Results tagged ‘ Alumni ’
The 2018 Major League Baseball season has begun and across the landscape former Hickory Crawdads dot the big-league rosters. Thirty-two former players are on 16 different teams, including 11 with the Texas Rangers, the parent club of the Crawdads.
Below is an overview of where former Hickory players will start the 2018 season:
Alex Claudio: The 2013 Crawdads reliever will bring his changeup to the Rangers for his fifth season at Arlington. Claudio posted 11 saves and a 2.50 ERA over 70 games (8th in the AL) last year. He again is expected to be a key member of the Rangers bullpen.
Joey Gallo: The Crawdads single-season home run record holder joins the Rangers for his fourth season in the majors. A third baseman for the 2013 team, Gallo will start at first for Texas. He is coming off a season in which he hit 41 homers (third in the AL) and slugged .537 (9th).
Keone Kela: Another Crawdads reliever from the 2013 club returns to the Rangers for his fourth big-league season. Kela is expected to be the closer for the Texas, one season after posting a 2.79 ERA and struck out 51 in 38.2 innings (39 games).
Jose Leclerc: A third reliever off the 2013 Crawdads squad will be in his third season with the Rangers, but his first on the opening-day roster. He appeared in 47 games out of the Texas bullpen in 2017 and put up a 3.94 ERA. Opposing hitters hit just .145 against Leclerc, who struck out 60 in 45.2 innings.
Nomar Mazara: The Crawdads right fielder in 2013 and 2014 will be in his third season with Texas to start the season. Mazara posted a .253/.323/.422 slash in 2017 with 20 homers and 101 RBI (9th in the AL). He opens the season as the Rangers starting right fielder.
Rougned Odor: The Crawdads 2012 second baseman suits up for Texas in his fifth season as the club’s starter at the same position. Though he hit 30 or more homers for his second straight season, Odor struggled at the plate with a .204/.252/.397 slash.
Martin Perez: The 2009 Crawdads starting pitcher will begin the season on the disabled list (right elbow) but is expected to make his first start for the Rangers on April 5. Now in his seventh season, Perez went 13-12 in 32 starts in 2017. He’s looking to improve on a 4.82 ERA and a .301 opponents batting avg.
Jurickson Profar: The 2011 Crawdads shortstop is now in his fifth season with the Rangers after spending much of last year at AAA Round Rock. Profar hit .172/.294/.207 in 22 major league games in 2017. He will play a utility role for Texas.
Drew Robinson: The 2012 Crawdads third baseman is in his second season with the Rangers after making his debut with the club last April. Sent down to AAA Round Rock shortly after his debut, Robinson returned mid-season and hit .224/.314/.439 in 48 games with Texas. He starts the season as a utilityman.
Ricardo Rodriguez: The 2014-2015 pitcher for the Crawdads will start the 2018 season on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. Rodriguez made his big-league debut with the Rangers last August. In 16 relief appearances, he had a 6.15 ERA in 13 innings.
Ryan Rua: The 2013 Crawdads second baseman is in his fifth major league season with the Rangers and is the team’s starting left fielder. Rua split last season with Texas and AAA Round Rock. With the Rangers, he had a .217/.294/.333 slash with nine extra-base hits in 144 plate appearances.
Richard Bleier: A starting pitcher at the beginning of the 2009 season, the lefty is in his third major league season, the second with the Orioles. Bleier was called up to stay with the Orioles in May 2017 and became a key part of the team’s bullpen. In 57 games covering 63.1 innings, Bleier went 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA to go with an opponents batting average of .257 and a 1.18 WHIP.
Chicago White Sox:
Leury Garcia: The Crawdads shortstop from 2009-2010 is in his sixth major league season with 215 his 240 big-league games coming with the White Sox. Garcia hit for a MLB career high .270 in 87 games with nine homers and 33 RBI. He will play a utility role, mostly as a fourth outfielder.
Rajai Davis: The Crawdads 2003 center fielder – he also played a handful of games with the team in 2002 – begins his 13th big-league season by rejoining the Indians. Signed by Cleveland to a minor league contract in the offseason, Davis had a strong spring to make the team. Davis stole 43 bases for Cleveland in 134 games in 2016 and his eighth-inning, three-run homer against Aroldis Chapman in game seven of the 2016 World Series tied the game at the time. He played in 100 games with Oakland last season before going to the Boston Red Sox in a late-season trade. Davis posted a .235/.293/.348 slash and stole 29 bases last year. He will be a fourth outfielder this year for the Indians.
Kansas City Royals:
Justin Grimm: A 2011 starting pitcher for Hickory is now in his seventh major league season, the first with Kansas City. The Royals signed him after the Chicago Cubs released him in spring training. Grimm went 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA in 50 relief appearances last year with the Cubs.
Zach Duke: A starting pitcher for the Crawdads in 2003, Duke is now in his 14th season in the major leagues and will begin his tenure with the Twins this season out of the bullpen. Coming off 2016 “Tommy John” surgery, Duke made 27 relief appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017 with a 3.93 ERA and a .197 OBA in 18.1 innings. He’s expected to be a left-handed specialist for Minnesota.
