Results tagged ‘ Josh Morgan ’

Catching the Wave: An interview with Texas Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones

I will not be partial here. I love catchers. For me, the position is greatly undervalued. The good ones not only swing the bat and play the position almost flawlessly, but they are also full-time field generals and part-time psychiatrists. Most World Series teams have a guy behind the plate that is the heart, the soul, the pulse, the lifeblood, etc. of the team: Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Jorge Posada, Salvador Perez to name a few.

When the Texas Rangers were in the midst of their 2016 playoff run, they chose to give up prospects Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz – both former first-round pics – and Ryan Cordell to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. It was hoped that Lucroy would play a big role handling the pitching staff and bring another consistent bat into the lineup and put the Rangers in World Series contention.

Part of the need for Lucroy was because the Rangers had not developed their own catcher. A possible starter, Jorge Alfaro, was used in a trade in 2015 to get pitcher Cole Hamels. The lack of a homegrown catcher is something that Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones wants to see rectified.

Since joining the club in 2015 as the catching coordinator, Briones is helping the Rangers build a stable of young catchers in the minor-league system that may one day put “THAT GUY” in the forefront of leading the team. According to MLB.com, among the Texas Rangers top-30 prospects six are catchers at least part-time.

Crawdads catcher Sam Huff is a part of that top-30 group, but two others that started the season at Hickory are perhaps not far behind the list. Yohel Pozo hit .338 for Hickory in the second half of 2017 and Melvin Novoa showed good defensive skills (threw out 5 of 6 base stealers with Hickory) with a bat that was quickly deemed too good for this level and his now at high-A Down East. The three started the year at Hickory and rotated catching duties, then played first or DH’ed when not behind the plate, so as to keep the bat in the lineup.

Briones was in the area this week to check on his pupils and, as he calls his visits, to refill the tanks. I had a chance to talk with him about the Hickory catching situation, but also touch on the state of the Rangers catching prospects.

 

You had a three-headed monster here and now it’s down to two. I know it wasn’t the perfect scenario for what you wanted, but you had to get guys at bats. The three of them that were here, Novoa, Huff and Pozo, how did you see them working through that together?

Briones: It was a really unique situation to where you had three young catching prospects that are the same age and they needed to play. Like you said, the three-headed monster were going to get 45 games apiece for the season, rotate through at first base, rotate through as the designated hitter, and days they weren’t catching they were going to get the extra work with (coach) Turtle (Thomas). It was a challenge. As you think about it, was it going to be enough to consider really developing three catchers? And it was working out well.

The fact that Melvin came out swinging the bat really well, it created an opportunity to move him up and the opening up at Down East was there for him to basically slide in and split some time up there with Matt Whatley. In my opinion, it just creates a better opportunity for Sam and Pozo to get more reps. The more that they’re back here, I think the more opportunity there is to develop.

The game action is the most important thing to get versus the drills and all the practice. The more games and innings that they can add to that line, that’s where they get to develop – the game action.

 

I’ll just go through one at a time. Sam Huff, who I just talked to. He seems like a kid that just wants to win, period. He mentioned several times ”I just want to win, I just want to win.”

Briones: Absolutely. He actually gets that from Jose Trevino. He has a really good relationship with Jose. Jose’s bottom line is to win. He won here and Jose won at the next level. They spent a lot of time together in spring training. If that’s the goal, to win, then everything else will take care of itself. The way that Trevino went about his business, Sam is trying to follow in his footsteps.

Huff Jaimes Mendez mound visit

Catcher Sam Huff (r) during a mound visit with pitcher Sal Mendez and pitching coach Jose Jaimes (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

What are some of the examples that Trevino set that Sam and some of the other guys are trying to follow? Are they the intangibles or other areas?

Biones: Definitely the intangibles, paying attention to the opposing team. Everything that we ask of the catchers, Trevino did: From taking care of the pitching staff, knowing the opposing hitters, just knowing everything that he could possibly know. From a catcher’s standpoint, that’s what I’m asking them all to do. Pay attention to all the little things, and create relationships, and have good communication with his pitching staff, have good communication with his manager and pitching coach. I always looked at the catcher as another part of the coaching staff, to where they need to know everything that is going on.

Jose Trevino catching

Catcher Jose Trevino during a 2015 game against Hagerstown (Tracy Proffitt)

To have the opportunity to have Trevino my first year and to see what he was like, he set the bar for all the young catchers extremely high. I use him as the example for the Pozos, the Novoas, the Sam Huffs, the Matt Whatleys. It’s like, this guy does it the way that you want to do it. Watch how he does it. He’s got his second Gold Glove a couple of weeks ago. In a short period of time, he’s got a tremendous resume and Sam looks at that. All of the other kids look at that and see how he does what he does. He’s got a great game plan and recipe for success.

 

What is Sam working on now? What do you see him working on for the remainder of year? Well, let me refocus, this is such an evolving position, what is he working on at this point?

Briones: From the defensive standpoint, just getting the innings and playing.

It’s the first time that he’s out of the complex. He’s an Arizona kid. He had the ability to go home every evening. Every Saturday, he could jump in his car and drive 40 minutes to go home and see Mom and Dad. This being his first opportunity to be away from home, I’m constantly checking on him to make sure he’s not homesick.

What is he working on the field? Every aspect you could possibly think of: running a pitching staff, learning to communicate, learning to pace himself with the grind of playing every single day and having one or two days off a month. This is something that he’s never done. In Arizona, they play 10:30 games and then they have the rest of the day off. Here, he’s got to learn how to time manage and know how to get everything that needs to be done in a day done, and be ready to play. We try to keep an eye on his workload, and keep an eye on his fatigue, and keep an eye on his diet and hold him accountable to do all of that also, and make sure he shows up ready to play every day.

Pozo. He came here and had a tremendous second half with the bat. A little slower to start this year, is part of that was, last year he was catching a lot in the second half last year, where as this year he is having to split more of that time?

Briones:  He’s splitting the time but he’s still in the lineup with the innings at first base and the innings as a designated hitter. So, he’s getting his at bats. It’s a little harder to get the rhythm defensively. The defense for me has been fine.

Offense, that’s a tricky one. It comes and goes. He’s getting his at bats. It’s not like he’s catching and hitting, and then getting two days off, and then catching and hitting, and then getting two days off. He’s still getting the consistent at bats. That’s how this game goes with scouting reports to where, they have last year’s scouting reports to go off of and they have an idea on how to pitch him. Whether you are in A-ball or AA or AAA, they’re going to find out what your scouting reports are – whether you are aggressive, if he chases. Repeating this level, they have notes on him and what he can do and what he looks for. That’s what scouting reports are for.

Yohel Pozo catching

Yohel Pozo during a 2018 game vs. Columbia (Tracy Proffitt)

What is he working on at this point?

Briones: Learning to love the work of defense. That’s where Turtle Thomas comes in on a daily basis. The kid loves to hit. He loves to hit. We’d love for him to get to where he loves the defensive side and the practice that goes into it. Running a staff and just working like Sam did last night – work his but off for nine innings and be able to separate the offense from the defense. Pozo, we’re trying to get him to where he loves the defensive side as much as he loves the offensive side.

