Player Interviews

Hall-of-Fame Advice Key to Wiles Success: Interview with Collin Wiles

Hickory Crawdads starting pitcher Collin Wiles is in his second season with the team after spending last year with the squad. The Overland Park, KS native was a compensation round pick (53rd overall) of the Texas Rangers in 2012 out of Blue Valley West High School.

So far this season, Wiles is 5-1 with a 1.37 ERA, which in the South Atlantic League. Through May 23, Wiles has allowed 42 base runners and struck out 25 hitters in 39.1 innings.

I caught up with Wiles after his start a week ago against Augusta when he gave up a run over five innings.

Wiles delivers a pitch against Kannapolis April 2015. (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)
Wiles delivers a pitch against Kannapolis on April 26, 2015. (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Could you have dreamt of a better start to your season?

Wiles: Yeah, I could’ve not given up any runs.

Yeah, but realistically?

Wiles: Realistically, it’s been a very good start. It’s nice to see that the hard work that has happened over the last three years has paid off in a sense. I’m in a really good place. I’ve got a pretty good idea about what I’m trying to do out there. That’s what everyone that I’ve ever worked with from the Rangers, that’s what they’ve been on me to do is to know who you are as a pitcher and have that belief that you’re the best. It’s nice to see it paying off early.


When you and I have talked before, you talked about trying to blow it by everybody—trying to blow it by people. What was the point that convinced you that is not who you are?

Wiles: When Greg Maddux talked to us at instructs last year.

What did he talk about?

Wiles: He broke it down to the point of you don’t have to have velo, but you have to change speeds. The difference between a 90 mile-an-hour fastball and a 92 mile-an-hour fastball in the hitter’s eyes really isn’t that big of a difference. So, there’s really no need to try to get anything more. It’s all about putting the pitch where you want it.

Something big that he said: After the game how he evaluated himself was based on good pitches and where he wanted them to go and if the glove moved at all when he threw it. That was really cool to see him talk about what he did and how he evaluated himself. I’ve taken that to here this year as a part of my evaluation.

If I’m making good pitches – it’s not necessarily about getting outs, because you can get outs on bad pitches – it’s more about making good pitches, executing good pitches where you wanted them to be executed. That’s something that really stuck out to me when he talked to us.

There’s a point where you hear that as theory and then you have to put it into practice. Is there a point where you began to see this work for you?

Wiles: Yeah, offseason bullpens. We get a break from throwing – about a four-and-a-half, five week break off from even picking up a baseball. When you pick up a baseball again, it’s like hitting a refresh button. So everything that happened last year is gone. You’re working for this year; you’re looking to get ready for this year.

Starting the offseason bullpens is where I started to figure out, okay, I made that really good pitch there, how many times in a row can I keep making that good pitch. Just challenging myself off of that in the offseason, and then in spring training keeping it going against live hitters, and then just having that same mentality here.

As far as your stuff, what is the adjustment that you’ve made where you’ve said, okay, I’m not a strikeout pitcher, but I can get a ground ball? What was that progression?

Wiles: Learning to pitch in the inner half, as well as going back to the outer half. I’ve always had good movement on my pitches. It’s all a matter of where you start them and where they end up. I’m trying to go to glove side and start it on the outside corner and know it’s going to come back in. So, just making a little adjustment and taking even four or five more inches inside or outside, if you will, and having it come back to where it’s in a place where you won’t get hurt.

That’s been the biggest thing. Just like I said earlier about learning myself and trying to have an idea of what everything does when I throw it, so I can make adjustments on the fly. Today, I’m not getting my extension out in front on my glove side and it’s coming back over the middle of the plate. Well, I’ve got to move my sights even more and try and get it out even more to have it come back over the plate and not in the middle.

The talk of (pitching at) High Desert is a whole different animal. It’s that something where you think, “if my stuff can play here, it can play anywhere.”? Is that something that’s in the back of your mind, or are you just worried about the here and now?

Wiles: I’m just worried about now and trying to take it day by day. I’m just trying to get better here as much as I can. All the High Desert or anything else is really out of my control. The only thing I can worry about is how I pitch here. That’s the driving force is just getting better every day. We’ve had a good start to the season as a team, and obviously our pitching staff has. But that won’t matter if we don’t take care of business and continue it throughout the year. I’m just trying to get better every day.

You talked about the starters – and they’ve definitely been the talk of the first quarter of the season – are guys looking to build off the success of each other?

Wiles: Oh, definitely. Every time that a starter takes the mound – I don’t want to say that it’s a competition between the other starters – but it’s just kind of like, “Alright, you did that yesterday and I’m going to pick you up today and I’m going to get you tomorrow, and we’re going to do this again and we’re going to keep it going.” I think that’s been really good.

We have starters that enjoy each other’s company. We’ll be in the dugout and we’ll be talking about, “alright, what are you throwing here to this guy?” We’ll keep going back and forth and say, “okay, if you want to throw that, what about this here?” The camaraderie amongst our fellow pitching staff has honestly been the biggest credit to our success. We’re not  – I don’t want to say shy – but we’ll go out, even in a game. I’ll be in the dugout and say, “hey, I threw this pitch, what did you see out of the hitter,” and he’ll tell me instant feedback right there.  It’s been good. Each one of us wants the other one to succeed just as bad as they want to succeed. If our team is winning at the end of the day, individual stats don’t really come into play.

How much does Oscar Marin mean to this staff?

