(The following story is based on records I have at my disposal since 2005, as well as sporadic records kept by the Crawdads prior to that season. If others have further information, I welcome their inclusion here and will update.)
At Thursday’s home-opener win over Kannapolis, the Hickory Crawdads tied a club record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The trio of Jake Latz (8), Tai Tiedemann (5) and Nick Snyder (4) struck out 17 hitters during a 4-1 win.
With that game in mind, I thought Crawdads fans might want a look back at some of the other big strikeout games in the team’s history.
Hickory first registered 17 Ks in a nine-inning game back on May 25, 2009 in a game at Hagerstown, Md, when a pair of future major leaguers turned the trick. Right-hander Jake Brigham twirled the first five innings of shutout baseball, striking out eight and allowing three hits. Martin Perez then came in and upstaged him. The 18-year-old left-hander, then one of the pitching prospects in the minors, struck out nine over four innings and finished off a seven-hit shutout in a 6-0 win.
The individual pitcher with the most strikeouts in a single game was right-hander Jason Lakman, who on July 31, 1997 struck out 16. During that contest, he became one of the few pitchers in baseball history to struck out five in one inning when he turned the trick in the fifth.
The all-time single-game record for the team in a came back in August 2000 as part of a game that set the South Atlantic League record for most combined strikeouts in a game. Asheville and Hickory played 20 innings that day and rang up 53 strikeouts. In what was a loss, the Crawdads pitchers set 23 down on strikes. Unfortunately, the Hickory hitters set the league’s record for most whiffs in a game when they fanned 30 times.
The Crawdads got close to catching that mark a couple of times. During a 17-inning affair on May 9, 2015, Brett Martin (4), Trey Lambert (2), Adam Parks (7), David Perez (6) and Kelvin Vasquez (3) combined to strikeout 22 against Savannah. Their chance to catch and break the club mark ended on Crawdads walk-off homer by Jose Cardona.
The Crawdads has two other extra-inning games during which they struck out 20 or more batters. In a home game on May 4, 2010 against Asheville. Two future major league pitchers were among a quartet of Crawdads hurlers that fanned 20 during a 13-inning game. Starter Joe Wieland (8) and closer Josh Lueke (5), both of whom would go onto the big leagues, collected 13 with Braden Tullis (5) and Hector Nelo (2) filling in for seven others.
The other 20+ strikeout contest came during a loss in 19 innings to Rome (Ga.) on May 15, 2016. Peter Fairbanks had a pedestrian four over six innings with Blake Bass added two more in the seventh and eighth. Reliever and future big leaguer Jeffrey Springs had five over three innings before Omarlin Lopez dominated the Braves with eight in five innings. Sitting at 19 after 16 innings, the club record was in reach. Matt Ball tallied just one more in the 17th and 18th innings. With the Crawdads out of fresh arms, position player Dylan Moore threw in the 19th and was not able to register a K.
The Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws built a five-run lead, then fended off a late charge in claiming a 6-4 win over the Hickory Crawdads Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory.
The win by the BlueClaws (39-49 overall, 10-9 second half) – their fifth in six games – was the first in four meetings with the Crawdads (47-42, 9-10) this season. Hickory entered the game on the heels of a 5-2 road trip, but continued its woes at home, dropping to 19-22 at Frans this season.
Behind starter Matt Ball, the Crawdads eked out a 1-0 lead through five innings. The lone run came when Josh Altmann ripped a sharp, one-hop grounder past second baseman Josh Tobias to score Eduard Pinto. Ball allowed four hits and three walks over five shutout innings and struck out five.
Lakewood countered with a strong start by Seranthony Dominguez (1-1), who allowed just the one run on five hits and struck out three.
The BlueClaws took the lead for good against reliever Blake Bass (3-2) in the sixth. Josh Tobias singled to left and moved to third on Damek Tomscha’s double. Wilson Garcia’s grounder to second scored Tobias before Jose Pujols singled in Tomscha to take a 2-1 lead.
Dominguez and reliever Sutter McLoughlin held the Crawdads lineup in check, retiring 13 in a row from the fourth through the eighth.
