I was surprised to see Brett Martin come back here. When I talked with him at the start of the season he said there was a checklist essentially: first pitch curve ball for strikes; work on the secondaries deeper in the count, getting through hitters a little bit quicker rather than running up count. How is he doing with the checklist as far as you can tell?
Daly: I think it’s been real good for Brett. Brett came in here last year, I think he was with that group of Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Luis Ortiz, and now he came back to Hickory being one of the lead guys. I think some of the challenges for him last year was to go out there, get deep in games and get guys out. Now, he’s taken like a step and it’s a little bit about pitch development. It’s about throwing that breaking ball when you’re behind in the count. It’s about getting guys out in three or four pitches or less. I think it’s been like a challenge for Brett and we think that it’s something that’s ultimately going to be helpful for him as he starts to move up the ladder.
I think there are a lot of discussions at the end of spring training about challenging him there at high A, or do we have him back to Hickory. We felt there were a number of challenges that he could go through here in Hickory that would prepare him better to go to High A, ultimately AA and on up to the Major leagues. Where Brett’s at, it’s been a challenge, but a very good one and something that we see as helping his career up to this point.
Jonathan Hernandez is somebody I’m beginning to enjoy more and more watching him pitch. He’s a young guy at 19. In his first start at Kannapolis, he was falling all over the place and he’s toned that down a lot. He seems to learn quickly into what he needs to do to make the next step.
Daly: He also comes from a baseball family. His father pitched in the minor leagues for a number of years. He actually was born in the states when his father was playing for Memphis. His father is also a pitching coach in the Dominican Winter League for Aguilas down there. So Jonathan has grown up in baseball and he’s always been a very focused young man.
I give Jonathan a lot of credit. When we signed him, he was very, very skinny. He’s put on a lot of good weight. He’s put in a lot of time in our Dominican complex. He pitched for two years for our Dominican Summer League team. He’s a young man that has some weapons. He can really mix all of his pitches. He has a very good I.Q. and aptitude of what he’s trying to do out there on the mound. It’s been real exciting to see him grow both physically and mentally over the past few years that he’s been in the organization.
Pedro Payano has been at the top of the rotation, when you run them out there one through six. He’s always going to give your five or six innings. He had the one-hitter. In a lot of ways, he came out of nowhere for us when he came here in August last year.
Daly: I think that Pedro is another guy that has a very good I.Q. He’s very good in terms of being able to read what the other hitters are trying to do. He’s able to attack them based on what the hitters are trying to read; so, he’s able to read bats. He’ll throw the breaking ball behind in the count. He’ll throw his changeup in any count. He can throw the fastball up to 92-93 and has good deception.
He’s a guy that took a couple of years in out Dominican Summer League program to kind of get himself going, but he’s been on a rocket ever since. He’s a guy that started 2015 in the Dominican Summer League, jumped to Arizona and then ended up here and was a huge part of the championship team for the Hickory Crawdads. We see a guy that has a very, very bright future.
Erik Swanson is another one that has taken another step forward after not throwing much last year.
Daly: It’s another credit to our scouting department. We get him in the eighth round out of Iowa Western and that was a good job by our scouts to even dig him up.
He’s a young man that has a very, very good arm. He’s really invested in what he’s doing off the field. He’s really invested in the strength and conditioning program and has done an outstanding job with Wade Lamont and Dustin Vissering, our strength and conditioning coach and our trainer, in terms of our arm care program that got derailed last year with some injuries. But he’s a guy that’s come in here this year and taken the ball each and every time that he’s gotten it, and it’s been very impressive.
He’s got a very heavy fastball, sneaky fastball and really pounds the strike zone. He’s a guy that we’ve been really excited about over the first couple of months, and that’s a real credit to Swanny and the investment he’s made in the strength and conditioning program.
Who are we not paying enough attention to on the pitching side, someone who’s not on the radar and then all of a sudden, there he is?
Daly: I think anytime you’re six-foot-seven and left-handed, I think Adam Choplick is a guy that is someone to keep an eye on. He throws up to 94 with a slider.
We got a real interesting guy in Matt Ball in the trade there with the Chicago White Sox for Anthony Renaudo. Again, a good job there by our scouting department to identify him – a 6-foot-4 pitcher with a 94, 95 mile-an-hour fastball and a slider. He’s been real impressive in the short amount of time that he’s been here so far.
I think Jeffery Springs from right up the road here (Appalachian State) is a guy whose fastball has taken a couple of steps up. He’s got a plus changeup. He can throw that changeup at any time in any count. He’s a left-hander with a really good makeup.
A mistake-filled game by both teams led to a see-saw affair that the Hickory Crawdads finally were able to take an 8-7 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves on Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Now at 24-11, Hickory holds the best record in the South Atlantic League and is 1 ½ games ahead of Hagerstown (Md.) in the Northern Division. Rome has dropped to 12-23 and is tied with Greensboro for the worst record in the SAL.
A crowd of 3,486 at L.P. Frans – many in attendance for the post-game concert by Christian artists “Love and the Outcome” – were able to see two of the top pitching prospects in minor league baseball in Rome’s Max Fried (MLB.com’s No. 10 Braves prospect) and the Crawdads Dillon Tate (No. 4). However, neither of the hurlers was sharp as the offenses took to the attack.
Rome scored three against Tate in the third. Yeudi Grullon used a strong wind to send a liner to the wall in right for a double. One out later, Luke Dykstra singled him in and then stole second. Juan Yepez and Justin Ellison collected back-to-back doubles to account for the other two runs.