 

What are the biggest intangibles that catchers at this level have to pick up on? Catching is such an intangible position beyond the defensive and offensive skills?

Briones: The biggest one is building the relationships and learning the pitching staff. Having the consistency of 12 to 15 pitchers to work with on a daily basis and to know who are the ones you have to wrap your arm around and who are the ones you have to kick in the butt. That’s something that Sam and Pozo and Novoa, when he was here, that’s not a physical thing that we can practice, but that’s something that’s highly important.

That’s something with which Trevino did a great job. When you build that relationship, you’re going to build trust. When you have that trust and you get out on the field – last night there was trust built between Casanova and Huff. It started off shaky, but they fed off of each other and it was a beautiful game. That’s something that Sam’s gotta learn. When you’re in Arizona as a catcher, there’s fifty pitchers there and it’s hard to build trust and a relationship when you have a pitching staff that’s huge.

Novoa Huff.jpg

Melvin Novoa (left) congratulated by Sam Huff after scoring (Tracy Proffitt)

 

You look at almost every World Series team they have that catcher, the Poseys, and Yadier Molina, and Varitek and Posada. For the average fan, and probably for the average me, what is the thing behind the scenes that most fans don’t see that really goes into that position to make a major league team successful?

Briones:  The fact is that all the names that you mentioned, they are homegrown. I think that is something that is a key for a championship team. You mentioned the Buster Poseys, the Posadas, the Yadis, they all came through the system. They’ve known the system from the first time that they signed a professional contract. That’s something that we need to develop.

I look at the wave of catchers that we have from Trevino to Chuck Moorman to Novoa to Matt Whatley, who is the newest one in the mix. We have five, six, seven, eight guys that are in the system that are all homegrown. Now, we just need to graduate one and the first one, that hopefully we’ll graduate, will be Trevino. Actually Brett Nicholas was one of the first homegrown ones, but we need to create that. They know the system. They know what we’re looking for. They know they’ve got that trust with all their pitchers throughout the organization. We have waves of it. Every age bracket, we have them coming.

 

Trevino ready to take the next step forward?

Briones: Behind the plate, for me defensively, absolutely. Defensively, he can do the job. In the industry, the way he’s swinging the bat, he’s a backup catcher. He just came back from the disabled list and in his first game back he went 2-for-2 with two homers.

Pitching has gotten better as he got to AA. It’s going to get better at AAA and it’s better in the big leagues. I think he can hit. I’ve seen him hit and we’ve just got to keep him healthy and get his bat right. If his bat is correct and it improves, he’s a front line, every day catcher. If the bat doesn’t improve, he’s a really good backup catcher.

 

Who’s behind him in your system right now?

Briones: Josh Morgan, who you saw as an infielder. He’s like the sleeper because it took a couple of years for him to agree to do the job and put the gear on and get there.

A guy who’s already in the big leagues who could do it, who I would love to see, is Kiner-Falefa. Kiner-Falefa, I mean, I could name 10 names right now of catchers that are in the wave. But Kiner-Falefa is 23-years-old, he’s two years younger than Trevino. If he gets the opportunity to catch, he’s going to hold his own and it would be wonderful. And he swings the bat.

You’ve got Trevino, 25, Kiner-Falefa, 23, Josh Morgan, 22, Chuck Moorman, 24, all these guys, given the opportunity, they can catch. So, there’s a lot of “next guy’s up”.

isiah Kiner-Falefa

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a Crawdads shortstop in 2014-15, is possibly among the future mix of the Texas Rangers catching corps. (Tracy Proffitt)

A New Season Begins

The 2016 baseball season has arrived in full fury across the land, and I for one could not be more excited. I enjoy covering the other sports and the privilege of seeing some of the best high school competition in the state of North Carolina, not to mention some incredibly talented coaches and players. But I love baseball and count the months until it begins anew.

For me, there’s nothing like fresh green grass upon which the game is played (no turf for me, thank you). The words “Pitchers and Catchers Report” is like Christmas morning to me, in which the umpire’s bellow of “Play Ball”, the pop of a ball to a leather glove, and the crack of the bat are my carols.

 

In most sports, you have a pretty good idea of what teams will be in the hunt for a title run. Not so, in baseball. The beginning of the season gives hope to all who play the game. From Little Leagues to the big leagues, all who play feel in their hearts and minds “this is our year”.

That chant was certainly felt here in Hickory much of the 2015 season as the Crawdads captured the South Atlantic League championship. For me, it was a personal joy to follow the team up close on a daily basis and to see that work rewarded with a league title. It was a cool experience to see the ups-and-downs of the entire season and to have the story evolve the way it did. To be able to interview many of the players and report their experiences – from unbridled, sometimes arrogant confidence to the worry of it all coming to an end at any moment – it was a dream come true for someone that has been a fan from the age of six.

Now, we turn the page and look to 2016. For fans of the major leagues teams, they have a decent idea of who will don the big league uniforms on opening day and hopes on how they will perform.

For us in low-A, it’s wait and see.We don’t know what we will have here in Hickory until the Crawdads take the field. For the most part, these kids have had very little time to work together as a unit, if at all. It’s an oddly mysterious feeling each year to see how April plays out and to get a sense of what the summer will become.

There are certainly questions as to who will come to L. P. Frans Stadium. Will Luis Ortiz return for a third season on the hill in Hickory, or will the Texas Rangers let him have a go at pinball baseball at High Desert? Will Pedro Payano be able to build on a strong final month of the season on the hill?

Will we see wunderkinds Yeson Yrizarri and TiQuan Forbes on the Hickory infield? Does Josh Morgan come back here as a catcher? In light of his 80-game suspension from last season, does Travis Demeritte warrant a third season at second at L.P. Frans, or do the Rangers push him up the ladder with an edict that it’s time for the former first-rounder to put it together?

How many bases will Eric Jenkins steal in a Hickory uniform? Who are the other players from the 2015 team to come back? Suddenly pushed into a new role with the promotion of Spike Owen- formerly announced as the Crawdads manager – to the third base coaches box in Arlington, how will Steve Mintz fare as a stateside manager for the first time?

As the season begins four weeks from the typing of these words, I can’t wait to see the picture take shape as the events begin to be painted on the canvas that is 2016.

Luis Ortiz playoffs

Luis Ortiz from a playoff appearance vs. West Virginia on 9/12/15 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

 

SAL Championship celebration photos

I missed the clinching game, but I did get a few pics of the celebration and a snapshot with the SAL trophy.

