Results tagged ‘ Collin Wiles ’

SAL Championship celebration photos

I missed the clinching game, but I did get a few pics of the celebration and a snapshot with the SAL trophy.

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

Pedro Payano (center) and Kelvin Vasquez (R) celebrating the SAL title (photo by Mark Parker

Pedro Payano (center) and Kelvin Vasquez (R) celebrating the SAL title (photo by Mark Parker

Scott Williams (L) and Luke Tendler (photo by Mark Parker)

Scott Williams (L) and Luke Tendler (photo by Mark Parker)

Hitting coach Francisco Matos (L) and Eduard Pinto (photo by Mark Parker

Hitting coach Francisco Matos (L) and Eduard Pinto (photo by Mark Parker

(L to R) Eduard Pinto, Juremi Profar, Edwin Garcia, Michael DeLeon (photo by Mark Parker

(L to R) Eduard Pinto, Juremi Profar, Edwin Garcia, Michael DeLeon (photo by Mark Parker

Jose Trevino (L) and Mark Parker (photo by Mark Parker)

Jose Trevino (L) and Mark Parker (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

MGR Corey Ragsdale addressing the players (L to R) Jairo Beras, Austin Pettibone, Nick Gardewine, Pedro Payano, Luke Tendler Edwin Garcia (photo by Mark Parker)

MGR Corey Ragsdale addressing the players (L to R) Jairo Beras, Austin Pettibone, Nick Gardewine, Pedro Payano, Luke Tendler Edwin Garcia (photo by Mark Parker)

(L to R) Collin Wiles, Brett Martin, Shane McCain (photo by Mark Parker)

(L to R) Collin Wiles, Brett Martin, Shane McCain (photo by Mark Parker)

Players back to front: Carlos Arroyo, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Kelvin Vasquez, Eduard Pinto, Josh Morgan, Jose Cardona, (unknown), Luis Ortiz (photo by Mark Parker)

Players back to front: Carlos Arroyo, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Kelvin Vasquez, Eduard Pinto, Josh Morgan, Jose Cardona, (unknown), Luis Ortiz (photo by Mark Parker)

A pic with the SAL trophy (photo by Mark Parker)

A pic with the SAL trophy (photo by Mark Parker)

Game Story: SAL Playoff Game 3 West Virginia at Hickory September 12

Game Story: West Virginia Power at Hickory Crawdads (Game 3, SAL Playoffs)

The Hickory Crawdads scored a run in the fourth and made it stand up among a strong pitching and defensive effort to claim a 1-0 win over the West Virginia Power in the decisive game of the South Atlantic League series.

The Crawdads will move onto a best-of-five SAL Championship Series against the Asheville Tourists starting Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. Hickory will host games one and two on Monday and Tuesday. After a day off, the series will shift to Asheville’s McCormick Park from games three through five starting Thursday.

What Happened?:

The lone run of the game came in the fourth inning when Dylan Moore led off with a double, moved to third on a Jose Trevino groundout and scored on Luke Tendler’s sacrifice fly.

The Crawdads used three pitchers to shut down the SAL’s top-hitting team on six hits and three walks. Collin Wiles pitched the first six innings. He issued all three walks and four of the six hits and struck out four. Luis Ortiz struck out four of the six batters he faced. Scott Williams struck out the first two hitters before Elvis Escobar and Connor Joe singled. The game ended when Taylor Gushue lined to Moore at second.

Defensive Brilliance:

With Wiles struggling early, the defense held the Power off the scoreboard. Kevin Newman led off the game with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Kevin Kramer then lined a single to right. Power manager Brian Esposito made an aggressive move to send Newman to the plate. Jairo Beras fielded the ball and fired a throw directly to catcher Jose Trevino, who slapped a quick tag onto Newman sliding into the plate.

In the second, Jerrick Suiter singled and also moved to second on another sac bunt. A grounder to short by Joe kept Suiter at second.  Shortstop Edwin Garcia’s diving stop robbed Gushue of a hit on a sharp grounder and ended the inning.

The next inning Newman again walked before Pablo Reyes sent a long fly ball to left center. Jose Cardona raced over from center and then made a running, lunging catch on the track, moving Newman, who was on the way to third at the time of the catch, back to first.

“I told the guys before the game, ‘if we pick it up and throw it like we need to, we have a chance to win the game,’ said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “They went above and beyond and they made some unbelievable plays and that won us the ballgame.”

Wiles said the defensive plays were a reflection of what the team has done this season.

“The confidence coming into the game was high on our defense,” said Wiles. “You’ve seen it all year. Our defense has made spectacular plays all year. There was no let down. If anything, they took it to the next level and that’s a credit to them.”

The final defensive gem of the game came when Moore snared Gushue’s hard liner at second.

 

Wiles Pitches Around Trouble:

Wiles had problems finding a feel for his secondary pitches the first few innings. However, he had good fastball placement around the strike zone and kept the Power hitters from squaring them up.

Kramer’s single in the first appeared to be on a slider that caught a lot of the plate. Gushue’s hard grounder to Garcia was a high change. The worst pitch of the night was a hanging curve that turned into Reyes’ liner that was run down by Cardona.

“My style is to put the ball in play and let the defense work,” Wiles said. “I tested them quite a few times and they answered every single time. To bounce back down a game to winning like that throwing a shutout, a team shutout in the third, unbelievable, I couldn’t be prouder of my team right now.”

Wiles found the ability to use all his pitches in the fourth in his lone perfect inning of the night. A cut-fastball struck out Reyes to end a minor jam in the fifth and the final out of for Wiles was a strikeout of Escobar on a fastball.

Battling 0-2 counts the difference:

SAL pitcher of the year Yeudy Garcia was the equal of anyone on the mound Saturday as he struck out seven, walked one, and allowed four hits. The inability to finish off Moore and Tendler after getting ahead 0-2 was a difference in the game.

In his at bat, Moore laid off back-to-back sliders just off the outside corner, then got a belt-high, 95 mph pitched that he ripped to the wall. Likewise, Tendler laid off an 0-2 change, spoiled another before sending a third-straight change that was up out to deep left for the sac fly.

“We knew that we were going to have to fight and claw for everything we got,” said Ragsdale. “They battled their tails off. We didn’t get a ton of hits, but they were up their fighting. That kid’s the SAL pitcher of the year for a reason. I’m super proud of the way the guys game out and battled. You knew it was going to be tough to get anymore. We were going to get their best stuff just like they were going to get our best stuff. We were able to make it stick.”

Ortiz Unhittable:

West Virginia was out of sync the entire two innings that Luis Ortiz was on the mound and it started on the first pitch. Sitting on a first-pitch fastball, Joe swung badly at a slider that was off the plate away. Gushue flew out to right and then after swinging through a slider, the right-handed Tyler Filliben watched a 98 mph fastball catch the outside corner at the knees.

Ortiz went on to strike out the side in the eighth two swinging on sliders and the final one another called third strike on a fastball at the knees.

The two innings that Ortiz threw was arguably the most-dominant two innings of the season, including five missed bats on sliders in the two innings.

“Wiles set the tone right away,” Ortiz said.  Him getting deep into the game and messing with the hitters and having them on hold. He made it easier for me just to let it go and do what I have to do.

Williams Pitches Rare Back-to-Back Outing:

Scott Williams worked around two two-out hits and got a break on the liner hit to Moore for the final out of the game. He worked mostly off his 95-97 mph fastballs in getting two strikeouts in the inning.

Having pitched two innings in Friday night’s win, it was thought that he would not be available on back-to-back nights. However, the wheels were put in motion on Saturday and Williams was brought in to seal the series.

“Oscar and Rags told me that I might have a possibility of doing it,” said Williams. “So, we had to convince the pitching coordinator (Danny Clark) to let me do it. He gave me the heads up and I was pumped to get an opportunity to come back out.”

Kudos to Trevino:

Wiles was effusive in his praise of catcher Jose Trevino’s work in the series and felt he had as much to do with the shutout as anyone.

Wiles said, “The consensus between me, Ortiz and Williams is Jose Trevino behind the plate. He told me before the series that he’s got a plan, just stick with him. It worked in game one; we just didn’t get the win. You see a man battle his butt off the last two games and basically willing us to win, willing us to make the right pitch at the right time, all the credit goes to him.”

SAL Playoffs Game 3 Preview: West Virginia at Hickory

South Atlantic League Playoff Series

Game 3: West Virginia Power (87-52, 1-1 series lead) at Hickory Crawdads (81-57, 1-1)

Site/ Time: L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, N.C.

Game 2 Recap: The Crawdads finally took control of a see-saw affair in the middle innings and went on to even the series with a 6-3 home win at L.P. Frans. After an Edwin Garcia, RBI single put the Crawdads ahead in the first, the Power jumped back ahead 2-1 with a two-run blast in the second by Connor Joe. Hickory tied it in the third when Dylan Moore doubled and scored when Garcia picked up his second RBI of the game on a groundout. An unearned run put the Crawdads ahead in the fourth, but again the Power tied the game 3-3 when Pablo Reyes singled with two outs and later scored Kramer’s run-scoring single. The Crawdads inched ahead for good in the sixth when after Stephen Tarpley issued back-to-back walks, Jose Cardona lofted a soft liner to left that scored Juremi Profar. Luke Tendler provided the final margin by tripling in two more in the eight. Dillon Tate picked up the win in relief with Scott Williams throwing two scoreless innings and striking out three for the save.

