any problem.

So, again, he’s another guy that learned a lot from last year. He knows that he needs to keep the game simple. He knows that he’s preparing himself not to pitch five innings; he’s preparing himself to pitch nine innings. I think that was his main issue last year; he knew that he was about to be done and doubt set in and he couldn’t control it. He’s doing a better job with it.

Remind me of his stuff:

Jaimes: Fastball, changeup, curveball and a cutter.

 

Tyree Thompson.

Jaimes: He’s a real competitor. I love what he brings. I love that he’s a strike thrower. Maybe he’s not that big of a stuff guy, but he’s a pitcher with a fastball, curveball and a changeup. His biggest weapon is that he competes no matter what the situation is. So, I’m excited about having him on the staff and I think he’ll be a big part of it.

 

Tell me about Alex Speas. I read the stuff about his big fastball, but he doesn’t always know where it’s going. After getting used to things last night, he settled in and pitched a good inning.

Jaimes: I think by him being in the bullpen he’s going to be able to keep the game simple. Definitely, he has some command issues at times, but I think he has improved a lot since last year. He had a really good year in Spokane when he went to the bullpen. Yesterday with the first guy, he was guiding the ball, then he just let it go and you saw it, he had really good stuff. He has a good fastball and a really, really good slider. I think he’s going to be a big part of the back end of the bullpen for us.

 

Sal Mendez is back. When you and I talked at this same time last year, I asked you who had the best secondary stuff among your staff. You said Sal Mendez’s changeup. How is his progression from last year and what is he coming back to do?

Jaimes: He’s going to be helping to be the leader of the bullpen. He’s going to have the same role that he played last year – a long man, then he’ll spot start here and there. He’s a big changeup guy, but this year’s it’s going to be more of finding a breaking ball. I think it’s doing better, but I think that’s going to be his priority, having the breaking ball to face left-handed hitters.

 

Going down the list of who was here last year. Joe Kuzia had a cup of coffee and got hit around a bit, but like Phillips, once he got back to Spokane he found himself in the bullpen. He seems like he will be a key bullpen guy that will give you some innings.

Jaimes: Yeah, I’m excited about him. Like you said, when he came up I felt like he wasn’t ready for the competition here. He went down to Spokane and worked on some reliever’s stuff and he got back into a rhythm and had a really good spring training. He’s ready to go.

 

As you have time, run down a quick couple of things about the bullpen guys.

Jaimes: Demarcus Evans. We had him last year.

 

He looked more controlled last night, as far as his delivery.

Jaimes: Yeah, I think he’s going to be our guy. I’m excited for him and I think it’s going to be a good thing for him now to be a part of the bullpen and being able to pitch more often is going to help him. Definitely, command wise, it is the main thing that needs work, but he’s doing better. I’m excited to work with him because I know that whenever he finds it, he’s going to be pretty special.

The 2018 Hickory Crawdads: Position Players – An Interview with manager Matt Hagen

The 2018 Hickory Crawdads start the season Thursday night at Greensboro and the assembled roster of position players had a chance to get their feet wet Monday night in an exhibition game against Catawba Valley Community College after arriving from the Texas Rangers spring training complex at Surprise, Ariz. last weekend.

The game itself was a blowout (12-2 Hickory), but it gave the hitters a chance to see the ballpark for the first time, get some cuts in during a live-game setting and to give local fans a taste of what’s to come at L.P. Frans Stadium.

At first glance, it’s a group that seems to have a decent balance between power and speed, perhaps exemplified best by Miguel Aparicio. Sam Huff had the highlight with a light-tower blast to left center and Yonny Hernandez scampered around the bases impressively. Yohel Pozo slapped the ball around the field and Melvin Novoa hit as low liner for a homer. It was a lot to nod yes at, but the real action begins Thursday.

We got a glimpse of what should be the everyday lineup – though there will be some moving parts as will be discussed below – and the tools each of the players should bring to the field.

In the afternoon following the exhibition I had a chance to sit down with Crawdads manager Matt Hagen and walk through many of the individual players currently on the roster and some of the expectations for 2018. I also explored briefly the absence of both Rangers 2017 first-round picks and the presence of long time college coach Turtle Thomas on the staff.