Lakewood blew the game open in the ninth against John Werner. With one out, Cornelius Randolph doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch. Deivi Grullon then cracked a two-run homer to left to open the lead to 4-1. Tobias later singled in two more for Lakewood’s final runs.
Hickory’s lineup reawakened in the bottom of the ninth to make it a game. Pinto singled and scored on Dylan Moore’s double to left-center. After McLoughlin walked Altmann, Zach Morris entered the game to face Yeyson Yrizarri. Moore and Altmann worked a double steal and then both scored on Yriarri’s single up the middle. Morris then settled down to strike out Chuck Moorman and got the final out of the game when Ricky Valencia lined out to Carlos Duran in the left-centerfield gap.
Hot sticks stymied:
The Crawdads entered the game after scoring six or more runs over the past five games, and it appeared they would another to the list after a strong first inning. However, Dominguez settled down and overwhelmed the lineup with a lively, cutting fastball that stayed in the 95-97 mph range. The pitch was especially effective in running into the hands of left-handed hitters, elliciting weak contact. Early on, Dominguez was unable to throw the slider for strikes and dumped the pitch pretty much after the second inning, although he got Chuck Moorman to chase two of them to end the fourth.
Sutter McLoughlin had an effective changeup (83-84) to compliment a 93-94 mph fastball. The ball seemed to jump from the righty after a slow windup and delivery.
Pinto continues to smolder:
One day after winning the South Atlantic League’s hitter of the week award (.567/.581/.833) Hickory’s Eduard Pinto continued to hit the ball hard and picked up two hits on the night to extend his hitting streak to nine. In seven of those games, he has two or more hits. Pinto was one of the few hitters to solve the fastball of Dominguez, getting the bat out early to pull it into right for a single in the first.. A liner to short in the third turned into a double play in the third. Another line out came in the sixth, this one to right. He saw just one offspeed pitch on the night, a changeup which he lined for a single to center in the ninth to start the Crawdads final rally.
Opportunity knocked but thrice:
Hickory missed chances to open up its early lead and it proved to be costly in the game’s ultimate result. On Altmann’s RBI single in the first, Dylan Moore rounded the bag aggressively at third, but manager Steve Mintz decided to hold him at the last moment. Moore slipped and fell trying to stop, then was tagged out trying to retreat to third.
In the second, Hickory led off with an infield hit by Yeyson Yrizarri, who used a grounder and a balk to move to third. With two outs, Connor McKay built a 3-0 count, but eventually struck out.
Eric Jenkins doubled and Frandy De La Rosa walked to start the third. Pinto’s liner to short turned into a double play that erased Jenkins. The play nearly became a triple play, but De La Rosa was able to scamper back to first.
Prevent defense actually works:
Only a no-doubles defense kept pinch-hitter Ricky Valencia from keeping the ninth inning alive, as his hard liner into the LCF gap was taken by Duran, who was playing near the track in center.
Failing to take Ball home:
Matt Ball held steady command in the early going for Hickory. It looked like he held mostly to a (94-96) / slider diet. The slider did much of the dirty work for him, ringing up four Ks, all swinging. A 94 mph was called for a third strike to finish off Zach Coppola in the third.
Ball’s fastball control began to fade in the fourth as he walked a pair of hitters. But after a mound visit, a fastball from Ball broke the bat of Jose Pujols and turned the ensuing weak grounder into a double play.
In the fifth, Lakewood put two on with two outs, the second a walk by Ball of Coppola. However, Duran undercut a hanging slider and weakly flew out to left.
No balm for relief:
Bass had a rough sixth inning, but it didn’t compare to the tough night for Werner in the ninth. Lakewood hitters jumped Bass’ fastball early in the count to start the rally, however, it was a broken bat single by Pujols on a slider that put Lakewood ahead. Bass eventually recorded the final two outs of the inning to keep the Crawdads in the game.
In the ninth, it was Werner’s slider that the BlueClaws attacked effectively, when it crossed the plate. Grullon hammered a hanger for an insurance, two-run homer. Randolph and Emmanuel Marrero also hit the pitch hard for base knocks.
