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Series Preview: Charleston (S.C.) at Hickory May 25-28

(I am my own editor… I did this in a rush. Laugh at my mistakes, but laugh gently. Thank you.)

Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs (New York Yankees) (20-25, 5th SAL South), at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (16-26, 6th SAL North)

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Friday, 7 p.m., Saturday, 6 p.m., Sunday, 3 p.m., Monday, 1 p.m.

 

PROMOTIONS:

Friday – Memorial Day Weekend Kickoff, Salute to Troops, Post-game Fireworks

Saturday – ZOOperstars! Appearance, Hat Giveaway (1st 1,000 fans)

Sunday – Church Bulletin Sunday, Birdzerk!

Monday – Memorial Day Celebration

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

PROBABLES (Charleston/ Hickory)

Friday: RHP Jio Orozco vs. RHP Noah Bremer

Saturday: RHP Alex Vargas vs. RHP Derek Heffel

Sunday: RHP Rony Garcia vs. RHP Tyler Phillips

Monday: LHP Dalton Lehnen vs. RHP Tyree Thompson

 

Recent Series History:

Charleston took five of six in the series last year, which included a 2-1 series win at L.P. Frans. The RiverDogs’ three-game sweep at home in late August began a downward spiral for the Crawdads in the final week of the season that knocked them out of the SAL playoffs. Charleston has won 4 of 6 at Hickory the past two years. Since 2009, which was the start of the Rangers-Crawdads affiliation, Hickory holds a 50-45 edge in the overall series, 27-21 at L.P. Frans.

 

About the Crawdads:

Hickory started the homestand with two straight wins over Delmarva (Md.), then lost the final two to fall into a split. The current eight-game homestand is the longest of the season… Overall, the Crawdads have pitched well as of late, especially in the starting rotation. Prior to Thursday night’s 10-5 loss to the Shorebirds, Hickory starters had an eight-game stretch during which they allowed eight earned runs over 46.1 innings with 49 Ks and 8 walks. The Crawdads starters have not walked a batter in four straight games. Near the top of the SAL in walks allowed much of the season, the Crawdads are now fourth in that category… Meanwhile, the Crawdads are back to looking for answers at the plate. Since scoring 11 runs in a win vs. Columbia on 5/9, Hickory has scored more than three runs in a game just five times in 13 games. Among the 14-team SAL, the Crawdads are last in doubles and next to last iin extra-base hits. They are also 11th in batting average, 12th in runs scored and total bases, and 13th in hits. Their .240 batting average in May is next to last.… The team continues to be stellar in the field. Their 39 errors – just 23 on the infield – are the second fewest in the SAL.

 

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

CF Bubba Thompson (No. 6): 2018 stats: .245/.302/.429, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 14 K, 3 SB. Last series vs. Delmarva: 3-for-14, 2B, 6 K. First-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of McGill-Toolen High, Mobile, AL.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 7 games (6 starts), 29.2 IP, 25 H, 19 R (18 ER), 2 HR, 5 HB, 20 BB, 41 K, 5.46 ERA, .231 OBA, 1.52 WHIP. Last start 5/19 at Kannapolis: 5.2 IP, 2 H, 1 HB, 2 BB, 9 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th walks, T 4th hit batters.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18) 2018 stats: .217/.280/.325, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 10 BB, 22 K, 0 SB, 2 CS. Last series vs. Delmarva: 2-for-4, BB, K. Rejoined the team on 5/24 after an 11-day absence. Signed as an international free agent with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 14 games, 4 saves, 20.1 IP, 14 H, 9 R (7 ER), 1 HR, 19 BB, 37 K, 3.10 ERA, .187 OBA 1.62 WHIP. Last game 5/22 vs. Delmarva: 1.2 IP, 3 K. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (16.38), T-9th walks.

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 26): 2018 stats: .254/.313/.449, 8 2B, 5 HR, 6 BB, 39 K, 1 SB. Last series vs.Delmarva: 6-for-16, 2 2B, HR, 2 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

RHP Tyler Phillips (No. 30): 2018 stats: 44 IP, 44 H, 15 R (14 ER), 2 HR, 1 HB, 5 BB, 46 K, 2.86 ERA, .257 OBA, 1.11 WHIP. Last start vs. Delmarva: 7 IP, 5 H, 7 K. Sixteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken, N.J. Native of Lumberton N.J. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 4th walks-per-9-inning ratio among starters (1.02).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Noah Bremer: 2018 stats: 1 game (1 start), 1 IP, 1 K. Made only start on 4/8, pulled and placed on disabled list with an oblique injury shortly after. 2017 stats at AZL Rangers and Spokane: 11 games (0 starts), 20 IP, 10 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 1 HB, 4 BB, 30 K, 1.35 ERA, .152 OBA, 0.70 WHIP. Sixth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of the Univ. of Washington. Attended Berkeley (Calif.) HS.

RHP Derek Heffel: 2018 stats: 2 games (1 start), 8 IP, 9 H, 6 R (6 ER), 1 HR, 1 HB, 6 K. Last start 5/20 at Kannapolis: 5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 1 HB, 3 K. Began season at extended spring. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Madison Area (Wisc.) Technical College. Attend St. Catherine’s HS in Racine, Wisc.

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 8 games (7 starts) 38.2 IP, 37 H, 26 R (21 ER), 6 HR, 3 HB, 12 BB, 17 K, 4.89 ERA, .247 OBA, 1.27 WHIP. Last start vs. Delmarva 5/22: 7.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 3 K. Twenty-sixth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.

SS Yonny Hernandez: 2018 stats: .194/.354/.226, 2 2B, 7 RBI, 14 BB, 14 K, 5 SB, 2 CS. Last series vs. Delmarva: 2-for-4, R. Played in four games at Frisco (Tex.) from May 11-14, (3-for-11, 4 BB, 3 K, 2 SB.) Signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2014. Native of Maturin, Venezuela.

UT Ryan Dorow: 2018 stats: .253/.340/.425, 3 2B, 4 HR, 10 BB, 37 K, 1 SB, 1 CS. Last series vs. Delmarva: 0-for-10, 2 BB, 5 K. Will likely see more playing time with 2B Kole Enright on the disabled list. Thirtieth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Adrian (Mich.) College. Attended South Haven (Mich.) HS.

UT Justin Jacobs: 2018 stats: .281/.364/.385, 4 2B, 2 HR, 12 BB, 34 K, 1 SB. Last series vs. Delmarva: 1-for-11, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K. Leads Hickory with an .813 OPS in May over 16 games. Signed with the Rangers in 2017 as a non-drafted free agent from Gonzaga Univ. Also played at Lower Columbia CC (Wash.). Attended Riverside HS in Auburn Wash.

 

About the RiverDogs:

Managed by Julio Mosquera in his first season as the skipper. He led short-season Staten Island to a 46-29 record and a playoff berth in the New York-Penn League in 2017… The RiverDogs were shutout in two games at Augusta (Ga.), but salvaged the final game of the rain-shortened series… Like the Crawdads, Charleston has struggled to put runs on the board. It has scored five or more runs in just 6 of 20 games in May, with one or fewer runs in eight of them. They are just above Hickory at .241 for the month and for the season. Collectively, the RiverDogs are 12th in OBP (.309) and slugging pct. (.360) and that has contributed to a last-place showing in the SAL in runs scored… Base stealing has also been an issue as they are just over .500 in pilfer attempts (29-for-57)…The pitching, however, has kept the team from sliding into an abyss record wise. The staff WHIP of 1.13 is second in the SAL and the team ERA of 2.86 is third. Charleston has surrendered just 18 HRs, the fewest in the league, and only Augusta has given up fewer hits.

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

3B Dermis Garcia (No. 21): 2018 stats: 4-for-22, 2B, HR, 10 K. Joined the RiverDogs from extended spring on 5/17. Last series at Augusta: 2-for-11, 4 K. Signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2014. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

Others to watch-Charleston:

RHP Jio Orozco: 2018 stats: 1 game (1 start) 4 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. Made first start with the RiverDogs vs, Columbia on 5/18. Made 12 starts for the RiverDogs in 2017: 56.1 IP, 61 H, 37 R (31 ER), 3 HR, 7 HB, 34 BB, 48 K, 4.95 ERA, .286 OBA, 1.69 WHIP. Fourteenth-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2015 out of Salpointe Catholic, Tucson, Ariz. Traded to the Yankees on 8/31/16 as a part of a package for RF Ben Gamel.

RHP Alex Vargas: 2018 stats with Charleston: 3 games (3 starts), 14.1 IP 17 H, 9 R (6 ER), 2 BB, 11 K, 3.77 ERA, .288 OBA, 1.33 WHIP. Last start 5/19 vs. Columbia: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 4 K. Made a spot start for AA Trenton in April and a relief outing at High-A Tampa. Signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2014. Native of Santiago, D.R.

RHP Rony Garcia: 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 39 IP, 46 H, 24 R (18 ER), 2 HR, 2 HB, 8 BB, 33 K, 4.15 ERA, .291 OBA, 1.38 WHIP. Last start 5/20 vs. Columbia: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 HB, 2 BB, 7 K. Signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2015. Native of Mao, D.R.

LHP Dalton Lehnen: 2018 stats: 8 games (7 starts), 41.1 IP, 35 H, 14 R (12 ER), 3 HR, 2 HB, 8 BB, 44 K, 2.61 ERA, .220 OBA, 1.04 WHIP. Last start 5/21 at Augusta: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R (0 ER), 1 HB, 1 BB, 7 K. Sixth-round pick of the Yankees in 2017 out of Augustana (S.D.) Univ.

RF Steven Sensley: 2018 stats: .278/.353/.497, 13 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 15 BB, 49 K, 2 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Augusta: 2-for-11, 2B, 4 K. Twelfth-round pick of the Yankees in 2017 out of the Univ. of Louisiana-Lafayette. Attended University HS in Baton Rouge, La. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd doubles.