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

Pedro Payano (center) and Kelvin Vasquez (R) celebrating the SAL title (photo by Mark Parker

Pedro Payano (center) and Kelvin Vasquez (R) celebrating the SAL title (photo by Mark Parker

Scott Williams (L) and Luke Tendler (photo by Mark Parker)

Scott Williams (L) and Luke Tendler (photo by Mark Parker)

Hitting coach Francisco Matos (L) and Eduard Pinto (photo by Mark Parker

Hitting coach Francisco Matos (L) and Eduard Pinto (photo by Mark Parker

(L to R) Eduard Pinto, Juremi Profar, Edwin Garcia, Michael DeLeon (photo by Mark Parker

(L to R) Eduard Pinto, Juremi Profar, Edwin Garcia, Michael DeLeon (photo by Mark Parker

Jose Trevino (L) and Mark Parker (photo by Mark Parker)

Jose Trevino (L) and Mark Parker (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

MGR Corey Ragsdale addressing the players (L to R) Jairo Beras, Austin Pettibone, Nick Gardewine, Pedro Payano, Luke Tendler Edwin Garcia (photo by Mark Parker)

MGR Corey Ragsdale addressing the players (L to R) Jairo Beras, Austin Pettibone, Nick Gardewine, Pedro Payano, Luke Tendler Edwin Garcia (photo by Mark Parker)

(L to R) Collin Wiles, Brett Martin, Shane McCain (photo by Mark Parker)

(L to R) Collin Wiles, Brett Martin, Shane McCain (photo by Mark Parker)

Players back to front: Carlos Arroyo, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Kelvin Vasquez, Eduard Pinto, Josh Morgan, Jose Cardona, (unknown), Luis Ortiz (photo by Mark Parker)

Players back to front: Carlos Arroyo, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Kelvin Vasquez, Eduard Pinto, Josh Morgan, Jose Cardona, (unknown), Luis Ortiz (photo by Mark Parker)

A pic with the SAL trophy (photo by Mark Parker)

A pic with the SAL trophy (photo by Mark Parker)

Grinding through the First Season: An Interview with Josh Morgan

As a 19-year-old, Hickory Crawdads infielder Josh Morgan has had a nice season, especially given the slow start to the 2015 campaign.

The third-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2014 out of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High School led the Crawdads in hits, walks and on-base percentage (.385) prior to a broken right index finger suffered on August 5 that ended his season.

After a .246/.293/.319 slash in April, Morgan began to settle into the everyday grind and became an integral part of the lineup and finished at .288/.385/.362. In the field, Morgan made just ten errors total in 98 games at short and third.

“He’s been a big part of everything we’ve done,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “A 19-year-old kid that, quite honestly, he’s a guy that’s not going to hit balls farther than anybody. He’s not going to throw it farther than anybody. But the kid’s an all-around baseball player. He can do so many different things and do them well.”

Josh Morgan led the Crawdads hits, walks and on-base percentage before a broken finger ended his season. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Josh Morgan led the Crawdads hits, walks and on-base percentage before a broken finger ended his season. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

In conversations with scouts, most are pleased with the plate discipline has shown  at a young age (53 Ks/ 45 BBs in 416 plate appearances).They’ve been mixed on how much power he will develop, essentially seeing his ceiling as a gap-to-gap hitter. In the field, several scouts see Morgan’s range and feel he will eventually move to second.

However based on work ethic, I wouldn’t doubt the ability of Morgan to achieve much of what he wants to. My first memory of Morgan was taking extra ground balls at third base after the first batting practice session at L.P. Frans Stadium.

In the interviews I’ve done with Morgan this season, I’ve found him to be an articulate young player – more so than most 19-year-old. Most of his answers are not the usual “baseball speak”, but thought out answers.

He is aware of and confident in the baseball talent he possesses and the potential that lies ahead for a successful career in the game. But he is sturdily grounded in his faith and the upbringing he received from his parents.  Morgan has the potential to be a leader of people in whatever industry life takes him. For now it is baseball.

I spoke with Morgan during the early-August homestand prior to his injury. When I found out about the injury, I debated on re-recording parts of the interview as some of the questions and answers are now outdated. But I decided to let it stand and so below is my interview with Josh Morgan.

First of all, 14 months ago you walked across a stage with a cap and gown on and you played you last high school game. Now, here you are almost a full season in. What kind of whirlwind has that been over the last 14 months?

Morgan: It’s been crazy. It’s something that I couldn’t have dreamed of, you know walking across the stage and then I see that I’m here in Hickory, N.C. playing the game I love for a living. It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s what I wanted and it’s cool. It’s a blessing to be out here and to be with my friends and to see how far all of us – my family and the guys in the same clubhouse as me – have come. We definitely not done yet. We’re in low-A, so we have a long ways away from our goal. I think we’re all happy with where we’re at right now and we’re going to try to make a push to the playoffs and try to do well in the playoffs.

You talked about being overwhelmed. What have been some of the things for you that have been maybe a little more than you bargained for going in?

Morgan: I think just the long days. Before I signed, I didn’t know that it was going to be this long – just the grind. You always hear all the scouts ask you before you sign, “Are you ready for the grind? Are you ready to do this and to do that?” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I’m ready,” because you are. You really don’t understand the grind and you don’t really understand what you go through until you actually live it out. I think that’s different from what all the high school guys are used to.

I think it was a cool process just for me to go to Arizona my first season and then getting moved to Spokane. Now I’m in Hickory in my second season and just about to finish off my first full season, which is real cool. It’s a bittersweet feeling because we still have a month left, but you see everything starting to die down and we’re all starting to focus a little more just as the playoffs come up. I think we’re all excited about how we’re going to do in the playoffs. It’s been a fun season, so hopefully we’ll finish off this last month strong.

Everybody has an introductory moment where they realize that this is a different game. A pitcher might face a batter that sends one by his ear. What was the moment for you that told you that this is now big-boy baseball?

Morgan: I had two. One of them was my third game playing in Arizona last year, I got hit in the ribs by a 98. I was like, “this is happening right now.”

The second time, it was this season. It was the first month, month-and-a-half of the season where I wasn’t hitting as well as I wanted to. I really started to see what the grind was and I really started to see what it took to overcome different struggles. I realized – with Corey Ragsdale’s help and everyone’s help – that it’s a long season and you’re going to go up and you’re going to go down. You want to stay as even as you can and do the best that you can. But you’re not always going to get a hit; you’re not always going to make the play. I think it took a little while for me to understand that it’s such a long season and that there’s a lot of ups and downs.

I’m real happy with how I’ve done and how the team has done. I really thank Rags and Matos and Oscar and Comie and all of our coaching staff that’s helped me. My parents have definitely been number one up there. It’s been good; it’s been fun.

They will talk about “it’s not how you start, but how you finish.” You’ve got to be pleased that though you did start slow, you had a gradual increase throughout the year. Has that been the way you’ve see your season?

Morgan: Obviously, I started slower than I wanted to, but now I see myself finishing strong. From the start until now, I think I’ve done a lot better. I see myself finishing strong and I see our team finishing strong. We’re excited about what’s to come and I think it’s just the focus has to stay there The mental part has to stay there. It’s the dog days. It’s the last month of the season where you’re thinking about home. You’re thinking about home-cooked meals. You’re thinking about your girlfriend and everything like that. You have really stay focused on what you’re trying to accomplish in the season. I think we’re all doing a very good job of finishing strong.

How cool has it been to have your parents out to Hickory a couple of times this season?