The Crawdads got one back against Fried in the fourth as Eric Jenkins tripled and scored on Andy Ibanez’s single. Hickory then took the lead with four runs in the fifth. Josh Altmann and Ti’Quan Forbes opened the inning with singles and advanced to second and third after a sacrifice bunt by Chuck Moorman. Frandy De La Rosa singled in both runners before Chris Garia homered to right.
Errors by De La Rosa at second and Garia in left set up the tying runs for the Braves in the sixth as Grullon eventually singled in both Justin Ellison and Bradley Keller.
Rome took the lead with a run in the seventh. With one out, Dykstra and Jonathan Morales each singled. A wild pitch moved the runners up and Dykstra scored when Yepez hit a sharp grounder to Forbes at third. Forbes was able to knock the ball down and keep Morales at second, though Dykstra scored. Ellison walked to load the bases, but Crawdads reliever Adam Choplick got Lucas Herbert to fly out to shallow right and then struck out Keller to keep the deficit at 6-5.
The ability to hold the Braves to one run in the seventh proved crucial as the Crawdads returned serve for a final time in the bottom of the inning against Braves reliever Taylor Lewis. Moorman worked a leadoff walk followed by De La Rosa’s single. The key play of the inning came on Garia’s sacrifice back to Lewis in front of the mound. Lewis fielded the ball and as he turned to look towards third, dropped the ball and allowed Garia to reach and load the bases. Lewis struck out Jenkins, but then walked Andy Ibanez to force in Moorman. Dylan Moore singled in both runners to break the tie and make it 8-6.
Rome got to within 8-7 in the eighth as Crawdads reliever Joe Palumbo hit Ray-Patrick Didder with a pitch after two outs. Didder came all the way around to score as Dystrka doubled into the corner in left.
The Braves threatened in the ninth as Yepez doubled to lead off the inning. However, he remained there as Palumbo struck out Ellison and then got Herbert and Keller on fly outs to end the game.
What started out as a light spring zephyr at game time (11 mph) turned into a small gale a couple of innings into the game with the flags starched blowing left to right. Its first victim was Crawdads CF Jenkins, who had settled under a fly ball just short of the track in center, only to realize too late the ball was to his left by 20 feet.
Grullon’s first hit of the game in the third likely was wind-aided as it carried behind LeDarious Clark in right and off the wall. However, the wind likely took a homer away from Juan Yepez, as what looked an easy shot over the fence banged off the wall instead.
Garia’s homer to right was well struck in the fifth, but under normal circumstance it probably doesn’t leave the park. Garia made a nice play to circle around and catch a fly off the bat of Lucas Herbert to curtail further damage during the Braves three-run third. However, he misplayed a ball along the wall in left, then dropped the catch to enable Rome to score two runs in the seventh.
But as the wind taketh, the wind also giveth, as in the crucial seventh, the wind held up a blooper off the bat of Herbert and allowed Clark to make a running catch.
Pitching duel a dud:
Neither Tate for Hickory, nor Fried for Rome had their best stuff on display in the game.
Tate’s fastball was a tick down in velocity that what we’re used to seeing, but still running 93-95, with an occasional 96. We noticed in the press box that the high leg-kick Tate usually has in his delivery wasn’t quite as high on Saturday, and perhaps that affected his control, which at times was spotty. The fastball in the early innings tended to miss badly to his glove side. A strikeout of Yepez looking in the first caught the outside corner to the right-handed hitter. However, catcher Chuck Moorman’s glove was set up on the inside corner.
Tate’s changeup took the brunt of the beating in the third as both Yepez and Ellison jumped on pitches up and over the plate. The slider didn’t appear to get much use, nor did it have the same bite we’re used to seeing. With all that said, Tate managed to keep his composure on the mound in tight spots. After the wind-aided double in the second, Tate recovered to make Brandon Keller look silly on the best slider of the game and then blow a fastball by Alejandro Salazar to complete the inning.
Fried is, in a sense, getting his sea legs back after missing much of the last two seasons from “Tommy John” surgery. He ran a fastball in the 90-92 range, topping out at 94, which missed very few bats. Only Clark and Ibanez missed the pitch, which both times resulted in strikeouts. The lefty did throw the occasional change, though not for strikes, nor did it catch anyone off balance when it caught the plate. His main secondary of choice was the curveball that did have pretty decent bite, the best of which came prior to Clark’s strikeout.
So, with the secondaries average and the fastball on the straight side, Hickory hitters were able to square up good contact and keep Fried in trouble. Jenkins turned on a 93 mph heater inside and rifled it into the RF corner for his triple. Garia hit a fastball hard for an out in the first, but then got to one for his homer in the fifth. Forbes two hits against Fried came on fastballs and Chuck Moorman lined a first-pitch fastball to right in the second, but for an out.
Seventh the decisive inning:
Rome missed a golden opportunity to break open the game in the seventh, as Crawdads Adam Choplick struggled with curveball command. The key at-bat came with one out in the inning after a runner had scored with Choplick facing Herbert. After seven straight balls, Choplick got a 3-0 fastball over the plate and then got Herbert to chase a curve. A fastball in on the hands resulted in a jammed pop-up that LeDarious Clark ran down as the wind blew it to him in right. Choplick then got Alejandro Salazar to strikeout on three straight pitches. Hickory made Rome pay for the missed opportunity in the bottom of the inning.
Pickoff or not?:
Mild-mannered Crawdads manager Steve Mintz got tossed between prior to the top of the fifth inning, while arguing over the legality of a pickoff move by lefty Max Fried that resulted in two pickoffs, and kept the other Crawdads runners at bay at first.
With a flamingo like stance as he began his delivery, Fried was able to hold the front leg into place long enough to entice Hickory runners to break for second and become easy pickoffs. Both Dylan Moore and Josh Altmann fell victim to the tactic in the second. The move was a key part in a double play in the third, as Ti’Quan Forbes retreated a step to first on a pitch to the plate and then was an easy out on a grounder up the middle to second.
