Archive for the ‘ When he was a Crawdad ’ Category

When He Was a Crawdad: Drew Robinson

When I spoke with 2012 Hickory Crawdads hitting coach Josue Perez about the opening of that season, I asked him the question about who would be the run-producers. For that season, Perez mentioned the college guys, Trever Adams, Jeremy Williams and a physically imposing Jordan Akins. He then mentioned the young guns Jorge Alfaro and Rougned Odor, both of who were 18 then. Perez then added, “(Drew) Robinson is a sleeper.”

One could argue that Robinson’s minor-league career has been in sleeper mode and not very sexy at all. He’s moved around the diamond, struck out a lot, hit for a mediocre average. But Robinson has worked and persevered and survived the climb up the organizational chain and can forever call himself a major leaguer.

My memory of Robinson at Hickory was a kid that was okay at the plate (123 Ks in 507 PAs) and in the field (28 errors in 103 games at 3B). Yet, there are kids who have the work ethic to learn the game and to make themselves into an indispensable piece of an organization. Robinson did that and he is now a big leaguer as he will start the 2017 season with the Texas Rangers.

There were a couple of things that stood out for me about Robinson in 2012: the ability to be patient and to come up big in pressure situations. He didn’t start out that way, and early on it looked like he might never get there.

One must remember that he was 19 on opening day 2012 and most kids take time to figure it out at the pro level. It can certainly be frustrating to not have the same results a player at high school.

After posting a .163/ .266/ .265 slash over 45 games at short-season Spokane and starting at .189/ .283/ .340 after 15 games at Hickory, Robinson admitted at the time that he was still learning to slow the game down and make the necessary adjustments.

:It’s been a rough start,” said Robinson during a late-April interview. “I went through this a little bit last year.  Just having a good mindset will help with a lot of things.  I was down a lot last year and I never really got out of it.  We have a good team right now and the coaching staff is sticking with me, so I just have to stick with it right now.”

What turned out to a key in Robinson’s development that season was the ability to let the game come to him more.

“Right now they’re working on my pitch selection and trying to slow the game down,” said Robinson in an interview I did with him in late April 2012.  “I get a little amped up at times when I get a big opportunity, a big RBI on second base. Just slowing the game down and hitting my pitches rather than swinging at the pitcher’s pitches.”

Whatever lessons Perez and others taught him that year, Robinson learned them well. He went on to walk 86 times that year – still the second most in a season by a Crawdad – which led to a .409 on-base percentage, the fifth highest in team history.

“We try to teach that,” said then Rangers director of player development Tim Purpura of Robinson’s strike-zone discipline. “But honestly, I don’t know if you can teach that. When we emphasize it, we push it, but, some guys get it and some guys don’t… I think as a general philosophy, if you control the strike zone, you’re going to get better pitches to hit.  Guys like Drew are a rare breed.  Some guys, it just clicks early.”

Robinson also had a knack to be in the middle of late-game, clutch situations. During the 2012 season, Hickory had eight walk-off wins. Robinson was involved in five of them, including three game-ending RBIs in a ten-day span and was named the South Atlantic League’s hitter of the week on June 11, 2012.

Drew Robinson

Drew Robinson was named SAL hitter of the week on June 11, 2012 (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

As Robinson moved up the ladder, he had to continually make adjustments on how he might get to the majors. He was the fourth-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2010 out of Silverado High School in Las Vegas, listed as a shortstop. However, with names such as Leury Garcia, Jurickson Profar, Hanser Alberto and Luis Sardinas at short, as well as Elvis Andrus establishing himself in the majors, Robinson was shifted to third

After moving up to play third at High-A Myrtle Beach in 2013, the drafting and subsequent rising of uber-prospect Joey Gallo necessitated a position change. After playing third full-time from 2011 to 2013, he’s played just 46 games there since. Robinson’s played a lot of outfield, dabbled around at first and second – he filled in for Rougned Odor at Hickory after Odor suffered a dislocated shoulder – whatever it’s taken to get him on the field.

Back in 2012, Pupura hinted that might be Robinson’s path to get to the majors someday.

“I will say that one of our (Texas Rangers) philosophies is to make sure that guys have some versatility,” said Pupura. “That they learn how to play other positions … Here, I want guys to become proficient at a primary position, but also have a secondary or in some cases have a third position that they’re good at.  All it does is create more opportunities for them to get playing time as they move up the ladder.”


Drew Robinson HR trot.jpg

Drew Robinson circling the bases during one of his 13 homers with the Crawdads in 2012 (photo by Tracy Proffitt)


*Robinson’s promotion by the numbers at Hickory:

*He is the 151st former Crawdads player to get to the major.

*He is the 43rd player during the Rangers affiliation to go to the majors

*He is the 10th member of the 2012 team to get to the majors (Hanser Alberto, Jorge Alfaro, Jerad Eickhoff, Andrew Faulkner, Luke Jackson, Phil Klein, Nick Martinez, Rougned Odor, Luis Sardinas)

*He is the 10th Crawdads third baseman to eventually play in the majors (Greg Norton, Pete Rose, Jr., Carlos Lee, Joe Crede, Yurendell DeCaster, Jose Bautista, Matt Hague, Matt West, Joey Gallo)

*98 of the 151 players came through the draft, 33 of them high schoolers.

*107 of the 151 players were U.S. born, five from Nevada (Rocky Biddle, Steve Lerud, Joe Wieland, Joey Gallo)

*He is the Crawdads sixth fourth-round draft pick (out of 16) that came to Hickory then went to the majors (Jeff Abbott, Jeff Keppinger, Brent Lillibridge, Jared Hughes, Joe Wieland).


Drew Robinson mug

When He Was a Crawdad: Nomar Mazara

On Sunday afternoon, April 10, at a major league ballpark in Anaheim, California, Nomar Mazara joined the ranks of men and played major league baseball for the first time. He did so 16 days before his 21st birthday, when in this country you can legally buy a drink as a man.

However, Nomar Mazara has been a man for a while now. Physically, when he came to Hickory, Mazara was 6-foot-4, 200-pounds. He sported a beard that was Amish in appearance and was the perfect shape to match the grin that Mazara carried around the clubhouse and pretty much everywhere –  except onto the field where he was all business.

Nomar Mazara

Nomar Mazara in April 2013, a month in which he fanned 23 times in 60 at bats (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Mentally, Mazara has carried himself a man for a while now and it showed when he moved to the U.S. at the age of 16. One does not move from your native country to a land where you don’t speak the language, and take it upon himself to learn it.

