Results tagged ‘ Justin Jacobs ’
Just under a year after the 2017 MLB draft, Texas Rangers first-round pick Bubba Thompson and undrafted free agent Justin Jacobs were teammates in Hickory, NC., each chasing a dream to become a big league player in the future.
My interest in talking with the two of them was their perception of the expectations placed upon them, as well as the expectations they have of themselves. They both expect to get there some day. Their current manager expects them to make it as well.
There are two interviews below. The first is a side-by-side discussion between the two about their memories of coming to the Rangers and what those expectations are of themselves as pro players chasing the dream.
I also got some feedback from Hickory manager Matt Hagen – himself a 12th-round draft pick – about how members of the player development staff approach players with vastly different expectations and financial investments.
This is the week of the draft. Last year you were a first-round pick. What do you remember about last year?
Thompson: It was a life-changing moment. Leading up to it, I had to work really hard. I wasn’t really a first rounder. I had to show some different tools and all that good stuff leading up to me. In my senior year, I think I showed what they were looking for and I kept it going. Once that day came, I was ready for it. I ended up getting picked 26th overall. Ever since then, I’ve been having to grind and trying to stay healthy, and I try to keep my skills up each and every day, because every day is a grind. You play every day. You get just a few off days, so I’ve really got to maintain my skills and my health each and every day.
Where were you at when they called your name?
Thompson: New York.
Did your family come with you?
Thompson: They did and we had a good old time up there and everybody treated us well. I’m here now trying to chase my dream.
What was it like to put the jersey and put the hat on?
Thompson: Like I said, it was a life-changing moment. Just the name on the back and trying to represent that each and every day, and the name on the front, also.
You were not drafted. What was draft week like for you?
Jacobs: Well, I didn’t really know for sure if I was going to get drafted, or not. I had some pretty good calls, so I figured there was a chance that I could. I had talked to a few teams that said there was a possibility that I could go late, or not, or whatever. Then, basically, the draft came up and I was sitting there waiting for my name to get called. It never got called.
Leading up to that I was coaching summer ball, so I figured that if I was done playing I would be coaching summer ball. I was actually thinking about working grounds crew for the Spokane Indians, which is our short-season team.
My coach from Gonzaga was actually good friends with the owner of the Spokane Indians and was able to get me a tryout the day before the draft. The tryout was with two of the coaches now here. Matt Hagen and Chase Lambin basically went up to Spokane and threw me some b.p. and had me take some ground balls. The next day, I didn’t get drafted and then after that I was offered a free agent deal.
Was there disappointment that your name wasn’t called?
Jacobs: A little bit disappointed, because that’s obviously what I’d been working forever since I was playing in high school and college, and what not. I was just happy that I was able to get the opportunity to come down here and play.
Did you guys go to Arizona together or did you go straight to Spokane?
Jacobs: No, we played in Arizona together last year.
You guys meet each other – the first rounder and the free agent – what was the meeting like?
Jacobs: Honestly, I thought Bubba really was a humble kid. If you didn’t know him at all, you wouldn’t know if he was a first-round pick or a 40th-round pick or a free agent. He kind of just holds himself to the same level as everyone else.
Would you agree with that coming in and meeting some of the other guys? You come in from all over the country, what was meeting some of the other guys like?
Thompson: It was good, man. J.J. came and worked hard, and it, like, came naturally to him. He loved playing the game. Each and every day I would see him laugh and I would see him give his all. I think he’s a very good player.
A lot of guys would say, okay, he’s a first rounder and he’s got it easy. You’ve got an easy ticket to the major leagues. That’s not necessarily so, is it?
Thompson: It’s not, because if you go out there and you barely hit and you don’t take it serious; you go on the field and you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, this game is going to catch up to you. I try to give my all, to shag, b.p., just do the little things. I try not to slack and give it 100 percent each day.
Do you have a sense that your path to the big leagues is a harder one?
Jacobs: Not necessarily. Obviously, on the way in, he’s going to have more money than I do, but I feel like, no matter what, you have to compete and prove yourself to get to the next level. If you come out and play well, no matter if you’re a first-round pick or a free agent, you’re going to have the opportunity to move up if you play well and compete every day.
Do you think there is more pressure on you because you are a first-round pick?
Thompson: That’s what I feel like. There’s a lot of pressure, like he said, kind of the money hype. So that’s why I try to grind every day and do what I’ve got to do, so I don’t have any regrets when I get older. That’s the main part.
I don’t ask this as a loaded question, but do you feel like the Rangers do enough to make it an equal situation, or is there a hierarchy at first? Bubba shows up and a second-rounder shows up, and so on. Do you sense there’s a hierarchy before you get a chance to prove yourself?
Jacobs: To be honest, no not really. I think our organization does a pretty good job of treating everyone pretty equally. I think it’s good that they don’t come and treat the first rounders like they’re famous, because then those guys might not work as hard. I think they’ve treated us all the same and held us all to a higher standard so everyone has to come out and prove themselves, no matter if you’re a first rounder or a 40th rounder, or whatever.
What do you appreciate about somebody like Bubba, who could’ve played football and is obviously very talented athletically?
Jacobs: A lot of times you think of a first rounder, you think of a kid that comes in and is cocky and doesn’t work hard, and they fall down the hill really quick because they’re full of themselves. They’ve signed for a lot of money, so sometimes they don’t think they have to work as hard as someone else. I think he does a good job of coming in every day and just treating himself like everyone else, and working just as hard, if not harder, than everyone else here, which is going to give him an edge, I think.
With the college guys coming in, do you have an appreciation of somebody that’s been grinding with four years of college?
Thompson: We did something today. I asked J.J., “Can we bunt off the machine?” because that’s something I’ve been working on. So, he didn’t say, “Aw, man.” He said, “Yeah, we can do that. Do you really want to do it?” And I said, “Yes.” So, we came in here to the cage right when we got here. He fixed the machine up for me and all that good stuff, and he was feeing me some tips. Also, the other coaches were feeding me some tips and I was just working on my bunting.