The question by Mintz was whether or not Fried was stepping towards first on the pickoff move to first, rather than a 45-degree step that he appeared to be taking on throws to the bag.
Baserunning still a work in progress:
Pickoffs aside, there were other miscues on the bag that I’m sure will be addressed. On De La Rosa’s two-run single in the fifth, Forbes ran a stop sign but up by acting manager Marty Hagen at third. Oddly enough, Rome chose to cut the ball off, allowing Forbes to score without a throw.
Chris Garia appeared to do the same on Dylan Moore’s two-RBI single in the seventh. On the same play, Ibanez took a wide turn around second as the ball was cut off from the outfield and was easily out during a chase in the third.
Stats not always what they seem:
My friend Scott Lucas does a minor league primer each spring during which he explains the precarious nature of earned runs. Many times, they are a tool to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness, but at times, it can be subjected to the whim of the official scorer.
Both errors committed by Hickory in the seventh were on plays I thought were 50-50 calls. I went to the error side on both calls and totally expected Rome to challenge the calls after the game (the Braves didn’t, after all). I debated in my head the Garia error against the wind factor; radio voice Aaron Cox thought the De La Rosa error was harsh. Both errors resulted in unearned runs for Jon Werner, who pitched the sixth.
Official scoring also has a minor effect on offensive stats as well. In the case above, both hitters – Ellison and Keller – had their averages nicked downward. On Garia’s sacrifice that was botched by the Rome pitcher, I had to determine whether or not Moorman should have been out at third – thereby giving Garia a time at bat – or if Garia was to be the one out – giving him a sacrifice and not charging a time at. I decided on the sacrifice. These are things that keep me awake at night.
After a see-saw affair through the first four innings, the Hickory Crawdads bullpen restored order and snared the team an 8-4 win over the Lexington Legends in a Monday morning game at L.P. Frans Stadium.
With the win and a split by Hagerstown (Md.) in its home doubleheader with Rome (Ga.), the Crawdads (17-8) now sit one-half game behind the Suns in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. Lexington dropped to 10-15 and is now in sixth in the Southern Division, seven games out of first and one game ahead of last place Rome.
The Crawdads took three of four in the series and wrapped up a 6-1 homestand.
The teams exchanged leads three times before Hickory scored two runs in the fifth to keep the lead for good.
The bullpen was the story of the afternoon for Hickory as a quartet of relievers held the Legends to two hits over the final 4.1 innings and posted six strikeouts.
Tyler Davis picked up for starter Brett Martin with two outs in the fourth and struck out five of the seven hitters he faced. Adam Choplick gave up two hits after two were out, but got out a break when catcher Chuck Moorman threw out Marten Gasparini trying to steal third to end the inning. Johan Juan and Jeffrey Springs each pitched perfect innings to close out the game.
Jose Almonte hit his team-leading fourth homer of the season to tie the game in the fourth. In the fifth, Moorman singled in the go-ahead run and then Tyler Sanchez scored when Lexington botched a run-down play of Moorman between first and second. Yrizarri’s RBI double in the seventh and Dylan Moore’s run-scoring single in the eighth tacked on insurance runs for Hickory.
The Crawdads posted 13 hits on the afternoon and scored in six of eight innings. All nine batters had at least one hit with Eric Jenkins, Moore, Sanchez and Yrizarri collecting two each.
Yrizarri knocked in three runs and finished the series 7-for-12 with 3 runs scored and six RBI.
Bullpen Legen—wait for it – dary in Win:
The outing for Tyler Davis didn’t start well when he entered the game in the fourth. With two outs in the inning and DJ Burt at first, Burt took off for second and reached safely when Davis was called for a balk, as he attempted to turn and throw to second. However, Davis recovered to get Marten Gasparini looking on a changeup to end the inning.
“When Davis came in, he came in and pounded the zone with his fastball and was able to get some breaking balls and changeups in there,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “He really went after them and I think that gave us some momentum to start scoring a little more then without people all over the bases.”
The right-handed Davis – the Texas Rangers 23rd round pick in 2015 out of Washington – pounded the arm-side corner with an 89-91 mph fastball. But it was his ability to change speeds along that corner which that kept the Legends hitters off stride. In the fifth, Chase Vallot spoiled a fastball on the corner and then swung through a change in the same spot. Amalani Fukofuka was the one batter that seemed to solve Davis through a nine-pitch at-bat before whiffing on a slider off the plate to end the inning.
“I have to give Chuck (Moorman) a lot of credit,” said Davis. “He had a good plan behind the dish all day today. I was just pounding the strike zone with fastballs early and getting ahead of batters. Obviously, when you’re ahead of batters, it makes everything a lot easier. You can do a lot more with the at-bat; you can do a lot more with what you can throw. You’re basically in the driver’s seat.”
In the sixth Davis got Ben Johnson to swing through a slider off the plate before blowing an 89 mile an hour fastball by him. He used a similar plan to Xavier Hernandez, getting the first two strikes on off-speed pitches before painting the corner on a fastball to get him looking.
“I’m not an overpowering pitcher and I know that,” Davis said. “I really try to focus on keeping the ball down and getting ahead of batters and then mixing it up, getting them off balance a lot and keeping them off balance constantly with off-speed stuff and with fastballs as well. Being able to do that is huge and makes life a lot easier for me and the catcher and the coaches.”
Six-foot-eight lefty Adam Choplick used a 94 mph fastball and a biting curve to handle Lexington in the seventh. He left a pair of heaters over the plate that were struck into the outfield. Overall, a good outing that was helped along when Gasparini was thrown out stealing third.