“My first year in the United States,” said Mazara in an interview I did with him for an article I wrote for the Hickory Daily Record in July 2013. “I just hung around American people and just heard English, English, English. No Spanish. I just kept learning and tried to speak it.”

Maturity-wise, you could see that Mazara was already a man and his parents had much to do with that. A native of Santo Domingo, D.R., Mazara is the son of a retired general in the Dominican navy. Mazara described his home life as one with strict rules, but rules that helped prepare him to have the makeup that made him a major leaguer. When he went to sign what at the time was the largest bonus ($4.95 M) given to an international player, his mom made sure that he remained grounded.

“My agent told me I was going to sign for a lot of money,” said Mazara, “But my mom said that I need to keep working hard and to stay humble.”

The Rangers have long seen the potential for the already well-taught, physically-gifted man on the baseball field. He hit third in the lineup for Arizona Summer League lineup that won the league title.

He debuted as the number three hitter in the lineup to open the 2013 Hickory Crawdads season and it said a lot about the potential of a young man, given that on that April 5 evening he was 21 days shy of his 18th birthday. He was the first 17-year-old to play for the Crawdads in their then 21st season.

“A special kid, just as far as the maturity and the way that he carries himself and the way that he handles himself,” said Corey Ragsdale, Mazara’s manager for three minor league seasons. “He’s always been a hard worker and has become one of our best players on a day-to-day basis. I can’t say enough good things about him, honestly.”

He struggled mightily that first month of his Crawdads career, hitting just .160 (nine singles) and striking out 23 times in 60 at bats. But my memory of Mazara in those early April days was that he wasn’t so much overmatched at the plate, as he was developing a way to finish at bats. I recall a player that worked the count and, despite his large frame, showed uncommon bat control in fouling off strike-two pitch after strike-two pitch.

Physically gifted, mentally tough and with an uncommon maturity for an 18-year-old, Mazara used all that to become a man on the baseball field, and I was blessed to see the baseball part of that happen before my eyes. It’s a favorite stretch of time for me in minor league baseball.

It was June 2014, a month in which Hickory went an incredible 24-3. It was a month in which Mazara finally put the tools together after his batting stance evolved. In 52 games over the months of June and July, Mazara had 51 RBI, scored 44 runs. From June 19 until the time Mazara left Hickory for AA Frisco on August 4 his slash line was .282/.389/.537.

Nomar Mazara 2

Nomar Mazara, shown in a game in 2014, had 51 RBI and 44 runs scored during a 52-game span in June/ July 2014. (Tracy Proffitt)

The individual play I will remember Mazara for came in the field when he made one of the two best outfield throws I’ve seen since watching games at L. P. Frans Stadium in 2003. (The other was a play by Jason Heyward.) It came in the sixth inning of a game on June 3 against the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs. After Miguel Andjuar had doubled to lead off the inning, Eduardo del Oleo lofted a fly ball to medium deep right field, which seemed to be easily deep enough to advance the runner to third. As Andujar tagged and took off Mazara whipped his left arm and cannoned the ball about 200 feet (a guess here) to third baseman Nick Vickerson, who hid the fact a throw was incoming. As the throw arrived, Vickerson speared the dead-on throw and slap the tag on Andujar, who was easing into third, for the out. This was now a man on the field and I got to see it. And Mazara was still just 19.

Another memory I will have of Mazara came during a time he was not here. Mazara’s long-time friend Ronald Guzman was involved in a fatal accident in the fall of 2014. As the legal wrangling cleared, it was Mazara who brought Guzman to his house to clear his mind from the incident and help him prepare for the 2015.

“I worked out a lot in the offseason with Mazara,” Guzman said. “I went to Santo Domingo to work out with him. For a couple of months I focused on my body and focused on my swing. We worked on a lot of stuff. We worked hard together staying healthy and getting ready for the season.”

I have no doubt that at 20, Mazara is ready for what the majors has to offer. I’m sure Mazara will have his struggles, as all rookies do. He may eventually need more seasoning at AAA when all is said and done. But this is a man joining a man’s baseball world and I have a sense that Mazara will soon be a man among men.

When He Was a Crawdad: Looking back at a confident Rougned Odor

Former Hickory Crawdads Rougned Odor had a playoff debut to remember on Thursday in game one of the American League Division Series with the Texas Rangers against the Toronto Blue Jays. Odor’s day was punctuated by a solo home run solo home run in the seventh; he was also hit twice and scored three runs as the Rangers took a 5-3 win.

Odor, now 21, grew up in Maracaibo, Venezuela and is the nephew of current minor league hitting coach Rouglas Odor, himself an eight-year minor leaguer.

Odor came upon the radar screen of the Texas Rangers while playing for Venezuela during the 2009 World Youth Baseball tournament in Taiwan. The Rangers signed him as a 16-year-old in 2010 and after skipping the Dominican Summer League, Odor made his pro debut with short-season Spokane in 2011 at the tender age of 17.

He certainly wasn’t overmatched on the field in the Northwest League, as he posted a .262/.352/.352 slash with a 37-to-13 walk-to-K ratio in 58 games. Generously listed at 5-11, 170 lbs. at Hickory in 2012 – likely smaller at Spokane – Odor didn’t back down from anything, as was seen when he was the spark in a major benches-clearing brawl during a game against Vancouver.

His tough-nosed attitude was a hallmark of his play during the 2012 season at Hickory. In fact, the style of the 18-year-old caught the eye of then-Crawdads manager Bill Richardson at spring training in Arizona.

“This kid won my heart in spring by the way he plays the game,” said Richardson in an interview prior to the start of the season. “He plays it hard.  He’s not the biggest stature, but being probably one of the younger kids in the Sally League again, I think he could have an all-star type season.”

Rougned Odor (top) turns a double play against Kannapolis (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Rougned Odor (top) turns a double play against Lakewood (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Odor certainly got off to a big start in the first half, highlighted by his selection as the South Atlantic League hitter of the week from May 21 to 27. During that week, he was 8-for-22 (.364) with a home run, five doubles, seven runs scored and four RBI.

“He was above the line for a good stint there and I’m really pleased that he got player of the week, because he did a lot a good things,” said Richardson. “He is a special player; let’s call it what it is.  Hopefully we can keep it going.”

What surprised observers was Odor’s ability to put the ball out of the ballpark as he drilled ten homers to go with 23 doubles in 109 games.

“He’s got pretty good legs,” said 2012 Crawdads hitting coach Josue Perez. “That’s where his power comes from is his legs. He’s good a pretty good smooth, sweet swing.  He’s able to backspin the ball a little bit. Another thing is, he goes up there to hit. He doesn’t go up there to take too many pitches.”