Game 1 Recap: The Power struck for three runs in the fifth inning and went on the capture a 4-2 home win. After Crawdads pitcher Yohander Mendez allowed two baserunners over 4.1 innings, a double by Chase Simpson and Taylor Gushue tied the game at 2. West Virginia added an unearned run in the inning, which scored on a wild pitch by Joe Filomeno on a dropped third-strike after fanning Michael Suchy with two outs. The Power tacked on the fourth run in the seventh on an error by 1B Carlos Arroyo. The Crawdads put seven baserunners on over the first five innings, but managed only a solo homer by Jairo Beras and an RBI groundout by Arroyo. The trio of Austin Coley Sam Street and Nick Neumann retied the final 13 Crawdads of the game.

Probables: WV: Yeudy Garcia (RH, 12-5, 2.10) vs. HKY: Collin Wiles (RH, 11-3, 2.96)

Lineup: WV: Kevin Newman-6, Pablo Reyes-4, Kevin Kramer-D, Michael Suchy-9, Jerrick Suiter-7, Elvis Escobar-8, Connor Joe-3, Taylor Gushue-2, Tyler Filliben-5.

HKY: Eric Jenkins-7, Dylan Moore-4, Jose Trevino-2, Luke Tendler-D, Edwin Garcia-6, Jairo Beras-9, Juremi Profar-5, Carlos Arroyo-3, Jose Cardona-8.

Garcia vs. Hickory: The righthander from Sabana Yegua, D.R. was named the SAL pitcher of the year after leading the league in ERA, was second in OBA (.204) and third in WHIP (1.07). He went 1-1 against Hickory, though he did not allow an earned run. In the loss on May 19 at L.P. Frans, the Crawdads scored two unearned runs in the first and made them stand up for a 3-1 win. Garcia allowed three hits and two walks with four strikeouts over 4.2 innings. Chase Simpson’s error at first was key in the opening inning with Josh Morgan scoring on the play with outs before Luke Tendler followed on Travis Demeritte’s single.

In the August 16 contest, only Eduard Pinto’s walk in the third and Luke Tendler’s single in the fifth smudged Garcia’s outing over five innings in a 2-1 win. Garcia struck out three in the contest, but needed 68 pitches (40 strikes) to complete the five innings.

Wildness has been a problem for Garcia coming down the stretch as he walked five over five innings in a start at Lexington and then two over four innings at Kannapolis. Garcia has gone past five innings just twice this season.

Wiles vs. West Virginia: The right-hander Overland Park, Kansas has not faced the Power this season. He was second in the SAL in WHIP (1.05), fifth in OBA (.239 and fifth in ERA. He has thrown at least six innings in 13 of 22 starts this season going into the eighth twice.

In the final outing of the season, Wiles took a no-decision after allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits over 7.1 innings. He did allow a season high of five earned runs in the previous start on August 27 against Charleston. Wiles has walked more than one batter just five times this season.

Control is the key for his success. He offers a high-80s, low-90s fastball that he will cut on occasion. Wiles also throws a mid-80s slider, a change and a curve that he generally brings out the second time through the order.

Power hitters vs. Hickory: Kevin Kramer is 4-for-7 in the two games so far with Pablo Reyes cranking out three hits. Taylor Gushue and Connor Joe each have homered and have two RBI each. Kramer has the other RBI for the Power. West Virginia has struck out 20 times in 65 at bats.

Among active players, Elvis Escobar has the highest batting avg. vs. Hickory during the regular season at .355 (11-for-31). Jerrick Suiter went 6-for-18 (.333) and Kevin Newman went .286 (4-for-14).  Connor Joe hit only .200, but picked up eight walks in six games. All-star OF Michael Suchy had a team-high five RBI on four extra-base hits.

Crawdads hitters vs. West Virginia: In the two games of the series, Jose Trevino have four hits to lead the Crawdads attack. Six other players have two hits. Edwin Garcia and Luke Tendler have two RBI each. Newcomers Eric Jenkins and Dylan Moore have had trouble with contact as Jenkins has struck out four times and Moore has three.

Among active players during the regular season, Carlos Arroyo is the lone player hitting above .250 against West Virginia. Arroyo is 6-for-15 (.400) with a triple, a homer and two RBI. Beras and Garcia are at the .250 mark with Beras cranking a pair of homers to go with the one in game one. He leads the team with five RBI and Jose Trevino has four.

What to watch for: How deep the two starts can go and how well the bullpens bridge the gap to their closers will be a key. Wiles has shown the ability to minimize damage in early innings, then get into a groove over several innings. The goal for Garcia is to get through five innings and let the pen take over… After pitching two innings on Friday, Crawdads closer Scott Williams is likely not available. Look for Luis Ortiz to get an inning or two if the game is close or the Crawdads have the lead late with Adam Dian pitching the ninth… The Crawdads should see Sam Street at some point in the middle innings with Nick Neumann available for the ninth.

Catching on at the Position: An Interview with Jose Trevino

The stat sheet will show that Hickory Crawdads catcher Jose Trevino put up a .262/.291/.415 slash in 2015. His 14 homers were one behind teammate Luke Tendler for the team lead. Generally, he put the ball in play with a manageable 60 strikeouts in 449 plate appearances, though the 18 walks could perhaps use a bump.

Behind the plate, Trevino was a steady force. He caught 87 games – the fourth most in a Crawdads single-season and the most since the affiliation with the Texas Rangers began in 2009 – and in that span he put up some remarkable defensive numbers. Trevino committed only six errors and nine passed balls this season and set the club’s single season and overall fielding pct. mark (.992, minimum 70 games). He threw out 33.7% of runners trying to steal.

Several pitchers this season have raved about his game calling ability.  In an interview with Luis Ortiz after his start on June 9, he said of his catcher, ”I thank Trevino, because he’s the one who called the game for me. I believe in my catcher. I go with him and I trust him. That’s how pitchers should be: trust their catchers.”

After Collin Wiles threw seven shutout innings against Augusta on July 18, he credited Trevino with a game plan that included only three first-pitch fast balls during the first time through the lineup.

“That was kind of Jose’s plan from the start,” said Wiles after the start. “He told me in our pre-game meeting that this is a team that likes the fastball, so stay with me. I trust him 100% and we put up seven zeros.”

Not bad for a guy who was mostly a shortstop in his junior season at Oral Roberts.

With all of the accolades of his play, it’s the relationships that he brings to the clubhouse and on the field that arguably has had the biggest impact on the 2015 Crawdads. On the various trips I take to the clubhouse, there’s little doubt that one of the guys in charge of the space is Trevino. He’s always engaged with someone, whether it’s a video from the night before, a card game, or an occasional prank. You’ll rarely see Trevino alone in the clubhouse. (Honestly, I can’t recall seeing that.)

Trevino seemingly is a second pitching coach on the team. His mound visits nearly always produce a positive outcome from the pitcher in the sequence to come.

In the interview below, Trevino talks about his first full-season work as a catcher, including his preparation for this season along with mound visits and the ability to keep pitchers relaxed. He also talks about the progress of some of the Crawdads pitchers this season.

Jose Trevino behind the plate for the Hickory Crawdads (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino behind the plate for the Hickory Crawdads (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

First of all, I want to talk about your season in catching where you didn’t do a whole lot of it in college. You’ve now caught 87 games, which is the most here by a Rangers affiliated catcher. How have you held up for a first full season?

Trevino: Good. I think the main thing was to listen to my body. I know that off-season workouts had a lot to do with it. I had a good trainer back at home. I told him, “Now, I’m going to need my legs up under me when it comes to September and playoff time. I’m really going to need my legs and need that extra gear.” He said, “Alright, we’re just going to work your legs and we’re going to get them to where you want them to be.”

Last year, I kind of died out a little bit just because I was getting tired and my legs were getting tired from a long college season. Now, I feel good. I feel like my legs are up under me. I feel fine other than some cuts and bruises from nagging injuries from being a catcher, my legs are fine and everything’s good. I’m ready to go.

How much weight have you lost this year?

Trevino: I think I’ve dropped two or three pounds. I really try to stay on top of it, especially since that will carry you and help you out a little bit more.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you in converting to being a full-time catcher?

Trevino; When I first started catching last year, I guess it was my bat, balancing out hitting and catching. You can’t take your hitting to your catching because it’s going to affect the whole team; it’ll affect the game. If you try to square up a circle and a circle, it’s hard enough to do already. Then you go out there and you try to catch 90-plus that’s sinking and moving, it really affects you and really wears off on you.

What did you have to learn as far as dealing with pitchers? 

Trevino: Just learning how they like to pitch guys. Learning what their best pitch was. Learning what their best put-away pitch was. Learning what they like to go to when they’re ahead and when they’re behind, and in certain counts what they like to do – what every guy likes to do. So now, you can ask me what every guy likes to do and I can probably tell you what pitch they want to go to and I think they’ll agree with it.

Who did you have help you with that? Or was that something that you figured out on your own?

Trevino: I mean the Rangers go through a whole thing where you’ve got to know your pitchers. You have to know your pitches, especially if you want to play in this game, you have to know what they want and what they like. You just kind of catch onto it. Since you catch the same guys over and over and over again, I know what kind of pitches they’ll want to go to. I can see in the bullpen what’s been working. I can see throughout the game what’s been working maybe in a situation with the hitter and their best stuff. I’m going to take their (pitcher) best stuff over the hitter’s best stuff any day.

I’m going to ask an oddball kind of question. Did you take psychology in college? The reason I ask is that you are so good with mound visits. You just seem to have a sense of when to go and make a visit. Things seem to happen and you’re able to say the right things in a visit.

Trevino: I didn’t take psychology in college, but I took a class, kind of like a managing class – sports management, pretty much. It was learning how to go through things and learning what you could say to some people. Some people it’s a pat on the back and it’s fine. Other you guys it’s, “Hey, you’ve got to figure it out now, because we’ll get somebody else in here.”

You know how to handle certain guys. You know, you’re used it. You get up there and you see the look on some of their faces like, “I’ve got this. I’m fine. You’re just up here because you want to calm me down a little bit.” Other guys, there’s going to be certain guys that are like, “All right, let’s go,” and they’re hyped up. I’m like, “Calm down a little bit. You’re fine. Relax. Get this guy out. It’s easy. It’s going to be easy for you.”

I have other things I’ll say to other guys out there. You’ve just got to pay attention to their reactions. If they’re laughing, I’ll probably go out there and tell them something funny that probably didn’t have anything to do with baseball. I’ll tell them something and they’ll just be like, “Why did you just tell me that?” and I’ll just walk off.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve said to a pitcher?

Trevino: (long pause) I know, but I probably wouldn’t say it. I’ve said some funny things pretty much.

There are some clubs in development that the pitches are called from the dugout. I know the Rangers pretty much expect the catchers to make the calls from the plate. How much of a learning curve did you have in doing that after perhaps having not done it at college?

Trevino:  In college, I didn’t do it at all. Our coach gave us the signs and I put them down. And if our pitchers shook, I looked back at our coach and here we go. So, I had to learn that, too. I had to learn to call the game. I had to learn that it wasn’t to pitch other hitters the way I liked to hit or what I wouldn’t like to hit. It’s what they (hitters) don’t want to hit – what they don’t like to swing at. What they won’t swing at. What they’ll take, but have a bad swing at, and then you go from there.

If some guys are pulling off on the fastball away, you can go with another pitch there in that situation. You learn to read these things. You learn to pay attention more and that’s what I like about catching.

You’re in the game 24/7. You’re looking at everything because you come back into the dugout and you’re talking about hitters with the pitcher and the pitching coach. But then you’ve got to pay attention to the pitcher that’s pitching on the mound and you’ve got to pay attention to the situation that’s going on in the game. You’re in the game and you’re the quarterback. You call the shots.

With me, I don’t have any problem with taking the blame for a pitch that I called. I’ll turn to the dugout and say, “It’s my fault. All right let’s go, move on.”

How did it come about that you shifted from shortstop to catcher?

Trevino: I don’t know. I caught Alex Gonzalez in college on Fridays. He would come in and throw and that’s basically how much I would catch in college. I was also beat up in college. I had a messed up ankle, messed up foot. I was catching “Chi Chi”. I toughed it out and it was fine and it was good and I liked it.

People would come and talk to me and say, “Hey, we know you’re an infielder; we know you’re a third baseman and you can play anywhere.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve heard that one too.” They said, “What about catching?” And I said, “I liked it.” They’d ask me, “What do you think the biggest transition would be?” I said, “Separating my offense from my defense.”

Sure enough, you learn – and that comes from maturity – you learn to grow up real fast. I’ll rarely come in and be mad about an at-bat and take it out there. Once I get that last pitch and I say, “It’s coming down.” I’ll throw to second and that’s it. I don’t want to take the shine away from the pitcher that’s on the mound, because it’s his job. He’s trying to put money in his pocket. He’s trying to food on the table for his family, and I don’t want to be the guy responsible for not having his best stuff out there because I missed a block or I missed a fastball coming at me.

Who’s been the biggest help as far as teaching you as a catcher?

Trevino: I’d say all the catching coordinators, Chad Comer especially. He’s been with me through this whole season. He’s fixed so many things hitting wise and catching wise. He’s given me little tips.

Chris Briones, he’s also helped me a lot. He’s a guy that will instill a lot more confidence in me. He’ll just feed you confidence. When he comes during the year, it’s like, “Hey, I’m here to fill you with confidence.” You’re running a little low on gas and he’s like, “No, we’re going to refill you, you’re fine.”

Hector Ortiz. I talked to Hector Ortiz last year at instructs. He said, “We’ve got to work this if you really want to do this and get into it.”  I said, “I want to do this.”

Ryley Westman, he was here last year with the Rangers – he’s with the Padres now. He really got me into catching a ton.

Whenever I walk into the clubhouse, there are certain guys that are in charge, and you’re one of those. What has been the key of keeping the clubhouse together, especially in the second half when there’s been so much movement of guys in and out?

Trevino: Just having fun. You’ve just got to have fun with everybody. When a new guy comes in, you don’t want him just have him sit there on his chair. You might play a joke on him. I’m the one that plays the jokes. I’ll play a joke on him right away and I’ll get him and everybody will see how he reacts and see what kind of guy is he. If he’ll laugh and shake it off, everybody will say, “He’s a good dude.”

We have a bunch of good dudes in there and we all take everything good. They’re fun guys and they know we’re a fun club. Everybody that comes into this clubhouse and everybody that leaves and goes somewhere else, they’re like, “Man, Hickory was so fun.” I think that has a lot to do with our skip, with Ragsdale. He really likes to keep it loose, too. But when it comes game time, we’re going to play.

Let me talk about pitching a little bit. Who has impressed you the most as far where they started in April or maybe into May when they got here to now? Who’s made the biggest jump ahead?

Trevino: Brett Martin. He developed a curveball – a good curveball.

Chris Dula. He has a lot of stuff that plays in AA and AAA. I caught big league guys in spring training and Dula has some stuff in his arsenal. He goes and he keeps working, he has a chance to be really good.

Lulu Ortiz. Stuff wise, mentally wise, he’s locked in ready to go all the time. Every time he goes out there, he’s locked in and ready to go.

I can go up and down the list. I feel like every pitcher has gotten better. Nobody has taken a step back. Everybody has been going forward and forward and forward. Even if it’s a little step, it’s a big step to us.

For me it’s been Scott Williams. Your thoughts?

Trevino: Oh yeah. I caught him actually in my pre-draft workout for the Rangers when we were in Arlington together.

I have a funny story with Scott. They asked me, “Hey, do you want to get some at-bats against Williams.” I was like, “How hard do you throw?” He said, “97”. I said, “Ah, I think I’m just going to sit back here and catch for a little bit.” They were like, “Ok, that’s all right.” I got drafted and then I found out he got draft and I thought, “Sweet.”

He’s been really good and he has that kind of mentality that you can’t teach people. He’s ready to play. If you look down in the bullpen in the fourth or fifth inning, he’s out here stretching because he knows that if we get the lead in the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, he’s going to come in and he’s going to shut it down.  In his head, he’s going to shut it down. There are no negative thought in that head.

With nothing to really play for, has there been any let down as you guys get into August and think, let’s get into the playoffs?

Trevino: No. Everybody’s taking a step forward in their game mentality wise, in like they’re ready to play every day. It’s not just for themselves, but for everybody on the team. I want to do good for Luke (Tendler). I want to do good for the pitcher. I want to do good for Profar. I want to do good for Ragsdale. I want to do good for Comer. I want to do good for everybody around me. I feel like that’s what everybody has here. Everybody wants to get everybody better.

Last thing. You guys have won the championship because this happened?

Trevino: Execute. We just have to execute. We have it. We’re a good team, a really good team. No matter who you bring in, it’s going to be a good team here. We have a bunch of good players and everybody’s going to have fun doing it. If we just execute, we’ll be all right.

Jose Trevino cracked 14 homers and drove in 63 for Hickory in 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino cracked 14 homers and drove in 63 for Hickory in 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Clark Talks Crawdads Pitching

Sunday’s game (July 19 vs. Augusta) marked the two-thirds point of the South Atlantic League season for the Hickory Crawdads and the story of 2015 has been the pitching staff. Five starting pitchers and a reliever claimed spots on the South Atlantic League’s all-star team and the group has a chance to rewrite the Crawdads record book.

With the final 46 games of the season still left to be played – plus the playoffs – the Crawdads have the potential to set single-season records in fewest hits, runs, earned runs, and homers allowed, as well as in ERA and WHIP.

Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark was in Hickory this week to fill in for Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale during his vacation. Clark had an extended, first-hand look at most of the pitching staff during his visit and he sat down with me to give an assessment of several individual pitchers.

First I just want to get just an overview. We are almost two-thirds of the way through the season and this has been one of the better pitching staffs we’ve had here. Let me first get your overall impression from what you’ve seen.

Clark: I think from the experience level that these guys have right now, coming into pro ball, most of them are one to two-year starters, to be able to do what they’ve done to this point, I think the biggest accomplishment to me is to make every start. That’s been a goal of ours to see from start to finish them being healthy. We’ve got two or three guys in the rotation who haven’t been able to do that in the past. So I think first and foremost, that’s our main goal.

Let me ask first about the guy that wasn’t talked about a lot coming in – seeing him pitch, I don’t know why – and that’s Ariel Jurado. Pretty much from day one he’s six, seven innings when he’s started. He kept down the opposition and has developed some pitches along the way.

Clark: I think in Jurado’s case, obviously, I’ve got to admit I didn’t see the high ceiling leaving instructs last year. Some of our pitching coaches were talking about changing a little bit on his arm slot and trying to get more of a run or a sink to his fastball. I think he took that in the winter and came back to spring training and was very impressive.

He had a very good spring training, so he earned his right to get here. Then from that point on I think just the confidence level that he’s had.  Oscar Marin has done a good job of trying to keep him continue to go forward. A lot of times guys, especially young pitchers that jump out record wise, they look at their stats. We throw out new competitions for him and his mind to keep that cultivating. That has been a big plus for him.

Yohander Mendez and Jurado are in the tandem right now. Mendez started the season in the bullpen and I know the plan was to get him back into the rotation at some point. I know a lot of the focus with him has been to keep him healthy.

Clark: Last year we only had him for 31 innings and we had to shut him down. Our goal for this year was to get him to around the 90-inning mark. We see Mendez as a high-ceiling starter. He has a good feel for all three of his pitches. Sometimes a pitcher like that can become bored on the mound. So, just keeping those small, short-term challenges for Mendy has been the thing for him mindset wise, versus just looking at the results all the time.

The two of them have gone in tandem the last four or five starts. Is there a a point where they will break back out as individual spots? I know with Mendez you want to build up the innings and do you see that with Jurado as well?

Clark: Both of them, we’ve got to control their innings. You won’t see them be by themselves, other than the tandem, until the playoffs. We’ll keep them that way. We’re committed to keeping this rotation together.

We’ve tried to build this rotation how we have in the past with a couple of different rotations that’s been here to kind of keep five or six guys together, as they go through the system, I think competing against each other. But to answer the question of those two, I think they’ll have to stay on those things just from the innings standpoint.

Let me get an update on Luis Ortiz’s progress after being out the past month.

Clark: He went to Dr. (Keith) Meistner, our team doctor today. He should be back. We got good reports from him. We didn’t think it was nothing severe in anyway. We’re going to start seeing him do his throwing program next week and he’s going to start doing bullpens. So, we’re probably looking to see him realistically sometime in mid-August.

Stuff wise, for the most part, he looked really good.

Clark: Obviously, he’s got stuff. He was drafted in the first round for a reason. Our job is to not worry about stuff, but to cultivate all the maturity things that goes in to being a starting pitcher at a high level. So that’s the process that he’s going through. He’s doing a lot better in his workouts.

He’s doing a lot better, really, just paying attention to detail that goes into it. Obviously, we have a high ceiling for Luis. We think a lot of Luis. It’s just the process that he and a lot of guys have to go through.

Collin Wiles. Everyone I’ve talked to raved about his off-season work and how he put it into practice this year. What sort of challenges does he have left at this level before he moves up? Or has he shown you that he’s about ready?

Clark: In some ways, yes he has. I go back to Collin finally committed to having ownership of his career. I think it started there. I don’t think there was no one that was involved other than Collin.

Going forward, I do see sometimes, do we challenge Collin and send him to High Desert? I think it goes back to the philosophy of what we build the pitching rotations around, competing against each other more than the opposition. So we’ve decided to keep those same six guys together. Could he go? Yes, he probably could, but I think long term it allows him to compete against this team.

Let me ask you about a couple of guys of interest to me. Scott Williams was a guy that didn’t pitch a lot in college. He had trouble hitting the strike zone last year and a little bit at the start this year. Since early June, he’s found a groove and found the plate. He seems more comfortable with the off-speed pitches. Your view on him.

He’s a converted guy, who was a position player in college. So, anytime you convert someone it’s usually a year process before you start seeing more fluidity as a pitcher. Last year, he kind of threw like a position player.

I think Oscar’s done a good job as far as getting his hands more relaxed on the mound and getting his body in a better position, and then obviously confidence and results. When you have good results, confidence builds it, and it continues to go for him.

Yesterday, I was very impressed with him. More than anything, yes I saw the velocity, but I saw the easiness of the delivery. It wasn’t compared to last year, where I thought he forced a lot of things on the mound and tried to muscle the ball there, versus allowing his arm to carry the ball.

Let me ask you about Cody Buckel and his ups and downs. I know it’s been a long process. He’ll have some good days and he’ll have some not good days. Where do you see him in that process?

We all know Cody and he had a lot of success at an early age. Sometimes, that’s a fault, because we push him and he goes to big league camp as a 19-year-old and flies through A ball and AA.

Cody’s in a situation right now where I’m more concerned with how Cody is as a person. I focus on those things with Cody. We don’t try to focus on what he’s doing on the mound. Cody’s an outstanding person, a young man that’s got a lot of upside in whatever he does after baseball. So, I think we focus more on that with him right now and try to get some of the attention off of him, as far as being a pitcher, but just being an everyday person.

You’ve got a couple of guys sent here in Erik Swanson and Shane McClain. McClain seems to be a guy that can be used in various roles. Swanson at the back end can throw some heat. What are they here to work on?

Swanson, we held him back coming out of spring training. I see him as a starter eventually, so you’ll probably see him the next six weeks start building into more of a starter role, as we do some different things with some of the starters, maybe giving some guys some breaks. I do like his fastball. He does have to do some things to keep himself in top shape.

I think McClain is a guy who had a very good spring. He signed as a free agent last year after the draft. We felt like maybe we could push him a little bit to High Desert. Probably looking back, and I have told Shane this, we should have started him at Hickory and let him get his feet wet before we sent him going forward. So I take the blame for that more than anything. We can use Shane in a lot of different roles. He started for us in High Desert for a couple of spot starts. He can give his length and multiple innings, back-to-back days. So, he’s a very versatile pitcher.

Austin Pettibone has been interesting coming into the rotation. I know he started for you before. He can throw low to mid-90s and he’s talked about developing his changeup. What can you say about his development?

Austin was a starter in college. Coming out of spring training, you can only send six starters to a full-season club, so we had him starting in extended knowing that at some point that we were going to send him here. We just had to find the right time.

I see him as a sinkerballer, groundball type guy, He’s a mature guy. He’s a mature college pitcher. So, we kind of expect some of these things to happen here. We’re just now getting him stretched out. Really, in my mind, it’s a little early to make a decision on Austin whether he is going to the bullpen or if he is going to be a starter.

Let me ask you of one other guy and that’s Nick Gardewine. Another guy, like Pettibone, who started in the bullpen before coming to the rotation. He’s had some ups-and-downs, but had a nice last outing.

Nicky was a guy coming out of spring training who got hampered with a foot issue. So, we brought him here out of the bullpen. He was building up as a starter, so I felt like he got behind the eight ball there for about the first month. Nicky, for me, if his slider is on, he’s going to go deep in the game. He’s got to be able to have a better feel for his change. Until he can do that, I feel like that he, right now, is a two-pitch pitcher from what I saw a couple of days ago. He knows that and that’s things that he’s got to work on.

I still think Nicky’s a young guy – he’s a little older than most of the starters here – but when we get some innings on him, I foresee him down the road. Could he be a starter? Yes. Could he go into the bullpen? There’s a lot of options there because he does have a good fastball.

This year has been the first year, I can recall, of having a six-man rotation, with the idea that you’re not going to skip starts in the middle of the year like what has happened in the past. Has that gotten the results that you were looking for, as far as keeping guys healthy for the year?

We hope so. I don’t want to speak too quick on it because we’re doing it here and High Desert and Spokane. We’re doing it at all our lower levels. I’ve seen, as far as our velocity goes, more consistent velocity going across the board.

Typically in a five-man rotation at the lower levels, you hit June and August, you start seeing velocity drop. So, I haven’t seen the drastic drop as I have in the past. So, that’s one thing. Obviously being healthy, we’re seeing good signs of that. There’s a lot of positives to it. I think if you ask me the same question when the season’s complete and we start getting more concrete data, I might have a different opinion about it. As of right now, I like the flow of it. I like what I’m hearing from the pitchers and from the pitching coaches.

I’ve got to ask you about Brett Martin. He had a rough time in his last outing, but was obviously very sharp tonight (July 16 vs. Greensboro). He talked about having to stay within himself to make things work for him.

I thought he showed stuff early. Then after his stuff early, around the fifth inning he had to work himself out of some jams. I thought Martin’s fastball obviously was probably 93-95 tonight. His breaking ball for me was probably the least pitch of the secondaries. He tended to pitch to his changeup.

Brett’s got a very high ceiling. What I don’t think a lot of people understand with Brett is that you don’t teach the things that Brett has and he’s got a lot of God-given talent.

To me, I was more pleased to see him finish the seventh. I went out there to basically talk to him and see where he was at. He said he wanted to finish the seventh, and so I thought it was a huge development for him.

Game story: Quotes and Notes from Augusta at Hickory, July 18

The Hickory Crawdads (56-45 overall, 12-11 second half) matched zeros with the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets (44-49, 11-12). for seven innings before scratching out three in the eighth for a 3-0 Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Crawdads have won three straight and four of five on the current homestand. They are now a South Atlantic League-best 32-16 at home this season. Augusta has lost three in a row and four of five on its two-city, seven-day road swing.

What Happened?:

Hickory’s Collin Wiles and Augusta’s D.J. Snelten dueled through seven shutout innings, each dominating the opposing lineups.

Wiles needed just 79 pitches (55 strikes) to get through 23 hitters. He allowed just two hits and one walk with five strikeouts.

Greenjacktets Southpaw Snelten threw 97 pitches (70 strikes) to 26 hitters, allowing three hits, two walks and struck out seven.

The Crawdads scored the only runs of the game in the eighth against Augusta reliever Reyes Moronta (1-7). Jose Cardona extended his hitting streak to nine straight with a double to right with one. A fly ball by Eduard Pinto moved Cardona to third before Moronta walked Josh Morgan, Jose Trevino and Luke Tendler, the final two on four straight to score Cardona.

Jairo Beras’ added insurance with a two-run single to right.

Hickory’s Ricardo Rodriguez (1-0) surrendered a double to Chuckie Jones in the eighth – the only extra-base hit for Augusta, but retired the final two hitters in the inning before hurling a perfect ninth.

The Good:

Collin Wiles: Facing a team that likes the fastball early, Wiles and catcher Jose Trevino came up with a game plan to take advantage of the GreenJackets aggressiveness. Only three hitters the first time through the order saw a first-pitch fastball.

“That was kind of Jose’s plan from the start,” said Wiles. “He told me in our pre-game meeting that this is a team that likes the fastball, so stay with me. I trust him 100% and we put up seven zeros.”

Wiles said his fastball command wasn’t sharp, forcing him to stay with the cutter and work in his other speed offerings.

“That was cool to see,” Wiles said. “This was the first game my fastball command hasn’t been there and the cutter has been. Other games, it’s the fastball command has been there and it’s trying to decide when do I put in this little cutter. It was a big pitch tonight and it was the pitch that made the difference.”

Jairo Beras: Had a questionable swing after Moronta threw 11 straight balls, fouling off a first-pitch change. He laid off the next two fastballs off the plate before serving a 99 mph offering to right.

“He threw a changeup sometimes and a fastball away,” said Beras. “The other people, he threw a fastball down. I got one away and I was able to hit it away.”

Beras had one of the Crawdads three hits against Snelten, that coming in the second on a fastball up and away. That, too, went solidly to right.

Jose Cardona: Started the winning rally with the double to right in the eighth. Saw the previous hitter, Juremi Profar, had all fastballs away at 98-99. Cardona saw similar pitches in his AB and got a pitch he could hit hard. Had two other hard outs, including a drive to the wall in left in the third.

Josh Morgan: Picked up a single in the third, but it was his walk in the eighth after falling behind 1-2 with two outs that kept the inning alive.

Ricardo Rodriguez: Gave up the double to Jones, but got Andrew Cain to pop up a first-pitch fastball and then got Richardo Rodriguez to ground out on a curve.

Defense: In the middle of charging a bouncer, Josh Morgan had to shift quickly on a bad-hop off the cut of the grass. Morgan made the bear-hand grab and threw out Jonah Arenado… Jonathan Meyer rambled after a short pop foul and made the catch over the photographer’s well along the first base dugout.

The opposition:

DJ Snelten: Used a sharp curve and change (8 missed bats by my count) as consistent out pitches. Threw a fastball that stayed in the 91-93 range much of the evening. He struck out seven for the seventh-straight start (51 in 37 innings). Moved the ball around the plate all night.

“Hats off to him,” said Wiles of Snelten. “He kept our hitters off-balance. He had the same kind of approach the first time through as I did, not letting hitters get on that first-pitch fastball. That was a fun game.”

Reyes Moronta: Threw his only curveball to Cardona, that was swung through and two changes. Otherwise, it was all 98-99 mph fastballs- all at or off the plate to RH hitters. He never missed a bat with it in pitching to eight hitters and the Crawdads hitters either ignored the pitches off the plate or put it into plate.

Series Preview: Hickory at Lakewood July 8-12

The Hickory Crawdads (51-30 overall, 7-6 second half) make their second of three trips this season to FirstEnergy Park to take on the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws (39-42, 6-7) in a five-game series.

Probables (Hickory/ Lakewood):

Wednesday: Cody Buckel (RH, 0-2, 2.79) vs. Ranfi Casimiro (RH, 3-5, 3.51)

Thursday: Brett Martin (LH, 3-3, 2.73) vs. Austin Davis (LH, 0-2, 2.40)

Friday: Ariel Jurado (RH, 9-0, 2.15) vs. Elniery Garcia (LH, 6-6, 3.08)

Saturday: Collin Wiles (RH, 9-3, 2.29) vs. Shane Watson (RH, 0-1, 2.45)

Sunday: Austin Pettibone (RH, 1-1, 3.94) vs. Will Morris (RH, 0-0, 0.82)

Recent Series History:

Lakewood holds a 5-4 edge in the 2015 season series after taking three of five at Hickory to open the second half. The Crawdads and BlueClaws split the series at Lakewood in early June. Hickory is 32-30 since 2009 – the start of the affiliation with the Texas Rangers – and 18-18 on the road.

Entering the Series – Hickory:

The Crawdads took the first three games of the series at Greensboro before dropping the matinee Tuesday afternoon. Winners of six out of the last nine on the road, Hickory (23-15) currently holds the best road record in the South Atlantic League.

The team pitching ERA of 2.82 is nearly a half-run better than second-place Lakewood (3.29). However the BlueClaws bats battered Hickory pitching for 32 runs on 51 hits in the recent five-game series at L.P. Frans. Overall, the Crawdads pitching staff has surrendered the fewest hits, runs and earned runs in the SAL. They also have the lowest WHIP at 1.16.

At the plate, Hickory has reclaimed the top spot in the SAL with 61 home runs. They are third in slugging pct. (.384).

In the field, the Crawdads remain at the top of the SAL in fielding pct, having committed the fewest errors and turning the most double plays.

Entering the Series – Lakewood:

After winning three straight at Hickory, the BlueClaws are 3-6. They split a four-game series at home with Hagerstown over the weekend.

Lakewood will put the ball in play as the hitters taken the fewest walks and have the second fewest strikeouts in the SAL. The BlueClaws are second in doubles and third in hits. They are next to last in OBP (.312).

Players to watch- Hickory:

SP Ariel Jurado: Currently pitching in tandem with Yohander Mendez, Jurado is expected to start, but could be switched to the relief role. He is first in the SAL in WHIP (0.96), tied for second in wins (9) and fourth in ERA (2.15). Jurado has thrown only six innings in the second half and will likely be limited to around three innings for now. He currently has 60 Ks to just eight walks in 67 innings.

SP Collin Wiles: Having won six of his last eight starts, two of those have come against the BlueClaws over the last month (12,1 IP, 11 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K). Opposing teams are hitting just .221 against Wiles. He is tied with Jurado with nine wins, is second behind Jurado in WHIP (1.00) and fifth in ERA (2.29)

SP Cody Buckel: After giving up nine baserunners in 2.2 innings against Lakewood on June 26, Buckel rebounded against Greenville with a three-hitter over six innings and struck out six to just one walk. SAL hitters are batting just .182 against Buckel, but he has thrown 16 walks and hit six batters in 29 innings.

SP Austin Pettibone: Has settled into the rotation nicely since gaining a permanent spot in late June. Spun a two-hitter over six innings against Greenville on June 30, then followed that up with a one-hitter through six at Greensboro before falling apart in the seventh for a no-decision.

RP Scott Williams: Has two wins and a save in the second half during which Williams has allowed one base runner (a solo homer) in seven innings and struck out 11. After sporting a 4.26 ERA in May, Williams has allowed two runs overall in 12.2 innings (8 appearances) on six hits and two walks with 17 Ks.

OF Luke Tendler: Arguably the hottest hitter in the lineup in the second half, Tendler is at .333/.375/.489 in the 12 games after the all-star break. He put up six RBI in the weekend series vs. Lakewood to open the second half and has a team-high of nine RBI against the BlueClaws this season. Tendler is tied for sixth in the SAL with 19 doubles.

C Jose Trevino: Has a .301/.322/.460 slash on the road compared to a .216/.252/.399 mark at home. He is off to a cool start in July (3-for-20) with all three hits coming at Greensboro on Saturday. Currently, Trevino is third in the SAL in homers (10) and tied for 11th in RBI (39).

OF Jose Cardona: Of current active players, Cardona has the highest avg. (.290) against the BlueClaws this season. Like Trevino, Cardona is off to a cool start in July and is three for his last 31 – two of the hits homers. His nine homers are tied for fourth in the SAL.

C Chuck Moorman: Joined the Crawdads at Greensboro, the 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2012 played two games at AAA Round Rock this season.

C-1B Jonathan Meyer: Had a six-game hitting streak (8-for-22) and a three-game RBI streak snapped in the shutout loss to Greensboro on Tuesday.

2B Carlos Arroyo: Currently in the midst of a three-game hitting streak (5-for-12) and has at least one hit in 17 of his last 22 games since going hitless in his first two games with the club.

OF Jairo Beras: Has begun to heat up again with hits in five straight games (7-for-18) before an 0-for-3 game on Tuesday. However, he has at least one strike out in seven straight (11 overall).

Players to watch- Lakewood:

SP Elniery Garcia: He has dominated the Crawdads in his two starts, having allowed two runs on nine hits over 13 innings with eight strikeouts. Garcia threw a four-hitter over seven innings against Hickory on June 28. He followed that up with a five-hitter over seven innings against Hagerstown in his last start. Garcia is ninth in the SAL in ERA (3.08) and WHIP (1.20).

SP Shane Watson: The first-round pick of the Phillies (Lakewood (CA) High) in 2012 missed all of 2014 with shoulder surgery and a 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse violation to start this season. Watson allowed one run on seven hits over 3.2 innings in his first start for the BlueClaws on Sunday.

SP Will Morris: Former teammate of Evan Van Hoosier at College of Southern Nevada, the 24th-round pick of the Phillies in 2013 made the first start of his career last Monday against Hagerstown (5 IP, 2 H, 2 K). Morris had 51 relief appearances over three seasons before the start.

RP Joey DeNato: Was selected to the SAL All-Star Game. He is eighth in the SAL with 26 appearances.

CF Herlis Rodriguez: Has two SAL hitter-of-the-week awards and is arguably the best hitter on the team after the promotion of key teammates Carlos Tocci and Rhys Hoskins to high-A. Currently seventh in the SAL in slugging (.469) and tenth in RBI (41).

3B Damek Tomscha: Has ripped through Hickory pitching this season at a .370/.419/.556 clip with seven RBI and a homer. He put together four straight multi-hit games at the end of June, but is hitless in his last four games and is 2-for-21in his last six. Tomscha has 20 doubles, tied for third in the SAL.

1B Kyle Martin: The Phillies fourth-round pick out of South Carolina last month made his pro debut at Hickory. He has a .340/.365/.580 slash in 13 games since joining the BlueClaws with six multi-hit games.

LF Cord Sandberg: Was the third-round pick of the Phillies in 2013 out of Manatee (FL) High and is currently the No. 13 prospect in the organization. Sandberg with 10-for-21 against the Crawdads two weeks ago with four extra-base hits, five runs scored and five RBI.

2B Scott Kingery: The Pac-12 player of the year was the Phillies second-round draft pick a month ago. Like Martin, he made his pro debut at Hickory with two hits in the opener. Kingery finished 6-for-21 in the series with six runs scored. So far in July, he is 3-for-24 (.125).

Crawdads Mid-Season Assessment: An Interview with Rangers VP Mike Daly

The Hickory Crawdads currently has the best record in the South Atlantic League at 50-29 (through July 5). While the Crawdads cruised to the first-half Northern Division title – clinching a playoff berth in September – the name of the game is first and foremost player development. In that aspect, the Texas Rangers have much to celebrate with the Crawdads roster, especially where the pitching staff is concerned.

Mike Daly, the Senior Vice President for Scouting and Player Development of the Texas Rangers, was in town during the recent weeklong homestand to get an extended look at the Crawdads in action.

The following is an interview I did with Daly during which he talked about some of the top pitchers on the staff – and assigning them to High Desert – a few of the top hitters, as well as the on-going struggles with Jairo Beras.

In the first half of the season the Crawdads were the best team in the South Atlantic League by record, and a lot of days, the best team on the field. The Rangers brass had to be excited with how the team played in the first half.

Mike Daly: Yeah, we’re certainly proud of the players and the staff. I think it starts with Corey Ragsdale, an outstanding manager who’s closing in on the all-time record for number of wins here – not only for the number of wins in Hickory – but with what he’s done taking on a really young group of players and bringing them together.

Each of the players get better individually but also as a collective group. They’re playing for each other, pulling for each other and ultimately winning a bunch of games. We’re very pleased and very proud of the group here in Hickory.

You mentioned the staff and Rags is here for the third year and seems a lot more comfortable with himself. You see the growth from him over the three years. It’s obvious that he’s in charge and the guys like playing for him, to a man.

Daly: Absolutely. Corey does a number of things very well. First, he has outstanding baseball knowledge. He knows the ins and outs of a baseball game. He has a very keen eye for what players need to do and how they need to develop on the field.

But then off the field, he has presence and he knows how to handle the clubhouse and the players. They respect him and enjoy playing for him, but otherwise they know who is in charge. We’re thrilled to have Corey in the organization and we’re very, very happy with what he’s done with the club so far in 2015.

As far as the first half the pitching staff, almost night in and night out, is getting five, six, seven innings in every night and then turns it over to a what’s been a pretty good bullpen for the most part.

Daly: I think that was reflected there in the all-star game with how many selections we had off our pitching staff. I think what’s really good is these guys push one another. So, when Ariel Jurado goes out and has a good outing, now Brett Martin wants to go out there and top him. Then Luis Ortiz, he wants to go out there and do better and Yohander Mendez wants to show where he’s at. Nick Gardewine wants to do that and Collin Wiles wants to do it better.

So it’s a real good internal competition amongst these guys each and every night. It certainly gives our ballclub an opportunity to win and it always starts with the starting pitching. These guys have really stepped up. It’s really, really fun to watch these guys compete against one another.

Jurado was not somebody that people read a lot about before this season. He took the ball the first night and for the most part at every start he toes the rubber and goes seven innings.

Daly: He’s been outstanding. He was one of the six starters that we wanted to send out here. That’s a big credit to Brian Shouse, who is our pitching coach in the Arizona League and pitched a number of years in the major leagues. He dropped down Jurado’s slot from a high slot to more of a low three-quarters slot, which he throws now and really helps his fastball move. He gets a ton of ground balls with his sinker. He throws a lot of strikes and mixes in his breaking balls and his changeups very well.

He’s throwing a curveball now, which is another nice toy for him?

Daly: Absolutely, and he has a real good feel. When guys have power – nd he has a fastball that he can run up there over 90 miles an hour – and then he’s able to break out his offspeed pitches, it really puts hitters on their heels. His sinker is obviously his money pitch and when he’s able to throw the other offspeed pitches for strikes, it puts hitters on their heels. We’ve seen that with the performance of Jurado.

Luis Ortiz has had a couple of wrinkles, but numbers wise he has a low ERA, good WHIP, a ton of strikeouts. I know you’re kind of pacing him along, especially with the arm fatigue. What is your evaluation of him at this point?

Daly: We’re really happy with Luis. I think our goal was for him to get out here on opening day and to get through the whole season. A player learns a ton, especially a player coming out of high school, going out for the first time and getting through a full season at a full-season club. We’re really happy with what he’s done throughout the year.

Obviously there’s a little bit of a setback here with the arm fatigue. We’re looking to get him back here probably in about a month or so. But we’re really happy with where Luis is. He’s working on all his pitches. His changeup continues to develop as does the power fastball and a good breaking ball.

Collin Wiles is another guy that has been good night in and night out. I’m honestly a little surprised he’s still here. Let me ask you about his development and where he goes from here.

Daly: We give Collin a ton of credit. He had a very good offseason. I think he really took ownership in his offseason program and really invested in where he was at in his career and it’s paying dividends on the field. He’s able to throw all of his pitches for strikes at anytime in the count. He has an extreme amount of confidence on the mound and that come through.  I think that’s due in large part to the work that he did in the offseason. He came into spring training very, very focused and that’s carried through here in the season.

We have had some conversations about challenging him at the next level, but we’re really happy with where he’s at, how he’s pitching and how he’s performing. With his age, as a high-school player coming out of Kansas City, we still feel that there’s some challenges for him here at the low-A level. But we’re really happy where he’s at.

This is not necessarily about Collin, but just in general. How much does the High Desert situation play into you advancing guys and not wanting to tax them at that spot versus maybe they need that challenge?

Daly: I don’t think it’s so much about High Desert. I think it’s more about the individual player and where he needs to be challenged or where he’s at in his career.

If you look back when Arizona was at High Desert, they sent John Patterson and Brandon Webb and Brad Penny. So there have been pitchers that have been very successful major league pitchers that have gone through High Desert.

But I think our decisions are based more on the individual player and what they need and where we see they’re at in their careers in terms of promoting them or having them go through High Desert or not.

We’ve had some success. Frank Lopez is a guy who pitched here and had some success early on at High Desert and he earned a promotion up to Frisco. There are pitchers that can go out there and have had some success. I think it’s a very good learning experience if you’re able to pitch in High Desert in those type of conditions.

Is there a mental component that plays into that at times, where you might be hesitant to send somebody there because if they get lit up with the easy home run, you worry about the psyche?

Daly: I think that’s part of like each individual guy. I think our coaches have a very good feel for each individual player. We do talk about it amongst our staff, amongst our coaches about what’s best for each individual player. Some guys have gone out there and taken on that challenge and were able to overcome High Desert. That usually bodes pretty well for success at the next level.

Let me ask you about one other guy and that’s Yohander Mendez. He was here and there last year because of the shoulder and other injuries health wise. He had a good year out of the bullpen, but I know the object has always been to get him back into the rotation. You’ve got to be pleased with where he is at this point.

Daly: We’re very happy with Yohander. We had a couple of setbacks with some injuries in his career. I think the goal was to start him out in the pen this year with some short stints to try to keep him healthy. He’s done that and has been able to post every time that we’ve asked him to pitch.

Now, I think, his goal has changed in terms of, can we build strength. He’s done a nice job with Wade Lamont, our strength and conditioning coach, in terms of putting more weight on his body. I know it doesn’t really show, but he’s up to over 200 pounds. That’s a huge credit to Yohander and the tireless efforts of Lamont. Obviously Oscar Marin (Crawdads pitching coach) has done a real nice job with him last year and this year. We’re really happy with where Yohander is at and obviously it’s showing on the field.

Let me go to the hitting side of the team and start with Josh Morgan, who had a rough start getting his feet wet, but the last two months has done well.

Daly: Definitely, he’s certainly found it. He’s one of the guys going through his first full-season year. I think in April the hits weren’t falling, but he continued to have an outstanding makeup. He’s a very, very hard worker. He believes in the talent and we believe in the talent as well. I think that we’ve seen that over the past couple of months with the consistent approach and the consistent work ethic and those hits are falling. Obviously, he’s been a huge part of the 2015 Crawdads.

A guy that has been the glue or spark plug, or whatever cliché you want to use, has been Jose Trevino. I know it’s been his first full year of catching and I know that’s gone well. But all around he’s a guy that keeps the clubhouse together.

Daly: We’re very, very, very happy with Jose Trevino, not only defensively, but offensively. There’s a lot of stuff as a catcher that you need to work on in terms of your own defensive, knowing the pitching staff , being able to help your pitchers get through each count. But then he’s able to step into the box with his bat and be very productive in the middle of the lineup. So, we’re really happy with the things that Jose has accomplished so far both offensively and defensively. You see the makeup and you see how he’s able to keep his focus together.

I’m going to go to Jairo Beras, who had the rough start not running out a batted ball the first night. He had a good couple of weeks here where it seemed like he was seeing everything, but then he gets into another thing last night where he doesn’t run it out. Let me ask you about him and what is a tough situation.

Daly: Jairo is somebody there have been some ups and been some downs. I know last year he had a very good second half here in Hickory. It looked like he was going on that path again here and have another strong second half in 2015.

Part of the process is not about numbers, but part of the process is about playing the game the right way. I think Corey’s done a really good job of handling the situation with Jairo.

We’re still very excited about Jairo and I think he’s still going to be a big part of this Crawdads team over the last couple of months. I think his at bats are getting more consistent. He’s seeing balls batter and he’s using the whole field. He had a nice double down the right field line. He’s walking a little more. I think that there’s some stuff, just with player in development, there’s some ups and some downs, but we’re still very bullish on where Jairo is and his status in the organization.

You mentioned that you’re excited about Jairo and the Rangers are excited about Jairo. Is there a point where Jairo is excited about Jairo and there are not the mental lapses?

Daly: You hope so, yes. I would fully expect that to happen. When that happens, I’m not sure that anybody knows. It’s really up to the player to decide that they’re going to do the things each and every day that’s part of being a professional player. I think it’s really up to Jairo. Our job as an organization is to support him and when he doesn’t do the things that he’s supposed to do to correct them and teach him and to make sure he learns from him. Ultimately, it’s up to Jairo to make those changes.

Michael De Leon. The hitting is still not quite there. He’s still only 18 and the strength is getting there, but defensively, what a wizard.

Daly: With Michael last year, it was really the year of opportunity. When we signed him in 2013, nobody thought that in 2014 that he would play the majority of his games in Hickory. None of our guys that we had signed in their first year – Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor – none of those guys spent any time in Hickory. There was an opportunity last year with the number of injuries. To his credit, he took advantage.

I think there are still challenges for Michael here at this level, but he’s done an outstanding job. When he can play defense like he can play defense at shortstop, he’s always going to have the opportunity to play. The manager is going to want to get you in the lineup based on the defense that he provides.

He hits at the top of the lineup and makes a ton of contact. He’s going to get bigger and stronger. I know that Wade Lamont is working with him relentless to try to get him faster and try to get him bigger and stronger. But, when you have a shortstop that can play that type of defense, the pitchers really appreciate you, and the manager’s always going to find a way to get you into the lineup. That’s his calling card is his defense right now.

Let me ask you about one more guy and that’s Tendler. He had a hot start and then went into the slump, but you get the feeling that he’s coming out of some things.

Daly: I give Luke a ton of credit. Luke came into the organization last year and right away has been all about baseball. After Spokane – he had a real nice year there – he spent the winter in Columbia. He went down there on his own and went to the Columbian Winter League. The first time we’ve ever had a player right out of the draft make the decision on his own to go down to Colombia. So, he really invested in his career. He really wants to be as good as he can.

I know that he came into Hickory this year and was on fire in April and in May. He was producing maybe better than he thought that he was. Right now in the slump, he’s better than he’s showing now.

We’re really happy with Luke. Once again, a guy going through his first full season and it’s hard. A hundred-and-forty games is a long season; it’s a grind. He’s done a real nice job. He’s a big part of the Crawdads team. I know that Corey has a lot of confidence in him and we’re going to continue to run him out there and he’s going to figure it out and be a big part of the team here.

Who has surprised you that maybe you didn’t expect to put together the season they have?

I think like the back end of the bullpen was really good. Parks and Fasola, both of those guys, especially Fasola, coming in and closing the door and saving a lot of games. I know that Corey had a ton of confidence looking down there in the eighth or ninth inning and bring in big John to close out the game.

Obviously, John pitched very well and earned himself a promotion up to High Desert. So, I think John Fasola coming in and taking the reins of the closer role and earning a promotion was the biggest surprise here so far.

(Eduard) Pinto?:

Daly: Been good. He can always hit. He hit close to .400 in the Dominican Summer League his first summer out. I think his big key is staying healthy. That’s something he continues to manage each and every day. He can hit, but his ability to on the field is the key.

Series Preview: Hickory at Greensboro July 4-7

The Hickory Crawdads (48-29 overall, 4-5 second half) make their second of three trips this season to NewBridge Bank to take on the Greensboro Grasshoppers (31-47, 2-7) in a four-game series.

Probables (Hickory/ Greensboro):

Saturday: Yohander Mendez (LH, 0-1, 1.03) vs. Tyler Kolek (RH, 4-4, 4.65)

Sunday: Collin Wiles (RH, 8-3, 2.36) vs. Luis Castillo (RH, 3-3, 3.04)

Monday: Austin Pettibone (RH, 1-1, 3.86) vs. Michael Mader (LH, 3-7, 5.43)

Tuesday: Nick Gardewine (RH, 4-5, 4.20) vs. Ben Holmes (LH, 2-5, 5.25)

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads are 5-1 against Greensboro in 2015, including a 2-1 series win at NewBridge Bank Park. Since the Hickory Crawdads – Texas Rangers affiliation began in 2009, the Grasshoppers (Miami Marlins affiliate) hold a 49-45 advantage. Greensboro is 47-31 against the Crawdads since NewBridge Bank Park opened in 2005.

Entering the Series:

The Crawdads finished a disappointing 4-5 home stand by dropping the final two games to Greenville. The lineup continues to mount inconsistent run-production. During the last 77 innings of the home stand, the Crawdads scored in just 12 of them. The bullpen is still sorting itself out in the wake of promotions and the insertion of two members into the rotation. After opening the season 42-0 when leading or tied after seven innings, Hickory dropped two such games last week, including its first when leading after eight.

Greensboro (18-16 at home) lost the first six straight of the second half before taking two of the last three at Hagerstown (Md.). The Grasshoppers have struggled to score runs, posting 23 in nine games. However in an offensive-friendly ballpark, the Grasshoppers have a .272/.321/.409 slash (.223/.294/.302 road) at NewBridge Park as well as 30 of their team’s 44 homers. For the season, the Grasshoppers have been shut out a South Atlantic League-high 11 times.

