Results tagged ‘ Jeffrey Springs ’
There are some people that know how to teach. Hickory Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes appears to be one of them.
When one looks at the pitchers he has mentored over the past three seasons, it’s an impressive list. The last two Nolan Ryan Award winners, given to the Texas Rangers minor league pitcher of the year, both came from the Hickory squad – Kyle Cody in 2017 and Tyler Phillips last year. The minor league reliever of the year in 2018 also pitched at Hickory – Demarcus Evans.
A look at the current Texas Rangers top-30 prospects on mlb.com is a gallery of pitchers that have come through Hickory, or are here now: Hans Crouse (No. 1), Cole Winn (2), Joe Palumbo (7), Jonathan Hernandez (8), Tyler Phillips (13), C.D. Pelham (15), A.J. Alexy (20), Evans (24), Cody (28) and Ronny Henriquez (30).
Jeffrey Springs and Erik Swanson were also here with Jaimes in 2016, seasons during which both made the South Atlantic League all-star team. They, along with Pelham, have ascended to the majors.
Many of the names on the list above had their share of struggles. Some, like Phillips and Evans, went through demotions before coming back and figuring out what they were doing. Others, such as Pelham and Hernandez and Alexy, had to bull through tough times at Hickory, but eventually caught on to what they needed to do.
They common factor among them all is a calm-demeanored pitching coach in Jose Jaimes. In talking with him, now for four seasons, here is a coach that is positive about every pitcher under his care and expects them to succeed.
I had a chance to talk with Jaimes a couple of weeks ago about coaching and what adjustments he has made in that field. He also gives insights about those who worked through their struggles and those who were stubborn and had to learn the hard way that adjustments were needed.
Here is that interview.
This is your fourth year here?
Jaimes: The fourth year, you’re right.
Does this feel like home now?
Jaimes: Yeah, it kind of feels like home, actually. When we got back this year in early April, I told my wife that it kind of felt like we never left. It felt like we were gone for two weeks and then we came back. I like it here.
Obviously, the Rangers keep sending you back here, but you have a say in this. What brings you back here year after year?
Jaimes: Well, those decisions are more to the Rangers, but when they tell me I have to go back I don’t mind it at all, because I like the city. It’s a safe city and my wife loves it. So, it makes everything a little easier. I have only good stuff to say about Hickory.
This is your fourth year here. What do you know now that you had to learn since your first year back in 2016?
Jaimes: Well, 2016 was my first full-season as a coach. So, I kind of had to adjust to the workload of the players. Coming from extended (spring training) and Spokane (Wash.), they didn’t play that many games. In Arizona, they get an off day a week, so it’s a lot easier to manage the workload of the players. Coming here, it’s a little more difficult because you play 18 games in a row and you’ve got to travel. You got to do a bunch of stuff that you don’t do in short season. So, being able to manage that with the players was probably my biggest challenge my first year.
And then, it’s getting to know the league and to know the teams that we face. I feel like every year has been a little easier. But, it’s always a challenge, because you’re always getting new players and a new staff. So, you kind of have to adjust to them also.
Does this feel like a good niche for you to get these young guys in their first full season? Is that something you see yourself doing longer term?
Jaimes: Yeah. I like it here and I like working with the young players, definitely. I think it’s a really important year for these guys and I feel like I can help to get on track on what to expect in a full season and all that. I feel like it’s a good fit for me.
How difficult is it to take a group of 13 -14 guys, especially this year where so many of them are new to you, to learn their stuff and what they like to do, and then take some of what is not working for them, and fix what they can do better?
Jaimes: Everything starts for me in spring training. I try to spend as much time as I can with the guys that I know are going to come with me. So, I try to get to know them and what they like to do on the field, and get to know their routines, know what works for them.
That’s how it starts, and then once I get here, probably that first week, I start to put my plan together for them from when I got to know them in Arizona. Then, as the year goes, they start getting to know themselves a little more, so they start to put stuff together that will work for them.
Most of the time it comes from them. Sometimes I’ll give a suggestion, but at the end of the day, they’re the ones making the decision. That isn’t working for me, or other stuff they’re doing in their routines, thing like that.
Do you ever get guys that are stubborn and they have to figure that stuff out?
Jaimes: (Laughing) Yeah. That’s part of it. You’ll always get that guy that wants to do their own things. Sometimes you’ve just got to let it go until they can’t handle that. Then, they realize that they need to listen a little more.
How difficult is it to stand back when you see something that you know is not going to work, and they’re getting pounded, and you see the teammates’ reactions that something is not working?
Jaimes: I think that comes with experience. I think, maybe, my first couple of years as a coach, I always tried to jump in right away. But then, with experience, you kind of get to learn to be a little more patient and let the game take care of that. Sometimes, you need to let them come to you.
You always want them to tell you what they didn’t do right, or if they need to change. Sometimes, it gets a little overwhelming to them. I think the best thing, sometimes, is to let them come to you and ask for advice.
In your four years, you’ve had Kyle Cody, Edgar Arredondo, Joe Palumbo to name a few. Who is the guy that struggled some early, but you saw the light switch on, that gave you the most pleasure to see that?
Jaimes: There’s a couple, but definitely Joe Palumbo was one of them. I had him in 2014 and 2015. We always saw the potential that he had, but early in his career he didn’t challenge himself and he didn’t put in the effort in practice. Once he started changing that mentality and you started seeing the difference. The velo went up. The command got better. He became more of a true pitcher. It was probably one of the more exciting stories I’ve had in my career.
The 2017 and 2018 seasons, the first month to six weeks were tough. You and I would talk, and I know those were tough times. Part of that was what the Rangers were wanting to see the guys in commanding the fastball. How difficult was that to go through as a coach? You knew what the outcome was going to be, but still guys are getting beat up and they’re not happy.
Jaimes: That’s what we teach the players, is that we have to stay with the process. It was a plan that we put together for them. Yeah, it was tough to see it, but we always tried to stay positive, because at some point, that plan was going to pay off. And it did.
It was tough but watching the guys those first five or six weeks start to command their fastball better and getting to know that they can pitch with their fastball. It was cool to see. It was tough, but sometimes you have to stay with the process.
Who is the most talented pitcher you’ve had?
Jaimes: Oooo, that’s a tough one. We’ve had a few of them. Demarcus Evans.
Demarcus, for me, is one of the most talented pitchers because, obviously the size. He’s a big guy. He has a plus-fastball at 94-95, but when you look deeper at what kind of fastball he has, you look at the spin rate and the type of vertical movement that he has, that’s what makes his fastball so special. That’s why he has so many swing-and-misses on fastballs at the middle of the plate.
Kyle Cody was another one. Big fastball with some sinker action, then with the slider that he has. Those two pitches play very well.
Crouse, obviously. He’s a big talent and throws pitches for strikes. I love the way that he competes. To me, that’s special. He’s not afraid. He likes a good challenge. So, you pull the talent and then you add the type of person and athlete that he is, and the mentality he has, that makes him even better.
So, what’s the feeling like when you see guy like C.D. (Pelham) get a call up? Now, you start seeing the guys get the brass ring, what does that mean to you?
Jaimes: When I think about C.D. – you remember those first couple of months in 2017, he struggled. Then, he started putting it together halfway through the year. When I saw him when he got called up last year, it kind of almost made me cry, because I know how hard he worked and I know how much patience he had with the process. Sometimes, he tried stuff and it didn’t work, but he gave his best effort.
When you see guys like that make it to the big leagues, it makes you feel good for them, because you know how hard they work. He’s a special kid and a great guy, a good teammate and he was always good with the coaches.
What’s your path to the big leagues, or do you see a path? Do you like this part of the process in the teaching and developing?
Jaimes: Yes, I love teaching. I would like to see myself at some point, in a few years, getting into the big leagues. That’s the ultimate goal, for sure. But, as long as I have a job and doing what I like, I’ll be okay.
What made you want to do it in the first place?
Jaimes: My last year, when I played, I was the oldest Latin kid on the team. We had a lot of Latin players, so I kind of took them under my wing. So I started guiding them to what they were going to face when they went to Spokane. So, that’s when I started liking the teaching part. They were listening to what I was saying, so that’s when coaching started to become more intriguing to me. I knew my playing career was probably going to be pretty short, so I thought, ‘you know what, if I get to stay in baseball and I can coach, I’ll be fine.’
(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.
Today is the unofficial start of the baseball season. I know it’s a cold January day, but with the Hickory Crawdads hosting the Texas Rangers Winter Caravan today, the occasion is a reminder that games begin in a few short months.