But with all the problems with the slider, it was the demeanor for Werner that was evident. Werner argued that the homer by Grullon was foul – it appeared fair from the press box. A few slight kicks to the rubber and just general body language issues after a walk eventually brought manager Steve Mintz to the mound for a rare non-pitching change visit.
The homer was the sixth allowed by Werner, all of them coming since June 19 (seven appearance, 11.2 innings) when Yermin Mercedes took him deep in the ninth inning of a loss to Delmarva (Md.).
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.
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.
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.
The Rome Braves rallied with single runs in the eighth and ninth inning to claim a 3-2 over the Hickory Crawdads Monday night in the opener of a three-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The loss for the Crawdads (27-17) combined with a win by Hagerstown (Md.) at Lakewood (N.J.) dropped Hickory into second place by a half-game in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. The Crawdads have lost five of the last six games.
Although Rome (17-27) remains at the bottom of the Southern Division standings, the Braves continue to confound the Crawdads and have evened the series record at 4-4.
Hickory’s Pedro Payano and Rome’s Patrick Wiegel held the opposing offenses in check for the most part, though each contributed to their own trouble in the game.
Rome used defensive miscues to get onto the scoreboard in the second. With one out, Carlos Castro singled to right and moved to second on a passed ball by Chuck Moorman. After Payano struck out Lucas Herbert, Payano’s attempted pickoff of Castro bounced into center and moved the runner to third. Leudys Baez blooped a single to left for the RBI.
Ti’Quan Forbes got Hickory even in the third with his first pro home run, a fly ball that carried over the fence in left.
Wiegel returned the favor with a miscue of his own that gave Hickory the lead in the fifth. With one out, Eduard Pinto singled. Forbes followed with a bouncer back to the mound. Wiegel turned to second for the force play, but instead bounced the ball into centerfield, which allowed Pinto to go to third. Moorman’s groundout to second scored Pinto.
Though the Braves struck out three times in the eighth, Rome used two of those whiffs to score the tying run. With one out, Blake Bass struck out Austin Riley, but the pitch bounced to the backstop and allowed Riley to reach. Riley stole second and Jonathan Morales walked to end Bass’s night. Reliever Joe Palombo struck out Justin Elliott, but Carlos Castro loaded the bases with his second hit of the night. The Crawdads appeared to be out of the inning as Herbert struck out, but his strikeout pitch went to the backstop with Riley scoring on the play.
Rome scored the go-ahead run in the ninth as Ray-Patrick got an infield hit, stole second, and scored on Austin Riley’s double with two outs.
LeDarious Clark singled and stole second with two outs, but got no further as Pinto bounced back to the mound to end it.
Sloppy ‘Dads Hinder Efforts:
At times Monday, Hickory looked like a team that was tired from a weeklong road trip. Alejandro Salazar hit what looked like a routine single in the first. However, when centerfielder Eric Jenkins was slow to retrieve the ball, Salazar turned it to a hustle double, sliding into second easily.
Frandy De La Rosa appeared to lose track of the count as he remained in the batter’s box to hit after a third strike was called for the out.
Chuck Moorman didn’t seem his usual steady self behind the plate as the passed ball and two wild pitches all came on breaking balls by three different pitchers.
Forbes Stock up or down:
Ti’Quan Forbes showed in the course of Monday’s game the inconsistent season that has played out thus far.
At the plate, Forbes took a hanging curveball from Wiegel and served it out to left. However, with runners at second and third, Forbes mistimed a first-pitch fastball from new reliever Grayson Jones and hit it into a 4-6-3 double play.
At third base, Forbes made a hard-charging, barehanded play on a bunt by Justin Ellison in the sixth. In the ninth, Forbes bobbled an easy roller to extend the inning.
Impatience at the plate:
Of the 33 hitters Hickory sent to the plate on Monday, 21 of them saw four or fewer pitches. Eleven of them faced 1 or 2 pitches.