It was great. It kind of made it feel like home again. My teammates and our coaching staff make it feel like home, because they’re loving guys. Even if they don’t want to say it, they know how to handle us and they’re good guys. But I think them coming out here was great. I played well in front of them and I was really happy that I got to spend some time with them together. They came out two times, so I was happy that they came and I was spending every minute with them outside of the field. It was good and I can’t wait to see them again.

What do you know now about the game that maybe surprised you?

Morgan: I think maybe the different cultures. I knew there was a lot of Latin guys and different guys here. It’s fun talking and discussing with all the guys who speak different languages. I think that’s really cool and it’s helped me with my Spanish to help them with their English. So, it’s just cool to see what they bring to the table and to see how they work, too. They’re definitely hard workers, too. Just to see where they come from: the Dominican Republic, Curacao, Venezuela, wherever it is. It’s cool to see how hard they work.

The other thing that I was surprised by, like I said, was just how long the season is and how the grind works. It’s all good and I’m taking everything in and seeing how it goes.

What improvements have you made that maybe didn’t seem possible 14 months ago?

Morgan: I’ve made a couple of improvements. I think that my biblical standpoint has improved, just because 14 months ago I didn’t really didn’t struggle that much on the baseball field because it was high school. It was hard and you had to deal with school and grades and then the baseball side of it and the stress of getting drafted. But, on the baseball field, I feel like I was good. Now, I still feel very confident, but it’s just different. I feel comfortable now and I’m happy with how things are going.

My first memory of you was when you guys were out taking BP before the Lenoir-Rhyne exhibition game. Everybody was done and you asked Chad Comer to hit ground balls for you at third. I remember taking pictures of that. Do you feel like you’ve had to make the extra effort, or is it something that was ingrained in you that you want to take the extra groundball or the extra BP? Where does that come out of for you?

Morgan: I work hard. I know that I work hard and I’m going to work hard on and off the field. I’m going to be as healthy as I can. I’m going to put myself in the best situation for me to have success on the field. That comes from my parents working hard and me seeing them do what they do and providing well for me. I think that’s just going to carry on for the rest of my life and for my kid’s life as well.

Josh Morgan taking extra ground balls at 3B (photo by Mark Parker)

Josh Morgan taking extra ground balls at 3B (photo by Mark Parker)

We’re a working-hard family. We don’t want anything handed to us and so the way I see it, if you want something, you’ve got to go get it. I think me taking extra ground balls and some extra hacks in the cage is just who I am.

I do want to outwork people, but I don’t see anything as a competition like, “I’m going to work harder than him; I hope he fails and I don’t.” No. I’m not going to look at it like that. Everything I see as a competition, yeah, but I’m not going to wish failure upon someone. I want all my friends and everyone to do well and have success, but I work hard and I feel like that’s a plus for me.

When you watch games on TV, do you get a taste of “I’m getting closer”?

Morgan: Yeah. You still think, “That’s the dream. Someday, I want to call myself a big leaguer.”  You realize that you’re in the organization for a reason. People have invested in you and you need to work hard and do what you can on and off the field to see yourself there.

Obviously, you have to have a lot of confidence to get there. You have to work hard and do what you can during certain situations. I feel like it’s still a little “Wow”. I still get a little goose bumps when I think about it.

I remember in spring training, I was helping out the big league team with different games and everything and I was hanging out with Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus and all those guys. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was a wow feeling. I’m next to these guys and it’s cool to see how they work and how they go about the game. They’re all hard workers and they do what they do. You see how they’ve had a lot of success on the field and I just want to be like those guys and work as hard as I can to get to where they are.

Who do you see yourself drawn to that you say to yourself, “this is who I want to be”?

Morgan: It’s easy for me and that’s Derek Jeter. He’s a role model on and off the field. You never see him getting into any trouble or anything. He’s a great leader and he knows what he wants to do. He’s kept his baseball life away from his off-the-field life, which I have a lot of respect for. He’s the captain and you have respect for him. You see him being a role model for, I want to say, everyone in the game. He’s changed the game and he’s a great human being from what I see.

Do you prefer third or short?

Morgan: I don’t prefer either one, as long as I’m in the lineup. I like playing third, short, second. Wherever they put me, I’m going to work hard and do the best I can on that given night. I feel like if you’re in the lineup that night, you don’t have any excuse to not get the job done. So, whatever position you’re playing, wherever you’re batting in the lineup  – there’s going to be changes, there’s going to be different positions – but wherever I am, I’m confident that I’m going to get the job done.

Josh Morgan making a diving catch on opening night against Hagerstown (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Josh Morgan making a diving catch on opening night against Hagerstown (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

What do you feel like is the next step for you in your development? Or, maybe what is the biggest thing you have to develop between now and a big league callup?

Morgan: I think just taking the game in and keeping the game to a certain pace and slowing the game down. Sometimes I tend to speed the game up and get into different situations. I just need to relax and learn from different things and learn from different situations that I’ve already been in. I see myself getting better at that.

When you get a call to the big leagues, what does that moment look like for you?

Morgan: Aw, man. My heart’s going to drop and I’m getting goose bumps. I’m going to call my parents, because it’ll be a dream come true making the big leagues – not only making the big leagues, but staying in the big leagues is what I want to do.

You hear all around our organization that making the big leagues is hard, but staying in the big leagues is harder because there are guys like myself that want to get to the top and grinding to get to the top every single day. But that call is going to be great and I can’t wait for it to happen and I’m confident that it will happen. I’m excited, but I’m going to trust the process. I’m still far away from that, though. I want to make sure I finish every level and finish my duties here. I’m not looking too far ahead, but rather focusing on right here.

Who do you think it will mean the most to?

Morgan: My parents. Myself, obviously, but they’ve seen what I’ve gone through on and off the field and all the struggles. They’ve been with me one-hundred percent of the time. I know my mom and dad will be crying and you might even get a tear from me. It’s going to be a great time and I can’t wait for it to happen. I think they’re all excited and I’m excited as well. I’m confident and I’m going to work hard to get there.

Is there a weight lift, a road trip to Lakewood, or a particular moment that you might look back and say, “okay, this was worth it?”

Morgan: I would say this whole season. It’s not just one moment; it’s kind of the whole season that’s worth it. All the ups and downs, all the friendships that I’ve made just form this team. It’s a great group of guys – one of the best groups of guys that I’ve ever been with.

There are no selfish players. A lot of times you hear of teams that have selfish players and only care about themselves. This team in Hickory, we all care about each other and seeing the team win. So, whatever we have to do, where going to get the job done to help the team win. It’s been a great year overall and hopefully we’ll finish this last month off strong and make some plays in the playoffs.

Game story: Hagerstown at Hickory July 31

The Crawdads posted an 8-2 lead before hanging on late to a 9-6 win over the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns Friday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Hickory (63-39 overall, 19-15 second half) has now won 7-of-8, while the Suns (50-51, 15-19) have lost 12-of-18.

