The Charleston RiverDogs entered Thursday night’s game with a South Atlantic League high .319 batting avg. in May. The Hickory Crawdads have the league’s worst pitching statistically. That’s proved to be a bad combination over the last two nights and on Thursday, the result was a 14-4 thrashing by Charleston in front of 2,525 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
For the second straight night, Charleston (17-17) scored the first nine runs of the game and cruised to victory. The Crawdads (12-21) have been outscored 25-6 over the first two games of the three-game series.
Charleston put the first five runners aboard and eventually sent ten to the plate in the first inning to open a 6-0 lead. Poor defense and poor pitch execution by starter Michael Matuella went hand-in-hand. (More on the defense later.)
Matuella had little command of the fastball in his lone inning, which started with a four-pitch walk to Estevan Florial. After a dubious bloop single to center by Isaiah Gilliam, Hoy Jun Park tripled in both runners. Blake Rutherford singled in Park. Oswaldo Cabrera’s sac fly got a run and Diego Castillo’s two-run single capped the scoring and ended Matuella’s night.
The RiverDogs treated lefty Sal Mendez no better in the second as they sent eight more to the plate and scored three. Gilliam reached on an error and after Park replaced him on a fielder’s choice, Donny Sands singled him in. Cabrera added two more with a single.
Brian Keller kept the Crawdads without a baserunner until the fourth before Miguel Aparicio’s grounder went through the infield. Hickory finally got on the board one inning later as Isaiah Quiroz singled in two.
Alex Kowalczyk (2-for-4) hit a two-run homer in the sixth to cut the Crawdads deficit to 9-4.
However, RiverDogs tacked on three in the eighth and two in the ninth, all against Jake Lemoine, to account for the final margin.
“They have a good hitting ballclub, no doubt,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “We just have to find a way pitching wise to limit the damage and make better pitches. That’s the bottom line. We’re not doing it. We’re not getting it done. The last two nights, we’ve not given our offense a chance to do anything.”
Crawdads pitching beginning to look historic… and not in a good way.
As a team, the Crawdads 5.72 ERA and 1.59 WHIP are the worst in the Sally League. They also have allowed the most hits, runs, and earned runs. With the quarter of the season two games away, one begins to look at how they stack up to Crawdads club records. They’re chasing a few.
Hickory has had just two seasons with an ERA over five, which came in back-to-back seasons in 2007 (5.13) and 2008 (5.02). The club record for the worst WHIP in a season is 1.54 in 2007. The Crawdads are also on pace to set club records for the most hits, runs and earned runs allowed.
Defense was offensive:
While Matuella didn’t have his best stuff, some of the first inning struggles could be laid at the feet of the defense.
After Florial walked, Gilliam hit a short fly to center that appeared to be an easy can of corn for Leody Taveras. Meanwhile, shortstop Anderson Tejeda and second baseman Yeyson Yrizarri were pulling a double-play decoy on Florial running hard to second. The decoy worked beautifully except… Taveras couldn’t pick up the ball and with no fielders pointing out the ball, eventually it fell harmless to the turf. So what could’ve been a double play with Florial totally fooled at second turned into a 1st & 2nd situation with no outs.
Later in the inning, a routine double play turned into one out when Tejeda’s throw to first went wide of Yanio Perez’s stretch at first.
And still later in the inning, 3B Ti’Quan Forbes took his time on a grounder by Ben Ruta. Forbes circled around to make the play, but as he appeared in no particular hurry to complete the play, Forbes throw to first was beaten by the hustling Ruta.
A frustrated Owen spread the blame around equally between hurlers and defenders.
“It accumulates and everything when you don’t make plays,” said Owen. “But, we talk to (the pitchers) all the time that sometimes you’re going to have to get four outs and sometimes five outs in an inning. You’re even going to do that in the big leagues. Obviously, not nearly as much, because they are big league infielders, but they have to overcome those things. They sooner they learn that and figure it out rather than say, ‘I should’ve been out of the inning’ or whatever. It is what it is out there….”
Owen later added, “We’ve got to clean it up all the way around, especially the pitching and defense. We’ve been working really hard during the last four defensively and cutting b.p. time saying ‘Let’s have a clean game.’ We haven’t been able to do that.”
Better Call Sal:
Once Mendez got settled, he went on to retire the last 14 batters he faced and fanned 6 over 5.1 innings. His work allowed the Crawdads offense to chip away at the lead and take some momentum into the late innings.
The two parts of his outing show just how careful he has to be with his stuff. His changeup is a formidable pitch, at least at this level, and had 7 or 8 missed bats. That with his fastball at 90-91, if he keeps his pitches down, he’s tough.
“I thought Mendez did a really nice job,” Owen said. “His first inning of work he left some balls up and he paid for it. Then he comes out and puts up zeroes from that point on. That’s a good adjustment by him.”
The way that Charleston starter Brian Keller mowed through the first three innings, it looked like history was in the making. He fanned six of the first ten hitters, which included a 10-pitch, three-strikeout third inning. The second time through the order, Keller started missing his location and the Crawdads hitters adjusted to the breaking ball.
Owen: “The guy that started was impressive and did exactly what you’d want to see with a guy that’s got a nine-run lead in popping and pounding the zone. We made some adjustments. It’s good to see that you’re down nine runs and still have competitive at bats from our side.”
Smoral on the Fire:
Lefty Matt Smoral made his Crawdads and Rangers affiliate debut on Thursday. A tall presence at 6-8, a SLOW delivery seemed to make his fastball even faster as it whipped from his left hand to the plate. However, the delivery never seemed in control as he flailed about the mound. There’s a lot of moving parts to the motion.
Smoral walked two and threw quite the wild pitch to the back stop. Control has been the issue for the former Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick as he has walked or hit 122 batters in 107.2 innings as a pro
Who was that Lemoine’s jersey?
There seemed to be a body language on the mound that said, “here ya go, hit it if you can.” And Charleston did: Five runs on six hits – all hit hard – over two innings of relief. Fastball straight as an arrow and it went to the wall harder. Throw in a walk and two wild pitches and you have a RiverDogs lineup fattening their stats.
Meanwhile, It’s the second poor outing in a row for the right-hander, who allowed two in a walkoff loss at Hagerstown (Md.) last Saturday.
Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (9-15, 7th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh) (11-14, 6th SAL Northern Division)
The Hickory Crawdads start a seven-game road trip against two Northern Division foes with a three-game series at West Virginia’s Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, WV.
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Tuesday-Thursday at 7:05 p.m. (Games are streamed through the Power’s website or milb.com
Tuesday – Two-for-One Concession Specials,
Thursday – “Thirsty Thursday”, Power-Comic Con
TICKETS: $8 for box seats, $6 for general admission
Where is it?: I-77North / I-64West to Capital St./Leon Sullivan Way Exit #100
PARKING: Ample parking garages near the stadium.
CONCESSIONS: Appalachian Power Park has generic ballpark food, as well as chicken options. Other stands including Italian food (Chicken parm sandwich), portable grill with brats, philly cheese steaks, ruebens, as well as a BBQ stand.
Probables (Hickory / West Virginia):
Tuesday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. LHP Cam Vieaux
Wednesday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. RHP Matt Anderson
Thursday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP James Marvel
Recent Series History:
West Virginia swept a three-game series at Hickory two weeks ago and was 1-3 at home against the Crawdads in 2016. Since 2009, Hickory holds a 41-36 edge in the series, but are 19-23 at Appalachian Power Park. The Crawdads have not won a series vs. the Power since 2014.
About the Crawdads:
The Crawdads took the Columbia Fireflies to the woodshed over the weekend and scored 30 runs in winning three-of-four to salvage a 3-4 homestand. The Crawdads entered that series with only 22 runs in their first 10 home games… Near the bottom of the SAL in many offensive categories, the recent barrage has evened that out somewhat. Next to last in the SAL at .217 as recent as 10 days ago, they are now 9th in batting average at .235.,. Hickory continues to have the all-or-nothing approach. They are second in the league in homers with 25 and second in strikeouts. However, the whiffs have come at a fewer pace in recent days, as they are no longer on a pace for the SAL record in a season… On the mound, Hickory took a hit over the last few days as the Fireflies put up 33 runs on the team and pushed the ERA to a league-worst 5.40. The Crawdads have also allowed the most hits, runs, earned runs and are last in WHIP (1.60)… Defensively. Hickory has at least one error in its last six games, with two or more in five of them… Hickory is 4-6 away from home.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Has reached base in nine of his last ten games with five hits in his last three. Has an uncanny eye at the plate for an 18-year-old. Saw 112 pitches during the seven games of the homestand, he swung and missed just six of them.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Has 31 Ks in 77 plate appearances (40.2%), but that has curtailed some in recent days and he finally went without a strikeout in a game for the first time this season on Sunday. Has struggled against lefties (1-for-14, 7 Ks).