I appreciate him taking the time out from his day to come out here and feed the machine for me. I know he’s got a lot of tips, being a four-year college guy. Usually, the three-year and four-year college guys really know how to bunt. I’ve seen him bunt plenty of times, so I was trying to feed off of his mind.
He’s 22 and you’re 20. Do you look at some of the older guys that went to college and have grown up a bit, while you’re still maturing?
Thompson: I’ll ask him here and there about his approach at the plate and stuff like that, at the plate. I’m just trying to get little tips and add them to my game.
What about living life and so on? You’re now going out and having to pay bills once a month. You’re not at home anymore.
Thompson: Everybody really helps us with that kind of stuff. since we got here in May. It’s really been the first time I’ve had to pay rent, but they’re really helping us out with that.
Jacobs: He needs to be helping me out with my rent.
When I talked with Hayden Deal, when he came here with Rome (Ga.) – he and Hunter Harvey went to high school together – I asked him did he think he would have a greater appreciation to get to the major leagues than Hunter did. So, I’ll ask the same thing. Do you think you will have a greater appreciation of getting to the major leagues than a first rounder, or somebody else?
Jacobs: I don’t know, necessarily. I think both of us will obviously have a great appreciation for that because either way, making it to the major leagues is huge. The ultimate goal for a baseball player is making it there. So, I think, either way, whether he makes it, or whether I make it, or we both make it, I think we’ll both have an appreciation for that. It’ll be a satisfying road either way.
When you get the call up, what’s that phone call like for you?
Jacobs: That would probably be the greatest day of my life. I’d probably call my parents and my girlfriend and I would be pretty happy that I made it there, but I’d want to get out there and win.
When you get the call up, what’s that phone call like for you?
Thompson: Really joyful, I feel like. There’s going to pressure off my back, but more pressure added on. As you get the call, they want you to go out there and provide and do your job. I feel like, like he was saying, we share the same amount of time at the field. So, I feel like it’s going to be the same feeling for everybody. Everybody here is on the bus ride, the long bus ride. Ain’t nobody on the plane, we’re all on the buses and working each and every day. So, whoever gets the call, that feeling is going to be epic.
I know you have a great appreciation for Bubba and all your teammates, so this question is not meant to be about them. But do you ever get a sense that somebody from another team who was a high pick isn’t giving an effort. Does that ever enter your mind to where you say, “come on, dude.”
Jacobs: I mean honestly, I have seen that with other teams, but not on our team. It just kind of bugs me because they have a great amount of talent and it’s a great opportunity for them and the situation they’re in.
It sucks to see a guy go about his business like that, because I know in his situation, if he were to work hard and do his thing every day, he’s got a good chance of making it. I mean, there’s nothing you can really do about it. If someone wants to hurt themselves and not help themselves out in that situation, there’s nothing I can tell him then.
Now, if it’s my teammates, I’m going to get on them and make sure they keep working.
You’ve got a first-round pick here in Bubba Thompson and he gets here and there’s a ton of expectations. And then you have a guy here like Justin, who wasn’t drafted. I guess that, maybe, he feels that every game he gets he gets is borrowed time, although he’s played well, and he’s worked himself into the equation to get playing time. As a manager and as coaches, what are the expectations when you have two guys coming in as widely varied expectations of ability and pedigree?
Hagen: I think, first and foremost, the expectations they have for themselves are exactly the same. They both expect to come out and get the most out of there abilities and they both have the same level of expectations of themselves to play in the big leagues. If they didn’t, then they shouldn’t be here. Of course, that’s probably geared more towards J.J.
Obviously, when a kid is a first round pick, an organization makes a financial investment in that kid, he’s going to have some bigger expectations placed on him from within the organization. But that doesn’t mean that we have less expectations from J.J., in the sense that we expect him to be a big leaguer one day, too.
I think it can be a blessing and a curse to be a kid that is a first-round pick because the expectations are so high for you, that when you come to the ballpark every day people expect you to do first-rounder type of things. So, it’s part of my job and the rest of the coaching staff to get both of these guys to realize and live up to their level of abilities, whatever their ceiling may be individually. We want to get the most out of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a free-agent pick or a first-round pick or everybody who’s in between that. They’re all the same to us.
Justin gave Bubba a lot of praise for being a kid that didn’t appear to be full of himself or cocky, where you get the stereotypical guy that comes in and has the money and now he doesn’t pull his weight. That’s probably rarely the case, but Bubba does appear to have handled himself well as far as getting in here and doing what he’s supposed to do.
Hagen: Yeah, and you’ve got to give credit to the people that raised Bubba. You give credit to his family and you give credit to the scouting department for doing the research on Bubba to find out, not only the kind of player he is, but what kind of person he is, because he can be cancerous to come in with that high-and-mighty type of attitude. It’s not a good way to endear yourself to your teammates. Whereas, Bubba, he’s been the exact opposite. He’s come and he’s one of the guys. He works his tail off and he’s a very humble person by nature, which makes him coachable and likeable and easy to work for.
How hard is it – and you went through this in your case where you didn’t sign or were not a high pick like Ryan Dorow or Sal Mendez – to bide your time to get your playing time and get your opportunity? The opportunity is always there, but they have to bide their time.
Hagen: Somebody explained it to me this way the best. The reality of it is everybody has a window to make it to the big leagues. Depending when you signed and what you signed for, your window might be bigger than somebody else. But they still have a window. If your window is small because you signed at an older age, or you didn’t get as much of a signing bonus, you still have a window and it’s your responsibility to capitalize on that window. And you can make your window bigger by playing well, and you can make your window smaller by not performing well.
So, we try to stress that to those kids, that you’re here because somebody in our scouting department, or otherwise, believe that you have the ability to be a major league baseball player one day. So, do the most of your window, and if you perform, you window is only going to get bigger.
