Results tagged ‘ Jake Latz ’

Who’s In? Who’s Out? Rangers Tweak the Crawdads Roster

The Texas Rangers have moved a few players around over the past couple of days. Here is a quick overview of who has moved on and who has arrived.

Moving on:

The big name to leave Hickory was the Rangers top hitting prospect, Julio Pablo Martinez. Given that he is 23 and already has significant baseball experience under his belt from his days in Cuba, I did not think there was any serious thought Martinez would be here for an extended period. The two previous Cubans – Andy Ibanez and Yanio Perez – to play here under the Rangers affiliation were both promoted prior to the all-star break and I figured Martinez would go even sooner.

So, when the announcement was made that Martinez was bumped up just 13 games into the season, it was curious. Down East (high-A) was already stocked in the outfield, so either a promotion was happening there, or something else. Unfortunately, that “something else” was a broken hamate bone injury suffered by Bubba Thompson, who will miss at least four weeks.

In ten games with Hickory, Martinez posted a .250/.295/.420 line with a double, triple, homer and four steals. Sadly, we got to see him for just four home games. He hit the ball hard a couple of times but also struggled with breaking pitches, which contributed to his five strikeouts.

The other player to go up to Down East was left-handed starter Jake Latz. Slotted in the second spot behind Hans Crouse, Latz (5th round 2018/ Kent State) showed he was a advanced for this level at age 23.

In two starts, Latz gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits, walked three and struck out 14. In the one start we saw, he had the ability to use the changeup well to compliment his 91-92 mph fastball and an occasional curve. For Hickory, he would’ve been valuable as an innings-eater starter, when his pitch limit increased. He’ll be interesting to follow as time goes on.

 

Moving in:

With the Rangers being less aggressive with pitching assignments over the last couple of years, I was a little surprised to see the promotion of Ronny Henriquez to the Crawdads. Still just 18, the Rangers skipped him two levels in order for him to make his stateside debut with Hickory.

In 11 starts last year in the Dominican Summer League, Henriquez struck out 79 and walked just 8 over 58 innings. Given his age and build (5-10, 155), I suspect he’ll be brought along slowly. He pitched on Thursday at Columbia (S.C.) and made just 44 pitches before getting pulled. Henriquez is billed to possess a fastball in the mid-90s and a biting curve. On the 20-to-80 scouting scale MLB.com has his fastball at 60 and the curve at 55.

Outfielder Chad Smith returns to Hickory after a brief stint at the start of 2018. The fifth-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of South Gwinnett (GA) High has been plagued with shoulders injuries the past two seasons. Began the year with the Crawdads a year ago and went 4-for-42 before leaving the team on May 1 with a shoulder strain.

 

Crawdads Strikeout History

(The following story is based on records I have at my disposal since 2005, as well as sporadic records kept by the Crawdads prior to that season. If others have further information, I welcome their inclusion here and will update.)

At Thursday’s home-opener win over Kannapolis, the Hickory Crawdads tied a club record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The trio of Jake Latz (8), Tai Tiedemann (5) and Nick Snyder (4) struck out 17 hitters during a 4-1 win.

With that game in mind, I thought Crawdads fans might want a look back at some of the other big strikeout games in the team’s history.

Hickory first registered 17 Ks in a nine-inning game back on May 25, 2009 in a game at Hagerstown, Md, when a pair of future major leaguers turned the trick. Right-hander Jake Brigham twirled the first five innings of shutout baseball, striking out eight and allowing three hits. Martin Perez then came in and upstaged him. The 18-year-old left-hander, then one of the pitching prospects in the minors, struck out nine over four innings and finished off a seven-hit shutout in a 6-0 win.

The individual pitcher with the most strikeouts in a single game was right-hander Jason Lakman, who on July 31, 1997 struck out 16. During that contest, he became one of the few pitchers in baseball history to struck out five in one inning when he turned the trick in the fifth.

The all-time single-game record for the team in a came back in August 2000 as part of a game that set the South Atlantic League record for most combined strikeouts in a game. Asheville and Hickory played 20 innings that day and rang up 53 strikeouts. In what was a loss, the Crawdads pitchers set 23 down on strikes. Unfortunately, the Hickory hitters set the league’s record for most whiffs in a game when they fanned 30 times.