New York Yankees:
Neil Walker: The 2005 Crawdads catcher is in his 10th major league season, his first with the Yankees after signing a free-agent contract with the club in March. After seven seasons as the starting second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets, Walker moved around the diamond in 2017, first with the Mets and then with the Milwaukee Brewers after a midseason trade. At the plate, Walker posted a .265/.362/.439 slash with 14 homers and 49 RBI. He is expected to play first and second with the Yankees.
Toronto Blue Jays:
Steve Pearce: The 2007 Crawdads first baseman is in his 12th major league season, the second with the Blue Jays. Last year, Pearce was the right-handed part of the Blue Jays platoon in leftfield and is expected to play in the same role in 2018. He hit .252/.319/.438 with 13 homers and 37 RBI in 92 games last year.
Carl Edwards, Jr.: A member of the Crawdads starting rotation in 2013, Edwards is now in his fourth season as a reliever with the Cubs. In 73 games last season, Edwards had a 2.98 ERA with an opponents batting average of .134 on 66.1 innings. His 25 holds last year was second in the National League. He is expected again to be a key member of the Cubs bullpen.
Jared Hughes: A starting pitcher for the Crawdads in 2006 and 2007, Hughes enters his eighth season in the big leagues, his first with the Reds after signing a two-year contract in the offseason. Last season with the Milwaukee Brewers, Hughes with 5-3 with a 3.02 ERA and one save. Hughes will pitch out of the bullpen for the Reds.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
Wilmer Font: A starting pitcher for the Crawdads in 2009 and 2010, Font is in his fourth major league season, the second with the Dodgers. Font spent much of 2017 at AAA Oklahoma City where he put together a strong season that led to his selection as the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year. Font pitched in three games with the Dodgers after rosters expanded in September and gave up seven runs in 3.2 Innings. He’ll pitch out of the bullpen for the Dodgers.
Lewis Brinson: The Crawdads starting center fielder in 2013 and 2014, Brinson has a full-fledged opportunity for the same role in the majors after Brinson was traded to the Marlins in the offseason. Brinson made his big-league debut last summer with the Brewers and went 5-for-47 in 21 games.
Tomas Telis: The Crawdads catcher from 2011 is in his fifth major league season, the fourth with the Marlins. He spent much of 2017 at AAA New Orleans but posted a .240/.279/.367 slash in 48 big-league games. Telis will be the starting catcher for the Marlins due to an injury to J.T. Realmuto
Jorge Alfaro: The Crawdads catcher from 2012 and 2013 will be on his first opening-day roster after parts of two seasons with the Phillies. A midseason all-star at AAA Lehigh Valley, Alfaro hit .314/.360/.514 in 29 games at Philadelphia. He will split time with Andrew Knapp behind the plate.
Jerad Eickhoff: The Crawdads starting pitcher in 2012 is in his fourth season with the Phillies, though he starts the season on the disabled list with a strained right lat. In 24 starts last season, Eickhoff went 4-8 with a 4.71 ERA.
Odubel Herrera: The starting second baseman for Hickory in 2011, Herrera is now cemented as the Phillies center fielder for the fourth straight season. In 138 games in 2017, he hit .281/.325/.452 with 42 doubles – the third most in the NL – 14 homers and 56 RBI.
Nick Williams: The 2013 starting left fielder for Hickory is in his second season with the Phillies after he made his major league debut for the team last June. Williams went on to hit .288/.338/.473 with 12 homers and 55 RBI in 83 games with the Phillies. He is the starting right fielder.
Jordy Mercer: The starting shortstop the second half of the 2008 season with the Crawdads is the final member remaining with Pittsburgh from the former Hickory affiliation with the Pirates that ended in 2008. Now in his seventh season – the sixth as the Bucs shortstop – he is likely on the move in what is his final contract year with Pittsburgh. With the Pirates in 2017, Mercer hit .255/.326/.406 with 14 homers and 58 RBI in 145 games.
San Diego Padres:
Robbie Erlin: The 2010 South Atlantic League’s ERA champ while with Hickory is now in his fifth season with the Padres. Tommy John surgery cost the left-hander much of the 2016 and all of the 2017 season. Erlin will likely be in the San Diego rotation.
Christian Villanueva: The 2011 Crawdads third baseman made his big-league debut with San Diego last September in grand style after hitting four homers and going 11-for-32 in 12 games. Villanueva returns to the Padres as a utility infielder after he made his first opening-day roster.
San Francisco Giants:
Andrew McCutchen: The 2006 Crawdads center fielder is in his tenth major league season, but after an offseason trade, he’ll suit up for another club other than the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time. The 2013 National League MVP now patrols right field for the Giants after nine seasons as the Pirates center fielder. In 156 games last season, McCutchen hit .279/.363/.486 with 28 homers and 88 RBI.
Tony Watson: A starter in his brief stint with the Crawdads in 2007, the left-hander is now in his seventh major league season as one of the game’s best left-handed setup relievers. After five full seasons with the Pirates, he was dealt in a midseason trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he made his first World Series appearance. In 71 games last season, he was 7-4 with ten saves and a 3.38 ERA in 66.2 innings. Watson signed a two-year contract with the Giants in the offseason.