Johan Juan had little trouble in the eighth, sporting fastballs in the 92-94 range. Jeffrey Springs closed out the ninth on just six pitches.
A comedy of errors:
Whether it was the 10:30 a.m. start, or getaway day prior to an off-day for both teams, fundamental plays were difficult to come by.
In the first, the Crawdads had a chance to get out of the inning unscathed for starter Brett Martin. With runners at first and second, the slow-footed Samir Duenez hit what looked to be a routine double play ball to Frandy De La Rosa at second. However, he and Yrizarri and short were slow in getting the play in motion and Duenez beat out the play. Burt scored on Vallot’s single.
Lexington returned the favor defensively in the bottom of the inning. With runners at second and third with no outs, Moore rifled a shot that Jecksson Flores snagged at third. Instead of taking the sure out at first, Flores gambled and lost when he tried to tag Chris Garia scrambling back to third. Garia beat the play and the bases were loaded. Hickory then traded two outs for two runs in the inning.
The Crawdads appeared to add to its early lead in the second when Garia lifted a fly ball to right that scored Ti’Quan Forbes. However, Lexington successfully appealed the play and Forbes was ruled to have left third early.
A leadoff error by 2B Frandy De La Rosa led to a pair of unearned runs in the third that gave Lexington a 4-2 lead. Then in the bottom of the third, a single and a double, a walk and another single led to only one Crawdads run as Eric Jenkins was picked off first.
“It took us a couple of innings to get together and then everybody pulled their heads back out and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got something to do here,’” said Mintz. “For the most part, we did what we had to do. We could’ve helped ourselves a little bit better early.”
Lexington appeared to get a break from Hickory in the fifth when Moorman was caught off first after Emilio Ogando’s pitch in the dirt was corralled by Vallot behind the plate. However, Bart’s throw during the rundown got away and Sanchez scored.
The Legends last chance to stay in the game came in the seventh. Down 6-4 in the seventh, Gasparini and Duenez both singled. But with Vallot at the plate at a 1-1 count, the runners took off for a double steal with Moorman easily throwing out Gasparini at third as Gasparini appeared to injure his left leg during the play.
Eric Jenkins reached on an error at short in the eighth with two outs and scored on Moore’s RBI single.
Martin looking for go-to pitch:
Crawdads starter Brett Martin needed 90 pitches to record 10 outs and it was partially his inability to finish off hitters that was his undoing.
An omen as to what was to come occurred in a lengthy battle between Martin and Gasparini. Martin continually stayed away from the right-handed hitter with a series of fastballs on and off the outside corner. Gasparini spoiled several fastballs and was then able to read a changeup in the same area and laid off a curveball away. On the tenth pitch of the plate appearance, Gasparini served an outside-corner fastball into right.
Martin had difficulty with throwing his secondary pitches consistently for strikes, leaving him without a trusted out pitch. On two-strike counts against Martin, Lexington went 6-for-12 with a walk. The botched double play ball and the De La Rosa error also hampered things for Martin.
“Martin threw okay,” Mintz said. “Just his execution today on some pitches when he was ahead on counts and different things, the execution wasn’t there. Obviously, he ate up some pitches, but we didn’t help him in the field there a couple of times.”
Running, running, running:
The Crawdads stole 19 bases during the four-game series, getting caught just three times. Nine different players stole a base in the series with Jenkins leading the way with five. Yrizarri and De La Rosa each had three, while Dylan Moore had two.
“Alexander Basabe crushes a very flat slider. Greenville up 4-3 and this feels like it’s over.”
I’m an idiot.
In the longest home game by innings since…. last May, the Hickory Crawdads used the hot bat of Andy Ibanez to defeat the Greenville Drive 5-4 in the final game of the three-game series between the squads. The win was the lone victory in the series and clinched a 4-3 season-opening homestand.
Andy Ibanez had five hits and a walk in eight plate appearances for the Crawdads, including a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI double in the 17th.
The game winner came after the clubs combined for 12 baserunners in the previous 9 ½ innings of play.
Both teams put up two unearned runs early on. In the first, a fielding error by Drive 3B Chad De La Guerra allowed Eric Jenkins to reach. Ibanez doubled him in and later scored himself on Frandy De La Rosa’s sacrifice fly to the wall in right.
Greenville used a dropped fly ball in right by Jose Almonte with two outs to get even. After the error put runners at second and third, Josh Ockimey walked and Tate Matheny singled in both runs.
Luis Alexander Basabe cracked a two-run homer in the sixth off Crawdads reliever Johan Juan, but Ibanez’s blast tied it, setting up the battle of attrition in the bullpen.
A quartet of relievers for Hickory held the hottest lineup in the South Atlantic League to three hits and four walks with 10 Ks over the final 10 innings. Lefty Jeffrey Springs allowed a single and walk with five strikeouts over four innings. Fellow southpaw Adam Choplick added three scoreless innings with only a walk allowed and fanned two. Jacob Shortslef made a successful Crawdads debut with a hit and a single allowed with three Ks. Blake Bass pitched in his second straight game and worked out of a two-on, one-out situation in the 17th.
Greenville was nearly equal to the Crawdads bullpen corps. Bobby Poyner struck out five and gave up two hits over three shutout innings. Former Crawdads hurler Anyelo Leclerc (’14) allowed just one walk and struck out five over three innings. Triple-digit hurler Victor Diaz had given up two hits over the first three innings and struck out four prior to Jenkins and Ibanez getting to him for the game winner.
Andy Ibanez, Andy Ibanez, Andy Ibanez: My Twitter feed lit up all afternoon with praise over the 23-year old’s work at the plate. Quite simply at this moment, his bat is simply too much for this league.Thus far, it has taken an elite prospect (ie. Anderson Espinoza) to quiet him at the plate.