Players to watch- Hickory:

SP Yohander Mendez: Gave up his first earned runs of the year in his last start (2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER vs. Lakewood) before a benches-clearing incident abbreviated his turn. Has made only two starts with a high of three innings. Mendez has 40 strikeouts and seven walks in 26.1 innings with only 23 baserunners allowed.

SP Collin Wiles: He continues to knife through South Atlantic League competition. Currently leads the SAL in fewest baserunners allowed (67 in 63.1 innings). He is third in OBA (.225), fourth in WHIP (1.05), and fifth in ERA (2.36). Wiles has not faced the Grasshoppers this season.

RP Ariel Juado: Will pitch on the back end of a piggyback with Mendez for now. He leads the SAL in WHIP (0.94), is third in ERA (2.11) and fifth in OBA (.228). He has 14 Ks in 13 innings versus the Grasshoppers this season.

RP Erik Swanson: For now, it appears that he will get looks to close out games. He earned the save vs. Lakewood on June 29 (2 IP, 1 BB, 2 K), but then gave up a run-tying hit in the ninth inning Thursday vs. Greenville. He went on to strike out four over three scoreless innings.

RP Joe Filomeno: Has also been given key late-game situations during the second half. He gave up three runs on four hits in his first save opportunity on June 27 vs. Lakewood, then threw two scoreless outings (4.1 innings) in the series with Greenville.

2B Carlos Arroyo: Went 0-for-4 in Friday night’s game, but hitting .303/.324/.485 in the second half. He has hits in 14 of his last 19 games, seven of those multi-hit games.

UT Juremi Profar: Currently in the midst of a five-game hitting streak (7-for-19). Crashed his first homer of the season on Friday.

CF Jose Cardona: Is 3 for his last 17, but two of the hits were homers. Cardona is the lone player on the current roster who has homered against the Grasshoppers and is hitting .346 in six games.

Players to watch- Greensboro:

SP Tyler Kolek: The 2014 first-round pick (second overall) of the Marlins is currently the 21st best overall prospect (mlb.com) and the eighth-best RHP. The Marlins have limited him to more than four innings in just seven of 14 starts, though one of those was five shutout innings against Hickory in late April. Has just 40 Ks in 62 innings with 28 walks and 14 wild pitches.

SP Michael Mader: The Marlins third-round selection in 2014 (Chipola College) is the Marlins No. 12 prospect. Mader is third in the SAL with 39 walks in 71.1 innings (15 starts). He walked five and allowed six hits in 3.2 innings during his lone start against Hickory. Mader four-hit Hagerstow over six innings in his last start.

RP Josh Hodges: The closer (7th round, 2009) for the Grasshoppers is second in the SAL in games finished and has ten of the team’s 19 saves. Has posted 42 Ks in 38.1 innings and a 1.17 ERA.

C Arturo Rodriguez: Was the starting catcher for the Northern Division in the SAL all-star game. Hit .406 in April, but just .248 in May and .261 in June. He has just 6 hits in 32 at bats in the second half. Rodriguez blasted two homers against Hickory this season.

SS Justin Twine: The athletic Twine was the second round pick of the Marlins in 2014. A quarterback in high school (had a scholarship to Baylor) and won a gold medal in long jump in the Texas state championship. The Marlins 11th best prospect (mlb.com) is looking to transfer his athleticism to the baseball field. Currently carrying a .186/ .211/.277 slash, Twine is 5-for-25 against Hickory with a double and a triple, but with 10 Ks

LF Austen Smith: Started in the SAL All-Star Game is second in the league with 12 homers and fifth in slugging (.481). Smith is batting .207 (6-for-29) in nine games to start the second half.

RF John Norwood: Is 9-of-20 in his last five games.

Game Story: Lakewood at Hickory June 29

The Hickory Crawdads posted five runs in the first inning and made them stand up in a 5-4 win over the Lakewood (NJ) BlueClaws Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Crawdads (46-27 overall, 2-3 second half) snapped a three-game losing streak, all coming at the hands of Lakewood (36-37, 3-2).

Hickory will host a four-game series against the Greenville (S.C.) Drive beginning Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.

What Happened?:

Hickory put seven of the first eight hitters of the game on base against BlueClaws starter Yoel Mecias. Michael De Leon opened the first by doubling into the gap in left-center. Carlos Arroyo then sent a first-pitch fastball well over the fence in right to make it 2-0. The homer was his first stateside shot, having hit two in the Dominican in 2013. After Eduard Pinto and Jose Trevino walked, Luke Tendler blasted his sixth home run of the season to right, his first since April 30.

It turned out that the Crawdads would need all the first-inning runs as Lakewood’s bullpen held Hickory to just two base runners over the final 8.2 innings while its lineup continued to peck away at the lead.

“I knew if we didn’t score that it’d be a close one for sure, the way they’ve been playing and swinging the bats and battling,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “I knew we couldn’t take our foot off the gas or it was going to be a game. Unfortunately, the ABs got worse as the game went on and, like we saw, the game turned out to be a tight one.”

After starter Collin Wiles kept the BlueClaws scoreless through two, his own error cost him a run in the third. Gustavo Martinez got Lakewood’s first hit – a soft liner to right – to start the third. An errant pickoff throw by Wiles moved Martinez to second and a pair of grounders to first brought Martinez in to score.

In the fourth, Kyle Martin and Damek Tomscha each singled and then one out later moved up a base on a wild pitch. Martin scored on Jiandido Tromp’s grounder to short to make it 5-2.

Lakewood chased Wiles with two runs in the sixth. Tomscha and Cord Sandberg each singled with Tromp bringing in Tomscha with a sacrifice fly. Wiles’ second errant pickoff of the game advanced Sandberg to second. Shane McCain entered and then threw a wild pitch to move Sandberg to third before he scored on a groundout by Martinez. Gustavo Marrero followed with a single, but McCain struck out Drew Stankiewicz to quell the threat.

McCain worked around a walk in the seventh and turned it over to Erik Swanson to close out the final two innings.

 

The Good:

The lineup in the first inning: The hitters saw quickly that Mecias had a limited arsenal on the mound. The lefty offered a straight 88-91 mph fastball with an occasional change that missed the plate. The Crawdads were content to stay back for something they could handle and they did picking up four hits and taking three walks. The lone out was a lineout by Beras to the track in center.

Michael De Leon: Has begun to crush fastball over the last couple of days. After his double in the first, he laced an Austin Davis heater to straight-away center for a hard out.

Luke Tendler: Recently said he has had to re-learn to hit the fastball again. His homer to right came on a fastball by Mecias. Now has hits in seven of his last nine games with nine RBI in that stretch.

Erik Swanson: Solid two innings to close out the game. Manhandled Tromp with a 95 mph laser to start the 8th and then one out later froze the right-hander Martinez with a 94 on the outside corner. He needed only five pitches to retire the top of the order in the ninth. The final pitch of the night was a change that Kyle Martin dribbled to first. Martin had homered off Swanson two nights before.

“He’s up to 95 with an 88-89 mile-an-hour slider,” Ragsdale said. “Was able to throw his changeup over there to the kid that hit the homerun against him the other night and got a rollover to second base. Obviously, the bullpen is why we won the ballgame.

Shane McCain: A bit of an Alex Claudio clone, though McCain brings a harder fastball that registered 87-88 and touched 90. Threw a mid-70s, sweeping slider and an upper 60s-low 70s change. Worked out of the inherited jam in the sixth and around a two-out walk in the seventh.

Collin Wiles: The righty mixed and matched four pitches and pretty much controlled the strike zone much of the night. Much of the hits against him were grounders that found holes. Slider was especially heavy (broke three bats with it). Wiles was his own worst enemy with the two errors and a wild pitch.

The Not-So-Good:

Jairo Beras: Benched for the second time this season for not running out a batted ball. This time, it was a fly out that fell just to the foul side of the right field line. With Texas Rangers director of player development Mike Daly in town, as well as field coordinator Casey Ragsdale, it probably was not the best timing for Beras to do this.

The offense after the first: Only two hitters reached after the first – Trevino’s single and a bunt single by Arroyo. The Crawdads lineup was anemic against the BlueClaws bullpen, putting only seven hitters on base in 18.1 innings.

Said Ragsdale, “I’m not going to take away anything from those guys. They have some really good arms in the bullpen. The first guy they brought (Austin Davis) was pretty impressive, to be honest. But, we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to have better ABs. We’ve got to be more competitive. We’ve got to show a little bit more energy and fire. We can’t rely on what we did the last half.”

The Opposition:

Austin Davis: Kept Lakewood in the game with 4.1 strong innings. At 6-4, the long-armed lefty threw a tough, lively 92-94 mph crossfire fastball that got to the hitters quickly.

Damek Tomscha: Finished the series 8-for-18 with five RBI.

Cord Sandberg: Had ten hits in five games with five RBI and five runs scored in the five-game series.