He owned a .293/.357/.482 slash through June 3 when he dislocated his shoulder on a slide into third, costing him a likely South Atlantic League all-star selection. A bigger hit was to the Crawdads, which at the time was digging for a potential SAL playoff berth.

“He’s one of our leaders,” Richardson said of Odor after the injury. “We know that he’s just a gritty, hard-nosed kid. He never gets hurt. For him to have this, it definitely hurts when you take one of your heart-and-soul guys out.  I think he had good enough numbers to be on that all-star team.”

Rougned Odor showed pop at the plate with 10 homers and 23 doubled in 109 games (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Rougned Odor showed pop at the plate with 10 homers and 23 doubled in 109 games (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Once he came back, he treaded water for a while before the North Carolina heat of August sapped his body and Odor finished at .259/.313/.400. It was apparent that the teenaged Odor had work to do to build his stamina for marathon seasons to come.

“I think the main thing with Odor is channeling that energy and putting that energy into his focus.” said Jayce Tingler, the 2012 Rangers minor league field coordinator. “Staying more disciplined, he’s got great ability to hit.  He’s got great ability to defend and learning the process of playing 140 games, channeling that into concentration of what he needs to do at bat-by-at bat and also pitch-by-pitch eventually.”

I did an interview with Odor for a column in July of 2012. While abnormally assured of himself on the field, at the time, he seemed surprisingly shy during the conversation I had with him. As I look back now at the interview three-plus years later, I think Odor had more of a mindset in which he wondered what the big deal was concerning his ability as a major league prospect. Odor was simply playing well because that’s what he was born to do.

Odor was among the most confident players I have seen come to Hickory. As I see him now with Texas, there is still the air of, “What’s the big deal? I’m just playing baseball.” He expects to succeed – just like when he was at Hickory.

The one quote I will always remember about Odor came from a National League scout, who simply said, “Rougned Odor is good and here’s the thing, he knows he’s good.”

Below are excerpts of the interview I did with Odor in July of 2012, through the translation of 2012 Crawdads assistant coach Humberto Miranda.

What was it like to grow up in Maracaibo?

Odor: When I was little, I started playing baseball when I was two years old.  I would go to class and practice when I was growing up and hanging out with friends.

Was your uncle instrumental in getting you started in baseball?

Odor; Not just him, but my dad was instrumental in getting me started in the game.


What was your first memory in organized baseball?

Odor: When I was 10, I was playing in a tournament, my uncle came to see me, and I hit a home run that particular day.  I was so happy about it.


When did you start thinking seriously about playing pro baseball?

Odor: About 12 or 13-years-old.

How did you get started in that direction? 

Odor: My dad was a big part of him keeping me on the right path – practicing every day, putting me in tournaments or leagues with teams that were older than me.  I also represented Venezuela a couple of times and that helped me out with pressure and situations with fans and all that.

Did you travel to other countries to play?

Odor: Guatelemala, Dominican, Mexico, Cuba, Taiwan

What was Taiwan like?

Odor: It was great because I saw things that I never saw before.  It was a great experience learning that culture.

How did you and the Rangers get together?

Odor: The Rangers had been following me a lot. Before I signed, they went to Taiwan to see me play.  They saw me play in Maracaibo, where I’m from and I even flew over to the states to have a try out.

What’s it like to go from Venezuela to Spokane at 17?

Odor: I felt really fortunate to go to that league so young, even though I didn’t play rookie ball.  I felt fortunate that all the work paid off.  All the work that I did with my uncle and my parents, it paid off.  I give my 100% every day to make my goal.

What was the biggest thing that your dad and your uncle did to help you growing up?

Odor: They always talked a lot about baseball.  They talked to me about how to deal with pressure or failure and also when you have good games, how to handle it and how to play the game overall.

What did they teach you about dealing with pressure?

Odor: They always told me to respect the game, whether you do good or bad.  If it goes bad, I’m working at it.  It’s part of the game.

What was the hardest thing about going to Spokane?

Odor: Nothing about baseball, but learning English was a big factor.  But I’ve been able to pick it up.

What’s it like being 17 and living on your own?

Odor: It wasn’t that hard, because when I was little, I traveled a lot.  I always got used to being by myself away from my family and home.  So, it wasn’t that hard to adapt to it.

Are you surprised at how quick you are moving up?  Does anything surprise you yet?

Odor: No

Is this an easy game for you?

Odor: I don’t feel surprised. The game is not easy, but I work hard enough to slow it down. I was happy to come over here. I do just do my best and it’s showing up.

What are you working on for the rest of the year?

Odor: Just keeping the focus day in and day out and just to improve in every area that I can.  Now, it’s not physical, it’s more mental.  I have to talk care of my mental routine to bring it every day.  It doesn’t matter if I have 60%, 40% or 20% of me. That day, I’m going to give my 100% of what I have that day.

What did your family teach you about failure?

Odor: Failure is part of the game, so I’m going to keep my routine going and work harder.  It’s part of the game.  If you 70%, you’re still successful in this game.  I don’t see it as failure; I see it as a learning experience.

What is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and the big leagues?

Odor: Keep focusing day in and day out. That’s the biggest difference between a major leaguer and a being in the minor leagues. Keep working on my defense, turning double plays. I’ve been working hard and I’m getting better. My hitting is going to come along, because I’ve always hit. Just bring it every day.

How soon do you want to get to the big leagues?

Odor: My goal is to get to the big leagues by 21 or 22-years old.

What sticks out about Odor compared to the other middle infielders (at the time, the Rangers system had middle infielder prospects Leury Garcia, Hanser Alberto, Jurickson Profar, Odubel Herrera and Luis Sardinas?

Odor: I think the big difference between them and me is I play the game every day. No matter what the score is, no matter the situation, I play the game hard. They’re good players, and I’m taking nothing away from them, but they’re them and I’m me.

Rougned Odor (left) and Hanser Alberto, currently on the Texas Rangers playoff  roster vs. Toronto (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Rougned Odor (left) and Hanser Alberto, currently on the Texas Rangers playoff roster vs. Toronto (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you get started in baseball?

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

Did all of you play sports?

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

What did you play in basketball? 

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

How did baseball become a priority for you?

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

Did you play other positions in high school?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were some highlights for you in high school?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What others said about Eickhoff in 2012:

Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark:

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

Clark on Jerad’s work effect:

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

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

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

Storm Davis on Eickhoff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When He Was a Crawdad: Luke Jackson

Former Hickory Crawdads pitcher Luke Jackson came to the team in May 2011 to make his pro debut. He certainly showed the stuff that made him the 45th overall pick in the 2010 draft: a sharp curve and a mid-90s fastball that missed bats and occasionally missed everything but the backstop. Getting his feet was on the mound back in 2011, he was definitely a work in progress. He struck out 78 in 75 innings, but walked 48.