OF Eric Jenkins (No. 14 MLB.com, No.26 Baseball America). Second-round pick in 2015 out of West Columbus High (Cerro Gordo, N.C.). In many ways, still catching up from missing most of spring training with a hamstring injury. Goal no. 1 for Jenkins is to cut the strikeouts. A speed demon on the bases – he led the SAL with 51 steals last year – he has to make contact to take advantage of that speed. Whiffed 154 times last year, has eight in 25 plate appearances so far this year, capped by a four-strikeout game on Sunday.
OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. In the midst of an eight-game hitting streak (16-for-28), he is the hottest hitter in the SAL and took home the league’s hitter-of-the-week award after popping five homers, a double, scoring eight runs and knocking in 15. The last 22 times he made contact with a pitch, ten went for hits and only two for outs.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) Yrizarri has begun to even his season out a bit with 12 hits in his last 11 games.
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. Was on the path of becoming a first-overall pick in 2015 before back troubles and then Tommy John surgery derailed that promise. In his first start of the season last Thursday, Matuella stayed in the 94-96 mph range with good movement, as he K’d 5 of the 9 hitters he faced. Left some pitches up that were hit hard, two of them for doubles and a hard-hit, RBI single.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Of his five relief outings so far, four of those were scoreless for the 6-4 right hander. His one blowup outing (5 ER over 1.2 IP) which is responsible for much of the 6.14 ERA. In his last three outings covering 4.2 innings, Ferguson has fanned 9 of 15 batters. However, control will be the make-or-break issue. This season, he has walked or hit seven of 35 hitters.
Others to watch – Hickory:
Catching crew: Two of the three catchers on the Crawdads team are possibly out for at least part of the series. Ricky Valencia injured a hamstring on Sunday and Alex Kowalczyk is away for a personal issue. Potentially, that leaves Shaq Matta as the lone catcher. Expect the Rangers to bring back Isaias Quiroz from the extended spring training roster in case Valencia can’t go.
1B Preston Scott: 34th-round pick in 2016 out of Fresno Pacific Univ. Reached base in nine straight games, is 6-for-16 in his last four games, which included a homer and a walk-off double on Saturday. Playing 1B for the first time as a pro and has committed a league-high six errors.
RHP Jake Lemoine: Fourth-round pick in 2015 out of Houston. Good reviews in his pro debut after dealing with shoulder issues the past two seasons, Lemoine is scoreless in six of his seven outings and has a 1.59 ERA.Has struck out 14 of the 39 batters he’s faced and the SAL is batting .154 against him.
RHP Kyle Cody: Sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Kentucky, allowed two unearned runs on five hits over 5.2 innings his last time out. A heavy groundball pitcher (1.81 GO/AO), reliable defense is a must for him.
About the Power:
Managed by Wyatt Toregas in his first season. He managed the Pirates short-season affiliate West Virginia Black Bears the past two seasons (80-72), with whom he won the New York-Penn League championship in 2015… A streaky team, the Power lost their first six of the season, then won 7-of-8, then lost 7-of-11, though they split four games at Rome (Ga.)… West Virginia is only 3-11 at home, despite posting a 3.10 ERA… As a team, they are hitting .226/.310/.321 at home, but .310/.389/.506 on the road. Only six of the team’s 21 homers have come at Appalachian Power Park… It’s a patient team that has good plate discipline, as they are next to last in strikeout, but fourth in walks.
Prospects to watch – West Virginia:
SS Stephen Alemais: (No. 18 MLB.com, 29 Baseball America). Third-round pick 2016 out of Tulane. Has been a glove-first shortstop, the bat has started to come around. Has hits in five of the last six games (7-for-26), but is battling strikeouts 20 in his last 12 games. Hitting .306/.325/.611 on the road, but just .206/.289/.294 at home. Was 3-for-10 against Hickory with two homers.
Others to watch – Kannapolis:
RHP James Marvel: 36th round pick in 2015 out of Duke. Missed much of 2014 and all of 2015 with an elbow injury. Allowed one run on four hits over five innings in his start at Hickory.
IF Logan Ratledge: 13th round pick in 2015 out of NC State. Played high school ball at Ardrey Kell in Charlotte. Went 6-for-15 vs. Hickory with a homer and three RBI. Is ninth in the SAL in runs scored. Currently used in a utility role, making appearances at three infield positions, all three outfield slots and on the mound for an inning.
LF Ty Moore: 12th round pick in 2015 out of UCLA. Went 7-for-14 against Hickory with two doubles and four RBI. Currently leads the SAL with a .377 batting average, is fifth in OBP (.377) and seventh in slugging (.532). Is also tied for second with 9 doubles, tied for fifth in hits.
2B Trae Arbet: 5th round pick in 2013 out of Great Oak High (CA). Went 5-for-14 against Hickory.
1B. Carlos Munoz: Signed as an international free agent in 2010 out of Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico. Went 6-for-13 against Hickory with a homer and 6 RBI. Is tied for 6th in the SAL with 16 RBI.
RHP Matt Anderson: 10th-round pick in 2016 out of Morehead St (KY). Over his last two starts, has allowed one run on six hits and fanned 13 over 11 innings. Control can be an issue as he has walked four in two separate starts.
RHP Geoff Hartlieb: 29th-round pick in 2016 out of Lindenwood U. (MO). Has given up one earned run on seven hits in 11.2 innings covering seven outings this season. A groundball pitcher (3.17 GO/AO), the league is hitting .179 against him.
Note: Hickory OF Jose Almonte is on the DL with a leg injury. He is expected to be back within the week.
The Hickory Crawdads shook off the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies with a tying run in the ninth and a walk-off RBI double by Preston Scott in the tenth to claim a 9-8 win in front of 4,325 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win for the Crawdads (9-14) is the third in a row during the four-game series, which concludes Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Columbia (12-12) has dropped four of its last five games and six of eight.
Columbia’s outfielder Tim Tebow did not play. The crowd behaved and were quite well-mannered. Only one chant of Tebow occurred in the ninth inning.
What really happened?:
For the third straight game, the Crawdads offense got in gear and carried the team to the walk-off win. After scoring just 22 runs over its first 10 home games, Hickory now has 28 over the last three.
Columbia took a 3-0 lead after its first two at-bats. In the first, Andres Gimenez, the New York Mets No. 8 prospect (MLB.com) who was just added to the Fireflies roster, homered in his first stateside at-bat, a towering blast over the 32-foot high billboards in rightfield. Gene Cone added a two-run double in the second.
The Crawdads, who lead the Sally League in homers, added two in the second as Yanio Perez and Preston Scott snacked back-to-back solo blasts to left against starter Harol Gonzalez.
The Fireflies got the two runs back in the fourth. Jay Jabs singled and Desmond Lindsay walked before a passed ball moved both runners up. Ali Sanchez slammed a liner off the back of starting pitcher Argenis Rodriguez. 3B Ti’Quan Forbes scooped the ball up and made the play to first, but Jabs scored on the play. Milton Ramos doubled in Lindsay.
Yanio Perez then continued his assault on Fireflies pitching with a three-run homer to left to tie the game at 5-all. For the season, Perez is now 10-for-20 in six games with a double, four homers, four walks, 8 runs scored and 11 RBIs.
Hickory took the lead in the fifth as Yeyson Yrizarri singled in Eric Jenkins and scored himself on Forbes’ groundout.
The see-saw affair continued in the sixth when Columbia scored three times to take an 8-7 lead. Sanchez singled in two runs before Cone’s grounder brought in Lindsay for the go-ahead run.
The score remained there until the bottom of the ninth when Anderson Tejeda doubled to start the inning. One out later, Yrizarri squeezed in a single through the left side of the infield. Taveras then lofted a blooper just beyond the reach of the shortstop Gimenez, who had retreated to center, to score Tejeda. Matt Blackham then struck out Forbes and Ricky Valencia to end the inning and send the game to the tenth.
A perilous moment occurred in the tenth, when Ramos drove a deep fly to left. Eric Jenkins trotted back to the track, then dropped the ball and allowed Ramos to reach second. However, C.D. Pelham recovered to strike out Cone looking to end the threat.
In the bottom of the tenth against new reliever Joseph Zanghi (0-2), Perez got his third hit of the game with a hard single to left. Scott then lasered a double to the wall in left center to score the winning run.
Pelham (1-0) pitched two-hit ball over three scoreless innings with three strikeouts to keep the Fireflies at bay. Jake Lemoine preceded Pelham’s work with two shutout innings of his own.
Tejeda base savvy:
I have to make note of a couple of brilliant base-running plays by Anderson Tejeda in the game, both occurring on second-to-third plays.
In the third, Yeyson Yrizarri hit a grounder to Ramos at third. Ramos made the diving stop to his left and threw to first on his knees for the out. Watching the play, Tejeda crept off the bag at second and then scrambled to third ahead of the return throw.