The 2017 season opened with 104 former Crawdads on the roster of a Major League or an affiliated Minor League Baseball Team. Thirty-three other former players are currently in extended spring training due to injury or are inactive and are awaiting an assignment to a team.
Debuts at new levels
Drew Robinson is the lone former Crawdad to make his major league debut at the start of the season, as he begins his career with the Texas Rangers
Luis Marte is the only former Crawdad to make his debut at the Class-AAA level, as he suits up for the Rangers AAA club at Round Rock.
At Class AA, 10 former players step up to a Class-AA roster for the first time. Most of those are with the Rangers affiliate at Frisco. Travis Demeritte has joined the Atlanta Braves club at Mississippi.
At the class high A level, nine former Crawdads will play at this level for the first time, all of those at the Rangers new affiliate at Down East.
Several former Crawdads are playing in foreign leagues, as well as independent leagues. Indy ball will start in late-April or mid-May and more will be added to those rosters as the season approaches.
Want to keep up with where former players are? Clink on the following links during the season:
The list below in order of class level, then team name. [Current Club, (Parent Club): Name (s).] Asterisks indicate players debuting at their current level when the season opened.
Major Leagues (29)
American League (16)
Boston Red Sox: Robbie Ross; Chicago White Sox: Leury Garcia; Kansas City Royals: Chris Young; Oakland Athletics: Rajai Davis; Texas Rangers: Hanser Alberto (DL), Alex Claudio, Joey Gallo, Jose Leclerc, Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar, Drew Robinson, Ryan Rua; Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista, Steven Pearce.
National League (13)
Chicago Cubs: Carl Edwards, Justin Grimm; Milwaukee Brewers: Jared Hughes; New York Mets: Neil Walker; Philadelphia Phillies: Jared Eickhoff, Odubel Herrera; Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, Jordy Mercer, Tony Watson; San Diego Padres: Robbie Erin (DL), Luis Sardinas; San Francisco Giants: Neil Ramirez. St. Louis Cardinals: Zack Duke (DL).
International League (10)
Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta): Luke Jackson; Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Philadelphia): Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams; Norfolk Tides (Baltimore): Richard Bleier, Andrew Faulkner; Rochester Red Wings (Minnesota): Matt Hague, Nick Tepesch; Toledo Mudhens (Detroit): Chad Bell, Dustin Molleken, Alex Presley
Pacific Coast League (16)
Colorado Sky Sox (Milwaukee): Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell; El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego): Jamie Romak; Las Vegas Stars (NY Mets): Wilfredo Boscan, Ben Rowen; New Orleans Baby Cakes (Miams): Tomas Telis; Oklahoma City Dodgers (LA Dodgers): Fabio Castillo, Wilmer Font; Round Rock Express (Texas): Preston Beck, Ronald Guzman, Keone Kela, Luis Marte*, Nick Martinez, Jimmy Reyes, Jose Valdespina; Salt Lake Bees (LA Angels): Cody Ege.
Eastern League (1)
Bowie Bayox (Baltimore): Jefri Hernandez
Southern League (7)
Biloxi Shuckers (Milwaukee): Luis Ortiz; Birmingham Barons (Chicago White Sox): Will Lamb; Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Miami): Victor Payano; Mississippi Braves (Atlanta): Travis Demeritte*, Dylan Moore; Mobile Bay Bears (LA Angels): Cody Buckel, Abel De Los Santos
Texas League (19)
Frisco RoughRiders (Texas): Jose Cardona*, Michael De Leon, Nick Gardewine*, Reed Garrett, Andy Ibanez, Ariel Jurado, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, David Ledbetter*, Shane McCain*, Yohander Mendez, Juremi Profar*, Connor Sadzeck, Ryne Slack, Luke Tendler*, Kevin Torres*, Jose Trevino*, Collin Wiles*, Sam Wolff; Springfield (St. Louis): Daniel Bard
High A (21)
Carolina League (21)
Buies Creek Astros (Houston): Akeem Bostick; High Desert Mavericks (Texas): Josh Altmann, Blake Bass*, Wes Benjamin*, Jairo Beras, Adam Choplick*, LeDarious Clark*, Frandy De La Rosa*, Peter Fairbanks*, Omarlin Lopez*, Brett Martin, Luis Mendez, Chuck Moorman, Josh Morgan, Joe Palumbo*, Pedro Payano*, Austin Pettibone, Eduard Pinto, Jason Richman, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jeffrey Springs.
Low A (1)
Midwest League (1)
Ft. Wayne Tin Caps (San Diego): Marcus Greene, Jr.