What Happened?:

Here is my game story from the pages of the Hickory Daily Record.

http://www.hickoryrecord.com/sports/crawdads-stave-off-hagerstown-rally-pick-up-home-victory/article_fc3c0642-37fb-11e5-b4ed-6331b48def09.html

The Good:

The lineup: All nine hitters had at least one hit with Jose Trevino and Juremi Profar getting at least two. Hickory, especially the right-handers, continues to be pitched to on or just off the outside corner of the plate. For the most part, the hitters have been able to discern balls/ strikes –and attack or lay off appropriately – or it pitches up the middle or away.

The few pitches that made their way over the inner half of the plate were hammered hard. None of the Suns trio of pitchers (Dave Van Orden, Luis Torres or Andrew Cooper) were able to present breaking pitches often enough to keep Crawdads hitters off stride, so it was easy pickings at times.

 

Jairo Beras: Read this.

https://crawdadsbeat.com/2015/08/01/jairo-beras-is-figuring-it-out-and-its-exciting/

 

Xavier Turner: His first two games with Hickory have certainly had its moments. In his first game last week at Asheville, he reportedly dislocated his shoulder on the first play of the first inning.

Returning from the disabled list, Turner crushed a fastball to medium left-center. Thinking triple out of the box, he caught sight of Corey Ragsdale’s stop sign after rounding the bag at second. As he put the brakes on, he slipped and stumbled. With the throw coming into the second behind him, Turner made it to third and slid around the tag of 3B David Masters.

At 6-1, 205 the Rangers 19th round pick showed good speed on the basepaths. He handled both plays in the field without concerns.

Juremi Profar: Had a pair of doubles, both on off-speed pitches away, and would’ve had a third if not for a brilliant catch in right by Dale Carey on a leaping dive on the track.

7th inning ABs: Facing reliever Luis Torres, Josh Morgan spoiled fastball after fastball away before succumbing on a fastball low and in on the tenth pitch. Eduard Pinto then worked a nine-pitch AB into a walk, again spoiling a bushel (correct term?) of fastballs. Able to watch this sequence, Jose Trevino spit on a fastball off the plate and then crushed the next one out of the park in left.

Yohander Mendez: Fastball command was a bit spotty, but he showed good arm action with the changeup that baffled the Suns hitters all night. Had 12 missed bats in 4.2 innings, all but two by my count coming on offspeeds. Didn’t use the curve as much on Friday, and what he did use was a bit loopy. But the change was definitely on. Finished at 77 pitches (49 strikes).

Scott Williams: For me the pitcher that has taken the largest step forward in the second half is Williams. Friday night was mostly fastballs with an occasionally slider mixed it. Fastball 94-96 has life but the biggest thing is simply confidence to attack hitters with it.

The Not-So-Good:

Chris Dula: A hit batter on the first pitch of the eighth, a single and two walks made Dula’s night a short one. Fastball is 94-96, but there is no control as to where it is going. Have to wonder if it at some point he makes a trip to Arizona.

 

Ariel Jurado: Just never looked comfortable all night. He usually is a get the ball and let’s go kind of pitcher, but on Friday there was much more walking around the mound than I recall. Fastball seemed a tick down and did not have the usual precision, as he walked two in an appearance for only the second time this season.

Game Story: Notes from Hickory at Asheville July 24

Hickory at Asheville

After the Hickory Crawdads came from behind twice, they scored three runs in the top of the ninth to claim a 7-4 win over the Asheville Tourists at McCormick Field.

The Crawdads (58-38 overall, 14-14 second half) took two of three games in the series and finished the season series with the Tourists at 7-2. Hickory went 6-1 at McCormick this season and is 13-2 there over the past three seasons. The Crawdads take an overnight bus to Lexington, Ky. and open a four-game series with the Legends on Saturday.

Asheville (49-48) dropped to 17-10 in the second half and remain a game-and-a-half in front of Augusta for the second-half, Southern Division title chase.

What happened?:

The two teams combined for 25 hits, but stranded 15 altogether in what turned into a see-saw affair.

Hickory put the first four runners of the game on base against Asheville starter Ryan Castellani with Jose Cardona scoring on Eduard Pinto’s single. The Crawdads missed a chance for more when Josh Morgan was thrown out at second trying to stretch a hit into a double. With runners on first and second and one out, Luke Tendler’s grounder forced Pinto at third, but 3B Josh Fuentes’ throw to first was wild placing Crawdads and second and third. Despite four hits and error, the Crawdads were held to the one run after Jairo Beras bounced out to the pitcher.

The Tourists scored an unearned run on Crawdads starter Ariel Jurado to even the game in the first. Shane Hoelscher doubled with two outs and scored when Roberto Ramos’ grounder went through the legs of Jonathan Meyer at first.

The Crawdads retook the lead in the third when Eduard Pinto was hit by a pitch and later scored on Luke Tendler’s sacrifice fly. However Asheville tied the game in the bottom of the inning as Omar Carrizales doubled to right and scored on Dom Nunez’s single to make it 2-2.

The Tourists took their first lead of the game in the fourth against new pitcher Yohander Mendez. Ramos doubled and stole third before coming home on Fuentes’s single.

Meyer’s RBI single in the sixth retied the game at three, but Juremi Profar’s double play ball stranded a runner at third.

Again, the Tourists fought back in the bottom of the inning. Jairo Rosario led off the inning with a double and scored on Fuentes’s second RBI single of the game.

Hickory answered in the seventh. Cardona doubled off the wall in left and moved to third on a Pinto’s sacrifice bunt. Trevino’s sacrifice fly to center made it 4-4.

Asheville put runners at second in both the seventh and eighth inning, but stranded both.

The decisive rally for Hickory came against reliever Jerad McCrummen (4-3) started when Profar doubled off the wall in right-center. Cardona beat out a bunt to put runners at the corner for Morgan. His liner to centerfielder Carrizales was just deep enough to score Profar, who slid around the tag of the catcher Nunez. Pinto singled in Cardona, then moved to third on a pair of McCrummen wild pitches before trotting home on Tendler’s double.

Adam Dian had a successful debut with the Crawdads by retiring all five batters he faced to close out the game and pick up the win (1-0).

 The Good:

Jose Cardona went 3-for-5 and scored three times, but it was his speed that factored into the equation in both the first and ninth innings. In the first, Cardona fought off Castellani’s change off, sending a soft liner that fell to second baseman Shane Hoelscher at the cut of the grass. Hoelscher made the play, but Cardona beat the throw to first and later scored the game’s first run. In the ninth, Cardona’s sacrifice bunt went between the mound and the third base line, with Cardona reaching just ahead of Fuentes’s throw.

Cardona also cut down a runner trying for a double in the sixth.

Josh Morgan had the key AB of the ninth. After falling behind 0-2 on two of McCrummen’s  fastball, Morgan fouled off a slow curveball and let another go by for a ball. The next pitch was a fastball up that he lined into center for the sacrifice fly.

Eduard Pinto ripped first-pitch fastballs for RBIs in the first and ninth inning. His sacrifice in the seventh moved Cardona to third from where he scored on Trevino’s sac fly.

Jose Trevino had a couple of hits and a sacrifice fly.

Luke Tendler doubled in a run in the ninth and made a leaping catch into the wall in right to rob Carrizales of a hit in the first.

