Results tagged ‘ Joe Kuzia ’

Flipping the Switch: A Look at the 2018 Hickory Crawdads with Manager Matt Hagen

Quite honestly, the Hickory Crawdads were a dreadful team to watch much of the first half. There were a few early successes – Catcher Melvin Novoa’s hot April that earned him a promotion and the season-long consistency of Crawdads opening day starter Tyler Phillips – but overall, the team didn’t hit well, didn’t pitch well, couldn’t hold leads, and so on. However, for me, what I will remember about this team is the ability for players to grind through the season and endure the process of development. Several players turned in big second half-seasons and kept the Crawdads in the playoff hunt until the final few days of the season.

The Crawdads came out of the South Atlantic League all-star break at 30-38, and promptly were swept at home in three straight by West Virginia to drop to its low point of the season at 30-41. But the Crawdads bounced back with a sweep of Augusta (S.C.) and then began to piece together series wins. An 18-10 July put the team within the .500 mark, which the Crawdads reached for the first time on August 4 at Hagerstown (Md.).

Hickory stayed within range of first-half Northern Division winner Lakewood (N.J.) for the second-half race and were within 2 1/2 games of the BlueClaws, when they traveled to L.P, Frans Stadium for a series on August 10. Lakewood took 3-out-4 to surge ahead, but a 5-2 road trip by the Crawdads followed and got the team again within 2.5 games of the BlueClaws. Lakewood returned to L.P. Frans for another series and again asserted its dominance with a 3-1 series win to put a bow on the second-half division title. Left with an outside shot at a wildcard slot – something unthinkable when Hickory finished sixth in the first half – the Crawdads took three-of-four at Delmarva (Md.) and the first game of the series finale against Greensboro. However, a loss to the Grasshoppers the next night officially knocked the Crawdads out three games from the end of the season. It was the second straight season in which Hickory was eliminated during the final weekend of the season.

The 70-68 record was the eighth time in ten seasons as the Texas Rangers affiliate the Crawdads had a winning record.

What changed? The hitting improved. The pitching improved. However, in talking with manager Matt Hagen, he was adamant that none of that would’ve occur had the accountability of the squad and their expectations had not changed. In talking with him the first half, there was a constant mantra of being one play short. A big hit in a key spot was missed. One pitch in a key spot wasn’t made. One ball wasn’t caught.

The attitude changed in the second half and the confidence came with it.

During an interview with Matt Hagen prior to the final game of the season on Monday, he talked about that shift in the mental approaches that occurred, as well as highlights of the season with some of the individual players.

Matt Hagen

Manager Matt Hagen from a game in May (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Considering where you guys started, 0-6 and 1-8, that was a heck of a turnaround in the second half. What are some things you contribute that to?

Hagen: Our coaches did a really good job of getting the players better. The players got better, and I think we raised the accountability level and the expectation level. Some of the things we were doing early on, as far as not just not playing with the right level of focus and intensity, we challenged them to be accountable to it.

We flat out just played better. We had a 4.6 ERA in the first half and a 3.2 in the second half. Some of those guys that were hitting .190 at the break ended up hitting .260. So, we had several guys hit over .300 for the second half. So, that was a pretty good deal.

Was there a tipping point at some time in the middle of the season, maybe late June or early July? That time period was a point where there seemed to be a gear shift. You went on a long road trip right after the (July) 4th.

Hagen: It was our first series in Hagerstown (Md.). We had a team meeting and we talked about raising expectations and making sure that guys are completely switched on when they walk in the door, and when they walk out the door to go to the field. From that point on, we won a lot more games than we lost.

The pitching staff, what a turn around: DeMarcus (Evans), Tyler (Phillips), who pretty much had it all year, AJ (Alexy), he finished strong.

Hagen: Reid Anderson.

What were some of the things that you guys were able to figure out?

Hagen: I would give credit to (pitching coach Jose) Jaimes. He’s out there every day sweating in that bullpen with those guys.

Tyler, I think, was more of a continuation of the success he had last year in Spokane.

To see the transformation of Reid Anderson, who won only one game last year. His demeanor on the mound was better. His presence was better. His conviction was better. His belief was better. His confidence was better.

Reid Anderson 2018

Reid Anderson was in the SAL top-ten in ERA (3.22) and WHIP (1.13) in 2018 (Photo courtesy of Ashley Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

I think AJ has just completely progressed as a pitcher, everything from his preparation to his mentality to his repertoire, his control, his attitude. Everything has gotten better.

And then our bullpen, my goodness, our bullpen was probably one of the best one in the league in the second half. If we had a lead in the seventh inning, we held on to it.

You mentioned the bullpen, what a luxury to have DeMarcus and Joe (Barlow). I talked with him and he talked about the walks to the point of saying I’m not going to use the word. (Joe) Kuzia had a good second half. (Josh) Advocate, when he was healthy, had a good second half. Did you get a sense that those guys got together to change the attitude of the bullpen?

Hagen: I think they took a lot of pride being in the bullpen. They saw it as kind of a brotherhood down there. It’s a great collection of guys. They joke around a lot and they pick on each other, but it’s like a family and they hold each other accountable, too.