Extended Spring (not assigned to a full season affiliate):
Detroit: Jake Brigham, Jorge Marban, Los Angeles Angels: David Perez; New York Mets: Tom Gorzelanny; New York Yankees: Kellin Deglan, Eric Swanson, Dillon Tate; Pittsburgh: Greg Williams; San Diego Padres: Christian Villanueva; San Francisco: Bryan Morris; Texas: Carlos Arroyo, Matt Ball, Tyler Davis, Darius Day, John Fasola, Joe Filomeno, Eric Jenkins, James Jones, Johan Juan, Steve Lerud, Frank Lopez, David Lyon, Adam Parks, Brallan Perez, Tyler Sanchez, Jacob Shortslef, Luis Silva, Christian Torres, Xavier Turner, Evan Van Hoosier, Kelvin Vasquez, Scott Williams Cole Wiper
Independent Leagues (19)
American Association (4)
Kansas City T-Bones: Joe Jackson; Lincoln Saltdogs: Trever Adams, Chris Garia; St. Paul Saints: Mark Hamburger
Atlantic League (7)
Bridgeport Bluefish: Jonathan Albaladejo; New Britain Bees: Joe Beimel; Somerset Patriots: Chris Grayson; Southern Maryland Blue Claws: Zach Cone, Edwin Garcia; Sugar Land Skeeters: Luis Pollorena; York Revolution: Joe Van Meter
Can-Am League (2)
Rockland Boulders: Joe Maloney, Hector Nelo
Frontier League (4)
Joliet Slammers: Joseph Ortiz; Lake Erie Crushers: Adam Quintana; Normal Cornbelters: Shawn Blackwell; Southern Illinois Miners: John Werner
Foreign Leagues (14)
Dutch Professional League (1)
Amsterdam Pirates: Nick Urbanus
Italian League (1)
ASD Nettuno: Ronald Uviedo
Mexican League (6)
Acereros del Norte: Nyjer Morgan; Leon Bravos: Matt Nevarez; Saltillo Saraperos: Carlos Pimentel; Tabasco Olmecas: Rodolfo Aquirre; Tijuana Toros: Danny Gutierrez; Yucatan Leones: Jairo Asencio.
Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan) (6)
Hanshin Tigers: Roman Mendez; Hiroshima Carp: Brad Eldred; Orix Buffaloes: Matt West; Tokyo Yakult Swallows: Josh Lueke; Yokohama Bay Stars: Phil Klein, Joe Wieland
Free Agents unsigned:
Affiliated Leagues: Arizona: Matt Capps; Boston: Anyelo Leclerc; Chicago White Sox: Josh Richmond; LA Dodgers: Vin DiFazio; Miami: Trey Lambert; Philadelphia: Sean Burnett; Texas: Garrett Brummett, Frank Carvallo, Chris Dula; Sherman Lacrus, Ryan Ledbetter, London Lindley, Tripp Martin; Connor McKay, Francisco Mendoza, Jose Monegro
Independent/ Foreign Leagues: Jose Castillo, Yefry Castillo, Janluis Castro, Brandon Chaves, Humberto Cota, Cody Eppley, Teodoro Martinez, Luis Munoz, Ronny Paulino, Ryan Rodebaugh, Rock Shoulders, Johan Yan
Part of the fun of the minor leagues is to play the guessing game of whether this player or that one will make it to the major leagues. However, we rarely consider the same about the managers and coaches. Like the players, they, too, have major league dreams. Josh Bonifay will begin to live his out for the Texas Rangers this season as the team’s major league field coordinator.
Bonifay, who played second for Hickory for all of 2000 and part of 2001 and then returned as a coach in 2008, has put together an impressive resume as a coach and manger in recent years. He was named the South Atlantic League coach of the year in 2012 while the hitting coach with the Houston Astros low-A affiliate at Lexington. One year later, Bonifay was the manager of the year in the Appalachian League while guiding the Greeneville (TN) Astros to the championship series. In 2015 he took home the same honors from the Midwest League while at low-A Quad Cities, which went 88-50.
Bonifay’s work in developing players in the Astros chain caught the eye of the Rangers and his connections with from the Pittsburgh Pirates days played a role in his hiring by the Rangers. During Bonifay’s playing days in the Pirates system (1999-2005), he had the opportunity to play under the tutelage of Tony Beasley at AA Altoona in 2004-2005. The field coordinator at the time was Jeff Banister, now the manager at Texas, for whom Beasley is the third base coach.
“…I’ve known Josh since he was probably 10 or 11 years old,” said Banister of Bonifay. “I had developed a relationship with him, not only as a person, but also as a player, when he played for Pittsburgh, then transitioning to the coaching side of it. And then I watched him from a far as he became a highly successful manager.”
A longer connection has also served Bonifay well – the connection with his father, Cam Bonifay, who was the Pirates general manager from 1993 to 2001. Through that relationship, Josh, now 38, has seen the inner workings of the game at its roots.
From bat boy to player to coach to minor league manager, all of that has prepared him for his first taste of the major leagues as the Rangers field coordinator. He, along with his wife Tiffany and their two daughters are ready to embrace the challenge ahead, which will include a move to Arlington.
In the interview below, Bonifay talks about some of the challenges he faces as he gets ready for spring training.
There have been big changes for you, not just your growing family, but professionally for your career. Let me first ask you about all the changes you’re going through right now.
Bonifay: It’s just a very exciting time for my family and myself. This was just an opportunity that came about. I was at Disney World when I got a phone call from Houston saying the Texas Rangers had asked for permission. After they got permission, I talked to Banny (Jeff Banister) just for a minute and then talked with (Rangers general manager) Jon Daniels about going out for an interview. Everything was kind of a whirlwind. It went really, really quickly, but it’s just extremely exciting and I’m very happy to be a part of the Rangers family. They’re tremendous people and I’m looking forward to working with Banny and Beas (Tony Beasley) again. All these guys are just phenomenal people and it’s a phenomenal organization. I’m just very excited.