Juremi Profar’s double starting things in the decisive ninth inning. In scoring the go-ahead run in the ninth, Profar had to steer around Nunez, who had to leap to make the catch from center and then tried for the backhand tag. In the third, Profar made a backhanded stop off a short hop to start a 5-4-3 double play.

Carlos Arroyo ran down a one-hop, soft liner off the bat of Yonathan Daza by ranging back and to his right. Because the ball held up, Ramos had to hold up at second and then failed to advance when Arroyo looked him back to the base. Arroyo then recorded the out at first.

Jonathan Meyer stayed with a breaking pitch away from James Lomangio and sliced it along the line in right for a run-scoring single.

Adam Dian: Showed a fastball 90-93, but took advantage of an aggressive lineup as he started the outing with several curve and changeups, getting Ryan Stevens to chase a breaking ball for a strikeout to strand a runner at second.

The-Not-So –Good:

Yohander Mendez gave up nine hits over 4.1 innings, four of those by left-handed hitters. From my vantage point along the third-base line, it appeared righties were able to lean out over the plate and serve pitches up the middle or to right. A single on an 0-2 pitch by Rosario started the run-scoring inning in the sixth. Carrizales also singled on an 0-2 pitch in the seventh.

McCormick Field turf: Carrizales’ double in the third happened when Luke Tendler slipped and took out a hefty divot as he attempted to make a likely catch on the liner.  Carrizales eventually scored in the inning.

Series Preview: Asheville at Hickory July 22-25

The Hickory Crawdads begin a seven-game road trip with a three-game series against the Asheville Tourists at McCormick Park.

Probables (Hickory/ Asheville):

Wednesday: Cody Buckel (RH, 0-4, 3.32) vs. Sam Howard (RH, 4-8, 4.24)

Thursday: Brett Martin (LH, 4-4, 3.31) vs. Helmis Rodriguez (LH, 7-4, 3.49)

Friday: Ariel Jurado (RH, 10-0, 2.10) vs. Ryan Castellani (RH, 0-6, 4.04)

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads are 5-1 against the Tourists in 2015, including a four-game sweep at McCormick back in April. Over the last three seasons, Hickory is 11-1 at Asheville and 20-16 since 2009.

Entering the Series – Hickory:

The Crawdads (56-37 overall, 12-13 second half) dropped the final two games of a series against Augusta to finish a weeklong homestand at 4-3. After scoring 38 runs in the first four games of the homestand, Hickory scratched out just five over the final three. The lineup is batting .254/.319.382 for the season in what has been a down year for offense in the South Atlantic League. Hickory is second in the SAL with 66 homers.

After scuffling on the last road trip, the pitching staff returned to its old self by allowing seven earned runs over the last five games. Overall, the club leads the SAL in ERA (2.90), WHIP (1.17), and has given up the fewest hits, runs and earned runs.

Defensively, the Crawdads have committed a SAL-low of 80 errors.

Entering the series- Asheville:

The Tourists (48-46, 16-8) took the last three games at Greenville to close out a 5-2 road trip. Oddly Asheville is just 22-22 at home this season (5-4 second half), while carrying a winning record on the road.

As usual, the Tourists bashed mound opponents at home (.278/.353/.442), but have only scored 20 more runs at home than on the road. Opponents are hitting .288 at McCormick and 41 of the 55 home runs allowed by Tourists pitching have occurred there. Asheville has 205 stolen bases this season to lead the SAL.

Defensively, Asheville have the worst collective group in the league with 145 errors committed in 94 games (.961 fielding).

Players to watch- Hickory:

OF Luke Tendler: He continues to be among the hottest hitters in the SAL, and certainly on the Crawdads. He is leads the Crawdads in total bases and tied with Carlos Arroyo for the most hits (28) in the second half. His 21 RBI are second in the SAL. For the year, Tendler is fourth in doubles (23) and fifth in total bases.

CF Jose Cardona: Has become a catalyst for the offense since moving to the leadoff spot. Before ending the homestand 0-for-8, Cardona had a nine-game hitting streak during which he went 17-for-34, scored 12 runs, knocked in 10 runs and stole seven bases. A dead-red, fastball hitter, Cardona has a .304/.375/.532 slash leading off an inning.

SS Josh Morgan: Has handled shortstop well since the injury to Michael De Leon, going 25 games without an error at the position. At the plate, he continues to hold up in his first full season. Morgan has shown a good eye with at least one walk in ten of his last 15 games (13 total) and has reached base in 15 of 18 games.

2B Carlos Arroyo: Went three straight games without a hit for the first time in his Crawdads career to close out the homestand.

OF Jairo Beras: Hitting .288 in July and July and has 23 of his 26 RBI the last two months.

SP Cody Buckel: Looking to corral control issues, has walked 15 batters and hit five in his last 23 innings (5 starts). He also has 16 Ks over last 15 innings.

SP Brett Martin: After posting his shortest start of the year (1.2 innings at Lakewood), Martin put up one of his better ones in his last outing against Greensboro when he allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings. Martin threw three-hit ball over six innings at Asheville back in April.

Ps Ariel Jurado/ Yohander Mendez: The tandem continues to wreck havoc on opposing lineups. In their five outings together, the duo has allowed 36 baserunners and struck out 39 over 34.2 innings. Separately, Mendez has a 1.15 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP in 39 innings, while Jurado has a 2.10 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP.

Players to watch – Asheville:

C Dom Nunez: The number nine prospect (mlb.com) of the Colorado Rockies has had a dominant second half with a SAL-high seven homers to go with a .373/.506/.780 slash. He was drafted in the sixth round (2013) as an infielder, but the Rockies moved him behind the plate. His 16 errors lead all catchers

CF Omar Carrizales: The Rockies No. 30 prospect currently leads the SAL in batting .328 and is fifth in OPS at .843. He has six multi-hit outings in his last ten games. The speedster has stolen 21 bases in 64 games.

OF Drew Weeks: Among the hottest hitters in the SAL with a .357/.446/.607 slash in the second half. Overall, he is second in the SAL with 24 doubles and 55 RBI. Weeks

1B Roberto Ramos: The native of Mexico has crushed the ball since joining the Tourists on July. In 16 games, Ramos has four homers and posted a .361/.420/.607 slash. The lefty is batting .421 against right-handed pitching.

SP Ryan Castellani: The Rockies second-round choice in 2014 out of Phoenix is the No. 10 prospect. He has managed to put up good numbers and McCormick (4.33 ERA) and kept the ball in the park, giving up one homer in 27 innings. Castellani has thrown five innings just twice in 18 starts.

SP Helmis Rodriguez: Currently the No. 27 prospect in the Rockies system, the lefty has walked seven and hit four in his last two starts, leading to 13 runs (9 earned) covering 5.2 innings.

RP: Josh Michalec: The Rockies’ 21st-round selection out of Baylor has six saves in eight chances this month. He can be wild at times (8 walks in last 22.1 innings), but rings up strikeouts as well (42 in 43 innings.