Wiles: A tremendous amount. He’s taken us in and he’s kind of molded us into what he wants and I think he’s done a good job of doing that. His biggest thing is to never give in. Don’t be complacent. There’s still another three-quarters of a season left to be played, so he won’t ever let us get comfortable. He’s always pushing us.

In our sides it’s, how many strikes can you throw today? How many balls down below the knees can you throw today? It’s been really, really good. It’s been something that, as young as a staff as we have, I think it’s been something that has kind of opened our eyes: this is competition every day. Not just on the days that we start, but every day, whether it’s a bullpen or playing catch, it’s some sort of competition.

Game story

Hickory at Kannapolis May 23

After a six-game stretch in which they scored eight total runs, the Hickory Crawdads equaled that in the first five innings Saturday en route to a 10-5 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators at CMC Northeast Stadium.

In pounding out 14 hits, the Crawdads (28-14) snapped a season high, four-game losing streak and maintained a four-game lead over second place West Virginia.

Hickory put the first four runners of the game on base, scoring three of them. Luke Tender singled in Jose Cardona for the first run, followed by a wild pitch – the first of six by Intimidators starter Yelmison Perralta –  that put runners and second and third. Jose Trevino (2-for-5) reached on a double error by 3B Ryan Leonards with Michael De Leon scoring on the play. Eduard Pinto  (2-for-5) – in his first at bat since returning from the disabled list earlier in the day – brought in Tendler with a grounder to short.

Kannapolis (19-23) answered with two of its own in the bottom of the first against Collin Wiles. Eddy Alvarez and Christian Slater opened with sharp singles, and then worked a double steal. One out later, Leonards reached on an infield single to De Leon at short. Alvarez scored on the play with Slater following him to the plate after De Leon’s throw to first skipped away. Hickory caught a break as the rebound from De Leon’s throw went to Rock Shoulders at first, who then picked off Leonards when he tried to advance to second.

The Crawdads returned serve in the second when Jose Cardona singled in Marcus Greene and Josh Morgan scored on a wild pitch.

From there, Collin Wiles (5-1) held the opposing lineup in check through his six innings of work, as he retired 16 of the final 18 hitters he faced and struck out six.

Hickory blew open the game with four in the fifth. Pinto tripled in two and then scored on a wild pitch from Peralta. Rock Shoulders’ snapped an 0-for-28 slump since he joined the Crawdads a week ago with a sharp single to center that chased Peralta (1-4). Reliever David Trexler walked the bases loaded before issuing his own wild pitch to score Shoulders.

Kannapolis took advantage of a combined five walks by Scott Williams and Kelvin Vasquez to score three in the eighth before Vasquez stuck out Michael Danner to end the threat.

Travis Demeritte’s RBI single in the ninth provided the final margin before Vasquez struck out the side to end the game.

The Good:

**The Crawdads lineup went back to what they were good at during the first month of the season—taking advantage of mistakes and taking extra bases when the opportunity presented itself. Cardona hit an 0-2 change (I think it was a change, speed gun function was not reliable) for a single to start the first, then took third on De Leon’s bouncer through the right side to set up Tendler’s RBI hit. Morgan’s first-to-third on Cardona’s single in the second set up his run on a Peralta wild pitch.

***Peralta threw six wild pitches, with Hickory runners taking off on several pitches that never left the home-plate circle. One such play involved Pinto in the fifth. When Peralta’s pitch stayed just behind catcher Zach Fish’s feet, Pinto was off from third on the dirt ball and slid in just under Fish’s tag.

** Of the starts I’ve seen Wiles make, this one may be my favorite. It was a night where Wiles did not have his best location early, but he figured out what he did have and worked with it. Wiles had problems keeping his fastball down in the first and the Intimidators made him pay with sharp singles. My memory of the 2014 Wiles is that he would try to bullrush people with heat looking for strikeouts. The 2015 Wiles has ditched the macho and is looking to make pitches. On the final out of the first, he got Mason Robbins to swing through a change, then came back with a fastball to get Robbins to loft a lazy fly to left.

He parlayed that success into the second when Wiles pitched more off his change. He got Danner to swing through one for the first out. After getting Fish to whiff on a change for strike one, Wiles dialed up a 93 heater for the second K of the inning. A fastball up was punished for a double, but then Wiles worked a through an 8-pitch at bat with Eddy Alvarez before his first curveball of the night was taken for strike three.

From there, Wiles mixed all three pitches and had the Intimidators off balance much of the remainder of the night.

As I’ve stated in my blog introduction, I am not the most knowledgeable baseball person in the room. So, with that knowledge, I will say this. I can’t imagine Wiles is with Hickory much past the June all-star break. For now, he has figured out what he needs to do when he doesn’t have his best stuff. He’s become a pitcher that has embraced adjustments from pitch to pitch.

**Good to see the dugout with some animation. It was especially prevalent on plays in which extra bases were taken. There was a funny moment when the dugout asked for the ball after Shoulders’ single in the fifth.

** Some guys get it. It was fun to watch Jose Trevino interact with a couple of pre-teens sitting near the on-deck circle. By the ninth inning, several kids were looking for fist bumps prior to Trevino’s lead off appearance. He did them all, then stepped to the plate and smacked a double to left-center.

Jose Trevino greets a fan prior to his plate appearance in the ninth
Jose Trevino greets a fan prior to his plate appearance in the ninth

The Not-So-Good:

**Four walks by Scott Williams in 1.2 innings. He got bailed out by a horrific base-running blunder in the seventh that turned into a double play on a fly to right and got then a more conventional 6-4-3 DP in the eighth to keep the fledgling rally from getting out of hand. Williams now has six walks and only two Ks in 5.1 innings. With an overload of arms at Hickory and in Arizona awaiting a place to pitch, Williams will need to find the K-zone soon.