Justin mentioned that you and Chase tries him out at Spokane. What did you guys see in him to say, “hey, we need to sign this guy and give him an opportunity.”
Hagen: First of all, he had good bat control and he has a good feel for his body. When he takes batting practice, he can hit the ball where it’s pitched. It’s a mature approach. It’s not a kid who’s trying to hit the ball as hard as he can on every swing. You give him something away, he’ll hit the ball the other way. If you make a mistake in, he’ll pull it for a base hit. Then the ability to make routine plays. If you hit him 20 ground balls in a row, he catches all 20.
It’s not the flashiest thing. He’s not going out there looking like a guy that runs a 4.4 40 as he goes to cover ground balls. If he gets to it, he catches it and is accurate with his throws. We say sometimes in the minor leagues that a guy is more of an athlete than a baseball player, and sometimes we have guys who are more a baseball player than an athlete. J.J., I think, falls into the realm of there’s a whole lot of baseball player in J.J. I mean, obviously, as a huge compliment. You’re always looking for guys that have a whole lot of baseball player in them, because they’re not going to hurt you. They’re going to help you in a lot of ways.
(I am my own editor… I did this in a rush. Laugh at my mistakes, but laugh gently. Thank you.)
Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs (New York Yankees) (20-25, 5th SAL South), at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (16-26, 6th SAL North)
If You Plan to Go:
GAME TIMES: Friday, 7 p.m., Saturday, 6 p.m., Sunday, 3 p.m., Monday, 1 p.m.
Friday – Memorial Day Weekend Kickoff, Salute to Troops, Post-game Fireworks
Saturday – ZOOperstars! Appearance, Hat Giveaway (1st 1,000 fans)
Sunday – Church Bulletin Sunday, Birdzerk!
Monday – Memorial Day Celebration
TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.
WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.
PARKING: All parking is $3.
CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4
The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf
PROBABLES (Charleston/ Hickory)
Friday: RHP Jio Orozco vs. RHP Noah Bremer
Saturday: RHP Alex Vargas vs. RHP Derek Heffel
Sunday: RHP Rony Garcia vs. RHP Tyler Phillips
Monday: LHP Dalton Lehnen vs. RHP Tyree Thompson
Recent Series History:
Charleston took five of six in the series last year, which included a 2-1 series win at L.P. Frans. The RiverDogs’ three-game sweep at home in late August began a downward spiral for the Crawdads in the final week of the season that knocked them out of the SAL playoffs. Charleston has won 4 of 6 at Hickory the past two years. Since 2009, which was the start of the Rangers-Crawdads affiliation, Hickory holds a 50-45 edge in the overall series, 27-21 at L.P. Frans.
About the Crawdads:
Hickory started the homestand with two straight wins over Delmarva (Md.), then lost the final two to fall into a split. The current eight-game homestand is the longest of the season… Overall, the Crawdads have pitched well as of late, especially in the starting rotation. Prior to Thursday night’s 10-5 loss to the Shorebirds, Hickory starters had an eight-game stretch during which they allowed eight earned runs over 46.1 innings with 49 Ks and 8 walks. The Crawdads starters have not walked a batter in four straight games. Near the top of the SAL in walks allowed much of the season, the Crawdads are now fourth in that category… Meanwhile, the Crawdads are back to looking for answers at the plate. Since scoring 11 runs in a win vs. Columbia on 5/9, Hickory has scored more than three runs in a game just five times in 13 games. Among the 14-team SAL, the Crawdads are last in doubles and next to last iin extra-base hits. They are also 11th in batting average, 12th in runs scored and total bases, and 13th in hits. Their .240 batting average in May is next to last.… The team continues to be stellar in the field. Their 39 errors – just 23 on the infield – are the second fewest in the SAL.
Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):
CF Bubba Thompson (No. 6): 2018 stats: .245/.302/.429, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 14 K, 3 SB. Last series vs. Delmarva: 3-for-14, 2B, 6 K. First-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of McGill-Toolen High, Mobile, AL.
RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 7 games (6 starts), 29.2 IP, 25 H, 19 R (18 ER), 2 HR, 5 HB, 20 BB, 41 K, 5.46 ERA, .231 OBA, 1.52 WHIP. Last start 5/19 at Kannapolis: 5.2 IP, 2 H, 1 HB, 2 BB, 9 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th walks, T 4th hit batters.
RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18) 2018 stats: .217/.280/.325, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 10 BB, 22 K, 0 SB, 2 CS. Last series vs. Delmarva: 2-for-4, BB, K. Rejoined the team on 5/24 after an 11-day absence. Signed as an international free agent with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos Venezuela.
RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 14 games, 4 saves, 20.1 IP, 14 H, 9 R (7 ER), 1 HR, 19 BB, 37 K, 3.10 ERA, .187 OBA 1.62 WHIP. Last game 5/22 vs. Delmarva: 1.2 IP, 3 K. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (16.38), T-9th walks.
C-1B Sam Huff (No. 26): 2018 stats: .254/.313/.449, 8 2B, 5 HR, 6 BB, 39 K, 1 SB. Last series vs.Delmarva: 6-for-16, 2 2B, HR, 2 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).
RHP Tyler Phillips (No. 30): 2018 stats: 44 IP, 44 H, 15 R (14 ER), 2 HR, 1 HB, 5 BB, 46 K, 2.86 ERA, .257 OBA, 1.11 WHIP. Last start vs. Delmarva: 7 IP, 5 H, 7 K. Sixteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken, N.J. Native of Lumberton N.J. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 4th walks-per-9-inning ratio among starters (1.02).
