Results tagged ‘ Andy Ibanez ’

A new life, a new game: An Interview with Andy Ibanez

I had the chance to sit down with Andy Ibanez, as well as a translator, about a month ago in order to prepare a feature writeup for the Hickory Daily Record. Because this is very much a part-time gig for me, my schedule on completing it didn’t come together as well as I’d hoped.

Finally, my schedule was going to allow time to write it up for publication next week, but then Ibanez got promoted. Such is the life of a part-time beat writer.

At the time of the interview, Ibanez was tearing up the South Atlantic League, bashing opponents in April at a .402/.479/.659 clip. The cry at the time was to get him moving to AA Frisco; the game was too easy for him at Hickory.

Mike Day, Texas Rangers Senior Director of Minor League Operations said in a recent interview that the club did have internal discussions about an early promotion. Yet, the group decided to be patient.

“Obviously, he was outstanding there in April,” said Daly. “But it’s a five-month season here at the minor league level and it’s a grind each and every day. Andy will definitely have his time at the higher level and it’ll probably come sooner rather than later. I think for the foreseeable future, right now he’ll be right here in Hickory and really getting that first year under his belt.”

Perhaps the bat was too advanced for Class Low-A, but there were parts of Ibanez’s overall game that needed work. The most obvious was the baserunning, which saw Ibanez get picked off easily. He’d also run into easy outs and at times look confused on set plays such as a double steal. (One such play had him return to first, even as the other runner scored on a throw home.)

Several of the Rangers brass also made it clear that there was work to do at second base. Hickory Crawdads manager Steve Mintz said the eye-opener that Ibanez was making progress to that end came during a May series at Charleston S.C..

“Our infield coordinator Kenny Holmberg was in Charleston with us,” said Mintz. “He made a couple of plays and I walked up to Kenny and I said, ‘He don’t make that play in spring training.’And he said, ‘You’re right.’ His angles and reading balls off the bat and different things like that, we’re tickled to death with.”

Ibanez is looking to adjust to baseball in the U.S. and learn the terminology and get used to the style of play, the greater emphasis on structure, and the constant running that he says they don’t do in Cuba.

But perhaps the biggest adjustment Ibanez had to make was simply living on his own in the United States – to make long bus road trips and live away from home and the Rangers Arizona complex for the first time in an area in which you don’t speak the local language. It’s hard enough for a kid who does speak English to make that adjustment, but even moreso for a guy who only recently told his parents he was leaving Cuba, because he wanted to be like the former Cuban players he saw on TV.

In a country that oozes baseball, Ibanez wants to be among those players he saw on a grainy picture screen broadcast to Cuba, even as it has cost him his home life, especially his parents.

In the following interview, Ibanez speaks about his early season successes, the process of coming to the U.S., and his hope for a face-off with a specific top Major League hurler.

Andy Ibanez batting

Andy Ibanez has been among the SAL best hitters much of the season. (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

 

First of all, let me ask you, obviously your season has started well. How do you feel about your start here with Hickory?

Ibanez: I’m really thankful for the outcome of the season. I’m really happy with that. This season is coming because of the training that I had in Miami with Texas Rangers coach Jose Fernandez, who has helped me train in order prepare to get ready for the season.

 

What have you learned in that training that has prepared you to play baseball here that maybe was different from playing in Cuba?

Ibanez The game passion for the game is pretty much the same here and there. For me, there is more equipment and more resources. There’s more organization of the time schedule for practices. That is the big difference. But, the passion for the sport is still the same.

 

You played in the World Baseball Classic with Cuba. Did you feel like that environment helped you grow up? You were very young then (18 years old). Did that make you grow up quicker with the expectations to play well in an international setting?

Ibanez: I think that being exposed to so many good people at that early age, it really made me learn from them and the experiences. I had the opportunity to talk to people and to get their advice and apply it to become better.

 

What made you decide when you were little to play baseball in Cuba?

Ibanez: I started when I was six years old. Everybody in Cuba plays baseball. Although my father did not play, everybody in Cuba is exposed to the sport. Everybody begins to play at a certain time and I started very early.

 

At what age or circumstances do you begin to figure out that maybe you could play baseball professionally?

Ibanez: I was a child that always liked sports. I played basketball, soccer and baseball. When I was 11 years old I represented my province (Isla de la Juventud, Island of Youth) and I felt that this was my passion and that this is what I would do the rest of my life. That was my turning point.

 

You played professionally with Cuba?

Ibanez: There’s a difference between what you call leagues in Cuba. You do not call them professional, you call them amateur, because you don’t really get paid to that level. I reached the highest level (Isla de la Juventud) that you can play in Cuba and I played at that level for three years.

 

What’s it like to play baseball in Cuba? We hear stories of the passion that the people have for baseball. Take me to a game where you’re playing and the fans are into the game?

Ibanez: It’s a celebration in Cuba. They have congas that people will be playing; people are dancing and cheering you up. But I don’t want to make a comparison because each place has a different life or dynamic. I want to point out that I actually appreciate that the fans here are quiet and they let you play. If you make a mistake, you still have a chance to keep pushing to do things right. In Cuba, if you happen to fail, they actually call you out and the fans yell at you and say not really nice stuff all the time. I don’t quite miss that. Here, the fans still support you and show you more respect.

 

What were the circumstances of your decision to defect from Cuba and leave home?

Ibanez: When I was in Cuba, I used to watch baseball from the big leagues in the states and I always wondered, “Why can I not take advantage of it? Why can I not give myself an opportunity?” I had seen on TV how many Cubans had done a terrific job in baseball, so I wanted to take the chance.

I did everything how it was to be done. I first talked to my parents and they said “Okay, we’ll support you.” So, I decided to move to the states with his girlfriend Yisel when he was 20 years old.

 

What were the sequence of events or the circumstances by which you were able to say, I defect? Were you here in the states, somewhere else?

Ibanez: First, I had to ask his local baseball to resign – to tell them I didn’t want to play anymore. I was also playing with the national team. So, I went to the central office and I had to ask for my resignation. When you’re with that team, you cannot get a passport. You cannot buy one. I had to wait for two months after I was approved to resign. Once I got the resignation approved, then I qualified to get a passport. Once I got the passport, then I could file for a tourist visa to travel to the Dominican Republic, not to the states.

 

So you traveled to the Dominican and then you decide not to travel home to Cuba? How does that work?

Ibanez: Once I got there, I started training. Not to play with any kind of team or league, but I just started training. My intention was to reach anybody, any scout that would be out there at the showcases where they’re trying to get the best baseball players. So I trained six months for it, because that was my goal, to be in a showcase and be picked.

Finally, last year on July 10, I signed a contract with the Texas Rangers. After I signed, I got a work visa with which I was able to come to the states through that visa and work here.

 

So we see stories in this country about getting on a boat or sneaking away, but that was not the case for you?

Ibanez: No, I did everything in the right way and I’m thankful to God that I didn’t have to go through that. It happens to a lot of people that I know that made it here, but not in my case.

Andy Ibanez homers

Andy Ibanez circles the bases after tagging one of his team-leading seven homers.. (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

So, in doing everything the right way, you are able to go home to Cuba?