 

How was spring training?

Hagen: Spring training was good. You get down to the last week or so and the pitchers are getting their innings in and trying to keep guys healthy and rested for the grind that is our 140-game season.

 

The lineup looks like it’s going to be a good one. You’ve got some guys that can put the ball on the bat and drive it well, and there looks to be a good mix of speed and power and guys that can put the ball in play.

Hagen: We have a lot of guys that have a lot of potential, which is a nice way of saying, “You haven’t done anything, yet.” Some guys have one or two good months to their name, so far. So, this is their first opportunity to actually go out and put together five full months of good baseball. Some guys have had a good rookie ball season or a good year in the Dominican, which is only 50 games. Some guys had a great year in Spokane last year, but they only played in 60-something games. Now, we’re talking about doubling that workload. It’s really the first true test for a lot of them.

 

Looking at the roster, you have four catchers, but you’re obviously not going to use all four catchers – usually you put someone on the inactive to be ready on the spot. But there’s some pieces your going to have to move around with Novoa and Huff and Pozo. How do you see that mix playing out?

Hagen: It’ll be a revolving door. Those guys are all going to get playing time. These three that are going to be on the roster are getting a lot of playing time. They’re going to have to get some at bats in the DH spot and some at bats at first base. We’re going to ask some kids that haven’t played a lot at first base to play first base. At the end of the year, they’ll be ready to become better hitters just by getting better at bats. We don’t care if it comes as a DH, first base, catcher or whatever. We’ll let those guys catch a couple of times a week, but try to at least play four or five times a week.

 

Do you see one or two of the three guys doing the regular catching duties, or will split it among all three?

Hagen: It’s probably going to be split between all three, which is kind of rare. All three deserve a chance to play. They all bring different and unique things to the table. Some are a little bit more offensive minded and others are more defensive minded. But they all bring enough to the table to make themselves a prospect.

 

Huff looks like a hoss (6-4, 215 lbs) – a big kid.

Hagen: The scary thing is he’s not even close to being done growing. He’s going to continue to fill out. Heck, he’s 20-years-old. I still grew another inch after I was 20-years-old, so who knows how big he’s going to be. The ball he hit last night was pretty special. There’s not a lot of guys playing that can hit the ball that far. So, it’s just trying to help him to remember that he doesn’t need to do that every night. He’s just got to put the bat on the ball.

 

Yohel was pretty cool to watch last year. Pretty athletic behind the plate, he looked like he had a plan of how to put the ball into play. What do you see him doing this year?

Hagen: I think Pozo is one of the tougher outs in our whole organization. He makes adjustments at the plate. He can hit offspeed pitches. He hits to all fields. It’s pretty hard to get him off balance. In fact, there’s a lot of things that he does naturally as a hitter that others have to work really hard to do. So, I would look to see him plugged into the middle of our order somewhere, every day that he’s available.

 

Novoa showed what he had with a one-iron to left that I’m not sure went more than ten feet off the ground.

Hagen: Melvin is a lot of what you look for when you look at catchers. Compact, strong body, great arm, very physically and mentally tough. He will take a beating and keep coming back for more. His raw strength enables him to do what he did yesterday, which is basically hit a line drive that went out of the ballpark.

So, hence the reason that all three of those guys are getting playing time.

 

(Yonny) Hernandez was kind of a pest last night and was impressive. Given the competition, it’s hard to judge, but he can run a little bit and drove the ball to the wall and looked sharp at short with the few plays he had. He was intriguing to watch.

Hagen: He’s probably the most fun player to watch on our team. He’s going to be the captain of that infield, no doubt about it. He makes the routine plays and he makes some really exciting plays. He’s a very intelligent player, which you want from your shortstop, obviously.

At the plate, (hitting coach) Chase (Lambin) came up with a new nickname for him; he calls him “The Mosquito”. At the end of the of the day, you’re out there in the jungle and you’re worrying about the lions getting you. It’s the mosquito at the bottom of the order that does it.