Others to watch – Hickory:
RHP Noah Bremer: 2018 stats: 1 game (1 start), 1 IP, 1 K. Made only start on 4/8, pulled and placed on disabled list with an oblique injury shortly after. 2017 stats at AZL Rangers and Spokane: 11 games (0 starts), 20 IP, 10 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 1 HB, 4 BB, 30 K, 1.35 ERA, .152 OBA, 0.70 WHIP. Sixth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of the Univ. of Washington. Attended Berkeley (Calif.) HS.
RHP Derek Heffel: 2018 stats: 2 games (1 start), 8 IP, 9 H, 6 R (6 ER), 1 HR, 1 HB, 6 K. Last start 5/20 at Kannapolis: 5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 1 HB, 3 K. Began season at extended spring. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Madison Area (Wisc.) Technical College. Attend St. Catherine’s HS in Racine, Wisc.
RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 8 games (7 starts) 38.2 IP, 37 H, 26 R (21 ER), 6 HR, 3 HB, 12 BB, 17 K, 4.89 ERA, .247 OBA, 1.27 WHIP. Last start vs. Delmarva 5/22: 7.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 3 K. Twenty-sixth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.
SS Yonny Hernandez: 2018 stats: .194/.354/.226, 2 2B, 7 RBI, 14 BB, 14 K, 5 SB, 2 CS. Last series vs. Delmarva: 2-for-4, R. Played in four games at Frisco (Tex.) from May 11-14, (3-for-11, 4 BB, 3 K, 2 SB.) Signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2014. Native of Maturin, Venezuela.
UT Ryan Dorow: 2018 stats: .253/.340/.425, 3 2B, 4 HR, 10 BB, 37 K, 1 SB, 1 CS. Last series vs. Delmarva: 0-for-10, 2 BB, 5 K. Will likely see more playing time with 2B Kole Enright on the disabled list. Thirtieth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Adrian (Mich.) College. Attended South Haven (Mich.) HS.
UT Justin Jacobs: 2018 stats: .281/.364/.385, 4 2B, 2 HR, 12 BB, 34 K, 1 SB. Last series vs. Delmarva: 1-for-11, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K. Leads Hickory with an .813 OPS in May over 16 games. Signed with the Rangers in 2017 as a non-drafted free agent from Gonzaga Univ. Also played at Lower Columbia CC (Wash.). Attended Riverside HS in Auburn Wash.
About the RiverDogs:
Managed by Julio Mosquera in his first season as the skipper. He led short-season Staten Island to a 46-29 record and a playoff berth in the New York-Penn League in 2017… The RiverDogs were shutout in two games at Augusta (Ga.), but salvaged the final game of the rain-shortened series… Like the Crawdads, Charleston has struggled to put runs on the board. It has scored five or more runs in just 6 of 20 games in May, with one or fewer runs in eight of them. They are just above Hickory at .241 for the month and for the season. Collectively, the RiverDogs are 12th in OBP (.309) and slugging pct. (.360) and that has contributed to a last-place showing in the SAL in runs scored… Base stealing has also been an issue as they are just over .500 in pilfer attempts (29-for-57)…The pitching, however, has kept the team from sliding into an abyss record wise. The staff WHIP of 1.13 is second in the SAL and the team ERA of 2.86 is third. Charleston has surrendered just 18 HRs, the fewest in the league, and only Augusta has given up fewer hits.
Prospects to watch-Charleston (rankings by MLB.com):
3B Dermis Garcia (No. 21): 2018 stats: 4-for-22, 2B, HR, 10 K. Joined the RiverDogs from extended spring on 5/17. Last series at Augusta: 2-for-11, 4 K. Signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2014. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.
Others to watch-Charleston:
RHP Jio Orozco: 2018 stats: 1 game (1 start) 4 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. Made first start with the RiverDogs vs, Columbia on 5/18. Made 12 starts for the RiverDogs in 2017: 56.1 IP, 61 H, 37 R (31 ER), 3 HR, 7 HB, 34 BB, 48 K, 4.95 ERA, .286 OBA, 1.69 WHIP. Fourteenth-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2015 out of Salpointe Catholic, Tucson, Ariz. Traded to the Yankees on 8/31/16 as a part of a package for RF Ben Gamel.
RHP Alex Vargas: 2018 stats with Charleston: 3 games (3 starts), 14.1 IP 17 H, 9 R (6 ER), 2 BB, 11 K, 3.77 ERA, .288 OBA, 1.33 WHIP. Last start 5/19 vs. Columbia: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 4 K. Made a spot start for AA Trenton in April and a relief outing at High-A Tampa. Signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2014. Native of Santiago, D.R.
RHP Rony Garcia: 2018 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 39 IP, 46 H, 24 R (18 ER), 2 HR, 2 HB, 8 BB, 33 K, 4.15 ERA, .291 OBA, 1.38 WHIP. Last start 5/20 vs. Columbia: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 HB, 2 BB, 7 K. Signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2015. Native of Mao, D.R.
LHP Dalton Lehnen: 2018 stats: 8 games (7 starts), 41.1 IP, 35 H, 14 R (12 ER), 3 HR, 2 HB, 8 BB, 44 K, 2.61 ERA, .220 OBA, 1.04 WHIP. Last start 5/21 at Augusta: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R (0 ER), 1 HB, 1 BB, 7 K. Sixth-round pick of the Yankees in 2017 out of Augustana (S.D.) Univ.
RF Steven Sensley: 2018 stats: .278/.353/.497, 13 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 15 BB, 49 K, 2 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Augusta: 2-for-11, 2B, 4 K. Twelfth-round pick of the Yankees in 2017 out of the Univ. of Louisiana-Lafayette. Attended University HS in Baton Rouge, La. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd doubles.
1B Chris Hess: 2018 stats: .280/.396/.439, 6 2B, 5 HR, 18 BB, 39 K, 0 SB, 3 CS. Last series at Augusta: 0-for-8, 1 BB, 4 K. Seventeenth-round pick of the Yankees in 2017 out of the Univ. of Rhode Island. Attended North Kingstown (RI) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 5th OPB.