The game I will remember most from the 2011 season was a game on June 16 at home against Charleston, S.C. The Crawdads entered the final series of the first half in a virtual three-way tie for first with Greensboro and the Bryce Harper-led Hagerstown Suns with four games to play.

Jackson was masterful for most of the five innings he pitched that night. He allowed just two base runners over the first four innings and stuck out nine, including four in the second. Then came the fifth.

Hickory took a 3-0 lead into the inning before Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez launched a 2-0 fastball from Jackson that may have orbited the moon on the way before landing beyond left-field fence near the foul pole. (Along with Mike, now known as Giancarlo, Stanton, it was among the most impressive homer by a RH hitter I’ve seen at LP Frans.)

Michael Ferraro then struck out before Kelvin De Leon singled up the middle.

Jackson retired Jeff Farnham on a grounder to second and was poised to get past five innings for the first time as a pro Then, his control fell apart as he walked two with a wild pitch thrown in the mix to load the bases.

Shown here in a game against Charleston on June 16, 2011, Luke Jackson pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to help the Hickory Crawdads to a key win en route to a SAL first-half title (Photo by John M. Setzler, Jr.)

Shown here in a game against Charleston on June 16, 2011, Luke Jackson pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to help the Hickory Crawdads to a key win en route to a SAL first-half title
(Photo by John M. Setzler, Jr.)

With a reliever warming up in a crucial game for the first-half title, manager Bill Richardson made the decision to stay with Jackson. The righty rewarded Richardson’s faith by getting Ramon Flores to fly to center.

Hickory held on to win 5-1 and picked up two games on the Suns after Hagerstown lost a doubleheader. The Crawdads won the first half by .003 percentage points over Greensboro.

Richardson said after the game, “I’ve got to give (Crawdads pitching coach) Storm Davis a lot of credit for having confidence in his pitcher. I asked him and he said let’s see what he’s got right here.”

Jackson said that he had appreciation for his coaches on letting staying in the game.

“I was pretty pumped about that. I struggled and they stuck with me and I was able to get out of it with the help of my defense.”

The coolest thing about seeing kids like Jackson come here at the start of their pro careers is to watch the maturing process, whether it’s athletically or otherwise. By his own admission, Jackson had to grow up in many ways. I remember the stark contrast of watching Jackson in the clubhouse preparing for a start as opposed to the older college kid Nick Tepesch prepare for a start.

With the help of Storm Davis and others, Jackson learned about becoming a pro on and off the field and it was a cool thing to see. By the time Jackson was promoted to high-A Myrtle Beach in mid-June 2012, he was a different pitcher and he was prepared for the challenge.

I did a lengthy interview with Jackson on April 28, 2012 a night after a tough outing against Greensboro, during which he gave up five runs in the second. He talked about how differently he reacted to that start – he pitched into the sixth  – compared to how he handled things in 2011. Jackson also spoke with me about the adjustments he had to make coming out of high school into the pro game.

Let me first ask where you are from and where you went to high school?

Jackson: I’m from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. I went to Westminster for my first two high school years and then Calvary Christian for my last two (in Ft. Lauderdale).

Did you sign a letter of intent to pitch in college?

Jackson: I had signed to Miami.

What were the pros/ cons of signing vs. college?

Jackson: I just kind of talked about it with my family and prayed about it. A lot of it was that we set a number and if it was there I was going to go. I liked school. I was a pretty high-skilled student in school. I didn’t mind going to school at all, so that wasn’t a burden at all. The money was there, so I started my career early.

What was drawing you to Miami?

Jackson: Actually, I was pretty much committed to going to UNC (North Carolina-Chapel Hill) before that, but the track record of pitchers and injuries and pitching coaches. I really liked the Miami pitching coach and I had a good relationship with him. JD’s (Pitching coach J.D. Arteaga) a great guy and I had a couple of friends going there as well, so it was a good set up. It was about an hour-and-a-half away from my house, so at least I had a way of getting my clothes washed, so that was good. It was between UNC and Miami and I ended up choosing Miami.

What were some of the conversations that you had with the Rangers?

Jackson: Not really much. It was more of just they wanted me to keep playing ball. Actually, they didn’t want me to play summer ball, but they didn’t mind if I threw a couple of games here and there. I threw a couple of times. We talked a couple of times and communicated. There was kind of a set plan and a set deal. We didn’t really negotiate at all over the time. We were just waiting for the approval.

What made you decide to do this with the Rangers?

Jackson: That was one thing that me and my family talked about. We knew the kind of program that they ran. We got to go over the throwing programs and all that. I got to meet some of the strength coaches and pitching coaches and felt like it would’ve been a great fit. I like the way they ran everything. They pretty much stuck with the same program that I did in high school. That was awesome. It was a little bit of free reins. They didn’t restrict you as much. You were allowed to workout, which I loved. There were a lot of throw-longs, which I loved. There were great coaches and I heard only great things about the Texas organization, so that was kind of a plus.

Did the Nolan Ryan aspect factor in?

Jackson: Yeah, that was pretty cool. Even though we don’t see him a lot or talk to him a lot, we implemented his program and we knew how successful he was. It’s a pretty cool thing.

Was there someone with the Rangers that you talked with?

Jackson: Not really. You could just tell that all around there were a lot of good people from being on the field a couple of times and coming to my house and talking with my family. It seemed like they were people I could trust. It was probably the best choice I could make.

You went to instructionals in 2010 and then came here last year (2011) to start pro ball. What was it like coming to pro ball for the first time?

Jackson: It’s kind of weird. I felt like last year, I was a thrower in high school and that got me through everything. When I got out here I had to learn how to pitch. That’s kind of what (Crawdads pitching coach) Storm Davis and (Crawdads manager) Bill Richardson and all our pitching coaches tried to teach me as fast as possible. Coming back here a second time, I can tell I’ve turned a corner maturity wise learning the game, learning how to pitch instead of throw.

What was the first reality-check for you?

Jackson: I think it was the strike zone, that was the biggest thing. I thought I could throw the ball anywhere near the plate and it would be a strike. In high school and even in spring training and in instructs there was a pretty big zone and everyone was swinging at everything. You get here and you realize at that point that the pitch you thought were strikes and they are balls. It kind of shocks you a little bit and you think, “I really have got to throw it closer to the hitter.” That was probably the biggest thing for me.

What were the adjustments you had to make from being a thrower to a pitcher?