Not very many people go from managing short-season ball to the major leagues. What’s the biggest adjustment you think you will have to make in that huge step?
Bonifay: The thing is just getting to know the players. Once you get to know the players and you understand them on a personal level, then you can start to teaching baseball. Baseball is a sport that, even if you are in the lower levels, you’re still teaching the game a certain way. It’s not that you’re going to teach a different way than you would a player in the big leagues – you’re trying to prepare them for the big leagues. So, you’re going to teach baseball a similar way. Just really getting to know their personalities and know who they are and what makes them tick, understanding what their bodies do and how they do it. Just developing personal relationships with them. I think if you get their trust and you develop the relationships, then you can teach them the game of baseball.
What is your role going to be with the Texas Rangers? I’m familiar with what a minor league field coordinator does, but what a major league field coordinator do?
Bonifay: My responsibilities will be running spring training, developing the schedules through Banny, and through (Rangers pitching coach Doug) Brocail and all the pitching guys, through (Rangers hitting coach Anthony) Iapoce and the hitting guys, and just developing a schedule so all the guys will know where they are going and know their responsibilities. During the season, I’ll be working with outfielders and baserunners.
Is your family going to move with you, or are they staying here in the area? This is a big deal for all of you.
Bonifay: I think we are going to move to Arlington. We’re going to put our house on the market in the next week or two and then we’re going to make the move out to Arlington. We’re very excited. We’re all in as a Texas Ranger. We want to be a part of it. We want to be involved in that community. We want to be involved the team heavily. We’re going to make that move to do that.
Longer term, what are you looking to do, as far as your baseball career? Obviously, you’re getting a major league taste, which you didn’t get as a player? That’s got to entice you for bigger and better things down the road.
Bonifay: I’ve always said this, as I’ve been going up. I really don’t have any personal goals of what I really want to do. This was a goal to get to the big leagues, because I didn’t make it as a player. But, this is just something to be a part of a staff to help players get better and helping the organization to win a championship. There’s really no personal goals. I just want to be involved in baseball. My family has been in it over 150 years combined. We love the game. We love teaching it. We love being a part of it and enjoy the opportunity that we get to teach and we get to part of it and make a living.
What’s the biggest thing that you’ll have to do, in maybe cutting your teeth, where you didn’t get to the majors as a player? Now, you’re here as as field coordinator. You’ve been around guys that have played and coaches and such that have seen the ropes in the majors.
Bonifay: I don’t have personal experience, but I sort of do. My dad was a GM for 10 years, so I grew up in the major league clubhouse. I grew up on the charter flights. I grew up as a bat boy, so I know what they do, the work ethic. I know the toughness, the grind that they go through, having to show up every single day. Long flights, playing a night game, than having to turn around and fly overnight and then play a day game. So, I know the rigors of that, just because of my experience with my father. In terms of that, I understand the complexities of those types of different things.
On a personal level, no, I’ve never been there. I’ve never fully experienced it personally, as a player. You know, it’ll be a challenge, but it’s good that I do have some background.
How wild is that you played here two years, you came back and coached here with the Pirates, now you’re back here in a whole different circumstance?
Bonifay: My wife and I really – she is from Lenoir – we grew up the last five years here. We really enjoyed the area. We loved that our in-laws are really close. We loved that our kids get to see their grandparents very often. But, I think with the move – if we want to get more involved with the Rangers, so we’re going to be closer – that we can spend more time at the ballpark and I can see my kids in the morning before I go to the field. That’s the big key is taking care of my kids.
What is the thing that enticed you about the Rangers?
Bonifay: The people, the organization. It phenomenal. Their success has been tremendous in developing players that also are at the big league level. And also enticing is being able to work with Banny and Beas. It’s a people organization. They care about people and their players.
Former Hickory Crawdads Rougned Odor had a playoff debut to remember on Thursday in game one of the American League Division Series with the Texas Rangers against the Toronto Blue Jays. Odor’s day was punctuated by a solo home run solo home run in the seventh; he was also hit twice and scored three runs as the Rangers took a 5-3 win.
Odor, now 21, grew up in Maracaibo, Venezuela and is the nephew of current minor league hitting coach Rouglas Odor, himself an eight-year minor leaguer.
Odor came upon the radar screen of the Texas Rangers while playing for Venezuela during the 2009 World Youth Baseball tournament in Taiwan. The Rangers signed him as a 16-year-old in 2010 and after skipping the Dominican Summer League, Odor made his pro debut with short-season Spokane in 2011 at the tender age of 17.
He certainly wasn’t overmatched on the field in the Northwest League, as he posted a .262/.352/.352 slash with a 37-to-13 walk-to-K ratio in 58 games. Generously listed at 5-11, 170 lbs. at Hickory in 2012 – likely smaller at Spokane – Odor didn’t back down from anything, as was seen when he was the spark in a major benches-clearing brawl during a game against Vancouver.