After he doubled in the ninth, Yrizarri’s grounder was just out of the reach of Ramos and Gimenez at short. Tejeda, anxious initially, waited until the play developed before making his move to third.
A near disaster in the OF Part 1:
Columbia’s Luis Carpio lined a shot to the gap in right-center field. Perez from right and Taveras from center both tracked the ball with neither calling the other off. The two converged and bumped, but Taveras made the catch and held on. The two had a conversation before returning to their positions. For a brief moment, it looked scary.
A near disaster in the OF Part 2, or Jenkins part 1:
There’s no gentle way to put this. On the play in left in the tenth, Jenkins trotted and pranced to the track and then put the glove up for the nonchalant catch. Except he didn’t make the catch. It didn’t look good.
Jenkins part 2:
In talking with Eric some on Saturday, he talked about some of his adjustments, especially in addressing the strikeouts from 2016. He talked about not following the swing high, but keeping the swing up the middle. An emphasis on working the count is also a part of his approach. For the most part, he’s done well with getting deep into counts and putting the ball in play. Though the average hadn’t shown it, he hadn’t been giving away at bats.
The two steps forward this week is now a step back. First AB was a one-pitch, weak grounder to 1B. The second AB was a one-pitch fly to LF. He reached on an infield hit in the fifth, then was looking on three pitches in the seventh and tried to muscle up a pitch in the ninth and struck out.
Taveras mastery at the plate:
In this homestand, Taveras has seen 102 pitches. He has swung and missed just five. Think about that when considering this is an 18-year-old. Three of those were vs. Braves No. 6 (MLB.com) prospect Ian Anderson.
One of those was tonight in the ninth when he wailed violently at a 1-0 fastball from Matt Blackham with runners on the corner. He settled down, worked the count full, then put the bat to the ball. It wasn’t a full-swing, but he made enough contact to loft the ball into short center for the game-tying RBI single.
In the fifth, he yanked an 0-2 off-speed pitch to RF for a single. Two innings later, it was an 0-2 fastball off the plate that he served to left.
Looking back through my mind’s eye, I remember how good Jurickson Profar was as an 18-year-old here. More walks than Ks, he would spoil two-strike pitches to the point of driving opposing pitchers batty. At 17 and early 18, Nomar Mazara, though he fanned a good bit, would battle and battle with two strikes. For me, at least for now, Taveras is right up there as far as strike-zone judgment.
Perez zeroed in:
After the two homers, he saw only curveballs during a full-count walk in the fifth. In the eighth, he crushed a change which wondered over the plate that Gimenez made a leaping catch of. The single in the tenth, also a fastball, was smoked to left.
Baserunning rally killers:
Both teams made curious decisions on the bases that stunted run-scoring innings. In the fourth, Columbia scored two and took a 5-2 lead with seemingly more on the way. With one out and Cone at the plate, Ramos wondered off the bag at second as Cone bunted through a pitch. Alex Kowalczyk saw the play and calmly threw to second for the pickoff. Cone then struck out to end the inning.
Hickory took a 7-5 lead with two in the fifth and had runners at the corners with two outs. With the count 2-2 to Preston Scott, Perez took off from first. When the throw from the catcher Sanchez went to second, Taveras scrambled for home. Luis Carpio cut off the throw at second and easily gunned down Taveras at the plate.
The walk-off win is the second of the season for the Crawdads and the first over the Mets Low-A affiliate since a 17-inning win over Savannah on 5/9/15, when Jose Cardona lined a homer into the leftfield corner. The day after, manager Jose Leger, who had argued Cardona’s homer was foul, was ejected during the home-plate meeting.
With the first full week completed, the Hickory Crawdads go into an off-day on Easter at 5-6 following a split of Saturday’s doubleheader with Kannapolis.
The opening series at Greensboro was a wild one for the pitching staff, as the combined for 37 walks over the first five games, which had much to do with a 1-4 start. Over the last six, that number was cut to 14 and the team’s record is 4-2 in that stretch.
On Friday, I had a chance to catch up with Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes about the team’s start and to ask about some of the names that started the season at Hickory.
First, let me get your overview of the season’s first week on the pitching staff. Control has been a bit of an issue, but for some guys it’s starting to come around a bit. Let me get your assessment of that first week.
Jaimes: Those first four games, we had a tough time finding the zone. Some guys just walked too many guys, especially the starters early in the game. We couldn’t locate our fastball. But, if feel like it’s coming and getting a lot better, especially these last four games in Columbia and yesterday. I feel like guys are starting to make some adjustments. To be honest, the fact that we couldn’t practice before the season and we couldn’t play, I think that had some effect on some guys. They couldn’t face hitters for almost a week. That had a big factor on what happened those first four games.
That was my next question, how much did the rain affect your guys who couldn’t throw side sessions, etc?
Jaimes: Yeah, especially that exhibition game was going to be huge, especially for the starters. Obviously, we couldn’t play and they ended up throwing bullpens, but it’s not the same as throwing to a catcher in a game. I think it was one reason why they couldn’t find the zone as quick as they wanted. But, it’s getting better.
Jonathan Hernandez is back here for another year and honestly, I was a little surprised to see him back as he finished so strong last year. What are the Rangers wanting to see him accomplish starting here a second year?
Jaimes: Consistency with the fastball. Last year, like you said, he finished strong. He put together five good outings towards the end of the year. We just want to see that on a consistent basis. We got to see that in the last outing at Columbia. That’s what we’re looking for. He’s working ahead on the count on every hitter the first time through the lineup. So, that’s the main thing for him, his fastball command. Hopefully, at some point, we’ll get to see him move up.
Jake Lemoine is a name some folks have asked me about. I saw him the first outing at Greensboro. At first, he had a little struggle finding a feel, but then had a strong second inning. Coming off the shoulder troubles, what’s sort of things are ahead for him?
Jaimes: He dealt with a lot of bumps the last few years. He last pitched two years ago. I’m actually pretty impressed, especially with his last outing in Columbia where he pounded the zone. He’s a guy that has a feel for the baseball. He controls his fastball and has pretty good control with his secondary pitches. So, I think he’s going to be a big part of the team. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and let the talent play. A great guy.
Is he going to be getting bite-size outings?
Jaimes: For right now, we’re going to try to keep it to three innings, just because of what happened the last two years with him. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to pitch every two or three days.
Let me ask you about Kyle Cody. Like everybody else, had a rough first outing, then pitched in and out of trouble the last start.
Jaimes: The two outings have been almost the same, Kind of erratic the first two or three innings, but then once he gets it going he gets a lot better. Last night, we saw that. The fourth and fifth innings, he did a really good job of mixing his pitches. His fastball command was a lot better. That was his main issue the first three innings: a lot of deep counts, a lot of 2-1 counts and guys were able to put the barrel to the baseball. A 6-7 guy that’s a really good talent and I’m pretty excited for him. He’s one of our main guys this year, so hopefully he’ll stay healthy. I think once he gets it going, he’s going to keep getting better.
Somebody I’m looking forward to seeing, based simply on the stats from the Dominican – this is his first stateside assignment – is Edgar Arredondo. He had a 56 Ks and 4 walks last year. Like everyone else the first week, he had that wrinkle, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer based on the stats sheet.
Jaimes: He’s a strike thrower. He’s a guy that’s going to feel through it some. He’s going to attack here. It was the first time he was pitching in front of fans and lights. So, I was kind of expecting that, but I after that I saw his first inning, I was really excited. He pounded the first inning 1-2-3. I think he got a little upset when he gave up the first hit on an 0-2 count and then he lost his concentration and couldn’t get it back. Again, he’s a guy that’s going to throw strikes. That was not the Arredondo that I know. I don’t even worry about him. He had a really good bullpen session yesterday. He’s a guy that commands his pitches: fastball and a really good changeup and a really good curve.
Tyler Ferguson hasn’t thrown. What’s happening with him?
Jaimes: He couldn’t make the Greensboro series because he got sick, so we just kept him at home. We didn’t want anybody else to get sick. Then coming back, he had to play catch at least three days. He threw a bullpen a couple of days ago and now he’s ready to go.
Of the guys that I haven’t mentioned yet – there’s so many guys that come in and out – who’s somebody that you’re looking at as someone that will step forward?
Jaimes: I’ve got one guy and that’s going to be Sal Mendez. He’s been a guy that had a really good spring training. A guy that goes out there and competes. He has average stuff, but the way that he throws the ball with the conviction that he has, he makes it look better. In his last outing at Greensboro when he went 4.2 innings. He’s going to command all three pitches coming from the left side. He has some sink and a really good changeup. I think he’s going to be our sleeper.
Emerson(Martinez) is pitching tonight. I know you don’t care about wins and losses, but it seemed that he pitched in a little tough luck when he got into the starting rotation last year. He had a good outing last time.