1B Chris Hess: 2018 stats: .280/.396/.439, 6 2B, 5 HR, 18 BB, 39 K, 0 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Augusta: 0-for-8, 1 BB, 4 K. Seventeenth-round pick of the Yankees in 2017 out of the Univ. of Rhode Island. Attended North Kingstown (RI) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 5th OPB.

Tyree Ties Up Shorebirds: Hickory wins 5-1.

Tyree Thompson pitched a masterpiece, Sam Huff and Kole Enright supported him at the plate as the Hickory Crawdads defeated the Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds 5-1 at L.P. Frans Stadium Tuesday night.

The win was the second straight by Hickory (16-24) to open the four-game series, which continues Wednesday night at 6 p.m. Delmarva (26-17) lost its third straight game and has dropped six of the last eight overall. The Shorebirds now trail first-place Kannapolis by two games in the first-half Northern Division standings.

It was the Tyree Thompson show from the start as the right-hander kept the Shorebirds off balance throughout the game. The New Orleans native allowed just six baserunners over a pro career high of 7.1 innings and struck out three.

Meanwhile, the Crawdads, led by Huff and Enright, supplied the runs Thompson (2-3) needed early. Facing starter D.L. Hall, Austin O’Banion doubled and scored when Huff also doubled off the left field wall. In the fourth, Huff doubled with two outs and Enright swatted his third homer of the season to left-center to make it 3-0.

Franklin Rollin’s speed played a large part for a run in the seventh. He reached on an infield hit, stole second and moved to third on an error from where Tyreque Reed doubled him in.

The right-hander was economical all-night, needing just 65 pitches to get through seven innings. No Shorebirds hitter saw more than four pitches in a plate appearance before the game reached one out in the eighth. That batter, Arlington (Tex.) native Jaylen Ferguson, lined a 3-2 pitch over the fence in left for his first homer in the second game since joining the Shorebirds. After Thompson walked Kirvit Moesquit, the Crawdads brought in reliever Alex Speas, who recorded the final two outs.

Hickory added a run on a bases-loaded walk in the eighth. Speas returned with a dominant ninth, striking out the final two batters of the game for his fourth save of the season.

 

More on Tyree Thompson:

When the Shorebirds Moesquit hit the second pitch of the game, a middle-in fastball, hard to Reed at first, it looked ominous. As it turned out, it was the last hard-hit ball by the Shorebirds against Thompson until Jean Carrillo lined out to center in the fifth.

Thompson’s fastball started the night topping at 93 mph, but he stayed around 89-91 much of the night and spotted it well. It was the second strong start in a row for the 20-year-old – he allowed one run on four hits and three walks over six innings last week against Rome (Ga.)  – which he said has been the result of a mechanical adjustment.

“I’m just tweaking some simple things with my hands, as far as movement,” Thompson said. “It helped me as far as conviction wise and command wise to be able to throw the ball wherever I want.”

That command was with three pitches: the fastball, change and an occasional curve. Thompson broke his first curveball off to strike out Trevor Craport in the second. After a walk and an error put two on in the second, Thompson got Carrillo to bounce a changeup into a force play.

The changeup got a lot of play by Thompson and it was largely responsible for the ten groundball outs recorded.

Overall, Thompson threw 53 strikes out of 82 pitches, starting 17 of the 28 hitters with first-pitch strikes.

“They’re a good hitting team,” said Thompson of the plan of attack. “But once you get ahead early in the count, they’re protecting. My strength is getting ahead of batters and getting them out in four pitches or less.”

A couple of defensive plays aided Thompson’s gem. In the first, Thompson tried to make a backhand stab of a comebacker. The ball deflected to the first-base side of second, where shortstop Cristian Inoa made a quick charge of the play and threw to first for the out.  Playing center on Wednesday, Rollin saved a hit in the fifth with a full-out dive and catch to his left.

The defensive plays along with the early runs boosted Thompson’s confidence.

“If I get a run ahead, that’s a plus for me because I know what kind of pitcher I am, and I know my strengths. When I get a run ahead, it makes me compete more, knowing my defense is behind me. I throw strikes and do what I have to do, knowing my defense will make plays.”

Tyree Thompson

Tyree Thompson allowed a run on three hits over 7.1 innings vs. Delmarva on Tuesday (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

The game’s turning point:

D.L. Hall, the Baltimore Orioles No. 4 prospect, had spotty control early, but got into a groove into the third. Gassing around 94-95 with increasing command of the changeup, Hall had retired eight in a row after Huff’s RBI double in the second. He was ready to make it nine with two outs in the fourth and Huff back at the plate.

The Shorebirds went after Huff in the second with three straight secondary pitches, the third of which was a hanging curve that Huff roped off the wall. So in the fourth, Hall came with two straight fastballs that put Huff in an 0-2 hole. A third fastball missed just inside and before Hall went back to two straight changeups. Huff spoiled both.

The final pitch of the AB was a 93 mph just off the plate – too close to take – that Huff not only spoiled, but got enough of the pitch off the end of the bat to bounce the ball past first for a double.

Enright followed with a homer on a 2-0 fastball and that turned out to be the game.

 

Alex Speas ninth:

The dude was gassing.

After a 4-3 grounder, Speas made Ryan Ripken uncomfortable in the box. A 98 mph heater had the left-handed hitting Ripken stepping towards first on a swing-and-miss. Ripken flicked a second 98 into the stands. Expecting another heater, Speas fooled him with an 89 slider that closed into the hitter’s hands. A half-hearted swing completed the strikeout.

Then to Ben Breazeale: 99, 99, 99, 100, 98, 98.

Ball game.

Series Preview: Delmarva at Hickory May 21-24

The Crawdads start their longest homestand of the season (8 games) with a four-game series against Delmarva.

Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds (Baltimore Orioles) (26-15, 2nd SAL North), at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (14-24, 6th SAL North)

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Monday – Wednesday, 6 p.m., Thursday 6 p.m.

 

PROMOTIONS:

Monday – Make-A-Difference Monday (For Safe Harbor, bring Multi-pack Paper Towels, Gas Cards, Grocery Cards, Laundry Detergent or PODS $5 or more in value and receive a free ticket.)

Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday (Dogs admitted for $1 each, Hot Dogs $1 each, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products

Wednesday – Wine Wednesday

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday/ Tribute to Jim Carrey (Dress as a Jim Carrey Movie character to receive a free ticket)

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

PROBABLES (Delmarva/ Hickory)

Monday: RHP Brenan Hanifee vs. RHP Tyler Phillips

Tuesday: LHP DL Hall vs. RHP Tyree Thompson

Wednesday: LHP Zac Lowther vs. RHP Alex Eubanks

Thursday:  LHP Cameron Bishop vs. TBA

 

Recent Series History:

Delmarva has dominated the series this season, winning five of six overall and two of three at L.P. Frans in April. Since the Crawdads-Rangers affiliation began in 2009, Delmarva has won just one season series, that coming in 2015.

 

About the Crawdads:

A quick road trip at Kannapolis resulted in a 2-1 series loss at Kannapolis, as the final game of the series was suspended Sunday afternoon… Hickory is 10-9 at home this season… After a hot start in May, the Crawdads have come back to earth and are currently at .247/.325/.394 for the month. The team is next to last in the SAL in hits, last in doubles, 11th in runs scored, 12th in total bases and 13th in extra-base hits… The pitching had a good last run through the rotation and as a staff the team had allowed four or fewer runs in six straight before giving up five through five innings in the suspended game. Overall, the Crawdads are 11th in ERA (4.45), 12th in WHIP (1.40) and have walked the second most in the SAL… Defensively, Hickory has committed the fewest errors in the SAL (35 in 38 games). Collectively, Hickory has committed just four since May 9 (nine games).

 

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

CF Bubba Thompson (No. 6): 2018 stats: .257/.333/.486, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K, 3 SB. Last series at Kannapolis: 1-for-10, 3B, 5 K. First-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of McGill-Toolen High, Mobile, AL. Joined the team last Wednesday.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 7 games (6 starts), 29.2 IP, 25 H, 19 R (18 ER), 2 HR, 5 HB, 20 BB, 41 K, 5.46 ERA, .231 OBA, 1.52 WHIP. Last start 5/19 at Kannapolis: 5.2 IP, 2 H, 1 HB, 2 BB, 9 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-2nd hit batters, 3rd walks allowed.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 13 games, 3 saves, 18.2 IP, 14 H, 9 R (7 ER), 1 HR, 19 BB, 34 K, 3.38 ERA, .200 OBA 1.77 WHIP. Last game 5/17 at Kannapolis: 1.2 IP, 2 K, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (16.39), T-6th walks.

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 26): 2018 stats: .235/.297/.412, 6 2B, 4 HR, 6 BB, 37 K. Last series vs. Kannapolis: 3-for-6, 2B, K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

RHP Tyler Phillips (No. 30): 2018 stats: 37 IP, 39 H, 15 R (14 ER), 2 HR, 1 HB, 5 BB, 39 K, 3.41 ERA, .267 OBA, 1.19 WHIP. Last start vs. Rome: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 5 K. Sixteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken, N.J. Native of Lumberton N.J. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 4th walks-per-9-inning ratio among starters (1.22).

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 7 games (6 starts) 31.1 IP, 34 H, 25 R (20 ER), 5 HR, 2 HB, 10 BB, 14 K, 5.74 ERA, .272 OBA, 1.40 WHIP. Last start vs. Rome 5/15: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R (1 ER), 1 HR, 3 BB, 4 K. Twenty-sixth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.