Jackson: Actually locating pitches low and away and not just raring back and throwing it low and away. But actually bear down right here and I’ve got to throw it away. I’ve got to get a changeup over for a strike, got to get a first pitch curve ball for a strike. You’ve got to mix your pitches well and sequences. I think Storm helps us so much with sequences and the mental part.  He knows my delivery probably better than anyone.

What have you learned about the mental part of it?

Jackson: You’ve got to accept failure. I’d go from a bad start and I would carry it over to the next start.  Whereas now when I struggle, you’ve got to shake it off, put it all behind you and come back and play again. You’re going to have bad starts. Last night was one of them. I’ll come out here to face the same team next week and put it all out there with a vengeance.

To be honest, last year I’d be so mad when I’d give up a base hit on a garbage pitch and I’d be so mad and Storm would be like, “Calm down, focus in and throw a first pitch strike on the next batter.” He breaks it down for me pretty easy, so that helps a lot.

Jackson, shown here in a game vs. West Virginia on 6/2/12, finished with 150 Ks in 139 IP for Hickory (photo by Tracy Profitt)

Jackson, shown here in a game vs. West Virginia on 6/2/12, finished with 150 Ks in 139 IP for Hickory (photo by Tracy Profitt)

Stormy has talked about how you’ve had to learn to pitch to contact. How have you’ve gone about figuring that out?

Jackson: In high school, you don’t have your best players in the field and in the outfield. So, I mean you’ve got a guy at second; you’re trying to strike everyone out. You don’t want anyone getting on base or any ball hit pretty hard.  It’s pretty much going to be a base hit. So in high school, I pitched for people to not to be able to hit the ball.

But here, you have a pitch count. You’ve got to learn how to get through innings. If you’re getting through seven innings, you’re going to make a pretty good career for yourself. So, you’ve got to keep that pitch count down. First-pitch outs, first-pitch strikes, and getting guys to swing at your pitches. I still don’t like people hitting the ball hard, but pitching to contact is probably the biggest thing.

When I talked to Storm Davis about you, the first sentence from him about was about your maturity:  What was Luke Jackson like last year vs. Luke Jackson this year?

Jackson: Last year was my first year being out of a structured situation. You’re living on your own and all that stuff and finding a good routine. Last year I’d stay awake real late and then get up and get in here. You’ve got to put yourself to sleep. You’ve got to get into bed and force yourself to get to sleep so you can wake up and get your breakfast and get that nourishment in.

Last year, I was waking up at 1, showering, yawn and get to the field and be kind of sluggish all day. Now, it’s I’ve got to get up, get my meal. They give us a structured plan, so that’s pretty easy. This year I’ve kind of turned the corner on that.

That’s been a real big thing as in coming back for a second time now. I’m 20 and it’s my second time here and I feel like I’ve been pushed into a leader role, even though I’m a younger kid.

I kind of have to step up and, not show them the ropes, but lead the other guys out there. I’m trying to put that on my shoulders a little bit and learn how to do that more and more every day.

Do you think you would have responded to a game like last night differently last year than you do now?  If so, how.

Jackson: Guaranteed. Last year, I would not have made it out of the second. I don’t have all of my pitches, I don’t know what I can do. I’ll just throw it by everyone. Last night, I was able to bear down and say, “I’ve got to throw strikes.” You’re going to give up hits, but, inside, outside, mix in your curve ball, get it over for a strike.

I felt I was able to get the ball in play and was starting to get some outs and starting rolling finally in the fifth. Those five runs early really just got tacked on.  What I’ll do different for this next start is that I’ll study in these off days and get back at them next week.

How would you handle it at a maturity level?

Jackson: This year, I just kind of shake it off. You’ve got to write off that inning. Right when I walked off that mound and got in that dugout, Storm said, “It’s just one of those days. The ball is finding holes and it’s got eyes tonight. Just keep pitching and get that first out next inning,” And I said, “That’s what I’m going for.”

Last year, I would’ve come off the mound all flustered and going, “What just happened?” and let it roll on into the next inning.

What’s it like working with Storm?

Jackson: He is my first pitching coach. I didn’t have a pitching coach in high school. I get out here and he’s a guy that you’re with every day. He’s teaching you every day; you’re really learning. He becomes pretty much a mentor of pitching. You call him up and talk to about pitching. I’ll probably give him a call a home this week after stuff and talk about what I need to do and how to get my mind right. He’s a mentor to me on the pitching side of things.

I know that Storm has his sayings and different things he gives to you guys. What does that sort of thing do for you?

Jackson: He’s a quiet guy, but he pushes you. He encourages you. He’s always on your side, always has your back, always helping you out. He’s never bringing you down, which is pretty cool. There’s always someone there. You may have had a bad outing, but he’ll look at the positives of it and bring you out of it. That helps a lot.

He post motivational stuff to keep us focused and keep us on track and keep our goals going and keep pushing us.

What are your goals for this year?

Jackson: To be honest: Short term, it’s going with the same game plan I went with the last game and going with it the next game. Keep the same routine. Stop thinking about striking everyone out. Stop thinking about walking anyone. Just throw that first pitch strike. Keep throwing that first pitch to the first batter.

Last year I’d come out and think, maybe I’d get five innings here and then struggle in the first and start thinking I’m not going to get to five and get all flustered early. Whereas, now it’s go out and get that first batter out. If he didn’t get out, then get that second batter out.  Just kind of break it down and simplify it. I think that’s helped a lot. That’s probably a big thing for me that I’ve matured about.

Did you always feel you had to go seven in high school?

Jackson: I knew I had to go seven, but seven in high school is a walk in the park. I’d wake up in the morning and play kickball for five hours at school and then throw the football for an hour and then get on the mound and throw fastballs and maybe throw an off-speed pitch. It was competitive, but I could throw in high school. God blessed me with a good enough arm to just throw the baseball and that’s what I did. I didn’t care about offspeed or walking anyone. I’d maybe walk a batter or hit a batter, but that’s pretty much how high school was. Learning in pro ball has been a huge adjustment.

Where you disappointed to come back here?

Jackson: I felt like I kind of needed it, to be honest. I would’ve loved to have been at Myrtle Beach. I had a good spring training and everything went well. On the field was great, but last year I didn’t put up the numbers probably they wanted to see. My walks were way up there. It was probably a lesson that I needed to throw strikes. I’m working on getting out of here, but I can’t control anything but each outing going out there and pitch. The higher-ups control that stuff.