Prior to Thursday night’s game at Kannapolis, the Hickory Crawdads hit the quarter mark of the 2018 season. Since losing the first seven games to start the season, Hickory has been right around the .500 mark and is currently at 14-22.
Over the past week, the entire outfield got a makeover. Eric Jenkins was promoted to high-A Down East, Miguel Aparicio went to extended spring and Pedro Gonzalez. Up came 2017 first-round pick Bubba Thompson – along with first baseman Tyreque Reed – and suddenly the Crawdads are 5-3 since.
The three-headed monster behind the plate went to two as Rangers minor league player of the month Melvin Novoa went to Down East. The pitching staff is looking for consistency and two of the early season sparks have come in the former of utility players Justin Jacobs and Ryan Dorow. All in all, the Crawdads are in a better spot than they were in mid-April and with a tweak here and there, they could be a team to watch later this half and all of the second half.
I took a few moments to chat with Crawdads manager Matt Hagen at the end of the last homestand on Tuesday about the first 35 games of the season and what the hopes are for the next 35 games as the season churns along.
It’s the quarter point of the season and, record aside, I know this is about development. First, I want to get an overview of the positives you see in the development side?
Hagen: Record aside, we are trying to develop the ability to win games, too. We put ourselves in such a hole early on the way we came out. We did not swing the bats real well early in the season. The weather was cold and the ball wasn’t carrying. You look at the games we’d win, typically there were some home runs involved.
I think that all three of our catchers have gotten better, that’s why one of them moved up. Infield play has been one of our strengths this season, making the routine plays.
We had the ability to promote an outfielder that had been here for two years, so the work he’d put in paid off.
Our starting pitchers have been better the last few outings If you look at Tyree (Thompson), there’s a few things. AJ Alexy as been throwing the ball better the last few starts. So, we’re definitely getting better on the pitching side. Then I look at the way (Joe) Barlow threw today, (DeMarcus) Evans threw the ball well his last time, Sal’s (Mendez) been throwing lately and the way (Alex) Speas threw yesterday. Those are things to get really excited about from a pitching perspective.
There are a lot of changes that can happen at this level and suddenly you have a whole new outfield.
Hagen: The guys that have shown up have contributed right away. Getting a little fresh blood was great for us and when we get Pedro (Gonzalez) back and healthy – at some point in the future – he’s only going to make us better, too.
And Miguel was sent down, what is he going to be working on at this point?
Hagen: Well, at this point, he’s going to be working on a little bit of everything. He does a lot of things that the organization values, but just like everybody else, he’s got things to work on and hopefully he will make the most of his time down there.
You mentioned at the beginning of the year that you had a lot of hope for the two utility players – Justin Jacobs and Ryan Dorow – and both have really contributed some good innings for you?
Hagen: They’ve been awesome, the ability to plug both those guys in anywhere. JJ might play second one day, first, third, or right field the next day. Ryan, for me, has been a plus infielder no matter what position we’ve put him in. Like I said, they’re both hitting over .300. So, they’ve given us a lot of value and we’re not going to go anywhere without those two guys.
Next step that you’ve got to get to in this second-half of the first half
Hagen: I think we’re just looking for some consistency. We had some games in the first month, or whatever, where we weren’t in the game; we weren’t competitive. I looked over the past week, most of them we’ve been competitive in every game. I think that’s kind of the standard now, is to be in every game when you look up in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning, and feel like we have a chance to win.
Tyler Ratliff lined a single into left to bring in pinch runner Franklin Rollin and sent the Hickory Crawdads to a 2-1 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
With the win, Hickory (13-21) has won two of three during the current series and it will try for the series win Tuesday morning starting at 10:30 a.m. Rome (22-15) dropped into second place, a game behind Augusta (Ga.) in the South Atlantic League Southern Division.
Facing Braves reliever Brandon White (0-2), the Crawdads started the ninth with a booming double off the wall in center field by Tyreque Reed. Austin O’Banion’s grounder to first moved Reed to third from where Rollin took over. Reed wasted little time for the walk-off winner by lining an 0-1 pitch from the side-arming White into left.
Pitching dominated Monday’s contest as a pair of No. 30 prospects – Rome’s Huascar Ynoa and Hickory’s Tyler Phillips – started the game.
Ynoa held the Crawdads hitless through five innings with the help of center fielder Drew Waters. The Braves No. 18 prospect made an on-the-run, leaping catch of a liner at the wall off the bat of Bubba Thompson in the first. Near the same spot, Waters – who also had two of the Braves seven hits – made an even better grab on a ball hit by Ratliff in the fourth when he scaled and reached over the wall to bring back a home run. Otherwise, Ynoa’s night was uneventful, as he struck out six and walked three. The lone hit against Ynoa was a home run by Justin Jacobs in the sixth.
Tyler Phillips matched zeroes on the scoreboard with five shutout innings. The Crawdads right hander allowed five hits and a walk with four strikeouts. He, too, got defensive help as Hickory turned two double plays behind him. The lone trouble for Phillips came in the fourth when William Contreras and Kurt Hoekstra each singled with two outs to put runners and first and third. Phillips got out of the inning by striking out Jean Carlos Encarnacion.
New reliever Derek Heffel entered the game for Hickory in the sixth. He allowed just two base runners over three innings and struck out three. However, the first base runner was a leadoff home run by Hoekstra to start the seventh and tie the game.
Alex Speas (1-0) dominated the Braves in the ninth with fastballs registering 96-98 mph. The right hander retired the side and struck out two.
At a game that begin with the temperature at 50 degrees and the wind gusting in the neighborhood of 20 mph, starting pitchers Reid Anderson of the Hickory Crawdads and Andres Sotillet of the Lexington Legends did everyone a favor. They threw strikes.
Hickory scored two in the third and made them stand up for a 2-1 win in a game that lasted two-hours, 15 minutes at L.P. Frans Stadium Monday night.