Ibanez: I can go back to Cuba and I want to, but the problem is that my visa gives me a year. According to the immigration law, as a Cuban, I have to be out of Cuba for one straight year without returning in order to qualify to become a resident of the United States. If I return to Cuba, no one is going to shut the door from me, but I would not qualify to carry on with the visa that I have. So, I have to be out of Cuba for a year so I can I petition for the residency status, and then eventually become a citizen.

 

So you hope to become a U.S. citizen?

Ibanez: I am willing to. I think it’s a great goal. Why not?

 

Are you able to talk to your parents, or call home?

Ibanez: I call them twice a week and I am able to communicate. Nowadays, actually my parents have access to email through their phone, so it’s a lot easier for them to keep that communication going.
You started well here. What did the Rangers say they wanted you work on before you promotion?

Ibanez: I’m thankful to God for the outcome of the season. I’ve not been told a particular skill that I have to work on. I’ve just been told to keep doing my best though this season so I’ll be ready when I do move.

 

Are there things in the American game that you have to learn that are different than what you might do in Cuba?

Ibanez: In Cuba, they play really good baseball, but I acknowledge that here is the best baseball in the world. I notice that here, no matter what, you’re running all the time. Whether you’re batting or fielding constantly, you run all the time, which I really enjoy. Even if you hit a fly ball, you still run the bases out.

It’s really well organized and disciplined and I appreciate that.

 

One thing that we’ve noticed is that running the bases has been an issue, whether it’s been pickoffs our getting caught stealing. What are you working on related to that?

Ibanez: Absolutely. Part of the training is to watch video and see if you can predict the move the pitcher will make during the game. Also during the game, we’re trying to see what’s going on. Even though I’m not on the field, the team is trying to see what the moves will be.

 

Who is your favorite baseball player?

Ibanez: Jose Abreu of the White Sox. I had the opportunity to play with him in the National League in Cuba and I had the opportunity to know him as a person. He was always willing to give me advice and the way he way he gives himself to the game and the training. So I’ve seen him in all those instances as a person, as a human being, and as a baseball player. I seem him as a role model to follow.

 

Do you feel challenged here in Hickory? You’re doing so well with hitting. Is it too easy here at this level?

Ibanez: No. I consider baseball as a discipline. It’s a serious business. Whenever I play, I take it seriously. I give myself to the game every time. I don’t underestimate anybody. I take it seriously. I set myself every day a goal to do better, based on what I can give. I always want to get better every day.

 

How anxious are you to get to the big leagues?

Ibanez: That’s my dream. Anybody who feels the passion of baseball, that’s where you want to go. So yeah, that’s what all the drive and persistence and the commitment to work are for me. I want to go there with Texas and I see that happening.

 

You get the call that you are going to the big leagues, whether it be with Texas or elsewhere. What do you think that will be like for you?

Ibanez: (smiling with a long exhale). I have imagined that day and I know that it’s going to be a really happy day for me. I’m working for it every day and I’m committed to it. Any baseball player has to sacrifice a lot to make it there. It’s been hard for me because I have given away my family and my parents. That weighs more because I have to miss my parents birthdays and Christmas and other holidays. Being away from all that sometimes hurts, but I’m committed to it because I want to make it happen.

I watched this movie in which you picture good stuff happening in your life and you pull them towards you by the work you do.

 

What pitcher do you want to face most?

Ibanez: Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Why?
Ibanez: Because he’s good. He’s a good player, so he’s a good challenge and he’d love to take it.

Andy Ibanez second base

Andy Ibanez (left) tags out a runner at second during a game vs. Greensboro (photo courtesy of Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Ibanez to receive milb promotion

According to unnamed sources, the Texas Rangers are expected to announce on Tuesday that Hickory Crawdads second baseman Andy Ibanez has been promoted to AA Frisco (Tex.).

Andy Ibanez batting

Andy Ibnanez has been among the SAL best hitters much of the season. (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

 

The native of Havana, Cuba played in 49 games for Hickory this season and posted a .324/.413/.546 slash with 18 doubles and seven homers. In club history, among players with 150 or more plate appearances, Ibanez is ninth overall in on-base percentage.

Ibanez leaves the South Atlantic League leading the circuit in slugging pct. He is second in total bases (101) and OPS (.959), third in doubles, fourth in RBI (35) and on-base pct.

After a hot start, during which he was named the SAL hitter of the week (4/17/16), Ibanez scuffled in May (.214/.333/.345), as he struggled to adjust to secondary pitches for a time. He seemed to make the adjustment recently and is leaving on the heels of an eight-game hit streak (12-for-29).

With the recent uptick at the plate, Mike Daly, the senior director of minor league operations for the Texas Rangers, seemed to indicate in a recent interview that Ibanez was nearing a promotion. When asked about a possible promotion, Daly responded, “We had some of those discussions. Obviously, he was outstanding there in April, but it’s a five-month season here at the minor league level and it’s a grind each and every day. Andy will definitely have his time at the higher level and it’ll probably come sooner rather than later.”

During his time with Hickory, Ibanez was tasked to work on his defense as well as learning the game in a U.S. organization setting.

“Andy’s is a little bit of a unique situation,” said Daly recently. “He had not played baseball in a number of years. Trying to bring him into a new country having not playing baseball for a couple of seasons, we felt like it was best to start him here in Hickory.”

Interview with Mike Daly Part I: Andy Ibanez and Dillon Tate

Last weekend, I had the chance to sit down with Mike Daly, the Texas Rangers Senior Director of Minor League Operations and get an overview of the current roster of the Hickory Crawdads. The interview turned lengthy with a bunch of good information.

I decided to break the interview up rather than put the entire interview into one blog entry and have the reader’s eyes glaze over.

Fully one-third of the interview was spent on arguably the two most highly watched players on the Crawdads squad: second baseman Andy Ibanez and starting pitcher Dillon Tate. Below is that portion of the interview.

 

The first thing that I get questions about when people ask me about the team is Andy Ibanez. He’s the first person that people ask me about. I think that’s cooled off a little bit, as he’s cooled off in May. But the question that people ask most is, “Why isn’t he at Frisco?” My response has been, “he’s where he needs to be because he needs to work on things.” Where is that progression as far as what the Rangers were asking him to do?

Daly: I think, first and foremost, is the really job by our international scouting department. Gil Kim was our international director, who’s now at Toronto. He was a guy that was really on Andy in the scouting process and he did a really nice job of scouting him and working with other scouts to be able to bring him into the organization.

Andy’s is a little bit of a unique situation. He had not played baseball in a number of years. Trying to bring him into a new country having not playing baseball for a couple of seasons, we felt like it was best to start him here in Hickory. We felt really good about putting him down here in this environment. We felt really good with Francisco Matos, a bi-lingual hitting coach with experience up and down the minor league level, a guy who was in the major leagues himself. We felt really good being able to start Andy here in Hickory kind of not knowing what to expect, since it’s been a number of years since he had played. But Andy’s been great. We’re really happy with where he’s at. He’s working hard defensively to really tighten up some things at second base from a defensive standpoint.