When He Was a Crawdad: Joey Gallo

“He is almost like an orchestral conductor sweeping a baton across his body. But when the ball connects solidly with the barrel of the bat, the loft of the ball doesn’t so much streak through the air as it ascends like a white dove in an air current.” Hickory Daily Record article published June 20, 2013

Today, it was announced that Joey Gallo would make his big league debut with the Texas Rangers Tuesday night in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

Now a consensus top-ten, major league prospect, the Las Vegas native was as struggling A-ball minor leaguer. On June 5, 2013, Gallo had a slash line of .211/.316/ .485 with 90 strikeouts in 56 games. His season turned over the next five games when he went 11-for-18, which included a three-homer game at Hagerstown. Gallo went on to finish with a Crawdads single-season club records of 38 homers and a .610 slugging pct.

I interviewed Gallo about a week after his June hot streak in preparation for a feature article I wrote about him. He talked about the struggles of the first two months of the season, as well as the development of his powerful swing. Following the interview are some quotes by several of the Crawdads and Rangers player development staff.

How did you get started in baseball?

Gallo: I’ve been playing baseball ever since I literally can remember. My parents said I just kind of picked up a bat and just started swinging and ever since then, the rest is history. I just started playing. I didn’t ever play any other sports, but just stuck to baseball and had that one goal in mind to play pro baseball and hopefully make it to the major leagues. I’ve been playing baseball since I was three years old.

Was there a moment where you said, “I’d like to do play major league baseball?”

Gallo: It was always major league baseball. There was not one second of my childhood that I didn’t think “maybe I don’t want to play major league baseball.” It’s always been my goal throughout my whole childhood.

What positions did you play in high school?

Gallo: I played short and then my senior year I played third for the draft.

How did it come about that you would be a position player rather than pitch?

Gallo: Some teams wanted me as a pitcher. Actually half of them wanted me as a pitcher and I just didn’t want to. I always wanted to hit and play every day and be on the field every day. I love to be out there and helping the team win, not every five days, but every single day. I just always loved hitting. Obviously, hitting home runs is fun and I didn’t want to give that up. In the long run, if things turn and maybe I can’t be a major league baseball player as a hitter, I can always switch to pitching.

What are some of the highlights you had at Bishop Gorman?

Gallo: We won seven (state championships) in a row, including the four years I was there. Obviously, every time you win a state championship it’s a huge highlight and it’s great. My freshman and senior year we ended up being national champions. That’s probably the two biggest highlights of my time there. Winning a state championship every year is not easy. Every time you dogpile on the field at the end of the year is a great feeling.

How did you go about developing your swing?

Gallo: Ever since I could swing and understand how to be taught how to hit, my hitting coach has been a guy by the name of Mike Bryant. He son was just drafted second overall – Kris Bryant – in this last draft. Me and him used to hit together all the time, so he was my hitting coach since I was five years old all the way up until I graduated from high school. Mike’s the person that has had the biggest influence on my swing today. He really helped me put that swing together.

(photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

(photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

How did the power develop?

Gallo: He helped me out a lot with that. His son, too, has tremendous power. He led college baseball in home runs this year. It’s been kind of weird because we’ve both been compared to each other. He’s a righty and I’m a lefty, but even though we’re on different sides of the plate we have the same package of power.

It’s hard to tell people how you hit for power. I’ve just always been able to hit for home runs, ever since I was eight years old and I hit my first one. Ever since then, I could always hit home runs. Maybe it’s my leverage or hand strength or arms. I’m not really sure; I just know I can drive the ball.

In watching you take batting practice, even in games, it’s not like you have a violent swing. It seems so easy and flowing.

Gallo: Obviously, being a big guy helps you out, too. You really don’t have to swing as hard as you can to hit the ball out. I don’t really ever swing as hard as I can. I just usually try to get the barrel to the ball. If I’m fortunate enough to get it over the fence, then it goes over the fence. I don’t really like to tense up and swing hard. That’s going to prevent you from hitting the ball farther. I just use the hands to get the barrel to the ball.

You had signed a commitment to go to LSU, but I’m guessing with your potential draft position that was never really a possibility of going there, was it?

Gallo: There was actually a very, very strong possibility that I was going to go to LSU. Absolutely, I was committed to going there and getting a college education. That was actually really big to me. That’s something that when draft time came around that maybe some teams started to get scared off a little bit because I was very interested into going to LSU. Obviously, going to the College World Series with a great program and stuff like that. I wasn’t signed there just because I had to sign and go to a school. I really wanted to go there.

What prompted you to come out?

Gallo: The Texas Rangers organization had a really big influence on it. They’re developing players everywhere and they’re coming out of nowhere with all of these great players. There’s not really a better team to play for than the Texas Rangers at the major league level. So I had to sit down and say, do I want to risk it again in three years, or do I want to take the opportunity to make the best of it with an organization like the Texas Rangers. That was probably the biggest thing.

What would you major have been?

Gallo: Sports management.

What are some adjustments that you’ve had to make in the past year since high school?

Gallo: Obviously being away from home. That’s a huge adjustment, especially for teenaged kids. That’s probably the biggest one. It just being able to live on your own now and not having the college campus right there and taking care of ourselves now.

Playing every day and getting your body ready to play all the time. That’s always the toughest thing is to be mentally prepared every day to play and to be physically prepared to play at a professional level every single day.

Who’s been the biggest help for you in the past year?

Gallo: My parents (Laura/ Tony) have been the biggest help to me. They are always there for me. When I hit a slump, they’re always there picking me up. They watch videos on me all the time to see if they can point out something. They’ve been with me for the last 19 years and they know me better than anyone else.

Mashore (2013 Crawdads hitting coach Justin Mashore) has been a huge help to all of us. And our teammates, without them this isn’t fun. They’ve been the biggest help in picking each other up and having fun together. Most of the time, you see us out there having fun and smiling. We get along.

Let me ask you about this current group being together the past year. How much have you all leaned on each other the past year?

Gallo: A lot, because we’re going through the same stuff.  Most of the time, we’re going through the same struggles.  It’s always better to have somebody who’s been through it with you at the same age that you get along with.  That’s the biggest thing with us, we’ve known each other for the last year. We’ve been a team for almost two years now. That’s the good part about us is that we know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. We know how to help each other out, like when we see each other’s swing go wrong.

A guy like Lewis Brinson can tell me, “You’re doing this wrong,” and will just automatically help me out. Other than a guy that I just started playing with this year can’t really tell me too much because he hasn’t seen me as much.

Was the first six weeks more of a struggle than you expected?

Gallo: It was definitely a struggle and was probably the worst baseball I’d play in my life. I don’t want to say that I didn’t expect it, but obviously making a jump to full-season ball there’s going to be a little jump where maybe the average comes down. But you’ve got to make adjustments to that. I’m starting to do that now and starting to get the hang of it and getting my swing down. I wasn’t too impressed with how I was doing, so I wasn’t too happy about what was going on. I just had to keep my head up and keep going at it and see things get turned around.