** The ups-and-downs of Vasquez. He gave up a walk and a hit batter following Williams into the game, followed by a two-run single. In the ninth, he dialed up several 97-98 mph pitches to fan the side.

**Cardona got caught rounding first too wide on his RBI single and got thrown out trying to scramble back. However, that was part of the aggressive theme by base runners all night, so it’s hard to fault him on the play.

**De Leon’s error was a rarity in which he tried to make a play that wasn’t there. His throw to first to catch a runner that would likely have reached safely allowed Singleton to score.

Game story

West Virginia at Hickory: May 18

The West Virginia Power led from the start and went on to defeat the Hickory Crawdads 3-1 in the start of a three-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium. The win snapped the Crawdads (26-10) five-game winning streak and allowed the Power (21-16) to move to within 5 ½ games of Hickory in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.

The night started ominously as an error by Crawdads starter Nick Gardewine (2-3) on a dropped throw at first allowed Tucker Cole to reach. Cole stole second – one of his three steals in the game – and later scored on Taylor Gushue’s blooper to left.

Three straight hits led to West Virginia’s second run in the fifth. Elvis Escobar double to start the inning. After Tyler Filliben signaled him to third, Tucker (2-for-4) slapped a Gardewine change to center for the run.

John Sever (2-1) held the Crawdads hitless (two walks) until the sixth when slashed an 0-2 curve up the middle for the single. Sever’s errant pickoff allowed Morgan to go to third, from where he scored on Michael De Leon’s bloop single just in front of the dive of centerfielder Tito Polo.

Montana DuRapau replaced Sever and retired the final two hitters in the sixth on the way to a perfect 2 2/3 innings with three strikeouts.

Yunior Lopez retired the final three hitters of the game in the ninth for his second save.

Pablo Reyes cracked his fifth homer of the season in the eighth against Kelvin Vasquez to set the final margin.

The Good:

**Catcher Marcus Greene needed all 5-11 of him to snare a throw from left fielder Tripp Martin and then slap a tag on Tucker Cole at the plate to save a run in the third.

**On a sharp grounder by Tyler Filliben that deflected off reliever Scott Williams, Travis Demeritte corralled the ball behind the bag and made a strong jump throw to first to get the final out in the ninth.

** Michael DeLeon covering the back on a steal attempt in the eighth, doubled back quickly to his right to pick a grounder by Tito Polo and get the out.

**Nick Gardewine battled after a tough start to the fifth. With runners at second and third and none out, Gardewine pulled out the changeup to get Reyes to pop to third and then struck out Connor Joe swinging. Gushue then appeared to be sitting on a change on a 0-2 count and was well late on a 95 mph heater on the outside corner.

**Gardewine stayed ahead of hitters much of the night, posting first-pitch strikes on 18 of 22 hitters.

**Kevin Vasquez 9 of 11 hitters, mostly on a 95-98 mph fastball. Scott Williams put up a 1-2-3 ninth on a sinking 93-94 mph. Escobar’s 4-3 grounder sounded like he hit a stone to second.

The Not-So-Good:

**Gardewine’s drop of a throw from Demeritte in the first seemed to set an ominous tone for the game.

**Gardewine had trouble finishing off hitters. Four of the Power’s seven hits came with Gardewine ahead in the count, including Gushue’s RBI single on an 0-2 pitch in the first.

**Hickory managed only four base runners, but hit into some rotten luck early. Rock Shoulders drilled a poorly spotted fastball to deep center in the second. Michael De Leon had arguably the hardest hit ball by a Crawdads hitter all night when he lined hard to third to end the third. Tripp Martin was thrown out by Filliben on a long throw from deep in the corner at third that was picked out by 1B Connor Joe. The Crawdads body language seemed to drag the final three innings.

**West Virginia stole four bases, all of which had big leads on Gardewine.

**It’s curious to me that as hard as Vasquez throws that he misses so few bats lately. Of the last 22 hitters he’s faced, he’s had one swing-and-miss (WV’s Chase Simpson in the sixth). Reyes turned around a 95 mph heater to left.

(Blogger’s Note: unfortunately, I will miss the final two games of the Power/ Crawdads series… work calls!)

Look Who's Coming to Hickory

Look Who’s Coming to Hickory: West Virginia SS Cole Tucker

(Blogger’s note: This is the first of what I hope will be an on-going series about some of the players, coaches and managers from opposing teams that come to Hickory. The minor leagues has people with fascinating – ok, they are to me- stories and I hope to highlight one each home series. In the future, I hope this will include a series preview of sorts, but time ran out for this series.)

West Virginia Power’s top prospect according to (Pittsburgh Pirates’ No. 9 prospect) is shortstop Cole Tucker, the parent club’s top pick (24th overall) in 2014. The native of Phoenix, Ariz. (Mountain Pointe High) has a slash line of .271/ .302/ .331 in 29 games with four doubles, a homer, nine RBI and 13 runs scored.

The 18-year-old, switch-hitting, shortstop has quickly taken to pro ball nearly a year after his high-school graduation.

“Making the jump from high school is a definite leap playing at a different level day in and day out. I’m feeling pretty well,” said Tucker. “I feel like I’m handling it well. I’m learning what I can from the different coaches and coordinators and the other guys. I’m just trying to be a sponge and soak up all of the information that I can. Being in pro ball, you’ve got to play at such a high level every day and I’m definitely getting used to it.”