RHP Alex Eubanks: 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 33.2 IP, 45 H, 26 R (26 ER), 7 HR, 1 HB, 7 BB, 44 K, 6.95 ERA .321 OBA, 1.54 WHIP. Last start 5/17 at Kannapolis: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Clemson Univ. A native of Duncan, S.C. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th HR allowed.

RHP Joe Barlow: 2018 stats: 10 games, 16.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 12 BB (2 IBB), 26 K, 1.08 ERA, .113 BA, 1.08 WHIP. Last game 5/19 at Kannapolis 1.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R (1 ER), 2 BB (2 IBB). Eleventh-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Salt Lake CC. Attended Riverton (Utah) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd lowest OBA by relievers.

3B Tyler Ratliff: 2018 stats: .237/.313/.339,6 2B, 2 HR, 7 BB, 29 K. Last series at Kannapolis: 2-for-9, 2 2B, RBI, 1 BB, 1 K. Hitting .310/.375/.431 in May. Seventeenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Marshall (WV) Univ. Played at TC Williams High in Alexandria, Va.

OF Franklin Rollin: 2018 stats at Hickory: 6-for-18, 2B, HR, BB, 2 K, 2 SB, 2 CS. Last series at Kannapolis: 4-for-14, 2B, HR, BB, 2 K, SB, CS. Signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. Native of La Romana, D.R.

Tyler Ratliff

Tyler Ratliff is hitting .310/.375/.431 in May (Tracy Proffitt)

 

About the Shorebirds:

Managed by Buck Britton in his first season with the club. He is the brother of Orioles reliever Zach Britton… Delmarva heads to Hickory after dropping two of three at home to Hagerstown (Md.), the Northern Division’s last place team… What had been a solid pitching staff this season, the Shorebirds got knocked around a bit last week as they gave up seven or more runs in three of the last four games – all losses. The one win was a shutout in game one of a doubleheader on Sunday. The team ERA of 3.26 is still fifth in the SAL and they have five shutouts this season. Delmarva has allowed just 20 homers, but are just five behind Hickory in walks allowed… At the plate, the Shorebirds are near the top of the SAL teams. Collectively, they are second in the SAL in batting avg. (.263) and hits, third in runs, total bases and OPS (.723), fourth in OBP (.329) and homers, and fifth in slugging pct. (.394). They are next to last in strikeouts… Delmarva is first in fielding pct. (.976).

 

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

Prospects to watch-Delmarva:

LHP D.L. Hall (No. 4): 2018 stats: 6 games (6 starts), 19.2 IP, 12 H, 6 R (5 ER), 12 BB, 20 K, 2.29 ERA, .212 OBA, 1.22 WHIP. Last start 5/13 at Columbia: 5 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 3 K. First-round pick (21st overall) of the Orioles in 2017 out of Valdosta (Ga.) High. Signed away from a commitment to Florida St.

RHP Brenan Hanifee (No. 8): 2018 stats: 6 games (6 starts), 38.2 IP, 31 H, 12 R (11 ER), 5 HR, 1 HB, 8 BB, 27 K, 2.56 ERA, .223 OBA, 1.01 WHIP. Last start 5/11 at Lexington: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 K. Fourth-round pick of the Orioles in 2016 out of Ashby High in Bridgewater, Va. Signed away from a commitment to East Carolina. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th wins (4), 10th WHIP.

LHP Cameron Bishop (No. 14): 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 43 IP, 41 H, 16 R (13 ER), 2 HR, 7 BB, 37 K, 2.72 ERA, .247 OBA, 1.12 WHIP. Twenty-sixth-round pick of Orioles in 2017 out of the Univ. of California-Irvine. Native of Brea, Calif. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 9th innings pitched.

LHP Zac Lowther (No. 15): 2018 stats: 5 games, (5 starts) 25 IP, 11 H, 4 R (4 ER), 2 HR, 1 HB 6 BB, 41 K, 1.44 ERA, .129 OBA, 0.68 WHIP. Last start 5/15 at Columbia: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 HB, 3 BB, 2 K. Second pick in competitive balance round of the Orioles in 2017 out of Xavier. Attended Cuyahoga Heights in Cleveland. Native of Brooklyn Heights Ohio.

RHP Gary Fenter (No. 21): 2018 starts: 7 games (2 starts), 16.1 IP, 23 H, 14 R (14 ER), 1 HR, 2 HB, 7 BB, 19 K, 7.71 ERA, .338 OBA, 1.84 WHIP. Last game 5/19 vs. Hagerstown: 1 IP, 1 H, 2 K. Seventh-round pick of the Orioles in 2015 out of West Memphis (AR) High. Signed away from commitment to Mississippi St.

SS Mason McCoy (No. 25): 2018 stats: .254/.329/.399, 5 2B, 6 3B, 1 HR, 15 BB, 26 K, 2 CS. Last series vs. Hagerstown: 4-for-10, 2B, 3B, HR, 2 R, 5 RBI, BB, 3 K. Sixth-round pick in 2017 out of Univ. of Iowa. Native of Peoria, Ill. Attended Washington (Ill.) Community HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st triples

RHP Matthew Dietz (No. 26): 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts) 35.2 IP, 30 H, 13 R (13 ER), 1 HR, 19 BB, 41 K, 3.28 ERA, .229 OBA, 1.37 WHIP. Second-round pick of Orioles out of John A. Logan CC (Ill.). SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th wins (4), T-6th walks.

 

Others to watch-Delmarva:

RHP Tim Naughton: 2018 stats: 1 game, 1.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R (4 ER), 4 BB, 2 K. Made his season debut on 5/20 vs. Hagerstown. Thirty-fourth round pick of the Orioles in 2017 out of NC State. Attended Charles B. Aycock HS in Goldsboro.

RHP Cameron Ming: 2018 stats: 1 game, 4.2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 7 K. Made his season debut on 5/20 vs. Hagerstown. Fourteenth-round pick of the Orioles in 2017 out of the University of Arizona. Attended Sandra Day O’Connor HS in Glendale, Ariz.

RF Zack Jarrett: 2018 stats: .290/.362/.510, 6 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 12 BB, 43 K. Last series vs Hagerstown: 3-for-11, HR, 1 K. Twenty-eighth round pick of the Orioles in 2017 out of UNC Charlotte. Played his high school ball at Hickory High. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 4th home runs, 6th runs, 6th total bases, T-7th hits, 9th slugging pct.

2B Kirvin Moesquit: 2018 stats: .282/.356/.380, 5 2B, 3 HR, 16 BB, 37 K, 16 SB, 6 CS. Last series vs. Hagerstown: 2-for-9, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 SB, 1 CS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-1st steals, T-4th runs scored (14). Twenty-fourth round pick of the Orioles in 2015 out of Seminole St. College (Fla.). Born in Willemstad, Curacao, attended high school at Highland Christian HS (Pompano Beach, Fla.).

C Ben Breazeale: 2018 stats: .220/.340/.366. 6 2B, 2 HR, 13 BB, 19 K. Last series vs. Hagerstown: 0-for-2. Seventh-round pick of the Orioles in 2017 out of Wake Forest. Attended Pigeon Forge (Tenn.) HS.

1B Ryen Ripken: 2018 stats: .283/.325/.336, 3 2B, 1 HR, 7 BB, 12 K. Last series vs. Hagerstown: 1-for-7; Signed free agent deal with Orioles in 2017. Played previously in SAL with Hagerstown (Washington) in 2016. Son of Cal Ripken, Jr.

3B Trevor Craport: 2018 stats: .282/.333/.481, 6 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 9 BB, 19 K. Last series vs. Hagerstown: 3-for-11, 2 HR, 3 RBI. Eleventh-round pick of the Orioles in 2017 out of Georgia Tech. Attended Norcross (Ga.) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-6th RBI, T-9th runs

LF Jaylen Ferguson: 2017 stats with SS-A Aberdeen: .233/.266/.264, 6 2B, 8 BB, 59 K. Made his debut with Delmarva on 5/20 (0-for-2, K). Ninth-round pick of the Orioles in 2015 out of Arlington (Tex.) HS.

The Fire to Win: An Interview with Sam Huff

In writing the feature for the Hickory Daily Record, I had a bit of a writer’s block. I found the subject of this interview, Sam Huff, to be a multi-faceted person and there were so many directions in which I could’ve steered the article.

For the HDR writeup, I chose to go the route of the guy that had his baseball fire sparked at the age of five. As I mentioned in the article, there is a fire there that burns in the baseball soul. This kid wants to win and he wants to win however necessary.

I interviewed Huff a day after a game against Rome during which he and pitcher Jean Casanova put together a clinic on how to change the plan of attack against a lineup when the original plan didn’t work.

The night before, I had talked to the two of them about the game. A minor blip on Huff’s night was getting the golden sombrero (4 strikeouts in a game at the plate, for those that don’t know). When I asked him about that, while he wasn’t happy about the strikeouts, in the grand scheme of the game itself, he didn’t care. His team won. He had a part of that win because of the work as a catcher and that’s all that mattered to him. He repeated the mantra over and over, “I just want to win.” I left without the expletive that was a part of one of those statements.

So, inside of a measured speaker, that fire is there and the more it smolders.

There were other areas we touched on in this interview: his development, his leadership, and his curiosity for learning. I think readers will see that curiosity when reading through the interview and how he seeks to soak up information.

Both Huff and catching coordinator mentioned the influence of former Crawdads catcher Jose Trevino on Huff. So, I tracked down Trevino to get his perspective on Huff and what stands out to him.

Said Trevino about Huff:

“He’s different. Swings different. Throws different. He’s a special kid.

“He doesn’t know how dangerous he is yet though and I think being in his first full season, he will start to figure it out. He’s like that baby snake that doesn’t know how poisonous it is, yet. But sooner or later he will know when to strike and how much he needs to take down someone.