Jaimes; Actually, we almost made a big deal of it because last year he went 0-6. It seemed like every time he didn’t pitch we’d score a lot of runs. Then every time he’d pitch, we didn’t score. When he got his first win, he was all pumped up. He said, “It’s a new year and a new beginning and I’m going to help the team.” He grew up a lot last year for us. I had him two years ago when I worked in Spokane. He was kind of timid and he didn’t trust his stuff. That was something that last year he realized that his stuff was good enough to get people out. He showed that in his first game. He went out there and just pounded. I’m really happy with what he’s doing.
I’ve seen Tyler (Davis) pitch both in Columbia and here last night and showed some good stuff. Had some good outings here last year before he got bumped up. Doesn’t throw hard, but he spots well and throws a decent slider.
Jaimes: He’s a pitcher, though. He goes out there and pitches. He knows what he has. He knows that he doesn’t have power stuff, so he goes out there and just locates it. He locates his fastball; he locates his changeup, slider. He knows how to pitch. Everybody loves Tyler. When he got here last week, I was pretty excited to have him a part of the team. He not only brings his stuff, but he’s around the bullpen helping me with these kids. I’m really happy for him and having here with me.
Christian Torres is back. Another (Alex) Claudio clone, maybe?
Jaimes: You’re hoping for that. Claudio is one of those guys that knows what he does. Claudio is a little bit bigger, but I can see a little bit of Claudio in Torres. Decent sinker, really good changeup. They’re pretty close.
Despite mustering two runs on ten hits over 14 innings the Hickory Crawdads rode the back of strong pitching and the bat of Ti’Quan Forbes in game two to earn a doubleheader split with the Kannapolis Intimidators Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The split left the teams in a series split for the four games. The Crawdads are off for Easter Sunday and then will resume South Atlantic League play Monday night at 6 p.m. as they start a three-game series against visiting West Virginia.
What happened in game one:
Polk County native Joel Booker continued to harass Hickory pitching with a three-hit performance in game one and had a hand in all three runs.
He led off the doubleheader with a broken-bat single and moved to second as Mitch Roman’s sneaked an infield hit to the right side, as Booker beat a throw to second from second baseman Brallan Perez. One out later, Brandon Dulin hit a ball to Preston Scott, who fielded the ball on the run, but his throw to second went into leftfield and allowed Booker to score from first.
Kannapolis (3-8) made it 2-0 in the second. With one out, Antonio and Wilfredo Rodriguez (no relation) both singled. After Max Dutto whiffed, Booker oozed a grounder through the infield for an RBI single.
The Crawdads (5-6) got a run back in the bottom of the inning. Ti’Quan Forbes singled and was then erased on Scott’s fielder’s choice. One out later, Ricky Valencia got enough wood on an inside fastball for a bloop RBI single.
However, the Intimidators added an insurance run in the fourth as Booker singled in MIcker Adolfo to account for the final margin.
Jimmy Lambert (1-0) pitched a complete-game six-hitter with one walk and five strikeouts.
Edgar Arredondo (0-2) gave up all three runs on ten hits and a walk, and struck out three. Reid Anderson pitched two scoreless innings with one hit allowed and two Ks.
What happened in game 2:
Both team had just four hits each, but Forbes’s homer in the fourth was the difference.
Sal Mendez (1-0) made the spot start for Hickory and gave up a walk and two outs over five innings with four strikeouts. The Intimidators threatened just once against him and that came in the third. Grant Massey singled and moved to second when Tyler Sullivan was hit by a pitch. Mendez then got Booker looking and induced Roman to tap into an double play.
Jake Lemoine worked around a double in the sixth. In the seventh, Seby Zavala singled and Adolfo was hit by a pitch. Zach Remillard botched a sacrifice and bunted a third-strike foul for a strikeout. Lemoine then struck out Massey before Christian Torres was brought in to face Tyler Sullivan.
Torres needed just three pitches to fan Sullivan and get his first pro save.
Yosmer Solorzano pitched a complete game in the loss (1-1).
Forbes had four pro homers in 227 games entering this season. He has four in 11 games this season. For the season Forbes has hits in 10 of 11 games and his at .436/.500/.769. He’s in a good place right now.
I had a twitter conversation about Forbes and I pondered if Forbes gets a bump up when Charles Leblanc is ready at extended spring. Or… after Forbes struggled so much over his first two seasons as a pro, will the Rangers let him dominate for now and amp up his already burgeoning confidence.
An intriguing arm:
The Texas Rangers have had success with late-round pitching selections and I wonder if they perhaps have a nugget with 40th-round selection Sal Mendez.
In talking with Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes, I asked him to give me a pitcher that is under the radar. Sal Mendez was his answer. When I asked for who had the best secondary pitch, Jaimes said it was Mendez’s changeup.
Mendez needed 68 pitches (44 strikes) to get through five innings. He relied on a two-pitch mix of fastball (89-91) and change (81-83) and did so effectively with very little squared up. Three of his five Ks came consecutively in the first and second. He got Dula to swing through a change off the 1B side of the plate in the first. Then fired a fastball that Zavala took for a called third strike. Then, it was back to the change off the plate to get Adolfo.
Very simply, he attacked the strike zone and got mostly weak contact. Mendez threw 11 of 18 first-pitch strikes to hitters, much of that total coming early (6 of the first 7). He’ll have to continue to throw strikes and hit spots, but he’s not afraid to attack.
I’m interested and want to see more.
Yey-yey is ney:
Yeyson Yrizarri is not in a happy zone right now. One-for-14 in the series, 3-for-39 for the season, it’s been a tough one. The one hit in the series was on a ninth-inning, get-me-over fastball with a five-run lead on Friday night. Otherwise, he is seeing a lot of breaking stuff in front of the plate and in the dirt and hacking away.
He did hit into a bit of tough luck in game one. In the second inning, Remillard took a roller behind the bag and then with a Manny Machado-esque throw from behind the back, got Yrizarri by a quarter step.
In his first AB in game two, he was unable to hold back on a fastball at the thumbs and then later whiffed at a curveball in the dirt. After the AB, the body language had the look of one who was beaten for now.
Defense wins games:
While Booker played a big part in the game-one win, so did the Kannapolis defense – especially from shortstop Max Dutto.
In the third, Brallan Perez lined a pitch to right. Adolfo ran the ball down and made a strong throw to second that was to the centerfield side of the bag. Dutto made the catch on the one-hop throw, then made the lunging tag on Perez. Later in the inning, Dutto made a diving stop of a grounder and made the quick throw to first to barely get Leody Taveras at first.
With a runner on first in the fifth, Yrizarri hit a comeback to Lambert, whose throw to second on the pivot was to the third-base side. Dutto made a back-handed catch while his momentum carried him across the bag and then completed the double play at first.
In the sixth, Dutto made a grab of a grounder deep in the hole and made a strong throw to complete the out at first.
Missing hitting counts:
Scuffling as a team, the Crawdads collectively seem to be unable to take advantage of hitter’s counts. In game two, Solozano threw first-pitch strikes to just eight of 22 hitters. However, Hickory managed just four hits and a walk.
Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (1-3) at Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies (New York Mets) (4-0)
The Hickory Crawdads complete the second leg of their two-city, weeklong road trip at Columbia’s Spirit Communication Park to open the 2017 South Atlantic League season.
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Games Monday through Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.
BROADCAST: MILBtv.com or through Gameday Audio links on milb.com.
TICKETS: Ticket prices range from $5 for an outfield berm seat to $14 for a “Scout Seat”.
Where is it?:
From Hickory, take Hwy 321 South to Gastonia, then I-85 North towards Charlotte. Take exit 30 to the I-485 outer loop, then I-77 South toward Columbia. Take I-77 to 277 South to Columbia. Take the Farrow Road/SC-555 exit. Turn left onto Farrow Road/SC-555. Continue onto Colonial Drive. Turn left onto Gregg Street. Turn right onto Freed Street. The ballpark is located on the left side of the street.
PARKING: Parking in the general lots is $3 and located along Colonial Dr. as well as Gregg St. Take the complimentary trolley shuttle to the stadium. ADA permit parking is available by the stadium property.
CONCESSIONS: Spirit Communications Park has four permanent stands and 25 specialty carts. The team’s website does not list food offerings.
Probables (Hickory/ Columbia):
Monday: RHP Argenis Rodriguez vs. RHP Colin Holderman
Tuesday RHP Tyler Phillips or RHP Demarcus Evans vs. LHP Blake Taylor
Wednesday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. RHP Harol Gonzalez
Recent Series History:
The Fireflies took two of three at Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium during the only series the teams played in 2016. This is the first trip by the Crawdads to Spirit Communication Park, which opened last year. The Columbia franchise was previously stationed in Savannah, Ga. and known as the Sand Gnats. This will be Hickory’s first trip to the Mets low-A affiliate since 2014. Since 2009, the first year of the Crawdads-Rangers affiliation, the Sand Gnats/ Fireflies hold a 14-13 lead in games played at their home ballparks. Overall, Hickory holds a 29-27 advantage during the same time period.