Tucker has shown a good knack for making contact, fanning only 19 times in 129 plate appearances. One of the adjustments he says he’s had to make is simply seeing high-velocity pitchers on a day-to-day basis.

“In high school you might see a guy that throws 90 miles an hour maybe once a year,” Tucker said. “Now, you’re seeing it every day. Just playing at such a high level with such a level of intensity every day, it’s a big step up from high school, but, I’m getting used to it. I feel like I’m handling it well and I definitely feel like I belong here.

Tucker has a connection with two of the current Crawdads on the roster. He was a roommate with Josh Morgan during tryouts for USA baseball in Cary, NC two years ago.

“Josh is a great dude on and off the field,” said Tucker. “He plays hard. He plays the game the right way.”

He also has a shared connection with Hickory starter Luis Ortiz, who Tucker is scheduled to face on Wednesday. Tucker and Ortiz were a part of USA Baseball’s 18 & Under squad that won a gold medal at the Baseball World Cup in Taiwan in 2013.

Tucker said, “He’s (Ortiz) a great pitcher and he’s a good guy to know and a good teammate to be around. I can’t wait to see him and catch up with him when we get to Hickory.”

The experience that the two of them had halfway around the world was an experience that Tucker has left memories for a lifetime.

“Culturally, it was incredible,” said Tucker. “I mean getting to go to Asia and playing baseball against kids from all over the world. Just really getting to represent the United States was something that I’ll never forget. It’s something that I hope I get a chance to again one day, again. Just really getting close with that group of 19 other guys and that coaching staff and representing an organization as great as USA baseball was something that I’m grateful for. We still talk about it and think about it all the time. Going over there and winning gold was incredible.”

(Thanks to WV Power Media Relations Assistant Mike Baggerman for lineup interviews for this story. Also, thanks to Pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas, who was my original interviewee, but my recorder had other ideas.)

Player Interviews

Crawdads Assessment: Interview with Manager Corey Ragsdale.

The Hickory Crawdads are off to one of the best starts in the 23-season history of the club. Going into Sunday’s game at Augusta – which will mark the halfway point of the “first half” – the Crawdads are 25-9 and sit 5 ½ games ahead of second-place West Virginia Power. Hickory returns home Monday to face the Power in a three-game series.

I spoke to Manager Corey Ragsdale after the finale of the last home stand on Tuesday to get an assessment of his team a quarter of the way through the season.

When the team comes back from this road trip, you’ll be at the halfway point of the first half. I’d like to get your assessment overall. You’re 31 games in and you’re still at single digits in losses (22-9 at the time of the question). Overall, that’s not a bad thing.

Ragsdale:  No, it’s always a good thing when you win some games. Obviously, it’s a credit to the guys the way they’ve been playing. It hasn’t been quite as good as of late, but the pitching has actually picked up a tick lately and carried us a little bit. But, that’s what good teams do, they find a way to win and lately, these guys have grinded out some games and found a way to get it done. I’m not sure how every night, but they’ve been able to do it. It’s a little nerve racking at times, but looking back, yeah, it’s been a pretty good first 30 games.

Let me ask you about the pitching. The starters have pretty much night in and night out given you five or six innings and hold them a lot of times to zero or one run, and no more than two for the most part.

Ragsdale:  The starters have been awesome. Anytime you can get pitching like we have, it makes life a lot easier. Jurado, a 19-year-old kid, has been going out there and working that sinker. All of the other guys have just fit in and followed along and done very well. Collin Wiles putting up zeroes left and right. He’s stepped his game up and is a little bit of a different pitcher that we saw last year. Obviously Ortiz is very talented and has done very well so far this year.

You know what, I think one of the things our guys do is that they compete. That’s been one thing we’ve been trying to work on with these guys is competing for the other guys, even if you don’t have your best stuff – competing for the other guys that are trying their hardest, too. That starts with the starting pitching. Everybody else sees the starters going out there and grinding it out and putting up zeroes and doing the best that the possibly can. It breeds a good feeling. It breeds a winning atmosphere. It breeds a determination where all the guys kind of pull on the rope in the same direction. It’s been really run and we’ll see how long we can keep it going.

What’s been the biggest surprise so far in that area (Pitching)? I know you expect they will all do what they do, but the reality is they don’t.

Ragsdale: You hope they go out and do well. To be honest, at the start of the year I just wasn’t sure  about some of the guys – as it always is at this level, the first year out and a full season and all that stuff – but you’re not quite sure how guys are going to come out of the gate. But for the most part, everybody has been pretty good. All those bullpen pieces that we’re running out there – and a 17-inning game (vs. Savannah on May 9) gets us out of whack a little bit – we’re able to run guys out there every night that are putting up zeroes and holding onto what the starters have done.

I guess the one thing I would say is that no matter who you would put in what situation, they’ve been able to get that job done for the most part. Whether it’s guys you weren’t sure about and they wind up at the back end of the bullpen and they’ve handled it fine, or vice versa. Guys that maybe you thought were going to be a one-inning guy that maybe you’ve had to stretch out and they gave you three zeros and they gave you a chance to win. I think that would be the biggest surprise is that no matter what the situation you’ve been able to put the pitching staff in, they’ve come through.

You mentioned Wiles earlier. He’s sort of seemed to figure out what kind of pitcher he is. He’s not going to blow it by guys and realizes that now, and he’s okay with getting the contact.