Anderson, a native of New Egypt, N.J. had no issues with the frigid temperatures that dropped into the upper 30s by game’s end with light snow flurries swirling as fans left the ballpark.
“I’m used to Northeast baseball,” said Anderson. “I love pitching in this. It makes hitters a lot more tentative, so I just attacked them.”
Attack he did, as Anderson put together arguably his best start over the two seasons of his Crawdads career. The right-hander was the story for much of the game as he retired the first 15 hitters on his way to the longest outing of the season to date for a Crawdads starter. Lasting 6.1 innings, Anderson gave up one run on three hits and struck out six.
“He looked really strong and was rested,” said Crawdads manager Matt Hagen. “His tempo was tremendous. He was like, ‘Give me the ball’, throw a strike, ‘Give me the ball’, throw a strike, which is something that we preach. When you see a guy go out there and create tempo, it’s fun to watch.”
Working quickly, Anderson, who had just two three-ball counts, used a fastball/ changeup mix with an occasional curve thrown in. The game plan was keep the hitters back on their heels.
Said Anderson, who threw 86 pitches (58 strikes) “We had a plan to go in and just not trying to nitpick pitches but going right at them.”
With only 56 pitches tossed over the first five innings, it was a curious question as to just how long Anderson would be allowed to take a stab at a perfect-game bid if it developed deeper. As the game approached the middle innings, the thought of that rare accomplishment began to creep into Anderson’s mind.
“It’s hard to not think about it,” he said. “It’s always in the back of your head, but you’ve got to push that away and focus on the next batter at hand.”
Although the Crawdads committed three errors for the game, the Crawdads play in the field had much to do with Anderson’s success.
The first challenge to Anderson’s perfect-game came on back-to-back plays in the fourth. Marten Gasparini lifted a high fly ball that carried to the track in straight-away center. Fighting the wind, Pedro Gonzalez cruised back, turned his body twice before twisting against himself to make an over-the shoulder, basket catch. With the Crawdads shifted to the right side, the next batter, Nick Pratto sliced a pitch into left that Eric Jenkins sprinted to and made a diving catch.
“Jenkins almost overran the ball,“ Hagen said. “The wind pushed it back so much. Give those guys credit, it was not an easy night to be an outfielder.”
On the infield, third baseman Tyler Ratliff handled a bad hop on the backhand and threw to first. Later, Justin Jacobs had a mini-bad hop as he went to field a grounder and step on first.
“Those guys did a great job, said Anderson. “They had my back all night and they made incredible plays behind me. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Lexington countered with Sotillet, who was nearly Anderson’s equal. The right-hander pounded the strike zone to the tune of 49 strikes out of 63 pitches. On the way to striking out six, he threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 20 hitters.
“Their starter did a great job, too,” Anderson said of the pitching duel. “That definitely helps you focus in and it helps you really bear down because you know you don’t have much room to work with. I think everyone would prefer having a big lead and pitching in that, but tight games really help you lock in.”
The only troublesome inning for Sotillet came in the third with the help of an odd defensive play. With one out, Yonny Hernandez was hit by a pitch. Jenkins lifted a ball into shallow center that Gasparini charged and then attempted a diving catch. The umpire immediately ruled the ball in play, but thinking he had made the catch, he fired to first for a double play attempt and thereby missing a chance to catch the lead runner Hernandez at second for a force play. Miguel Aparicio hit a seeing-eye single to right that scored Hernandez and Jenkins scored when right fielder Seuly Matias’s throw home went to the backstop.
The Legends opened the sixth with their first base runner, a single to left by Oliver Nunez. Sebastian Rivero blooped a single to right and a wild pitch moved both up. One out later, a contact play resulted in Nunez getting caught in a rundown trying to score. Anderson got out of trouble with a groundout by Gasparini.
Lexington’s only run came in the seventh when Matias doubled. A wild pitch bumped him to third and Matias scored on MJ Melendez’s sac fly.
The Legends threatened in the eighth and ninth innings. Facing DeMarcus Evans in the eighth, Rivero got a four-pitch walk and went to third when Evans fielded Ricky Aracena’s sac bunt and threw wildly past first. Cal Jones struck out and then Gasparini flew out to Jenkins in shallow left with Jenkins easily throwing out Rivero at home trying to score.
The suspense built again in the ninth when with one out Matias reached second on an infield hit and a throwing error. Alex Speas struck out Melendez, but a wild pitch put runners on the corners. Speas gathered himself and fanned both Guzman and Nunez to end the game.
***The fastball from Alex Speas has been as advertised. We don’t yet have a speed-gun reading available at the ballpark, but judging by the swings from the hitters during the two outings I’ve seen him it has life and it gets there in a hurry. However last night, it was the breaking ball that did a lot of the dirty work among the nine missed bats in his inning. It appeared to have that falling-off-the-table sink, one of which Melendez flailed at and catcher Melvin Novoa had to chase down near the Crawdads dugout.
He didn’t panic with a runner at third and one out but continued to throw the pitch and trusted Novoa to make plays if needed. Speas then set up Nunez for a fastball on the inside corner for a called third-strike that ended the game.
Said Hagen of Speas: “You take the error away and then the wild pitch that got away from Melvin, it was a tremendous inning. Either way he ended up with four strikeouts. Watching him from last year to this year, and to see the progress and the maturation has been really fun to watch. To go from where he was at as a starter to coming in as a reliever and hoping for a good result to coming in as a reliever and knowing that you’re going to get really good results coming into the game.”
*** This is a game Anderson likely loses in 2017. He would have games like this where he would dominate for several innings but a quirky inning or a bad pitch would get away and cost him the game. In a preseason interview, pitching coach Jose Jaimes said Anderson is better prepared this season to go deep into games. Anderson agrees and talked about his mindset on the mound this season.