At the end of the game, he’s made nine plays at shortstop. He got a bunt down to move a runner over and ends up beating it. He’s pesky and the kind of guy you love to have on your team. You hate to pitch against him because he’s not an easy out. He can bunt. He can hit-and-run. He can slash. He’s going to do a good job for us.

 

Admittedly, (Tyler) Ratliff is a name I’ve read, but I know nothing about. What can you tell me about him?

Hagen: Defensively, he is, even from last last year at Spokane until now, he’s vastly improved. He’s got raw power. He’s got a great arm that you’ll see when he needs to show it to you. Otherwise, he just makes routine throws and then when he has to let it go, he’s really got a strong arm. He’s got a chance to be that prototypical third baseman with a good glove, a strong arm and some power in his bat.

 

Kole Enright.

Hagen: Kole is going to play a lot at second base for us this year. He’s a switch-hitter, which is great to have in the lineup because it gives you some flexibility. You don’t have to worry about taking him out against a righty or a lefty. From last year to this year, you can tell he’s put a lot of work into his swing. It’s a lot shorter. He’s put in a lot of hard work and I’m excited to see what he does.

 

Will he play some short or third?

Hagen: He may play a little bit at third, but he’s going to be our everyday second baseman.

 

Justin Jacobs.

Hagen: J.J. is a jack-of-all-trades. He puts together quality at bats from the left side, which is nice to plug in. He can play anywhere on the field. He’s average to above average anywhere you put him. He can play the corner outfield spots. He can make the routine plays at short, at third and second.

 

Ryan Dorow.

Hagen: He’s a player I hadn’t seen at all until spring training this year and he’s a pleasant surprise for me. I was like, “Who is this guy?” I didn’t really have any expectations. He turns the double play really well at second base. He has a very strong arm. We got to see him a little bit last night at third base with a couple of throws. And that laser beam he hit to left last night that the guy ended up dropping. He’s got a nice stroke. He’s a kid that came out of college with the reputation of, “this guy hits, no matter what level you put him at.” So far, he’s doing the job and he’s going to be guy that’s going to bounce around a little bit, too, to give the other guys a little bit of rest.

 

The three guys that you had in the outfield last night, how hard is it going to be to hit a ball into the gap?

Hagen: It’s three centerfielders. It’s a luxury that every manager wishes he had and every pitching coach wishes he had. You hear loud contact as a pitching coach and you think, “Oh no.” Then you look up and you see these three gazelles in the outfield just running balls down. We have a chance to have a pretty special outfield.

 

Is this this a crucial year for Eric Jenkins? It’s his third full season here, but he was hurt last year and had the full year here the year before that.

Hagen: I would say that it’s Eric’s year. The expectations now are going to be what Eric puts on himself, and I mean that in a healthy way. Last year, kind of being hurt, up and down, the year before being the young guy in the league. Now he comes into Hickory going, “I know this level. I know I can be successful at this level.” He’s just got to go out and prove it.

My expectations for him are to lead the world in stolen bases. Every time he gets on, I want him thinking he can impact the game with his feet. What you saw last night with the home run – not that we’re looking for a ton of home runs from him. Actually, the two-strikes single up the middle is more what we want, when it’s easy to give up plate appearances and be a little bit pesky and bunt a little bit more.

 

That was my next question: the first pitch of the game, he squared around and drew in the third baseman. I’ve thought for a couple of years, I wish he’d do that more.

Hagen: I think he’s opened up to it more. I think he understands now that it’s got to be a part of his game. Other guys may have to slug their way to the big leagues. He doesn’t have to. He needs to get on base and be a disrupter. He can really do that if he can get on base. The ability to bunt, whether for a hit or to move a guy over really creates value for him.

 

Pedro Gonzalez, the 190 pounds looks a little light for him. He looks more like 200 to 210 and he appears to be able to carry another 20 or 30 pounds.

Hagen: He’s another one that’s growing. He’s a premium athlete playing center field. He’s just starting to grow into his body and into his power, and he’s only going to mature more. Like you said, I think the frame will probably carry another 20 or 30 pounds at some point. The 190 is probably what he weighed in at two years ago.