Ragsdale: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think he’s just going out there confident in what he has now, knowing what he has, and working what he has. Like you said, he’s not trying to blow fastballs by people. He knows he’s going to be in the low 90s or upper 80s and he’s going to need to mix in the other stuff to go with it. And he’s been able to do that. He’s mixed in three pitches for strikes any time he’s wanted. At this level, if you can do that you’re going to be pretty good. Obviously, he’s still working on some things, but he’s got a feel to pitch and that helps out for sure.

At the start of the year you had seven out of 11 position players that were here before. Then you add (Luke) Tendler and (Jose) Trevino and a couple of nice pieces in that mix. For the most part, this has been a lineup that has done some damage.

Ragsdale: To start the year, they swung the bats well. And you know everybody’s not going to hit .420 all year. So, some of the guys are coming down off of that a little bit. Losing Guzie (first baseman Ronald Guzman), obviously, was good for him, and it’s good for the rest of these guys, too. It gives the other guys a chance to hit in the middle of the order and stuff like that. But, I think losing Guzie and some of those guys kind of coming down off of that high to begin with, they’re kind of finding themselves a little bit more right now. I think they’ll settle back in.

With Luke and Jose and Tripp (Martin) for the most part in the middle of the order and Jairo (Beras) there on the back end, I think they’ll be alright and they’ll be able to put some stuff together. Obviously, Travis (Demeritte) staying up front and in the middle of the lineup. We’ve got some guys that can do some things, for sure. You get those guys in front of them on base, they’ve got a chance to drive in some runs. They’ve got a chance to be good and we’ll see how it continues.

It looks like Trevino has been a keystone in a lot of ways. You see him get a key double today (during a decisive 8th inning rally in a win over Savannah on May 12) and you see him jacking the guys up and suddenly there’s a different feel to that inning.

Ragsdale:  No doubt. He’s a special kid. He likes to compete. You want guys like that behind the plate. He brings good energy. He competes. He wants to win. He wants to make the other guys better. It just so happens he’s swing the bat really well and catching pretty good too. When all of that stuff comes together, you get a pretty good player. That’s what he’s been. He’s been really good for us. He’s been hitting in the four hole most of the year and catching. He’s been a big part of that pitching staff as well. We kind of put a game plan together and he helps those guys follow that game plan and get through it. He’s been a huge part of that success so far.

(Jairo) Beras is back after an extended time away with the quad injury and a brief inactive period. How has his progress been?

Ragsdale:  It’s good. Early, it looked like he was pressing a little bit the first game or two that he played. He had the leg injury. I think what that did is that allowed him to go back to Arizona, rehab that a little bit and allow him to settle down. He got into some games down there to get him ready before he came back. He’s been better.

What we’d like for him to do is to continue to build off that second half he had last year and see where he develops throughout the year. I think he probably put a little pressure on himself early and I think he’s kind of settling down into that. He’s going to be fine.

In the field, you’ve got essentially three shortstops playing in the infield and they’ve done yeoman’s work helping that pitching.

Ragsdale: We’ve talked a lot about that – about how defense gives the pitcher confidence to throw it, and pitchers getting up there and how throwing it keeps the defense in the game. Obviously, with Mikey (Michael De Leon) at shortstop, he’s a special kid with those hands, and then J-Mo at third – just learning to play third, but has done unbelievably and done an outstanding job handling the transition to third. Obviously he’s going to play short, too.

Travis has been really solid at second base making plays to his left, to his right. He’s been a little bit more focused, I think, this year on the defensive end than maybe he was last year. He’s into the game a little bit more on the defensive side. He’s talented and now his talent plays and now he’s ready and now he’s into the game and his talent plays a little bit better. He’s been very good. And then you’ve got Kiner (Isiah Kiner-Falefa) that can play any position on the infield.

For me being an ex-infield guy, it’s a lot of fun to work with those guys and to see those guys.  They have done an outstanding job. Obviously when you pitch like we’ve talked about and you play defense like we’ve talked about, that’s a pretty good recipe to be in a lot of games.

You mentioned De Leon, who is only 18, but in his second year here is carrying self like a little veteran.

Ragsdale: He’s a special kid, for sure.

He has an awareness about him in the field that reminds me of (Jurickson) Profar defensively.

Ragsdale: He’s got the intangibles that go along with the hands and the feet and the defense. A lot of people look at him and see how small he is, and maybe how week he is.

Offensively, he’s never overmatched. He always puts good ABs together. No matter how hard they throw, they can’t get a fastball by him. He’s just offensively and defensively a pesky guy that never goes away and is always in the right spot doing the right thing, it seems like. I think you hit the nail on the head with the intangibles. Kind of what everybody saw in Profar, Mikey definitely has that.

On the Field

The Balk-off Win

It was the bottom of the tenth inning in last Sunday’s game between Hickory and Savannah. The score was tied at 2-2 with the bases loaded, two outs and Crawdads second baseman Travis Demeritte at the plate.

During the at-bat, Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale had a question for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the runner at third.

“Rags looked over at me and asked me if I could steal home,” said Kiner-Falefa, who pulled off the play in high school at Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu. “And so I said, ‘I did it before.’”

With that exchange, it set into motion one of the strangest walk-off wins for Hickory in recent memories. As left-handed Sand Gnats pitcher Alberto Baldonado started his windup, Kiner-Falefa took off for home and caused Baldonado to balk, which gave Hickory a 3-2 win.