When can you tell when things are going to start clicking for you?

Gallo: I think the biggest thing that I can tell that things are turning around is when I start hitting balls to centerfield and line drives and hitting balls the other way and not just pulling balls. It’s almost like, sometimes when I go up there, like the last couple of days, I felt like whatever this guy throws, I’m going to hit it hard and maybe hit it out. That’s the biggest thing with me is if I go up there with confidence I feel like I can be better than anybody else up there. I think that’s the biggest thing, that if I see balls go to centerfield hard and I’m sitting back on off-speed and have an idea that I’m in a good hitting position, then I know that I’m doing things right.

I talked with scouts to hear what they say about you. One scout compared you to Adam Dunn, in a power sense. What goes through your mind when you hear or read stuff like that?

Gallo: First of all, it’s very humbling. That’s pretty special to be named like that in a power sense. But it doesn’t really mean much to me because you’ve still got to go out there and prove it.

It’s obviously a great honor to be named and for a scout to say that, but still, you’ve still got to go out there and prove that you can do that and prove that you have power. It’s pretty cool to hear things like that and obviously it’s what you work for to be named in groups like that and for scouts to say stuff like that. That’s pretty cool.

You had the big three home run night at Hagerstown the other night. How special was that for you and what do you take from that?

Gallo: It’s very special. It was a pretty cool day. It was good after that, because I felt like I was confident again and I can turn my season around and maybe start helping my team win a little more and hit hitting the ball out a little more and getting a few more hits a game.

What is the biggest thing for you to work on between now and the majors?

Gallo: Probably just consistency. Coming out there and having my best at bats every game and not just having games where I go 0-for-4 with four Ks. Instead of being 0-for-4 with four Ks, I get a hit in between there or go 2-for-4 and coming out here consistently and having my swing every single day and not letting that go away and throwing away an at bat.

Become a complete player is important for you, isn’t it?

Gallo: That’s something I’ve worked on my entire life. Swinging the bat can only get you so far. Sometimes in order to help your team win every day you’ve got to be able do the little things well like field ground balls and make plays that maybe some other people couldn’t make and run the bases the right way. That makes a difference in the game.

In a one-run game, it’s who can run the bases better, not always about who’s going to hit more home runs that game. So, I’ve always prided myself in being an all around good player, not a good hitter or a power hitter.

(Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

(Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Quotes about Gallo:

Tim Pupura, 2013 Texas Rangers Director of Player Development

I think he’s outstanding. He is the one player here that we did push last year. He had already won the home run title in the Arizona League. We felt like he had kind of conquered the competition there, so we decided to challenge him and send him up to Spokane for the last few weeks and get him exposed to a little bit higher level of pitching, a different quality of competition. To his credit, one of the things he told us this spring was he realized that we sent him up there for a reason, and that was to show him how difficult it is as you move level from level. I think it was a great experience for him, because he learned about failure.

Even though he had had great success he went up there and he struggled. I think it was a great lesson for him and I think it was a great lesson for the rest of these guys. Even though you win a home run championship in one league, moving up to the next league doesn’t insure that you’ll automatically step up and be successful. You’re going to have to adjust; you’re going to have to get better as the talent gets better above you.

Joey’s a great kid. He has a great family and is from a big sports-oriented school. There was a lot of good training that he got and he’s got some natural ability. He’s got the ability to hit with power. To me, you learn a lot about power, but a lot of it’s God-given to be able to hit balls like he can hit them. He’s fun to watch and he had a great spring, so we feel really good about him here.

Hickory Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale

What have you seen in Gallo’s development over the past year?

I think just the maturity factor on a day-to-day basis. I’m sure a lot of people will want to talk about his ability and stuff like that, but we knew he was a special player last year when we got him. But, I just think on a day-to-day basis about how he goes about his business, the routines that he’s settled into and learning how to be a professional I think more so than anything.

On Gallo’s defensive:

To be as big as he is he’s a very good athlete and has very good speed. He can more around as good as any of them to be honest. He’s just learning how to get into a better position more consistently and be ready for the ball to be hit to him. It’s kind of a focus deal learning how to focus for a full game over there. Sometimes, especially as a young kid, they haven’t had a ball hit to them in a few innings and it probably gets a little monotonous over there. Learning to keep their focus and to stay into it, because sooner or later you are going to get one and you’ve got to be ready for it.

As far as raw power goes, who have you seen that compares to Gallo?

Nobody!. Eighteen, nineteen-years-old the last two years, not at that age, especially, anywhere near that age. It’s obviously pretty special. It’s pretty cool to see him hit b.p. every day and see a kid that can hit one in the lights and all that stuff. That don’t happen very often.

2013 Hickory Crawdads hitting coach Justin Mashore:

What have you seen in his improvement over the last year?

When he got to us last year, he was put together very well. There wasn’t a whole lot of adjustments made to his swing, besides to what he was thinking at the plate and trying to get used to pitchers challenging him with the fastball and not always throwing breaking balls to him. We haven’t really wavered from that.

He got off to a slow start here, but I never really had a doubt that he was going to do what he did last year and then some. When you see somebody do what he did last year, you’re kind of, you know it’s in there and it’s just a matter of time before his mind and his body sync up and he takes off.

What contributed to his slow start?

I just think the huge expectations that the outside world, or himself, or anything else puts on a kid like that, or for that matter, most of these guys. They got here and they’re all young and they’re going through the same things.
2013 Texas Rangers Field Coordinator Casey Candaele:

I think defensively he’s been playing real well for me. He’s 6-foot-5 at third. He moves well real and he’s agile. I just try getting him to get a little bit of movement before the ball crosses the plate so he can get that big frame moving. Basically, the big thing for him is to have a wide base so he can get down and field the ball. Guys of that stature, you’ve got to make sure they use their legs a lot in the field.

He’s got good hands. He can handle third. He’s obviously got a lot of things to work on, but I’m pleased with the way he’s playing defense. He’s a very good instinctual baseball player. He runs the bases really well for a big man. When you see those kinds of things in a player, those are special traits that a lot of guys don’t have.

When He Was a Crawdad: Hanser Alberto

Back in 2012, Hanser Alberto, in many ways, was an afterthought in the infield. Three years later, he is a major leaguer.

At the time that Alberto came to Hickory in April 2012, the Crawdads had Luis Sardinas, who was to be the starting shortstop. However, because of injuries to Sardinas in 2011 – and the wish to keep a prized prospect healthy for a full season – Alberto was here to split time with Sardinas, as well as spell regular third baseman Drew Robinson.

By putting up a .337/.385/.463 slash line in 62 games, Alberto made the South Atlantic League All-Star Game roster and then received a promotion to Myrtle Beach after the first game of the second half. In the locker room the night of that bump-up, he was grinning ear-to-ear and hugging everyone he could find, myself included. I can only imagine what the scene was in Round Rock, Texas when he was told he was going to Arlington.

I thought fans might enjoy some of what was said about Alberto when he was a 19-year-old kid in Hickory back in 2012.

Here is a feature write-up I did on Alberto for the Hickory Daily Record in May 2012, followed by a couple of other quotes from the Crawdads field staff at the time



Prospects in minor league baseball sometimes are hidden.  An organization may have such a wealth of players at a particular position that an otherwise decent prospect may get lost in the shuffle.

The Texas Rangers, the parent club of the Hickory Crawdads, have such a problem at shortstop.  At the big league level, Elvis Andrus is fast becoming an elite shortstop in the American League.  Other names at short include 2011 Crawdads shortstop Jurickson Profar – currently among the elite prospects overall in the minors – and Luis Sardinas, currently one of two shortstops with the Crawdads and a top-20 prospect with the Rangers.

2012 Crawdads IFs Rougned Odor (L) and Hanser Alberto (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

2012 Crawdads IFs Rougned Odor (L) and Hanser Alberto (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

But there is hiding in the wings at Hickory is another shortstop: 19-year old Dominican Hanser Alberto.

Over the first six weeks of the season, the native of San Francisco de Macoris, D.R has been among the most consistent player for the Crawdads.  With that he has begun to make waves within the Rangers organization.

He got his start in baseball like most kids in the Dominican, playing pickup games with other kids around town.  But it was his father – a public address announcer at a local stadium – that saw the potential in Alberto to become a pro. 

“My dad was always watching me and whatever I did in the field,” said Alberto through the translation of Crawdads assistant coach Humberto Miranda. “He had me thinking that I had a chance…Since he was an announcer, he taught me how to play the game.  I learned how to field and how to hit just being around the coaches.”

Alberto was signed to a local baseball academy at age 13.  A few years later, in 2008, he was part of a team that played in Chicago as part of a tournament set up by Major League Baseball.

“After that, I started taking baseball more seriously because I had a chance to make it as a pro” Alberto said.

His exploits on the field garnered the attention of several teams, including Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Kansas City before signing with the Rangers, who Alberto felt offered him a better chance to achieve his dream of playing in the big leagues.

“I liked the way that Texas played the game,” he said.  “They way the chemistry is with the team and all that…  I liked the way they worked and the way they played.  I saw there was a chance that if I kept doing the right thing I could move up.”

He made his pro debut with the Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team in 2010.  After starting slow due to a groin injury, Alberto caught fire for the Rangers leading his team to a playoff berth.  He led the league with a .358 batting average, collecting 64 hits in 50 games.

The Rangers decided to challenge their young shortstop by having him skip the rookie level in the Arizona Summer League and move up to short-season A-ball in Spokane (Wash.).  The combination of an ankle injury, plus making the adjustment in moving from the Dominican Republic to eastern Washington made for a tough season, relatively.  Against competition often three to four years older, he hit.267 with the Indians and committed 20 errors at short in 53 games.

“Whenever I got back to 100% and I got back (in the lineup), I struggled a little bit and I couldn’t find myself,” Alberto said.  “I went to Josue Perez to get help on the hitting side.  I had to work on my defense too.”

Hanser Alberto, shown in a 2012 game at Kannapolis, went on to win a minor league

Hanser Alberto, shown in a 2012 game at Kannapolis, went on to win a minor league “Gold Glove” award in 2014. (Tracy Proffitt)

Perez, who served as the hitting coach at Spokane last season before coming to Hickory this season, said that Alberto had to learn to experience things different than what is in the Dominican.

“When he came over here, it was a little bit of a different animal,” Perez said. “He didn’t know what to do on some pitches.  In the Dominican at their age, they don’t see that good two-seamer and that good changeup at different counts.  He was dealing with that last year.”

Coming into this season, Alberto feels that he has made the adjustments and the results have kept him in the top ten South Atlantic League hitters with a .326 average, while defensively he has made only seven errors.

“I’m very happy where Alberto is right now,” said Rangers field coordinator Jayce Tingler. “To see him make the transformation from Spokane last year, he’s learning how to go about his work before the game. He’s able to concentrate a little more in the game.  He’s controlled the strike zone.  Those are all the steps you want to see in the first four or five weeks.”

With the log jam at shortstop, Alberto is spending some time at third base and may experiment some at second to stay in the lineup as much as possible now and in the future.

“He wants to do anything it takes to help the team,” says Miranda, who works as the infield coach for Hickory. “If he has to play third, or if he has to play second, he’s going to do it.  He’s fundamentally sound that he can play any position in the infield.”

For his part, Alberto is not afraid of the competition that he is a part of in the Rangers organization.  When asked about what he looks to do to set himself apart, Alberto responds:

“(I’m) being blessed by God, first of all and my work ethic, where I give my 100% every day.  That’s what I think is setting me apart from everybody else.” 

Quotes about Alberto:

“Defensively, at shortstop, I didn’t know what we had until he started taking ground balls. He takes care of all the routine ones.  He’s kind of a bigger shortstop and you think he’s not going to get to it and you look at where the other shortstops are, and he is.”  2012 Crawdads Manager Bill Richardson.

“A couple of years ago, when we signed Profar and Sardinas and all those guys, he was part of it, too.  Obviously we couldn’t have them all at the same spot, but we always talk about having waves.  So, okay, here’s the first wave and then the second wave and he’s part of the next wave.  But we never thought about him as he’s behind them.  No, he’s right there with them.”  2012 Crawdads hitting coach Josue Perez about how Alberto fit in among the other Rangers’ infield prospects at the time.

“Hanser is a nice sleeper. When I first got into this organization and saw all the middle infielders, I liked the way he played the best.  He played with energy. He was always talking, always communicating.  He played the game hard, always ran balls out.  He played the game, from my perspective, the way it’s supposed to be played.” Casey Candaele, who was the Rangers infield coordinator in 2012.

“It’s a God-given ability.  You don’t teach that.  I just try to keep doing what Josue tells me to do.  Get on top of the ball and find the pitch that I’ve been looking for and hit it.  Now, when I get to two strikes, I think about putting the ball in play. Before two strikes, I try to find that pitch that I want.”  Hanser Alberto, when asked how he learned to hit.