Game story: Quotes and Notes from Augusta at Hickory, July 18

The Hickory Crawdads (56-45 overall, 12-11 second half) matched zeros with the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets (44-49, 11-12). for seven innings before scratching out three in the eighth for a 3-0 Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Crawdads have won three straight and four of five on the current homestand. They are now a South Atlantic League-best 32-16 at home this season. Augusta has lost three in a row and four of five on its two-city, seven-day road swing.

What Happened?:

Hickory’s Collin Wiles and Augusta’s D.J. Snelten dueled through seven shutout innings, each dominating the opposing lineups.

Wiles needed just 79 pitches (55 strikes) to get through 23 hitters. He allowed just two hits and one walk with five strikeouts.

Greenjacktets Southpaw Snelten threw 97 pitches (70 strikes) to 26 hitters, allowing three hits, two walks and struck out seven.

The Crawdads scored the only runs of the game in the eighth against Augusta reliever Reyes Moronta (1-7). Jose Cardona extended his hitting streak to nine straight with a double to right with one. A fly ball by Eduard Pinto moved Cardona to third before Moronta walked Josh Morgan, Jose Trevino and Luke Tendler, the final two on four straight to score Cardona.

Jairo Beras’ added insurance with a two-run single to right.

Hickory’s Ricardo Rodriguez (1-0) surrendered a double to Chuckie Jones in the eighth – the only extra-base hit for Augusta, but retired the final two hitters in the inning before hurling a perfect ninth.

The Good:

Collin Wiles: Facing a team that likes the fastball early, Wiles and catcher Jose Trevino came up with a game plan to take advantage of the GreenJackets aggressiveness. Only three hitters the first time through the order saw a first-pitch fastball.

“That was kind of Jose’s plan from the start,” said Wiles. “He told me in our pre-game meeting that this is a team that likes the fastball, so stay with me. I trust him 100% and we put up seven zeros.”

Wiles said his fastball command wasn’t sharp, forcing him to stay with the cutter and work in his other speed offerings.

“That was cool to see,” Wiles said. “This was the first game my fastball command hasn’t been there and the cutter has been. Other games, it’s the fastball command has been there and it’s trying to decide when do I put in this little cutter. It was a big pitch tonight and it was the pitch that made the difference.”

Jairo Beras: Had a questionable swing after Moronta threw 11 straight balls, fouling off a first-pitch change. He laid off the next two fastballs off the plate before serving a 99 mph offering to right.

“He threw a changeup sometimes and a fastball away,” said Beras. “The other people, he threw a fastball down. I got one away and I was able to hit it away.”

Beras had one of the Crawdads three hits against Snelten, that coming in the second on a fastball up and away. That, too, went solidly to right.

Jose Cardona: Started the winning rally with the double to right in the eighth. Saw the previous hitter, Juremi Profar, had all fastballs away at 98-99. Cardona saw similar pitches in his AB and got a pitch he could hit hard. Had two other hard outs, including a drive to the wall in left in the third.

Josh Morgan: Picked up a single in the third, but it was his walk in the eighth after falling behind 1-2 with two outs that kept the inning alive.

Ricardo Rodriguez: Gave up the double to Jones, but got Andrew Cain to pop up a first-pitch fastball and then got Richardo Rodriguez to ground out on a curve.

Defense: In the middle of charging a bouncer, Josh Morgan had to shift quickly on a bad-hop off the cut of the grass. Morgan made the bear-hand grab and threw out Jonah Arenado… Jonathan Meyer rambled after a short pop foul and made the catch over the photographer’s well along the first base dugout.

The opposition:

DJ Snelten: Used a sharp curve and change (8 missed bats by my count) as consistent out pitches. Threw a fastball that stayed in the 91-93 range much of the evening. He struck out seven for the seventh-straight start (51 in 37 innings). Moved the ball around the plate all night.

“Hats off to him,” said Wiles of Snelten. “He kept our hitters off-balance. He had the same kind of approach the first time through as I did, not letting hitters get on that first-pitch fastball. That was a fun game.”

Reyes Moronta: Threw his only curveball to Cardona, that was swung through and two changes. Otherwise, it was all 98-99 mph fastballs- all at or off the plate to RH hitters. He never missed a bat with it in pitching to eight hitters and the Crawdads hitters either ignored the pitches off the plate or put it into plate.

Series Preview Augusta at Hickory July 17-20

The Augusta (Ga.) Greenjackets pay their lone visit to L.P. Frans Stadium this weekend for a four-game series.

Probables (Augusta / Hickory):

Friday: Mark Reyes (LH, 4-3, 1.66) and Ariel Jurado (RH, 10-0, 2.06) or Yohander Mendez (LH, 1-1, 1.32); Saturday: DJ Snelten (LH, 2-2 3.05) and Collin Wiles (RH, 9-3, 2.41); Sunday: TBA and Austin Pettibone (RH, 1-2, 4.84); Monday: Sam Coonrod (5-3, 2.69) and Nick Gardewine (RH, 5-6, 4.38).

Recent Series History:

Hickory smoked the GreenJackets in a four-game, road sweep in May. Last year, the Crawdads were 4-3, including a 2-2 split at L.P. Frans. Since 2009, the beginning of the Crawdads- Rangers affiliation, the GreenJackets are 23-20 overall 12-8 at Hickory.

Entering the Series – Hickory:

The Crawdads (54-35 overall, 10-11 second half) took two of three at home from Greensboro and improved their SAL-best home record to 30-16.

The lineup scored 26 runs in the three games and has double-digit hit totals in four straight and five of the last six games.

The team ERA of 2.97, as well as the 1.18 team WHIP are both tops in the SAL.

Hickory leads the SAL with 65 homers and are still tops in the league in fielding.

Entering the series- Augusta:

The Greenjackets (44-46, 11-10) lost two of three at Greenville (S.C.), but still owns the SAL’s best road mark at 27-21.

The pitching staff is one that pounds the strike zone. They lead the SAL in strikeouts and have surrendered the third fewest walks in the league. Because they are around the zone, the Greenjackets give up a fair share of hits. They are third in the SAL in that area, but minimize the damage as they have the fifth fewest runs allowed. Augusta has surrendered a SAL-low of 29 homers.

At the plate, the GreenJackets strike out a bunch (third in SAL) and are near the bottom of the league in many statistical categories, but their speed (109 steals) helps generate offense.

Defensively, they are next to last in fielding pct. having committed 118 errors in 81 games.

 

Players to watch- Hickory:

Ps Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado: They will pitch in a tandem for the foreseeable future and thus far the pairing has worked well. In their last four outings together, the duo has allowed 28 baserunners and struck out 29 in 26.2 innings.

SP Collin Wiles: Pitched into the eighth inning for the first time in his career in his last start. He leads the SAL in WHIP (0.99) and OBA (.212). In his lone start against Augusta, he allowed one run on five hits, but walked a season high of four in five innings.

OF Luke Tendler: Red hot in the second half, Tendler has a .357/.420/.614 slash in 20 games since the all-star break and has reached base in 17 of the past 18 games.