His manager, Steve Mintz is running out of new things to say about the Cuban import.“He continues to put the ball in play. He’s huge for us. Right now, you watch him and he just seems to be a step above everybody – the adjustments that he makes to different pitchers. That last guy, there, he was throwing 100 – just being able to see it, be on time and square it up like he does.”
In the first against Roniel Raudes, Ibanez pulled the hands in for a 90 mph fastball and rapped it off the wall in left-center. In the third, he showed good patience in not chasing a trio of curveballs and a fastball off the plate in working a walk.
Against Kuehl McEachern in the fifth, he fouled off an attempted bunt on the first pitch, then got enough on an 88 fastball to single to the hole at short. Ibanez faced McEachern again in the seventh. He swung through a fastball off the plate, then ignored a couple of sliders off the plate sandwiched around a fastball away. The final pitch was a flat slider that Ibanez sent easily over the fence in LCF.
Ibanez got a gift single in the 10th as he got jammed , but got enough to bloop it to shallow right.
A fly out to center and a strikeout on the 15th led to the 17th. After fouling off a change and a fastball, an 0-2, 99 mph pitch got too much of the plate and Ibanez sent it to the wall.
After a rough opening weekend, (7 Ks in 14 PAs), Jenkins has hit a nice groove for now. He has hits in 7-of-8 games with multi-hit games in three of them, including a three-hit game on Wednesday.
The thing I’ve noticed about Jenkins in the short time I’ve seen him late last season and early this year is how quick he learns and makes adjustments. At the plate, he has a better sense of what to do with breaking balls. Combined with his ability to hit the fastball, he’s a tough out right now.
In the 15th, Jenkins absolutely crushed a 98 mph from Diaz to the gap in right-center. He also got enough on one in the 17th to get it up the middle.
He will take a walk and not chase pitches, as he did in the 12th. His strikeout in the seventh was against sidewider Kuehl McEachern, who was able to use a changeup effectively at the outside corner.
But for me, the first AB was priceless: a 9-pitch AB that wound up into a hard –hit grounder for an error. After getting down 0-2 (fastball up swinging, fastball up & in foul), he let a show-me fastball away go by for ball one. A changeup just inside was ignored (2-2). He spoiled a fastball, spit on a curveball down, then fouled off two-straight fastballs in before finally ripping a fastball outside-corner for the grounder.
Pitchers will adjust to him, of course, but Jenkins will adjust back. Once that 6-1, 170-lbs frame fills in…
“He had a rough start, obviously, but we weren’t too worried about it,” Mintz said. “Now he’s swinging with more contact and taking some bases when he needs to. It just seems like his game’s coming together better.”
Went 1-for-7 with two Ks. Was impatient early, as he saw just seven pitches over first 4 ABs. In the 5th AB, he was unable to get a bunt down against breaking balls and eventually struck out. But over the final two ABs, he saw 16 pitches, including a 9-pitch battle in the 16th.
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Yrizarri AB in 15th
97 in foul
99 in foul
90 away foul
99 in ball
97 foul off ump
97 off own shin
81 curve whiff
There are times he is overmatched on fastballs and he can be impatient in swinging at a pitcher’s pitch, but there are times he can and will battle.
1-for-17 with runners in scoring position, left 11 on base.
“It was unbelievable,” said Mintz. “I felt like we left so many runners on base. In the fourth inning, we had first and second with nobody out. In the fifth inning, we had bases loaded and nobody out. It seemed like every time I turned around, Jenkins was on second base, but we couldn’t get him in.”
He just never looked right on Wednesday. Fastball that topped at 89 had little life or control. The curveball seemed to have two speeds – high 70s, and then a few low 70s with a bottom of 69. It missed five bats by my count. Change was around 82-85 that was enough to throw off timing.
Usually – at least when I’ve seen him – very stoic on the mound. On Wednesday, there were times he’d go to the rosin bag in frustration and toss it down and there was much more walking around the mound than I can recall.
Given the low-fastball velo for him, and the demeanor, the Crawdads radio guy and I wondered if he was hurt in the third.
With all that said, Payano still gave up just the two unearned runs in the third with two hits, three walks and three Ks. He gutted out 87 pitches by my count (50 strikes).
Here’s what Mintz had to say about his start:
“One thing, too, is it seemed like he was changing some arm angles and trying to do a little bit too much with some pitches. But, he kept being able to get his offspeeds over in different counts and kept them off balance and they weren’t able to square a lot of balls up on him. He wasn’t as comfortable or as sharp as you would like him, but he found a way us through five innings against that lineup.”
Maybe it’s because he went up the road to Appalachian St., where my kid is attending, but I like this lefty… a lot – and I did when he came here last year.An 11-5 curve that buckles the knees of LH-hitters and goes for strikes. Put that with a 89-91 fastball and that was a tough combination for a Drive lineup that had been hot.
One of these days he’s going to pitch at a time when I can really pay attention, and not writing in the middle of it.(I had an original deadline of 4:30 for the newspaper story.) Tall lefty runs a fastball 92-93 that ate up RH hitter Joseph Monge in the 12th, with the final pitch hitting the inside corner looking. Curveball didn’t seem to have quite the feel or accuracy as Springs,
Fastball 93-94, Slider that missed five bats over two innings (by my count). Pretty impressive outing for his debut.
Andy Ibanez: For those that are ready for him to get to AA need to know his baserunning is a mess. Really having a tough time reading the move of pitchers. Got a horrible jump against lefty Bobby Poyner in the 10th and was thrown out easily … on a curveball.
From what I’ve been told by Rangers staff is they want the whole package to be ready for a move up, not just the bat.