For the past three years, the caravan has been an occasion for the Rangers to bring back some of the former players to Hickory. This year, Jose Trevino and Jeffrey Springs return to the city where they helped win the 2015 South Atlantic League title.
The event is especially meaningful for Springs. Here is a 30th-round pick as a senior out of Appalachian State and, before that, South Point High in Belmont, about an hour drive from Hickory. Not many 30th rounders get to the major leagues. Not many senior signees get to the major leagues. Not many alums of App State get to the major leagues – in fact, only seven have. Yet, the left-hander defied the odds and last July he made his MLB debut on July 31 with the Texas Rangers in Arlington.
My memory of Springs was a guy that really was too good for this league. A sharp-cutting slider – I’d swear it was a curveball at times – accentuated his low 90s fastball and made it seem even faster. In parts of two seasons with the Crawdads, Springs posted a 1.05 ERA in 34.1 innings pitched (20 games) with 46 strikeouts and nine strikeouts.
With his arsenal, the Rangers had Springs return to the starting role he had at Appalachian State. With mixed results, he jumped back to bullpen work and showed enough at AA Frisco and AAA Round Rock to get a look-see with the Rangers over the final two months of the season.
So, when Springs comes back to Hickory today it will be as a big leaguer. In itself, that is something the left-hander had little imagination for this time last year when he was working for the YMCA in Charlotte, trying to supplement his minor-league income. The whole idea of Springs coming home this fall as a major leaguer was surreal to him. But now, he is in a position to make that surreal dream an annual reality.
It is that mindset that this interview with Springs begins.
What was it like going home this fall, after the season, being a big leaguer?
Springs: It was kind of surreal thinking back on the season. You kind of reflect a little bit when you get home, because you’ve been going at it since February. Kind of looking back, it was unbelievable how quickly it happened. I was just taking it one step at a time. I was hoping it would go well at AA and, obviously, trying to end the year there. Before I knew it, I was in AAA and then the next thing I knew, I was getting called up to the big leagues. I mean, it was everything you could think about. It’s crazy to think about.
The first couple of months at home, it was kind of hard to think that I could call myself a big leaguer.
Do you have a different mindset this winter than when you went home last year from Kinston, or when you went home from Hickory, etc.?
Springs: I was hungrier, I guess, looking at it in the sense of I got there. Now, it’s a matter of really establishing myself and staying around and making a career of it. It’s one goal to get there, but then once you get there, you only want to play there. It kind of opens your eyes to the competition, to the lifestyle, and the teammates. It motivates me more that I want to stay there. Like I said, I want to be a part of the team. I had a little bit of success and I feel like I can compete at that level. That was a big takeaway that I had from those two months, that I can pitch at that level and I can have success.
How did you find out you were going to Texas?
Springs: I was actually sitting at my apartment in Round Rock on an off day doing laundry. I knew the trade deadline was coming up, or whatever, but I didn’t look too much into it.
I was on the phone with my mom, calling her and touching base. I saw Paul Kruger’s (Texas Rangers assistant director of player development) name popped up on my phone. So I told her that I’ve got to go real quick. He answered the phone and he was like, “Hey, hold on just a second, you’ve got the Triple-A manager on the phone.”
He asked, “what are you doing?” I was like, ‘I’m doing laundry.’ He said, ‘Stop doing that and get to the field and get to the airport. You’re meeting the team in Arizona. You just got called up. Congratulations.’
After he said that, I blacked out almost, because I really didn’t know what to say back to him other than thank you. He was like, “You’ve got about an hour-and-a-half to get to the field and get to the airport. So hurry up.”
I was running through the airport trying to make the flight because I was scared I was going to miss it. On the whole plane ride, it was, “is this really happening?” I showed up to the park at about 5:45, six o’clock. I played catch with the pitching coach and the next thing that I knew I was in the game that night. It was a hectic day, but I would do it over and over again if I had to.
Did you fly with wet clothes?
Springs: No (laughing). I had some clothes, but he was like, ‘just wear whatever you wear to the ballpark because you’re going to turn around and fly right back home that night.’ I was only there that night, because it was their last game in Arizona.
So, I flew in with the team and then I caught a flight back to Austin and drove my car back to Arlington because it was an off day the next day. It was pretty crazy; it really was. Like I said, I was nervous that I was going to miss the flight, because if I missed the flight, I wasn’t going to be at the game. It all worked out, that’s for sure. Like I said, I would do it over and over again if I had to for that experience.
What was your first moment in the big leagues where you said, “okay, this is for real”?
Springs: I feel like the first outing, it was so surreal that I didn’t really register what was going on the first inning. Once I got that out of the way, I felt like I got back to pitching. Once I was able to strike out the first guy of my career, I felt like it was, “Hey, it’s just baseball. You’ve just got to make pitches.” and things like that. They’re just a little bit better hitters. I guess, after that, it was three or four outings into it that I realized, “Ok, I can do this.” It’s a matter of doing what I do and executing pitches.
Who was the first hitter you faced where you really got a sense that this was a surreal moment? You see them on TV and you hear about them and read about them, and there you are.
Springs: Probably with Arizona. They had A.J. Pollock, and Paul Goldschmidt and John Jay – I remember facing him when he was rehabbing at Lake Elsinore (High-A San Diego) out in the California. These are guys you see on TV all the time. Paul Goldschmidt is unbelievable. Pollock was on the All-star team. All these guys that you watch. Probably the first couple of hitters with Arizona. Facing guys like Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen and people like that, it’s pretty crazy.
The last time you and I talked was two years ago just after you were selected for the South Atlantic League All-Star game. What clicked for you from your time at Hickory until your callup? What was the period of time where you began to think, maybe I can get there?
Springs: I think, maybe, throughout the year in Kinston. I had some ups and downs as a starter, but I think I realized how to read swings a little bit better, and really what I did well and what I didn’t do so well, so I could pitch to my strengths. I really focused in on that. This is where I can go to get hitters out. This is where I can go to get ground balls or popups. It was really understanding what I could do and sticking to that and always pitching to my strengths, unless the situation calls for something different. Understanding that if you’re going to get beat, you’ve got to get beat with your best pitch with a hundred percent conviction.
So, once I kind of understood, hey, this is what I’m good at and this is how I pitch, this is what I need to do to have success, and really focusing in on my reading swings. Kind of watching how other guys attack hitters and thinking to myself, “what would I do in that situation?”
As a starter, you would have to sit up in the stands and chart the game. I think that really helped me a lot understanding the swings. It’s something that I never really focused on. I was just out there trying to make my pitch. Once I kind of realized why you’re trying to make that pitch, I think that helped me out tremendously.
Obviously, there’s a lot of room to improve, but I think I have a pretty good understanding of what I do well, and I just continue to work on it as I move forward.
I looked back and remembered that you had pitched for South Point in the state 3A title series. If I remember reading this right, you were a hitter. How did you decide to go to App to be a pitcher instead of a hitter? You had quite a series in the championship.
Springs: My first year, my coaches didn’t like the young guys to hit, he wanted them to focus on pitching. So, I hit a little bit then – obviously, I hit in my career before that. But, the days I pitched, I didn’t get to hit. So, I played first base.
I had committed to college – I think, my sophomore or junior year. I had committed early as a pitcher. I was a decent hitter my junior year, but I was already committed to be a pitcher. So, my senior year, since I knew it was going to be my last year hitting, I really worked on it in the offseason. I just kind of clicked, because I knew there wasn’t any pressure in it. I knew I was going as a pitcher and I probably wouldn’t get to swing the bat very much. I was just having fun and enjoying that last year in high school.
Do you go back to South Point very much?
Springs: Every once in a while. I went back and signed autographs at one of the football games. They asked me to come out and do that for a little recognition thing. But, I’ll go back to the high school a couple of times. They’ll do their winter workouts and stuff. I don’t want to impose, so I’ll throw on my own and stuff like that, because they have a limited amount of time that they can do their workouts and stuff, so I don’t want to bother them too much. I kind of follow them and stuff and my parents still live in Belmont.
You had the chance in the last year to be an opener, which is a new thing going on in the major leagues. How have you embraced that role and how has that been different from what you’ve done in the minor league as a traditional reliever?
Springs: Honestly, I treated it the exact same. I went out there, obviously, a little earlier. As a bullpen guy, you don’t have to get out there quite as early. The first one I did in Arlington, I went out to the bullpen before people were even out there. I just kind of sat down there and did my normal routine. I sat there by myself a little bit and then I got up and started stretching. By that time that catcher and the pitching coaches were coming out because the game was about to start in 15-20 minutes, as opposed to a traditional starter, who gets out there 30-40 minutes early.
I went through my stuff. I had played catch earlier that day with the relievers, so I was going to treat it like a normal day. I’m just coming into the game earlier. Basically, I’m starting it. I just got up on the mound and went through the routine and then went into the dugout. I treated it as close to my normal routine as possible, because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it by overthinking. I treated it the exact same. I had a little success with it, so I did that the next time in Oakland and it worked out okay. I think it went pretty well.
Do you have a sense of doing something different and unique that is on the ground level of this sort of thinking with the opener? Not many people have the opportunity to do something that is different and outside of the box?
Definitely, I was very fortunate they allowed me to do that, the few times that they did. I kind of just embraced it with an open arm and open mind. For me, whether I’m pitching in the first inning as an opener, or the ninth inning as a closer, I’m focusing on three outs, one inning at a time and putting up zeros.
I try not to look too much into it. I like to keep it as simple as possible, but it’s just I have to go out there and do my job whether it’s as an opener or facing one hitter. I just try to treat it the same as possible. It is pretty cool and I’m pretty fortunate to be a part of that, if that’s what they continue to do. It’s pretty neat.
What were you doing this time last year?
Springs: This time last year, working part time jobs and kind of getting back into shape and try to get ready to go to spring training.
Where did you work?
Springs: The YMCA in Charlotte.
So now, you’re doing Winter Caravan with a major league team?
Springs: Yeah (laughter). It’s a little different, because, you know, this the time I always come home and try to work part time, because money is not great. It is what it is, so it’s a little different this year for sure.
No part-time jobs this offseason?
Springs: No, part-time jobs. I’m pretty booked up with the wedding and all that. Other than I teach a lesson to a young kid and stuff like that. That’s not really for money, it’s just to help him out and try to teach him some things that I wish I had have learned younger.
Being a 30th-round pick and you were a senior sign to the major leagues, how surreal is that whole journey, where most of you guys don’t make it?
It’s pretty crazy; I mean, really thinking about that, like you said. From that first year in Spokane, just thinking about the guys that I played with that were very good and were much higher draft picks, and things like that, it didn’t necessarily work out for them, even after that year, to where I am now, it’s pretty crazy. It’s definitely really crazy to hear. I don’t really think too much about it except for when people bring it up. It’s very humbling and an amazing experience, that’s for sure.
Very few professional baseball players get the chance to play near their childhood home. Even fewer minor leaguers get to do so. Former Hickory Crawdads left-handed reliever Jeffrey Springs got to do just that and he made the most of it in working a promotion this week to high-A High Desert.
Springs is a native of Belmont, N.C. – about a 45 minute drive from Hickory – and was a part of the 2011 state 3A championship team at South Point High.
He was named the state 3A player of the year in 2011 and set the Gaston County record for strikeouts and is tied for wins in the county’s baseball history.
Springs went on to a stellar four-year career at Appalachian State – also about 45 minutes from Hickory – where he posted top-10 career marks in starts, strikeouts and innings pitched for the Mountaineers.
He got his first chance to come home – Springs is the first App State product to pitch for Hickory – late last summer when the Texas Rangers 30th round pick in 2015 was promoted to the Crawdads for the final week of the regular season. He struck out six over 3.1 innings and then punctuated his season with a key moment in the first round of the South Atlantic League playoffs.
With Hickory facing elimination in game two of the Northern Division series, the West Virginia Power rallied to tie the score at 3-3 in the top of the fifth and had the go-ahead run on first. Springs was brought in to face SAL all-star rightfielder Michael Suchy. The lefty needed only one pitch to get Suchy to pop up to second and end the inning. The Power did not score again over the final 13 innings of the series.
This season, Springs was a foundational piece of the Crawdads bullpen prior to his promotion. Springs currently has three pitches – low-90s fastball, a looping curve ball, and a change that Springs uses as his go-to pitch. He is also working on adding a slider to the mix. In 18 outings, Springs struck out 40, walked eight, and posted a 1.16 ERA over 31 innings. The SAL batted .106 against him – the stingiest mark among relievers in the league – which earned him a spot in the SAL all-star game in Lexington, Ky. Springs struck out the only batter he faced to close out the sixth inning.
Below is the interview I did with Springs late last week, just after his addition – strangely, for me, a late addition – to the Northern Division all-star roster.
Obviously you were a late addition to the all-star game. I thought you should’ve been picked originally, but let me get your reaction to your selection to the all-star game.
Springs: Obviously, it’s humbling to be a part of something like that. It’s obviously really good. Like you said, I wasn’t picked in the beginning, but whatever. It is what it is. But I’m really happy to be a part of it and I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days in Kentucky and getting to compete and enjoying it.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Springs: Just being able to pitch against the best hitters in the league and competing to see how you match up, to be honest. Obviously we’re out here to compete and you’d like to see how you match up with the best.
Was there disappointment when you weren’t picked the first time?
Springs: No. It is what it is. I know it’s sometimes tough for relievers to make it. So, I wasn’t really expecting to or not expecting to.
How cool was it to pitch here after coming out of App (Appalachian State)?
Springs: I was excited when they posted the rosters out of spring training. I kind of had my fingers crossed to be in Hickory, not only because that’s moving up for me and getting one step closer, but just being close to home and being on the East Coast where my family can actually get to come and see me play. They weren’t able to come out to Spokane and see me. I’m right up the road from where I went to school for four years. It’s really nice. I feel like I’m playing at home and I’m very comfortable here. It’s definitely an advantage, because I live right down the road and I get to see the mom and dad every once in a while and friends and stuff like that. It’s really nice.
Do you travel down to Gaston County?
Springs: Yeah, I travel there most off-days to visit family and stuff. It’s nice to see them and they come to a good it of games.
You got here last year for the last couple of weeks and the championship run. That was a nice bit of a reward for you.
Springs: It was a great experience, for sure. That team was very good. Obviously, they clinched the first half and it was exciting to be a part of a special thing that they had there at the end. Talent wise and the chemistry within the team, it was really special to be a part of it. They really accepted me with open arms. I contributed the little bit I could whenever they asked me to me to do whatever.
You got a key out in that playoff run.
Springs: I think against West Virginia – we had great starters. Obviously, they pretty much carried the team pretty much the whole year. I came in and threw one pitch to bridge the gap. We had great eighth-inning guys and we had a great closer. If the starters for some reason couldn’t get to the eighth inning, we just kind of bridged the gap. Like I said, our bullpen was stacked with Dillon (Tate) and Lulu (Luis Ortiz) back there and then Scott Williams. If we’d get to the eighth inning, we’re winning the game pretty much.
What was your goal entering this year and how has that progressed for you?
Springs: Just being as consistent as possible. That’s something I tried to do last year at Spokane and carry it over to this year. They talk about staying on the kiddie coaster and being consistent, so when you have good outings and bad outings, they’re not too far apart. Just being consistent and doing whatever role they need me to do – being in the bullpen, or if they need me to be a lefty specialist, or a late-inning guy. Whatever they need me to do, just taking it and running with it and being the best at it.
Did you start at App?
Springs: Yeah, I started my whole career in high school and four years at App. When I got to the Rangers, they said you’re going to be in the bullpen, which is no big deal. It’s kind of an advantage for me because, at most, bullpen guys are two-pitch guys. But being a starter, throwing three and working on a slider now; here’s all three pitchers for a couple of innings and you don’t have to see me twice. It’s kind of nice, to be honest.
The one out-pitch for you has been that curveball. Has that been an advantage for you at the start?
Springs: My changeup really is the one that is an equalizer for me to right-handed hitters. I’m almost more comfortable at times with right handers in the box – I know that’s weird being left handed – but for me, my changeup is what gets me back on course. If I’m missing with fastballs, or whatever it may be, for some reason, when I go to it, it kind of settles everything back down. That’s what I go to. My breaking ball has gotten more consistent and I throw it and bury it 0-0, or whatever I need to do. It’s probably a changeup that has really been my equalizer.
I throw a curveball, but the change is the out pitch that I need right now. It’s not really my out pitch; it’s to get the weak contact, the popups. It really helps my fastball. I don’t throw like some of these guys, 98, or anything like that. I have to change speeds and keep hitters guessing.
Is that slider going to be the key for you moving up?
Springs: I think so. If I can really develop that and learn that, that’ll really hopefully take my game to left-handed hitters to be able to hopefully succeed at getting them out. Obviously, if you’re a left hander and you can’t get left handers out, you’ve got problems. I’ve been working on it a couple of weeks and hopefully if I can nail that down, I’ve got a shot of progressing a little bit more, a little quicker.
Do you have hopes of moving up this year, or are you fine being close to home?
Springs: Whatever they want me to do. If they want me to stay here or if they want me move up, obviously that’s the goal. It’s another step closer to the ultimate goal of making it. If they want me to move, I’ll be more than happy to pack my stuff up whenever they ask.
Is there hope for you that you get a change to start, or are you comfortable coming out of the bullpen?
Springs: Obviously, I started my whole career. That’s kind of where my heart is, whatever you want to call it. But like I said, I just want to keep pitching. If I get to start, that would be icing on the cake. But just getting to pitch, for me, is the biggest thing. I don’t care if we’re up by ten, down by ten, or tied in the ninth, as long as I get to pitch, I’m pretty content with that.
Between you and (Joe) Palumbo – although y’all have run into a bit of a rough patch lately – along with (John ) Werner, it’s been a nice back of the bullpen the first half of the season.
Springs: I feel like as a team, our pitching has been pretty consistent throughout the year. Hitting is going to go in slumps. That’s just how it is. I mean, they’re going to struggle. We feel like as a staff, we have to carry them. We have to keep them in the games, no matter if they’re putting up ten runs or they’re putting up two. For the most part, we did that. We’ve struggled the last few weeks and kind of shot ourselves in the foot trying to win the first half.
Werner’s been nice. It’s another consistent guy who comes in and you know what you’re going to get. Palumbo has been pretty good all year. We feel like we’ve got some guys in the pen that can really finish off games. Our starting staff is really good, and like I said, they’re been really carrying it pretty good.
You get a call to the major leagues, what is your reaction going to be?
Springs: Oh man, I don’t even know. Obviously, you dream of it since you were a little kid. I don’t know what my response will be. You try not to think about it too much during the season, but it’s hard not to wonder when you’re sitting there – even in the offseason – what would it be like. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you. I’d probably call my parents and just thank God for the opportunity. It’d be so surreal for a guy to really get a grasp on it until you maybe step onto the field. Fingers crossed, we’ll see.
Who’s the first non-family person you’ll call?
Springs: Probably the girlfriend. Obviously, mom and dad, my grandpa and my brothers. There have been a couple of people that have really helped me along the way with the pitching aspect. Devon Lowery, he made it to the big leagues out of Belmont (South Point High), where I’m from. He’s helped me so much along my way. I’ve had so much help. I’ve been fortunate enough to come in contact with people that know a lot about the game and helped me tweak things that I needed to get where I am. There’d be a lot of thanks going out to so many different people.
What’s the one thing that that you’ve gone through that you’ll look back on and say that was worth it?
Springs: Just the sacrifices, like the offseason. What you have to go through to get your body in shape and the arm in shape and all the sacrifices over the years. You can’t go and do normal things like normal people do. All the hard work that you put it would be worth it to reach that ultimate goal. It’d be like, “I’m glad I did everything that I did to get where I am.”
This is the final installment of an interview I did with Mike Daly, Texas Rangers Senior Director of Minor League Operations.
He discusses the progress of prospects Brett Martin, Jonathan Hernandez and Pedro Payano, as well as a few other pitchers making their way onto the parent club’s radar.
In case you missed it: Part I focused on the Crawdads top hitting prospect (at the time) Andy Ibanez and the top pitching prospect Dillon Tate
Part II looked at the Crawdads hitting prospects, including Eric Jenkins and Yeyson Yrizarri.
I was surprised to see Brett Martin come back here. When I talked with him at the start of the season he said there was a checklist essentially: first pitch curve ball for strikes; work on the secondaries deeper in the count, getting through hitters a little bit quicker rather than running up count. How is he doing with the checklist as far as you can tell?
Daly: I think it’s been real good for Brett. Brett came in here last year, I think he was with that group of Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Luis Ortiz, and now he came back to Hickory being one of the lead guys. I think some of the challenges for him last year was to go out there, get deep in games and get guys out. Now, he’s taken like a step and it’s a little bit about pitch development. It’s about throwing that breaking ball when you’re behind in the count. It’s about getting guys out in three or four pitches or less. I think it’s been like a challenge for Brett and we think that it’s something that’s ultimately going to be helpful for him as he starts to move up the ladder.
I think there are a lot of discussions at the end of spring training about challenging him there at high A, or do we have him back to Hickory. We felt there were a number of challenges that he could go through here in Hickory that would prepare him better to go to High A, ultimately AA and on up to the Major leagues. Where Brett’s at, it’s been a challenge, but a very good one and something that we see as helping his career up to this point.
Jonathan Hernandez is somebody I’m beginning to enjoy more and more watching him pitch. He’s a young guy at 19. In his first start at Kannapolis, he was falling all over the place and he’s toned that down a lot. He seems to learn quickly into what he needs to do to make the next step.
Daly: He also comes from a baseball family. His father pitched in the minor leagues for a number of years. He actually was born in the states when his father was playing for Memphis. His father is also a pitching coach in the Dominican Winter League for Aguilas down there. So Jonathan has grown up in baseball and he’s always been a very focused young man.
I give Jonathan a lot of credit. When we signed him, he was very, very skinny. He’s put on a lot of good weight. He’s put in a lot of time in our Dominican complex. He pitched for two years for our Dominican Summer League team. He’s a young man that has some weapons. He can really mix all of his pitches. He has a very good I.Q. and aptitude of what he’s trying to do out there on the mound. It’s been real exciting to see him grow both physically and mentally over the past few years that he’s been in the organization.
Pedro Payano has been at the top of the rotation, when you run them out there one through six. He’s always going to give your five or six innings. He had the one-hitter. In a lot of ways, he came out of nowhere for us when he came here in August last year.
Daly: I think that Pedro is another guy that has a very good I.Q. He’s very good in terms of being able to read what the other hitters are trying to do. He’s able to attack them based on what the hitters are trying to read; so, he’s able to read bats. He’ll throw the breaking ball behind in the count. He’ll throw his changeup in any count. He can throw the fastball up to 92-93 and has good deception.
He’s a guy that took a couple of years in out Dominican Summer League program to kind of get himself going, but he’s been on a rocket ever since. He’s a guy that started 2015 in the Dominican Summer League, jumped to Arizona and then ended up here and was a huge part of the championship team for the Hickory Crawdads. We see a guy that has a very, very bright future.
Erik Swanson is another one that has taken another step forward after not throwing much last year.
Daly: It’s another credit to our scouting department. We get him in the eighth round out of Iowa Western and that was a good job by our scouts to even dig him up.
He’s a young man that has a very, very good arm. He’s really invested in what he’s doing off the field. He’s really invested in the strength and conditioning program and has done an outstanding job with Wade Lamont and Dustin Vissering, our strength and conditioning coach and our trainer, in terms of our arm care program that got derailed last year with some injuries. But he’s a guy that’s come in here this year and taken the ball each and every time that he’s gotten it, and it’s been very impressive.
He’s got a very heavy fastball, sneaky fastball and really pounds the strike zone. He’s a guy that we’ve been really excited about over the first couple of months, and that’s a real credit to Swanny and the investment he’s made in the strength and conditioning program.
Who are we not paying enough attention to on the pitching side, someone who’s not on the radar and then all of a sudden, there he is?
Daly: I think anytime you’re six-foot-seven and left-handed, I think Adam Choplick is a guy that is someone to keep an eye on. He throws up to 94 with a slider.
We got a real interesting guy in Matt Ball in the trade there with the Chicago White Sox for Anthony Renaudo. Again, a good job there by our scouting department to identify him – a 6-foot-4 pitcher with a 94, 95 mile-an-hour fastball and a slider. He’s been real impressive in the short amount of time that he’s been here so far.
I think Jeffery Springs from right up the road here (Appalachian State) is a guy whose fastball has taken a couple of steps up. He’s got a plus changeup. He can throw that changeup at any time in any count. He’s a left-hander with a really good makeup.
After a see-saw affair through the first four innings, the Hickory Crawdads bullpen restored order and snared the team an 8-4 win over the Lexington Legends in a Monday morning game at L.P. Frans Stadium.
With the win and a split by Hagerstown (Md.) in its home doubleheader with Rome (Ga.), the Crawdads (17-8) now sit one-half game behind the Suns in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. Lexington dropped to 10-15 and is now in sixth in the Southern Division, seven games out of first and one game ahead of last place Rome.
The Crawdads took three of four in the series and wrapped up a 6-1 homestand.
The teams exchanged leads three times before Hickory scored two runs in the fifth to keep the lead for good.
The bullpen was the story of the afternoon for Hickory as a quartet of relievers held the Legends to two hits over the final 4.1 innings and posted six strikeouts.
Tyler Davis picked up for starter Brett Martin with two outs in the fourth and struck out five of the seven hitters he faced. Adam Choplick gave up two hits after two were out, but got out a break when catcher Chuck Moorman threw out Marten Gasparini trying to steal third to end the inning. Johan Juan and Jeffrey Springs each pitched perfect innings to close out the game.
Jose Almonte hit his team-leading fourth homer of the season to tie the game in the fourth. In the fifth, Moorman singled in the go-ahead run and then Tyler Sanchez scored when Lexington botched a run-down play of Moorman between first and second. Yrizarri’s RBI double in the seventh and Dylan Moore’s run-scoring single in the eighth tacked on insurance runs for Hickory.
The Crawdads posted 13 hits on the afternoon and scored in six of eight innings. All nine batters had at least one hit with Eric Jenkins, Moore, Sanchez and Yrizarri collecting two each.
Yrizarri knocked in three runs and finished the series 7-for-12 with 3 runs scored and six RBI.
Bullpen Legen—wait for it – dary in Win:
The outing for Tyler Davis didn’t start well when he entered the game in the fourth. With two outs in the inning and DJ Burt at first, Burt took off for second and reached safely when Davis was called for a balk, as he attempted to turn and throw to second. However, Davis recovered to get Marten Gasparini looking on a changeup to end the inning.
“When Davis came in, he came in and pounded the zone with his fastball and was able to get some breaking balls and changeups in there,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “He really went after them and I think that gave us some momentum to start scoring a little more then without people all over the bases.”
The right-handed Davis – the Texas Rangers 23rd round pick in 2015 out of Washington – pounded the arm-side corner with an 89-91 mph fastball. But it was his ability to change speeds along that corner which that kept the Legends hitters off stride. In the fifth, Chase Vallot spoiled a fastball on the corner and then swung through a change in the same spot. Amalani Fukofuka was the one batter that seemed to solve Davis through a nine-pitch at-bat before whiffing on a slider off the plate to end the inning.
“I have to give Chuck (Moorman) a lot of credit,” said Davis. “He had a good plan behind the dish all day today. I was just pounding the strike zone with fastballs early and getting ahead of batters. Obviously, when you’re ahead of batters, it makes everything a lot easier. You can do a lot more with the at-bat; you can do a lot more with what you can throw. You’re basically in the driver’s seat.”
In the sixth Davis got Ben Johnson to swing through a slider off the plate before blowing an 89 mile an hour fastball by him. He used a similar plan to Xavier Hernandez, getting the first two strikes on off-speed pitches before painting the corner on a fastball to get him looking.
“I’m not an overpowering pitcher and I know that,” Davis said. “I really try to focus on keeping the ball down and getting ahead of batters and then mixing it up, getting them off balance a lot and keeping them off balance constantly with off-speed stuff and with fastballs as well. Being able to do that is huge and makes life a lot easier for me and the catcher and the coaches.”
Six-foot-eight lefty Adam Choplick used a 94 mph fastball and a biting curve to handle Lexington in the seventh. He left a pair of heaters over the plate that were struck into the outfield. Overall, a good outing that was helped along when Gasparini was thrown out stealing third.
Johan Juan had little trouble in the eighth, sporting fastballs in the 92-94 range. Jeffrey Springs closed out the ninth on just six pitches.
A comedy of errors:
Whether it was the 10:30 a.m. start, or getaway day prior to an off-day for both teams, fundamental plays were difficult to come by.
In the first, the Crawdads had a chance to get out of the inning unscathed for starter Brett Martin. With runners at first and second, the slow-footed Samir Duenez hit what looked to be a routine double play ball to Frandy De La Rosa at second. However, he and Yrizarri and short were slow in getting the play in motion and Duenez beat out the play. Burt scored on Vallot’s single.
Lexington returned the favor defensively in the bottom of the inning. With runners at second and third with no outs, Moore rifled a shot that Jecksson Flores snagged at third. Instead of taking the sure out at first, Flores gambled and lost when he tried to tag Chris Garia scrambling back to third. Garia beat the play and the bases were loaded. Hickory then traded two outs for two runs in the inning.
The Crawdads appeared to add to its early lead in the second when Garia lifted a fly ball to right that scored Ti’Quan Forbes. However, Lexington successfully appealed the play and Forbes was ruled to have left third early.
A leadoff error by 2B Frandy De La Rosa led to a pair of unearned runs in the third that gave Lexington a 4-2 lead. Then in the bottom of the third, a single and a double, a walk and another single led to only one Crawdads run as Eric Jenkins was picked off first.
“It took us a couple of innings to get together and then everybody pulled their heads back out and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got something to do here,’” said Mintz. “For the most part, we did what we had to do. We could’ve helped ourselves a little bit better early.”
Lexington appeared to get a break from Hickory in the fifth when Moorman was caught off first after Emilio Ogando’s pitch in the dirt was corralled by Vallot behind the plate. However, Bart’s throw during the rundown got away and Sanchez scored.
The Legends last chance to stay in the game came in the seventh. Down 6-4 in the seventh, Gasparini and Duenez both singled. But with Vallot at the plate at a 1-1 count, the runners took off for a double steal with Moorman easily throwing out Gasparini at third as Gasparini appeared to injure his left leg during the play.
Eric Jenkins reached on an error at short in the eighth with two outs and scored on Moore’s RBI single.
Martin looking for go-to pitch:
Crawdads starter Brett Martin needed 90 pitches to record 10 outs and it was partially his inability to finish off hitters that was his undoing.
An omen as to what was to come occurred in a lengthy battle between Martin and Gasparini. Martin continually stayed away from the right-handed hitter with a series of fastballs on and off the outside corner. Gasparini spoiled several fastballs and was then able to read a changeup in the same area and laid off a curveball away. On the tenth pitch of the plate appearance, Gasparini served an outside-corner fastball into right.
Martin had difficulty with throwing his secondary pitches consistently for strikes, leaving him without a trusted out pitch. On two-strike counts against Martin, Lexington went 6-for-12 with a walk. The botched double play ball and the De La Rosa error also hampered things for Martin.
“Martin threw okay,” Mintz said. “Just his execution today on some pitches when he was ahead on counts and different things, the execution wasn’t there. Obviously, he ate up some pitches, but we didn’t help him in the field there a couple of times.”
Running, running, running:
The Crawdads stole 19 bases during the four-game series, getting caught just three times. Nine different players stole a base in the series with Jenkins leading the way with five. Yrizarri and De La Rosa each had three, while Dylan Moore had two.
Hickory 5 Greenville 4 (17 innings)
So, I tweeted this in the sixth:
“Alexander Basabe crushes a very flat slider. Greenville up 4-3 and this feels like it’s over.”
I’m an idiot.
In the longest home game by innings since…. last May, the Hickory Crawdads used the hot bat of Andy Ibanez to defeat the Greenville Drive 5-4 in the final game of the three-game series between the squads. The win was the lone victory in the series and clinched a 4-3 season-opening homestand.
Andy Ibanez had five hits and a walk in eight plate appearances for the Crawdads, including a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI double in the 17th.
The game winner came after the clubs combined for 12 baserunners in the previous 9 ½ innings of play.
Both teams put up two unearned runs early on. In the first, a fielding error by Drive 3B Chad De La Guerra allowed Eric Jenkins to reach. Ibanez doubled him in and later scored himself on Frandy De La Rosa’s sacrifice fly to the wall in right.
Greenville used a dropped fly ball in right by Jose Almonte with two outs to get even. After the error put runners at second and third, Josh Ockimey walked and Tate Matheny singled in both runs.
Luis Alexander Basabe cracked a two-run homer in the sixth off Crawdads reliever Johan Juan, but Ibanez’s blast tied it, setting up the battle of attrition in the bullpen.
A quartet of relievers for Hickory held the hottest lineup in the South Atlantic League to three hits and four walks with 10 Ks over the final 10 innings. Lefty Jeffrey Springs allowed a single and walk with five strikeouts over four innings. Fellow southpaw Adam Choplick added three scoreless innings with only a walk allowed and fanned two. Jacob Shortslef made a successful Crawdads debut with a hit and a single allowed with three Ks. Blake Bass pitched in his second straight game and worked out of a two-on, one-out situation in the 17th.
Greenville was nearly equal to the Crawdads bullpen corps. Bobby Poyner struck out five and gave up two hits over three shutout innings. Former Crawdads hurler Anyelo Leclerc (’14) allowed just one walk and struck out five over three innings. Triple-digit hurler Victor Diaz had given up two hits over the first three innings and struck out four prior to Jenkins and Ibanez getting to him for the game winner.
Andy Ibanez, Andy Ibanez, Andy Ibanez: My Twitter feed lit up all afternoon with praise over the 23-year old’s work at the plate. Quite simply at this moment, his bat is simply too much for this league.Thus far, it has taken an elite prospect (ie. Anderson Espinoza) to quiet him at the plate.
His manager, Steve Mintz is running out of new things to say about the Cuban import.“He continues to put the ball in play. He’s huge for us. Right now, you watch him and he just seems to be a step above everybody – the adjustments that he makes to different pitchers. That last guy, there, he was throwing 100 – just being able to see it, be on time and square it up like he does.”
In the first against Roniel Raudes, Ibanez pulled the hands in for a 90 mph fastball and rapped it off the wall in left-center. In the third, he showed good patience in not chasing a trio of curveballs and a fastball off the plate in working a walk.
Against Kuehl McEachern in the fifth, he fouled off an attempted bunt on the first pitch, then got enough on an 88 fastball to single to the hole at short. Ibanez faced McEachern again in the seventh. He swung through a fastball off the plate, then ignored a couple of sliders off the plate sandwiched around a fastball away. The final pitch was a flat slider that Ibanez sent easily over the fence in LCF.
Ibanez got a gift single in the 10th as he got jammed , but got enough to bloop it to shallow right.
A fly out to center and a strikeout on the 15th led to the 17th. After fouling off a change and a fastball, an 0-2, 99 mph pitch got too much of the plate and Ibanez sent it to the wall.
After a rough opening weekend, (7 Ks in 14 PAs), Jenkins has hit a nice groove for now. He has hits in 7-of-8 games with multi-hit games in three of them, including a three-hit game on Wednesday.
The thing I’ve noticed about Jenkins in the short time I’ve seen him late last season and early this year is how quick he learns and makes adjustments. At the plate, he has a better sense of what to do with breaking balls. Combined with his ability to hit the fastball, he’s a tough out right now.
In the 15th, Jenkins absolutely crushed a 98 mph from Diaz to the gap in right-center. He also got enough on one in the 17th to get it up the middle.
He will take a walk and not chase pitches, as he did in the 12th. His strikeout in the seventh was against sidewider Kuehl McEachern, who was able to use a changeup effectively at the outside corner.
But for me, the first AB was priceless: a 9-pitch AB that wound up into a hard –hit grounder for an error. After getting down 0-2 (fastball up swinging, fastball up & in foul), he let a show-me fastball away go by for ball one. A changeup just inside was ignored (2-2). He spoiled a fastball, spit on a curveball down, then fouled off two-straight fastballs in before finally ripping a fastball outside-corner for the grounder.
Pitchers will adjust to him, of course, but Jenkins will adjust back. Once that 6-1, 170-lbs frame fills in…
“He had a rough start, obviously, but we weren’t too worried about it,” Mintz said. “Now he’s swinging with more contact and taking some bases when he needs to. It just seems like his game’s coming together better.”
Went 1-for-7 with two Ks. Was impatient early, as he saw just seven pitches over first 4 ABs. In the 5th AB, he was unable to get a bunt down against breaking balls and eventually struck out. But over the final two ABs, he saw 16 pitches, including a 9-pitch battle in the 16th.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”>
Yrizarri AB in 15th
97 in foul
99 in foul
90 away foul
99 in ball
97 foul off ump
97 off own shin
81 curve whiff
— Mark Parker (@CrawdadsBeat) April 20, 2016
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″>
There are times he is overmatched on fastballs and he can be impatient in swinging at a pitcher’s pitch, but there are times he can and will battle.
1-for-17 with runners in scoring position, left 11 on base.
“It was unbelievable,” said Mintz. “I felt like we left so many runners on base. In the fourth inning, we had first and second with nobody out. In the fifth inning, we had bases loaded and nobody out. It seemed like every time I turned around, Jenkins was on second base, but we couldn’t get him in.”
He just never looked right on Wednesday. Fastball that topped at 89 had little life or control. The curveball seemed to have two speeds – high 70s, and then a few low 70s with a bottom of 69. It missed five bats by my count. Change was around 82-85 that was enough to throw off timing.
Usually – at least when I’ve seen him – very stoic on the mound. On Wednesday, there were times he’d go to the rosin bag in frustration and toss it down and there was much more walking around the mound than I can recall.
Given the low-fastball velo for him, and the demeanor, the Crawdads radio guy and I wondered if he was hurt in the third.
With all that said, Payano still gave up just the two unearned runs in the third with two hits, three walks and three Ks. He gutted out 87 pitches by my count (50 strikes).
Here’s what Mintz had to say about his start:
“One thing, too, is it seemed like he was changing some arm angles and trying to do a little bit too much with some pitches. But, he kept being able to get his offspeeds over in different counts and kept them off balance and they weren’t able to square a lot of balls up on him. He wasn’t as comfortable or as sharp as you would like him, but he found a way us through five innings against that lineup.”
Maybe it’s because he went up the road to Appalachian St., where my kid is attending, but I like this lefty… a lot – and I did when he came here last year.An 11-5 curve that buckles the knees of LH-hitters and goes for strikes. Put that with a 89-91 fastball and that was a tough combination for a Drive lineup that had been hot.
One of these days he’s going to pitch at a time when I can really pay attention, and not writing in the middle of it.(I had an original deadline of 4:30 for the newspaper story.) Tall lefty runs a fastball 92-93 that ate up RH hitter Joseph Monge in the 12th, with the final pitch hitting the inside corner looking. Curveball didn’t seem to have quite the feel or accuracy as Springs,
Fastball 93-94, Slider that missed five bats over two innings (by my count). Pretty impressive outing for his debut.
Andy Ibanez: For those that are ready for him to get to AA need to know his baserunning is a mess. Really having a tough time reading the move of pitchers. Got a horrible jump against lefty Bobby Poyner in the 10th and was thrown out easily … on a curveball.
From what I’ve been told by Rangers staff is they want the whole package to be ready for a move up, not just the bat.
For the season in his 12 games, Ibanez has been caught stealing six times and picked off three.
Notes of interest:
The walk-off win over Greenville was the fifth by the Crawdads in four seasons and the fifth straight season with at least one…. It was also the first walk-off since 7/1/15.
(I apologize ahead if I miss anything grammatical, as I am in a hurry. :-))
The Hickory Crawdads won the opening South Atlantic League game with a 5-1 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators at Intimidators Stadium Thursday night.
The win was the first managerial win for new skipper Steve Mintz in his first game.
Said Mintz of the win, “That was fun to finally get out here and play a game that really counted and see these guys do the work after all the stuff that they’ve done in spring training to prepare for it.”
After Kannapolis scored an unearned run in the first, Hickory took the lead in the third via a two-run triple by Andy Ibanez, after Eric Jenkins reached safely on an error with two outs in the inning. Ibanez added a fielder’s choice RBI in the fifth before Yeyson Yrizarri tacked on an RBI single.
Hickory’s final run came in the seventh as Chuck Moorman doubled and scored on an Ibanez single.
The Crawdads put up ten hits on offense while the pitching staff combined to shutout Kannapolis over the final eight innings with 13 strikeouts.
Andy Ibanez had four hits and four RBI on the night, as he looked the part of schoolroom bully against Kannapolis pitching. After reaching on an infield hit in the first, Ibanez smoked a fastball from Luis Martinez that one-hopped the wall to the right of straight-away center. He went on to single up the middle and line a fourth hit to left.
“He got some good pitches to hit and didn’t miss them. He had a couple of big hits there to give us some runs.
Jose Almonte showed good bat control by slapping an away fastball hard to the hole at second for an infield hit.
Eric Jenkins showed the wheels with a bunt single in the fifth. His speed likely rushed Intimidators 2B Daniel Mendick into an error that wound up leading to a two-run inning that gave Hickory the lead for good.
After giving up an unearned run on a freaky play in the first, Brett Martin appeared to pitch a bit angry and K’d the side -2 on fastballs, 1 on a change. From there, Martin had complete control as he allowed four hits, two walks and struck out eight. He introduced more offspeed offerings the second time through the order. Against Zach Fish in the third, Martin got strike one and two on curveballs, then completed the K by getting Fish to swing through a CH. He finished the game with 8 Ks in 4 innings, getting 50 strikes (19 missed bats) out of 73 pitches.
Mintz said that Martin’s experience was the key to keeping things under control after the crazy play in the first. “You grow up each year and you learn more and he showcased that tonight, being able to keep his cool. When he got in trouble there, he went to his offspeed, like he’s supposed to, and slowed the game down properly. It was nice to see.”
Tyler Davis showed a good slider as he threw three scoreless innings. He was especially tough in the sixth after allowing a walk and a double to the wall in left. He then struck out Silverio and Mendick swinging and finished off the inning on a 5-3 grounder.
“Davis pitched out of that second and third with nobody out and saved two big runs right there,” Mintz said. “All they (the Intimidators) needed were two ground balls and they could’ve picked up two easy runs, but he didn’t let them get them.”
Eric Swanson worked out a leadoff walk with two weak popups and an easy fly. (Honestly, I missed much of the 8th inning.)
Jeffrey Springs worked around an E-3 in the ninth with little trouble.
As a whole, the quartet allows six hits, four walks and struck out 13 in the game.
“The starting pitching, like I said, if they can keep us in it,” said Mintz. “Davis came in and gave us three quality innings, Springs finished it up there and Swanson in the middle. That’s what we want, keep us in the game.”
Kannapolis got its first run on a bit of a comedy of errors. With Tyler Sullivan at first, Johan Cruz hit a grounder to Dylan Moore at 1B. Moore botched the grounder, but gathered the ball. However, Moore lofted the throw to Brett Martin covering at first. Sullivan circled the bases on the play and came home as Martin was late covering the plate.
The wind played havoc with pop ups in the top of the fourth inning, but Hickory weathered the storm, so to speak. A popup by Louis Silverio started to the left of the mound, but curved back to Frandy De La Rosa well to the right of second. After Daniel Mendick walked, a popup by Grant Massey that carried beyond De La Rosa and into RF. Jose Almonte wound up recording a 9-6 fielder’s choice on the play.
Ti’Quan Forbes came into the season with a bit of a reputation of the game being too fast for him at third. At least on Thursday, those reports appeared off base. Forbes easily made the long throw across the diamond to nab Fish. But the highlight play of the night came in the fifth when Forbes sprinted across toward the mound to make a quick bare-handed snatch of a roller from Johan Cruz and fired a laser to first to get the speedy Cruz.
The Crawdads had three baserunners thrown out stealing and should have had a fourth. Andy Ibanez was thrown out in the first with De La Rosa going down in the second and fourth. Ibanez should’ve been caught a second time in the fifth as he went into second standing, but Mendick bobbled the catch at 2B.
Jose Almonte showed good speed as he stole second in the third (at 6-3, 205, he looked like a linebacker running) but nearly got picked off at 3B in the third as he circled too far after Eric Jenkins reached on an error. Almonte further showed good wheels by just missing a second infield hit in the eighth.
The Texas Rangers and Hickory Crawdads released the opening-day roster for the Crawdads earlier this week. I’ll take a look at the roster over two parts beginning with the pitchers in this entry.
In looking at the roster, the first thing I noticed was how much older the pitching staff is this season compared to season’s past as a Texas Rangers affiliate. During the Crawdads-Rangers tenure over the past seven seasons, Hickory has had such teen pitching phenoms as Martin Perez, Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Joe Ortiz, Robbie Erlin, Andrew Faulkner, Victor Payano, Jose Leclerc, Akeem Bostick, Luis Ortiz, and Ariel Jurado start the season in a Crawdads uniform.
In 2015, 19-year-olds Jurado and Ortiz, along with 20-year old Brett Martin were the cornerstones of the starting rotation with LHP pitching prospect Yohander Mendez – himself 20 – waiting in the wings in the bullpen. This season, Jonathan Hernandez is the lone teen wolf (19) on the Crawdads staff.
Now, in the past, the Rangers have sent teen-aged pitchers to Hickory in early-to-mid May to save wear and tear on the arms (Joe Wieland, Neil Ramirez, Cody Buckel, Luke Jackson to name a few), with most repeating the Low-A level the following season. That may well happen here and that remains to be seen.
I also noticed a heavier – at least it seems to me – tilt towards pitchers with college backgrounds than in years past. Last year, seven of the 14 pitchers on the opening-day roster had four-year or two-year backgrounds. This year, 10 of the 12 have college experience, eight of those from a four-year school.
Last year’s pitching staff was an average of 21.4 years old (Baseballreference.com). At the start of this season, eight of the 14 members of the pitching staff are 22 and older. This is similar to the Pirate-affiliate days.
One possible effect of the heavier-than-normal college presence on the roster could be the allotment of innings. In years past, the Rangers would begin skipping starts at the midpoint of the season and heavily monitor the wear-and-tear of the younger arms to limit innings. However, with the older group, I wonder how much of that will be in play with this group. Even the younger pitchers on the roster (Brett Martin and Pedro Payano) have already built up to 90+ innings the past year. One thing to keep in mind, though, is several of the pitchers on the roster (Wes Benjamin, Adam Choplick to name a couple) have had “Tommy John” surgeries in the past and that will, of course, bear watching.
A couple of surprises, at least to me, related to the pitchers sent to Hickory. The first, for me, is the return of 2015 SAL All-Star Brett Martin. The left-hander had 72 Ks and 26 BBs in 95.1 innings, but at times struggled with consistency (1.07 WHIP first half of 2015, 1.41 second half) and with nagging injuries. Like Collin Wiles from 2015, this season could be about finding that groove of becoming a consistent six-to-seven inning starter each time out.
Another is the return of Dillon Tate, the fourth-overall pick in 2015. A major checklist item from his time at Hickory in August of 2015 was the development of a changeup and that could be better suited during his time in South Atlantic League ballparks rather than in the rarefied air of the high desert of California.
WHAT ELSE TO LOOK FOR:
Wes Benjamin comes to Hickory after pitching a lone inning in the AZL last summer. The Kansas product had been out since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.
Pedro Payano opened a ton of eyes in 2015, pitching at three levels with the final coming at Hickory. His three-pitch combination (fastball, curve, change) was used to great effect here in August and the playoffs, as he showed the ability to use any pitch in any count. Given that ability at age 21, his No. 29 prospect listing by MLB.com seems a bit low, though that could have more to do with the Rangers talent up the chain rather than with Payano’s ability. With his pitchability and poise on the mound, Payano could have a Ariel Jurado-type season that further opens eyes.
Starting rotation likely begins with Tate, Payano, Martin and Hernandez. Others with starting experience in the pros include Bass, Tyler Davis, Peter Fairbanks and Joe Palumbo. Jeffrey Springs started at Appalachian St.
2016 HICKORY CRAWDADS PITCHER CAPSULES
BLAKE BASS (RHP, 6-7, 265)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (4 starts) at Spokane (Wash.), 33 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 15 BB, 29 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .242 OBA.
About Bass: A native of Lubbock, Tex,. Bass, 22, was the Texas Rangers eighth-round pick in 2015 out of Angelo (Tex.) St., where he was a first-team All-Lone Star Conference pick. Was an All-State performer as a senior at Coronado High.
WES BENJAMIN (LHP, 6-1, 197)
2015 Pro Season: 1 game (1 start) at Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers, 1 IP, 1 BB, 2 K.
About Benjamin: A native of St. Charles, Ill., Benjamin, 22, was the fifth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Kansas. Was an All- Big 12 Freshman Team selection. Underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2014 (Tommy John). Formerly drafted by the New York Yankees (48th round) in 2011.
ADAM CHOPLICK (LHP, 6-8, 275)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games at Spokane, 33 IP, 1 HR, 23 BB, 35 K, 2.18 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .242 OBA.
About Choplick: A native of Denton, Tex., Choplick, 23, was the 14th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Oklahoma. Was formerly drafted by the Chicago White Sox (32nd round) in 2014 and the Arizona Diamondbacks (17th round) in 2011. Underwent Tommy John surgery while a junior at Denton Ryan High. Was second team All-State pick in baseball as a high school senior and a first team All-State performer as a senior in basketball.
TYLER DAVIS (RHP, 5-10, 190)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games (2 starts) at Spokane, 35 1/3 IP, 4 HR, 12 BB, 30 K, 5.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .293 OBA.
About Davis: A native of Seattle, Davis, 23, was the 23rd round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Washington. Was the Northwest League Pitcher of the Week (Sept. 1-7) after throwing six no-hit innings in a start for Spokane. Holds the Huskies record for innings pitched at the school, second in starts and fourth in wins and strikeouts. Was an All-Pac 12 selection his junior and senior seasons and an All-American in 2014. His brother Erik pitched for the Washington Nationals in 2013.
PETER FAIRBANKS (RHP, 6-6, 219)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (11 starts) at Spokane, 57 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 22 BB, 47 K, 3.14 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .246 OBA.
About Fairbanks: A native of St. Louis, Mo., Fairbanks, 22, was the ninth round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Missouri. Was a first-team All-Conference infielder in high school at Webster Grove in 2012. Underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school junior. His father played one season in the Houston Astros chain in 1983.
JONATHAN HERNANDEZ (RHP, 6-2, 173)
2015 Pro Season: 11 games (9 starts) at AZL Rangers, 45 IP, 0 HR, 12 BB, 3 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .250 OBA.
About Hernandez: A native of Santiago de los Caballos, D. R., Hernandez, 19, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.Baseball America has Hernandez as the 20th best Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 28. His father, Fernando, pitched briefly for the Detroit Tigers during a 14-season pro career.
JOHAN JUAN (RHP, 6-1, 180)
2015 Pro Season: 18 games at Dominican Summer League (DSL) Rangers, 43 1/3 IP, 2 HR, 7 BB, 46 K, 1.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .218 OBA.
About Juan: A native of La Romana, D. R., Juan, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013. After posting a 1.95 ERA over three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Juan will be making his U.S. debut this year.
OMARLIN LOPEZ (RHP, 6-3, 162)
2015 Pro Season: 20 games at Spokane, 36 IP, 3 HR, 16 BB, 36 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .267 OBA.
About Lopez: A native of Payita, D.R., Lopez, 22, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.
BRETT MARTIN (LHP, 6-4, 190)
2015 Pro Season: 10 games (18 starts) at Hickory, 95 1/3 IP, 6 HR, 26 BB, 72 K, 3.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.65 OBA.
About Martin: A native of Morristown, Tenn., Martin, 20, was the fourth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Walters St. (Tenn.) CC. Named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in 2015. Threw four shutout innings against Asheville in Game 2 of the 2015 SAL Championship Series. Originally attended Tennessee before transferring to Walters St. He is the Rangers No. 11 prospect, according to MLB.com and No. 18 tabbed by Baseball America.
JOE PALUMBO, (LHP, 6-1, 168)
2015 Pro Season: 13 games (9 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 58 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 25 BB, 43 K, 3.07 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .253 OBA.
About Palumbo: A native of Holbrook, N.Y., Palumbo, 21, was the Rangers 30th round pick in 2013 out of St. John the Baptist (N.Y.) High. Made a start for Hickory on the final regular season game in 2015. Named to the Arizona Summer League All-Star Team in 2014.
PEDRO PAYANO (RHP, 6-2, 207)
2015 Pro Season: 17 games (12 starts) at DSL Rangers, AZL Rangers, Hickory, 89 IP, 1 HR, 22 BB, 101 K, 1.11 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .244 OBA.
About Payano: A native of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., Payano, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2011. Named Rangers minor league pitcher of the month in July 2015 after going 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA. Allowed one or fewer runs in five of six starts for Hickory after joining the club August 1, 2015. Threw six shutout innings vs. Asheville in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Championship Series.
JACOB SHORTSLEF (RHP, 6-5, 235)
2015 Pro Season: 16 games at AZL Rangers and Spokane, 37 IP, 1 HR, 8 BB, 33 K, 1.95 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .271 OBA.
About Shortslef: A native of Sterling, N.Y., Shortslef, 21, was the Rangers 26th round pick in 2015 out of Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC. As a sophomore, ranked ninth nationally with a .157 opponent batting avg. Struck out 20 of 21 batters in a game while a senior at Hannibal (N.Y.) High. Brother Josh pitched for Hickory in 2003 and 2004, as part of his ten-season, minor-league career with the Pirates.
JEFFREY SPRINGS (LHP, 6-3, 193)
2015 Pro Season: 17 games at Spokane and Hickory, 27 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 15 BB, 39 K, 2.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .200 OBA.
About Springs: A native of Belmont, N.C., Springs, 23, was the Rangers 30th round pick out in 2015 of Appalachian St. Left the Mountaineers third in career starts and fourth in strikeouts. Attended South Point High and led the Red Raiders to the state 3A title in 2011 and named the MVP of the championship series. Named 2011 North Carolina 3A player of the year.
ERIK SWANSON (RHP, 6-3, 250)
2015 Pro Season: 10 games at AZL Rangers, Hickory, Frisco (Tex.) and Round Rock (Tex.) 15 1/3 IP, 1 HR, 7 BB, 14 K. 2.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .185 OBA.
About Swanson: A native of Terrace Park, Ohio, Swanson, 22, was the Rangers eighth round pick in 2014 out of Iowa Western CC. Made seven appearances for Hickory before landing on the disabled list (elbow strain) on July 23 through the remainder of the season. Named Most Outstanding Pitcher while leading Iowa Western to NJCAA Division I College World Series title in 2014. Was to attend Pittsburgh before deciding to sign with Texas.
DILLON TATE (RHP, 6-2, 197)
2015 Pro Season: 6 games (6 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 9 IP, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K. 1.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, .100 OBA.
About Tate: A native of Claremont, Calif., Tate, 21, was the first round pick (fourth overall) of the Rangers in 2015 out of California-Santa Barbara. Was highest-drafted player to appear in a Crawdads uniform since Brad Lincoln (4th overall) did so in 2006.Named 2015 Louisville Slugger All-American and a Golden Spikes Award semi-finalist in 2015. Allowed 2 runs over four innings in three appearances for Hickory during the 2015 postseason. Currently the No. 4 Rangers prospect by Baseball America and No. 5 by MLB.com, which has Tate as the No. 36 prospect in the minors and the eighth-best right-handed pitching prospect.
The West Virginia Power rallied with three runs in the fifth inning and went on to a 4-2 win over the Hickory Crawdads Wednesday night at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W. Va. With the win, the Power took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three South Atlantic League series.
The series shifts to Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium with the Crawdads needing to win game two on Friday night to force game three on Saturday.
Hickory took a two-run lead after four innings. Jairo Beras slapped an opposite field homer in the second and Carlos Arroyo’s RBI grounder doubled the lead.
However, after Yohander Mendez dominated the Power the first four innings, a sloppy fifth inning was the turning point of the game. With one out, Chase Simpson doubled to left and Taylor Gushue powered a two-run homer to left. The inning continued when Tyler Filliben reached on a throwing error by shortstop Edwin Garcia. Mendez induced Kevin Newman to bounce into a comebacker. But, the potential, inning-ending double play fell apart the Mendez was slow to the bag at second and the Crawdads recorded only one out. Pablo Reyes singled to chase Mendez before reliever Joe Filomeno walked Kevin Kramer to load the bases. Filomeno struck out Michael Suchy, but the third-strike slider bounced away and allowed Suchy to reach and Newman to score the go-ahead run.
After posting seven hits over the first five innings, the Crawdads went into a funk at the plate following the Power’s rally. Three West Virginia pitchers retired the final 13 batters of the game.
The Power added an unearned in the seventh for the final tally of the game.
Yohander Mendez plowed through the first four innings with only one hit allowed and struck out five.
Joe Filomeno struck out five over 2 1/3 innings and allowed just the one unearned run in the seventh.
Jeffrey Springs pitched a perfect eighth inning with one strikeout.
Jairo Beras was the lone Crawdads hitter with two hits and doubled in the fourth.
Missed Opportunities at the plate: The Crawdads put seven runners on over the first five innings and managed just a solo homer and an Arroyo’s RBI groundout after loading the bases with one out. Eric Jenkins doubled with one out in the third, but did not advance further. Jose Trevino doubled with two outs in the fifth and was stranded as Luke Tendler’s drive fell at the warning track.
Missed opportunities in the field: A short-hopped throw to first by Garcia opened the door to the go-ahead run in the fifth. Yet, it was Mendez’s hesitation on a throw to second on what was described on radio as a routine double play ball that proved to be the key. In the seventh, 1B Carlos Arroyo’s throw went behind Filomeno covering first and allowed Pablo Reyes to score from second with two outs.
Tyler Gushue hit his sixth homer overall this season. Two of those have come against Hickory.
Pablo Reyes and Kevin Kramer each had two hits with a double each. Reyes doubled and scored an insurance run in the seventh. Kramer’s walk in the fifth loaded the bases for Suchy.
Austin Coley walked the tightrope during much of his six innings, but the right hander, who won 16 games during the regular season, minimized the damage during the crucial fourth inning.
Sam Street and Nick Neumann combined for three perfect innings with three strikeouts.