He can impact the game with all five tools. He’s that kind of player.

 

What is the tool he will need to work on this year?

Hagen: You know, he’s only been playing outfield for a couple of years, but already he’s shown the ability to make some quick adjustments out there and learn pretty quickly. He’s shown some good power this spring as he’s gotten stronger. He can steal some bases. He was really excited when he looked at big league guys, when he was at spring training and around these guys. Pedro kind of walked through and physically he’s of that mold – big and fast and strong athlete.

 

What tool of his is the loudest right now to you?

Hagen: He’s a center fielder that can hit. In the minor leagues, most center fielders can defend but maybe they can’t hit. He can actually do both. You were spoiled last year with Leody, who can do the same thing. It’s kind of fun to watch both those guys in spring training competing against each other in outfield drills, because they both want to be the best guy. They kind of push each other when they’re on the same field and it’s kind of fun to watch. A true center fielder that can hit is pretty special.

 

Miguel (Aparicio) was here a little bit last year and was a bit overmatched. Obviously, he got well with you over in Spokane. When he got to you, was there a sense that he had something to put behind him or was there a sense of, “Let’s go, I’m where I belong”?

Hagen: Last spring training, he was on fire and couldn’t do anything wrong, which is why he came to Hickory. Then, as young players do when they start struggling a little bit, he put some pressure on himself and felt like he was going to get himself through that slump with every swing. He came down to Arizona and then he came to Spokane with us and kind of got a clean slate and a fresh start after the experience of being here for almost a month. He took off and really excelled. He’s got the ability to put the bat on the ball at his age better than most kids his age can.

 

What will stand out about him for folks seeing him for the first time?

Hagen: The power for him kind of came on the second half of the season at Spokane, really the last month of the season because the season is so short. The last month, he started to drive the ball a little better and he carried that over into spring training. So, we think he’s going to drive the ball better than he did last year.

In the area of base running, he’s an athletic kid that is learning how to run the bases and learning what his limits are. His mistakes are, fortunately, on the aggressive side. He’s starting to do a better job of running with his head up and being more aware of what’s going on on the field. He just needs reps. He needs to be on base with guys on with him. He needs to be on base when a guy hits a ground ball. He needs reps stealing bases and getting jumps. “Was that a good jump or a bad jump and why?” He’s a pretty athletic kid, but his stolen bases numbers last year didn’t show. Hopefully this year, we can get him a little bit closer to understanding when to steal.

 

Chad Smith.

Hagen: Chad, before he got hurt last year at Spokane, might have been our best player. I think he might have led our team in stolen bases, even though he was hurt the last month of the year. He hit a bunch of doubles last year, so he can hit for some power. He can steal some bases. A left-handed bat, which is nice to be able to put into the order. He’s got a pretty good eye and can go deep into counts, which can lead to some strikeouts but it can also lead to walks. He’s going to be that swing man in the outfield for us. He might play two days a week in left and two days a week in right and DH when we need him.

 

I want to ask you about a couple of guys that we were hoping to see this year that weren’t assigned here. The first is Bubba Thompson. Usually, when the Rangers have drafted first-rounders, we see them the next spring. Right now. he’s unassigned. Are the Rangers looking to delay guys a little bit to slow the aggressiveness of the assignment or are there too many outfielders here?

Hagen: I think part of it is who’s already here. The fact is that Bubba didn’t get a whole lot of playing time last year at Arizona. So, they want to get him some at bats and let him go down there and play every day instead of coming up here where we already have four outfielders. He’s there and he’s going to play every day. Whenever they decide the time is right for him to move, they’ll move him.

It is our goal in the organization to challenge our kids to play against older competition because in the long run it helps them become better, quicker going against those guys.

 

Chris Seise is another player that did not advance here, though I understand there is a shoulder injury. Is he someone we may see later in the year, or like Bubba, will he need some more playing time?

Hagen: Playing time and the health. We want to make sure he’s fully healthy before they send him anywhere. I had Chris the last two or three weeks last year at Spokane and he’s a heck of an athlete. He’s fun to watch. He’s another guy where the sky is the limit for this guy.