“He always wants to learn and he’s always picking my brain about everything! I like being around the kid because he still needs that person to check him back into place at times. It looks funny, a 5’8” dude telling a 6’8” dude something that will help him.

“But yes, a very special kid with a lot of talent. I don’t really compare him to a player in the big leagues right now cause I don’t think you can. Sam Huff is Sam Huff. He’s going to keep getting better and he’s always going to want to learn. Great ballplayer and a better person!”

However, Huff is not just a student for the sake of being a student. He wants to lead. He wants to lead his team. He wants to lead his pitchers. Huff doesn’t appear to be a person to lead in such a way that gives the feeling he that wants the world to revolve around him; he wants to figure out how to make his teammates better—so they can win.

Sam Huff fist pump

Sam Huff with a first pump during a game against West Virginia (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Here is the interview with Sam Huff:

First of all, your three-headed monster at catcher, I guess, is now down to two with you and Pozo. How did the three of you work together where you’re not getting total playing time behind the plate but you’re having to figure that out?

Huff: At the start it was kind of different because we’d play like Melvin, me, Pozo, Melvin, me, Pozo and we kind of had to work off of that. It was kind of hard to get into a rhythm and a groove. Then we’d finally start to get the hang of it and we were like, “Okay, this is our day.”

The day before that we’d get focused on watching and studying. Then the day of, we’d talk to each other. Melvin would say, “Hey, this team is good at hitting fastballs” or “This team likes to hit offspeeds and the fastball away” or “They’re a fast team, so then like to bunt or run.” We just had to almost give each other reports to keep us in the game and to help our pitchers.

Because, our goal is to help our pitchers. Us three together, we knew we all had to come together and help each other, because overall, we want to be good and we like to see each other do good because we’re winning. What I said last night, we like to win and have us three catchers calling good games and our pitchers in the strike zone and keeping them in good rhythm. It helps a lot to talk to each other.

 

Was it hard to get the pitchers into any kind of consistency, though, when you have three different voices coming at them?

Huff: Yeah, because pitchers will want to throw to a different guy, or to one or the other, but we just had to work with it. We had to learn our pitchers by talking, then catching the bullpens, catching the sides and getting an idea of what they like to do. So, every day I didn’t catch, and it was my off day, I would go to the bullpen and catch all the relievers. That’s the biggest part is every night, you’ve got a new guy coming in. You’ve haven’t caught them in two weeks and you don’t remember the ball movements. My biggest thing is I can remember my pitchers.

I live with four: Tyler Phillips, Joe Barlow, Josh Advocate and Noah (Bremer) – he’s coming back from the rehab. I talk to them. I always work with them. I know them like the back of my hand. I love them and it’s just good to talk to pitchers because then they tell you what pitchers think like from a perspective of what they want to do, how they want to do it. What’s their strengths and what’s their weaknesses. How they rank their pitches. That comes into play because you’ve got to know, if he doesn’t have his fastball, what’s his second best and go off that. You can’t just say, “Okay, we’re going to go to his third best,” and that’s not his strength. You got to work to the strengths of the pitcher and understand them.

 

There’s so much that goes into catching, not just handling the pitching staff, obviously the defense, then you’ve got to come out and bring a stick to the plate and hit. Then, there’s so many intangibles. What’s the biggest thing you are working on right now, at this level?

Huff: The biggest thing is being consistent behind the plate, catching, calling the game, maintaining a good pitching staff and how I want to approach hitters. Last night was a really good thing for me as a catcher to learn. If a plan doesn’t work, we can work off of it where we can modify it a little bit. We don’t have to flip the script and get a whole new plan. We just build off of it. It was really cool to understand that. Here’s a team that’s a fastball hitting team. They don’t like curveballs, so, okay, we’ll pitch backwards now. As a catcher, when I see that, it’s going to be easier to call because you understand, because I’m right here and the hitter’s standing right there. So, it’s easier for me, but it has to come from the pitcher, too.

Learning that as a player and hitting and just being consistent. I’m just working on some stuff. Overall, I don’t try to focus too much about hitting, because the biggest thing for me is to become the best catcher and I want to be the best.

Sam HUff hitting

Sam Huff with a home run swing during an exhibition game vs. Catawba Valley CC (Tracy Proffitt)

 

What made you decide you wanted to be a catcher in the first place? You guys take a beating and there’s so much going into what you do at the position.

Huff: I didn’t catch my whole life. I played short when I was little, third, first, the outfield and pitched. I didn’t pitch in high school. I played first base my freshman year.

I watched a guy named Tommy Joseph and Matt Wieters and Joe Mauer. I liked the way they did their catching. I just kind of said, I want to be a catcher. I went to a guy in Arizona – he was Tommy Joseph’s catching coach. Tommy was in the (Arizona) fall league at the time with the Giants, so he’d come and watch and hang out. It kind of got me triggered there. I was in my sophomore year. In my junior and senior year, I caught.

It’s been different. I didn’t think I was ever going to be a catcher when I was younger. I thought I was going to be a third baseman or a first baseman, or the outfield type. It stuck with me. I liked the way it is, that you’re in every pitch. You’re not just standing there, but you’re doing something to help the team win.

 

What is the thing you think you bring to the position? You were playing other positions and now you’re fresh behind the plate. What did you bring to the position that you thought would make it work?

Huff: I thought I received well. I caught the ball. I threw the ball good and I could throw guys out. Blocking, I had to work at it and I’m still working at it, but it’s becoming one of my strengths. I just felt like I could catch and throw really well. I felt like I could bring energy as a player and being able to control my team and help my teammates out, because I want other guys to be good.

To be able to see a catcher, even though he’s down, but he’s still up and going, that’s a leader. I’m just trying to fill the role, because it’s something I want to be, but it’s something I’ve got to work at. Every day I’m working and I’m talking to guys that I feel like are leaders to me and they tell me how they do it and I try to copy that.

 

Who are the leaders to you?

Huff: I feel like Clay Middleton. He’s a really good guy to look after. Tyree Thompson, Tyler Phillips, I could go on. I feel like everybody, in some aspect of the way, is a leader to me. They show me things that I can do different, and they tell me things that I can do different, and I show them things that I’ve improved on that they could do different. So, it’s really cool. As a team, I try and incorporate everybody as a leader. It doesn’t matter how you lead, if you’re just a quiet guy or if you like to talk a lot. If you’re a leader, you’re a leader.

 

You mentioned some guys that got you interested in catching like Mauer and Tommy Joseph. At this stage of you career, who are you looking at as someone you’d like to model your game after?

Huff: I’d like to model my game after Mike Piazza. He wasn’t the best catcher, but he could hit. He’s a Hall-of-Famer, so you can’t say that he’s not that bad of a catcher. But, I really like to model my game after him, because watching video, he had the mentality of, he’s going to beat you. He doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t give, you know what, about you.

He plays hard. He wasn’t given the opportunity, he had to work for it. I like watching him as a player, because he had the flow. He had the mentality to just go out there and play to show everyone that he was better than they thought he would be.

 

(Rangers catching coordinator) Chris (Briones) will come in and say, “it’s time to fill my guys up.” What does a guy like Chris bring to you when he comes on a visit?

Huff: We talk about what I can do different and what I’m doing good at. What things he’s seen that I’ve improved on, or I need to improve on. Lately, we’ve just talked about being consistent behind the plate and getting wins, being consistent with the blocking, the throwing, the receiving, calling. I love Chris and love when he comes here and we talk.

We always bring up Trevino because we’re in the same agency and we always talk. I always talk to Jose, so I ask him little things and he just tells me what’s the deal and how to do it. It’s really awesome to have a guy like that talk to me. It’s really cool.

 

What are you looking at as the next step of development for you?

Huff: Just getting better every day at everything. I feel like I can get better at everything. There’s always something I want to improve on. I feel like once I start to get the hang of hitting, then everything will come together. Overall, I want to get better at everything. I’m always anxious to learn. Briones, he knows that and I’m always talking to him about stuff. So, it’s always cool to have him here and pick his brain a little more.

 

You get a call that says you’re going to the major leagues? Who’s the first person you call?

Huff: My parents. My dad first. He’s been there since the start, so he would get the first call. Then my grandma and grandpa, and then my whole family members and my coaches and friends.

 

Who is the biggest factor in your career that is not a family member?

Huff: As crazy as it sounds, my dad’s best friend, Marty Maier, a pitching coach at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. We talk all the time and he’s been playing for a while.

He was kind of the first guy I talked to in baseball when I was a five-year-old kid. He’s a pretty funny guy, but he told me, “This game ain’t easy, but you can do a lot if you just apply yourself. Play every game like it’s your last. Never, ever take anything for granted.” I took that to heart and I really love this game and I like to play.

I thank myself every day and I thank my parents. I thank everybody that’s helped me along this journey. Even though I’m in the ups and downs, I still remember what would I rather be doing: going to school or playing baseball for a living? When you tell yourself that, you really take it to heart. I’m playing a game that’s a kid’s game and I’m having fun with it. So, I try not to take anything for granted. For him doing that and telling me that at a young age, that was really cool and I thank him for that every day.

Huff Jaimes Mendez mound visit

A mound visit with Sal Mendez (left) Jose Jaimes and Huff (Proffitt)

A Legend Retires: Bunker Hill coach Marty Curtis hangs ’em up

I have a personal blog and occasionally – if not sporadically –  I will write about other things.

One such post I did back in March was about a baseball lifer in this area, Bunker Hill High School baseball coach Marty Curtis. Today, it was announced that Curtis has retired after 47 seasons in the game, the last 35 with the Bears.

A Hall-of-Famer in his profession, Curtis was inducted into the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame in 2017 and into the North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015. As great as he was as a coach, Curtis is an even better human being.

While covering a Bunker Hill game in early March, I was struck by Curtis meticulously working the on-deck circle to get it just right. So I wrote the following post. For those not from this area, I hope you get a sense of who he is. The game is richer and the players that played under his tutelage are better men because of giants like Marty Curtis.