For the season in his 12 games, Ibanez has been caught stealing six times and picked off three.
Notes of interest:
The walk-off win over Greenville was the fifth by the Crawdads in four seasons and the fifth straight season with at least one…. It was also the first walk-off since 7/1/15.
The Kannapolis Intimidators put up their first win of the season as they throttled the Hickory Crawdads 10-3 in front of 1,269 fans at Intimidators Stadium.
The I’s never trailed as they opened the scoring with a two-run double by Landon Lassiter in the second. A three-run blast from Zach Fish completed a four-run third inning before the Intimidators added two runs in the fourth and fifth to blow it up to the final margin.
Johan Cruz had an sacrifice fly in the third and added a two run double in the fifth.
LaDarious Clark hit his first homer of the season in the third. Jose Almonte added an RBI single in the fourth before Clark scored on an attempted double steal in the fifth.
Tanner Banks allowed three runs on six hits over the first five innings to pick up the win for Kannapolis. Matt Ball and Taylore Cherry each threw two shutout innings, as the trio combined for 13 strikeouts.
Hickory put up 11 hits, added two walks and put three others aboard on Kannapolis errors, but scored just three runs. The Crawdads stranded 11 and went 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position and the trouble started in the first. Hickory put two on with one out and loaded the bases one out later, but Dylan Moore lined to center and Eduard Pinto bounced back to the mound. A double play in the second erased a leadoff runner. In the third Ibanez reached on a leadoff double, but nothing came of the scoring chance. The Crawdads put two on in the sixth, but came up empty. Two more reached in the seventh with one out, but Moore K’d and Frandy De La Rosa fouled to the catcher. Again, two more runners aboard with one out in the eighth, but Darius Day and LaDarious Clark struck out. To close it out, Ibanez reached 2B with none out in the ninth, but Tyler Sanchez and Dylan Moore whiffed before Frandy De La Rosa hit into a bad-call, 4-1 bouncer to end it.
Ibanez continues to rip the ball in the early season. He raked a middle-in fastball in the first and doubled to the LCF wall in the first. He took another such pitch and ripped it down the line in LF in the third. After walking in the fifth, he was fooled by a slider from Ball in the seventh before working a second walk. Ibanez then took a fastball away and lined it for a single up the middle in the ninth.
Eduard Pinto looks back in gear on Sunday, seeing the ball into the catcher’s mitt as he was want to do in 2015. Pinto pulled a fastball into the RF corner and added a single in the sixth.
Clark put up a couple of hits, including a homer in the third. He apparently didn’t think much of the contact as he slammed his bat, but the ball continued to carry and easily cleared the fence in LCF. He also added a broken bat single in the fifth. Conversely, Clark fanned three times as he had trouble with the breaking ball.
Hickory struck out 13 times: Moore, Day and Forbes each with three.
The first non-complex start by Jonathan Hernandez was not a good one as he struggled with fastball control. At times, the 6-2, 183-pound right-hander appeared to overthrow the pitch, including one offering in which Hernandez wound up on the grass to the first-base side of the mound. He began to introduce his offspeed pitches the second time through the order and it was an 0-2 change (it appeared to be a CH- no speed gun) that stayed up to Johan Cruz and Cruz got enough on it to pull it to left. A Baltimore Chop grounder by Antonio Rodriguez over the head of Ibanez at second compounded the inning before Zach Fish hit a no-doubt, three-run blast. That made it 6-1 in the third and the game began to ebb away. Hernandez threw his slider a few times late in the outing and got Cody Daily to swing through one to end the third.
Andy Choplick showed a decent fastball-curve combination and was more thwarted by a couple of seeing-eye hits and poor defensive play than anything.
Johan Juan retired the side in the eighth with a lively fastball, though control was iffy at times.
Four errors and another botched play during which Ti’Quan Forbes was late covering first compounded things for the Crawdads throughout the game.
Darius Day booted a double down the line in left that led to a run in the second. However, he made a couple of star-quality plays later on, including a long run into the LF corner to snag Daily’s fly ball. He added a nice catch of a liner off the bat of Corey Zangari in the eighth.
A weak throw by Frandy De La Rosa across the diamond from third to first in the fourth aided the two-run inning. It was a throw that possibly could’ve been scooped out at first, but Forbes’ inexperience worked against him there.
In the fifth, Forbes made a misjudgment in going after a ball in the hole at second that Ibanez easily got to, and then further exacerbated the situation by not getting back to first quick enough. Add to that a dropped pop foul and it was a tough afternoon for a guy making his first pro start at the position.
Clark dropped a ball in center after attempting a basket catch.
Hickory has committed nine errors in four games, something that certainly will be addressed by the Rangers as the organization is adamant about helping their pitchers do what they need to do to get outs.
Two steals by Clark, but one of those happened after he was picked off first it the fifth, yet Cruz was late getting the tag down.
Ibanez caught off second and into a rundown in the third after a bouncer to the mound. However, Moore did a good job on hustling to second during the rundown to replace Ibanez.
Jose Almonte got caught flat-footed on a pickoff by catcher Seby Zavala in the fourth.
As good as Ibanez has been in the early going, we’ve found out that he will show his emotions on the field, and in this game, it was not a good thing. On the play in the fifth with Forbes, Ibanez was visible in his displeasure with Forbes, extending both hands to his sides. Ibanez did a similar gesture toward the base umpire after Rodriguez beat out a close play in the sixth. In the seventh, it was an adamant disagreement with the home plate ump after Ibanez was ruled to not have checked his swing. It didn’t appear to be a good look.
The Texas Rangers and Hickory Crawdads released the opening-day roster for the Crawdads earlier this week. I’ll take a look at the roster over two parts beginning with the pitchers in this entry.