Anderson said, “Mainly it’s just not trying to think ahead. Last year, I would go out there I would be in the first inning and I’d already be thinking about the sixth. This time, I’m just focusing batter to batter, pitch to pitch and not trying to get ahead of myself.”
(Late getting this together and I haven’t proofread yet, so be kind.)
Lexington Legends (Kansas City Royals) (8-2, 1st in SAL South) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (1-8, 7th SAL North)
The Hickory Crawdads continue the season-opening homestand with a three-game homestand against Lexington. The Legends travels to Hickory after a three-game series at Augusta (Ga.)
If You Plan to Go:
GAME TIMES: Monday and Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
Monday – Make-A-Difference Monday (Donate an item $5 or more in value to receive a free ticket). Pajama Night (Wear your pajamas to receive a free ticket.)
Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday (Dogs admitted for $1 each, Hot Dogs $1 each, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products
TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.
Where is it?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.
PARKING: All parking is $3.
CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4
The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf
Probables (Lexington/ Hickory):
Monday: RHP Andres Sotillet vs. RHP Reid Anderson
Tuesday: RHP Nolan Watson vs. RHP Tyree Thompson
Wednesday: LHP Garrett Davila vs. RHP Tyler Phillips
Recent Series History:
Lexington won 7 of 11 against the Crawdads in 2017, including a split of the eight games played at L.P. Frans. The Crawdads hold a 21-18 advantage since the Legends began their affiliation with the Royals in 2013, but are 12-13 at home.
About the Crawdads:
The rough start to the season may have reached a new low with a loss in the final game of the rain-shortened, three-game series with the West Virginia Power. Up 11-8 with a chance to win the series, the Power scored seven runs to win the game… The Crawdads entered the series with the Power last in the SAL in all three slash line stats (.182.239/.251). They are still last in OBP (.281) and slugging (.338), but against the Power, Hickory was .314/.349/.475 with 13 extra-base hits in three games… Defensively, Hickory is currently at the top of the SAL with just six errors (.981 fielding pct.). Four of the six have been charged to catchers and pitchers.
Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):
CF Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10): 2018 stats: .229/.250/.371, 1 3B, 1 HR, 14 K (tied for 5th in SAL), 1 BB, 3 SB. Came to the Rangers in a trade for C Jonathan Lucory. Originally signed with Rockies in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.
RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): Not expected to pitch in the series. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa.
RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: .258/.281/.355, 1 HR, 6 K, 1 BB. Signed with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.
RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 3 games (all in relief), 4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 HR, 4 BB, 7 K, 1.62 WHIP. Second round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA).
C-1B Sam Huff (No. 25): 2018 stats: .120/.154/.240, 1 HR, 8 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).
Others to watch – Hickory:
RHP Reid Anderson: 2018 stats: 2 games (1 start), 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R (unearned), 2 BB, 4 K, OBA .158, 0.83 WHIP. Was 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville Univ. Native of New Egypt, N.J.
RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 2 games (1 start), 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R-ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1.33 WHIP. Was 26th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out or Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.
RHP Tyler Phillips: 2018 stats: 2 games (2 starts), 8.2 IP, 12 H, 7 R-ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 11, K, .324 OBA, 1.73 WHIP. Was 16th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken, NJ.
RHP Joe Barlow: 2018 stats: 3 games, 4 IP, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 R. Was 11th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Salt Lake CC. Native of Riverton, Utah.
OF Eric Jenkins: 2018 stats: .235/.278/.294 1 3B, 2 BB, 13, K, 6 steals (tied for SAL lead). Native of Cerro Gordo, N.C. Was the 2nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of West Columbus High.
IF-OF Justin Jacobs: 2018 stats: .438/.500/.625, 3 2B, 2 BB, 3 K. After not playing the first five games of the season, he has started the last four. Non-drafted free-agent out of Gonzaga. Native of Auburn, Wash.
IF Ryan Dorow: 2018 stats: .385/.467/.692, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 4 K. Went 4-for-8, HR, 2 R, BB in last two games vs. West Virginia. Was 30th-round pick of Rangers in 2017 out of Adrian (Mich.) College. Native of South Haven, Mich.
About the Legends
Managed by Scott Thorman in his second season (70-77) with the Legends… Lexington has not had a winning record since the days of Jose Altuve and J.D, Martinez in 2010 as a part of the Houston Astros system. After losing 80 or more game the last three seasons, the Legends are 8-2 to begin this season and were 2-1 at Augusta to start their current road trip… The Legends have staked their early surge on pitching. Their 2.12 team ERA is the best in the SAL and they’ve allowed the fewest hits… Defensively, the Legends are quite porous with 21 errors in the 10 games, third most in the SAL. Melendez has shown a big arm behind the plate, throwing out four of the ten attempted base stealers. However, he has four errors and a passed ball in ten games. A trio of third basemen have combined for six errors… The lineup has much promise but are a work in progress. Lexington is last in the SAL in batting (.212) and 12th in OBP (.297) and are already above 100 Ks in 10 games (3rd in SAL). However the Legends are in the middle of the pack in runs scored because of their speed. They are tied for the SAL lead in steals and just off the pace in triples…Royals No. 6 prospect CF Michael Gigliotti is on the disabled list.
Prospects to watch:
1B Nick Pratto (No. 2): 2018 stats: .303/.378/.485, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 BB, 11, K, 1 SB. First-round pick of the Royals in 2017 out of Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS.
RF Seuly Matias (No. 3): 2018 stats: .286/.342/.686, 1 3B, 4 HR, 2 BB, 17 K, Tied for 1st in SAL in HRs, 3rd with 10 RBI, tied for 3rd total bases (24), 1st in Ks (17), 4th slugging, 5th OPS 1.028. Signed with Royals as international free agent in 2015. Native of La Isabela, D.R.
C MJ Melendez (No. 4): 2018 stats: .300/.391/.600, 2 2B, 2 3B, 3 BB, 8 K, 1 SB. Second-round pick of the Royals in 2017 out of Westminster Christian HS (Miami, FL).
