Results tagged ‘ Dillon Tate ’

The Reality of “Our” Players: Crawdads past and present major pieces in recent trades

Yesterday, two of “our” own players from the Hickory Crawdads were suddenly taken from us. Hickory Crawdads pitchers Erik Swanson and Dillon Tate were a part of a trade in which the parent club Texas Rangers acquired slugger Carlos Beltran from the New York Yankees.

For many Rangers fans, it is a time to get excited about what Beltran can bring to the lineup at Arlington. For many Crawdads fans, their hearts have been stomped.

We don’t see many trades at the low-A level. When pitcher Matt Ball came here in May after a trade with the White Sox, it was the first time a player came to Hickory via a trade since 2008 – the final season of the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliation. As far as sending a player away, that hadn’t happened since 2013 when C.J. Edwards went to the Chicago Cubs. Prior to that, it had been since 2009 when Matt Nevarez left the Crawdads in a trade that brought Pudge Rodriguez back to Texas.

At this level, we know we are going to bid farewell to “our” players in due course. It may happen in a few days, or a couple of years. We certainly hope that when “our” players leave that it is to move up the ladder – to get one step close to their own major league dreams. Of course, at times they leave after being waived and that dream ends.

We often have this fantasy of “our” players moving up to the major league level with the parent club. The joy of seeing in a Texas Rangers uniform Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara and Martin Perez and Hanser Alberto and Ryan Rua and Jurickson Profar is a genuine joy for those of us in Hickory who knew them when. We have this Elysian hope that “our” players will continue to play together always and do so for Texas. It’s like hoping your neighborhood kids will grow up together and always remain friends. The reality is that most of those kids move away from home and rarely keep in touch. The same is true in baseball – minor league teams rarely play together in the big leagues.

Our hope was to see Swanson and Tate, as well as Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz – former Crawdads involved in another trade that moved those players into the Milwaukee Brewers chain – in those Texas Rangers uniforms taking the field in Arlington. However, if you ask those four players about their major league dreams, the name on the front of the uniform won’t matter to them – Braves, Brewers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Cardinals, etc. They are chasing the dream of a major league career. It matters not in which multi-tiered stadium that takes place. As minor league fans, we have to remember that.

They are “our” players, but in reality they are not. The name on the front of the jersey says Hickory, but the big red T on the patch located on the sleeve reminds us they belong to another. The Rangers pay the salaries and we have to remember that the minor leagues exist solely to help bring the major league club a championship. As hard as it is, sometimes that involves sending “our” players elsewhere.

However, for those who follow minor league teams – especially for us in Hickory –we gain an attachment during the time they are here. They are “our” players. It’s not just because “Crawdads” is on the front of the jersey with the letter “H” on the cap standing for our hometown of Hickory. At this level, they become part of us – of our community, and in some cases, part of our families. We have a different kind of access to these guys that those in the major league community do not. We celebrate their successes after a game, and share in the struggles and offer encouragement. We meet their families and welcome them to Hickory when they visit and roll out the welcome mat to our town.

So, while Rangers fans celebrate, we here in Hickory are in a bit of shock – for two of “our” own are leaving us for another team. (It could get really weird in a couple of weeks when Charleston (S.C.) visits L.P. Frans, as it is rumored that both Tate and Swanson will be assigned to the River Dogs.) But while the reality that “our” players will always leave, there is another reality present: Swanson and Tate and Brinson and Ortiz and Travis Demeritte and Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams and Edwards and everyone else who donned a red claw on their cap will be “ours”.

We look forward to following their careers all the way to the majors.

The Curious Case of Dillon Tate

Hickory Crawdad pitcher Dillon Tate is experiencing what nearly every minor leaguer goes through: a slump. The number four pick overall by the Texas Rangers in the June 2015 draft has looked mortal after a quick start this season.

A hamstring injury seems to have separated the two worlds that has been Tate this season. After allowing one unearned run over his first two starts and striking out sixteen to just one walk over 10.2 innings, Tate retuned three weeks later a different pitcher with different results. Over his last 13 outings (12 starts), Tate has given up 32 earned runs over 44 innings with 34 Ks to 21 walks. The South Atlantic League hit .390 against him in May and is at a .326 clip in July.

Scouts I’ve talked to say Tate’s mechanics are a mess. The velocity that was 96-98 mph is down as low as 91-92 when he is struggling. The high, Juan Marichal-like leg kick is gone from his delivery and it’s been a process of finding a consistent, repeatable motion. There are moments we see the brilliant stuff and then the next inning it falls flat.

To his credit, Tate is not flustered. He understands there is a process to go through to get things right again and is confident it will happen.

I had a chance to talk with Tate after his last start against Lakewood on Thursday. Here is that conversation.

Dillon Tate July 1

Dillon Tate in a game July 1 vs. Kannapolis (photo courtesy of Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

I want to talk to you about the last couple of months. You started well and then had the hamstring injury and it’s been a work in progress to get back to where you were before that. Take me through your last couple of months and the process of getting back to where you were earlier this year and when you came here last year.

Tate: Recently, I’ve just been scuffling and just battling out there and working on things in between starts. I’m trying to get some angle on my fastball to try to help me out. The organization has been helping me out to do that and giving me some things. I’ve been doing it well other times, sometimes not so much. It’s one of those things that you just need to get reps at it until it becomes an actual habit for you. I’m just going to keep going out there and battling and keep working on what I need to work on.

We’ll notice, for example you started well last night. You were and 94-95 in the first and hitting spots. Then we could watch the velocity come down. Is there a fine line with what you’re working on that your successful verses not being as successful?

Tate: I think, as of late, it’s been me trying to do multiple things out on the mound, instead of focusing on one thing that I need to do. So, I think that’s probably been the root of it, for some of it, I should say – not all of it. Simplicity is probably best for me at this point in time. So, just really focusing on working on one thing out there, rather than trying to do three or four different things right now.

So give me a couple of the things you are working on. Maybe at the top of the list the main thing and then maybe a 1A, 1B, 1C sort of thing.

Tate: There’s probably not even a 1A, 1B, 1C to it. I think the headline of it all is to keep the ball down. And then, how are you going to keep the ball down, etc. How are you going to keep it down and doing the things that I need to do to keep the ball down to make it a habit. I think that’ll come within time. This is just part of the minor league process. Everybody’s got a different journey, and this, right now, is mine. I’m going to roll with it, learn from it and keep going.

We notice the leg kick isn’t quite as high as it was when you got here. Is that something the Rangers had you work on or is that something you picked up on. Mechanically, is that part of the whole picture?

Tate: They talked about it a little bit. It was one of things where it’s so extreme that it can throw me off at times with certain pitches. At the end of the day, when you’re up there on the mound, to be successful, consistency is the key. To be consistent, you’ve got to repeat the same thing over and over again. Having that leg kick to be toned down a little bit will help me be more consistent. So, I think that’s all it is.

Saw a couple of curveballs last night? Is that new?

Tate: I threw a few curve balls. It was a pitch that I’ve had; I’ve just never really thrown it. The organization wants me to bring it back, so I’m working on it again and trying to bring it back.

One of the things you were working on – it was at the top of the checklist when you and I talked at the beginning of the season – was the changeup. How do you feel that pitch is working for you?

Tate: I’ve thrown some good ones and I’ve thrown a handful of not so good ones. It’s a feel pitch and some days it’s really good when I’m out here, and other days, like yesterday, not so much. I’m really just trying to focus in on that one thing that’ll make me throw that pitch over the zone and be more consistent with it. When I find it, I’ll hit my stride.

When you get into a rough patch, does it get to the point where you try to do too much to where you try to overthrow and pitches flatten out? You mentioned that you’re trying to do three and four things at once. Is that a part of that process?

Tate: I think so. There’s just a lot of information coming and I need to do a better of sifting through the information and just getting just one piece of information at a time. Work on this and then get that down. Then I’ll a work on this, instead of trying to take it all at one time and master it all. It’s just too tough to do.

When you’re on mechanically, what has to happen for you?

Tate: I think for starters, you’re not thinking about anything, for one. I think that’s for anybody when things are going well. Then to get down to the logistics of it, I think, me not leaning back. When you see the really high leg kick and how it was last year and how it is now, I’m not leaning back as much. So that’s going to help me stay over the rubber a little bit better and I’ll be able to better control my body better. That’s just one thing. There’s others things that go in there, too: hand and when they separate, head movement, things like that.

Has then been much more of a mental process than you thought it would be at this point, even last year?

Tate: Certainly, because last year, I’d just go out there and pitch and throw and I’m not thinking about anything. But now, there’s some things that need to be addressed and I’ve got to go out there and work on them. I’m definitely thinking about those things. So, that makes it a little tough. But, I think if anything that I’ve learned anything from this year is how to turn the page when things aren’t going well. That’s what you’ve got to do at the big league level and that’s something I’m learning how to do now. So, there is are positive things that are coming out of this.

Forbes HR fortune leads Crawdads Victory

Ti’Quan Forbes lined a solo homer in the sixth and a pair of relief pitchers spun five shutout innings to give the Hickory Crawdads a 4-3 win over the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws Thursday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

With the win, Hickory (48-43 overall, 10-11 second half) salvaged the final contest of a three-game series with their South Atlantic League Northern Division rival and snapped a four-game home losing streak. Lakewood (39-51, 11-10) had won the first two games of the series and the loss interrupts a stretch in which the BlueClaws had won six of their last seven.

The Crawdads will begin the back half of the two-team homestand on Friday as they host the West Virginia Power in a four-game series.

After Hickory’s Dillon Tate and Lakewood’s Jose Taveras breezed through the first inning, both hand trouble keeping the opposing lineups in check during their remaining tenures on the hill.

The BlueClaws struck first in the second. Damek Tomscha singled to left to open the inning. One out later, Wilson Garcia sneaked a groundball through the right side before Deivi Grullon singled in Tomscha. Tate held Lakewood at bay from inflicting further damage as he got Grenny Cumana and Brendon Hayden to ground out.

Hickory answered in the bottom of the inning, as Josh Altmann doubled and scored on Tyler Sanchez’s bloop single to left-center.

Lakewood countered in the third when Tomscha’s sacrifice fly scored Zack Coppola. Sherman Lacrus quickly brought the Crawdads even again to start the bottom of the inning when he homered to left-center – his first of the season.

Grullon cracked his third homer (6) against the Crawdads in as many games in the series to put the BlueClaws up again 3-2 in the fourth. Lakewood put two other runners aboard in the inning, but Tate worked out of the inning by getting Josh Tobias to foul out to Forbes along the dugout at third.

A Lakewood error got the Crawdads even again in the fifth. With two outs, Frandy De La Rosa singled and moved to third on Dylan Moore’s bloop single to right. With Josh Altmann at the plate, BlueClaws catcher Grullon attempted a pickoff of Moore at first. First baseman Wilson Garcia allowed the throw to trickle away, which allowed De La Rosa to scamper to the plate with the tying run.

In the sixth, Forbes lined a fastball from Ismael Cabrera (0-1) just over the wall in left-center, which turned out to be the final margin of the game. That single-run margin, however, was not without peril. After Joe Palumbo (6-3) was relatively untouched from the fifth through the seventh innings, the BlueClaws threatened after one out in the eighth. Brandon Hayden walked and Zack Coppola placed a single into shallow left field.