In looking at the roster, the first thing I noticed was how much older the pitching staff is this season compared to season’s past as a Texas Rangers affiliate. During the Crawdads-Rangers tenure over the past seven seasons, Hickory has had such teen pitching phenoms as Martin Perez, Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Joe Ortiz, Robbie Erlin, Andrew Faulkner, Victor Payano, Jose Leclerc, Akeem Bostick, Luis Ortiz, and Ariel Jurado start the season in a Crawdads uniform.
In 2015, 19-year-olds Jurado and Ortiz, along with 20-year old Brett Martin were the cornerstones of the starting rotation with LHP pitching prospect Yohander Mendez – himself 20 – waiting in the wings in the bullpen. This season, Jonathan Hernandez is the lone teen wolf (19) on the Crawdads staff.
Now, in the past, the Rangers have sent teen-aged pitchers to Hickory in early-to-mid May to save wear and tear on the arms (Joe Wieland, Neil Ramirez, Cody Buckel, Luke Jackson to name a few), with most repeating the Low-A level the following season. That may well happen here and that remains to be seen.
I also noticed a heavier – at least it seems to me – tilt towards pitchers with college backgrounds than in years past. Last year, seven of the 14 pitchers on the opening-day roster had four-year or two-year backgrounds. This year, 10 of the 12 have college experience, eight of those from a four-year school.
Last year’s pitching staff was an average of 21.4 years old (Baseballreference.com). At the start of this season, eight of the 14 members of the pitching staff are 22 and older. This is similar to the Pirate-affiliate days.
One possible effect of the heavier-than-normal college presence on the roster could be the allotment of innings. In years past, the Rangers would begin skipping starts at the midpoint of the season and heavily monitor the wear-and-tear of the younger arms to limit innings. However, with the older group, I wonder how much of that will be in play with this group. Even the younger pitchers on the roster (Brett Martin and Pedro Payano) have already built up to 90+ innings the past year. One thing to keep in mind, though, is several of the pitchers on the roster (Wes Benjamin, Adam Choplick to name a couple) have had “Tommy John” surgeries in the past and that will, of course, bear watching.
A couple of surprises, at least to me, related to the pitchers sent to Hickory. The first, for me, is the return of 2015 SAL All-Star Brett Martin. The left-hander had 72 Ks and 26 BBs in 95.1 innings, but at times struggled with consistency (1.07 WHIP first half of 2015, 1.41 second half) and with nagging injuries. Like Collin Wiles from 2015, this season could be about finding that groove of becoming a consistent six-to-seven inning starter each time out.
Another is the return of Dillon Tate, the fourth-overall pick in 2015. A major checklist item from his time at Hickory in August of 2015 was the development of a changeup and that could be better suited during his time in South Atlantic League ballparks rather than in the rarefied air of the high desert of California.
WHAT ELSE TO LOOK FOR:
Wes Benjamin comes to Hickory after pitching a lone inning in the AZL last summer. The Kansas product had been out since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.
Pedro Payano opened a ton of eyes in 2015, pitching at three levels with the final coming at Hickory. His three-pitch combination (fastball, curve, change) was used to great effect here in August and the playoffs, as he showed the ability to use any pitch in any count. Given that ability at age 21, his No. 29 prospect listing by MLB.com seems a bit low, though that could have more to do with the Rangers talent up the chain rather than with Payano’s ability. With his pitchability and poise on the mound, Payano could have a Ariel Jurado-type season that further opens eyes.
Starting rotation likely begins with Tate, Payano, Martin and Hernandez. Others with starting experience in the pros include Bass, Tyler Davis, Peter Fairbanks and Joe Palumbo. Jeffrey Springs started at Appalachian St.
2016 HICKORY CRAWDADS PITCHER CAPSULES
BLAKE BASS (RHP, 6-7, 265)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (4 starts) at Spokane (Wash.), 33 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 15 BB, 29 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .242 OBA.
About Bass: A native of Lubbock, Tex,. Bass, 22, was the Texas Rangers eighth-round pick in 2015 out of Angelo (Tex.) St., where he was a first-team All-Lone Star Conference pick. Was an All-State performer as a senior at Coronado High.
WES BENJAMIN (LHP, 6-1, 197)
2015 Pro Season: 1 game (1 start) at Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers, 1 IP, 1 BB, 2 K.
About Benjamin: A native of St. Charles, Ill., Benjamin, 22, was the fifth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Kansas. Was an All- Big 12 Freshman Team selection. Underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2014 (Tommy John). Formerly drafted by the New York Yankees (48th round) in 2011.
ADAM CHOPLICK (LHP, 6-8, 275)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games at Spokane, 33 IP, 1 HR, 23 BB, 35 K, 2.18 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .242 OBA.
About Choplick: A native of Denton, Tex., Choplick, 23, was the 14th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Oklahoma. Was formerly drafted by the Chicago White Sox (32nd round) in 2014 and the Arizona Diamondbacks (17th round) in 2011. Underwent Tommy John surgery while a junior at Denton Ryan High. Was second team All-State pick in baseball as a high school senior and a first team All-State performer as a senior in basketball.
TYLER DAVIS (RHP, 5-10, 190)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games (2 starts) at Spokane, 35 1/3 IP, 4 HR, 12 BB, 30 K, 5.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .293 OBA.
About Davis: A native of Seattle, Davis, 23, was the 23rd round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Washington. Was the Northwest League Pitcher of the Week (Sept. 1-7) after throwing six no-hit innings in a start for Spokane. Holds the Huskies record for innings pitched at the school, second in starts and fourth in wins and strikeouts. Was an All-Pac 12 selection his junior and senior seasons and an All-American in 2014. His brother Erik pitched for the Washington Nationals in 2013.
PETER FAIRBANKS (RHP, 6-6, 219)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (11 starts) at Spokane, 57 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 22 BB, 47 K, 3.14 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .246 OBA.
About Fairbanks: A native of St. Louis, Mo., Fairbanks, 22, was the ninth round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Missouri. Was a first-team All-Conference infielder in high school at Webster Grove in 2012. Underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school junior. His father played one season in the Houston Astros chain in 1983.
JONATHAN HERNANDEZ (RHP, 6-2, 173)
2015 Pro Season: 11 games (9 starts) at AZL Rangers, 45 IP, 0 HR, 12 BB, 3 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .250 OBA.
About Hernandez: A native of Santiago de los Caballos, D. R., Hernandez, 19, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.Baseball America has Hernandez as the 20th best Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 28. His father, Fernando, pitched briefly for the Detroit Tigers during a 14-season pro career.
JOHAN JUAN (RHP, 6-1, 180)
2015 Pro Season: 18 games at Dominican Summer League (DSL) Rangers, 43 1/3 IP, 2 HR, 7 BB, 46 K, 1.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .218 OBA.
About Juan: A native of La Romana, D. R., Juan, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013. After posting a 1.95 ERA over three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Juan will be making his U.S. debut this year.
OMARLIN LOPEZ (RHP, 6-3, 162)
2015 Pro Season: 20 games at Spokane, 36 IP, 3 HR, 16 BB, 36 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .267 OBA.
About Lopez: A native of Payita, D.R., Lopez, 22, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.
BRETT MARTIN (LHP, 6-4, 190)
2015 Pro Season: 10 games (18 starts) at Hickory, 95 1/3 IP, 6 HR, 26 BB, 72 K, 3.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.65 OBA.
About Martin: A native of Morristown, Tenn., Martin, 20, was the fourth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Walters St. (Tenn.) CC. Named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in 2015. Threw four shutout innings against Asheville in Game 2 of the 2015 SAL Championship Series. Originally attended Tennessee before transferring to Walters St. He is the Rangers No. 11 prospect, according to MLB.com and No. 18 tabbed by Baseball America.
JOE PALUMBO, (LHP, 6-1, 168)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (9 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 58 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 25 BB, 43 K, 3.07 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .253 OBA.
About Palumbo: A native of Holbrook, N.Y., Palumbo, 21, was the Rangers 30th round pick in 2013 out of St. John the Baptist (N.Y.) High. Made a start for Hickory on the final regular season game in 2015. Named to the Arizona Summer League All-Star Team in 2014.
PEDRO PAYANO (RHP, 6-2, 207)
2015 Pro Season: 17 games (12 starts) at DSL Rangers, AZL Rangers, Hickory, 89 IP, 1 HR, 22 BB, 101 K, 1.11 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .244 OBA.
About Payano: A native of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., Payano, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2011. Named Rangers minor league pitcher of the month in July 2015 after going 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA. Allowed one or fewer runs in five of six starts for Hickory after joining the club August 1, 2015. Threw six shutout innings vs. Asheville in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Championship Series.
JACOB SHORTSLEF (RHP, 6-5, 235)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games at AZL Rangers and Spokane, 37 IP, 1 HR, 8 BB, 33 K, 1.95 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .271 OBA.
About Shortslef: A native of Sterling, N.Y., Shortslef, 21, was the Rangers 26th round pick in 2015 out of Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC. As a sophomore, ranked ninth nationally with a .157 opponent batting avg. Struck out 20 of 21 batters in a game while a senior at Hannibal (N.Y.) High. Brother Josh pitched for Hickory in 2003 and 2004, as part of his ten-season, minor-league career with the Pirates.
JEFFREY SPRINGS (LHP, 6-3, 193)
2015 Pro Season: 17 games at Spokane and Hickory, 27 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 15 BB, 39 K, 2.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .200 OBA.
About Springs: A native of Belmont, N.C., Springs, 23, was the Rangers 30th round pick out in 2015 of Appalachian St. Left the Mountaineers third in career starts and fourth in strikeouts. Attended South Point High and led the Red Raiders to the state 3A title in 2011 and named the MVP of the championship series. Named 2011 North Carolina 3A player of the year.
ERIK SWANSON (RHP, 6-3, 250)
2015 Pro Season: 10 games at AZL Rangers, Hickory, Frisco (Tex.) and Round Rock (Tex.) 15 1/3 IP, 1 HR, 7 BB, 14 K. 2.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .185 OBA.
About Swanson: A native of Terrace Park, Ohio, Swanson, 22, was the Rangers eighth round pick in 2014 out of Iowa Western CC. Made seven appearances for Hickory before landing on the disabled list (elbow strain) on July 23 through the remainder of the season. Named Most Outstanding Pitcher while leading Iowa Western to NJCAA Division I College World Series title in 2014. Was to attend Pittsburgh before deciding to sign with Texas.
DILLON TATE (RHP, 6-2, 197)
2015 Pro Season: 6 games (6 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 9 IP, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K. 1.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, .100 OBA.
About Tate: A native of Claremont, Calif., Tate, 21, was the first round pick (fourth overall) of the Rangers in 2015 out of California-Santa Barbara. Was highest-drafted player to appear in a Crawdads uniform since Brad Lincoln (4th overall) did so in 2006.Named 2015 Louisville Slugger All-American and a Golden Spikes Award semi-finalist in 2015. Allowed 2 runs over four innings in three appearances for Hickory during the 2015 postseason. Currently the No. 4 Rangers prospect by Baseball America and No. 5 by MLB.com, which has Tate as the No. 36 prospect in the minors and the eighth-best right-handed pitching prospect.