About the Crawdads:
Hickory is coming off a 1-3 series loss at Greensboro in which the pitching staff struggled with control. The crew walked 12 in an opening-night loss to the Grasshoppers, eight the second night, and finished with 30 in the series. The Crawdads lead the South Atlantic League with ten HRs.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America): Had hits in all four games (6-for-16) with 5 runs scored and two homers at Greensboro. He had one dinger all last season.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 8 MLB.com, 16 Baseball America): Hit a mammoth homer (441’) opening night, but went 3-for-16 in the series at Greensboro with 7 Ks. Showed encouraging signs of discipline, as he worked four walks in four games. He had 18 in 66 games last year.
OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America) Had a four-hit game at Greensboro on Saturday and went 6-for-17 in the series. Started at 1B opening night, then shifted to right the remainder of the series.
RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No. 17 Baseball America, 18 MLB.com): Hernandez struggled in his first start on opening night, as he allowed nine of 16 batters to reach base. Control was his downfall as he threw just 33 strikes out of 65 pitches. He can rack up strikeouts at times (three in two innings last Thursday), but Hernandez relies on a sinker to get groundballs.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Singled opening night, had a homer the next game, then suffered through an 0-for-6 on Saturday. Just three Ks over 14 PAs, so he is making contact. Has handled the move to second base well in the early going, turning a couple of double plays and making plays with ease.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): Opened the season in RF, then shifted to LF the next two games. Had a 1-for-11 weekend and sat out Sunday’s game.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Did not pitch over the weekend. The big righty (6-4, 225) had a dominant tenure with Spokane (1.78 ERA, 46 Ks/ 10 BBs 30.1 IP), then struggled to find his command after he joined Hickory for the final month of 2016 (10 Ks/ 18 BBs 13.1 IP). Brings an overpowering fastball/ slider, but the Vanderbilt product’s goal is simple to start the season: find the plate.
Others to watch – Hickory:
3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Homered in each of the first three games of the series, Forbes went 6-for-11 over the three games he played before sitting out Sunday’s game.
RHP Jake Lemoine: The 2015 fourth-round draftee made his pro debut on Thursday night at Greensboro. Looked rough early, the Univ. of Houston product settled in nicely in his second inning and racked up a pair of Ks, including a 91 mph on the corner for a called third-strike.
1B Preston Scott: Reached base in seven of 13 plate appearances over the weekend, including a pair of homers and a double to account for the three hits. The two homers came in Saturday’s game during which he also stole two bases and reached on a hit and a walk.
About the Fireflies:
Managed by Jose Leger in his third season with the Mets’ low-A affiliate. The Fireflies are coming off a four-game sweep of the Augusta (Ga.) as they outscored the GreenJackets 36-12. Two of the wins came on shutouts. During the sweep, the team put up a .313/.446/.458 slash and worked a SAL-high 32 walks. They also stole 12 bases, the most in the SAL.
Prospects to watch – Columbia:
CF Desmond Lindsey (No. 4 Baseball America, 6 MLB.com). The 2015 second-round pick of the Mets struggled with hamstring issues, missing much of his high school senior season. He again suffered the same injury and was limited to 37 games during the 2016 season at two short-season stops. Showed good plate discipline with 25 walks to 31 Ks in 2016, sporting a .433 OBP. Played 3B in high school, moved to the OF to showcase his speed.
2B/SS Luis Carpio (No. 16 MLB.com, 20 Baseball America) Missed much of 2016 after surgery for a torn labrum. Came back late in the 2016 season, but was exclusively a DH. Went 5-for-16 during the opening-season series vs. Augusta
C Ali Sanchez (No. 21 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America) At this point, Sanchez is defensively ahead of the offensive side of his game. Has thrown out 92 of 191 base stealers (48%), though he has 24 passed balls in just 111 games. Struggled to a .535 OPS at short-season Brooklyn in 2016, started this season 4-for-12 over three games.
RHP Harol Gonzalez (No. 28 Baseball America) Led the New York-Penn League with a 2.01 ERA and 88 Ks over 85 innings. Struggled in his opening-night start vs. Augusta, giving up five runs on six hits while walking and striking out three over 3.2 IP. Leaned heavily on fly ball outs until a huge shift in 2016. Posted GO/AO of 0.79 in 2014 and 0.86 in 2015. Went to 1.58 last year.
3B Blake Tiberi (No. 29 MLB.com) Went 3-for-11 over the weekend, shows a patient eye at the plate with 25 walks to just 34 K over 207 ABs. Has not shown much pop for the position, slugging just .319 for his young career.
Others to watch – Columbia:
LF Tim Tebow: The former Heisman Trophy winner slugged a homer in his first official pro AB on Thursday and added a three-run shot on Sunday. Has just three hits total and struck out five times in 14 PAs.
C Anthony Dimino: Played at North Mecklenburg in Charlotte before spending his college career at Belmont Abbey. Went 5-for-6 with a 2B and two walks in the recent series.
IF Michael Paez: Played for the Coastal Carolina during the team’s run to the 2016 College World Series title.
1B: Dash Winningham: Returned to Columbia for a second season, went 7-for-19 over the weekend.
Note of Interest: Hickory last played in Columbia during its 2004 South Atlantic League title run. The Crawdads won games one and two against the Capital City Bombers before completing the sweep at Hickory. Capital City then transferred to Greenville and is now known as the Greenville Drive.
This was an ugly one for Hickory Crawdads fans, but a delight for many of the 4,998 fans (announced as such anyway) cheering on their hometown Greensboro Grasshoppers at First National Bank Field. The Grasshoppers took the lead in the bottom of the first and went on to the easy win in the season opener for both.
A cool, brisk night had little effect on the offenses as they combined for 36 baserunners. Unfortunately for the Crawdads, 25 of them wore the Grasshopper white uniforms. The hit column was fairly close (13-9 Greensboro) as were the extra-base hit totals (6-4 Greensboro). What killed Hickory was 12 walks. Well that, and RF Dalton Wheat who had a chance at the reverse cycle by the fifth inning.
Wheat, signed by the Miami Marlins after being named the top independent league prospect by Baseball America in 2016, literally put on his work gloves and went to work on the Crawdads pitching staff.
After Hickory settled for a run in the first, despite three hits and walk, the left-handed hitting Wheat – he is from Kansas – lined a two-run shot just over the fence in left. The liner was most impressive given that it was into a 15-25 mph wind. Wheat capped a five-run second with a two-run triple and later scored on Colby Lusignan’s double. In the fourth, Wheat got a hustle double into the Bermuda triangle between three Crawdads defenders meeting in CF and later scored.
Wheat’s attempts to complete the cycle fell through as he walked in the fifth and seventh. A snag of Wheat’s hot smash by 1B Yanio Perez in the eighth spoiled the chase for history.
Alex Jones and Corey Bird each had three hits, and Justin Twine walked three times.
Hickory’s night was salvaged at the plate on homers by Anderson Tejeda and Ti’Quan Forbes. Yanio Forbes went 2-for-4 with an RBI double.
Texas Rangers 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Lemoine made his pro debut after missing two seasons with shoulder problem. He walked two and struck out two over 1.2 IP.
Kaleb Fontenot was the most effective of the quintet of Crawdads pitchers on the mound, allowing just one hit and striking out two over 1.1 IP.
Momentum thwarted early:
Hickory had a chance to put its collective claws between the Grasshoppers thorax and head early.
Blaine Prescott opened the season with an infield hit, but was caught stealing. Tejeda walked and moved to second as Leody Teveras reached on an infield hit. Perez sliced a long flyball that rainbowed just inside the line in right to score Tejeda and putting runners at second and third.
To that point, Grasshoppers starting pitcher Jordan Holloway had struggled with his command, as with a bit of bad luck on the three hits. Facing Jose Almonte, a 1-0 fastball went up and in, but Almonte was unable to check his swing. Now 1-1 instead of a 2-0 count, Holloway gathered himself and went on to fan Almonte. The next hitter Ti’Quan Forbes went ahead 2-1, but missed a fastball and eventually whiffed.
Wheat’s two-run blast in the bottom put Greensboro in front and it never relinquished the lead.
He’s only 18, but at 5-11, 185-pounds, Anderson Tejeda showed he can crank a fastball with the best of them at this level. His solo blast in the third was legendary. Greensboro’s staff has the technology to measure these things and they said it was 106 mph off the bat and it went 441 feet.