Manager Steve Mintz brought in Garrett Brummett to replace Palumbo. Cornelius Randolph greeted Brummett with a sharp single to right that loaded the bases.

Brummett got Josh Tobias to pop up to De La Rosa at second and Tomscha followed with a popup in front of home plate. With a quartet surrounding the play, it took a diving play by first baseman Altmann to complete the out and hold the BlueClaws scoreless.

From there, Brummett retired the side in order in the ninth for his first pro save.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Crawdads at the Quarter Pole: Interview with Steve Mintz

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Hickory Victory

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Jenkins steal

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Payano 1-hitter Lin

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Jose Almonte batting

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

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

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

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

 

How much longer does Ibanez get to stay here?

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

Andy Ibanez batting

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

 

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

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

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

Lovin’ the Outcome: Hickory Edges Rome 8-7

A mistake-filled game by both teams led to a see-saw affair that the Hickory Crawdads finally were able to take an 8-7 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves on Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Now at 24-11, Hickory holds the best record in the South Atlantic League and is 1 ½ games ahead of Hagerstown (Md.) in the Northern Division. Rome has dropped to 12-23 and is tied with Greensboro for the worst record in the SAL.

What Happened?:

A crowd of 3,486 at L.P. Frans – many in attendance for the post-game concert by Christian artists “Love and the Outcome” – were able to see two of the top pitching prospects in minor league baseball in Rome’s Max Fried (MLB.com’s No. 10 Braves prospect) and the Crawdads Dillon Tate (No. 4). However, neither of the hurlers was sharp as the offenses took to the attack.

Rome scored three against Tate in the third. Yeudi Grullon used a strong wind to send a liner to the wall in right for a double. One out later, Luke Dykstra singled him in and then stole second. Juan Yepez and Justin Ellison collected back-to-back doubles to account for the other two runs.

The Crawdads got one back against Fried in the fourth as Eric Jenkins tripled and scored on Andy Ibanez’s single. Hickory then took the lead with four runs in the fifth. Josh Altmann and Ti’Quan Forbes opened the inning with singles and advanced to second and third after a sacrifice bunt by Chuck Moorman. Frandy De La Rosa singled in both runners before Chris Garia homered to right.

Errors by De La Rosa at second and Garia in left set up the tying runs for the Braves in the sixth as Grullon eventually singled in both Justin Ellison and Bradley Keller.

Rome took the lead with a run in the seventh. With one out, Dykstra and Jonathan Morales each singled. A wild pitch moved the runners up and Dykstra scored when Yepez hit a sharp grounder to Forbes at third. Forbes was able to knock the ball down and keep Morales at second, though Dykstra scored. Ellison walked to load the bases, but Crawdads reliever Adam Choplick got Lucas Herbert to fly out to shallow right and then struck out Keller to keep the deficit at 6-5.

The ability to hold the Braves to one run in the seventh proved crucial as the Crawdads returned serve for a final time in the bottom of the inning against Braves reliever Taylor Lewis. Moorman worked a leadoff walk followed by De La Rosa’s single. The key play of the inning came on Garia’s sacrifice back to Lewis in front of the mound. Lewis fielded the ball and as he turned to look towards third, dropped the ball and allowed Garia to reach and load the bases. Lewis struck out Jenkins, but then walked Andy Ibanez to force in Moorman. Dylan Moore singled in both runners to break the tie and make it 8-6.

Rome got to within 8-7 in the eighth as Crawdads reliever Joe Palumbo hit Ray-Patrick Didder with a pitch after two outs. Didder came all the way around to score as Dystrka doubled into the corner in left.

The Braves threatened in the ninth as Yepez doubled to lead off the inning. However, he remained there as Palumbo struck out Ellison and then got Herbert and Keller on fly outs to end the game.

 

The Wind:

What started out as a light spring zephyr at game time (11 mph) turned into a small gale a couple of innings into the game with the flags starched blowing left to right. Its first victim was Crawdads CF Jenkins, who had settled under a fly ball just short of the track in center, only to realize too late the ball was to his left by 20 feet.

Grullon’s first hit of the game in the third likely was wind-aided as it carried behind LeDarious Clark in right and off the wall. However, the wind likely took a homer away from Juan Yepez, as what looked an easy shot over the fence banged off the wall instead.

Garia’s homer to right was well struck in the fifth, but under normal circumstance it probably doesn’t leave the park. Garia made a nice play to circle around and catch a fly off the bat of Lucas Herbert to curtail further damage during the Braves three-run third. However, he misplayed a ball along the wall in left, then dropped the catch to enable Rome to score two runs in the seventh.

But as the wind taketh, the wind also giveth, as in the crucial seventh, the wind held up a blooper off the bat of Herbert and allowed Clark to make a running catch.

Pitching duel a dud:

Neither Tate for Hickory, nor Fried for Rome had their best stuff on display in the game.

Tate’s fastball was a tick down in velocity that what we’re used to seeing, but still running 93-95, with an occasional 96. We noticed in the press box that the high leg-kick Tate usually has in his delivery wasn’t quite as high on Saturday, and perhaps that affected his control, which at times was spotty. The fastball in the early innings tended to miss badly to his glove side. A strikeout of Yepez looking in the first caught the outside corner to the right-handed hitter. However, catcher Chuck Moorman’s glove was set up on the inside corner.

Tate’s changeup took the brunt of the beating in the third as both Yepez and Ellison jumped on pitches up and over the plate. The slider didn’t appear to get much use, nor did it have the same bite we’re used to seeing. With all that said, Tate managed to keep his composure on the mound in tight spots. After the wind-aided double in the second, Tate recovered to make Brandon Keller look silly on the best slider of the game and then blow a fastball by Alejandro Salazar to complete the inning.

Fried is, in a sense, getting his sea legs back after missing much of the last two seasons from “Tommy John” surgery. He ran a fastball in the 90-92 range, topping out at 94, which missed very few bats. Only Clark and Ibanez missed the pitch, which both times resulted in strikeouts. The lefty did throw the occasional change, though not for strikes, nor did it catch anyone off balance when it caught the plate. His main secondary of choice was the curveball that did have pretty decent bite, the best of which came prior to Clark’s strikeout.

So, with the secondaries average and the fastball on the straight side, Hickory hitters were able to square up good contact and keep Fried in trouble. Jenkins turned on a 93 mph heater inside and rifled it into the RF corner for his triple. Garia hit a fastball hard for an out in the first, but then got to one for his homer in the fifth. Forbes two hits against Fried came on fastballs and Chuck Moorman lined a first-pitch fastball to right in the second, but for an out.

Seventh the decisive inning:

Rome missed a golden opportunity to break open the game in the seventh, as Crawdads Adam Choplick struggled with curveball command. The key at-bat came with one out in the inning after a runner had scored with Choplick facing Herbert. After seven straight balls, Choplick got a 3-0 fastball over the plate and then got Herbert to chase a curve. A fastball in on the hands resulted in a jammed pop-up that LeDarious Clark ran down as the wind blew it to him in right. Choplick then got Alejandro Salazar to strikeout on three straight pitches. Hickory made Rome pay for the missed opportunity in the bottom of the inning.

Pickoff or not?:

Mild-mannered Crawdads manager Steve Mintz got tossed between prior to the top of the fifth inning, while arguing over the legality of a pickoff move by lefty Max Fried that resulted in two pickoffs, and kept the other Crawdads runners at bay at first.

With a flamingo like stance as he began his delivery, Fried was able to hold the front leg into place long enough to entice Hickory runners to break for second and become easy pickoffs. Both Dylan Moore and Josh Altmann fell victim to the tactic in the second. The move was a key part in a double play in the third, as Ti’Quan Forbes retreated a step to first on a pitch to the plate and then was an easy out on a grounder up the middle to second.

The question by Mintz was whether or not Fried was stepping towards first on the pickoff move to first, rather than a 45-degree step that he appeared to be taking on throws to the bag.

Baserunning still a work in progress:

Pickoffs aside, there were other miscues on the bag that I’m sure will be addressed. On De La Rosa’s two-run single in the fifth, Forbes ran a stop sign but up by acting manager Marty Hagen at third. Oddly enough, Rome chose to cut the ball off, allowing Forbes to score without a throw.

Chris Garia appeared to do the same on Dylan Moore’s two-RBI single in the seventh.  On the same play, Ibanez took a wide turn around second as the ball was cut off from the outfield and was easily out during a chase in the third.

Stats not always what they seem:

My friend Scott Lucas does a minor league primer each spring during which he explains the precarious nature of earned runs. Many times, they are a tool to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness, but at times, it can be subjected to the whim of the official scorer.

Both errors committed by Hickory in the seventh were on plays I thought were 50-50 calls. I went to the error side on both calls and totally expected Rome to challenge the calls after the game (the Braves didn’t, after all). I debated in my head the Garia error against the wind factor; radio voice Aaron Cox thought the De La Rosa error was harsh. Both errors resulted in unearned runs for Jon Werner, who pitched the sixth.

Official scoring also has a minor effect on offensive stats as well. In the case above, both hitters – Ellison and Keller – had their averages nicked downward. On Garia’s sacrifice that was botched by the Rome pitcher, I had to determine whether or not Moorman should have been out at third – thereby giving Garia a time at bat – or if Garia was to be the one out – giving him a sacrifice and not charging a time at. I decided on the sacrifice. These are things that keep me awake at night.

Series Preview: Greenville at Hickory April 18-20

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

If you plan to go:

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

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

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

Wednesday is the first Education Day of the year.

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

 

Where is it?:

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

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

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

 

Probables (Greenville/ Hickory):

Monday: RHP Anderson Espinoza vs. RHP Peter Fairbanks

Tuesday: LHP Logan Boyd vs. LHP Brett Martin

Wednesday: RHP Roniel Raudes vs. RHP Dillon Tate

 

Recent Series History:

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

 

Entering the series – Hickory:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Entering the series –Greenville:

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

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

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

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

 

Players to watch- Hickory:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players to watch-Greenville:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes of Interest:

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

Game Story: Kannapolis at Hickory April 14

Dillon Tate was masterful and the lineup backed him with five runs early, which sent the Hickory Crawdads onto a 6-1 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators Thursday night in the home-opener at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Crawdads moved to 7-1 on the season with four of the wins coming against their in-state rivals. Kannapolis dropped to 3-5.

Hickory got on the board in the first as Eric Jenkins and Yeyson Yrizarri both doubled in the inning. In the second, Darius Day slapped a single into center to score Ti’Quan Forbes and Chuck Moorman. Later, Jenkins singled, moved to second on a balk and scored on Andy Ibanez’s single.

Frandy De La Rosa hit his second pro homer as he lifted a Zach Thompson fastball into the wind and out to left field to make it 5-0.

That was more than enough for Tate (1-0), who shutout the Intimidators over six innings. He allowed four hits and struck out ten batters.

Joe Palumbo relieved Tate in the seventh and added five strikeouts over the final three innings for his first career save.

Kannapolis scored its only run against Palumbo in the eighth as Corey Zangari singled in Landon Lassiter, who with three hits passed Andy Ibanez in the South Atlantic League’s early batting title chase.

Hickory accounted for its final margin with a run in the eighth as Forbes fly ball to center scored LaDarious Clark.

Thompson took the loss for the Intimidators, as he allowed five runs on eight hits and walked two over 3.1 innings.

 

The sticks:

Piling up 13 hits as a team, all nine Crawdads hitters had at least one hit with Jenkins, Ibanez, De La Rosa and Moorman all had two hits.

“When they can all stick their finger in the Kool Aid, that’s good every night,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “ I’m just happy with the way that we played tonight.“

Tate said that while the early runs didn’t necessarily help him relax on the mound, as much as it gave him a mentality to battle along with his teammates.

“It’s just the way the hitters are going about their business at the plate,” said Tate. “I see them grinding away. Our hitters are attacking their pitchers. When I see that, it makes me want to attack the hitters a little bit more, because I see my guys really going after them. They’re fighting for me and I fight for them. It’s just a cycle and a lot of pushing each other in a good way.”

Got a chance to really watch Yeyson Yrizarri hit for the first time without distraction. The first thing I notice is just how quick his hands are in turning on inside fastballs. He got out quickly on an inside fastball in the first and ripped it down in the line and into the LF corner. He almost repeated the same in the third.

Eric Jenkins looks more comfortable at the plate. He sent a first-pitch fastball over the head of CF Louis Silverio in the first. One inning later, he pulled a fastball into right.

De La Rosa put together an inside-out swing on a fastball that was enough to get it into the jet-stream wind and over the fence in left-center.

Good situational hitting by Day to get two runs in the second. He put enough on a Thompson fastball away to squirt it past the drawn-in infield and into center.

 

The mound:

It was thought that Tate would use and develop his changeup more this season, but honestly, once Tate established firm command of his fastball, the secondary pitches weren’t needed. Tate was in the mid-90s much of the night, topping out at 97. After Landon Lassiter singled to end an eight-pitch at bat to start the game, Tate retired the next 12 hitters.

“After he got through that first inning, he kind of settled in and he really understood that his fastball was the pitch that he needed right there,” said Mintz. “He was going to it glove side pretty much all night and was able to get some changeups and some breaking balls going there in the middle innings that helped him. You could tell there at the end that they were starting to get it timed up a little better. That’s why we get the guys to use all their pitches. We want them to be aggressive and establish the fastball early. That’s what he did and then he used his secondaries as he moved through the game.”

Tate struck out ten, but it was the manner in which he did it that was impressive. Five of the ten strikeouts were on four pitches or less. He nearly had a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning in the second as the ninth pitch of the inning went for a grounder to short. By my count, Tate finished with 77 pitches, 58 of those strikes. Of the 21 batters he faced, only five batters saw more than 5 pitches in an at bat.

“That’s Jose’s (Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jamies) thing,” said Tate. “He’s a big advocate of four pitches or less with your batters. So, we go up there and all the pitchers have that mentality of just execute in four pitches or less and get an out.”

Palumbo

Honestly, because GameDay (what we use for entering the official play-by-play on line) was having issues, I missed much of Palumbo’s outing. What I did see, Palumbo showed good life on a 93-94 mph heater, but it was the curveball that gave the Intimidators fits, especially after following the fastball wizardry of Tate.

The gloves:

A pretty routine night defensively. Moorman came up with a strong throw to cut down Lassiter stealing second in the sixth. It was the first caught stealing attempt for Kannapolis this season. He did commit an error in the eighth trying to cut down Corey Zangari moving to second after he had singled in a run.

Dylan Moore made a pick of a hot grounder behind the bag at first to retire Antonio Rodriguez in the fourth.

 

The bases:

Moorman arguably had the key play of the game in the second by taking an extra base. After Forbes had doubled, Moorman lined a single to left, which was too shallow to score Forbes. Mintz had held up Forbes at third, but Lassiter airmailed a throw to home from left. Moorman saw the play develop and easily moved up to second. That sent the Kannapolis into a situation in which it brought the infield in to try to keep the runner at third on a grounder. Day capitalized on the defensive strategy and shot what would’ve likely been a double-play ball into centerfield, past Danny Mendick at second.

Ibanez was picked at first and later caught at home on a double-steal attempt in the fifth. On the steal attempt of home, Ibanez got a late jump, as Dylan Moore was caught in a rundown between first and second. As the throw came home, Ibanez pulled up near the plate and was thrown out. Ibanez has been thrown out stealing five times with three pickoffs.

“We had a couple of baserunning blunders there, but we’re going to do it and forcing them to go. I’m telling them to go and we’re going to see stuff like that. We’ll take it tomorrow and we’ll correct it and learn from and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

The pro life: An interview with Dillon Tate

Hickory Crawdads pitcher Dillon Tate has all the makings of being a star pitcher in the major leagues soon. He begins the next step on the ladder as Tate will start the home opener tonight. First pitch between the Kannapolis Intimidators and Hickory is at 6 p.m.

Here is a write up (click here) I did on Tate, which appeared in the Hickory Daily Record today:

In excerpts from the interview below, Tate talks about the transition of becoming a pro and being shutdown during the first few months of his pro career.

Dillon Tate 2

Crawdads RHP Dillon Tate from a 2015 outing (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Let me first ask how your spring was and where things are for you at this point at the start of the season.

Tate: I felt like I had a good spring, I felt like I threw the ball fine. I made some adjustments when I needed to make them, but, obviously, I haven’t made all the adjustments that I needed to, because getting better is an ongoing process. But I thought the spring went well and I’m happy to be here. And as far as right now goes, I’m looking forward to starting the season.

 

From when I talked with you late last year my recollection is that you were sort of in the beginning of working on a changeup, making that more of an effective pitch.  If I remember right, you had the fastball, slider, but now adding the changeup.  How is that progressing along for you at this point?

Tate: Well I’ve always had a changeup, I just didn’t throw it that much. It’s just in the process with me refining it and being able to throw it more, and showing that as another weapon instead of being a fastball-slider guy with an occasional changeup. So, right now I’m continuing to get more reps with that pitch and I think it’s definitely better than it was last year and that’s a good sign so I’m moving in the right direction with that.

 

Are you getting to the point where you’re comfortable throwing it any count or that still a work in progress for you?

Tate: In the spring I was throwing it on full counts, so I think that’s a huge step up from where I was in college. Like I said before that’s definitely a good sign that I’m slowly starting to get better at that so it’s exciting to see my progress and having another weapon up there.

 

Where do you see yourself at this point this year versus last year at this time in early April you’re starting the conference season in the Big West? If I remember right, you’re sort of a first-season starter at Santa Barbara.

Tate: I would say for starters I’m using my fastball more than I was in college. And that’s allowed me to get better at the pitch and command it better than I have a year ago, which is a good sign. I also think I get more reps in between starts now –  now that it’s six days instead of seven.

I know you would think that you would get more reps on seven days versus six, but with the amount of throwing that you do in spring training and the off-season, I feel like my reps have accumulated to the point where I’m just getting the necessary time that I need on my fastball to make it a more consistent weapon. I would say just getting more reps has helped my fastball actually throwing it more has been huge.  It’s a huge step up from where I was last year.

 

Were you surprised to come back here (to Hickory)?

Tate: No, not really, I think that the organization is doing the best possible thing for me. So if they say that this is the best possible place, then they’re 100 percent correct. I trust them. They haven’t missed with me by far with anything so they haven’t given me a reason not to trust them.

 

Do you still think you are a work in progress as a pro or do you feel your getting adjusted to the pro life versus at college where you’re going to class doing all the stuff related to college life?

Tate: I feel like I am adjusted.  The only thing that is a bit more of an adjustment is just the amount of rest I get in between. That’s the biggest adjustment. It’s not a big deal for me to play every day – I’ve been striving to do that since I set foot on campus in college. I just need to get accustomed to going out every sixth day and then I need to make another adjustment when I move up, whenever that is, I’m going every fifth day.  So all of that will come with time.

 

What has been the biggest adjustment for you becoming a pro, even something that you didn’t know coming in?

Tate: Well, I haven’t faced one of the biggest adjustments yet – I would say the biggest adjustment that is in front of me that I haven’t faced yet is facing a team more than one time and I will see what that’s like in a couple months.

 

How cool was it to come in here (to Hickory) and be in the middle of a championship run and you get to be a part of that?

Tate: I had a blast playing with those guys and the atmosphere that those guys created was – it was really special and I had a lot of fun playing with those guys and I wish them the best at the next level up.

 

How cool was it for you to be – You and Ortiz, I know the Rangers were monitoring innings for both of you but you still got to be in the playoffs? You two got some key innings out of relief during an inning here and there?

Tate: Yeah, yeah, we did and that was pretty cool that the manager let us get that opportunity and have us be submersed in that atmosphere. Like I said before, it was really fun and I’m really excited for this season and looking forward to getting in there again with new group of guys.

 

Was it, remind me – Santa Barbara went to the regionals for the first time in a while did they not?

Tate: Correct.

 

So which was the bigger kick – going to regional or being in a championship run your first season as a pro?

Tate: Probably I would say the biggest one would be being in a championship as a pro.

 

Does that experience make you hungry for bigger and better things? Does that sort of give you a hunger for more down the road?

Tate: I would say so, yeah. I haven’t really thought about that, but I mean when you get one you definitely want to get another. It’s an addiction that just probably keeps going. It’s not a bad addiction, either, to be a winner. You want to win and help the team; there’s nothing wrong with an addiction like that.

 

Would have they told you anything as far as the Rangers what they’re looking for as far as the next step in your development here that might result in a promotion sooner than later or what have they told you at this point?

Tate: They haven’t told me anything regarding that. That’s, you know, front office business and I’ll let the front office deal with that and do what they need to do and I’ll do what I need to do and they’ll make decisions accordingly.

 

What’s a good year look like for you? When you go home in September and pack the bags up and look back say this is a good year – I set to accomplish this and was able to get a, b, c…

Tate: Covering my innings, staying healthy and competing – that’s a good year. I do all those things and everything will take care of itself.

 

Team wise, you’ve got yourself, Brett Martin, Jonathan Hernandez, Pedro Payano, that’s a pretty decent rotation. What’s the expectation for the 5, 6, 7 of you?

Tate: The expectation is to push one another, that’s the expectation. You got a solid guy taking the ball every single day that we play in so I’m going to learn as much as I can from them and I’m sure we’re all going to feed off each other and we’re just going to push each other to excel.

 

When you were here last year before Spokane, was there any frustration as far as  not being able to throw the innings that maybe you wanted to as a pro and kind of having the reins pulled back a little bit? Was there any frustration with that?

Tate: To be honest, I don’t think that was the best thing for me was to keep throwing. I agreed 100 percent with what the Rangers were doing, and it doesn’t really matter if I agree with it or not. But I feel like I agreed with it because my body was banged up and I was so tired.  So when they said that you’re not going to throw so much, I was all in for it and my body didn’t have very much to give at that point, just with what I had already gone through the long season at college and the amount that I had been on.  So I was fine with it.

 

How many innings did you throw last year college & pro?

Tate: 115

 

Have the Rangers given you a figure for where they want you to go this year are they looking to up that?

Tate: More than last year.

 

Do you feel like the reins are going to be taken off a little bit as far as a pro being able to maybe go 5, 6, 7 innings at this point?

Tate: I don’t think so I think I will start out slow and continue to build myself up like I did in spring training. I’m just going to continue to take that next step forward from where I last was with my last outing in spring training and keep going forward from there there’s no need to take larger leaps right now.

 

 

What’s the biggest thing you have, as far as confidence and your abilities for yourself?

Tate: The biggest thing, I’ll probably say, is that I’m just a competitor. I will go out there and just compete as hard as I can for as long as I can and it doesn’t matter if I have my best stuff or not. That’s what I noticed in spring training, and something I learned about myself, is that my stuff isn’t where I’m used to it being at and I’m still able to get outs and attack guys and keep the innings moving.  So that was a positive that I learned about myself is that I don’t need that 96, 98 mile an hour fastball all the time. I can do it with a 90-93 and get the same results and I think that’s just the whole thing about being a competitor.

 

From who have you learned the most from as a pro so far and what have you learned?

Tate: I’m a big visual learner and I really enjoy watching David Price.  Marcus Stroman is another one of those guys that I enjoy watching. He’s a big time competitor and I’ve been following him since I was in high school and watching him at Duke. So guys like that are definitely the people you want to be watching, because those guys do it right and they go out there and they have a fire about them and they’re really caught up in the moment. It’s almost like – when you go out there and watch Stroman, it’s almost like he’s got a split personality, like who he is on the field is one person and who his off the field is another person. So I’ve learned a lot .

 

Do you want that swagger on the mound that Stroman has?

I feel like I carry my own swagger when I’m up on the bump and everything is unique to a certain individual, so the way I carry myself is going to be different than the way he carries himself. But it’s all confidence nonetheless though.

 

Dillon Tate mug

 

Series Preview: Kannapolis at Hickory April 14-17

Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) 

The Hickory Crawdads open the home portion of the 2016 South Atlantic Season with a four-game series against their neighbor to the southeast, the Kannapolis Intimidators at L.P. Frans Stadium.

 

If you plan to go:

Games Thursday and Saturday are at 6 p.m., Friday is at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

All ticket prices are $9 with VIP tickets going for $14. Parking is $3. On Sundays, the Crawdads offer $6 tickets when presenting a church bulletin.

The Crawdads are giving away 2016 magnet schedules on Thursday, a commemorative 2015 SAL championship banner on Saturday, and a poster schedules on Sunday. All giveaways are to the first 1,000 fans to the gates. There will be post-game fireworks on Friday.

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

 

Where is it?:

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

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

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

 

Probables (Kannapolis/ Hickory):

Thursday: RHP Zach Thompson vs. RHP Dillon Tate

Friday: LHP Tanner Banks vs. RHP Pedro Payano

Saturday: RHP Johnathan Frebis vs. RHP Jonathan Hernandez

Sunday: RHP Luis Martinez vs. RHP Erik Swanson/ LHP Wes Benjamin (piggy back)

 

Recent Series History:

Hickory won three out of four games last week at Intimidators Stadium to open the season. Last year, the Crawdads took a 9-6 season-series win, which included a 5-2 record at L.P. Frans Stadium. Against Kannapolis, the Crawdads are 75-50 since 2009 – the start of the affiliation with the Texas Rangers – 35-23 at LPFS. Kannapolis has one series win at Hickory since 2011, which came when the Intimidators took 2-of-3 in the first week of the 2014 season.

 

Entering the series – Hickory:

The Crawdads return home after a three-game sweep at Greensboro, which wrapped up a 6-1 season-opening road trip, and are a game ahead of West Virginia in the SAL’s Northern Division… At the plate, the Crawdads are tops in the 14-team league with a .429 slugging pct. They also lead the league in homers, total bases and are tied with Lakewood for the most hits. Hickory is second in runs scored, RBI, and team OPS (.734)… Expected to be aggressive on the base paths, the Crawdads have attempted a league high of 24 steals and lead the SAL with 9 caught stealing attempts. They are second in steals with 15…On the mound, the Crawdads pitching staff has allowed two or fewer runs in five of their seven games. Overall, their 2.14 ERA is third in the SAL and they have allowed just one home run… After committing 8 errors during last weekend’s Kannapolis series, the Crawdads had just one during the three-game series at Greensboro.

 

Entering the series – Kannapolis:

Kannapolis swiped two out of three at home against Delmarva (Md.) and went 3-4 on its homestand… At the plate, the Intimidators have scored two or fewer runs in five of their seven games. They are third in hits, fourth with a .254 batting average. Kannapolis leads the league with the most strikeouts… On the mound, the Intimidators are second in the league in strikeouts… In the field, they are tied with Lexington with 10 errors committed and are next to last in fielding pct.

 

Players to watch- Hickory:

RHP Dillon Tate: The Rangers No. 4 prospect by MLB.com, No. 5 by Baseball America. He is also MLB.com’s No. 35 overall prospect and the 8th best RHP. In his opening start of the season, Tate allowed an unearned run on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts over 4.2 innings at Kannapolis. It is apparent that Tate will have a higher pitch count than has been the case for a younger pitcher at the start of the season. He threw 85 pitches (52 strikes) in last Friday’s start. Possesses a fastball/ slider combo with a developing changeup.

RHP Pedro Payano: The MLB.com No. 29 Rangers prospect had a steady start last Saturday, but it was tainted by control issues. Payano held the Intimidators to one run on two hits and struck out seven over five innings. However, he also tied his career high for a game with four walks. Like Tate, it appears that Payano also will be pushed early on with pitch counts, as he threw 91 pitches (45 strikes) in the start at Kannapolis. Armed with fastball/ curve/ change, he will throw any pitch at any count.

RHP Jonathan Hernandez: The righthander is the Rangers No. 20 prospect, as determined by Baseball America, No. 28 by MLB.com. Hernandez was the lone starting pitcher to struggle his first time through the rotation. Needing 73 pitches to record 10 outs, Hernandez gave up 8 runs (6 earned) on seven hits and walked two over 3.1 innings at Kannapolis in his last start on Sunday. His defense committed four errors behind him during the game, but Hernandez had control issues with his fastball, as well. He has allowed the lone Crawdads homer surrendered thus far in 2016

RHP Erik Swanson: The Rangers 8th round pick in 2014 out of Iowa Western CC had a stellar first pro start at Greensboro on Monday, during which he gave up two hits and a walk over five innings and struck out four. Swanson had the sinker working as he recorded 11 groundball outs.

LHP Wes Benjamin: Will piggyback with Swanson for now. The 22-year-old was the Rangers fifth round pick in 2014 out of Kansas. Had Tommy John surgery while with the Jayhawks in 2014. In his first outing last Monday, Benjamin earned a four-inning save at Greensboro during which he allowed three baserunners (one hit) and struck out two.

2B Andy Ibanez: Continues to be among the conversation when considering the hottest hitter in the minors at the start of the 2016 season. Ibanez leads the SAL in hits (14), doubles (5), total bases (24), batting avg. (.560), OBP (.607), slugging (.960) and OPS (1.567). Last week at Kannapolis, Ibanez went 9-for-17 with two doubles, a triple, a homer, 6 RBI and three runs scored. The 23-year-old Cuban native is the No. 8 prospect according to MLB.com and Baseball America has him No. 16. He is splitting time at second with Frandy De La Rosa and DHing.

CF Eric Jenkins: At 19 on opening day, he is Baseball America’s No. 6 Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 7. Had a tough weekend at Kannapolis with seven strikeouts in 14 plate appearances, including a “Golden Sombrero” in Saturday night’s game. Jenkins struck out six more times at Greensboro, but started to make better contact in the series with three hits, including his first pro homer, over the final two games.

IF Dylan Moore: He began to get well at Greensboro this week. During the three-game series, the Orange Co. California native went 4-for-10 with a homer, a double and four RBI.

RF Jose Almonte: Had a nice weekend series at Kannapolis, going 5-for-11 (all singles) and walked twice. Overall, the Dominican Republic native has a .318/.400/.455 slash with four RBI and five runs scored. He hit his first homer of the season at Greensboro and only his third overall as a pro.

 

Players to watch-Kannapolis:

LF Landon Lassiter: The 22-year-old attended North Davidson High in Lexington and UNC  Chapel Hill. Was drafted two different times prior to finally signing with the White Sox after being picked in the 21st round in 2015.  His 4-for-4 game vs. Delmarva on Wednesday placed him behind only Ibanez in the SAL with a .526 batting avg. Lassiter is third in the league in OBP (.571) and OPS (1.256). He also had three hits in the game that Hernandez started on Sunday.

CF Tyler Sullivan: Tied for third in the SAL in walks (5), he has a slash of .333/.455/.444. Went 6-for-16 against Hickory last weekend. Sullivan was the White Sox 14th round pick in 2015 out of Pacific.

1B Corey Zangari: The White Sox sixth-round pick out of Carl Albert High in Midwest City, OK. He is currently the White Sox’s No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com and No. 13 prospect according to Baseball America. Went only 3-for-16 against Hickory, but had three hits including a homer over the last two games vs. Delmarva to push slash to .231/.310/.346.

SS/3B Johan Cruz: Currently the White Sox’s No. 16 prospect from MLB.com and No. 27 by Baseball America. Struggled versus Hickory last weekend at the plate (4-for-17, 6 Ks) and on the field (3 errors). Had two hits and three RBI in a game that Hernandez started for Hickory last Sunday.

C Seby Zavala: No. 26 prospect by Baseball America. Was the 12th round pick of the White Sox in 2015 out of San Diego St. Started the season 0-for-16 before putting up a 2-for-4 game vs. Delmarva on Wednesday. Had Tommy John surgery in 2013.

1B/ OF Zach Fish: Has the Intimidators only homer through seven games this season – a three-run blast vs. Hernandez on Sunday. Named the Big XII Conference Player of the Year at Oklahoma St. He was the Rangers 4th round pick in 2011 out of Gulf Lake High (Mich.).

RHP Zach Thompson: A native of Burleson, Tex., Thompson was the White Sox fifth round pick in 2014 out of Texas-Arlington. Allowed one run on five hits and struck out eight over five innings in his lone start of the season, which came against Hickory last Saturday.

LHP Tanner Banks: The White Sox 18th round choice in 2014 out of Salt Lake CC helped pick up the Intimidators first win of the season on Sunday, as he held Hickory to three earned runs on six hits and struck out five over five innings.

RHP Luis Martinez: No. 29 prospect by MLB.com. Made 24 starts for the Intimidators last season as a 20-year-old and allowed 155 baserunners in 108.2 innings. So far in two 2016 starts, Martinez has given up just 13 baserunners in 10 innings. He has 10 Ks and one walk, a promising improvement after a 69/ 53 ratio in 2015. Had Tommy John surgery in 2011.

RHP Taylore Cherry: Was the 32nd round pick of the White Sox in 2015 out of UNC Chapel Hill. Is listed at 6-9, 290 lbs.

 

Notes of Interest: Like last season, it appears the Rangers will play a bit of merry-go-round with the Crawdads roster to accommodate a six-man rotation that will actually contain seven pitchers, as Erik Swanson and Wes Benjamin throw in a piggyback situation. For now, it is Swanson and fellow starter Peter Fairbanks switching places on the active list… Crawdads reliever Jacob Shortslef is on the DL with a cut on his pitching hand…Kannapolis RHP Drew Hasler is the son of former Crawdads pitching coach (1993-1994) Curt Hasler, now the White Sox minor league pitching coordinator… Crawdads catcher Tyler Sanchez and Kannapolis pitcher Alex Katz were teammates at St. John’s. Katz surrendered his first pro home run last Sunday – to Sanchez.