I think we’re in a good spot organizationally with Travis Demeritte, who was a former first round pick and a former Crawdad, who’s really taken a nice step this year, leading the California League in home runs, and he’s playing second base on an everyday basis. And then another young man, Evan Van Hoosier, he was in the Arizona Fall League, he’s now in AA playing second base on an everyday basis, another former Crawdad. So, we’re pretty strong with second basemen up and down the system right now. We feel really good with Andy getting his at-bats and getting acclimated to baseball here in the states and being with a really good hitting coach in Francisco Matos. Andy’s time to move will come. We just feel like right now the best spot for him to be to work offensively and defensively is here in Hickory, N.C.

 

Was part of the process was to see how he would deal with failure at this level and not have the pressure of, he’s got to be at AA and have the results at that level that maybe you’re not worried as much about here at this level?

Daly: Absolutely, and I think that’s a great point. You definitely want to see how a guy adjusts, how he’s able to go through adversity, how he’s able to deal with failure. I think the other thing that we’ve learned, too, is maybe there’s little bit of a lean toward holding them back if they’re having success can be a good thing at the lowest levels and really get that foundation built, understand the adversity, understand what it’s like to be in the Texas Rangers organization, understand what it’s like to play a full season. Once we feel good that a player has established himself and has an understanding of what it’s like to go through a full-season adversity, then we’ll take the training wheels off, if you will, then we’ll be a little bit more aggressive in terms of promoting the guy once we feel that he’s mastered a level.

 

So there was no – when (Ibanez) was leading the world in everything in April – sense of hitting the accelerator?

Daly: No, we had some of those discussions. Obviously, he was outstanding there in April, but it’s a five-month season here at the minor league level and it’s a grind each and every day. Andy will definitely have his time at the higher level and it’ll probably come sooner rather than later. I think for the foreseeable future, right now he’ll be right here in Hickory and really  getting that first year under his belt.

 

Dillon Tate started well, then had the hamstring injury and then hit some bumps in the road, maybe a little bit unexpectedly given his pedigree and the level. Give me your feedback on what you’re seeing with Dillon.

Daly: It’s been a little tough for Dillon since he’s signed. He’s had a couple times that he’s had to go on the DL and I figure that’s held back some of his time on the mound. I think that Dillon continues to build a very strong routine. There’s a lot that goes into being a starting pitcher, both on the field and off the field: throwing program, weight program, conditioning program. I think what we’ve seen over the past couple of starts is that Dillon’s had the ability now and he’s kind of gotten past all those injuries to be able to get on the mound and to go deep in games.

I saw the game here the other night. The first inning was a struggle, but in his last batter he made a really good pitch on a 3-1 count and got a double play ball. From that point forward, he was able to help his team and was able to get five innings. You saw the development of the slider and of the changeup. He’s getting more confident throwing all of his pitches.

It’s something where, I know Dillon’s frustrated with some of those injuries and it’s something where it seems he’s able to get past and is able to spend more time on the mound and working on his craft as a pitcher.

 

On a development level with somebody like Dillon, maybe with all of the guys, but somebody like Dillon, who’s had success at the college level and has come here, are you more interested in seeing them do well, or to see how they rebound from having a struggle?

Daly: I think that you’re looking at all those aspects. The college game is very different from the pro game and very different from the major league level. There was a reason that Dillon Tate was a fourth overall selection. He’s a very talented young man who had a lot of success there at Cal-Santa Barbara. So, when we brought him into the organization, we wanted to see what type of pitcher he was, how he threw, where he had his success before we started talking to him about making some of those adjustments.

Like I said, I think some of the injuries have held him back just a little bit, but we’re excited that he seems to be past those, even facing some of those injuries that are a part of the adversity that any pitcher has to go through in their career. Obviously, Dillon has dealt with it early on in his career.

You obviously want your pitchers or position players to have a lot of success, but you’re obviously about adding to their repertoire, adding certain weapons – the ability to hold runners, the ability to throw offspeed pitches behind in the count, the ability to make your start every five days. Those are the things that we’re working on with Dillon, understanding that it’s a long process. He’s going to A ball to high-A to AA to AAA. It’s a process. It’s a ladder to make it to the major league level. Dillon’s going through some things now that I think will be a really good foundation for him to go through and learn as he continues in his career.

Greensboro Stays Hot, Keeps Crawdads Slumping

The Greensboro Grasshoppers pushed across two runs in the top of the ninth and defeated the Hickory Crawdads 3-1 Thursday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win was the ninth out of the last ten for Greensboro (22-25) and it also sent the Crawdads (28-19) to their seventh loss in nine games. The Grasshoppers beat Hickory for the first time in seven games this season.

What Happened?:

It was another low scoring affair during the Crawdads homestand, as Hickory and its opponents have combined for 18 runs in four games.

Both teams brought across runs in the third inning. Greensboro got its run when Zach Sullivan doubled with one out and scored on Anfernee Seymour’s single. Hickory answered in the of bottom half when LeDarious Clark ambushed a first-pitch fastball by Steven Farnworth for a homer to left.

Farnworth pitched the first six innings for Greensboro and allowed one run on five hits with two strikeouts. His counterpart Wes Benjamin countered with his lone run allowed on three hits and struck out six over five innings.

Blake Bass threw three scoreless innings for Hickory and Jeff Kinley (3-2) negotiated around three walks to log two scoreless innings.

Greensboro scored the go ahead runs in the ninth against reliever Joe Palumbo (3-2). With one out, Josh Naylor walked and stole second. One out later, Angel Reyes joined Naylor with a walk of his own. Roy Morales and Justin Twine each picked up RBI singles to right to account for the final margin.

Hickory put runners on second and third with one out against closer C.J. Robinson. But Robinson struck out Eduard Pinto and Clark to end the game and get his ninth save of the season.

The two teams will continue their series on Friday at 7 p.m.

 

Benjamin money on the mound:

Benjamin handled the Grasshoppers easily in his only other start against them on April 11 (4 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K) and added to that ledger on Thursday. He hurled a fastball that ranged in the 91-93 range and spotted it effectively around the plate. Of the six Ks he registered, three of those came on fastballs, two looking. The one mistake was a 93 mph up to Seymour that he smoked to center.

Changeup held in the 84-86 range with two missed bats, both for strikeouts. He sprinkled in an occasional curve, including one that fanned Isael Soto. Seymour’s double came on a curve that he went down to get.

Overall, Benjamin threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of 18 hitters and had 41 strikes out of 65 pitches.

 

Bass rebounds:

Blake had little trouble with the Grasshoppers and rebounded after allowing runs in his previous two outings. The 6-7 righty allowed two hits and struck out one over three scoreless innings.  His fastball ranged in the 91-92 with a change and it looked like just one slider, which he used the strike out Angel Reyes.

Baby Steps at the plate:

The ledger says Hickory had six hits, but the lineup squared up several pitches that went straight to fielders.

After Ibanez walked in the ninth, Tyler Sanchez roped a fastball that went straight to Sullivan in center.

Jenkins, who had struggled with fastballs during the Rome series, seemed back on track Thursday. He took a pitch deep to right in the first and lined one to right for a single in the third. His 4-3 grounder in the sixth was smoked, but right to Justin Twine at second. The walk in the eighth was arguably his best AB of the homestand as he laid off a couple of fastballs off the plate and then ignored a curve to work a walk.

There are still examples of the lineup missing fastballs on fastball counts, but on Thursday, they were too few to mention.

Moore fancy footwork at 1B:

Moore made a couple of tough plays on throws. In the fourth, a liner from Reyes was snared by Frandy De La Rosa at third. His quick throw to first caused Moore to shift feet and take the throw to the outfield side of the bag, which he held for the out.

In the sixth, a bunt by Seymour was pounced on by catcher Tyler Sanchez, who fired a bullet to first. Moore had to tap dance across the bag to catch the throw and hold the base for the out.

 

Greensboro adjusted to Clark:

After Clark jumped the first-pitch fastball in the third, he saw only two more fastballs – one lined to left in the fifth. In the final AB of the game, Robinson threw two sliders that Clark fouled off, then came back with a curveball over the inside corner for the final out of the game.

Braves Hop Over Crawdads 3-2

 

The Rome (Ga.) Braves scored three runs in the fourth to edge the Hickory Crawdads 3-2 during a Wednesday morning contest held at Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium.

 

What Happened?:

What had been a tough-hitting  series (14 total runs in the three games) continued on Wednesday as for the most part Rome’s Ricardo Sanchez and Hickory’s Erik Swanson held the opposing lineups in check.

Hickory (28-18) scored both of its runs in the second as Dylan Moore walked and Eduard Pinto followed with a two-run homer that just skimmed the tip of the fence in the rightfield corner.

The Braves (18-28) got their rally started with one out in the fourth as a ground ball to second baseman Andy Ibanez caromed wildly to Ibanez’s right for a single. A four-pitch walk to Wigberto Nevarez and a single by Jonathan Morales loaded the bases. Swanson (3-1) issued a second four-pitch walk in the inning, this time to Justin Ellison to score the first run. Carlos Castro popped up to first, but Alejandro Salazar singled in two runs to provide what turned out to be the game’s final margin.

Sanchez (3-4) allowed just the two runs on two hits with two strikeouts and two walks over 5.2 innings. He left in the sixth due to a shoulder injury.

Oriel Caicedo finished up for the Braves, though he had to work out of a Crawdads rally in the ninth. With two outs, Ibanez and Moore singled and Pinto walked to load the bases. However, Caicedo got Yeyson Yrizarri to pop to first to end the game.

Game management the difference:

The difference in the game was the ability of the two starters to work out of their one trouble spot in the game.

Sanchez:

In the second, Sanchez was clearly affected by a 3-2 pitch to the right-handed Moore that appeared to catch the outside corner, but was called ball four. After a fastball away to the lefty Pinto, a fastball in was pulled down the line and went about 333 feet and barely cleared the 10-foot fence.

After Yrizarri flew out to center, Ti’Quan Forbes beat out an infield hit to short.

The inning seemed to affect Sanchez, as he took several trips around the mound between pitches to collect himself. It took mound visits by the shortstop Salazar, the catcher Nevarez and finally Braves pitching coach Dan Meyer to settle down the 19-year-old lefty. Sanchez then got Chuck Moorman to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Swanson:

It appeared that Swanson was a candidate for a “Maddux” after needing 30 pitches to get through three innings. After getting Ray-Patrick Didder to ground to short, the inning began to unravel as Swanson’s pinpoint control with the fastball suddenly left him.

Four straight 95 mph pitches sailed to the righty’s glove side. Morales was able to get a seeing-eye single into left to load the bases before four straight fastballs then went off the plate arm side.

Castro popped up a 2-2 fastball onto the infield and then it appeared Swanson was going to keep the lead when he started Salazar 0-2. But a slider to Salazar caught a lot of the plate and he lined it hard to left and that turned out to be the ball game.

 

Stellar play in the field:

Third baseman Frandy De La Rosa and shortstop Yrizarri make stellar plays in support of Swanson in the second. De La Rosa snapped up a tough short-hop off the bat of Ellison to get the out. Yrizarri then made a grab of a grounder deep in the hole and then made a Jeter-like jump throw on the money to first to retire the slowfooted Castro.

 

Missed hitter’s counts:

What was an blip in the game log in the second turned out to be a key play as Moorman pulled a 2-1 fastball into a double play to keep Sanchez in the game with only two runs. But other hitters missed out on hitter’s counts as well.

In the third, Jenkins laid off a pair of curveballs away, but then mistimed a fastball and popped it to third.

One inning later, Moore worked a 2-0 count as two secondary pitches missed. But he, too, missed a fastball and bounced weakly to second.

In the fifth, De La Rosa saw a 2-0 fastball and bounced it to third.

Said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz after the game, “I don’t know why we couldn’t figure that guy out. I don’t know why we were getting in counts to hit and we couldn’t square up any balls.”

Crawdads Fried Braves

(I apologize in advance for grammatical/ spelling errors. Been up since 2:45 a.m.)

 

The Hickory Crawdads put together a big first inning and made it stand up for a 3-1 victory over the Rome (Ga.) Braves in game two of a three-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win by the host Crawdads evens the series at 1-1 after the Braves took the first game on Monday. Hickory (28-17) remains one-half game behind the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division chase. The Suns stayed in first by virtue of a 3-0 win at Lakewood (N.J.). Rome drops to 17-28, which is last in the Southern Division.

What Happened?:

Hickory scored all three runs in the first inning against Braves starter Max Fried. With one out, Dylan Moore and Andy Ibanez both singled and then pulled off a double steal that set up RBI singles by Tyler Sanchez and Eduard Pinto. After LeDarious Clark struck out, Ti’Quan Forbes singled in Sanchez to complete the scoring.

That turned out to be enough for a trio of Crawdads pitchers, led by starter Jonathan Hernandez (5-3). The 19-year-old right-hander allowed one run over six innings on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts. Matt Ball then pitched two scoreless innings and struck out two before John Werner closed out the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Braves put just one runner past second and it turned into their only run in the fifth. Leudys Baez singled and moved to third on Yeudi Grullon’s double. Ray-Partrick Didder’s grounder scored Baez.

Max Fried (2-3) settled down and did not allow a hit after the second inning and struck out four with three walks.

Hernandez hurling heat:

Pretty much the bulk of the work for Hernandez came on the fastball, which hung in the 92-95 range and touched 97 as he overthrew a pair of fastballs to Lucas Herbert in walking him with two outs in the sixth. He settled down and Alejandro Salazar to bounce to third to complete his outing.

For my untrained eyes, it seems that when Hernandez is in control of his delivery, he is able to spot the fastball nearly at will at the knees. When he begins to fall to the first base side, the pitch travels to the glove side.

By my count he had eight missed bats with the fastball with most of that coming at the expense of Braves 3B prospect Austin Riley. Hernandez carved up his fellow 19-year-old as the right-handed Riley swung through a pair of fastballs and then took a 92-mph pitch on the outside corner at the knees. In the third, Riley lost on a five-pitch at-bat by swinging past a 95-mph heater. Hernandez completed the hat trick, with a slider off the plate that Riley missed and then blew two fastballs by him.

The majority of his secondaries appeared to be his slider, which didn’t have much of a bit, but was enough to work the timing of the Rome hitters. He missed badly on an 0-2 pitch that Herbert lined hard to right. Other than Juan Grullon’s double in the fifth, the Braves were unable to make solid contract against Hernandez.

Crawdads offense shines, then goes into a funk:

Manager Steve Mintz moved Dylan Moore into the second slot behind Chris Garia, who was inserted into the leadoff spot in place of Eric Jenkins. It appeared the Crawdads found the magic elixir as they pounded out five hits against Rome starter Max Fried in the first. After Moore and Ibanez picked off fastballs, Sanchez and Pinto picked off hanging curves to do damage.

Yrizarri served a curve into left to start the second and after Chris Garia fanned, Dylan Moore walked. A double steal attempt by Yrizarri and Moore blew up as Yrizarri stopped on his way to third and went back to second. However, Moore didn’t see the play ahead of him and Yrizarri was tagged out during a rundown.

As what seems to happen when the Crawdads have a blunder, the team went into a funk as the Crawdads managed only two more walks against Fried through six innings. The Crawdads finished with nine hits, but just four after the first.

Pinto showing strong arm:

The Crawdads left fielder made his second strong throw in as many nights and Alejandro Salazar was the victim both times. On Monday, Pinto threw out Salazar at the plate trying to score on a hit down the line in left. Pinto got him again on Tuesday when he tried to go first-and-third.

Relievers slam the door:

Matt Ball flamed a 94 mph fastball mixed in with a tight slider that goes for strikes. He gave up just one baserunner when Baez reached on an error in the eighth. Ball recovered to get the next two outs and shut the door. He completed Riley’s golden sombrero in the eighth with a slider in the dirt.

John Werner needed only eight pitches to close out the save. Fastball 94-95 with a slider. Works quickly and pounds strikes. Josh Altmann assisted the save with a diving catch of a sinking liner by Salazar.

Speed played role in big inning:

One key in defeating Fried was to figure out how to beat the lefty’s tough pickoff move. After Fried picked off two in his last start vs. Hickory – and in the process got Crawdads manager Steve Mintz tossed for arguing the legality of the move.

On Tuesday, the Crawdads were more careful with Fried’s move and were not picked off. The Crawdads were able to be patient and pick out pitches to run on. The key to the first was Ibanez’s single that put runners and first and second. As good as Fried’s pickoff move is, his deliver to the plate is slow. Ibanez/ Moore picked on a curve ball to move easily up a base on the double steal. Sanchez and Pinto collected on the RBI opportunities.

Hickory went on to steal five against Rome in the game; four of those came against Fried.

Crawdads at the Quarter Pole: Interview with Steve Mintz

The Hickory Crawdads passed the one-quarter mark of the season last weekend during the series against Rome (Ga.) Entering Thursday night’s game at West Virginia, the team is at 26-13 and sit in second place, one-half game behind Hagerstown (Md.) in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.

The expectation entering the season was that the team would be built around a strong starting rotation that featured four returnees from last season, along with a lineup that was built for speed. For the most part, those expectations have been met. The team ERA of 3.27 is third in the SAL with the squad staying in most games because of overall strong starting pitching. On the bases, Hickory has 90 steals this season, more than the total steal attempts of any other South Atlantic League team.The 43 caught stealing attempts are more than the successful steal attempts of 10 other SAL teams.

I caught up with Crawdads manager Steve Mintz last weekend to get an overall picture of the squad in mid-May.

 

Now you’re at the quarter pole, so to speak. Standing wise you’re in a good position. Although I know you want to win and all of that, but development is the name of the game. How are things with development as a whole?

Mintz: I think it’s good. The team, they’re getting to know each other better. As far as the team meshing, we’re pretty happy with the direction that it’s going. As far as the pitching, we’ve seen really good signs, both starting and our bullpen. We have our little hiccups here and there, but things we’re able to address and fix quickly.

Defensive wise, I think we’re catching the ball and throwing it very well. There’s a few instances where we don’t get outs that we should get, maybe turning a double play when we’re too slow to the ball, or different things like that that are fixable. The main things that we’re looking for is ready position, and fielding, and angles and all those things are getting better.

Obviously from the baserunning side of it, we’re trying to understand the scoreboard, understand what we’re doing, the pitchers and catchers and what the other teams are trying to do, the times to the plate, can the catcher throw and different things like that.

I think in a nutshell, we’re on pace exactly where we’d like to be, as far as the development side of it. Obviously, winning baseball games helps that out tremendously, being able to address things while you’re winning, instead of not.

Hickory Victory

Hickory celebrating another victory in 2016. The Crawdads are 26-13 prior to the weekend series at West Virginia. (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

I’m guessing you’re pleased with effort. If you’re in first place at this point of the season, the guys see the standings and you don’t really have to address effort very much.

Mintz: There’s different times where we’ve seen the guys go out there and battle and come back from deficits and win.  There’s other times when we get a lull there in the dugout and maybe take an at-bat to the field and different things like that. Those are things we can simply address and talk to them about. But for the most part, the effort and the work that they’re putting in before the games, and then obviously the 27 outs that we’re trying to get during the game, no real concerns there.

 

You said coming into the season that you were going to run and run and run, and you certainly have run and run and run. What are the things that you address as far as trying to teach these guys the running game?

Mintz: First and foremost, where we start at is the scoreboard. We direct every attempt and every decision that we’re making at the scoreboard. Our position is if we’re tied, we’ve got the lead, or we’re down a couple of runs, we’re staying aggressive. We want to continually put pressure on the defense. On the reverse side of that, we don’t want to run into outs.

What we’re starting to see now with the guys is they’re studying the pitchers more. They’re having an idea of their times to the plate. They understand the catcher. They’re understanding, “Do I need to get to second base or do I need to get to third base, or can I wait a couple of pitches and let (Andy) Ibanez drive me in or (Tyler) Sanchez drive me in?” All those things, you’re starting to see those come out.

We’ve still got a lot or work to do in the area. The biggest plus of it all is that they’re going. We’ve told them since the first day of spring training, “We want you to run; we want you to run and I’m not going to be the guy that’s stops you.” The guys that have the green lights; the (other team’s) managers can look at me all they want. I’m not putting on any signs over at third base. I’m watching them (his players) and seeing what they’re doing with their jumps and their leads and their secondaries and all that stuff that they’re supposed to be doing on the bases.

So far, I’m satisfied. Not that we’re where we want to be, but we’re learning. We’re taking a good look at the scoreboard and that’s my biggest thing for them to look at. Look at the scoreboard and you decide is it a time that we need to do this, or is it a time that we don’t need to do this.

Eric Jenkins steal

Eric Jenkins steals 2B in a game against Greenville (S.C.). The speedy outfielder leads the SAL with 22 steals through May 18 (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Is that the biggest part of correction is to learn when to take those chances or not?

Mintz: The scoreboard and the pitchers. We had one stretch there that were throwing 1.2s, 1.25s to the plate and we were running. They were bang-bang, but we were still out. I’m trying to get them to understand that in those situations that we have to look for pitches. We have to maybe try to pick a 0-2 count, or if we can see a catcher’s sign and go on a breaking ball. So they’re learning things those things. So, if the pitcher gets 1.4 and over, they’re going. They’re going out and trying to get their leads and trying to get the best jump that they can get and go. That’s what we want them to do.

If they understand all those factors and they go and get thrown out, I’ll put them on the behind as they go back to the dugout. That’s what we want them to do. They have to learn how to steal bases. You’ve got Jenkins, Garia’s here now, Clark, De La Rosa, Moore – I think everybody sleeps on him, I don’t know why.  But they have to learn how to steal bases.

 

Coming into the season, you had a strong rotation – at least on paper – with (Dillon) Tate, (Brett) Martin, (Pedro) Payano. (Jonathan) Hernandez has added some nice innings for you after a little bit of a bumpy start. Benjamin and Swanson are split off for now. For the most, your starters have run out some good innings.

Mintz: And they have to. I don’t care if you’re in little league or in the big leagues. Your starting pitching is what carries you. You’re not going to win without it and it’s been proven over and over again. You can’t outhit bad pitching. They’ve given us a chance to win in most of the ballgames that we’ve had. I even talked to the guys today. There’s been two ballgames that we’ve been blown out and they were right here against Greenville. All the other games, we’ve either won them or we’ve been in them. It’s not been some runaway mess, except for the two games. Our starters are doing their job and they’re getting us into the games and giving us an opportunity to score, get leads and even come back late in ballgames. That’s all we can ask from them.

Payano 1-hitter Lin

Pedro Payano has a 1.42 ERA over seven appearances (six starts) though May 18. (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

The development side for them and what (pitching coach) Jose Jaimes is doing with them, learning swings and counts and pitch sequences, all are things that come with it. These kids are still learning on how to do. We’re happy to this point. They’ve each had a hiccup here and there, which is fine. We don’t expect them to go out there and have 30 outstanding starts. Where we’re at and what they’re doing, we’re happy. They’ve got more work to put in and more things to learn. It’s all a process, but we’re happy with where they’re at.

 

For you, who has taken the biggest step forward in the first six weeks?

Mintz: I’m not going to lie about it. (Jose) Almonte has been…

Now, you mentioned him before the season. I’m going to ask you about him. You look at the stats coming into this season at the DSL he didn’t hit much and then he skipped levels to come here. You said back then, “He swings the bat like a man.” Everything I saw and read, I went, “OK”. He’s really made you a prophet here.

Mintz: I might have told you or somebody else at the beginning of the year that I thought he was going to be a wildcard for us coming in. Not a lot going on to this point, but I’ve watched him in the last two or three spring trainings and some instructional league. I mean, the kid’s 18, 19 years old. What he’s been able to do for us in the bottom half of that lineup, being able to drive in runs and I think he’s got four or five home runs. He’s hitting .290, or whatever it is. It gives you that added little punch in your lineup knowing you’ve got a guy there that can hit it out and drive in runs. And he plays a great right field and has a good arm and he runs around out there good.

Maybe not so much a surprise to me. I’m happy for what he’s doing, but I guess I did say he was the wildcard of the bunch. You’ve got some of the other ones that you’ve got expectations for, but with limited expectations for him, I thought he would do what he’s doing.

Jose Almonte batting

Jose Almonte has surprised observers with a .281 average and a .753 OPS over the first 39 games of the season (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Martin and Tate came into the season with a checklist. How are they progressing with what you wanted to see from them?

Mintz: I’m not all the way up on what we’re trying to do with them. Obviously, quality starts and offspeed pitches for both of them was a high priority and commanding the zone with their fastballs. Martin coming back in a repeat role and maybe dominate the league for three or four starts and then see what happens.

They’ve both had spots. Tate’s coming back and he’s doing all the stuff that he needs to do to make sure that he’s 100 percent go on everything. They’re pretty close to being on track. As I said, they’re all going to have their little sideways days, but you can’t get too hung up on that. You’ve got to look at the whole body of work and what they’re trying to do. We’re happy where they’re at. There’s no red flags or anything that’s had us so, “oh gosh, we’ve made the wrong decision.”

 

How much longer does Ibanez get to stay here?

Mintz: I have no idea (laughing). I reckon he’ll be here until they call me and tell me that he needs to get on a plane. Stuff like that is out of my control. I’m just going to mess with him while he’s here and have him do the things he needs to do to be prepared to go to that next step when they ask him to.

Andy Ibanez batting

Andy Ibnanez has been among the SAL best hitters much of the season. (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

 

When you and I talked before the season, you said there were two things he needed to do: Get used to USA ball and work on some fielding issues. Are both of those progressing as you’d hope?

Mintz: No doubt. I think playing baseball in America, he’s acclimated himself very well to that. His second base play has grown leaps and bounds. Our infield coordinator Kenny Holmberg was in Charleston (S.C.) with us. He made a couple of plays and I walked up to Kenny and I said, “He don’t that play in spring training.” And he said, “You’re right.”

His angles and reading balls off the bat and different things like that, we’re tickled to death with. Obviously, he’s swinging the bat and leading the world in doubles. Everything we’ve wanted him to do, he’s accomplished to this point.

Game Story May 12: Rome 3 Braves 0

Entering the game with the worst record in the South  Atlantic League, the Rome (Ga.) Braves shut down the Hickory Crawdads Thursday night 3-0 in front of 2.402 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Hickory entered the game with the SAL’s best record (22-11) and remains there in spite of the loss. The Crawdads are 1 ½ games ahead of Hagerstown (Md.) in the Northern Division.

What Happened?:

Rome put out one of the Atlanta Braves top prospects on the mound Thursday night in pitcher Mike Soroka. The 2015 first-round pick out of Calgary did little to disappoint as he held the Crawdads to one hit and two walks over 5.1 innings and struck out five. Trevor Belicek entered the game and gave up a double over 2.2 innings before A. J. Minter wrapped up the two-hitter with a perfect ninth.

The Braves scored an unearned run against Crawdads starter Jonathan Hernandez (4-2) in the fourth. After second baseman Andy Ibanez botched a potential inning-ending double play ball from Lucas Herbert, Alejandro Salazar later in the inning picked up the RBI with a sacrifice fly.

The lone earned run of the game came in the seventh when Herbert doubled in Juan Yepez. The final run came in the ninth as shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri’s error on another inning-ending double play ball. The Braves cashed in the miscue when Leudys Baez scored on Austin Riley’s RBi single.

The sticks:

As a group: The team had a more difficult time solving the Braves starter than in his previous start when they touched him up for six runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks over four innings. On Thursday, Soroka spotted a fastball 90-93 around the plate and then whipped out an effective curve that kept Crawdads hitters honest. There appeared to be an occasional change around 83-87 that served to break up the fastball/ curve sequence. Off the 17 outs recorded, 13 came on strikeouts or grounders.

Eric Jenkins: After nine strikeouts in 11 ABs, a day off seemed to be what Jenkins needed.  The only Crawdads hitter to solve Soroka, he showed good patience in the first before turning an inside fastball for a lined single to right. In the third, an 8-pitch AB went for a walk. Only a great play by 2B Luke Dykstra kept Jenkins off the bases for a third time. He saw 26 pitches in 4 at bats, 14 of those in the first two ABs.

Andy Ibanez: Has cooled off since a blazing April, currently at .143/.265/.250 for May. Since this was only the second home game of May – the first since May 2, there’s not a lot I can say as to what he has been or not been doing. He is seeing a good many more breaking balls than I recall him seeing in April and he is having to adjust and could be a bit impatient right now. In the first inning, he was able to lay off Soroka’s curve the first time before flailing at one low and away for a strike out.

Tyler Sanchez: A tough night at the plate as Soroka got him looking at a curve in the second. Then, as he appeared to be looking for a curve on a 2-2 count in the fourth, he was late for a fastball off the plate. Against the lefty Belicek in the seventh, it was a fastball outside looking for strike one, swinging through a similar pitch for strike two, then looking at a curve for the out.

The Mound:

Jonathan Hernandez: Didn’t pitch that poorly, but wasn’t on the same level as Soroka. Unfortunately on the stat sheet, he gets the loss. Hernandez ran out a fastball in the 94-96 mph range, but his control was iffy, especially to the catcher’s arm side. Changeup (83-85) did miss some bats, but it too was left up on occasion.

Omarlin Lopez: Through a quirk, this was only the second time Lopez has pitched at home and I missed the first one. The righty runs a fastball in the low 90s that at times caught a lot of the plate, and the Braves were able to time for hard hit balls. However, Lopez threw a sharp curve that missed 3 bats by my count and another for a called-third strike to retire Jonathan Morales.

Blake Bass: Fastball 91-93, a couple of curves that missed bats and change. Pitched “backwards” to his first hitter Morales, getting him to swing through a pair of curves, but then left an 0-2 fastball over the plate that Morales lined to left.

Fielding:

Josh Altmann: Arriving at the clubhouse a couple of hours prior to game time, he certainly made a first impression with fans in Hickory in the opening inning. Altmann ended the first by slipping on the wet grass in right, then went back and to his right to make a lunging catch of Justin Ellison’s liner to complete the inning. In the third, Altmann showed a bullet of an arm by running down Luke Dykstra’s bloop single along the line in right, then fired a bullet to Yeyson Yrizarri at second than was easily ahead of Dykstra.

Middle infield: Errors on what should’ve been inning-ending double plays proved costly. Ibanez in the fourth was unable to make a play to his left. Yrizarri at short got to a roller up the middle in the eighth, but in his haste to make a play at second, he booted the ball.

Game Story: Hickory 5 Greenville 4 (17)

Hickory 5 Greenville 4 (17 innings)

 

So, I tweeted this in the sixth:

“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.

What Happened:?

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.

 

The bats:

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.

Eric Jenkins:

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.”

 

Yeyson Yrizarri

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
96 looking
97 in foul
99 in foul
90 away foul
99 in ball
88 foul
97 foul off ump
97 off own shin
81 curve whiff

— Mark Parker (@CrawdadsBeat) April 20, 2016

 

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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.

RISP:

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.”

 

The mound:

Pedro Payano:

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.”

Jeffrey Springs:

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.

Adam Choplick:

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,

Jacob Shortslef:

Fastball 93-94, Slider that missed five bats over two innings (by my count). Pretty impressive outing for his debut.

The baserunning:

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.

Series Preview: Greenville at Hickory April 18-20

The Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers affiliate) host the Greenville Drive (Boston Red Sox) for a three-game series Monday through Wednesday at L.P. Frans Stadium to close out a seven-game homestand.

If you plan to go:

Games Monday and Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. with Wednesday’s tilt at 10:30 a.m.

Persons can get into the game free on Monday by bringing an item to support the Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry. Items needed are diapers, socks, men’s undershirts, light bulbs, batteries, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning products, or air fresheners. Item(s) must be $5 or more in value.

Tuesday is Dollar Dog Day. Dogs are admitted for $1 each and hot dogs are $1 each at the concession stand. The Crawdads will have 16 oz. craft pints and 22 oz. Pepsis for $2.

Wednesday is the first Education Day of the year.

Concessions are basic ballpark fare with a wider selection of items at the Crawdads Café, which is located above the 1B stands. New this year is a mac-and-cheese footlong hotdog and an updated version of the CLAWlossal

 

Where is it?:

L.P. Frans is located on Clement Blvd., approximately 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321. From I-40 east or west, take exit 123 B and follow the signs to U.S. 321 North. The left turn for Clement Blvd. is at the light that houses Pizza Hut, CVS, RaceTrac gas station and Peak Motors.

From the north, take Hwy 321 South to Clement Blvd. and turn right.

From downtown Hickory, take 3rd street NW to the west and follow it until it turns into Clement Blvd. past the U.S. 321 intersection.

 

Probables (Greenville/ Hickory):

Monday: RHP Anderson Espinoza vs. RHP Peter Fairbanks

Tuesday: LHP Logan Boyd vs. LHP Brett Martin

Wednesday: RHP Roniel Raudes vs. RHP Dillon Tate

 

Recent Series History:

Hickory and Greenville split a four-game series at LPFS last season in the only meetings between the clubs. The Crawdads have taken 9-of-12 the last two seasons. Since 2009, which is the start of the Rangers-Crawdads affiliation, Hickory is 34-29 overall, 23-21 at home. Overall, since the Drive began play in 2005 after moving from Columbia, Greenville holds the series lead 52-49, including a 28-24 mark at LPFS.

 

Entering the series – Hickory:

The Crawdads are 9-2, which is their best 11-game record to open a season since at least the 2000 season. (There are no game-by-game records available prior to 2000.) They are tied with the West Virginia Power for first in the South Atlantic League’s (SAL) Northern Division… Hickory took the final two games of the four-game series with Kannapolis and have won 6-of-7 overall.

At the plate: the Crawdads are tied with Greenville with a .423 slugging pct., trails only Greenville in OPS (.760) at .758 and are second in batting avg. at .265. The Crawdads lead the SAL in total bases and are second in hits.

On the mound, the team ERA of 2.00 is second in the SAL and as a group have allowed the fewest HRs (2) in the league. Despite the number of errors, especially early on, Hickory has given up just six unearned runs

In the field:  After eight errors over the first four games of the season, the Crawdads have just five over the last seven.

On the bases: Hickory has a SAL-high of 35 steal attempts with 15 caught stealing. Eight different players have at least one steal with six putting up two or more. Dylan Moore leads with five and has yet to be caught.

 

Entering the series –Greenville:

The Drive are 7-4 after taking the final three games in their series at Columbia (S.C.) this weekend and sit two games behind first place Charleston (S.C.) in the SAL’s Southern Division. Greenville is in the midst of a stretch of games in which it had a three-game winning streak, a three-game losing streak, and now its current three-game winning streak.

At the plate: After scoring 25 runs over the first eight games of the season, Greenville exploded for 24 over the final three games, which included nine home runs against Fireflies pitching. That explosion has put them into the SAL lead with 13. They have more homers than doubles (12) and trail only in Hickory in total bases.

On the mound: As a group, the Drive is around the middle of the pack in most statistical categories, though their 2.66 ERA is fourth in the league. That ERA may need to be given more weight as to its excellence, considering that their home ballpark in Greenville is a hitter’s park. The relief pitching in many cases have been nearly lights out. Bobby Poyner, Jeffrey Fernandez and Kuehl McEachern have combined to strike out 18 and walk one over 16.1 scoreless innings.

In the field: Next to last fielding pct. (.957), Greenville has 17 errors on the season, eight of those in the last five games. Infielder Luis Alejandro Basabe has four.

 

Players to watch- Hickory:

RHP Peter Fairbanks: The 22-year-old was the Rangers 9th round pick in 2015 out of Missouri. Allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks over five innings with four Ks in his first start at Greensboro last week.

LHP Brett Martin: The 2015 SAL All-Star returned for a tune-up of his repertoire and it has worked well out of the gate for Hickory in 2016. Unrattled after a rough first inning during opening night at Kannapolis, the native of Morristown, Tenn. has allowed one earned run over nine innings with 12 K and four walks. He is prone to hits, as Martin sports a .264 OBA in his career, including ten hits allowed this year. Martin is the Rangers No. 11 prospect according to MLB.com, No. 18 by Baseball America.

RHP Dillon Tate: The Rangers No. 4 prospect by MLB.com, No. 5 by Baseball America. He is also MLB.com’s No. 35 overall prospect and the 8th best RHP. In his opening start of the season, Tate allowed an unearned run on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts over 4.2 innings at Kannapolis. He returned for the home opener last Thursday to strike out ten Intimidators over six innings and allowed four hits. Possesses a fastball/ slider combo with a developing changeup.

LHP Joe Palumbo: Has been tough to face in his two outings, as he has struck out 12 over 6.1 innings. That ratio of 17.05 K’s-per-9 innings is tops among relievers. Palumbo was the Rangers 30th round pick in 2013 out of St. John the Baptist in N.Y.

2B Andy Ibanez: Has arguably been the best hitter in the SAL over the first week-and-a-half of the season. Ibanez leads the SAL in hits (18), doubles (7), batting (.439), slugging (.732), extra base hits (9), total bases (30) and is third in OBP (.489). Baserunning has been a problem area early on as he has been caught stealing five times with three pickoffs. The 23-year-old Cuban native is the No. 8 prospect according to MLB.com and Baseball America has him No. 16.

CF Eric Jenkins: At 19 on opening day, he is Baseball America’s No. 6 Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 7. Had 13 strikeouts during the opening week-long road trip, but has adjusted for now with just three over the weekend. Has blazing speed with which he uses well to track down balls in the gaps. On offense, Jenkins will lay down effective bunts, but has the ability to pull the bat back and slap the ball around the field. Has shown emerging power as of later, with his first pro homer at Greensboro and a double to the track in CF vs. Kannapolis.

SS Yeyson Yrizarri: He is the No. 12 Rangers prospect according to MLB.com, No. 27 by Baseball America. Thus far, he has not appeared overmatched as a 19-year-old in his first full-season league. Yrizarri is errorless at the position and has shown good range. The cannon of an arm that was advertised ahead of his arrival has proved to be true. At the plate, he has a six-game hitting streak during which he is 9-for-25, including three two-hit games. Also has a streak of four games with at least one RBI. Showed promising power when he homered to LCF on Friday.

IF Dylan Moore: He began to get well at Greensboro last week, but had a six-game hitting streak snapped on Sunday vs. Kannapolis. Went 8-for-20 during the stretch. Has settled down at first after he made two errors opening night; gone errorless since and seems to look more comfortable there.

C Tyler Sanchez: At this point, Sanchez has worked himself into a few more at bats. Was the first catcher to work back-to-back games this season when he did so on Friday and Saturday, then played first on Sunday. Sanchez has shown patience at the plate with seven walks over his last four games.

Players to watch-Greenville:

RHP Anderson Espinoza: At 18, the native of Caracas, Venezuela is already the Red Sox No. 4 prospect by both Baseball America and MLB.com, which has him at the No. 37 overall prospect and the 10th-best right handed pitching prospect. Comes armed with a fastball that has touched 100 and an advanced curve and change. He shut down Asheville on two hits over five innings in his first start before West Virginia touched him for four runs (three earned) on six hits in his last start. Has nine Ks and no walks in 10 innings. Likely slated for around 75 pitches.

LHP Logan Boyd: The 22-year-old out of Sam Houston St. was the Red Sox 19th round pic in 2015. Gave up a hit per inning in his short-season tenure at Lowell (Mass.), has a 1.50 WHIP in two starts this season. Gave up two runs on four hits over three innings in his last start at Columbia.

RHP Roniel Raudes: From Nicaragua, the 18-year-old is MLB.com’s No. 14 prospect, No. 24 by Baseball America. Skipped short-season level after making his stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League last summer. Entered the season with 79 Ks and nine walks over 74 innings, is already at a 9/1 ratio in 10 innings this year. He four-hit Asheville to start his season and then allowed a run on three hits at Columbia in his last outing. Has a low-90s fastball with curve and change. Like Espinoza, will also likely top out at 75 pitches.

RHP Anyelo Leclerc: A member of the 2014 Crawdads squad, the Red Sox acquired him in the offseason during the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Has 10 Ks in 8.2 IP over 4 relief outings thus far in 2016. Gave up two runs in back-to-back outings before bouncing back on Sunday with a scoreless 1.2 innings at Columbia, though he gave up two walks and a hit.

CF Luis Alexander Basabe: The 19-year-old from El Vigia, Venezuela is listed as MLB.com’s No. 8 prospect, 9th by Baseball America. Is already in his fourth pro season after having signed with Boston in 2013 at 16. Evaluators have noted his speed and bat speed. A patient hitter at the plate for his age, has 126 walks in 867 plate appearances (15%). Has struggled at the start of the season (.176/.222/.353) with hits in only 3 of his 9 games. He is the twin brother of Drive infielder Luis Alejandro Basabe.

3B Michael Chavis: The Red Sox first-round pick (26th overall) in 2014 is in his second season with the Drive after a .223/.277/.405 season in 109 games last year. Still just 20, the native of Marietta, Ga. is the No. 10 prospect according to Baseball America and MLB.com. Won the home run derby at the 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic and cranked out 16 homers with the Drive last year. But his 144 Ks derailed his season (31% K-rate). Has improved in that area early on in 2016 with just eight in 43 appearances. Is at .350/.395/.500 to start this season.

1B Josh Ockimey: The Red Sox 5th round pick in 2014, out of Sts. Neumann and Goretti High in Philly. Signed away from a commitment to Indiana. Already 6-1, 215, some evaluators have given comparisons a young Ryan Howard with his potential power.  Had four homers and 20 extra-base hits in 56 games at short-season Lowell last year. Coming off back-to-back homers at Columbia and is third in the SAL in slugging at .676). MLB.com ranks him as the Red Sox No. 16, while Baseball America pegs him at No. 23.

C Austin Rei: The Red Sox No. 25 prospect, according to MLB.com was their third round pick in 2015 out of the University of Washington. Struggled at the plate at short-season Lowell (.179/.285/.295 in 130 plate appearances), has started just 4-of-28 at Greenville. Caught 4 of the 6 runners attempting to steal this season.

Notes of Interest:

Both teams have yet to lose a game when having the lead after five innings. Hickory is 7-0, while Greenville is 5-0. Both are undefeated (4-0) when scoring first. The Crawdads have won six of seven games decided by more than three runs…Drive catcher Roldani Baldwin went to the 7-day DL and was replaced on the roster by C Jhon Nunez. It is Nunez’s first stint at low-A… Drive RHP Michael Kopech (No. 5 prospect) is on the DL…The lone Crawdads DL casualty is pitcher Jacob Shortslef (cut finger).