This story is a reminder that you (me) are never too old or too important to do the work that needs to be done.

My sports assignment this afternoon was a high school baseball game between Maiden and Bunker Hill played at M.M. Curtis field on the campus of Bunker Hill High. I arrived in time to see the final inning of the JV game, and thereafter, had to wait out the preparation of the field for the varsity game.

While this is going on, I’m passed time on my phone before looking up to check on the progress for when my game might start. I looked around and saw players from both teams stretching in the outfield, and then my glance saw a lonely figure with a push broom walking circles smoothing out the dirt at home plate and the surrounding area.

On the second circular walk, I realize it is Bunker Hill head coach Marty Curtis. Yes, the guy for whom the field is named.

For those that don’t know, Curtis is a high school baseball coach legend in this area. I was privileged to cover the game in 2016 in which he picked up his 400th win.

Never one to focus on himself, the grizzled coach told me in an interview after getting the milestone win, “Well, I’m glad it’s over with, to be honest with you,” Curtis said. “I don’t like that. It just means you’ve been around a long time and you’re old. There’s been a lot of players that have contributed to that. It’s good today and now I’m glad it’s over with.”

Curtis is a throwback of a baseball lifer, who has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised with him being out there getting home plate just right, before he chalked out the batter’s box and foul lines. I thought, “How many times has this man gone through this mundane ritual?”

There, on the field, while his players were getting ready, he was doing his part for the game. It was marvelous reminder that no matter how great one is in their profession, one is never too good to get out there, get dirty, and do what one needs to do to help others succeed.

It’s true in sports. It’s true in every walk of life.

I’m thankful for people like Marty Curtis and my hope is to strive to be more like him when I grow up.

Marty Curtis

Bunker Hill High School baseball coach Marty Curtis, as he prepared the batter’s box prior to a game in March 2018. Curtis announced his retirement Friday after 35 seasons with the Bears.

At the Quarter Pole: A look at the Crawdads progress with manager Matt Hagen

Prior to Thursday night’s game at Kannapolis, the Hickory Crawdads hit the quarter mark of the 2018 season. Since losing the first seven games to start the season, Hickory has been right around the .500 mark and is currently at 14-22.

Over the past week, the entire outfield got a makeover. Eric Jenkins was promoted to high-A Down East, Miguel Aparicio went to extended spring and Pedro Gonzalez. Up came 2017 first-round pick Bubba Thompson – along with first baseman Tyreque Reed – and suddenly the Crawdads are 5-3 since.

The three-headed monster behind the plate went to two as Rangers minor league player of the month Melvin Novoa went to Down East. The pitching staff is looking for consistency and two of the early season sparks have come in the former of utility players Justin Jacobs and Ryan Dorow. All in all, the Crawdads are in a better spot than they were in mid-April and with a tweak here and there, they could be a team to watch later this half and all of the second half.

I took a few moments to chat with Crawdads manager Matt Hagen at the end of the last homestand on Tuesday about the first 35 games of the season and what the hopes are for the next 35 games as the season churns along.

 

It’s the quarter point of the season and, record aside, I know this is about development. First, I want to get an overview of the positives you see in the development side?

Hagen: Record aside, we are trying to develop the ability to win games, too. We put ourselves in such a hole early on the way we came out. We did not swing the bats real well early in the season. The weather was cold and the ball wasn’t carrying. You look at the games we’d win, typically there were some home runs involved.

I think that all three of our catchers have gotten better, that’s why one of them moved up. Infield play has been one of our strengths this season, making the routine plays.

We had the ability to promote an outfielder that had been here for two years, so the work he’d put in paid off.

Our starting pitchers have been better the last few outings If you look at Tyree (Thompson), there’s a few things. AJ Alexy as been throwing the ball better the last few starts. So, we’re definitely getting better on the pitching side. Then I look at the way (Joe) Barlow threw today, (DeMarcus) Evans threw the ball well his last time, Sal’s (Mendez) been throwing lately and the way (Alex) Speas threw yesterday. Those are things to get really excited about from a pitching perspective.

 

There are a lot of changes that can happen at this level and suddenly you have a whole new outfield.

Hagen: The guys that have shown up have contributed right away. Getting a little fresh blood was great for us and when we get Pedro (Gonzalez) back and healthy – at some point in the future – he’s only going to make us better, too.

 

And Miguel was sent down, what is he going to be working on at this point?

Hagen: Well, at this point, he’s going to be working on a little bit of everything. He does a lot of things that the organization values, but just like everybody else, he’s got things to work on and hopefully he will make the most of his time down there.

 

You mentioned at the beginning of the year that you had a lot of hope for the two utility players – Justin Jacobs and Ryan Dorow – and both have really contributed some good innings for you?

Hagen: They’ve been awesome, the ability to plug both those guys in anywhere. JJ might play second one day, first, third, or right field the next day. Ryan, for me, has been a plus infielder no matter what position we’ve put him in. Like I said, they’re both hitting over .300. So, they’ve given us a lot of value and we’re not going to go anywhere without those two guys.

 

Next step that you’ve got to get to in this second-half of the first half

Hagen: I think we’re just looking for some consistency. We had some games in the first month, or whatever, where we weren’t in the game; we weren’t competitive. I looked over the past week, most of them we’ve been competitive in every game. I think that’s kind of the standard now, is to be in every game when you look up in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning, and feel like we have a chance to win.

Series Preview: Hickory at Kannapolis May 17-20

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (13-22, 6th SAL North) at Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (25-14, Tied for 1st North)

The Hickory Crawdads take a short road trip to Kannapolis where they will face the Intimidators for four games at Intimidators Stadium.

 

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Tuesday through Thursday 6:30 p.m.

PROMOTIONS:

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday, Mega Money Drop (A helicopter will drop $1,000 after the game).

Friday – Chicken-Fried Friday, Kids Run the Bases

Saturday – Post-Game Fireworks

TICKETS: Advance tickets: Adult General Admission $6.50/ Children $5.50; Adult Reserve $8.50/ Children $7.50. Add $1.50 to each ticket the day of the game.

WHERE IS IT?: From I-85 take Exit 63 (Lane Street). From I-85 South, turn left; I-85 north, turn right. Stadium Drive will be on the right.

PARKING: All parking is $2.

CONCESSIONS: Intimidators Stadium is your no-frills ballpark with traditional burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, BBQ sandwiches, etc.

 

PROBABLES (Hickory/ Kannapolis)

Thursday: RHP Alex Eubanks vs. LHP John Parke

Friday: RHP AJ Alexy vs. LHP Parker Rigler

Saturday: RHP Jean Casanova vs. TBA

Sunday: RHP Reid Anderson vs. RHP Lincoln Henzman

 

Recent Series History:

Kannapolis swept earned its first sweep of the Crawdads of any kind since at least 2004. Hickory won the season series in 2017 12-10, which included a 7-5 edge at Intimidators Stadium. Since the start of the Crawdads affiliation with the Rangers in 2009, Hickory is 96-66 against Kannapolis, 51-35 at Intimidators Stadium. The Intimidators last won a season series vs. Hickory in 2010 (7-9).

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads split a four-game series at home against Rome (Ga.) and went 4-3 during their recent homestand…The offense at times continues to struggle at scoring runs. Though it is at .256/.332/.381 with runners on base, Hickory is third-to-last in runs scored as the Crawdads have trouble starting rallies early. Leading off an inning, the Crawdads have a .223/.290/.394 mark. Also 22 of the team’s 29 homers have been solo shots. Oddly, Hickory is last in doubles. In the middle of the pack of the SAL statistically, the slash line of .226/.294/.343 on the road has been a big part of why they are 3-13… Though better in recent days – Hickory allowed four or fewer runs in four of the last six contests – the staff ERA (4.86) during May is 12th out of 14 teams in the SAL. Overall, the Crawdads have give up the second most walks in the SAL and are 12th in WHIP (1.42).

Ryan Dorow

Ryan Dorow went 5-for-11 in the recent series against Rome (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

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

CF Bubba Thompson (No. 6): 2018 stats: 8-for-25, 3 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 3 K, 2 SB. Last series vs.Rome: 4-for-16, 2 2B, R, 2 RBI. First-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of McGill-Toolen High, Mobile, AL. Joined the team last Wednesday. Had at least one hit in five of the six games he played, two or more hits in three of them.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 7 games (6 starts), 24 IP, 23 H, 19 R (18 ER), 2 HR, 4 HB, 18 BB, 32 K, 6.75 ERA, .256 OBA, 1.71 WHIP. Last start 5/11 vs. Columbia: 4 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 2 HB, 7 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd walks allowed, T-4th hit batters.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 12 games, 3 saves, 17 IP, 12 H, 8 R (6 ER), 1 HR, 16 BB, 30 K, 3.18 ERA, .190 OBA 1.65 WHIP. Last game 5/14 vs. Rome: 1 IP, 2 K. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (15.88), T-8th walks.

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 26): 2018 stats: .219/.286/.396, 5 2B, 4 HR, 6 BB, 36 K. Last series vs. Rome: 2-for-9, 1 BB, 5 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Alex Eubanks: 2018 stats: 6 games (6 starts), 28.2 IP, 39 H, 24 R (24 ER), 6 HR, 5 BB, 36 K, 7.53 ERA .328 OBA, 1.53 WHIP. Last start 5/19 vs. Columbia: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 8 K. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Clemson Univ. A native of Duncan, S.C. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th HR allowed, 8th earned runs allowed.

RHP Jean Casanova: 2018 stats: 7 games (4 starts), 23.2 IP, 23 H, 12 R (9 ER), 5 HR, 1 HB, 9 BB, 15 K, 3.42 ERA, .247 OBA, 1.35 WHIP. Last start 5/12 vs. Rome: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 4 K. Thirty-fifth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukegan (Ill.) HS. Born in the Dominican Republic. Has allowed at least one HR in all four of his starts. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-10th home runs allowed.