(video courtesy of Trent Pace)

“Before he even started going, I started to take steps and closer to home,” said Kiner-Falefa. “Right when he started his motion, I was already halfway home and Rags just said ‘Go’ and I just went. By the time I went, he had stepped off and threw and I made him balked. Even if he had started his motion, I still would’ve beat him to the plate.”

In the aftermath of a 17-inning marathon the night before, Ragsdale said that with the game already again in extra innings, it had the feel of another long evening. With two outs and two strikes on Demeritte, Ragsdale thought it was time to take a chance.

“We just tried to make something happen,” said Ragsdale. “It actually wasn’t necessarily the outcome that I thought would come of it. It certainly wasn’t to cause a balk with a lefty going out of the windup like that. Kiner had a good 25-feet lead and I just told him to get as much as you can and if he don’t stop you go when he starts his windup. It would’ve been close otherwise. He would’ve had a good shot just banking on the kid throwing the ball and us being able to steal one there. It worked out, not necessarily the way we drew it up, but we were just trying to make something happen in an otherwise tough spot.”

Another part of the play to consider is what would have happen if with two strikes Demeritte had to swing and a presumptive third strike.

“Demeritte had no idea that I was coming,” Kiner-Falefa said. “After the game he told me, ‘Man I just about swung.’ I just said,’ I probably would have died.’”

Ragsdale said he was that he was certain Demeritte would be smart enough to figure out the situation and allow Kiner-Falefa a chance to score.

“Some time afterwards, I was like, you know what happens when you assume things and take things for granted with 18, 19, 20-year-olds kids,” Ragsdale said. “We definitely talked about it afterwards as to what he would do in that situation if it ever came up again.”

Looking back through the box scores, it was the first walk-off win by a balk since at least before the 2000 season (no game information is available from 1993-1999).

On the Field

The Play… De Leon/ Martin’s Game-Saving Gem

One of the best plays made on the infield in recent seasons came this past Friday night to close out the Hickory Crawdads 3-2 over the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

With a speedy runner Mason Davis on second and two outs, Greensboro’s Arturo Rodriguez hit a sharp roller in the 5-6 hole. Shortstop Michael De Leon ranged far to his right and made a full-extension dive to stop the grounder, which kept the ball on the infield and forced Davis to stop at third.

“I knew the ground ball was hit hard,” said De Leon when asked if he was surprised to even get to the ball. “So I tried to knock it down because of the situation: runner at second and two outs.”

Not content with simply keeping the run from scoring, De Leon leapt to his feet and from about 120 feet away fired a one-hopper to first where Tripp Martin scooped the short-hop to secure the out and the win.

De Leon/ Martin Play
Looking toward first from where Michael De Leon made a game-saving dive-and-throw to secure a recent win over Greensboro.

For his part, the 18-year-old De Leon – the second-youngest player in the South Atlantic League – knew that with the slow-footed Rodriguez at the plate, he would likely have time to make a play at first on any ground ball.

“I just knew the situation of the game,” said De Leon. “The game was close in the ninth inning. I knew who was hitting and running. For me, it was a critical play and because I knew who was running I took the ball and threw it to first.”

At the other end of the play, Martin showed sure hands on the short-hop pick.

“He made a huge dive into the hole, got up and saw that the runner wasn’t quick down the line,” said Martin. “He made a good throw and it was right to me and I was able to pick him up at the end with a quick pick at first.”

Said De Leon of the pick, “I say thank you, because me and him had to work together to make the play.”

Martin’s part of the play was even more incredible considering it was only his third game at the position… ever.

“(Thursday) was my first time there after Guzie (Ronald Guzman) was sent to High Desert. I played first a little bit in spring training and at instructs last year, but I’m still new to the position.”

New, or not, the Samford University product has already learned to expect De Leon to make plays and to be ready with a bullet from second.

“I was always ready for it,” said Martin when asked if he even expected a throw. “I knew we had a chance with the runner that we had at the plate, so it was a great play by De Leon to come up firing.”

Game story

Savannah at Hickory May 12

The Hickory Crawdads rallied with five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Savannah Sand Gnats 9-5 in front of 4,023 fans on an “Education Day” at L.P. Frans Stadium.

With the win, Hickory (22-9) closed out a 3-1 series win over the Sand Gnats (12-19) and completed a 6-1 home stand. The Crawdads lead West Virginia by four games in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division and is now six up on third place Delmarva (Md.).  Now 12-4 at L.P. Frans this season, the Crawdads avoided losing back-to-back games at home for the first time this season.

The Crawdads entered the bottom of the eighth trailing 5-4. Luke Tendler walked to open the inning before the Sand Gnats brought in right-hander Jimmy Duff to face Jose Trevino, who legged out a double to medium left-center. Duff enticed Tripp Martin to hit a comebacker for the first out and then intentionally walked Kevin Torres to load the bases for Jairo Beras.

The strategy was foiled when Beras split the gap for a two-run double. Josh Morgan followed with a sharp liner just inside the bag at third for a two-run single. Isiah Kiner-Falefa doubled, but Morgan was thrown out at home for the second out. Cardona closed out the scoring with an RBI single.

Savannah dented the scoreboard first in the second when it put the first five runners on base against starter Ariel Jurado. Patrick Biondi ripped a two-run single before the Sand Gnats added the third run on a double-play ball.

Facing Sand Gnats starter Corey Oswalt, Kevin Torres lined a homer (2) to right to make it 3-1 and Travis Demeritte added a two-run shot (4) to tie the game in the third.