His tough-nosed attitude was a hallmark of his play during the 2012 season at Hickory. In fact, the style of the 18-year-old caught the eye of then-Crawdads manager Bill Richardson at spring training in Arizona.
“This kid won my heart in spring by the way he plays the game,” said Richardson in an interview prior to the start of the season. “He plays it hard. He’s not the biggest stature, but being probably one of the younger kids in the Sally League again, I think he could have an all-star type season.”
Odor certainly got off to a big start in the first half, highlighted by his selection as the South Atlantic League hitter of the week from May 21 to 27. During that week, he was 8-for-22 (.364) with a home run, five doubles, seven runs scored and four RBI.
“He was above the line for a good stint there and I’m really pleased that he got player of the week, because he did a lot a good things,” said Richardson. “He is a special player; let’s call it what it is. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
What surprised observers was Odor’s ability to put the ball out of the ballpark as he drilled ten homers to go with 23 doubles in 109 games.
“He’s got pretty good legs,” said 2012 Crawdads hitting coach Josue Perez. “That’s where his power comes from is his legs. He’s good a pretty good smooth, sweet swing. He’s able to backspin the ball a little bit. Another thing is, he goes up there to hit. He doesn’t go up there to take too many pitches.”
He owned a .293/.357/.482 slash through June 3 when he dislocated his shoulder on a slide into third, costing him a likely South Atlantic League all-star selection. A bigger hit was to the Crawdads, which at the time was digging for a potential SAL playoff berth.
“He’s one of our leaders,” Richardson said of Odor after the injury. “We know that he’s just a gritty, hard-nosed kid. He never gets hurt. For him to have this, it definitely hurts when you take one of your heart-and-soul guys out. I think he had good enough numbers to be on that all-star team.”
Once he came back, he treaded water for a while before the North Carolina heat of August sapped his body and Odor finished at .259/.313/.400. It was apparent that the teenaged Odor had work to do to build his stamina for marathon seasons to come.
“I think the main thing with Odor is channeling that energy and putting that energy into his focus.” said Jayce Tingler, the 2012 Rangers minor league field coordinator. “Staying more disciplined, he’s got great ability to hit. He’s got great ability to defend and learning the process of playing 140 games, channeling that into concentration of what he needs to do at bat-by-at bat and also pitch-by-pitch eventually.”
I did an interview with Odor for a column in July of 2012. While abnormally assured of himself on the field, at the time, he seemed surprisingly shy during the conversation I had with him. As I look back now at the interview three-plus years later, I think Odor had more of a mindset in which he wondered what the big deal was concerning his ability as a major league prospect. Odor was simply playing well because that’s what he was born to do.
Odor was among the most confident players I have seen come to Hickory. As I see him now with Texas, there is still the air of, “What’s the big deal? I’m just playing baseball.” He expects to succeed – just like when he was at Hickory.
The one quote I will always remember about Odor came from a National League scout, who simply said, “Rougned Odor is good and here’s the thing, he knows he’s good.”
Below are excerpts of the interview I did with Odor in July of 2012, through the translation of 2012 Crawdads assistant coach Humberto Miranda.
What was it like to grow up in Maracaibo?
Odor: When I was little, I started playing baseball when I was two years old. I would go to class and practice when I was growing up and hanging out with friends.
Was your uncle instrumental in getting you started in baseball?
Odor; Not just him, but my dad was instrumental in getting me started in the game.
What was your first memory in organized baseball?
Odor: When I was 10, I was playing in a tournament, my uncle came to see me, and I hit a home run that particular day. I was so happy about it.
When did you start thinking seriously about playing pro baseball?
Odor: About 12 or 13-years-old.
How did you get started in that direction?
Odor: My dad was a big part of him keeping me on the right path – practicing every day, putting me in tournaments or leagues with teams that were older than me. I also represented Venezuela a couple of times and that helped me out with pressure and situations with fans and all that.
Did you travel to other countries to play?
Odor: Guatelemala, Dominican, Mexico, Cuba, Taiwan
What was Taiwan like?
Odor: It was great because I saw things that I never saw before. It was a great experience learning that culture.
How did you and the Rangers get together?
Odor: The Rangers had been following me a lot. Before I signed, they went to Taiwan to see me play. They saw me play in Maracaibo, where I’m from and I even flew over to the states to have a try out.
What’s it like to go from Venezuela to Spokane at 17?
Odor: I felt really fortunate to go to that league so young, even though I didn’t play rookie ball. I felt fortunate that all the work paid off. All the work that I did with my uncle and my parents, it paid off. I give my 100% every day to make my goal.
What was the biggest thing that your dad and your uncle did to help you growing up?
Odor: They always talked a lot about baseball. They talked to me about how to deal with pressure or failure and also when you have good games, how to handle it and how to play the game overall.
What did they teach you about dealing with pressure?
Odor: They always told me to respect the game, whether you do good or bad. If it goes bad, I’m working at it. It’s part of the game.
What was the hardest thing about going to Spokane?
Odor: Nothing about baseball, but learning English was a big factor. But I’ve been able to pick it up.
What’s it like being 17 and living on your own?