RHP Reid Anderson: 2018 stats: 7 games (6 starts), 31.2 IP, 30 H, 14 R (13 ER), 2 HB, 10 BB, 32 K, 3.69 ERA, .250 OBA, 1.26 WHIP. Last start 5/13 vs. Rome: 3 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 HB, 2 BB, 4 K. Seventeenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville (Pa.) Univ. Attended New Egypt (N.J.) HS.

RHP Joe Barlow: 2018 stats: 9 games, 15 IP, 10 BB, 26 K, 0.60 ERA, .095 BA, 1.08 WHIP. Last game: 5/15 vs. Rome 2 IP, 1 H, 5 K. Eleventh-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Salt Lake CC. Attended Riverton (Utah) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd lowest OBA by relievers (5-for-42, .127). 4th SAL among relievers Ks per 9 IP ratio (16.39).

UT Ryan Dorow: 2018 stats: .300/.383/.471, 3 2B, 3 HR, 8 BB, 31 K. Last series vs. Rome: 5-for-11, 1 SB, 4 K. Thirtieth-round pick in 2017 out of Adrian (Mich.). Attended South Haven (Mich.) HS. Has started to see more playing time, rotating around the infield. Played in four straight and five of the last six games.

OF Franklin Rollin: 2018 stats at Down East: .209/.277/.279, HR, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 2 CS. Played in just 16 games at Down East, sent to Hickory on Monday and will slide into a fourth outfield role at Hickory. Signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. Native of La Romana, D.R.

RHP Tyler Ferguson: 2017 stats at Hickory and Down East: 36 games, 1 save, 47.2 IP, 48 H, 40 R (35 ER), 9 HR, 13 HB, 26 BB, 57 K, 6.61 ERA, .254 OBA, 1.55 WHIP. Sixth-round pick by the Rangers in 2015 out of Vanderbilt Univ. Attended Clovis (Calif.) West HS. Started the season on the disabled list, assigned to Hickory last Saturday.

RHP Derek Heffel: 2017 stats at AZL Rangers: 11 games (6 starts), 44.1 IP, 40 H, 16 R (14 ER), 1 HR, 14 BB, 50 K, 2.84 ERA, .242 OBA, 1.22 WHIP. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Madison Area (Wisc.) Technical College. Attend St. Catherine’s HS in Racine, Wisc. Started season at Extended Spring, assigned to Hickory last Saturday.

 

About the Intimidators:

Kannapolis is managed by Justin Jirschele in his second season with the team (93-82). The Intimidators won the SAL North first-half title and went on to the playoffs before losing in the championship series to Greenville (S.C.)…The Intimidators have the SAL’s best mark in May at 11-3 after winning five of seven during the recent road trip to Asheville and Greenville (S.C.)…Kannapolis far outpaces the rest of the SAL with a .285 batting avg. (Delmarva is second at .267). It also leads in OBP (.351), runs scored, hits, RBI, total bases, and OPS (.774). The Intimidators are second in doubles and slugging pct. (.423)…The team’s pitching has also been solid with a staff ERA of 2.97… Kannapolis has been nearly unbeatable at home in 2018, going 15-3. The Intimidators have yet to lose back-to-back home games this season.

 

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

CF Luis Gonzalez (No. 18): 2018 stats: .328/.389/.547, 8 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 14 BB, 33 K, 3 SB. Last series at Asheville: 7-for-20, 4 2B, 3 HR, 5 R, 6 RBI, 3 K. Third-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Univ. of New Mexico. Born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Attended high school at Catalina Foothills in Tucson, Ariz. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd batting avg., T-3rd total bases, 4th OPS (.936), 4th hits, 5th slugging pct., 6th OBP, T-8th home runs

C Evan Skoug (No. 22): 2018 stats: .204/.325/.398, 6 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 19 BB, 36 K. Last series at Asheville: 2-for-11, 2B, 3 R, RBI, 3 BB, 3 K. Seventh-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Texas Christian Univ. Native of Libertyville, Ill. Big 12 Co-player of the year in 2017. First-team All-American). Has thrown out 6-of-15 base stealers in 2018. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-6th walks

RHP Tyler Johnson (No. 25): 2018 stats: 13 games, 15.2 IP, 12 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 HR, 2 HB, 8 BB, 30 K, 2.30 ERA, .211 OBA, 1.28 WHIP, 6 saves. Last series at Asheville: 2 games, 2 IP, 1 H, 3 K, 2 saves. Fifth-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of South Carolina. Native of Midlothian, Va. and attended Trinity Episcopal HS there. Pitched for USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st Ks-per 9-inning ratio among relievers (17.23), T-2nd saves, T-5th games.

RHP Lincoln Henzman (No. 26): 2018 stats: 8 games (8 starts), 43.2 IP, 43 H, 20 R (12 ER), 5 BB, 36 K, 2.47 ERA, .249 OBA, 1.10 WHIP. Last start 5/14 at Asheville: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K. Fourth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of Louisville. Native of Lexington, Ky. and attended Lexington Christian Academy. First-team All-American and NCBWA Stopper of the Year in 2017. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st innings pitched, 3rd fewest walks per 9 innings among starters (1.03), T-10th hits allowed.

1B Justin Yurchak (No. 28): 2018 stats: .254/.372/.303, 6 2B, 23 BB, 123 K. Last series at Asheville: 6-for-14, 2 2B, 2 R, 5 RBI, 1 K. Twelfth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Binghamton (N.Y.) Univ. Attended Shenendehowa HS in his native Clifton Park, N.Y. Played at Wake Forest his freshman season. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-3rd walks.

 

Others to watch-Kannapolis:

LHP John Parke: 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 36 IP, 28 H, 10 R (9 ER), 1 HR, 3 HB, 6 BB, 31 K, 2.25 ERA, .214 OBA, 0.94 WHIP. Last start 5/11 at Greenville (SC): 1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 1 BB. 21st round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of South Carolina. Attended Greenville (SC) High. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-2nd wins (4), 8th WHIP.

LHP Parker Rigler: 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 33.2 IP, 26 H, 15 R (12 ER), 1 HR, 18 BB, 31 K, 3.21 ERA, .208 OBA, 1.31 WHIP. Last start 5/12  at Asheville: 4 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 5 K. Thirty-first-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Kansas State. Attended Edmond (Okla.) Memorial HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-3rd walks

2B Tate Blackman: 2018 stats: .305/.381/.430, 4 2B, 4 HR, 14 BB, 41 K, 1 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Asheville: 4-for-11 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K. Thirteenth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Ole Miss. Attended Lake Brantley HS (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) SAL Top-10 Rankings: 9th batting avg., 9th OBP, T-8th hits, T-9th total bases

SS Laz Rivera: 2018 stats: .365/.408/.511, 8 2B, 4 HR, 4 BB, 21 K, 4 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Asheville: 5-for-14, 2B, 2 HR, 4 R, 5 RBI, 2 K. Twenty-eighth round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of Tampa. Played at Univ. of Miami and Chipola CC (Fla.) before going to Tampa. Played at Columbus High in Miami. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st batting avg., 1st hits, T-3rd total bases, 4th runs scored, 5th OBP, 5th OPS (.919), 8th slugging pct.

LF Craig Dedelow: 2018 stats: .270/.285/.453, 13 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 3 BB, 32 K. Last series at Asheville: 6-for-15, 3 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 K. Ninth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out Indiana Univ. Attended Munster (Ind.) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st at-bats, 1st doubles, 6th hits, T-8th RBI.

3B Anthony Villa: 2018 stats: .364/.419/.494, 10 2B, 8 BB, 24 K. Last series at Asheville: 6-for-13, 2B, 4 R, 2 RBI, BB, 3 K. Nineteenth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of St. Mary’s (CA) College. Attended San Ramon Valley HS (Danville CA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-3rd doubles. T-3rd triples, T-8th total bases.

Catching the Wave: An interview with Texas Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones

I will not be partial here. I love catchers. For me, the position is greatly undervalued. The good ones not only swing the bat and play the position almost flawlessly, but they are also full-time field generals and part-time psychiatrists. Most World Series teams have a guy behind the plate that is the heart, the soul, the pulse, the lifeblood, etc. of the team: Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Jorge Posada, Salvador Perez to name a few.

When the Texas Rangers were in the midst of their 2016 playoff run, they chose to give up prospects Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz – both former first-round pics – and Ryan Cordell to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. It was hoped that Lucroy would play a big role handling the pitching staff and bring another consistent bat into the lineup and put the Rangers in World Series contention.

Part of the need for Lucroy was because the Rangers had not developed their own catcher. A possible starter, Jorge Alfaro, was used in a trade in 2015 to get pitcher Cole Hamels. The lack of a homegrown catcher is something that Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones wants to see rectified.

Since joining the club in 2015 as the catching coordinator, Briones is helping the Rangers build a stable of young catchers in the minor-league system that may one day put “THAT GUY” in the forefront of leading the team. According to MLB.com, among the Texas Rangers top-30 prospects six are catchers at least part-time.

Crawdads catcher Sam Huff is a part of that top-30 group, but two others that started the season at Hickory are perhaps not far behind the list. Yohel Pozo hit .338 for Hickory in the second half of 2017 and Melvin Novoa showed good defensive skills (threw out 5 of 6 base stealers with Hickory) with a bat that was quickly deemed too good for this level and his now at high-A Down East. The three started the year at Hickory and rotated catching duties, then played first or DH’ed when not behind the plate, so as to keep the bat in the lineup.

Briones was in the area this week to check on his pupils and, as he calls his visits, to refill the tanks. I had a chance to talk with him about the Hickory catching situation, but also touch on the state of the Rangers catching prospects.