Payano not what it seems:
Payano needed 91 pitches to get through six innings and his fastball wasn’t without control issues, but his line score looks worse than it appeared. Of the seven hits he gave up over six innings, only Castro’s liner in the second was well struck. His curveball throughout the game had good snap to it with several missed bats, including all three strikes in a five-pitch K of Castro in the fourth.
“Alexander Basabe crushes a very flat slider. Greenville up 4-3 and this feels like it’s over.”
I’m an idiot.
In the longest home game by innings since…. last May, the Hickory Crawdads used the hot bat of Andy Ibanez to defeat the Greenville Drive 5-4 in the final game of the three-game series between the squads. The win was the lone victory in the series and clinched a 4-3 season-opening homestand.
Andy Ibanez had five hits and a walk in eight plate appearances for the Crawdads, including a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI double in the 17th.
The game winner came after the clubs combined for 12 baserunners in the previous 9 ½ innings of play.
Both teams put up two unearned runs early on. In the first, a fielding error by Drive 3B Chad De La Guerra allowed Eric Jenkins to reach. Ibanez doubled him in and later scored himself on Frandy De La Rosa’s sacrifice fly to the wall in right.
Greenville used a dropped fly ball in right by Jose Almonte with two outs to get even. After the error put runners at second and third, Josh Ockimey walked and Tate Matheny singled in both runs.
Luis Alexander Basabe cracked a two-run homer in the sixth off Crawdads reliever Johan Juan, but Ibanez’s blast tied it, setting up the battle of attrition in the bullpen.
A quartet of relievers for Hickory held the hottest lineup in the South Atlantic League to three hits and four walks with 10 Ks over the final 10 innings. Lefty Jeffrey Springs allowed a single and walk with five strikeouts over four innings. Fellow southpaw Adam Choplick added three scoreless innings with only a walk allowed and fanned two. Jacob Shortslef made a successful Crawdads debut with a hit and a single allowed with three Ks. Blake Bass pitched in his second straight game and worked out of a two-on, one-out situation in the 17th.
Greenville was nearly equal to the Crawdads bullpen corps. Bobby Poyner struck out five and gave up two hits over three shutout innings. Former Crawdads hurler Anyelo Leclerc (’14) allowed just one walk and struck out five over three innings. Triple-digit hurler Victor Diaz had given up two hits over the first three innings and struck out four prior to Jenkins and Ibanez getting to him for the game winner.
Andy Ibanez, Andy Ibanez, Andy Ibanez: My Twitter feed lit up all afternoon with praise over the 23-year old’s work at the plate. Quite simply at this moment, his bat is simply too much for this league.Thus far, it has taken an elite prospect (ie. Anderson Espinoza) to quiet him at the plate.
His manager, Steve Mintz is running out of new things to say about the Cuban import.“He continues to put the ball in play. He’s huge for us. Right now, you watch him and he just seems to be a step above everybody – the adjustments that he makes to different pitchers. That last guy, there, he was throwing 100 – just being able to see it, be on time and square it up like he does.”
In the first against Roniel Raudes, Ibanez pulled the hands in for a 90 mph fastball and rapped it off the wall in left-center. In the third, he showed good patience in not chasing a trio of curveballs and a fastball off the plate in working a walk.
Against Kuehl McEachern in the fifth, he fouled off an attempted bunt on the first pitch, then got enough on an 88 fastball to single to the hole at short. Ibanez faced McEachern again in the seventh. He swung through a fastball off the plate, then ignored a couple of sliders off the plate sandwiched around a fastball away. The final pitch was a flat slider that Ibanez sent easily over the fence in LCF.
Ibanez got a gift single in the 10th as he got jammed , but got enough to bloop it to shallow right.
A fly out to center and a strikeout on the 15th led to the 17th. After fouling off a change and a fastball, an 0-2, 99 mph pitch got too much of the plate and Ibanez sent it to the wall.
After a rough opening weekend, (7 Ks in 14 PAs), Jenkins has hit a nice groove for now. He has hits in 7-of-8 games with multi-hit games in three of them, including a three-hit game on Wednesday.