Odor: It wasn’t that hard, because when I was little, I traveled a lot. I always got used to being by myself away from my family and home. So, it wasn’t that hard to adapt to it.
Are you surprised at how quick you are moving up? Does anything surprise you yet?
Is this an easy game for you?
Odor: I don’t feel surprised. The game is not easy, but I work hard enough to slow it down. I was happy to come over here. I do just do my best and it’s showing up.
What are you working on for the rest of the year?
Odor: Just keeping the focus day in and day out and just to improve in every area that I can. Now, it’s not physical, it’s more mental. I have to talk care of my mental routine to bring it every day. It doesn’t matter if I have 60%, 40% or 20% of me. That day, I’m going to give my 100% of what I have that day.
What did your family teach you about failure?
Odor: Failure is part of the game, so I’m going to keep my routine going and work harder. It’s part of the game. If you 70%, you’re still successful in this game. I don’t see it as failure; I see it as a learning experience.
What is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and the big leagues?
Odor: Keep focusing day in and day out. That’s the biggest difference between a major leaguer and a being in the minor leagues. Keep working on my defense, turning double plays. I’ve been working hard and I’m getting better. My hitting is going to come along, because I’ve always hit. Just bring it every day.
How soon do you want to get to the big leagues?
Odor: My goal is to get to the big leagues by 21 or 22-years old.
What sticks out about Odor compared to the other middle infielders (at the time, the Rangers system had middle infielder prospects Leury Garcia, Hanser Alberto, Jurickson Profar, Odubel Herrera and Luis Sardinas?
Odor: I think the big difference between them and me is I play the game every day. No matter what the score is, no matter the situation, I play the game hard. They’re good players, and I’m taking nothing away from them, but they’re them and I’m me.
I’m not going to pretend that I knew Walter Young. I never met him. However, from the people I talked with and heard from that did know him, I wish I had. Simply put, Young was described as a giant of a man with an even bigger heart.
I did get to see Young play at the end of the 2002 season. I was in Hickory preparing to move my family here from Columbus, GA. I saw the big powerful man – listed in 2002 at 6-foot-5, 258 pounds – approach the plate and saw the numbers that went with it. From what little I knew about the Crawdads at the time, I knew that this was the powerhouse in the lineup that likely had a lot to do with the Hickory Crawdads making the playoffs – a run that ended with the Crawdads first South Atlantic League (SAL) title.
What I do remember about seeing Young play in 2002 – oddly enough – was the intentional walk. It was in such a situation that I taught my then eight-year-old son about intentional walks, and it happened simply because the other team didn’t want to get beat by the big man.
Young was certainly feared by SAL pitchers in 2002. At a level where intentional walks are rarely issued, Young received six that season – more than the Crawdads team has received in six entire individual seasons since 2008.
The numbers Young put up that season were among the best ever by a Crawdads hitter. His 34 doubles were a single-season record until 2011. He led the SAL that season in doubles, home runs (25), hits (164) and total bases (277). For his efforts, Young received the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
His power was certainly legendary among players in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
“I had a chance to spend instructional league with Walter in ’02,” said 2003 Crawdads outfielder and SAL batting title winner Chaz Lytle. “He was what we called a ‘gentle giant’, but let me tell you he could hit the furthest home runs I have ever seen. The word ‘Tower Power’ doesn’t even describe his power. I watched this guy hit a golf cart behind our Spring Training complex in a game against the Reds.”
While the tales of his Paul Bunyan-type power were recalled by players and fans alike, they paled in comparison to stories of Young the person – a man who enjoyed what he did on and off the field, often with lots of laughter.
“He was a great guy,” said pitcher 2001 Crawdads pitcher Kenny Henderson. “I remember nothing but him hitting a laser off me in spring training and hearing him laugh rounding first base.”
He was described by several players as a mentor who took them, in some cases, literally under his care.
“One memory I have of Walter is him inviting me to stay at his place when I got called up to Low A in which we won the championship that year,” said Rajai Davis, now an outfielder with the Detroit Tigers. “It was at the end of the year so was really beneficial for me. The next year the Crawdads made a bobblehead of him of which I still have now.”
The combination of power and personality of the man were such that the Crawdads held a Walter Young Bobblehead Night the next season. He’s the only Crawdads player I can recall that had a bobblehead night the following season after playing with Hickory.
The friendships that Young made were not just for the moment, but in many cases turned into lifelong friendships. Former teammate Vic Buttler (’01-’02, ’05) told of his first meeting with Young at the Pirates complex in Bradenton, Fla.
“I still vividly remember until this very day, after getting drafted and being shipped to Bradenton, Florida. Walter Young was the very first person that greeted me as I exited that white van. He asked me my name and told me his. From that day forward, Walt and I developed a strong bond and were roommates during our playing seasons together. Although Walt stood amongst the giants, he was the friendliest and most courteous peer I’ve ever played with!”
Young was certainly revered by fans and the Crawdads front office staff that got to see Walter Young play. When I began working with the team’s front office in 2005, occasionally you’d here talk of “Big Walter” with big smiles and occasional laughter. It was simply a reflection of what they had received from Young himself.