 

You had a three-headed monster here and now it’s down to two. I know it wasn’t the perfect scenario for what you wanted, but you had to get guys at bats. The three of them that were here, Novoa, Huff and Pozo, how did you see them working through that together?

Briones: It was a really unique situation to where you had three young catching prospects that are the same age and they needed to play. Like you said, the three-headed monster were going to get 45 games apiece for the season, rotate through at first base, rotate through as the designated hitter, and days they weren’t catching they were going to get the extra work with (coach) Turtle (Thomas). It was a challenge. As you think about it, was it going to be enough to consider really developing three catchers? And it was working out well.

The fact that Melvin came out swinging the bat really well, it created an opportunity to move him up and the opening up at Down East was there for him to basically slide in and split some time up there with Matt Whatley. In my opinion, it just creates a better opportunity for Sam and Pozo to get more reps. The more that they’re back here, I think the more opportunity there is to develop.

The game action is the most important thing to get versus the drills and all the practice. The more games and innings that they can add to that line, that’s where they get to develop – the game action.

 

I’ll just go through one at a time. Sam Huff, who I just talked to. He seems like a kid that just wants to win, period. He mentioned several times ”I just want to win, I just want to win.”

Briones: Absolutely. He actually gets that from Jose Trevino. He has a really good relationship with Jose. Jose’s bottom line is to win. He won here and Jose won at the next level. They spent a lot of time together in spring training. If that’s the goal, to win, then everything else will take care of itself. The way that Trevino went about his business, Sam is trying to follow in his footsteps.

Huff Jaimes Mendez mound visit

Catcher Sam Huff (r) during a mound visit with pitcher Sal Mendez and pitching coach Jose Jaimes (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

What are some of the examples that Trevino set that Sam and some of the other guys are trying to follow? Are they the intangibles or other areas?

Biones: Definitely the intangibles, paying attention to the opposing team. Everything that we ask of the catchers, Trevino did: From taking care of the pitching staff, knowing the opposing hitters, just knowing everything that he could possibly know. From a catcher’s standpoint, that’s what I’m asking them all to do. Pay attention to all the little things, and create relationships, and have good communication with his pitching staff, have good communication with his manager and pitching coach. I always looked at the catcher as another part of the coaching staff, to where they need to know everything that is going on.

Jose Trevino catching

Catcher Jose Trevino during a 2015 game against Hagerstown (Tracy Proffitt)

To have the opportunity to have Trevino my first year and to see what he was like, he set the bar for all the young catchers extremely high. I use him as the example for the Pozos, the Novoas, the Sam Huffs, the Matt Whatleys. It’s like, this guy does it the way that you want to do it. Watch how he does it. He’s got his second Gold Glove a couple of weeks ago. In a short period of time, he’s got a tremendous resume and Sam looks at that. All of the other kids look at that and see how he does what he does. He’s got a great game plan and recipe for success.

 

What is Sam working on now? What do you see him working on for the remainder of year? Well, let me refocus, this is such an evolving position, what is he working on at this point?

Briones: From the defensive standpoint, just getting the innings and playing.

It’s the first time that he’s out of the complex. He’s an Arizona kid. He had the ability to go home every evening. Every Saturday, he could jump in his car and drive 40 minutes to go home and see Mom and Dad. This being his first opportunity to be away from home, I’m constantly checking on him to make sure he’s not homesick.

What is he working on the field? Every aspect you could possibly think of: running a pitching staff, learning to communicate, learning to pace himself with the grind of playing every single day and having one or two days off a month. This is something that he’s never done. In Arizona, they play 10:30 games and then they have the rest of the day off. Here, he’s got to learn how to time manage and know how to get everything that needs to be done in a day done, and be ready to play. We try to keep an eye on his workload, and keep an eye on his fatigue, and keep an eye on his diet and hold him accountable to do all of that also, and make sure he shows up ready to play every day.

Pozo. He came here and had a tremendous second half with the bat. A little slower to start this year, is part of that was, last year he was catching a lot in the second half last year, where as this year he is having to split more of that time?

Briones:  He’s splitting the time but he’s still in the lineup with the innings at first base and the innings as a designated hitter. So, he’s getting his at bats. It’s a little harder to get the rhythm defensively. The defense for me has been fine.

Offense, that’s a tricky one. It comes and goes. He’s getting his at bats. It’s not like he’s catching and hitting, and then getting two days off, and then catching and hitting, and then getting two days off. He’s still getting the consistent at bats. That’s how this game goes with scouting reports to where, they have last year’s scouting reports to go off of and they have an idea on how to pitch him. Whether you are in A-ball or AA or AAA, they’re going to find out what your scouting reports are – whether you are aggressive, if he chases. Repeating this level, they have notes on him and what he can do and what he looks for. That’s what scouting reports are for.

Yohel Pozo catching

Yohel Pozo during a 2018 game vs. Columbia (Tracy Proffitt)

What is he working on at this point?

Briones: Learning to love the work of defense. That’s where Turtle Thomas comes in on a daily basis. The kid loves to hit. He loves to hit. We’d love for him to get to where he loves the defensive side and the practice that goes into it. Running a staff and just working like Sam did last night – work his but off for nine innings and be able to separate the offense from the defense. Pozo, we’re trying to get him to where he loves the defensive side as much as he loves the offensive side.

 

What are the biggest intangibles that catchers at this level have to pick up on? Catching is such an intangible position beyond the defensive and offensive skills?

Briones: The biggest one is building the relationships and learning the pitching staff. Having the consistency of 12 to 15 pitchers to work with on a daily basis and to know who are the ones you have to wrap your arm around and who are the ones you have to kick in the butt. That’s something that Sam and Pozo and Novoa, when he was here, that’s not a physical thing that we can practice, but that’s something that’s highly important.

That’s something with which Trevino did a great job. When you build that relationship, you’re going to build trust. When you have that trust and you get out on the field – last night there was trust built between Casanova and Huff. It started off shaky, but they fed off of each other and it was a beautiful game. That’s something that Sam’s gotta learn. When you’re in Arizona as a catcher, there’s fifty pitchers there and it’s hard to build trust and a relationship when you have a pitching staff that’s huge.

Novoa Huff.jpg

Melvin Novoa (left) congratulated by Sam Huff after scoring (Tracy Proffitt)

 

You look at almost every World Series team they have that catcher, the Poseys, and Yadier Molina, and Varitek and Posada. For the average fan, and probably for the average me, what is the thing behind the scenes that most fans don’t see that really goes into that position to make a major league team successful?

Briones:  The fact is that all the names that you mentioned, they are homegrown. I think that is something that is a key for a championship team. You mentioned the Buster Poseys, the Posadas, the Yadis, they all came through the system. They’ve known the system from the first time that they signed a professional contract. That’s something that we need to develop.

I look at the wave of catchers that we have from Trevino to Chuck Moorman to Novoa to Matt Whatley, who is the newest one in the mix. We have five, six, seven, eight guys that are in the system that are all homegrown. Now, we just need to graduate one and the first one, that hopefully we’ll graduate, will be Trevino. Actually Brett Nicholas was one of the first homegrown ones, but we need to create that. They know the system. They know what we’re looking for. They know they’ve got that trust with all their pitchers throughout the organization. We have waves of it. Every age bracket, we have them coming.

 

Trevino ready to take the next step forward?

Briones: Behind the plate, for me defensively, absolutely. Defensively, he can do the job. In the industry, the way he’s swinging the bat, he’s a backup catcher. He just came back from the disabled list and in his first game back he went 2-for-2 with two homers.

Pitching has gotten better as he got to AA. It’s going to get better at AAA and it’s better in the big leagues. I think he can hit. I’ve seen him hit and we’ve just got to keep him healthy and get his bat right. If his bat is correct and it improves, he’s a front line, every day catcher. If the bat doesn’t improve, he’s a really good backup catcher.

 

Who’s behind him in your system right now?

Briones: Josh Morgan, who you saw as an infielder. He’s like the sleeper because it took a couple of years for him to agree to do the job and put the gear on and get there.

A guy who’s already in the big leagues who could do it, who I would love to see, is Kiner-Falefa. Kiner-Falefa, I mean, I could name 10 names right now of catchers that are in the wave. But Kiner-Falefa is 23-years-old, he’s two years younger than Trevino. If he gets the opportunity to catch, he’s going to hold his own and it would be wonderful. And he swings the bat.

You’ve got Trevino, 25, Kiner-Falefa, 23, Josh Morgan, 22, Chuck Moorman, 24, all these guys, given the opportunity, they can catch. So, there’s a lot of “next guy’s up”.

isiah Kiner-Falefa

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a Crawdads shortstop in 2014-15, is possibly among the future mix of the Texas Rangers catching corps. (Tracy Proffitt)

Walk-off Winner: Ratliff’s single gives Hickory 2-1 win

Tyler Ratliff lined a single into left to bring in pinch runner Franklin Rollin and sent the Hickory Crawdads to a 2-1 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

With the win, Hickory (13-21) has won two of three during the current series and it will try for the series win Tuesday morning starting at 10:30 a.m. Rome (22-15) dropped into second place, a game behind Augusta (Ga.) in the South Atlantic League Southern Division.

Facing Braves reliever Brandon White (0-2), the Crawdads started the ninth with a booming double off the wall in center field by Tyreque Reed. Austin O’Banion’s grounder to first moved Reed to third from where Rollin took over. Reed wasted little time for the walk-off winner by lining an 0-1 pitch from the side-arming White into left.

Pitching dominated Monday’s contest as a pair of No. 30 prospects – Rome’s Huascar Ynoa and Hickory’s Tyler Phillips – started the game.