2B Carlos Arroyo: Has 14 multiple-hit outings in his last 30 games and has a 11-game on-base streak. Is hitting .342 in the second half.

SS Josh Morgan: Has held down shortstop in the aftermath of the injury to Michael De Leon. At the plate, he has reached base twice in five of the last six games.

Players to watch- Augusta:

SP Mark Reyes: The San Francisco Giants 22nd round pick in 2014 out of Crowder JC, MO leads the SAL in ERA and is third in WHIP (1.08).

SP Sam Coonrod: The Giants 5th round selection in 2014 out of Southern Illinois leads the SAL in strikeouts (83 in 80 innings) and is sixth in ERA and eight in WHIP.

C Aramis Garcia: Currently listed as the Giants top prospect to play for Augusta (No. 14 by mlb.com). He was the Conference USA player of the year in 2014 before his selection in the second round by the Giants out of Florida International. He is second in the SAL in catching base stealers. At the plate, Garcia is second in homers (13) and seventh in slugging (.475).

3B Jonah Arenado: Is the brother of Colorado Rockies 3B Nolan Arenado. He leads the SAL in games played, at bats, and is third in hits. He was the Giants 16th round choice in 2013 out of El Toro (CA) High.

CF Johneshwy Fargas: The 11th round pick out of Trujillo Alto, PR has 45 steals (second in the SAL) and is fourth in runs.

2B/ LF Will Callaway: Attended Appalachian State and was the 37th round pick of the Giants in 2013. He is batting .400 (14-for-35) in his last ten games.

Game Story: Greensboro at Hickory July 14

The Hickory Crawdads pecked away at the Greensboro Grasshoppers for 14 hits in picking up an 11-4 win Tuesday night to start a three-game series.

The 11 runs tied a season high with all nine hitters picking up one hit, five of them with two. All but Luke Tendler scored a run, with Tendler chipping in an RBI.

Hickory improves to 53-34 overall (9-10 second half) and 29-15 at home, both the best marks in the SAL.  Greensboro is now 34-54 overall, 5-14 in the second half, and 13-32 on the road- all three the worst in the circuit.

The Crawdads took advantage of a Grasshopper misplay in the field to score three in the first. After starter Ernesto Franco sandwiched walks to Jose Cardona and Josh Morgan around an out, Jose Cardona lofted a high popup to shallow left-center. Two outfielders and the ‘Hoppers shortstop converged, but the ball fell amongst the trio. SS Justin Twine eventually picked up the ball, but missed an opportunity to record a force play and left the bases loaded. Tendler’s sacrifice fly into the RF corner moved up all three runners before Jairo Beras got enough on a low fastball to get it through the infield for a two-run single.

Greensboro cut it to 3-2 in the third as Arturo Rodriguez singled with two outs and came around on K.J. Woods’ homer to right.

The game blew up on the Grasshoppers in the fourth when Hickory scored six times. Beras lead off the inning with a first-pitch homer to left. Hickory then put together a series of bloopers and soft liners for the remaining runs. Juremi Profar floated an opposite-field, soft liner to right followed by a bloop to left by Rock Shoulders. Brallan Perez then loaded the bases as he beat out a bunt up the third base line.

Cardona’s sacrifice fly sent in Profar before Carlos Arroyo’s blooper along the left field line fell in and scored Shoulders. A balk by Franco places runners at second and third from where both scored when Morgan steered a single through the drawn-in infield. A error in left by Austen Smith moved Morgan to second and he scored when Twine’s wild throw on a Trevino grounder skipped away from first to make it 9-2.

A passed ball brought in Mason Davis in the fifth, but the Crawdads responded with two more in bottom of the inning on run-scoring singles by Arroyo and Morgan.

Davis doubled and scored in the seventh to account for the final margin.

Nick Gardewine (5-6) was the recipient of the Crawdads offensive output in the win. He allowed three runs on six hits over a season-high of six innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. Ricardo Rodriguez allowed the remaining run before settling down over the final three scoreless innings.

The Good:

The lineup: 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position, 4-for-4 plus two sac flies with runners at third. Hitting coach Francisco Matos credited the day off Monday with clearing everyone’s heads. He said the recent nine-day trip that ended Sunday felt like a month-long trip.

Carlos Arroyo: Went 2-for-5 in the game and also made a couple of key plays in the field. With two on in the second, Mason Davis hit a soft, sinking liner that Arroyo charged and caught just before the ball hit the dirt to close the innings.

With a runner on first in the fourth, Taylor Munden lofted a blooper into shallow right-center. Arroyo, who had moved to cover the bag on a steal attempt, reversed course. He was unable to make the catch, but Arroyo turned and fired a strike to Josh Morgan at second for the force play. The next batter Brian Schales also popped a blooper to short right. Arroyo cut back to his left, then after making the catch in front of right fielder Jairo Beras, he threw out Munden retreating to first for a double play.

Finally, the sixth, Twine sent a slow roller to second that Arroyo charged quickly, fielded at the cut of the grass and fired a quick throw to first.

Jairo Beras: Hit a tough 1-2 fastball (95 mph) down in the zone up the middle just past Twine’s glove. In the fourth, Beras smacked a first-pitch, get-it-over fastball out to left.

Josh Morgan: Two hits, a walk, two runs and three RBI. Saw 17 pitches in first three plate appearances, 25 for the game. In the fifth, he fought through a 7-pitch AB before getting enough on a change of the two-run single.

Luke Tendler: 1-4, 2B, RBI- He just missed a grand slam on a change in the first, then roped a slider into the RF corner for a double in the sixth

Jose Cardona: Sitting at the top of the order, he went 2-for-3, with a sac fly, scored twice and knocked in two. The lone out came on a liner to center in the seventh.

Nick Gardewine: Struggled at time to put away hitters on two-strike counts and at two outs in the inning, Gardewine still pushed through 98 pitches (63 strikes). He started with first-pitch strikes to 18 of 26 hitters. Pounded the strike zone low and away to right-handed hitters to good effect, first with fastballs (92-94), then brought in his slider on the second time through the lineup. Control of his change was iffy at times, and it cost him with Woods crushed a high offering to right for the homer.

The not-so-good:

Jose Trevino: Bloop single aside – and arguably could’ve had a second hit credited on the error charged to Twine in the fifth – he’s pulling a good many outside pitches and appeared to miss a couple of fastballs middle-in during a plate appearance in the sixth.

The opposition:

Greensboro: Arguably the poorest effort displayed by a visiting team this season. Team had little life in the field. Mason Davis appeared to give up on Morgan’s line single in the fifth, and then after fielding it sent a throw home that went well up the line at third.

The failure to get an out on a catch or a force in the first cost them three runs. No one appeared to communicate with Twine, who had his back turned to the play.

A sloppy play by Austen Smith in left allowed Morgan to move to second before he scored in the fourth.

Arturo Rodriguez: The SAL all-star punished a couple of mistakes by Crawdads pitching. He kept the third alive by slapping an 0-2 high slider to right, which lead to Woods homer. In the seventh, it was an 0-2 hanging curve by Ricardo Rodriguez that was drilled to right for an RBI.