“Walter Young always had a big smile and was very kind to everyone that he met,” recalled former long-time Crawdads employee Barbara Beatty.
When Young received what turned out to be his lone major league call-up in September 2005, those who knew him were genuinely glad to see Big Walter get his chance with the Baltimore Orioles.
Perhaps the best story from those who worked for the Crawdads comes from former Crawdads bat boy, Eric Davidson, who celebrated his 18th birthday on the night the Crawdads won the decisive game five of the SAL Championship Series at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory.
“I was working as the batboy for the series and right after the final out was recorded,” Davidson recalls. “We were all out on the field celebrating and Walter walks up to me with a bottle of champagne and dumps it over my head while singing, Happy Birthday.”
Young played through the 2009 season before returning home to his native Purvis, MS, where he worked as a deputy sheriff.
“He was always kind, funny, and reached out to everybody,” Lytle said. “I am sure he is making someone laugh now. You will be missed JR.”
#2. Walters walkout song was “It’s getting Hot in Here” by Nelly.
#3. Mike Maulding at Peak Motors down the street got Walter to sign a bat for him, I remember him and Walter chatting after the championship game about how much fun the season was and how Walter was a man playing with boys during the year. Walter literally lead almost every offensive category that year.
#4 Walter made the 2002 SAL All-Star team with Keppinger, Vic Buttler, Jeremy Harts, Chris Shelton and Manager Tony Beasley. I believe Bautista was too. Walter was named the Most Outstanding Prospect and MVP of the game. That same year Robinson Cano, Angel Pagan, David Wright and Ryan Howard all made the All-Star team with the Crawdads boys.
#5 Our last series before the All-Star game we were playing in Hagerstown. I was on the road doing radio with Canio. Before we left the plan was for me to drive our All-Stars to Lakewood from Hagerstown. We rented a van from enterprise and I drove Walter Young, (Jeff) Keppinger and (Jeremy) Harts while Chris Young drove (Chris) Shelton. It was a fun and interesting ride from Hagerstown as Harts and Keppinger and Walter just shot the breeze about the season and the goal to win the championship. It was like being that fan who had the chance to sit in the clubhouse and shoot the breeze about the game and the season. Walter was never an outgoing guy so that was a special moment.
#6 Walter lived with Harts across from our Brad and I inside Northside Apt. We routinely picked up these guys for player appearances and all these guys wanted to do was sleep. Can’t blame them, I would too.
As the Delmarva Shorebirds visit L.P. Frans Stadium this week, a familiar face from years ago returns to Hickory. Current Shorebirds pitching coach Blaine Beatty served in the same role for Hickory in 2000.
Since leaving the Crawdads after the season, Beatty returned to Hickory on the South Atlantic League circuit with Capital City (S.C.) in 2003 and 2004, as well as with Delmarva in 2009 when he served in the same role with the Shorebirds.
“To come back in here – it’s been a while since I’ve been here, I guess it as ’09 since I was last with (Delmarva),” Beatty said. “It’s always good to come back and see some of these towns and some of these places. It brings back a lot of good memories.”
Beatty’s 2000 team went on to send four pitchers and two catchers to the major leagues. The most highly-touted member of the group was David Williams, who still holds the Crawdads’ single-season mark in strikeouts (193) and Ks-per-nine innings (10.22). Williams went on to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets during a six-year, big league career.
“The biggest thing was that I had a really good relationship with him and his wife,” said Beatty. “The baseball, though, just to see him go on and go to the major leagues, that’s probably the most rewarding part of being a coach is to be a part of that.”
Another former big league pitcher that Beatty continues to stay in touch with is D.J. Carrasco, who went on to pitch in eight major league seasons with five different clubs. Beatty said he recently had an opportunity to help Carrasco with a teaching venture in New Zealand.
“He gave a lot of baseball instruction this past in New Zealand, where he traveled around and tried to get baseball integrated into their society there,” said Beatty. “I had sent him charts and stuff like that. So, I am very close to him… We stay in touch with DJ and his wife Autumn.”
Beatty says he still keeps in touch with the two catchers – J.R. House and Ronny Paulino – that went on to have major league stints.
“I had Paulino a couple of seasons ago,” said Beatty. “We (the Orioles) signed at the AA or AAA level. We had him at the AAA level. I spent some time with him, so it was good to reminisce…Once again, it’s really neat to rehash old times and we talk about those all the time.”
One of those old times with Paulino involved a game against the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs.
“We got into a rain delay and they wanted to pull the tarps, because they were winning,” recalled Beatty. “Ronny Paulino was up to bat and I think they (the umps) were trying to get through it. He ended up hitting a home run to right field and then they pulled the tarp, so it ended up a tie game. We ended up playing it later and ended it up winning the game.”
Many of the group from the 2000 club went on to Lynchburg (Va.) with Beatty in 2002 and winning the Carolina League championship that season.
Beatty said, “We had a lot of guys go to the major leagues: Sean Burnett (’01), of course Ronny was with me then, DJ Carrasco, Jeff Bennett (’99-’00), Mike Johnston (’00-’01) and some of those names that I had then that came through here…It’s kind of neat to see those guys and to be a part of their careers and revel in as a coach.”