Ynoa held the Crawdads hitless through five innings with the help of center fielder Drew Waters. The Braves No. 18 prospect made an on-the-run, leaping catch of a liner at the wall off the bat of Bubba Thompson in the first. Near the same spot, Waters – who also had two of the Braves seven hits – made an even better grab on a ball hit by Ratliff in the fourth when he scaled and reached over the wall to bring back a home run. Otherwise, Ynoa’s night was uneventful, as he struck out six and walked three. The lone hit against Ynoa was a home run by Justin Jacobs in the sixth.

Tyler Phillips matched zeroes on the scoreboard with five shutout innings. The Crawdads right hander allowed five hits and a walk with four strikeouts. He, too, got defensive help as Hickory turned two double plays behind him. The lone trouble for Phillips came in the fourth when William Contreras and Kurt Hoekstra each singled with two outs to put runners and first and third. Phillips got out of the inning by striking out Jean Carlos Encarnacion.

New reliever Derek Heffel entered the game for Hickory in the sixth. He allowed just two base runners over three innings and struck out three. However, the first base runner was a leadoff home run by Hoekstra to start the seventh and tie the game.

Alex Speas (1-0) dominated the Braves in the ninth with fastballs registering 96-98 mph. The right hander retired the side and struck out two.

Casanova and Huff go to “Plan B”: Crawdads get the benefit in 4-3 win over Rome

Down three runs early, Hickory Crawdads starting pitcher Jean Casanova settled down and his teammates fought back to take a 4-3 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (12-20) in the series opener with the Braves was the third in four games of the current homestand. Despite the loss, Rome (21-14) remained in a tie for first the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League.

Hickory scored the decisive run in the eighth after two were out. With Austin O’Banion on first, Ryan Dorow put up his third single of the game. Cristian Inoa then hit a grounder that got past second baseman Derian Cruz and allowed O’Banion to score from second.

It looked as if the Crawdads would be run out of the stadium. Facing Jean Casanova, Braves center fielder Drew Waters hit the second pitch of the game out of the ballpark. Two outs later, William Contreras, Kurt Hoekstra and Jean Carlos Encarnacion hit consecutive doubles and suddenly Rome held a 3-0 lead.

The Crawdads pecked away at the lead, starting in the second with Tyreque Reed’s second home run of the season. In the third, Cristian Inoa and Bubba Thompson steered back-to-back doubles just inside the bag at third to get Hickory within 3-2.

Tyler Ratliff worked an eight-pitch at bat into a walk in the fourth. He stole second with two outs and came home when Ryan Dorow lifted a soft liner into right center.

After giving up the homer and five doubles into the third, Casanova settled down and retired 12 straight before he walked Encarnacion to start the seventh.

Sal Mendez (2-2) got out of the inning and worked around an error with two outs in the ninth to seal the win.

Casanova and Huff Work Plan B:

Simply put, the Braves were pounding the fastball of Casanova early. So Casanova, pitching coach Jose Jaimes and catcher Sam Huff decided to alter the attack against an aggressive Braves lineup that had six extra-base hits through the first 11 hitters. After Riley Delgado doubled on a first-pitch fastball in the third, Casanova started the next nine hitters with an offspeed pitch. The right-hander retired the next 12 hitters, striking out four.

Huff and Casanova talked about the change of strategy and what went into the decision to use plan B.

 

It didn’t look like there wasn’t much of a fastball at the start and they were hitting it. You guys made the decision to go offspeed. I think I had one time where you went through the whole order and started everybody offspeed. How did that decision come about?

Huff: Before pregame, we were talking about the hitters. A lot of them, their percentages were they’re early swingers. They’re going to swing at first-pitch fastballs no matter what. Their two-hole shortstop (Riley Delgado), he is ten-percent on striking out, so he’s putting the bat on the ball. The first inning, we kind of got an idea and we got on the same page and we just started working it. I knew he had a good curveball, slider and changeup and we started mixing those in and then just get guys thinking and uncomfortable.

They hit you and hit you hard early. There were five doubles and a homer over the first three innings. What was your part in this decision to make a change in what you were going to throw?

Casanova: The first inning, that came from my head. I was like, “I’m not going to give up. I’m still going to attack the zone.” We all went over to the side with our pitching coach (Jose) Jaimes and we talked about, “Let’s start over and use the offspeed, curveball. Then, when the guy’s got two strikes on them, throw the slider because the slider is way faster than your curveball.” Then we started with the changeup and then the fastball and it started working. So, we just kept doing that throughout the rest of the game after the first inning. That helped a lot.

Sam Huff

Catcher Sam Huff from an early 2018 game (photo courtesy of Sam Huff

Is there are a macho thing where guys will say, “I’m going to throw my fastball, come hell or high water” and you overuse it?

Casanova: As a pitcher, I like to be aggressive with my fastball. Tonight, after they were hitting my fastball, I just worked with whatever was working earlier in the bullpen, which was my curveball and the slider and the changeup looked pretty good. So, I mixed those up. Then, a couple of times I threw a fastball when they were waiting for a breaking pitch and that’s when my fastball started playing.

 

At what point are you watching him and saying, “Okay, this is what we need to do.”? They’re hitting the fastball and you have your pregame stuff and you see what is actually taking place. At what point do you make a decision to call it this way?

Huff: First thing, once I saw them being aggressive throughout the at bat, I was just like, “We’ve got to go curveballs now. We’ve got to switch it up and we’ve got to get them out on their front foot and get them uncomfortable.”

We were talking about going in and they were sitting there. So, we started going away and then hard away and then soft away. I mean, we tried to get them uncomfortable and thinking.

Four guys I knew for sure were like, “he’s throwing a curveball right there” and we’d throw a fastball the first pitch. And then, he’s pretty much already given up on his at bat and then we’d throw two sliders inside.

I have to read hitters, too, and know which guys are going to be swinging no matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fastball or a curveball or a changeup or slider, they’re swinging. And then the guys that are more picky and will take – because the guys that take, they take a curveball right down the pike and, okay, it’s strike one. Here comes another curveball, fouls it off and they’re 0-2. Alright, you can go fastball, curveball, changeup or slider. It just depends on what he wants.

We were pretty much on the same page. He shook me off maybe two or three times and we executed it. We took what we wanted from the first inning and built off of it. We’re taking that as a learning experience and the next time that we play them, maybe not go straight fastballs, but more working counts and getting guys uncomfortable.

 

Have you ever thrown that many offspeed pitches in a row to start a hitter?

Casanova: No, that was the first time where I had to start with my curveball or my slider or my changeup.

Huff: He’s a big fastball guy. This is the total opposite of what he does. He looked the part. He showed you that he can pitch both ways and still carve. You don’t need to just to just trust your fastball. You can use other things. Seeing that, I was really happy to see that from him. For him to hold and get out of that first inning and then come in and go back out there and just say, “You know what, hit it. Try and hit this.” It was really cool to see.

Casanova: It was special to me because he is the catcher that knows me the most. We’ve been together for like three years now. We got onto the same page and everything. After the first inning, I put it away and throw it in the garbage. This is a new inning and I’m going to try and compete and stay in the game as long as I can. That’s what I tried to do and it worked out.

Jean Casanova.jpg

Jean Casanova (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

In a game like this, you had the golden sombrero tonight and I know you’re not happy about that, but you had to take a lot of pleasure in working in that way. That was more important win wise than what you did at the plate?

Huff:  As a team, we want to win. If it means I go 0-for-4, it means I go 0-for-4, but if I’m helping my pitchers and my whole staff and my team to win a ballgame behind the plate, then I’ll take it every day of my life. I love to win. I want to win.

 

Ratliff’s battle rewarded

It seemed innocuous at the time, but Ratliff’s at bat in the fourth played a big part in getting the Crawdads the tying run. An eight-pitch plate appearance turned into a walk and began the process of running up the pitch count of Odalvi Javier, who had thrown 42 pitches one out into the fourth.

“The first at bat, I was kind of late on his fastball and I got a hit off his changeup or slider,” said Ratliff about his approach for the key AB. “I actually got into an advantage count to 2-1. I fouled it off and got back even with a 3-2 count. He just kept throwing fastballs, fastballs. He kept trying to get me to chase the fastball up, which I couldn’t lay off of. They weren’t quite up enough to take. He just kept aggressively throwing the fastball up, up, up. I was sitting fastball and then the last pitch was kind of a spiked changeup. It was nice to get rewarded for a long 3-2.”

After hitting .167/.254/.250 in April, Ratliff has come around in May and is now at .371/.421/.486 for the month. He has multi-hit games in six of his last nine contests.

:I was working with Chase Lambin (Crawdad hitting coach) and Josue (Perez), our hitting coordinator, and (coach) Turtle (Thomas) and (manager) Matt (Hagen). They were all like, ‘You just have to go back to you, which is not chasing pitches up.’ I was trying to do too much, like I said. I was trying to go for the big home run. I’m not that type of player. I’m the type of player that’s going to hit balls in the gap, and hit doubles, and make hard contact and grind out at bats.”

Rome roaming out of runs:

The Braves baserunning cost them a couple of scoring opportunities. In the second, Isranel Wilson hit a liner to deep right. Through right fielder Justin Jacobs quickly retrieved and relayed the ball back in, Wilson hustled and reached second well ahead of the throw. However, he slid well past the bag, even avoiding the tag of Inao at short. Inao was able to snare Wilson in the ensuing rundown.

The more perplexing play happened in the seventh. After Encarnacion walked, Drew Lugbauer hit a swinging bunt in front of the plate. Mendez hopped down the mound and quickly got the out at first. Meanwhile, Encarnacion sped around second and made tracks to third. First baseman Tyreque Reed’s strong throw to the waiting Ratliff at third was well ahead of Encarnacion’s slide.

Tyreque Reed’s blast:

Check out Dan Victor’s (@slydanno70) video of Reed’s blast.