Here is the pic off the field. Above the red Budweiser sign there is what looks like 2/3 of a goal post. Above that is a LED decorated tree. It went past that tree.
In the fifth, Tejeda just missed a bunt single as the ball traveled up the third-base line before trickling foul at the bag.
Forbes 2016 carry over:
I can make an argument that 3B Ti’Quan Forbes was most improved Crawdads player in the second half of 2016. His slash line was remarkably better and his defense at third was stellar.
He’s continued to bulk up and the power was on display with a lined two-run homer to left. Greensboro’s stat folks had the blast timed at 109 mph off the bat. He had the best play of the night when he charged and barehanded a bunt halfway down the line and fired a bullet to first on the run for the out.
These cleats were made for walking:
Twelve walks by Hickory pitching will certainly get the ire of coach Jose Jaimes. With the guys coming from Arizona last week and two days of hard rain here, Tuesday was the only day the pitchers could get side work in. I don’t know if that would have an effect, but almost no one had command of the fastball, save Lemoine’s sixth inning.
Starter Jonathan Hernandez appeared bothered by the cold or wind or lack of control or whatever. He put together a strong final month in 2016, but last night’s start was a step back. Three walks, just five of 16 hitters started with a first-pitch strike, and 32 balls to 33 strikes on the evening. Fastballs were 92-94 range according to the Greensboro board, but often missed Valencia’s target arm side. Those that stayed over the plate were often punished.
Luke Lanphere at 90-91 mph fared little better as he walked three of the 14 he faced and threw 32 strikes over 58 pitches.
Jake Lemoine took a bit to find his feel and threw more secondary offerings than anyone I saw. From my high angle, many of those looked to be sliders. He had a strong sixth and point the exclamation point on things with a 91 on the glove-side corner to catch Aaron Knapp looking.
CD Pelham had a forgettable debut with four walks to the six batters he faced.
The Hickory Crawdads and Greensboro Grasshoppers open the 2017 South Atlantic League season with a four-game series at First National Bank Field in Greensboro.
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Games Thursday through Saturday are at 7:00 EDT with a 4 p.m. start on Sunday.
TICKETS: Ticket prices range from $7-11.
PARKING: Parking at the ballpark is $5. There are independently operated parking lots nearby that charge a varied amount. Metered parking about a block away from the outfield is free after 6 p.m. on weekdays and is free on weekends.
CONCESSIONS: First National Bank Field is more of a AA park and so the concession offerings are a vast upgrade from what a smaller Low-A ball park provides. Other than basic ballpark fare, there is a BBQ stand, Sausage Shack, Philly Steaks Sandwiches, Mexican fare, and a Burger of the Month. There are also veggie options. Here is the entire menu.
Where is it?:
From Hickory, take I-40 East to exit 218 B / Freeman Mill Road. That will turn into Edgeworth St. and the ballpark will be on the right. (Edgeworth and Bellemeade St.)
Thursday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. RHP Jordan Holloway
Friday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. RHP Alejando Mateo
Saturday: RHP Emerson Martinez vs. RHP Dustin Beggs
Sunday: RHP Edgar Arredondo vs. LHP Dylan Lee
rRecent Series History:
Hickory took an 12-9 season-series win vs. the Grasshoppers in 2016, which included a 7-4 mark at then-called NewBridge Bank Park. Since the stadium opened in 2005, Greensboro is 55-42 at home vs. the Crawdads, 35-34 during the Rangers affiliation (since 2009).
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No. 17 MLB.com and Baseball America): Given the strong finish by Hernandez in 2016, it was a little surprising to see the right-hander back donning the Hickory uniform again. After an 8.87 ERA and a .305 OBA in July, the 20-year old gave up just 10 ER over his final 28.2 innings in August/ September (3.14 ERA) and opponents hit just .210 in that stretch. Development of his changeup and keeping his delivery under control was under the agenda last year. Now as the “senior” member of the staff, Hernandez may be primed to step forward as a more dominant force on the mound. He can rack up Ks (10 in a game vs. Lexington last May), but his success comes with groundball outs (1.19 GO/AO).
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): The big righty (6-4, 225) had a dominant tenure with Spokane (1.78 ERA, 46 Ks/ 10 BBs 30.1 IP), then struggled to find his command after he joined Hickory for the final month of 2016 (10 Ks/ 18 BBs 13.1 IP). Brings an overpowering fastball/ slider, but the Vanderbilt product’s goal is simple to start the season: find the plate.
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America): Observers say he has an intriguing combination of power and speed, along with a good makeup for an 18-year-old. Had an adequate K/BB ratio (55 K/ 25 BBs over 333 plate appearances) and 21 extra-base hits in 73 games last year. The curious thing will be to see how he adjusts to SAL pitchers that spin the ball. For former top-end, 17-18-year-old Crawdads outfielders that spent two seasons here (Lewis Brinson, Nomar Mazara, Jairo Beras for example), the first year was frustration personified as each racked up Ks swinging at breaking balls off the plate. Patience with the process could be needed by fans.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 8 MLB.com, 16 Baseball America): Over the first 24 seasons of Crawdads baseball, only 2013 OF Nick Williams put together a season that had double-digit totals in doubles, triples and homers. Tejeda did that over three levels last season when he had 14 doubles, ten triples and ten homers in just 66 games. Will need to work on plate discipline (73 Ks in 269 ABs), but his gap-to-gap approach at a young age is certainly an interesting proposition to monitor as he gets older and wiser. Played exclusively at shortstop last year and will have to work on slowing the game down as he made 17 errors in 45 games.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Seems strange to type 2B by his name as he led all SAL shortstops in fielding last year. Shows good range and the arm is a cannon. At the plate, showed good power for a young player. But, Yrizarri could be frustrating to watch. Seemed to take his time in the field in making plays, though his arm bailed him out. He also swings at EVERYTHING. Does make decent enough contact, but had ONLY 9 WALKS. Hopefully the second season will be the charm on developing plate discipline.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): The biggest hurdle for the 20-year-old last year was staying on the field. A bit of surprise when he was assigned to Hickory last year, Almonte made the player development folks look smart when he put up a .278/.343/ .444 slash and popped eight homers in 57 games. Missed a lot of the 2016 season with injuries to both shoulders. He worked in the offseason to strengthen his upper body. Like Yrizarri, plate discipline will be a key for him as well (55 Ks/ 8 walks with Hickory).
Others to watch – Hickory:
3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Started slow, but gained confidence and seemingly strength as the season wore on. Came to Hickory with a reputation of the game being too fast for him in the field, he was as solid defender as there was in the league last year. In the first half, he hit for a .239/.299/289 slash. The second half, it went to .261/.316/.376. Twenty of his 28 extra-base hits came in the second half. Will be interesting to see if that confidence continues to build in his second season with the Crawdads.
C Ricky Valencia: Played just 41 games last year – 22 behind the plate – the organizational soldier will get a chance to play on a fulltime basis for the first time in his pro career. Brings a power bat to the lineup, but how much he can hold up through the rigors of catching in the heat of North Carolina summers will be something to watch.
RHP Jake Lemoine: The 2015 fourth-round draftee will make his pro debut with Hickory after struggling with a shoulder injury. The Univ. of Houston prospect will start the season in the bullpen with bite-sized game appearances for now.
Prospects to watch-Greensboro:
RHP Jordan Holloway (No. 15 Baseball America, 16 MLB.com): After a solid short-season with Batavia in 2015, he took a step backwards when he struggled with control with the Grasshoppers (15 walks/ 31 innings over eight starts) then was shut down with a triceps injury after a demotion back to Batavia. MLB.com has his fastball and curve both at 60 on the 20-80 scale, but can he control it?
RHP Sam Perez (No. 18 MLB.com, 23 Baseball America): A reliever for Missouri State, Perez may get a chance to start in the Marlins system, though he is not expected to do so in this series. Scouting publications note his durability (91 innings over 36 games his senior season) as well as his intelligence. The combination may serve him well vs. the younger players of the SAL. He may get a chance to move up the ladder quickly if the Marlins decide to keep him in the pen.
2B Justin Twine (No. 26 MLB.com, 28 Baseball America): An athletic kid that played several sports in high school, the Falls City, Tex. native – the second-round pick of the Marlins in 2014 – has struggled to put that into baseball ability. Has K’d 276 times over 970 ABs and works very few walks. Drafted as a SS, the Marlins moved him to 2B where he led the SAL in fielding last year. This will be the third year with the Grasshoppers, and although he is still just 21, time is pressing for him to put things together.