The Sand Gnats quickly re-took the lead in the fourth on Luis Guillorme’s sacrifice fly that scored Thomas Nido.

Hickory tied the game at 4-all in the fifth when Jose Cardona scored after Travis Demeritte broke up a potential inning-ending double play.

Savannah again pushed ahead with a run in the sixth as Crawdads reliever Kelvin Vasquez gave up a single and back-to-back walks to load the bases. However, Vasquez induced Biondi to hit into a double play, which scored a run, but stifled further damage.

John Fasola worked around a single in the ninth to close out the game. Vasquez got the win (2-1), while Duff was tagged with the loss (0-1).

The Good:

*After struggling with their timing initially, the Crawdads hitters adjusted to the off-speed offerings by Sand Gnats starter Oswalt and took advantage of a flat, mostly sub-90s fastball.

*After tweeting this:

Travis Demeritte hit the next pitch – a flat 88 mph offering from Oswalt – well over the fence left.

*Jose Trevino continues to benefit from a day off on Sunday. He doubled in the fifth – only to see a runner cut down at home – and had a key double to spur the decisive rally in the eighth. Trevino also lined hard to right in the second.

*With a single in the third, Like Tendler has a seven-game hit streak. Josh Morgan went 8-for-17 and five RBI in the series with Savannah. Jose Cardona had 6 hits in the four-game series with two homers, two walks and four runs.

*Ariel Jurado didn’t have his best stuff, but did enough to get through five innings. Twelve of his 15 outs came via a groundball or a strikeout.

*Kelvin Vasquez struggled with control early, but with the bases loaded in the sixth, and a 3-0 count to Biondi, Vasquez battled to get the count full before inducing a double-play ball to held the Sand Gants to one run.

The Not-So-Good

*Jurado’s poor location early was a sign of things to come. He missed badly with a 0-2 fastball in the first that John Mora slapped into center. Jurado then struggled with his secondaries in the second before getting a feel for his curveball and a slider in the third. It was only the third time this season that a Crawdads starting pitcher allowed more than three runs in a start.

*Kelvin Vasquez had a live 94-96 fastball at the start of the sixth, but little control. The Biondi double play gave him new life and he retired the final seven Sand Gnats. Vasquez has 12 walks in 20.2 innings.

*Tripp Martin had a tough afternoon at the plate, especially against Oswalt, who tossed mostly changeups and sliders to Martin. He finished 0-for-4 with only one ground ball getting past the mound. Martin is 4-for-37 in his last nine games.

* Cardona was caught napping on a play in the bottom of the eighth. With Morgan at first, Kiner-Falefa ripped a double into the left-field corner and manager Corey Ragsdale waived Morgan all the way home. Cardona, as the on-deck hitter, was expected to get near home to tell the incoming runner whether or not to slide. Instead, Cardona stayed near the circle and left Morgan out to dry. Unable to see the throw coming from behind him Morgan came into home standing and was tagged out.


The Crawdads have Wednesday off before going to Augusta (Ga.) to take GreenJackets for four games.  Augusta will be only the second plus-.500 team that Hickory has faced this season.

Game story

Savannah at Hickory May 11

The Savannah Sand Gnats broke open a close game with three runs in the ninth to defeat the Hickory Crawdads 6-3.

With the win, Savannah (12-18) snapped a two-game mini-losing streak and broke the Crawdads (21-9) five-game win streak. The teams close out the four-game series with an 11 a.m. start at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Sand Gnats never trailed in the contest after Stefan Sabol’s two-run shot in the first against Crawdads starter Nick Gardewine (2-2).

Jose Trevino (2-for-4) in his first at-bat after a day off cut the Crawdads deficit to 2-1 by serving a Scarlyn Reyes curveball to center that scored Travis Demeritte.

But, the Sand Gnats got the run back in the second when Jonathan Johnson lined a homer into the rightfield corner.

Both teams left opportunities for runs on the board throughout the game. Savannah left 11 on base, while Hickory left seven, hit into two double plays and lost a base runner on a decoy.

Hickory chopped the Sand Gnats lead to 3-2 on Luke Tendler’s (3-for-3, HBP) RBI single.

However, the Sand Gnats took care of sloppy defense in the ninth to score three.

Josh Morgan (2-for-3) singled in Marcus Greene in the ninth and the Crawdads eventually brought the tying run to the plate. However, Ricky Knapp struck out Michael De Leon to end the game.

Reyes allowed two runs over six innings and struck out four for the win (2-3) with Knapp getting the save in his first outing since he was reassigned from high-A St. Lucie.

The Good:

*Jose Trevino appeared to benefit from a day off Sunday. He waited on a curveball and guided it through the first. Trevino legged out a double in the fourth and hit into bad luck in the eighth when he scorched a sharp grounder up the middle that turned into a double play.

*Luke Tendler with three hits has now hit in six straight.

*Josh Morgan had two hits and is 6-for-13 in three games against Savannah.

*Lefty Joe Filomeno impressed in his first outing with Hickory. Pounded 93-94 mph fastball in on the hands of left-handed hitters and then ran several cutters to the other corner. Mixed in a few sliders that missed bats.

The Not-So-Good:

*Save Filomneo, Hickory pitching had a rough night. As a group they walked six and had seven other three-ball counts. Nick Gardewine gave up a seeing-eye hit in the first and then missed his spot with a first-pitch fastball that Sabol pounced on. From there, he never seemed totally comfortable on the mound. He recorded eight groundball outs, but fastball control seemed spotty in and out of the strike zone. Yohander Mendez threw a steady diet of off-speed pitches that he was able to get Sand Gnat hitters to chase, but many others were not close enough to bait more swings. Chris Dula was hit around a bit, but his defense – while not charged with errors – contributed to a three-run ninth.

*While the defense has been stellar much of the year, for the third straight game the infield botched a bunt play that led to a run late. Tonight, a trio of players was slow to the ball between home and the mound and allowed John Mora to reach. On the same play, the lead runner went to third when it went uncovered. Later in the inning, a potential double play was thwarted when Demeritte was slow getting the ball off to short. A passed ball was also a part of the inning, but Cardona’s throw home to catch Wuilmer Becerra ended the inning.

*Jose Cardona was decoyed into an out on the bases. Running to second on De Leon’s single in the fifth, Cardona lost track of the ball and began to return to first. He was thrown out before he could get back to second. Morgan was cut down in the fourth when he tried to advance on a ball in the dirt.

Tomorrow: Ariel Jurado will attempt to win his sixth straight start to begin the season for Hickory as he faces Corey Oswalt (3-0) of Savannah. The 11 a.m. game – an Education Day contest – has been announced as a sellout.

About Mark Introduction

Introduction to Crawdads Beat Blog

My name is Mark Parker and I am beginning a blog that will be about my work covering the Hickory Crawdads. To understand my mindset about baseball, you probably need to know a little about my background in baseball. I have none.

I am a church musician.  I love my work in the church and making music. It is what I live for. I am likely the only official scorekeeper in the U.S. that has a scorebook and a hymnal in the same briefcase.

But everyone needs a hobby, and mine is the great game of baseball. There was something that connected with me when at seven-years-old in 1970 I opened my first pack of baseball cards. The first card was Tom Grieve of the Washington Senators.

Since that fateful day, I grew to love the game. I played whatever pickup game what was going on in the neighborhood on the street or a backyard. On many summer evening growing up in my Riverdale, Ga. home, I turned on the radio in my bedroom and listened to voices such as Milo Hamilton, Ernie Johnson, Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren call Atlanta Braves baseball. When the Braves weren’t on, or were losing – which was often in the 70s – I tuned in to KMOX in St. Louis to catch Jack Buck and Mike Shannon. or to KDKA in Pittsburgh, or to Ernie Harwell in Detroit, or Marty Brennaman in Cincinnati. Through that magical box, the voices took me to cathedrals of the game I could envision in my mind.

When I finally attended by first game live at Fulton County Stadium in 1978 against the Cincinnati Reds – yes the great Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, George Foster (he homered in the game) and more were there. I walked into the seating area and it was as if the heavens descended to my sports earth. My first act as an “adult” – what I thought I was at 17 – was to drive MY car to Atlanta and buy my own dugout -evel ticket ($8 at the time) and see Phil Niekro pitch a Sunday afternoon against the San Francisco Giants. Yep, just me and about 2,000 fans in the hot, late, spring sun.

Out of high school, I moved west to Orange County, California in the early 80s. What joy to know they had TWO baseball teams – one American League (Angels) and one National League (Dodgers) team! And two hours south were the Padres… and eight hours north, the Giants and the A’s!  There it was. The voices of Vin Scully and Bob Starr and Jerry Coleman. Nirvana!

From those formative years, baseball went deep into the blood stream. And then, I attended a “baseball” school- Cal State Fullerton.

I married a girl who puts up with my baseball fanaticism (on our honeymoon, we went to Candlestick Park for a day game in June… and nearly froze to death!). My family moved back to the South, away from a major league park. It was in Southwest Ga. that I discovered the minor leagues for the first time in the mid 90s– the old Albany Polecats. I remember one player in particular with that team because of the peculiar name: Vladimir Guerrero.

Fast forward to 2002 and a chance to move to Hickory, NC or Troy, Mo. and take a job in one of the towns. I chose Hickory in large part because they had a baseball team. I loved the hometown community feel of sitting in the stands watching the Crawdads. I called my wife from the stands and said this will be our home.

The job didn’t work out as well as I had hoped, but after a period of being unemployed, I signed on to work in sales for the Crawdads. They were patient with me and I learned a lot. I worked the press box for five seasons, sold groups and billboards, pulled tarp, slept over during scout nights, mopped suites, ran press box music, got two of my kids to be mascots, etc. etc.

After five seasons, I realized it was a young man’s game to do that full time and so I went back into my music world. But, here’s the cool thing– I stayed on as the official scorer and I cover the team for the Hickory Daily Record! I.. get paid… to watch baseball!

I don’t pretend to know everything about the game, but I watch and I learn and I think I have a better understanding of what happens on and off the field. But then, I see something new and I further my education in this great game. I talk to scouts, players, coaches, rovers, managers, etc, etc. and I become more fascinated about baseball and how it works. And I’d like to share what I learn.

I’ve covered the Crawdads for the Hickory Daily Record for six seasons writing game stories, weekly notebook columns, and a couple of features a month. But I’ve want to do more than what print space often allows. So, the blog.

What I hope to do with this is still being fleshed out. Sometimes my work schedule will allow more time than others, so occasionally, postings will be spotty. There are things that happen in the course of a low-A season that I think will be of interest to fans (I hope!). Occasionally, I may write about a player (home or away), and I want to look in to writing about some of the past players. But, what I hope to do most is to share with the baseball world a part of what goes on in a small town in the Western Piedmont of North Carolina at a place called L.P. Frans Stadium.