DeMarcus, his numbers tell the whole story; he was lights out. He and Joe Barlow were like 1 and 1A; take your pick. Statistically, they were two of the best three relievers in the league. You can’t even argue that. The other guys you named were really good down the stretch, too.

DeMarcus Evans 2018

DeMarcus Evans struck out 66 during the second half and had over 16 Ks per 9 innings to lead the SAL (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

So, I think there was a confidence that kind of grew when one or two guys started having some success, and I think it got contagious down there.

 

Tyreque (Reed) was another guy that when the calendar turned to July, he found something. He talked about his approach going up the middle and going away, and he added the power back. What did you see with him, as far as flipping that switch?

Hagen: He came in right away and his first at-bat was a walk-off home run. Then, having not played at an affiliate yet, I think the rigors of playing against better competition, the hotels, the bus rides, the fans, playing under the lights, that kind of stuff caught up to him a little bit. Once he and Bubba (Thompson) kind of realized, hey, not only do we belong here, we can excel here, you just handed the keys over to them at that point. When Bubba was clicking in the leadoff spot, he was a guy that hit over .300 in the second half. Then, Tyreque, more or less, carried the middle of our lineup for the entire last month. If he were here all year, who knows where his numbers end up. We’d be talking a potential league MVP had he been here all year.

To watch those guys and to know the conversations that (hitting coach) Chase (Lambin) was having with those guys every day, making sure they stayed logged in, making sure they stayed confident and got their work in every day. It was a pleasure to high five those guys as they came around the base.

Tyreque Reed (2).jpg

Tyreque Reed finished third in the SAL in slugging pct. (,503) and OPS (.846) (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Bubba (Thompson) had a little hitch and then in July, he found a switch. It just seemed like a bunch of you found a switch at the same time.

Hagen: Bubba is a really talented kid and he can beat you in a lot of ways. One night, he’d go out – you talk about trying to leave your fingerprints on the game in a positive way – he may have gone 0-for-4 at the plate, but he might have made two or three plays in the outfield that might have won us the game. As young players do, they get locked in on the fact that maybe they didn’t have a great day at the plate, but you can still walk, you can steal two bases, you can still make plays in the outfield. He’s a special kid and not a lot of people can beat you in that many ways.

Bubba Thompson- Proffitt.jpg

Bubba Thompson stole 32 bases for Hickory and had a second-half slash of .300/.341/.441 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Yonny (Hernandez), I just like watching him play. You said it in the first meeting you and I had where you called him “The Mosquito”. He’s another guy that had a strong second half. You put him second in the lineup and that seemed to be a good niche for the guy with he and Thompson at the top of the order.

Hagen: The expectations were, we know he can play defense and we know he can run the bases a little bit. The question was, is he going to hit. You look up and he’s second in the league in walks and second in the league in stolen bases. He hit over .300 in the second half and raised his batting average over 70 points. Pretty special. He’s a disruptor, too. He gets on the bases and gets the pitchers thinking about him instead of the hitter. The next thing you know, the pitcher leaves a pitcher over the middle that (Ryan) Dorow or Tyreque and three runs are on the board.

He’s just a fun kid to watch. You just let him go out and do his thing. He attacks the game very aggressively.

Yonny Hernandez

Yonny Hernandez finished the season second in the South Atlantic League in steals (44) and OBP (.371) and third in walks (58) (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

The three-headed monster at catcher wound up being two with (Yohel) Pozo and (Sam) Huff. Please with their progress this year?

Hagen: Yeah. The goal was to get them both over 400 at-bats and they both got their 400 at-bats. Two guys that made an all-star team. Obviously, Melvin was doing good enough to get promoted. He was on fire early.

From a defensive standpoint, they both finished the season, hopefully with winning records <Note: Yohel Pozo was 30-30 entering the final game of the season. Pozo caught the game, which Hickory lost to Greensboro.>

Sam Huff and Yohel Pozo

South Atlantic League All-Star Catchers Yohel Pozo (left) and Sam Huff played a big role in the pitching staff’s turnaround in the second half (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

To see those guys mature, to where the pitchers have confidence in them – you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for the success the pitchers had in the second half, too. Because, they got better in calling the game and controlling the game. Two guys that can throw pretty well and I think they both finished in the top two or three in the league in receiving metrics. They’re getting pitches that are strikes called strikes, and stealing a few strikes here and there.

 

Was there any disappointment that Miguel (Aparicio) didn’t have the year I think folks were expecting from him, and maybe Pedro (Gonzalez), as well? Any concerns on their progress for this year?

Hagen: No, if we look it up, Pedro’s run production is the third best on the team, as far as scoring runs and driving in runs. The only downside there is the batting average is down a little bit. The slugging pct. is good. He’s had some leg issues that kind of plagued him all year, so his stolen bases weren’t as high as he wanted them to be. Earlier in the season, he was stealing bases when he was healthy. For me, I think Pedro actually had a good year.

Miguel was just up-and-down. He was player of the week one week, and then the next week you see a 19-year-old kid who’s going to struggle. He’d struggle to stay in his approach and then the next week he’d get hot again. Obviously, the power is there, as evidenced by the home run he crushed a couple of days ago over the advertisements there. For him, it’s just finding a way to be consistent.

Miguel Aparcio

Top-30 prospect Miguel Aparicio took home a South Atlantic League hitter of the week award in mid-July, but struggled much of the season and finished at .214/.263/.361 (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

The glue of the team all year, for me, was Dorow. Is that a fair read for you?

Hagen: That’s a bull’s eye right there. We came in talking about somebody needing to step up to surprise you. I knew Dorow could catch a ground ball if it was hit to him, but I had no idea that he could catch every ground ball within running range and then throw guys out from any arm angle. What he did at the plate, he’s two away from 30 doubles, 12 home runs and right around .300 most of the year.

He really exceeded a lot of people’s expectations and he’s been a pleasure to watch run out and play and go about his business. You just plug him into the lineup and let him go. He has a very mature approach and a very tough kid mentally, and a very tough kid physically. He’s a manager’s dream.

Ryan Dorow

Ryan Dorow (Proffitt)

 

When you look back at this team in a couple of years, what’s going to stick out for you?

Hagen: I think just the turn around from where we were in the first half to where we finished up. The way they came together and started worrying less about themselves and started playing for each other a lot more, which is hard to do in this game, because everybody wants to get to the big leagues. They were able to take the focus off of their individual success and started thinking about what the team was doing.

They learned how to win, so when they get to the next level, or the guys that get to the big leagues, they don’t get there and go, “Well, I’m a big-league player, but I don’t know how to win.” They’re learned how to win and what it takes to win. That’s invaluable.

 

What did you learn this year as a manager?

Hagen: Ooooo, that’s a good question. Something new every day. I think knowing and continuing to learn when to push the guys and when to just pat them on the back. I think I would’ve liked to have held them to a higher level of expectation, earlier on. But there was a lot of getting to know one another still going on at that point.

Definitely letting my staff do their job. That’s been a luxury for me. Knowing when to speak up and when to stay out of the way and let Chase do his thing, or Jaimes do his thing, or Turtle (Thomas). I’m really fortunate to have three really good coaches, and that extends to the weight room, too. I didn’t have to monitor anything there. I’d stick my head in once in a while. Adam (Noel) does a great job with those guys. But, just trusting those guys to do their jobs and letting them do them was a big part of our success.

 

 

Scoreless third changes Crawdads fortunes: Columbia wins 8-3

The Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies rallied back from an early deficit and salvaged the final game of a three-game series with an 8-3 win Friday night over the Hickory Crawdads at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Fireflies (18-16) snapped a three-game losing streak and now return home to face Delmarva (Md.) in a four-game series. Meanwhile, the Crawdads (11-20) host Rome (Ga.) for four games starting Saturday night.

The Crawdads put up single runs in the first and second to build a 2-0 lead. Tyreque Reed singled in Miguel Aparicio and Sam Huff popped his second home run in as many games.

However, Columbia put together four straight hits to start the fourth. Scott Manea’s infield hit broke up a fledgling no-hit bid by A.J. Alexy. Gio Alfonzo followed that with a single and both runners scored on Hansel Moreno’s triple into the corner. Raphael Gladu singled in Moreno.

Matt Winaker blasted his second home run of the season in the first before Austin O’Banion got the run back by tripling in Reed to make it 4-3 Columbia.

Hickory missed a chance at a double play and that contributed to a two-run seventh. Quinn Brodey singled and then Jeremy Vasquez hit a grounder to Huff at first. Huff quickly fed a throw to Cristian Inoa who relayed the throw to the pitcher Joe Kuzia covering at first. Kuzia caught the ball but he was unable to find the bag behind him with his foot. Winaker walked before Rigoberto Terrazas and Manea each singled with Manea’s hit scoring Vasquez. A wild pitch scored Winaker and the Fireflies led 6-3.

Columbia added the final two runs on Brodey’s run-scoring double and Vasquez’s single.

 

The game’s turning point:

I didn’t get to see the dominant performance of Alexy at West Virginia last Friday, but if it was anything like the first inning on Friday, it must have been special. Alexy overmatched the Fireflies in the first, needing 11 pitches to get through the inning. The big right-hander threw all fastballs in the 93-95 mph range before he capped the first with a high-heat 96 that Brodey couldn’t catch up to.

The second inning gave clues as to the direction the remainder of Alexy’s start would go. A first-pitch curveball missed and then another one hit Vasquez. The fastball settled into the 92-93 range and began to miss spots. Winaker flew out to deep center and Terrazas drove a pitch to deep left. Both were outs, but both were squared up well. Manea was hit by a curveball – the umpire ruled he didn’t attempt to get out of the way – and then was walked on four straight. Alexy rebounded to paint the corner with a fastball to fan Alfonzo.

Though the Fireflies didn’t score, the third inning had much to do to foul up Alexy’s night. With one out, Gladu and Blake Tiberi both walked, as Alexy started to bring in the changeup for the second time through the order. Brodey joined them after he was hit by a pitch. Alexy completed the 28-pitch inning by striking out Vasquez and then Brodey. The Brodey strikeout seemed to charge the Crawdads battery as Yohel Pozo gave an emphatic fist pump when he left his crouch and ran to the dugout, while Alexy strutted resolutely from the mound.

Up to that point, the Crawdads hitters had the chance to feast on the offerings of Joe Cavallaro. Using a three-quarter delivery that occasionally dropped lower, the right-hander had trouble getting his slider to bite and the flat, middle-in changeups he served to Reed and Huff were punished accordingly. Combine that with an 87-88 fastball that Cavallaro had trouble spotting. With the Crawdads sending up hot hitters in the bottom of the third, the game seemed ready for the taking facing an ineffective pitcher that had thrown 41 pitches already. A long inning like the previous two would give Alexy a chance to regroup and give him a bigger cushion with which to work.

Reed grounded to short on three pitches. O’Banion struck out on four. Pozo lined to right on the first. Eight pitches total and a wearied Alexy was back to the mound.

The fourth started well as Alexy fanned Terrazas. However, an 0-2 breaking ball was beaten into the ground. Third baseman Ryan Dorow valiantly tried to make the run-and-grab throw to first but bounced it on what was ruled Columbia’s first hit of the game. The small leak in the dam became a steady flow as Alfonzo, Moreno and Gladu each squared up Alexy’s pitches that turned into three runs.

The Fireflies and Crawdads traded runs, but Columbia never trailed again and put the game on ice with the runs in the seventh and eighth.

The 2018 Crawdads: Pitchers – An interview with pitching coach Jose Jaimes

The first half of the 2017 Hickory Crawdads season was a tough one to watch. Most of the games were blowouts early as pitchers were under an organizational mandate to throw fastballs and learn how to use the pitch before infusing secondary pitches. Some of them figured it out and moved on – Kyle Cody being the best example – others struggled with the concept and went down to Spokane for more seasoning.

Of the pitchers to start the 2018 season, eight spent time at L.P. Frans Stadium last year. Tyler Phillips and Demarcus Evans figured out some things at lower levels and are back again with Phillips snagging a top-30 prospect ranking along the way.

With the returnees and a healthy load of college pitchers, the 2018 version could – and should? – be better equipped to handle what is being asked of them: place the fastball correctly, throw strikes and get outs. A group of eight of them did that during Monday night’s exhibition game against Catawba Valley Community College. Save for a second-inning hiccup by Alex Eubanks, the group that pitched threw gas and made quick work of the overmatched JUCO club.

Starting with Phillips on Thursday at a hitter’s park at Greensboro, we’ll begin to see where he and the Crawdads are to start the 2018 season.

I interviewed Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes about the pitching staff and basically went down the list to get a sense of where everyone is at the start. At least until he had to get to on-field workouts before we could finish.

So below is an overview of many, but not all, of the Crawdads pitchers to start the season.

 

 

 

That was impressive last night. There was no gun, but I’m guessing you ran guys out there throwing 93, 94, 95 pretty much all along the line last night.

Jaimes: Yeah, it was exciting. We have a pretty exciting group. Starting with our rotation, our rotation is a little more experience than last year, so that’s going to make a difference. We’ve got a few college guys and that’s going to help the young kids. Then, when you look to the bullpen, everybody’s around the mid-90s, which is exciting. Hopefully, they can do what you saw yesterday and keep getting better.

 

There was a lot of talk last year about the Rangers wanting the guys to work fastball, fastball, fastball. They had to spot it so many times, or whatever percentage was set before they started to bring in the secondaries. Are they staying with that or is it being tweaked any?

Jaimes: It’s still going to be a priority to control the fastball. That’s still the number one thing, so we’re going to keep preaching that. Definitely, we’re making some adjustments on the plan, but for the most part it’s going to stay the same. It’s fastball and they’ll learn how to use it and learn how to get outs with it and learn to how to play with it. You’ve got basically six pitches with the fastball – going down and away, down and in, up and in, up and away, middle – so you can do anything you want with your fastball. That’s going to be the main focus again this year. I think with the group that we have this year, they have more experience and a little better command than last year.

 

Will it be as strict the first time through the order as it was last year?

Jaimes: (hesitating) No, no, no.

 

I don’t mean to have you give away things, but it at almost seemed like last year, “You will throw the fastball to everybody pretty much the first time through the order.” Like you said, it’s six pitches, but still guys are sitting on it.

Jaimes: Yes, it was tough and you saw it. But it’s a great plan and we saw it pay off towards the end of the year in the second half. Guys learned how to use their fastball and learned how to get outs with it and once they implemented the other pitches, it made a huge difference. I think that was one of the biggest turnarounds that we had in the second half of last year, because they were able to pitch with it. They relied too much on their secondary stuff, so again, that’s going to be a main thing.

 

The rotation, is it still going to be six guys?

Jaimes: Yes, it’s still a six-man rotation. Tyler Phillips will be our opening-night guy. Alex Eubanks will be our second guy. AJ Alexy, that you saw last year, Noah Bremer. Reid Anderson is going to join the rotation and then Tyree Thompson will be the sixth guy.

 

I’m just going to go down the list and if you can give me a little bit about their stuff and your expectations for them. I’ll just start with Tyler. He just seemed overmatched here last year when he started. Like Miguel (Aparcio), he seemed overmatched and then found himself when he went to Spokane. What do you see from him coming back here that he learned from last year?

Jaimes: I think last year was a big learning year for him. He had a good spring training. He showed up this spring stronger, bigger, but most important, more mature. So, I’m expecting him to lead the rotation and be that guy that’s going to teach the young kids. Stuff wise, I was watching down in Arizona, he was 94-95 (mph) fastball. He’s got a really good changeup and a breaking ball. I think he’s come really far physically and mentally and I’m expecting good things about him this year.

Slider?

Jaimes: Curveball and it’s improved a lot since last year.

 

Alex Eubanks.

Jaimes: A strike thrower. He’s a very mature guy. I love the way that he handles himself on the mound. It seems like nothing bothers him when he doesn’t have his best stuff. You saw him last night, the second inning he gave up three hits in four pitches. He never lost his composure; he stayed within himself and minimized the damage. So, that’s him. He’s going to be that guy that’s going to be able to bounce back quick. I love the stuff that he brings. He has good movement on his fastball and a really good changeup, cutter and slider. Good command of every pitch.

 

AJ, he came here and was pretty impressive for a guy who got bounced from his first organization all of a sudden. He had some moments, but all in all not a bad August.

Jaimes: No, he was actually one of our best guys in August. We’re going to continue to build onto what he did towards the end of the year. He had a good spring training, too, so again he’s another guy that’s bigger and stronger, which is good for him. Command wise, it definitely has improved from last year. Again, it’s another guy that we have a lot expectations for.

 

Curveball for his breaking ball, if I remember?

Jaimes: Yes, curveball and it’s a pretty good one and a really good fastball, which is mid-90s that looks harder than what it is.

 

Noah Bremer.

Jaimes: He’s a funky guy delivery wise. He hides the ball really well – I think that’s his biggest weapon – the hitters don’t really get a good pickup of the ball. Again, he’s another gut that can play with his fastball on each side of the plate. He has a really good changeup and a nice breaking ball, too. He’s kind of like what you’re going to see from Eubanks; they’re pretty similar guys.

 

Reid Anderson. He pitched better in the second half, but he always seemed to be the guy that had the one quirky inning or the one quirky moment that would fell him. He’d get 5 2/3 and we could see you’re trying to get him through six and he’d have that one moment where the guy would hit the ball out of the ballpark and you’d be like, “doggone it.” Did he grow up from that last year?

Jaimes: I think so. In spring training at one of his last games, it was the first time he was going to five innings. He got through four innings without any issues, really good. He got to the fifth, the first two pitches he spiked the fastball and threw one over the catcher’s head and went to 3-0. I’m thinking, maybe it’s going to happen what happened last year and he’s not going to get through the fifth and he’ll lose everything. But he did. He went to a 3-0 count and then came back with two good fastballs and struck the guy out and then retired the next two guys with no issues. The next outing, he went six innings without any problem.

So, again, he’s another guy that learned a lot from last year. He knows that he needs to keep the game simple. He knows that he’s preparing himself not to pitch five innings; he’s preparing himself to pitch nine innings. I think that was his main issue last year; he knew that he was about to be done and doubt set in and he couldn’t control it. He’s doing a better job with it.

Remind me of his stuff:

Jaimes: Fastball, changeup, curveball and a cutter.

 

Tyree Thompson.

Jaimes: He’s a real competitor. I love what he brings. I love that he’s a strike thrower. Maybe he’s not that big of a stuff guy, but he’s a pitcher with a fastball, curveball and a changeup. His biggest weapon is that he competes no matter what the situation is. So, I’m excited about having him on the staff and I think he’ll be a big part of it.

 

Tell me about Alex Speas. I read the stuff about his big fastball, but he doesn’t always know where it’s going. After getting used to things last night, he settled in and pitched a good inning.

Jaimes: I think by him being in the bullpen he’s going to be able to keep the game simple. Definitely, he has some command issues at times, but I think he has improved a lot since last year. He had a really good year in Spokane when he went to the bullpen. Yesterday with the first guy, he was guiding the ball, then he just let it go and you saw it, he had really good stuff. He has a good fastball and a really, really good slider. I think he’s going to be a big part of the back end of the bullpen for us.

 

Sal Mendez is back. When you and I talked at this same time last year, I asked you who had the best secondary stuff among your staff. You said Sal Mendez’s changeup. How is his progression from last year and what is he coming back to do?

Jaimes: He’s going to be helping to be the leader of the bullpen. He’s going to have the same role that he played last year – a long man, then he’ll spot start here and there. He’s a big changeup guy, but this year’s it’s going to be more of finding a breaking ball. I think it’s doing better, but I think that’s going to be his priority, having the breaking ball to face left-handed hitters.

 

Going down the list of who was here last year. Joe Kuzia had a cup of coffee and got hit around a bit, but like Phillips, once he got back to Spokane he found himself in the bullpen. He seems like he will be a key bullpen guy that will give you some innings.

Jaimes: Yeah, I’m excited about him. Like you said, when he came up I felt like he wasn’t ready for the competition here. He went down to Spokane and worked on some reliever’s stuff and he got back into a rhythm and had a really good spring training. He’s ready to go.

 

As you have time, run down a quick couple of things about the bullpen guys.

Jaimes: Demarcus Evans. We had him last year.

 

He looked more controlled last night, as far as his delivery.

Jaimes: Yeah, I think he’s going to be our guy. I’m excited for him and I think it’s going to be a good thing for him now to be a part of the bullpen and being able to pitch more often is going to help him. Definitely, command wise, it is the main thing that needs work, but he’s doing better. I’m excited to work with him because I know that whenever he finds it, he’s going to be pretty special.

Meet the 2018 Hickory Crawdads

The Texas Rangers announced the initial roster for the 2018 Hickory Crawdads. A total of 28 players are on the list with three to be pared off before opening day begins on Thursday, April 5 at Greensboro.

Six of the 28 players assigned to Hickory are currently on the Rangers top-30 prospect according to MLB.com. They include outfielders Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10) and Miguel Aparicio (18), catcher Sam Huff (25), and pitchers A.J. Alexy (17), Alex Speas (23), and Tyler Phillips (30).

Twelve of the 28 listed on the initial roster spent some time at Hickory last season, including eight pitchers.

Among the pitchers, five of them – Alexy, Phillips, Reid Anderson, Demarcus Evans and Sal Mendez – made starts for the Crawdads in 2017. Also returning are Dario Beltre, Joe Kuzia and Grant Zawadzki.

The four position players returning to Hickory are catcher Yohel Pozo, infielder Ryan Dorow – his only game with the Crawdads was a start in the final game of the 2017 season – Aparicio and Eric Jenkins, who will spent at least part of a fourth season in Hickory.

Below is a brief look at all 28 players on the initial roster:

PITCHERS                                                                                                           

Josh Advocate (6-1, 195 lbs., 24 y/o) RHP

The native of Mohave Valley, Ariz. pitched in 18 pro games (1-3, 3.63 ERA) out of the bullpen with rookie-affiliate Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers and short-season Spokane (Wash.) after his 20th round selection out of Long Beach State. Was a first-team All-Big West Conference pick in 2017. Played one season at Cochise (Ariz.) College and was a first-team Small School All-American in 2012 while at River Valley (Ariz.) High. Also played football in high school and was a first-team All-State pick as a free safety.

 A.J. Alexy (6-4, 195, 19) RHP

The native of Honey Brook, Pa. was obtained by the Rangers last summer as part of a four-player deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Assigned to Hickory after the trade, he made five starts (1-1, 3.05) and struck out 27 in 20.2 innings. Held opponents to a .180 batting average, the third-lowest among all full-season minor league pitchers (min. 90 innings). Originally drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round in 2016, he was signed away from a commitment to Radford. Was a catcher before switching to the mound in his junior season in high school (Twin Valley, Elverson, Pa.). Also wrestled in high school. Currently the No. 17 Rangers prospect according to MLB.com.

Reid Anderson (6-3, 185, 22) RHP

The native of New Egypt, N.J. made 28 appearances (13 starts) for Hickory in 2017 (1-11, 5.30). Was a starter almost exclusively in the second half of the season. The 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville Univ. (Pa.) in 2016, he attended college as an outfielder and moved to the mound during his sophomore season. Went 8-1 in 2016 and made three relief appearances during Millersville’s run to the Division II final. Played baseball and basketball at New Egypt High.

Joe Barlow (6-3, 195, 22) RHP

The native of Riverton, Utah made 16 relief appearances (6-1, 2.00) for Spokane in 2017. An 11th-round pick of the Rangers out of Salt Lake Community College in 2016, he struck out 64 of the 158 batters faced (40.5%) in 45 innings. Barlow was second in the Northwest League in opponents batting average (.177) and fifth in Ks-per-9-innings (12.80). A two-way player in college, he also caught 25 games in college. Pitched in high school at Riverton.

Dario Beltre (6-3, 210, 25) RHP

The native of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic made his first full-season appearance last year since signing as an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2010. Made 11 appearances with Hickory (1-0, 2.60) with 19 Ks in 17.1 innings before ending the season on the disabled list with a right elbow strain. Missed the 2016 season due to elbow surgery. Fanned 173 in 153.1 innings during his pro career.

Noah Bremer (6-5, 200, 21)

The native of Berkeley, Calif. was the sixth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of the University of Washington. Ranks third in innings, sixth in strikeouts and tied for sixth in starts among all hurlers in school history. In his pro debut with the AZL Rangers and Spokane, he made 12 relief appearances (1-0, 2.61) with 30 Ks and four walks in 20 innings. Held opponents to a .152/.211/.212 slash. Was an All-Pac 12 pick in 2017. Pitched in high school at Berkeley.

Jean Casanova (6-3, 155, 21) RHP

Was the 35th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukegan (Ill.) High. Spent both pro seasons with the AZL Rangers. Made 11 appearances (five starts) with the rookie affiliate in 2017 (5-2, 2.70) and 47 Ks in 36.2 innings. Moved to the U.S. in fifth grade from the Dominican Republic. His cousin Raul played in the majors from 1996 to 2008.

Alex Eubanks (6-2, 180, 22) RHP

The native of Moore, S.C. made 10 of his 11 appearances with Spokane (3-0, 1.17) after his 14th-round selection by the Rangers out of Clemson last June. Struck out 25 and walked just two in 16.1 innings. Made 16 starts for Clemson as a redshirt sophomore last year and walked just 1.73 per nine innings with the Tigers. Was an all-state as a senior at Byrnes (S.C.) High.

Demarcus Evans (6-4, 270, 21) RHP

The native of Petal, Miss. started the 2017 season with Hickory. A shoulder strain placed him on the disabled list in May and he rejoined the club after a rehab assignment with AZL Rangers. Finished the season at Spokane. With the Crawdads (2-5, 4.85), the Rangers 2015 25th-round pick (Petal High) made 12 appearances (six starts) with 46 Ks in 29.2 innings. Held opponents to a .170/.250/.250 slash in five starts at Spokane. As a high school senior, chosen as one of baseball’s “Dandy Dozen” by The Clarion-Ledger.

Joe Kuzia (6-4, 196, 24)  RHP

A free agent signee of the Rangers in April 2017, the native of Cape Coral, Fla. had a four-game stint with Hickory last summer (1-1, 12.79). Spent the rest of 2017 with Spokane where he made 16 appearances. Had the lowest walk-per-9 inning rate (0.86) among Northwest League relievers to go with a 12.93 K-per-9 inning rate. Previously pitched professional with Garden State in the independent Can-Am League, as well as Bridgeport and New Britain in the independent Atlantic League. Was first-team All-Big East at St. John’s in 2014. Pitched in junior college at Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC and at Seymour (Ct.) High. where he also lettered in basketball, football and indoor track.

Sal Mendez (6-4, 185, 23) LHP

The native of Weehawken, N.J. made 25 appearances (6-6, 4.71), including nine starts, with Hickory in 2017. Spent part of August on the disabled list with a strained quad. Was the Rangers 40th round pick in 2013 out of Weehawken High. Missed first two pro seasons with an elbow injury. Threw a no-hitter in high school. Signed away from a commitment to Howard (Tex.) College. Father Sabah played two seasons in the New York Yankees system and one year with the Minnesota Twins chain in the 1970s.

Tyler Phillips (6-5, 191, 20)

The native of Lumberton, N.J. started the 2017 season with Hickory and struggled (1-2, 6.39 in his seven appearances (four starts) before an assignment to Spokane. With the Indians, the Rangers 2015 16th round pick out of Bishop Eustace Prep (N.J.) had 12 Ks in his final start of the season. Had an 18-0 career record in high school and posted a 1.02 ERA his senior season.

 

Alex Speas (6-4, 180, 20) RHP

The native of Powder Springs, Ga. made 16 appearances (7 starts) for Spokane (1-6, 6.15) in 2017 with 45 Ks in 33.2 innings. Was ranked the 12th-best prospect in the Northwest League by Baseball America. The Rangers drafted him in the second round of the 2016 draft out of McEachern (Ga.) High and signed him away from a commitment to Auburn. Threw 8.1 scoreless innings with the AZL Rangers in his pro debut season in 2016. Was an Under Armour All-American. Baseball America had him as the 11th-best high school pitching prospect before the 2016 draft. Signed away from a commitment to Auburn. Currently the Rangers No. 23 prospect according to MLB.com

Tyree Thompson (6-4, 165, 21) RHP

The New Orleans native made 13 starts (5-1, 3.15) for Spokane in 2017 and was second in the Northwest League in ERA, fourth in WHIP (1.24). The Rangers 26th-round pick in 2016 was the first player drafted by MLB out of Edna Karr (La.) High, where he threw six no-hitters and two perfect games in his high school career. Signed away from a commitment to play baseball and basketball at Northwestern St. (La.)

Grant Zawadzki (5-10, 200, 25) RHP

The native of Shrewsbury, Mass. signed a free-agent contract with the Rangers in February 2017. Split time with Spokane, Hickory and high-A Down East last season. Made seven relief appearances with Hickory (0-1, 7.71). Previously pitched in the San Diego Padres organization as well as with Lancaster and Southern Maryland in the independent Atlantic League. Played collegiately at Cleveland State (Tenn.) CC and Bryan College (Tenn.). Went to St. John’s High (Shrewsbury).

 

CATCHERS

Sam Huff (6-4, 215, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Phoenix spent both pro seasons with the AZL Rangers after his selection in the seventh-round of the 2016 draft out of Arcadia High. Posted a .249/.329/.452 slash in 49 games last season. Tied for the AZL lead with nine homers and was fourth in total bases. Named to the post-season AZL All-star team. Reached base safely in 24 of 28 games in 2016. Named to Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona baseball team in 2016 after hitting .554 with 14 homers and 49 RBI. Signed away from a commitment to Grand Canyon Univ. Currently the Rangers No. 25 prospect according to MLB.com

Clay Middleton (6-0, 205, 24) B-T: R-R

The native of Oviedo, Fla. spent both pro seasons with Spokane, splitting time behind the plate and at first last season. Posted .263/.323/.415 slash in 39 games with four homers and 17 RBI last season. Was the 22nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Bethune-Cookman University. Named first-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2016. Played high school ball at Hagerty (Fla.) High.

Melvin Novoa (5-11, 215, 21) B-T: R-R

The native of Nandaime, Nicaragua signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. When he appears in a game for Hickory, Novoa will be the first Nicaraguan to play for the Crawdads. Hit for a .281/.338/.467 slash with four homers and 15 RBI in 38 games last season at Spokane. Was suspended for the 2016 season after testing positive for PED.

Yohel Pozo (6-0, 201, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Maracaibo, Venezuela signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. In his first full-season assignment last season, posted .338/.373/.465 slash with two homers and 15 RBI at Hickory. His .338 batting avg. is the eighth highest in Crawdads history for a player with a minimum of 150 plate appearances. Opened the 2017 season with Spokane before joining Hickory in July. Threw out 35.1% of baserunners for the Crawdads in 2017. Named to 2016 post-season AZL All-Star Team after hitting .341 for the AZL Rangers.

 

INFIELDERS

Ryan Dorow (6-0, 195, 22) B-T: R-R

The native of South Haven, Mich. played in the final game of the 2017 for Hickory (1-3, double) after suiting up for 40 games with the AZL Rangers. A 30th-round pick last June out of Division III Adrian College (Mich.), he posted a .296/.382/.384 slash. Named MVP of Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association three straight seasons. He is the first player drafted by MLB out of Adrian since 1974 (Sherwin Rogers by Baltimore). Played baseball, soccer and basketball at South Haven. Named to all-state baseball team his senior season.

Kole Enright (6-1, 175, 20) B-T: S-R

The native of Winter Garden, Fla. was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of West Orange (Fla.) High. After posting a .313/.378/.420 slash with the AZL Rangers in his first pro season, played in 67 games at Spokane last season when he hit .233/.314/.323 with three homers and 20 RBI. Named to the Orlando Sentinel all-area team in his senior season. Signed away from a commitment to Stetson Univ.

Yonny Hernandez (5-9, 140, 20)B-T: S-R

Signed as an international free agent in 2014, he made his stateside debut as a pro last May with AA Frisco (Tex.), where he went 0-for-3. The native of Planta, Baja, Venezuela spent much of the season with the AZL Rangers (32 games) before ending the season at Spokane (18 games). Hit his first pro homer in three seasons with Spokane last year.

Justin Jacobs (6-1, 195, 22) B-T: L-R

The native of Spokane, Wash. signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in 2017 after playing college ball at Gonzaga. Played in 48 games with the AZL Rangers posting a .326/.438/.431 slash. Was second in the AZL in hits (59) and on-base percentage (.438), sixth in batting avg. Named a JUCO All-American at Lower Columbia College (Wash.). Played high school ball at Auburn Riverside (Wash.).

Tyler Ratliff (6-2, 210, 22) B-T: R-R

The native of Port St. Lucie, Fla. played mostly with Spokane in his initial pro season after his selection by the Rangers in the 17th round out of Marshall Univ. last June. After hitting .500 in eight games with the AZL Rangers, Ratliff hit .264/.330/.421 with the Indians six homers and 25 RBI. Named to the Northwest League All-Star Team. Was a Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week during his sophomore season. Played in high school at T.C. Williams (Va.).

 

OUTFIELDERS

Miguel Aparicio (6-0, 175, 19) B-T: L-L

Signed as an international free agent in 2015, the native of San Carlos, Venezuela struggled as an 18-year-old during a 25-game stint (.176/.255/.247) with Hickory last season in his stateside pro debut. Re-assigned to Spokane, he put together an all-star season with the Indians (.293/.333/.395). Was second in the Northwest League in hits (86), fourth in runs (47) and the third-hardest player in the league to strikeout. Named by Baseball America as the 13th-best prospect in the NWL. Currently the Rangers No. 18 prospect according to MLB.com.

Pedro Gonzalez (6-5, 190, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Santo Dominguez, Dominican Republic was obtained by the Rangers from the Colorado Rockies last August in a deal for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Originally signed by the Rockies as an international free agent in 2014. Went 0-for-17 with Spokane in six games after the trade. Before the trade, he put up a .321/.388/.519 slash with 25 extra-base hits in 45 games with the Rockies rookie affiliate at Grand Junction (Colo.). Named the seventh-best prospect in the Pioneer League by Baseball America. Originally a shortstop in the Rockies organization, moved to centerfield in 2016. Currently the Rangers No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com.

Eric Jenkins (6-1, 170, 21) B-T: L-R

The lone North Carolina native (Cerro Gordo) on the Crawdads roster was drafted by the Rangers in the second round of the 2015 draft out West Columbus High. After playing in 51 games with the AZL Rangers in his pro debut season, he hit .389/.421/.444 with the Crawdads in the final five games of 2015 and started in left during the playoffs. Led the South Atlantic League with 51 steals in 2016. Started the 2017 season with a hamstring injury before rejoining Hickory last May. Hit .216/.266/.310 in his final 60 games with the Crawdads. Also played basketball in high school. Signed out of a commitment to UNC Wilmington.

Chad Smith (6-2, 193, 20) B-T: L-L

The native of Snellville, Ga. played for Spokane (.277/.354/.447) for a second-straight season in 2017 before a shoulder injury shut him down for the season after 39 games. A fifth-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of South Gwinnett (Ga.) High, he was as Northwest League all-star in 2016. Named a Perfect Game second-team All-American as a high school senior. Signed away from a commitment to the Univ. of Georgia.