Notes of Interest: Holloway is the Grasshoppers youngest player and one of just two 20-years-olds on the roster. Eleven of the Crawdads 25-man roster are younger than Holloway, five of those are expected to be in the lineup this evening (Almonte, Forbes, Taveras, Tejeda, Yrizarri) … Hickory manager Spike Owen was originally slated to be the team’s manager last year. However, Owen became the Rangers interim third-base coach when Tony Beasley (Hickory manager in 2002) was diagnosed with cancer and left the team to receive treatment… Grasshoppers manager Todd Pratt, a 14-year major league veteran, played for the old Greensboro Hornets in 1986, then an affiliate with the Boston Red Sox. Owen played shortstop for the Red Sox in that season’s World Series… Crawdads RHP Edgar Arredondo is the youngest player ever to appear in a Mexican League game. He was 15 when he suited up for Quintana Roo in 2013.
Over the next 152 days, 25 players that will start the season at Hickory seek another step on their individual journeys toward what they each hope will end at the major leagues. But for now, they are all teammates and will work towards the common goal of winning games and hopefully playoff spots.
As the season’s first pitch is thrown, the Crawdads roster will have eight returning players from the 2016 squad, including tonight’s starting pitcher Jonathan Hernandez and his batterymate Ricky Valencia.
Three 2016 starting position players will rejoin the squad at the start, including third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes and shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri – who will play more at second this season. – and right fielder Jose Almonte.
Other pitchers returning to the mound are Emerson Martinez, Luke Lanphere and Tyler Ferguson.
The Crawdads top prospects are led by the Texas Rangers No. 1 overall prospect CF Leody Taveras. Others include SS Anderson Tejada (No. 8 MLB.com), Yanio Perez (No. 15) – who will play OF and 1B – Yrizarri (17), Hernandez (18) and Almonte (29).
Here is the expected lineup for the Crawdads to start the season: C Ricky Valencia, 1B Yanio Perez or Preston Scott, 2B Yeyson Yrizarri, 3B Ti’Quan Forbes, SS Anderson Tejada, LF Travis Bolin, CF Leody Taveras, RF Jose Almonte. Perez and Scott are both expected to see some time in outfield. Yrizarri and Tejeda will switch spots on occasion with Yrizarri likely to also see some time at 3B. Forbes may get some reps at 1B. Isaias Quiroz will back up Valencia behind the plate.
The starting rotation announced so far: Jonathan Hernandez, Kyle Cody, Emerson Martinez, Edgar Arredondo, Argenis Rodriguez and a tandem of Tyler Phillips and Demarcus Evans in the sixth slot.
The collection of bullpen arms are as follows: Reid Anderson, Tyler Ferguson, Kaleb Fontenot, Luke Lanphere, Jake Lemoine, Sal Mendez and C.D. Pelham.
Below is a snapshot view of each player that will start the season at Hickory.
2017 HICKORY CRAWDADS PLAYER CAPSULES
REID ANDERSON (RHP, 6-3, 185)
2016 Pro Season: 14 games (2 starts) at Spokane (Wash.), 36 2/3 IP, 1 HR, 20 BB, 18 K, 3.44 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .238 OBA.
About Anderson: A native of New Egypt, N.J., Anderson, 21, was the Texas Rangers 17th-round pick in 2016 out of Millersville (Pa.) Univ., where he was a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Scholar Athlete. Pitched two innings in Division II College World Series championship game. Entered college as outfielder, began pitching while a sophomore.
EDGAR ARREDONDO (RHP, 6-3, 230)
2016 Pro Season: 12 games (12 starts) at Dominican Summer League (DSL) Rangers 1, 62 IP, 0 HR, 4 BB, 56 K, 3.97 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .260 OBA.
About Arredondo: A native of Novalato, Sinaloa, Mex., Arredondo, 19, signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. Appeared for Quintana Roo of the Mexican League in 2013, the youngest ever to debut in a Mexican League game at 15 years old. Had elbow surgery in November 2013 and missed all of 2014.
KYLE CODY (RHP, 6-7, 245)
2016 Pro Season: 12 games (9 starts) at Spokane, 47 1/3 IP, 4 HR, 13 BB, 53 K, 5.13 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, .293 OBA.
About Cody: A native of Chippewa Falls, Wisc., Cody, 22, was the Rangers sixth-round pick in 2016 out of the University of Kentucky. Was 4-1 with a 2.77 ERA in ten SEC starts in 2016. Drafted in the second by the Minnesota Twins in 2015 but returned to the Wildcats for his senior season. Was the 2012 Gatorade Wisconsin High School player of the year.
DEMARCUS EVANS (RHP, 6-4, 270)
2016 Pro Season: 14 games (12 starts) between Arizona Summer League (AZL) and Spokane, 55 IP, 3 HR, 37 BB, 75 K, 2.95 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .193 OBA.
About Evans: A native of Petal, Miss., Evans, 20, was the 25th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Petal High School. Allowed fewer than two runs in 4 of 6 starts in the AZL before a promotion to short-season Spokane on 8/3.
TYLER FERGUSON (RHP, 6-4, 225)
2016 Pro Season: 23 games between Spokane and Hickory, 43 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 28 BB, 56 K, 3.92 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .190 OBA.
About Ferguson: A native of Fresno, Calif.., Ferguson, 23, was the Rangers sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Named to the Northwestern League All-Star Team while at Spokane, he struck out 37 percent (46 of 124) of the batters he faced in the circuit. Made several relief appearances for Vanderbilt en route to the 2014 College World Series title. Three-time Southeastern Conference Honor Roll.
KALEB FONTENOUT (RHP, 6-1, 180)
2016 Pro Season: 19 games (3 starts) at Spokane, 36 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 16 BB, 41 K, 4.17 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .266 OBA.
About Fontenout: A native of Ville Platte, La., Fontenout, 23, was the Rangers 21st round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Was an All-Southland Conference starter his senior season at McNeese St., set a school record with 28 straight scoreless innings.
JONATHAN HERNANDEZ (RHP, 6-2, 173)
2016 Pro Season: 24 games 2 starts) at Hickory, 116 1/3 IP, 14 HR, 49 BB, 85 K, 4.56 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .252 OBA.
About Hernandez: A native of Santiago de los Caballos, D. R., Hernandez, 20, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.Baseball America has Hernandez as the 17th best Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 18. His father, Fernando, pitched briefly for the Detroit Tigers during a 14-season pro career.
LUKE LANPHERE (RHP, 6-2, 198)
2016 Pro Season: 13 games at between Spokane and Hickory, 71 2/3 IP, 9 HR, 22 BB, 57 K, 3.64 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, .272 OBA.
About Lanphere: A native of Highland, Calif., Lanphere, 21, was the Rangers 21st round pick out of Citrus Valley (Calif.) High School in 2013.Was promoted to Hickory on August 4.
JAKE LEMOINE (RHP, 6-5, 199)
2016 Pro Season: Did not pitch.
About Lemoine: A native of Bridge City, Tex., Lemoine, 23, was the Rangers fourth round pick in 2015 out of Univ. of Houston. Suffered a should injury in 2015 while at college and has not pitched professionally. Had rotator cuff surgery March 2016. Named to USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team in 2014. Rangers picked him the 21st round in 2012, but Lemoine opted to attend Houston.
EMERSON MARTINEZ (RHP, 6-1, 199)
2016 Pro Season: 24 games (6 starts) between Hickory and AA Frisco (Tex.), 64 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 28 BB, 53 K, 3.48 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .249 OBA.
About Martinez: A native of Guigue, Venezuela., Martinez, 22, signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. Completed six or more innings in four of six starts with Hickory. His twin brother Kevin is a catcher in the Milwaukee Brewers system.
SAL MENDEZ, (LHP, 6-4, 185)
2016 Pro Season: 14 games (9 starts) at Spokane, 57 2/3 IP, 5 HR, 24 BB, 46 K, 3.75 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, .276 OBA.
About Mendez: A native of Weehawken, N.J., Mendez, 22, was the Rangers 40th round pick in 2013 out of Weehawken High. Had Tommy John surgery in 2014, made his pro debut in 2015 and posted a 2.58 ERA over 52 1/3 innings with the AZL Rangers. Tossed a no-hitter while a senior in high school.
CD PELHAM (LHP, 6-6, 238)
2016 Pro Season: 16 games (7 starts) at Spokane, 38 IP, 0 HR, 43 BB, 50 K, 6.16 ERA, 2.08 WHIP, .243 OBA.
About Pelham: A native of Lancaster, S.C., Pelham, 22, was the Rangers 33rd round pick in 2015 out of Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College. Drafted in the 25th round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, but he opted to attend college.
TYLER PHILLIPS (RHP, 6-5, 191)
2016 Pro Season: 13 games at Spokane, 58 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 20 BB, 57 K, 6.44 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, .307 OBA.
About Phillips: A native of Lumberton, N.J., Phillips, 19, was the Rangers 16th round pick in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace Prep (N.J.). Went 18-0 in his high school career, including a 9-0 mark with a 1.02 ERA in his senior year. Was to attend Manatee CC (Fla.) before opted to sign a pro contract.