The Crawdads got close to catching that mark a couple of times. During a 17-inning affair on May 9, 2015, Brett Martin (4), Trey Lambert (2), Adam Parks (7), David Perez (6) and Kelvin Vasquez (3) combined to strikeout 22 against Savannah. Their chance to catch and break the club mark ended on Crawdads walk-off homer by Jose Cardona.

The Crawdads has two other extra-inning games during which they struck out 20 or more batters. In a home game on May 4, 2010 against Asheville. Two future major league pitchers were among a quartet of Crawdads hurlers that fanned 20 during a 13-inning game. Starter Joe Wieland (8) and closer Josh Lueke (5), both of whom would go onto the big leagues, collected 13 with Braden Tullis (5) and Hector Nelo (2) filling in for seven others.

The other 20+ strikeout contest came during a loss in 19 innings to Rome (Ga.) on May 15, 2016. Peter Fairbanks had a pedestrian four over six innings with Blake Bass added two more in the seventh and eighth. Reliever and future big leaguer Jeffrey Springs had five over three innings before Omarlin Lopez dominated the Braves with eight in five innings. Sitting at 19 after 16 innings, the club record was in reach. Matt Ball tallied just one more in the 17th and 18th innings. With the Crawdads out of fresh arms, position player Dylan Moore threw in the 19th and was not able to register a K.

Series Preview: Asheville Tourists at Hickory Crawdads

Asheville Tourists (Colorado Rockies) (5-6, tied for second, Southern Division)

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (8-2, 2nd Northern Division)

The Hickory Crawdads continue their season-opening homestand with a three-game series against Asheville.

 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:

WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

GAME TIMES/ PROMOTIONS:

Monday: Asheville at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. (Make-A Difference Monday (Bring canned goods $5 or more in value and receive a free ticket), Remember the Titanic)

Tuesday: Asheville at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. (Dollar Dog Tuesday ($1 hot dogs, dogs admitted for $1))

Wednesday: Asheville at Hickory, 10:30 p.m.

 

TICKETS: $9 tickets in advance, $10 at the gate. Children (12 and under) and seniors $8, $15 for VIP section.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 

RECENT SERIES HISTORY:

Despite being only an hour apart, the Crawdads and Tourists played just one series in 2018. The Crawdads took 2 of 3 in that series played at McCormick Park in Asheville.

The last series between the two clubs at L.P. Frans came in July 2017 when Asheville swept all three games. That year, the Tourists won 8 of 10 from the Crawdads, which included a 6-1 record at Hickory. It was the first season-series win by Asheville since 2010. Since 2009 and the start of the Crawdads-Rangers affiliation, Hickory is 49-47 vs. Asheville, but the Tourists hold a 26-22 margin at L.P. Frans.

 

PROBABLES (Asheville/ Hickory)

Monday: RHP Ryan Feltner vs. RHP Tim Brennan

Tuesday: LHP Ryan Rolison vs. RHP Yerry Rodriguez

Wednesday: RHP Shelby Lackey vs. RHP Hans Crouse

 

ABOUT HICKORY

Coming off a 6-1 road trip to open the season, the Crawdads continued the early-season success at home with a 2-1 series win over Kannapolis.

Manager: Matt Hagen (2nd season)

Prospects – (team rankings are by MLB.com):

RHP Hans Crouse No.1 (No. 83 in top-100)

OF JP Martinez No. 2 (No. 86 in top-100)

SS Chris Seise No. 12

IF Jonathan Ornelas No. 18

C Sam Huff No. 21

3B Sherten Apostel No. 22

Possible lineups: C: Matt Whatley or Sam Huff; 1B Curtis Terry; 2B Frainyer Chavez or Jonathan Ornelas; 3B Sherten Apostel; SS Chris Seise; OF LF: Pedro Gonzalez or Miguel Aparicio; CF: JP Martinez, RF: Jose Almonte.