If fact, I think that he and Bubba have a chance to be really special athletes and that’s why they were taken so early in the draft. We’re going to give them a little more seasoning before they come on up.

 

There is always one guy that sticks out and makes a run, maybe not quite to a big league level, but takes some steps to begin standing out. Who is that for you?

Hagen:  I would say our two utility infielders (Dorow and Jacobs). They’re going to get playing time. They’re a little bit under the radar – even though they have great track records of producing at every level they’ve been at. They won’t come into the season getting a ton of at bats, but as you know, sooner or later somebody goes some place and one or both of them are going to step into a role and get a ton of playing time.

 

What are your expectations this year for these guys? You get some year like 2013 where the power is off the charts and 2016 where guys were all over the bases. This looks a bit more balanced.

Hagen: We’ve got some pop in our bats and that’s Chase’s department and he does a great job with the guys as far as staying with the reps and staying with the plan. We’ve got a few guys that can run, but the depth of our lineup and the depth of our rotation and bullpen is really going to be our strength. We have guys that are going to hit seventh or eighth one night and then will be batting third or fourth the next night. We’re just that deep. There’s not a huge drop off between our three-hole hitter and our eight-hole hitter. The guy batting ninth – Yonny – could be batting first or second for a lot of teams. We just happen to have two pretty good 1-2 guys.

The guys that come off the bench are not your typical play-the-guy-once-a-week bench players. They have a lot to offer.

In our six-man rotation this year, our sixth man, Tyree Thompson, was second in the league (Northwest League) last year in ERA. So, we have a lot of expectation for those guys.

What you saw from our bullpen last night, where it was a lot of really hard fastballs, one guy after another. If we can just get those guys lined up, if we’re getting close or have the lead, I expect to those guys to be pretty tough to score on late in the game, as long as they’re throwing strikes.

 

I want to ask you about one of your coaches, and that is Turtle Thomas, who had a long career as a head coach and the Rangers have brought him on. What are you and the Rangers looking to do as far as a guy that has seen a lot of baseball?

Hagen: I know the Rangers are cashing in on a lifetime of baseball experience. Usually, your four coaches are guys like myself, who a couple of years ago were just getting into the pro game as a coach. We’re going to help out with whatever you can help out with.

Turtle comes in here with more experience than anybody and his catching is really his specialty. So, he’ll spend a lot of time with the catchers and coaching first base. At the same time, you can say, “Hey Turtle, can you take the first basemen and work with them and the outfielders?” And he’s got an encyclopedia worth of drills that he can use with these guys.

We bounce things off of him a lot of times to get his perspective that we don’t have because we’re in our up-to-date, greatest, latest craze when it comes to analytics and sabermetrics. We’ll get his perspective of something he learned coaching 20 or 30 years ago that we’ve forgotten or don’t know. We’ll sit here and go, “Yeah, that was a really good point.”

A case in point, we’ll run a team fundamental in spring training, and say we’re doing rundowns for example. We’ll hit all nine points of the rundown points. And you’ll go, “Turtle, do you have anything to add?” And he’ll draw out two pieces of gold right there that didn’t even cross our minds.

To have him as a fourth coach, I think puts us slightly ahead of everybody in our league.

 

What are you looking for this year, as far as your growth? You’re like everybody else in wanting to move up the ladder and at some point get to the big leagues. What is your marker?

Hagen: You don’t want to look back at the end of the year and see guys didn’t get better. That’s where I’ll feel like it’s been a bad year or I’ll have been a failure, if there are guys in the clubhouse that didn’t take steps to get to the big leagues. There is no staying put. You’re either taking a step back or taking a step forward. So, if I can look up and down that roster of 25 guys and say that all of them took that one step, or two or three steps, whatever the case may be to get to the big leagues, then I’ll feel like our staff has done our job.

There are so many other things that are completely out of your control. You don’t know what the circumstances are going to be, as far as who gets moved up, who gets moved down, injuries that happen, guys that overperform, guys that underperform. If they play hard every day and they learn to love the process of the game, not just the three hours of the game, but the three hours that lead up to it, then I’ll feel like we’ve been successful.