ARGENIS RODRIGUEZ (RHP, 6-3, 192)
2016 Pro Season: 14 games (9 starts) at AZL Rangers, 56 2/3 IP, 4 HR, 5 BB, 54 K, 4.76 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .272 OBA.
About Rodriguez: A native of La Vega, D.R., Rodriguez, 21, made his stateside debut last season and walked just two percent of the batters he faced, the second-lowest among all qualifying minor leaguers in 2016. Threw 17 scoreless innings as a reliever.
SHAQ MATTA (B-T: S-R, 5-8, 175)
2016 Pro Season: 6 games at Frisco (Tex.), 1-for-14, 6 K.
About Matta: A native of San Juan, P.R. signed with the Rangers in 2015 as an international free agent. Made is stateside debut in 2016 with the Rangers AA squad. Spent 2015 with DSL Rangers. He will start the season on the disabled list.
ISAIAS QUIROZ (B-T: R-R, 5-10, 210)
2016 Pro Season: 25 games at AZL Rangers, 6 R, 16 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 9 BB, 27 K, .222/.332/.333
About Quiroz: A native of Bergenfield, N.J., Quiroz, 20, was the Rangers 20th round pick in 2014 out of St Joseph’s High (N.J.). Spent all three previous pro seasons in the AZL, had 18 starts behind the plate in 2016. Had committed to Howard (Tex.) JC before signing with the Rangers.
RICKY VALENCIA (B-T: R-R, 6-0, 216)
2016 Pro Season: 41 games at Hickory, 12 R, 31 H, 5 2B, 4 HR, 21 RBI, .244/.342/.378.
About Valencia: The native of Valencia, Venezuela, Valencia, 24, was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2011. Split time behind the plate and a first in 2016, played in a career-high 41 games last year. Went 4-for-13 in four games for Hickory in 2015. Had a brief stint at AA Frisco (Tex.) in 2015.
TI’QUAN FORBES (B-T: R-R, 6-3, 188)
2016 Pro Season: 120 games at Hickory, 50 R, 107 H, 16 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 6 SB, 25 BB, 106 K, .252/.316/ .335.
About Forbes: A native of Columbia, Miss., Forbes, 20, was the Rangers second round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High. In 2016, led all SAL 3B in fielding pct., assists and double plays. Made just 16 errors at the position over 108 games. Had originally committed to Ole Miss before signing with the Rangers.
BLAINE PRESCOTT (B-T: R-R, 5-10, 181)
2016 Pro Season: 54 games at Spokane, 33 R, 64 H, 16 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 11 SB, 20 BB, 50 K, .282/.345/.447
About Prescott: A native of Amarillo, Tex., Prescott, 21, was the Rangers 28th round pick in 2015 out of Midland (Tex.) College. Finished 2016 ranked among Northwest League leaders in doubles, OPS and homers. Missed all of 2015 pro season and much of the college season with hamstring injury. Played in 2014 JUCO World Series and named to All-Tournament Team. Drafted in 16th round by Los Angeles Angers in 2014. Had committed to Texas Tech before signing with the Rangers.
About Tejeda: A native of Bani, D.R., Tejeda, 18, was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2014. Named by Baseball America as the number four prospect in the Northwest League and No. 11 in the Arizona League. Had the most triples of any Rangers minor leaguer in 2016.
YEYSON YRIZARRI: (B-T: R-R, 6-0, 193)
2016 Pro Season: 118 games at Hickory, 53 R, 121 H, 27 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 53 RBI, 20 SB, 9 BB, 91 K, .269/.292/.389.
About Yrizarri: A native of Puerto de Ordaz, Venezuela, Yrizarri, 20, was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. Named to South Atlantic League All-Star game in 2016. Led all SAL shortstops in fielding percentage, assists and total chances. Named to the Northwest League All-Star team while at Spokane in 2015. Hit in seven of nine games while filling in as the shortstop at AAA Round Rock. He is the nephew of former major league shortstop Deivi Cruz.
JOSE ALMONTE (B-T: R-R, 6-3, 205)
2016 Pro Season: 61 games at AZL Rangers and Hickory, 33 R, 54 H, 8 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 8 SB, 9 BB, 59, K, .277/.341/ .451.
About Almonte: A native of Santo Domingo, D.R., Almonte, 20, signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. Had two shoulder injuries in 2016 that limited his playing time. MLB.com rates him as the 29th best prospect in the Rangers system. Played in the Perfect Game World Showcase and named to the Dominican Prospect League All-Star Game in 2013.
TRAVIS BOLIN (B-T: R-R, 5-11, 208)
2016 Pro Season: 34 games at AZL Rangers and Spokane, 18 R, 33 H, 8 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 19 RBI, 7 SB, 12 BB, 41 K, .270/.350/ .426.
About Bolin: A native of Berrien Springs, Mich., Bolin, 22,was the Rangers 32nd round pick in 2016 out of Davenport Univ. (Mich.). Named NAIA All-American and Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference player of the year in 2016.
YANIO PEREZ (B-T: R-R, 6-2, 205)
2016 Pro Season: Did not play.
About Perez: A native of Havana, Cuba, signed with the Rangers in 2016 as an international free agent. Played on Cuba’s 18 and under team at the World Cup in Taiwan. Currently resides in Mexico City.
PRESTON SCOTT (B-T: R-R, 6-2, 210)
2016 Pro Season: 47 games at Spokane, 28 R, 39 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 14 RBI, 3 SB, 30 BB, 49 K, .239/ .382/.288.
About Scott: A native of Hanford, Calif., Scott, 23, was the Rangers 34th round pick in 2016 out of Fresno Pacific Univ. (Calif.). Named first-team All-Pac West in 2016. Played one season at Fresno City College and was first-team all CVC. His father Tim played major league baseball with San Diego, Montreal, San Francisco and Colorado.
About Smith: A native of Tenares, D.R., Taveras, 18, was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2015. Named by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Arizona League and the Northwest League in 2016. Cousin of former major league outfielder Willy Taveras.
SPIKE OWEN (Manager)
2016 Pro Season: Was the interim third base coach for the Texas Rangers. Originally named to manage at Hickory in 2016 before going to Arlington.
About Owen: A native of Cleburne, Tex., Owen,, 55, is currently in his ninth season with the Rangers organization. He was the manager at High-A High Desert (Calif.) in 2015 and led the Mavericks to the semifinal round of the California League playoffs. Before managing, Owen was a coach at AAA Round Rock and the system’s infield coordinator. Owen had a long major league playing career, suiting up with Seattle, Boston, Montreal, the New YorkYankees, California and Texas. He played in the World Series with Boston in 1986. In college, Owen played in the College World Series with Texas in 1981 and 1982, picking up a selection to the All-Tournament team in 1982. He also received All-Southwest Conference honors both seasons.
JOSE JAIMES (Pitching Coach)
2016 Pro Season: Was pitching coach at Hickory.
About Jaimes: A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Jaimes, 32, is currently in his ninth season as a coach in the Rangers organization. He has spent time with the Rangers AZL and DSL clubs before moving up to Spokane for the past two years. Jaimes signed with the Rangers as a player in 2001 and pitched for six years in the system. He and his wife Karina had their first child Stephanie this past offseason.
KENNY HOOK (Hitting Coach)
2016 Pro Season: Was the hitting coach at Spokane.
About Hook: A native of Kansas City, Mo., Hook, 46, is in his fourth season with the Rangers, which has also included two seasons at AZL Rangers. Prior to joining the Rangers, Hook was the manager of the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent American Association. Other coaching stops include Benedictine (Kan.) College and Odessa (Tex.) College. He played professionally at Amarillo in the independent Texas-Louisiana League.
SHARNOL ADRIANA (Assistant Coach)
2016 Pro Season: Coached at AA Frisco (Tex.)
About Adriana: A native of Willemstad, Curacao, Adriana, 46, is in his second season as a coach in the Rangers system after a long playing career. Adriana played eight seasons of affiliated baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays chain before bouncing 14 seasons in Mexico. He also has international experience with the Netherlands national team in =three Olympic games and two World Baseball Classics. He was the captain of the Dutch team in the 2008 Olympics at Beijing.
DUSTIN VISSERING (Trainer)
About Vissering: A native of East Peoria, Ill., Vissering, 28, is in his second season with Hickory and his fourth overall with the Rangers. He was previously at Spokane in 2015 and the AZL Rangers in 2014. Vissering has also worked in the Kansas City Royals organization. He did his undergraduate work at Illinois St. and has a master’s degree from Western Illinois.
ADAM NOEL (Strength & Conditioning)
About Noel: A native of Joplin, Mo., Noel, 27, is in his second season with the Rangers after he served in the same role for the AZL Rangers. He earned a Masters of Art in Kinesiology while working as a grad assistant at San Jose State. He graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2012 with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology.