Results tagged ‘ John Fasola ’

Crawdads Mid-Season Assessment: An Interview with Rangers VP Mike Daly

The Hickory Crawdads currently has the best record in the South Atlantic League at 50-29 (through July 5). While the Crawdads cruised to the first-half Northern Division title – clinching a playoff berth in September – the name of the game is first and foremost player development. In that aspect, the Texas Rangers have much to celebrate with the Crawdads roster, especially where the pitching staff is concerned.

Mike Daly, the Senior Vice President for Scouting and Player Development of the Texas Rangers, was in town during the recent weeklong homestand to get an extended look at the Crawdads in action.

The following is an interview I did with Daly during which he talked about some of the top pitchers on the staff – and assigning them to High Desert – a few of the top hitters, as well as the on-going struggles with Jairo Beras.

In the first half of the season the Crawdads were the best team in the South Atlantic League by record, and a lot of days, the best team on the field. The Rangers brass had to be excited with how the team played in the first half.

Mike Daly: Yeah, we’re certainly proud of the players and the staff. I think it starts with Corey Ragsdale, an outstanding manager who’s closing in on the all-time record for number of wins here – not only for the number of wins in Hickory – but with what he’s done taking on a really young group of players and bringing them together.

Each of the players get better individually but also as a collective group. They’re playing for each other, pulling for each other and ultimately winning a bunch of games. We’re very pleased and very proud of the group here in Hickory.

You mentioned the staff and Rags is here for the third year and seems a lot more comfortable with himself. You see the growth from him over the three years. It’s obvious that he’s in charge and the guys like playing for him, to a man.

Daly: Absolutely. Corey does a number of things very well. First, he has outstanding baseball knowledge. He knows the ins and outs of a baseball game. He has a very keen eye for what players need to do and how they need to develop on the field.

But then off the field, he has presence and he knows how to handle the clubhouse and the players. They respect him and enjoy playing for him, but otherwise they know who is in charge. We’re thrilled to have Corey in the organization and we’re very, very happy with what he’s done with the club so far in 2015.

As far as the first half the pitching staff, almost night in and night out, is getting five, six, seven innings in every night and then turns it over to a what’s been a pretty good bullpen for the most part.

Daly: I think that was reflected there in the all-star game with how many selections we had off our pitching staff. I think what’s really good is these guys push one another. So, when Ariel Jurado goes out and has a good outing, now Brett Martin wants to go out there and top him. Then Luis Ortiz, he wants to go out there and do better and Yohander Mendez wants to show where he’s at. Nick Gardewine wants to do that and Collin Wiles wants to do it better.

So it’s a real good internal competition amongst these guys each and every night. It certainly gives our ballclub an opportunity to win and it always starts with the starting pitching. These guys have really stepped up. It’s really, really fun to watch these guys compete against one another.

Jurado was not somebody that people read a lot about before this season. He took the ball the first night and for the most part at every start he toes the rubber and goes seven innings.

Daly: He’s been outstanding. He was one of the six starters that we wanted to send out here. That’s a big credit to Brian Shouse, who is our pitching coach in the Arizona League and pitched a number of years in the major leagues. He dropped down Jurado’s slot from a high slot to more of a low three-quarters slot, which he throws now and really helps his fastball move. He gets a ton of ground balls with his sinker. He throws a lot of strikes and mixes in his breaking balls and his changeups very well.

He’s throwing a curveball now, which is another nice toy for him?

Daly: Absolutely, and he has a real good feel. When guys have power – nd he has a fastball that he can run up there over 90 miles an hour – and then he’s able to break out his offspeed pitches, it really puts hitters on their heels. His sinker is obviously his money pitch and when he’s able to throw the other offspeed pitches for strikes, it puts hitters on their heels. We’ve seen that with the performance of Jurado.

Luis Ortiz has had a couple of wrinkles, but numbers wise he has a low ERA, good WHIP, a ton of strikeouts. I know you’re kind of pacing him along, especially with the arm fatigue. What is your evaluation of him at this point?

Daly: We’re really happy with Luis. I think our goal was for him to get out here on opening day and to get through the whole season. A player learns a ton, especially a player coming out of high school, going out for the first time and getting through a full season at a full-season club. We’re really happy with what he’s done throughout the year.

Obviously there’s a little bit of a setback here with the arm fatigue. We’re looking to get him back here probably in about a month or so. But we’re really happy with where Luis is. He’s working on all his pitches. His changeup continues to develop as does the power fastball and a good breaking ball.

Collin Wiles is another guy that has been good night in and night out. I’m honestly a little surprised he’s still here. Let me ask you about his development and where he goes from here.

Daly: We give Collin a ton of credit. He had a very good offseason. I think he really took ownership in his offseason program and really invested in where he was at in his career and it’s paying dividends on the field. He’s able to throw all of his pitches for strikes at anytime in the count. He has an extreme amount of confidence on the mound and that come through.  I think that’s due in large part to the work that he did in the offseason. He came into spring training very, very focused and that’s carried through here in the season.

We have had some conversations about challenging him at the next level, but we’re really happy with where he’s at, how he’s pitching and how he’s performing. With his age, as a high-school player coming out of Kansas City, we still feel that there’s some challenges for him here at the low-A level. But we’re really happy where he’s at.

This is not necessarily about Collin, but just in general. How much does the High Desert situation play into you advancing guys and not wanting to tax them at that spot versus maybe they need that challenge?

Daly: I don’t think it’s so much about High Desert. I think it’s more about the individual player and where he needs to be challenged or where he’s at in his career.

If you look back when Arizona was at High Desert, they sent John Patterson and Brandon Webb and Brad Penny. So there have been pitchers that have been very successful major league pitchers that have gone through High Desert.

But I think our decisions are based more on the individual player and what they need and where we see they’re at in their careers in terms of promoting them or having them go through High Desert or not.

We’ve had some success. Frank Lopez is a guy who pitched here and had some success early on at High Desert and he earned a promotion up to Frisco. There are pitchers that can go out there and have had some success. I think it’s a very good learning experience if you’re able to pitch in High Desert in those type of conditions.

Is there a mental component that plays into that at times, where you might be hesitant to send somebody there because if they get lit up with the easy home run, you worry about the psyche?

Daly: I think that’s part of like each individual guy. I think our coaches have a very good feel for each individual player. We do talk about it amongst our staff, amongst our coaches about what’s best for each individual player. Some guys have gone out there and taken on that challenge and were able to overcome High Desert. That usually bodes pretty well for success at the next level.

Let me ask you about one other guy and that’s Yohander Mendez. He was here and there last year because of the shoulder and other injuries health wise. He had a good year out of the bullpen, but I know the object has always been to get him back into the rotation. You’ve got to be pleased with where he is at this point.

Daly: We’re very happy with Yohander. We had a couple of setbacks with some injuries in his career. I think the goal was to start him out in the pen this year with some short stints to try to keep him healthy. He’s done that and has been able to post every time that we’ve asked him to pitch.

Now, I think, his goal has changed in terms of, can we build strength. He’s done a nice job with Wade Lamont, our strength and conditioning coach, in terms of putting more weight on his body. I know it doesn’t really show, but he’s up to over 200 pounds. That’s a huge credit to Yohander and the tireless efforts of Lamont. Obviously Oscar Marin (Crawdads pitching coach) has done a real nice job with him last year and this year. We’re really happy with where Yohander is at and obviously it’s showing on the field.

Let me go to the hitting side of the team and start with Josh Morgan, who had a rough start getting his feet wet, but the last two months has done well.

Daly: Definitely, he’s certainly found it. He’s one of the guys going through his first full-season year. I think in April the hits weren’t falling, but he continued to have an outstanding makeup. He’s a very, very hard worker. He believes in the talent and we believe in the talent as well. I think that we’ve seen that over the past couple of months with the consistent approach and the consistent work ethic and those hits are falling. Obviously, he’s been a huge part of the 2015 Crawdads.

A guy that has been the glue or spark plug, or whatever cliché you want to use, has been Jose Trevino. I know it’s been his first full year of catching and I know that’s gone well. But all around he’s a guy that keeps the clubhouse together.

Daly: We’re very, very, very happy with Jose Trevino, not only defensively, but offensively. There’s a lot of stuff as a catcher that you need to work on in terms of your own defensive, knowing the pitching staff , being able to help your pitchers get through each count. But then he’s able to step into the box with his bat and be very productive in the middle of the lineup. So, we’re really happy with the things that Jose has accomplished so far both offensively and defensively. You see the makeup and you see how he’s able to keep his focus together.

I’m going to go to Jairo Beras, who had the rough start not running out a batted ball the first night. He had a good couple of weeks here where it seemed like he was seeing everything, but then he gets into another thing last night where he doesn’t run it out. Let me ask you about him and what is a tough situation.

Daly: Jairo is somebody there have been some ups and been some downs. I know last year he had a very good second half here in Hickory. It looked like he was going on that path again here and have another strong second half in 2015.

Part of the process is not about numbers, but part of the process is about playing the game the right way. I think Corey’s done a really good job of handling the situation with Jairo.

We’re still very excited about Jairo and I think he’s still going to be a big part of this Crawdads team over the last couple of months. I think his at bats are getting more consistent. He’s seeing balls batter and he’s using the whole field. He had a nice double down the right field line. He’s walking a little more. I think that there’s some stuff, just with player in development, there’s some ups and some downs, but we’re still very bullish on where Jairo is and his status in the organization.

You mentioned that you’re excited about Jairo and the Rangers are excited about Jairo. Is there a point where Jairo is excited about Jairo and there are not the mental lapses?

Daly: You hope so, yes. I would fully expect that to happen. When that happens, I’m not sure that anybody knows. It’s really up to the player to decide that they’re going to do the things each and every day that’s part of being a professional player. I think it’s really up to Jairo. Our job as an organization is to support him and when he doesn’t do the things that he’s supposed to do to correct them and teach him and to make sure he learns from him. Ultimately, it’s up to Jairo to make those changes.

Michael De Leon. The hitting is still not quite there. He’s still only 18 and the strength is getting there, but defensively, what a wizard.

Daly: With Michael last year, it was really the year of opportunity. When we signed him in 2013, nobody thought that in 2014 that he would play the majority of his games in Hickory. None of our guys that we had signed in their first year – Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor – none of those guys spent any time in Hickory. There was an opportunity last year with the number of injuries. To his credit, he took advantage.

I think there are still challenges for Michael here at this level, but he’s done an outstanding job. When he can play defense like he can play defense at shortstop, he’s always going to have the opportunity to play. The manager is going to want to get you in the lineup based on the defense that he provides.

He hits at the top of the lineup and makes a ton of contact. He’s going to get bigger and stronger. I know that Wade Lamont is working with him relentless to try to get him faster and try to get him bigger and stronger. But, when you have a shortstop that can play that type of defense, the pitchers really appreciate you, and the manager’s always going to find a way to get you into the lineup. That’s his calling card is his defense right now.

Let me ask you about one more guy and that’s Tendler. He had a hot start and then went into the slump, but you get the feeling that he’s coming out of some things.

Daly: I give Luke a ton of credit. Luke came into the organization last year and right away has been all about baseball. After Spokane – he had a real nice year there – he spent the winter in Columbia. He went down there on his own and went to the Columbian Winter League. The first time we’ve ever had a player right out of the draft make the decision on his own to go down to Colombia. So, he really invested in his career. He really wants to be as good as he can.

I know that he came into Hickory this year and was on fire in April and in May. He was producing maybe better than he thought that he was. Right now in the slump, he’s better than he’s showing now.

We’re really happy with Luke. Once again, a guy going through his first full season and it’s hard. A hundred-and-forty games is a long season; it’s a grind. He’s done a real nice job. He’s a big part of the Crawdads team. I know that Corey has a lot of confidence in him and we’re going to continue to run him out there and he’s going to figure it out and be a big part of the team here.

Who has surprised you that maybe you didn’t expect to put together the season they have?

I think like the back end of the bullpen was really good. Parks and Fasola, both of those guys, especially Fasola, coming in and closing the door and saving a lot of games. I know that Corey had a ton of confidence looking down there in the eighth or ninth inning and bring in big John to close out the game.

Obviously, John pitched very well and earned himself a promotion up to High Desert. So, I think John Fasola coming in and taking the reins of the closer role and earning a promotion was the biggest surprise here so far.

(Eduard) Pinto?:

Daly: Been good. He can always hit. He hit close to .400 in the Dominican Summer League his first summer out. I think his big key is staying healthy. That’s something he continues to manage each and every day. He can hit, but his ability to on the field is the key.

Game Story: Savannah at Hickory June 15

The Hickory Crawdads popped two two-run homers and got strong pitching throughout to defeat the Savannah Sand Gnats 4-1 and close out the first-half Northern Division title in the South Atlantic League.

The win by Hickory (41-22) coupled with West Virginia’s 5-2 loss at home to Augusta sent the players into a celebration frenzy in left field as the final out in Charleston, W.Va. was recorded.

The Crawdads took the final three games in the four-game series to close out a 5-2 home stand. Hickory finished the first half 24-10 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Savannah (34-30) dropped into second place, a game behind Greenville (S.C.) with six games to play in the Southern Division chase.

The Crawdads close out the first half with a six-game road trip starting Tuesday with three games at Rome (Ga.), followed by three at West Virginia.

What happened?:
The Crawdads put up only six hits but four of those came after two outs and led to all four runs.

After the Sand Gnats put up a run in the second, Hickory took a 2-1 lead in the third when Josh Morgan doubled with two outs and scored as Eduard Pinto crushed a 3-1 fastball off the billboards in right.

A similar script with different actors happened one inning later. With two outs, Jairo Beras sent an off-speed pitch through the hole at second. Rock Shoulders followed with a two-run, opposite-field shot to make it 4-1.

Luis Ortiz (4-1) allowed one run on three hits and struck out nine over five innings. Joe Filomeno pitched a scoreless sixth before running into trouble in the seventh. With two outs and a runner at first, Thomas Nido doubled off the wall and Patrick Biondi was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hickory then brought in Austin Pettibone to face SAL all-star second baseman Jonathan Johnson, who pulled a 2-2 slider to first for the 3-1 putout.

Pettibone worked around a single in the eighth before turning it over to John Fasola in the ninth. Fasola struck out the final two batters of the game to complete a 1-2-3 inning and pick up his SAL-high 13th save of the season.

The Good:

Eduardo Pinto: His recent patience at the plate set up the heroics in the third. He ran the count to 3-1, then sat dead red and got an 89 heater from Bruce Meisner that Pinto turned on and sent it well out to right.

Rock Shoulders: Showed a bit of his strength when he put an inside-out swing on Meisner’s first-pitch fastball and sent it high over the fence in left. Made a big play to dig out a throw in the ninth (see below).

Jairo Beras: Seems poised to have a good stretch as he is staying back on secondary pitches, and yet is ready to hit the fastball. Had his second straight two-hit game with one hit coming on a fastball, the other on an off-speed pitch.

Luis Ortiz: Velocity 94-97 throughout, a good cutting slider, but he admitted after the game he didn’t have his best stuff. Said after the game the heat bothered him in the first two innings. But still, nine Ks in five innings (!), mostly coming on sliders and changups. Gassed a 96 mph past Johnson in the third and painted the corner at 97 for a called-strike three to John Mora. Finished the game with 81 pitches (53 strikes).

Austin Pettibone: Got a huge out with the bases loaded in the seventh when he got Johnson to pull a slider to first. K’d two in the eighth, both on sliders low and away to right handers.

John Fasola: Dodged a bullet to start the ninth when Mora lined a pitch hard off Fasola’s glove. Carlos Arroyo charged the ball toward the bag at second and then made an off-balanced throw that Rock Shoulders dug out to the RF side of first and held the bag with his foot. Fasola then gassed up his fastball to 95 and struck out the last two hitters.

The Not-So-Good:

Michael De Leon: Seemed to expand the strike zone in the game. Hitting left handed throughout, he K’d on a fastball away in the third, pulled a fastball in off the plate for a 3-1 grounder in the fifth, and a slider in at the knees for a grounder to first in the seventh.

The Opposition:

Luis Guillorme: Had a brilliant defensive effort both series the Sand Gnats played at L.P. Frans this season. In the sixth, Trevino hit a sharp roller to the hole at short. Guillorme made the backhand play and then the quick transfer for the long jump throw to first and the out.

Jon Leroux: Not sure if he got a slow start at first, or if he himself is slow (I watched the play in the field), but a double off the wall with two outs in the seventh should almost always lead to a run. Was shocked to look up and see him at third.

Role Playing: An Interview with John Fasola

Hickory Crawdads reliever John Fasola is a broken-bat single away from being a perfect 13-for-13 in save opportunities this season. Yet the native of Hudson, Ohio doesn’t consider himself a closer. Of course, currently sitting at Low-A ball, there is certainly a long way to go before his role is ultimately determined.

On numbers alone at college, Fasola might’ve had a point. He worked mostly in middle relief in his lone season at Kent State, where he went 2-2 with three saves and a 4.68 ERA. He posted a 28:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio which led the Texas Rangers to make him the 31st-round pick in 2014.

Fasola went to short-season Spokane and was among several pitchers that closed out games for the Indians. He posted a team high of five saves and a 2.05 ERA. He also struck out 40 and walked five in 26.1 innings.

Bringing a 92-94 mph sinking fastball, occasionally touching up to 96 to go with a slider, at least at this point, Fasola has brought to the table the idea of becoming a crucial bullpen piece, – if not a closer – in the future.

This season, he has worked on adding a changeup to his arsenal. With the addition of the pitch, Fasola may yet be used in a variety of roles in the future.

In recent weeks, Fasola’s workload has increased. During his last four outings, he has thrown at least two innings each time with three or more innings twice. On June 7 at Lakewood, Fasola recorded a ten-out save that gave the Crawdads a key game in their playoff hunt.

While the strikeouts continue to pile up (32 Ks, 3 BBs in 24.1 innings), he has also able to keep hitters on the ground Fasola currently has a 2.45 GO/AO ratio.

Fasola has 12 saves and a  0.74 WHIP in 24.1 innings. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Fasola has 12 saves and a 0.74 WHIP in 24.1 innings. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

In the following interview, Fasola talks about his progression this season in the bullpen, as well as his transition to the pro game.

Let me go through your season a little bit. You have 11 saves at this point (at the time of the interview on June 11). Were you a closer in college?

Fasola: For a little bit, yeah. I was more of a mid-relief setup man and then towards the end I took on a closer role when we made it to the playoffs and the post season. Then in Spokane, I wouldn’t say I was the closer, but I found myself in the back end of the games sometimes – not necessarily in save situations, but just late in the game, seven, eight, nine (innings).

I don’t know, it’s just something I happened to fall into. I didn’t really prepare to be a closer or anything like that. I wouldn’t even qualify myself as a closer. I’ve gone three innings my last two outings. So, whenever they need me to pitch, I’ll pitch.

I was going to ask you about that. I know the Rome situation (three innings for a win on May 31), it was a matter where the guys breaks his bat and gets a hit and the team was a little thin in the bullpen.Were you surprised to get the next one in Lakewood? That’s a ten-out save that stretched you out a bit, but that was a big pickup at the time for the team?

Fasola: I hadn’t thrown in a while. Going into that game, I was told that no matter what the score is today, you’re going to get your work in. At some point when seven days goes by, you know you’ve got to get out on the mound and see some hitters.

So, I was told that I was going in that day; so be ready after the fifth. I think it was the sixth inning, I came in with two outs and I got a three-pitch strikeout. Then I had a quick second inning and the next thing I knew, I was throwing in the ninth. I kept my pitch count down and I got a lot of ground balls and I was fortunate enough to close that game out for us.

How do you feel like you’ve developed this year? You mentioned that you don’t see yourself as the closer, but you’re probably the closest thing we’ve had as a closer in a while. At this level, you just don’t see that much- a closer. How has that developed for you?

Fasola: I think just throwing strikes. Getting to strike one gives you a lot of pitchability. That’s something this year that fortunately I’ve been able to do thus far. Getting to strike one it makes everything easier. You can pitch off your fastball; the hitter really can’t sit on anything. If you get to 0-1, you can throw something in the dirt. You can throw a chase pitch. It just gives you a lot more room to work with. So, this year, I’d say that’s the biggest thing that I’ve gotten better with, just getting the first pitch over the plate.

What sort of stuff did you bring to the pros and what have you developed since you’ve been here?

Fasola: I was a four-seam, slider guy all the way through high school and then in college. I closed a little but in high school, but I didn’t really pitch; I was a thrower. I got drafted and I just kind of threw everything as hard as I could. This year was the first time I started working on a changeup. That’s what I think I can attribute to me being able to go for three innings that I have the last two outings. Just being able to show something else that’s slower instead of the hitter sitting hard, hard, hard. But if you mix a changeup in it makes your fastball look harder, it makers your slider look sharper. It just gives you a lot more room to pitch in.

What are you looking for your changeup to do? Are you looking for it to go a different direction than your slider? What sort of changeup do you throw?

Fasola: That was the biggest thing for me going into spring training; I was mixing up all my grips. At instructs last year they told me I needed something soft to compliment my slider and fastball. I mainly just show it and try to throw it for strikes early on in the count and make them respect the fact that I have that pitch, where they’re not sitting on something hard. They have to respect that. I’ve actually thrown it for an off-speed pitch a couple of times to lefties, if I’m ahead in the count.

I read in the Rangers media guide that your dad was a professional pitcher for the Pirates organization. Has he talked with you about the pro game and passed on words of wisdom, or has he been hands off and letting you seek your own path?

Fasola: He was a catcher, so he knows a little bit about the pitching aspect, because he was a catcher. But his thing was hitting. So when I transitioned over to be a competitive pitcher, he kind of didn’t know that to do and said I can’t you anymore. But he helped me with just being a man and not just baseball stuff. He did his job for me growing up and has just let me find my way in pro ball and kind of let me take the reins.

Has he talked to you about the grind of the situation?

Fasola: He said: Full season, John, is going to be a grind. It’s a long season. You don’t got to blow it out every day. It’s a grind. You’ve just got to take it one day at a time. You can’t be looking in the future. It seems like a thousand day long season. You’ve just got to take it a day at a time and just be happy to be here.

As a pro now in the year since you were drafted, who have you talked to that has helped you make the most sense of doing this job?

Fasola: I think going into the draft – where I got my most advice – is my pitching coach from college, Mike Birkbeck (six year major league vet with the Brewers and Mets.) He was a pro player and kind of that whole season leading up to the draft he conducted our practices like professional practices. He’d give you stories, and give you little advice and tidbits. This offseason, I would go back and throw at his facility where he still coaches. He just gave me some tips where he’d say:  Do this. Throw this much. Take it easy today – and that type of stuff. Mike Birkbeck has helped me a lot.

What does a successful season look like for you?

Fasola: Just getting to the playoffs. Clinching the first half so we can get to the playoffs and we can get a ring for the Crawdads.

When you get a call to the major leagues, who is that going to mean the most to?

Fasola: My dad. My mom and dad, probably more my dad, because he was a professional baseball player.

What do you think he’ll do?

Fasola: I don’t know. I think he’ll probably shed a tear and then be on the next flight. I’m going to fly him and my mom out and my sisters out, that’s for sure.

Series Preview: Charleston at Hickory June 9-11

The Hickory Crawdads begin the final homestand of the first-half with a three-game series against the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Probables:

Tuesday: Luis Cedeno (RH, 3-5, 2.85 ERA) and Luis Ortiz (RH, 2-1, 2.00)

Wednesday: Matt Wotherspoon (RH, 0-0, 6.23) and Cody Buckel (RH, 0-1, 1.80)

Thursday: Matt Marsh (RH, 0-0, 4.50) and Collin Wiles (6-2, 1.92)

Recent Series History: The RiverDogs took three of four from the Crawdads in early May. Last year, Hickory edged Charleston 7-6 and was 5-2 at L.P. Frans. The Crawdads are 40-35 vs. the RiverDogs since the Rangers affiliation began in 2009.

 

Entering the Series:

Hickory (36-20) split a four-game series at Lakewood N.J. over the weekend before an off day on Monday. The Crawdads are 19-8 at home this seaon, but have won just one of the last three series played at L.P. Frans Stadium (6-4). Hickory leads second place West Virginia by 2 ½ games in the first-half Northern Division chase with 13 games left to play. The Power begin a three-game series at home against the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats.

Charleston is just 5-5 in its last 10 games, but has picked up two games in that span and now trails first place Greenville by three games in the Southern Division chase. The top five teams in that division are separated by four games. The Sand Gnats are a game out, followed by Charleston, then Augusta at 3 ½ out and Rome four out in fifth place. Augusta travels to Greenville, while Rome is at Asheville.

Players to watch – Hickory:

IF Carlos Arroyo: With Travis Demeritte out due to a suspension and Michael De Leon nursing a quad strain, the 21-year-old native of Valencia, Venezuela was sent to Hickory from AAA Round Rock to fill the gap. He’s now played in ten games at three separate levels posting a .286/.333/.500 slash. He’ll be looked at to provide some speed as he has 11 triples and 25 steals in 131 pro games.

OF Jairo Beras: The Rangers had hoped that Beras would springboard off a strong finish to the 2014 season, but injuries (quad, back) and discipline issues (running out a pop up) have curtailed his season. He returned on Thursday at Lakewood and went 3-for-7 with a couple of walks, but went hitless in the final two games.

SP Luis Ortiz: He held the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns hitless until the fifth before they got to him with two walks, three hits and two runs that cost him the game in a 2-0 loss. After posting a 0.66 ERA in his first six starts, Ortiz has allowed seven earned runs in 13.2 innings with five walks.

SP Cody Buckel: Strong early on in his last start, Buckel walked five of the last 11 batters he faced. In what is expected to be the hottest day of the early summer, Buckel’s control issues could be key to not taxing the bullpen too early, and keeping the defense active in the hot sun.

RP John Fasola: Moreso for what could be his absence after throwing 3.1 innings to close out the Crawdads 5-3 win Sunday at Lakewood. The SAL all-star selection leads the league with 11 saves.

RP Yohander Mendez: Has yet to give up a run in nine relief outings (19.1 innings) with 14 baserunners allowed and 30 strikeouts.

Players to watch – Charleston:

SS Jorge Mateo: The solo top-30 Yankees prospect (no. 3 by Baseball America and mlb.com) on the roster. Has had marginal success getting on base (.268/.322/.371) but when he does, his speed is a factor. He leads the SAL with 38 steals and has scored a team-high 25 runs.

CF Dustin Fowler: Activated from the disabled list today, Fowler went 5-for-16 against Hickory last month with a homer and five RBI.

1B Connor Spencer: The Yankees 8th round pick out of UC Irvine is the RiverDogs lone all-star selection. He leads Charleston with 23 RBI and a .394 OBP.

C Collin Slaybaugh: Just called up from extended spring, the 26th round pick in 2014 out of Washington State went 8-for-8 in his first two games (June 3-4) against Augusta. He is 10-for-15 with three RBI, a walk and two steals.

SP Luis Cedeno: Has lost his last five starts. Facing lineups the second time through the order has been his downfall. Opponents are hitting .115 in the first inning and .200 in the second, but it just to .345 in the third and .400 in the fifth. He has given up eight runs and walked eight in his last 16.1 innings.

SP Matt Wotherspoon: The Pittsburgh (34th round 2014) product is in his second start with Charleston after pitching for AA Trenton and High-A Tampa. He allowed three runs on five hits in 4.1 in his first start against Augusta.

SP Matt Marsh: Demoted from Tampa, Marsh – teammates with Crawdads pitcher Adam Parks at Liberty Univ. – game up two earned runs on five hits in four innings last week against Asheville.

Series Preview: Hickory at Hagerstown June 1-3

The Hickory Crawdads start a week-long road trip to the Northern tier of the South Atlantic League as they visit the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns for three games and then travel to Lakewood, N.J. for four to face the BlueClaws.

 

Probables:

Monday: Luis Ortiz (RH, 2-0, 1.76 ERA) and Luis Reyes (RH, 1-3, 5.44)

Tuesday: Cody Buckel (RH, 0-0, 0.00 in two starts) and Matt Purke (LH, 0-1, 4.50)

Wednesday: Brett Martin (LH, 3-1, 2.50) and TBA

Entering the series:

Hickory (34-16) scored only six runs on 12 hits the past three games, but took two of three from Rome to salvage a split in the four-game series with the Braves and complete a 5-2 homestand. The Crawdads now lead the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division by four games over West Virginia and by nine over third place Hagerstown… The team waited until the night of May 31 to make their first overnight road trip, leaving after Sunday night’s extra-inning game against Rome…Hickory went 3-1 against the Suns to open its 2015 season at L.P. Frans Stadium and is now 35-34 since the current affiliation with the Rangers began in 2009.  However, the Crawdads are 24-16 at Municipal Stadium… Despite having the second overall youngest pitching staff in the SAL, Hickory leads the league with a 2.52 ERA, trails only Lakewood in WHIP (1.19) and is third in strikeouts. Their 18 saves is second to Charleston, S.C.…The starters have not given up a home run since May 11.

Since a 1-4 start, the Suns (25-25) have hovered around the .500 mark much of the opening two months of the season. Hagerstown lost three of four to visiting Kannapolis during the weekend…The Suns roster is usually loaded up with college products and this year is no different. Hagerstown has the second oldest group of position players (22.7 age) in the South Atlantic League and the third oldest pitching staff (22.4)… The Suns trail only Hickory in errors allowed (47) and fielding pct. (.975), and has the second-best caught stealing ratio in the SAL (34.7%)…The Suns .260 team batting average is second in the league and they have struck out the fewest times.

Players to watch – Hickory:

RF Luke Tendler: After hitting .229 during a homerless May, Tendler looks to get healthy against a team he had success with to start the year. Tendler went 6-for-15 with two homers, four RBI and five runs scored during the four-game series vs. the Suns in early April. He is tied for third in the SAL in doubles (14) and total bases (85). A day off during the series may not be out of the question, as he has played in all but one game this season.

3B Josh Morgan: Though he ended May with his first back-to-back hitless games since May 1-2, Morgan still finished May with a .323/.411/.419 slash. He also showed good patience at the plate with ten walks in 109 plate appearances.

SS Michael De Leon: Hit .206/.241/.290 in May, but began to see pitches batter over the past week. He was 5-for-14 vs. Hagerstown in April.

Closer John Fasola: Only a game-tying, broken-bat RBI single with two outs in the ninth on May 31 kept Fasola from having a near perfect month. Fasola closed out seven of eight save opportunities in the month with just the one earned run allowed. He also posted 16 strikeouts to just two walks over 13.1 innings. Fasola leads the SAL with ten saves overall.

SP Luis Ortiz: Struck out 17 and walked three in 19.1 innings in May. After giving up a lone run in three starts, Ortiz was hit up for four runs allowed in 3.1 innings against Delmarva last Tuesday. With the uncertainty of the two starters to follow, Ortiz will be looked at to complete at least his normal five innings, if not longer, as his pitch count allows.

SP Cody Buckel: In his two starts since coming to Hickory, Buckel has been unscored upon in seven innings with three walks and five hits allowed.

SP Brett Martin: He hopes to return to the mound after a stiff back cancelled his previous start last Thursday.

Relief Corps: With Buckel still getting stretched out and the uncertain of Martin’s back – and his longevity on the mound will likely be limited at best – the relief corps will likely see a lot of innings in the series. Yohander Mendez has thrown 16.2 scoreless innings (eight appearances) since joining Hickory. David Perez gave up one unearned run during six games in May and struck out 16 to go with ten walks in 11.2 innings.

 

Players to watch – Rome:

SP Matt Purke: The former unsigned first-round pick (2009) of the Texas Rangers is making his second start (4 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 K vs. Kannapolis on May 28) for the Suns since returning from “Tommy John” surgery. He also had shoulder surgery in 2012 and has made only 30 starts in the five seasons since the Washington Nationals took him in the third round in 2011. Ranked the 11th best Nationals prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2014 season, he has dropped of its top-30 list. Purke is still No. 28 on mlb.com’s rankings.

SP Luis Reyes: He held Hickory to just three hits and struck out over five innings in a start during the season-opening series at L.P. Frans Stadium. He’s been hit hard over his last five starts, allowing 17 earned runs on 28 hits over 25.2 innings. Opponents are batting .342 against Reyes at Municipal Stadium.

C Raudy Read: The lone top-30 prospect (mlb.com) on the Suns roster has struggled the past three weeks, as he is 7-for-39 (.179) since May 10. Read belted his first homer of the season on April 10 against Hickory as part of a 2-for-4 game with four runs scored.

LF Jeff Gardner: Hit .298/.319/.423 in May and finished the month with at least one hit in 17 of the last 18 games (27-for-69, .391), eight of those multi-hit games. Gardner (8th round, 2014, Louisville) went 2-for-10 against Hickory in April, with both of the hits coming on April 10 to go with two walks and four runs scored in that game.

3B Grant Debruin: Snapped at 10-game hitting streak on Sunday vs. Kannapolis (16-for-39, .410). Overall, his .319 average is sixth in the South Atlantic League. He signed with the Nationals as a free agent after playing two seasons with Joliet of the Frontier League.

1B Carlos Lopez: Played college ball at Wake Forest (12th round, 2012), he joined the Suns last week for his third straight season with the Suns.

UT Cody Dent: The son of former major leaguer Bucky Dent. The 22nd round pick of the Nationals in 2013 out of the University of Florida.