The thing I’ve noticed about Jenkins in the short time I’ve seen him late last season and early this year is how quick he learns and makes adjustments. At the plate, he has a better sense of what to do with breaking balls. Combined with his ability to hit the fastball, he’s a tough out right now.
In the 15th, Jenkins absolutely crushed a 98 mph from Diaz to the gap in right-center. He also got enough on one in the 17th to get it up the middle.
He will take a walk and not chase pitches, as he did in the 12th. His strikeout in the seventh was against sidewider Kuehl McEachern, who was able to use a changeup effectively at the outside corner.
But for me, the first AB was priceless: a 9-pitch AB that wound up into a hard –hit grounder for an error. After getting down 0-2 (fastball up swinging, fastball up & in foul), he let a show-me fastball away go by for ball one. A changeup just inside was ignored (2-2). He spoiled a fastball, spit on a curveball down, then fouled off two-straight fastballs in before finally ripping a fastball outside-corner for the grounder.
Pitchers will adjust to him, of course, but Jenkins will adjust back. Once that 6-1, 170-lbs frame fills in…
“He had a rough start, obviously, but we weren’t too worried about it,” Mintz said. “Now he’s swinging with more contact and taking some bases when he needs to. It just seems like his game’s coming together better.”
Went 1-for-7 with two Ks. Was impatient early, as he saw just seven pitches over first 4 ABs. In the 5th AB, he was unable to get a bunt down against breaking balls and eventually struck out. But over the final two ABs, he saw 16 pitches, including a 9-pitch battle in the 16th.
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Yrizarri AB in 15th
97 in foul
99 in foul
90 away foul
99 in ball
97 foul off ump
97 off own shin
81 curve whiff
There are times he is overmatched on fastballs and he can be impatient in swinging at a pitcher’s pitch, but there are times he can and will battle.
1-for-17 with runners in scoring position, left 11 on base.
“It was unbelievable,” said Mintz. “I felt like we left so many runners on base. In the fourth inning, we had first and second with nobody out. In the fifth inning, we had bases loaded and nobody out. It seemed like every time I turned around, Jenkins was on second base, but we couldn’t get him in.”
He just never looked right on Wednesday. Fastball that topped at 89 had little life or control. The curveball seemed to have two speeds – high 70s, and then a few low 70s with a bottom of 69. It missed five bats by my count. Change was around 82-85 that was enough to throw off timing.
Usually – at least when I’ve seen him – very stoic on the mound. On Wednesday, there were times he’d go to the rosin bag in frustration and toss it down and there was much more walking around the mound than I can recall.
Given the low-fastball velo for him, and the demeanor, the Crawdads radio guy and I wondered if he was hurt in the third.
With all that said, Payano still gave up just the two unearned runs in the third with two hits, three walks and three Ks. He gutted out 87 pitches by my count (50 strikes).
Here’s what Mintz had to say about his start:
“One thing, too, is it seemed like he was changing some arm angles and trying to do a little bit too much with some pitches. But, he kept being able to get his offspeeds over in different counts and kept them off balance and they weren’t able to square a lot of balls up on him. He wasn’t as comfortable or as sharp as you would like him, but he found a way us through five innings against that lineup.”
Maybe it’s because he went up the road to Appalachian St., where my kid is attending, but I like this lefty… a lot – and I did when he came here last year.An 11-5 curve that buckles the knees of LH-hitters and goes for strikes. Put that with a 89-91 fastball and that was a tough combination for a Drive lineup that had been hot.
One of these days he’s going to pitch at a time when I can really pay attention, and not writing in the middle of it.(I had an original deadline of 4:30 for the newspaper story.) Tall lefty runs a fastball 92-93 that ate up RH hitter Joseph Monge in the 12th, with the final pitch hitting the inside corner looking. Curveball didn’t seem to have quite the feel or accuracy as Springs,
Fastball 93-94, Slider that missed five bats over two innings (by my count). Pretty impressive outing for his debut.
Andy Ibanez: For those that are ready for him to get to AA need to know his baserunning is a mess. Really having a tough time reading the move of pitchers. Got a horrible jump against lefty Bobby Poyner in the 10th and was thrown out easily … on a curveball.
From what I’ve been told by Rangers staff is they want the whole package to be ready for a move up, not just the bat.
For the season in his 12 games, Ibanez has been caught stealing six times and picked off three.
Notes of interest:
The walk-off win over Greenville was the fifth by the Crawdads in four seasons and the fifth straight season with at least one…. It was also the first walk-off since 7/1/15.
The Texas Rangers and Hickory Crawdads released the opening-day roster for the Crawdads earlier this week. I’ll take a look at the roster over two parts beginning with the pitchers in this entry.
In looking at the roster, the first thing I noticed was how much older the pitching staff is this season compared to season’s past as a Texas Rangers affiliate. During the Crawdads-Rangers tenure over the past seven seasons, Hickory has had such teen pitching phenoms as Martin Perez, Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Joe Ortiz, Robbie Erlin, Andrew Faulkner, Victor Payano, Jose Leclerc, Akeem Bostick, Luis Ortiz, and Ariel Jurado start the season in a Crawdads uniform.
In 2015, 19-year-olds Jurado and Ortiz, along with 20-year old Brett Martin were the cornerstones of the starting rotation with LHP pitching prospect Yohander Mendez – himself 20 – waiting in the wings in the bullpen. This season, Jonathan Hernandez is the lone teen wolf (19) on the Crawdads staff.
Now, in the past, the Rangers have sent teen-aged pitchers to Hickory in early-to-mid May to save wear and tear on the arms (Joe Wieland, Neil Ramirez, Cody Buckel, Luke Jackson to name a few), with most repeating the Low-A level the following season. That may well happen here and that remains to be seen.
I also noticed a heavier – at least it seems to me – tilt towards pitchers with college backgrounds than in years past. Last year, seven of the 14 pitchers on the opening-day roster had four-year or two-year backgrounds. This year, 10 of the 12 have college experience, eight of those from a four-year school.
Last year’s pitching staff was an average of 21.4 years old (Baseballreference.com). At the start of this season, eight of the 14 members of the pitching staff are 22 and older. This is similar to the Pirate-affiliate days.
One possible effect of the heavier-than-normal college presence on the roster could be the allotment of innings. In years past, the Rangers would begin skipping starts at the midpoint of the season and heavily monitor the wear-and-tear of the younger arms to limit innings. However, with the older group, I wonder how much of that will be in play with this group. Even the younger pitchers on the roster (Brett Martin and Pedro Payano) have already built up to 90+ innings the past year. One thing to keep in mind, though, is several of the pitchers on the roster (Wes Benjamin, Adam Choplick to name a couple) have had “Tommy John” surgeries in the past and that will, of course, bear watching.
A couple of surprises, at least to me, related to the pitchers sent to Hickory. The first, for me, is the return of 2015 SAL All-Star Brett Martin. The left-hander had 72 Ks and 26 BBs in 95.1 innings, but at times struggled with consistency (1.07 WHIP first half of 2015, 1.41 second half) and with nagging injuries. Like Collin Wiles from 2015, this season could be about finding that groove of becoming a consistent six-to-seven inning starter each time out.
Another is the return of Dillon Tate, the fourth-overall pick in 2015. A major checklist item from his time at Hickory in August of 2015 was the development of a changeup and that could be better suited during his time in South Atlantic League ballparks rather than in the rarefied air of the high desert of California.
WHAT ELSE TO LOOK FOR:
Wes Benjamin comes to Hickory after pitching a lone inning in the AZL last summer. The Kansas product had been out since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.
Pedro Payano opened a ton of eyes in 2015, pitching at three levels with the final coming at Hickory. His three-pitch combination (fastball, curve, change) was used to great effect here in August and the playoffs, as he showed the ability to use any pitch in any count. Given that ability at age 21, his No. 29 prospect listing by MLB.com seems a bit low, though that could have more to do with the Rangers talent up the chain rather than with Payano’s ability. With his pitchability and poise on the mound, Payano could have a Ariel Jurado-type season that further opens eyes.
Starting rotation likely begins with Tate, Payano, Martin and Hernandez. Others with starting experience in the pros include Bass, Tyler Davis, Peter Fairbanks and Joe Palumbo. Jeffrey Springs started at Appalachian St.
2016 HICKORY CRAWDADS PITCHER CAPSULES
BLAKE BASS (RHP, 6-7, 265)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (4 starts) at Spokane (Wash.), 33 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 15 BB, 29 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .242 OBA.
About Bass: A native of Lubbock, Tex,. Bass, 22, was the Texas Rangers eighth-round pick in 2015 out of Angelo (Tex.) St., where he was a first-team All-Lone Star Conference pick. Was an All-State performer as a senior at Coronado High.
WES BENJAMIN (LHP, 6-1, 197)
2015 Pro Season: 1 game (1 start) at Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers, 1 IP, 1 BB, 2 K.
About Benjamin: A native of St. Charles, Ill., Benjamin, 22, was the fifth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Kansas. Was an All- Big 12 Freshman Team selection. Underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2014 (Tommy John). Formerly drafted by the New York Yankees (48th round) in 2011.
ADAM CHOPLICK (LHP, 6-8, 275)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games at Spokane, 33 IP, 1 HR, 23 BB, 35 K, 2.18 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .242 OBA.
About Choplick: A native of Denton, Tex., Choplick, 23, was the 14th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Oklahoma. Was formerly drafted by the Chicago White Sox (32nd round) in 2014 and the Arizona Diamondbacks (17th round) in 2011. Underwent Tommy John surgery while a junior at Denton Ryan High. Was second team All-State pick in baseball as a high school senior and a first team All-State performer as a senior in basketball.
TYLER DAVIS (RHP, 5-10, 190)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games (2 starts) at Spokane, 35 1/3 IP, 4 HR, 12 BB, 30 K, 5.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .293 OBA.
About Davis: A native of Seattle, Davis, 23, was the 23rd round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Washington. Was the Northwest League Pitcher of the Week (Sept. 1-7) after throwing six no-hit innings in a start for Spokane. Holds the Huskies record for innings pitched at the school, second in starts and fourth in wins and strikeouts. Was an All-Pac 12 selection his junior and senior seasons and an All-American in 2014. His brother Erik pitched for the Washington Nationals in 2013.
PETER FAIRBANKS (RHP, 6-6, 219)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (11 starts) at Spokane, 57 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 22 BB, 47 K, 3.14 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .246 OBA.
About Fairbanks: A native of St. Louis, Mo., Fairbanks, 22, was the ninth round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Missouri. Was a first-team All-Conference infielder in high school at Webster Grove in 2012. Underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school junior. His father played one season in the Houston Astros chain in 1983.
JONATHAN HERNANDEZ (RHP, 6-2, 173)
2015 Pro Season: 11 games (9 starts) at AZL Rangers, 45 IP, 0 HR, 12 BB, 3 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .250 OBA.
About Hernandez: A native of Santiago de los Caballos, D. R., Hernandez, 19, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.Baseball America has Hernandez as the 20th best Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 28. His father, Fernando, pitched briefly for the Detroit Tigers during a 14-season pro career.
JOHAN JUAN (RHP, 6-1, 180)
2015 Pro Season: 18 games at Dominican Summer League (DSL) Rangers, 43 1/3 IP, 2 HR, 7 BB, 46 K, 1.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .218 OBA.
About Juan: A native of La Romana, D. R., Juan, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013. After posting a 1.95 ERA over three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Juan will be making his U.S. debut this year.
OMARLIN LOPEZ (RHP, 6-3, 162)
2015 Pro Season: 20 games at Spokane, 36 IP, 3 HR, 16 BB, 36 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .267 OBA.
About Lopez: A native of Payita, D.R., Lopez, 22, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.
BRETT MARTIN (LHP, 6-4, 190)
2015 Pro Season: 10 games (18 starts) at Hickory, 95 1/3 IP, 6 HR, 26 BB, 72 K, 3.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.65 OBA.
About Martin: A native of Morristown, Tenn., Martin, 20, was the fourth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Walters St. (Tenn.) CC. Named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in 2015. Threw four shutout innings against Asheville in Game 2 of the 2015 SAL Championship Series. Originally attended Tennessee before transferring to Walters St. He is the Rangers No. 11 prospect, according to MLB.com and No. 18 tabbed by Baseball America.
JOE PALUMBO, (LHP, 6-1, 168)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (9 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 58 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 25 BB, 43 K, 3.07 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .253 OBA.
About Palumbo: A native of Holbrook, N.Y., Palumbo, 21, was the Rangers 30th round pick in 2013 out of St. John the Baptist (N.Y.) High. Made a start for Hickory on the final regular season game in 2015. Named to the Arizona Summer League All-Star Team in 2014.
PEDRO PAYANO (RHP, 6-2, 207)
2015 Pro Season: 17 games (12 starts) at DSL Rangers, AZL Rangers, Hickory, 89 IP, 1 HR, 22 BB, 101 K, 1.11 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .244 OBA.
About Payano: A native of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., Payano, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2011. Named Rangers minor league pitcher of the month in July 2015 after going 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA. Allowed one or fewer runs in five of six starts for Hickory after joining the club August 1, 2015. Threw six shutout innings vs. Asheville in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Championship Series.
JACOB SHORTSLEF (RHP, 6-5, 235)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games at AZL Rangers and Spokane, 37 IP, 1 HR, 8 BB, 33 K, 1.95 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .271 OBA.
About Shortslef: A native of Sterling, N.Y., Shortslef, 21, was the Rangers 26th round pick in 2015 out of Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC. As a sophomore, ranked ninth nationally with a .157 opponent batting avg. Struck out 20 of 21 batters in a game while a senior at Hannibal (N.Y.) High. Brother Josh pitched for Hickory in 2003 and 2004, as part of his ten-season, minor-league career with the Pirates.
JEFFREY SPRINGS (LHP, 6-3, 193)
2015 Pro Season: 17 games at Spokane and Hickory, 27 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 15 BB, 39 K, 2.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .200 OBA.
About Springs: A native of Belmont, N.C., Springs, 23, was the Rangers 30th round pick out in 2015 of Appalachian St. Left the Mountaineers third in career starts and fourth in strikeouts. Attended South Point High and led the Red Raiders to the state 3A title in 2011 and named the MVP of the championship series. Named 2011 North Carolina 3A player of the year.
ERIK SWANSON (RHP, 6-3, 250)
2015 Pro Season: 10 games at AZL Rangers, Hickory, Frisco (Tex.) and Round Rock (Tex.) 15 1/3 IP, 1 HR, 7 BB, 14 K. 2.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .185 OBA.
About Swanson: A native of Terrace Park, Ohio, Swanson, 22, was the Rangers eighth round pick in 2014 out of Iowa Western CC. Made seven appearances for Hickory before landing on the disabled list (elbow strain) on July 23 through the remainder of the season. Named Most Outstanding Pitcher while leading Iowa Western to NJCAA Division I College World Series title in 2014. Was to attend Pittsburgh before deciding to sign with Texas.
DILLON TATE (RHP, 6-2, 197)
2015 Pro Season: 6 games (6 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 9 IP, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K. 1.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, .100 OBA.
About Tate: A native of Claremont, Calif., Tate, 21, was the first round pick (fourth overall) of the Rangers in 2015 out of California-Santa Barbara. Was highest-drafted player to appear in a Crawdads uniform since Brad Lincoln (4th overall) did so in 2006.Named 2015 Louisville Slugger All-American and a Golden Spikes Award semi-finalist in 2015. Allowed 2 runs over four innings in three appearances for Hickory during the 2015 postseason. Currently the No. 4 Rangers prospect by Baseball America and No. 5 by MLB.com, which has Tate as the No. 36 prospect in the minors and the eighth-best right-handed pitching prospect.