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting:

Jose Almonte – Tied for 8th doubles (4)

Pedro Gonzalez – Tied for 2nd homers (3)

Sam Huff – Tied for 2nd homers (3), 4th total bases, tied for 4th strikeouts, tied for 8th runs scored, 10th slugging pct. (.605)

JP Martinez – Tied for 5th steals (4)

Jonathan Ornelas – Tied for 4th runs scored

Chris Seise – Tied for 3rd hits, tied for 4th runs scored, tied for 5th steals (4), tied for 8th doubles (4)

Curtis Terry – 1st RBI (14), 2nd slugging pct. (.703), 2nd total bases, tied for 2nd homers (3), 4th OPS (1.078), tied for 4th doubles (5), tied for 7th hits

Individual pitching:

John King – Tied for 4th hits allowed

Jake Latz – Tied for 8th strikeouts, tied for 10th ERA (0.90)

Abdiel Mendoza – Tied for 1st saves (2)

Team Batting:

Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS):.249 (3rd)/ .318 (6th)/ .441 (2nd)/ .760 (2nd).

Other key rankings: 1st home runs, 2nd runs, 2nd home runs, 3rd hits, 3rd stolen bases, tied for 3rd doubles, 10th walks

Team Pitching: 1st ERA (1.90), 1st WHIP (0.91), fewest hits allowed, fewest runs allowed, fewest earned runs allowed, tied for fewest home runs allowed (1), fewest walks allowed, 4th strikeouts.

 

ABOUT ASHEVILLE:

The Tourists come to Hickory with losses in four of the last five games. This is the second half of their road trip after losing 3 of 4 at Hagerstown, Md. Five of the Rockies top six draft picks from last June’s draft are currently with the Tourists. They include Ryan Rolison (1st), Grant Lavigne (Competitive Balance), Terrin Vavra (3rd), Ryan Feltner (4th)

Manager: Robinson Cancel (1st year)

Prospects – Asheville (rankings by MLB.com):

1B Grant Lavigne No. 5

LHP Ryan Rolison No. 6

RHP Riley Pint No. 8

SS Terrin Vavra No. 14

OF Daniel Montano No. 19

RHP Ryan Feltner No. 24

C Willie MacIver No. 28

RHP Mike Nikorak No. 29

Possible Lineups: C: Javier Guevara or Willie MacIver; 1B Grant Lavigne; 2B Coco Montes or Terrin Vavra; 3B: John Cresto or Hunter Stovall; SS: Coco Montes or Terrin Vavra; LF: Will Golsan; CF: Daniel Montano; RF: Cade Harris.

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting:

John Cresto – Tied for 4th doubles (5), 7th slugging pct. (.621), 10th OPS (.987)

Will Golsan – Tied for 2nd runs scored, 4th RBI (10), tied for 7th total bases

Cade Harris – Tied for 8th walks

Daniel Lavigne – Tied for 4th strikeouts

Willie MacIver – 1st slugging pct. (.824), 1st OPS (1.229), 1st total bases, tied for 2nd homers (3), 3rd batting avg. (.382), 3rd RBI (11), tied for 3rd hits, tied for 8th doubles (4)

Daniel Montano – Tied for 8th home runs (2), tied for 10th total bases

Hunter Stovall – Tied for 2nd doubles (6), 3rd on-base pct. (.471), 8th batting avg. (.357), 8th OPS (1.042)

Terrin Vavra – Tied for 3rd hits, tied for 4th runs scored, 5th on-base pct. (.455), tied for 5th RBI, (9), 6th total bases, 7th batting avg. (.361), 7th OPS (1.066), tied for 8th doubles (4), tied for 8th walks, 9th slugging pct. (.611), tied for 9th steals (3)

Individual pitching:

Jake Bird – Tied for 5th games pitched (4), 8th ERA (0.82), tied for 9th innings pitched (11)

Nick Bush – Tied for 2nd home runs allowed, tied for 4th runs allowed, 5th earned runs, tied for 6th hits allowed

Alfredo Garcia – Tied for 10th earned runs allowed

Eric Hepple – Tied for 1st games pitched (6)

Boby Johnson – Tied for 2nd home runs allowed, tied for 5th games pitched (4)

Shelby Lackey – 6th earned runs allowed, tied for 9th runs allowed

Nick Kennedy – 4th ERA (0.00), Tied for 5th games pitched (4), 10th WHIP (0.78)

Alex Martinez – Tied for 5th games pitched (4)

Mike Nikorak – Tied for 3rd games pitched (5), tied for 5th walks allowed, tied for 9th runs allowed

Ryan Feltner – Tied for 5th walks allowed

Riley Pint – Tied for 5th walks allowed

PJ Poulin – Tied for 3rd games pitched (5)

 

Team batting:

Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS):.282 (1st)/ .363 (1st)/ .493 (1st)/ .856 (1st).

Other key rankings: 1st runs, 1st hits, 1st doubles, 1st total bases, 1st walks, 2nd home runs, tied for 2nd strikeouts

Team pitching:

2nd runs allowed, 2nd home runs allowed, 2nd most walks allowed, 3rd runs allowed, 12th WHIP (1.45), Last ERA (5.32), tied for last strikeouts

NOTES OF INTEREST: Pedro Gonzalez was a member of the Rockies organization prior to a trade to the Rangers in 2017… Rockies IF Kyle Datres played college ball at North Carolina.

Confident, Cohesive Group Has Crawdads off and Running

When the Hickory Crawdads returned home from a weeklong road trip 6-1 to open the season, they were at the top or near the top of the South Atlantic League team-statistical rankings in nearly every offensive and pitching category.

This is a 180-degree turn from last year’s squad. The 2018 team also began with a weeklong road trip at Greensboro and Delmarva (Md.) and lost all six games that were played often in abnormally cold conditions for early April. The pitching had trouble with control and the lineup limped home at .182/.239/.251 and were last in runs scored.

In talking to manager Matt Hagen Thursday, he said this year’s team seems to have a better handle on how to handle the troubles that minor league teams must face. The Crawdads started the season with an 11-hour bus ride to New Jersey, then played the first two games in cool, damp weather with temperatures that stayed in the low-40s.

“I think I’m probably most pleased with the way they went about their business despite the adversity with the cold weather,” said Hagen. “We had a rainout, then a doubleheader and then a 10:45 a.m. game. We got punched right away with some odd circumstances, but they responded really well.”

Catcher Sam Huff is one of four current Crawdads that were on the team at the start of last year. In comparing the vibe of the clubhouse from last year to now, he feels this group has more a bond at this point.

“I think, as a team,” said Huff.  “We’re more of a family, where each one of us are fighting for everybody. We’re not just one guy fighting for some guys; we’re all family. As a team, we play as a team. It’s not an individual person.”

Huff senses that part of the camaraderie comes from a group that spent much of the year at short-season Spokane in 2018. Thirteen of the players on the current Crawdads roster were a part of the Indians team that went to the Northwest League championship series last season. And it is a core from that group which has helped to create a cohesive group that carries throughout a long season.

“They all pretty much knew each other,” Huff said. “We all have good chemistry. We don’t disagree with anybody, and if we do, we confront them.”

While it’s nice that everyone gets along, the players still have to produce and to this point they have done so. Before the season, Hagen touted a lineup was deep and so far it has not disappointed. Now at 7-1 after the home-opening win over Kannapolis, the Crawdads are second in the SAL in batting avg. (.273), on-base pct. (.341). slugging pct. (.443), OPS (.784), hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs and steals.

“We had a couple of games where the top half of our lineup carried us,” Hagen said. “Then, we had a couple of games where the bottom half of the lineup really stepped up. I think that speaks to the length that we have. On any given night, the guys batting seventh or eighth for us would be batting third or fourth for some of the other teams.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise over the first eight games has been the pitching. Currently, Hickory is first in ERA (1.41), WHIP (0.86), strikeouts, tied for the fewest walks allowed. Jake Latz, who struck out eight over five innings against Kannapolis on Thursday to pick up his second win in as many starts, said the pitching staff was challenged from the start to be in the attack mode.

“(Pitching coach Jose) Jaimes and Hagen, and really all of the coaches, have done a good job of preaching to us, just be aggressive and trust our stuff,” said Latz. “Go right after the hitters and put them in the defensive mode.”

Because of the hot start by the pitching staff, Hagen said he joked with them that was now going to be the norm.

“I told the guys that they messed up,” Hagen said. “Because now, that’s going to be the expectation.”

Of course, it’s hard to take the small sample size and determine how the team will do and how the season will play out. Last year’s team picked up in the second half and were in the hunt for the second-half title and finished above .500 overall.

This season’s team may have its own turnaround, in the other direction, as there are still 132 games to go. Or, this team just may be this good.

Series Preview: Kannapolis Intimidators at Hickory Crawdads April 11-14

Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (3-3, 3rd Northern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (6-1, 1st Northern Division)

The Hickory Crawdads open a seven-game homestand Thursday, starting with a four-game series with Kannapolis.

 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:

WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

GAME TIMES/ PROMOTIONS:

Thursday: Kannapolis at Hickory, 7 p.m. (Thirsty Thursday, Duke Lineman Appreciation Night (Free tickets available at Duke Power Linemen), Magnet Schedules giveaway, Black out (Wear black and receive a $6 ticket))

Friday: Kannapolis at Hickory, 7 p.m. (Fireworks, Roaring 20s Night)

Saturday: Kannapolis at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. (Texas Rangers Night, Post Schedule giveaway)

Sunday: Kannapolis at Hickory, 3 p.m. (Church Bulletin Sunday (bring a bulletin for a $6 ticket))

TICKETS: $9 tickets in advance, $10 at the gate. Children (12 and under) and seniors $8, $15 for VIP section.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 

RECENT SERIES HISTORY:

The Crawdads won the 2018 season series 14-9 with an 11-3 margin in games played at L.P. Frans Stadium. Hickory has dominated the series with just one season-series loss (2010) against the Intimidators since becoming a Rangers affiliate in 2009. Overall, the Crawdads are 110-72 against the Intimidators, 56-34 at L.P. Frans.

PROBABLES (Kannapolis/ Hickory)

Thursday: LHP Taylor Varnell vs. LHP Jake Latz

Friday: RHP Davis Martin vs. RHP Jean Casanova

Saturday: LHP Konnor Pilkington vs. LHP John King

Sunday: RHP Kade McClure vs. RHP Tim Brennan

 

ABOUT HICKORY

The Crawdads had a 6-1 road trip to open the season, which ended with a three-game sweep at Greensboro. They are trying to match a 7-1 start by the 2016 team.

Manager: Matt Hagen (2nd season)

Prospects – (team rankings are by MLB.com):

RHP Hans Crouse No.1 (No. 83 in top-100)

OF JP Martinez No. 2 (No. 86 in top-100)

SS Chris Seise No. 12

IF Jonathan Ornelas No. 18

C Sam Huff No. 21

3B Sherten Apostel No. 22

Possible lineups: C: Matt Whatley or Sam Huff; 1B Curtis Terry; 2B Frainyer Chavez or Jonathan Ornelas; 3B Sherten Apostel; SS Chris Seise; OF LF: Pedro Gonzalez or Miguel Aparicio; CF: JP Martinez, RF: Jose Almonte.

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting: Batting average: Chris Seise 7th (.400), Sam Huff (10th) .385; On-base pct: Seise 8th (.464); Slugging pct: Huff 2nd (.731), Jose Almonte 6th (.667), Seise 9th (.640); OPS Huff 5th (1.115), Seise 8th (1.104); Runs: Seise T-1st (8), Jonathan Ornelas 3rd (7); JP Martinez T-4th (6); Huff T-8th (5); Hits: Huff T-3rd (10); Seise T-3rd (10); Martinez T-9th (8); Doubles: Almonte T-3rd (4); Seise T-3rd (4); Huff T-6th (3); Curtis T-6th (3); RBI: Terry 1st (9); Almonte T-8th (6); Total Bases: Huff 2nd (19); Seise 5th (16); Almonte T-7th (14); Walks: Sherten Apostel T-7th (5); Steals: T-1st (4); Martinez T-4th (3).

Individual pitching: ERA: Hans Crouse T-1st (0.00); WHIP: Crouse 1st (0.26); Saves: Abdiel Mendoza T-1st (2)

Team Batting: Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS):.272 (2nd)/ .347 (2nd)/ .433 (2nd)/ .780 (2nd). Other key rankings: Runs 2nd, Hits 2nd, Doubles 2nd, Home Runs T-3rd, Total Bases 2nd (100), Stolen bases 1st (12).

Team Pitching: ERA 1st (1.48), 3rd fewest hits allowed, fewest runs allowed, fewest earned runs allowed, fewest home runs allowed (0), fewest walks allowed, strikeouts 2nd, WHIP (0.87).

 

ABOUT KANNAPOLIS:

The Intimadators split a six-game homestand, which ended with two losses to Delmarva (Md.) during a rain-shortened series.

Manager: Ryan Newman (1st season)

Prospects – Kannapolis (rankings by MLB.com):

CF Steele Walker No. 11

LHP Konnor Pilkington No. 20

3B Bryce Bush No. 21

RHP Jonathan Stiever No. 27

Possible lineups: C: Evan Skoug or Gunnar Troutwine; 1B: Amado Nunez; 2B: Luis Curbelo or Lenyn Sosa; SS: Sosa or Curbelo; LF: Ian Dawkins; CF: Steele Walker; RF: Logan Sowers

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting: Batting average: Evan Skoug 1st (.429); On-base pct: Skoug 1st .579; Slugging pct: Skoug 8th (.643); OPS: Skoug 2nd (1.222); Hits: Lenyn Sosa T-6th (9); Doubles: Luis Curbelo T-6th (3). Sosa T-6th (3); Walks: Skoug T-7th (5); Steals: T-1st Ian Dawkins 1st (4).

Individual pitching: WHIP: Tyler Varnell 2nd (0.33); Konnor Pilkington T-10th (0.71)

Team batting: Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS): .244 (5th)/ .310 (7th)/ .337 (6th)/ .647 (7th). Other key rankings: Runs 13th, Doubles 4th, HR T-12th (0), Walks T-12th, Strikeouts 12th.

Team pitching: HRs allowed 2nd (7), hit batters 3rd (5), fewest walks allowed T-3rd, WHIP 5th (1.16).

 

NOTES OF INTEREST: Kannapolis manager Ryan Newman played for Hickory in 2003 and was the team’s hitting coach in 2007… Crawdads catcher Matt Whatley and Kannapolis pitcher Taylor Varnell were teammates at Oral Roberts Univ. Both played under former Crawdads pitching coach Sean Snedeker.

Series Preview: Hickory Crawdads at Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (70-68 in 2018) at Lakewood BlueClaws (Philadelphia Phillies) (87-51 in 2018)

 

The Hickory Crawdads open the 2019 at First Energy Park for a four-game series.

GAME TIMES: Thursday 6:35 p.m., Friday 7:05 p.m., Saturday 4:05 p.m., Sunday 1:05 p.m.

BROADCASTS: Games are streamed live at milb.tv and on the Lakewood BlueClaws website

 

PROBABLES (Hickory/ Lakewood)

Thursday: RHP Hans Crouse vs. RHP Colton Eastman

Friday: LHP Jake Latz vs. RHP Jack Perkins

Saturday: RHP Jean Casanova vs. LHP Jhordany Mezquita

Sunday: LHP John King vs. RHP Victor Santos

 

Recent Series History:

Lakewood won 7 of 10 from the Crawdads in 2018 with a 4-2 mark at First Energy Field. The South Atlantic League schedule tends to send Hickory to Lakewood rather than the reverse. Hickory will play 7 of 11 in New Jersey this season.

Since 2009, the teams have played 97 games. Sixty-eight of those have been played in Lakewood, where the BlueClaws are 37-31 against the Crawdads. Overall, the BlueClaws are 54-47 against Hickory since 2009, the start of the Rangers-Crawdads affiliation.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

RHP Hans Crouse No.1

OF JP Martinez No. 2

SS Chris Seise No. 12

IF Jonathan Ornelas No. 18

C Sam Huff No. 21

3B Sherten Apostel No. 22

 

Prospects to watch-Lakewood (rankings by MLB.com):

3B Alex Bohn No. 1

SS Luis Garcia No. 4

RHP Francisco Morales No. 8

C Rafael Marchan No. 14

RHP Dominic Pipkin No. 23

RHP Kevin Gowdy No. 24

LHP Jhordany Mezquita No. 26

 

NOTES; Hickory opens on the road for the fourth straight season. The last home opener was in 2015, a 5-2 win over Hagerstown (Md.) … The Crawdads opened the previous two seasons at Greensboro, losing 6-1 in 2018 and 14-4 in 2017. The Crawdads last opening day win was in 2016 when they beat Kannapolis 5-1… This is the first time since 2010 Hickory opened a season outside of the state of North Carolina. The Crawdads opened that year at Hagerstown and lost a 1-0 game to the Suns.

 

Starting Fresh: A look at the Crawdads pitching staff with pitching coach Jose Jaimes

When Hans Crouse toes the rubber at First Energy Park in Lakewood, N.J. he will be one of just three pitchers that threw for Hickory in 2018. In contrast, a year ago at this time, Hickory had seven returnees, including two three rotation members from the previous season. The three that will return to Hickory, only Jean Casanova had more than five appearances. One of the five, Abdiel Mendoza, showed up the final weekend of the season and made one relief outing.

So, this is an inexperienced group to full-season baseball. In fact, for a couple of guys, pithing is relatively new to them after their conversion to the mound in college (Nick Snyder was a shortstop, Wes Robertson a catcher). Yet, It is the task of Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes to see what he has and take the same developmental magic he used to turn relative unknowns such as Kyle Cody, Joe Palumbo, Tyler Phillips, Demarcus Evans and CD Pelham, to name a few, into ready-made MLB prospects.

When I sat down with Jaimes, the fourth-year Crawdads coach started with a laugh as he said, “So many new names”. So, Jaimes is still learning who has what and where to begin with the young pros that are here. The feeling from him is this group, overall, will not have light-up-the-radar stuff, but will throw strikes. 

This interview was conducted an afternoon following Hickory’s exhibition win over Lenior-Rhyne. We tried to get through everybody, but without a roster at hand, we didn’t make it.

Here is an overview of several key members of the 2019 pitching staff to start the season.

You’ve got all new guys except for Hans (Crouse) and Jean Casanova. How do you work with that?

Jaimes: I’m excited about having a complete new group. I feel like our rotation is going to be pretty good for the most part. Then, when you look at our bullpen we have a bunch of guys that can run it up to 95, 96. That’s pretty exciting.

 

Hans is obviously the focus of a lot the attention here. He came here and got a little last year. How has grown from last year at this point?

Jaimes: A lot. He had a great spring training and did really good. The expectations for him is really high. He knows he’s coming here to prove something because of what happened last year. So, I think he’s going to handle the league a lot better than last year. We’ll see what happens but I’m pretty excited about him.

Hans Crouse Salinas

Hans Crouse returns to Hickory as the Texas Rangers No. 1 prospect (Ashley Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

You’ve got all new guys except for Hans (Crouse) and Jean Casanova. How do you work with that?

Jaimes: I’m excited about having a complete new group. I feel like our rotation is going to be pretty good for the most part. Then, when you look at our bullpen we have a bunch of guys that can run it up to 95, 96. That’s pretty exciting.

 

Hans is obviously the focus of a lot the attention here. He came here and got a little last year. How has grown from last year at this point?

Jaimes: A lot. He had a great spring training and did really good. The expectations for him is really high. He knows he’s coming here to prove something because of what happened last year. So, I think he’s going to handle the league a lot better than last year. We’ll see what happens but I’m pretty excited about him.

 

He dominated so much at Spokane, then he got hit a little bit. Was that a wakeup call for him? Was it surprising to him?

Jaimes: Maybe surprising to him. I think, maybe, he wasn’t expecting that, especially happening multiple times. He’s taking that as a challenge, and I think he’s ready for it.

 

The other guy coming back is Casanova. Is he going to be in the rotation this year?

Jaimes: He’s going to be in the rotation.

 

He’s a guy that doesn’t run it up on the radar gun real high, but has some moxie and pitch backwards if he needs to.

Jaimes: He has four pitches he can throw for strikes. Last year, with it being his first time with a full-season club, we tried to control innings and that was the main reason why he pitched out of the pen for the most part of the year. We feel now that he’s growing. he’s bigger and stronger. I think he’s going to be able to handle the innings as a starter.

Jean Casanova

Jean Casanova is the only pitcher returning to the Crawdads that made more than five appearance for the team. (Tracy Proffitt)

 

So what is your rotation starting Thursday night and going through the six-man?

Jaimes: We’re going Crouse, (Jake) Latz, Casanova, (John) King, (Tim) Brennan and (Yerry) Rodriguez

Seeing Latz last night, the fastball looked like it had some life. He was able to drop a curveball in there and used a change a couple of times. What can you tell me about him?

 

Jaimes: King is another lefty and is very similar to Latz. Maybe the biggest difference is he throws a two-seam fastball, which is probably his best pitch. He throws a really good changeup. Again, another guy that competes and throws strikes. I think he’s going to help the team a lot.

Brennan has a two-seam fastball. He’s a low, three-quarter kid. He doesn’t have much experience in pro ball, but I think he’s ready. It’s going to be a challenge for him, no doubt, to pitch every five or six days.

Yerry Rodriguez is a kid from the Domincan. A good fastball and he can get it up to 95-96. He can throw strikes. He pitched in Spokane last year a little bit. He’s working on his offspeed pitches.

 

Seeing him pitch last night, it looks like he slings it more to the plate.

Jaimes: He has a really different mechanics and arm action, but he makes it plays for him. That’s what makes him good. The hitter really can’t see the ball that well.

 

Over the last couple of years, you’ve had Kyle Cody, Tyler Phillps, Reid Anderson, and so on. From this group, who do you see in that sort of mold that has the potential to take that step forward?

Jaimes: That’s a tough question, right now. I hope everybody does.

 

But at this time last year, you told me about Reid and his improvement maturity-wise.

Jaimes: Crouse will be one of them, simply because of the name and he pitched here last year. Latz and King both have the potential to be our best starters.

 

Out of the bullpen, who are some arms to keep an eye on at the beginning.

Jaimes: I’ve got a lot of names. (Nick) Snyder, he’s been a surprise for me. You saw him yesterday in the eighth. A good fastball and he throws strikes and a decent slider. Wolfram is one to keep your eyes on. I think he has the potential to be a starter.

(Cole) Uvila could be another guy. We like his fastball and it has a lot of life. If he’s able to throw it over the plate consistently, I think he’s going to be good. A lot of vertical movement with his fastball and I think it will play good.

 

Hever Bueno had the top speed last night

Jaimes: He’s another one that I think could be good. He’s at 95-96 and he’s been up to 98. I think his biggest challenge is going to be consistency. He’s done it for the past two weeks finishing up spring training and he threw the ball well last night. He gave up the one run, but I think it was more lucky for the other guys than him making bad pitches. I thought he throw the ball well.

 

Engler is another one that threw well.

Jaimes: He struck out the side. He’s a strike thrower. When you’re able to throw strikes, you’re going to have the advantage. He a decent fastball and a decent breaking ball.

 

Matt was telling me that the two of you talked about the difference this year where you have guys that don’t light up the radar gun like Demarcus Evans or CD Pelham in the past. They are more strike throwers than guys who light up the radar gun. Is that a fair read?

Jaimes: That is correct. The guys this year are going to be able to handle the strike zone better the guys from the past two years did the first two months, when they struggled. I think these guys are going to be able to throw strikes more consistent than in the past.

 

The last couple of years, I know you guys are always emphasizing the fastball, guys worked on command, they struggled. Do you see more success for that this year because they are able to strikes as opposed to the last couple of years where you guys had tough starts and it took a while to get it together?

Jaimes: It definitely will be a lot easier (laughing). I hope so. We’re still emphasizing a lot on the fastball, but this year we are taking a different approach. We are actually preaching a lot of swing-and-miss stuff, so we are going to be using the breaking ball early on and the changeup. It’s not going to be fastball, like we did in the past the first time through the order.

 

Jaimes: At the end of the year, what do you see as success for these guys?

Like I said, we are talking about swing-and-miss. So at the end of the year, we are at the top of the league in strikeouts. Obviously, a minimal amount of walks.

I know the Rangers are going through a deal with the American guys, they are drafted and then they will sit out for the summer and retooled to the Rangers way of doing things. There are no teenagers this year. As you get these younger guys, do you expect to see more maturity at this level than perhaps before?

Jaimes: Definitely, yes. I think it’s going to make it easier to handle the failure and all that stuff, because you’ve got  more mature group.