LHP Daniel Tillo (No. 19): Not expected to pitch in the series.
SS Jeison Guzman (No. 20): 2018 stats: 259/.286/.407, 2 3B, 1 BB, 11 K, 2 SB. Signed with Royals as international free agent in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.
RHP Janser Lara (No. 27): 2018 stats: 1 game, 1.2 IP, 1 BB, 2 K. Signed with Royals as international free agent in 2015. Native of San Cristobal, D.R.
Others to watch – Lexington:
RHP Andres Sotillet: 2018 stats: 1 game (start), 4.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R (0 ER) 2 BB, 5 K. Signed with Royals as international free agent in 2015. Native of Cumana, Venezuela.
RHP Nolan Watson: 2018 stats: 2 games (2 starts), 10.1 IP, 10 H, 5 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 1 HB, 2 BB, 11 K, .138 OBA, 1.16 ERA. First-round pick of Royals in 2015 out of Lawrence North HS (Ind.) Native of Indianapolis, Inc.
LHP Garrett Davila: 2018 stats: 2 games (2 starts), 8.2 IP, 9 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 6 BB, 8 K, .265 OBA, 1.73 WHIP. Fourth-round pick of Royals in 2015 out of South Point HS (Gastonia, NC).
RHP Tyler Zuber: 2018 stats: 4 games 5 IP, 1 H, 1 HB, 8 K. Tied for first in SAL with 3 saves.
After a brutal season-opening road trip that saw the team score 10 runs in six games, the Hickory Crawdads scored four runs in the first on the way to a 6-2 victory over the West Virginia Power Thursday night. It was the team’s initial win of the season.
The Crawdads came home holding up the bottom of the South Atlantic League in most offensive statistics. The .182/.239/.251 slash was easily the worst in the league in all three categories. Yet, in talking with the coaches, the collective feeling is that the team performed well overall and they were in a period where they couldn’t catch a break.
As one looks at where the team is at the plate, the big picture of how they will perform ultimately at the plate is still coming into focus and it will develop over a longer period of time than a week. The bad start perhaps has skewed perception of what this team will be eventually. Put the slump in the middle of July and the average fan will shake it off as a bad week. Yet, we see the numbers what they are and panic.
Fans must remember that class Low-A is a laboratory of minor league baseball. The guys have showed potential at rookie and short-season level – that’s why they are even at Hickory – but now the real work begins: the process of becoming a professional hitter.
I took some time Thursday to talk with Crawdads hitting coach Chase Lambin about the mindset of the hitters coming off the road trip and about “The Process” of learning about hitting at a professional level.
I know it’s a long season and I know this isn’t the way you wanted to start, but you and I talked prior to this, that it was a little bit of a perfect storm with Delmarva (Md.) throwing some guys, the cold weather, etc. Take me through the week of your hitters and the mindset of where they are at the moment.
Lambin: Yeah, it was tough. It’s challenging for them and it’s even challenging for us as a staff. Through it, it was remarkable to see the resilience the guys had and how their work didn’t change and how their attitude didn’t change.
We had some meetings where guys said powerful things and every day the energy in the dugout and the clubhouse was strong. It’s a resilient bunch, but it’s a young bunch. So. They’re going to have their bumps, especially early. Maybe, we didn’t expect it to be this early and this big of a bump, but it’s part of it and part of the process. It’s part of what the maturation process is about and learning how to handle adversity and especially in an environment they’ve never been in.
You guys always talk about “the process”. Jose Jaimes (Crawdads pitching coach) will talk about “the process” and (Crawdads manager Matt) Hagen, and so on. What is the biggest part, as far as your hitters, of getting them to understand the process of getting from here to the next level and on up to Arlington, or wherever they are going?
Lambin: It’s understanding the routine, understanding their body, understanding their mind and all those things have to come together. If one is missing, you’re going to struggle. You’ve got to know what you’re doing before the game. You’ve got to have a plan in your approach when you go to the plate. You’ve got to understand your movements. It takes time to learn those things.
They’ve all been successful at lower levels, but that level doesn’t ask you to do as much. Each level you go up has new challenges where you have to be a little more dialed in with each one of those things. That’s what they’re doing. They’re young. They’re 18, 19-years-old and they’re trying to figure out themselves and their approach and their plan, and they will because they’re tremendous athletes.
What’s the biggest hurdle in getting them to trust that process?
Lambin: The adversity that baseball puts on them, and the doubts and fears and anxiety that the game puts in your mind. I mean the game is a great equalizer and it will challenge you and it will rip your guts out and make you feel miserable. So, how do you take that pain and turn that into good?
On the other side of pain is growth. That pain is a part of it, like you’re being hardened from the inside-out. You have to explain it like, “I don’t want you to struggle, but this is a part of it and it’s better now than in Arlington.”
This is what you have to do and the game will expose you. It’s exposing some of them that they don’t have a clear plan. They don’t have a clear approach. They don’t trust the routine. They don’t understand their swing. This will show you that you need to make these adjustments because until then, if they’re batting .330 every year, they’ll be like, “This coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Who is the person right now – and I get it, it’s six games in – that has the best understanding of where they are in that process?
Lambin: That’s a good question. There are some cerebral guys that are good thinkers. (Kole) Enright has been pretty good in the conversations I’ve had with him mid-game. Pedro Gonzalez is a sharp tack. He talks through what he’s feeling, what he’s seeing from the pitcher and what he going to do in the next at-bat. Chad Smith is another smart one. Justin Jacobs and (Ryan) Dorow are the college kind of veterans. They are the guys that are lower end on talent but they’re higher end on approach and plan and the mental toughness. So, combining all those together, they each have their shortcomings, but they’re all getting better.
Who is the person right that you think in the long run will get through that process? Maybe they don’t understand right now, but you talk to them and you see – maybe it’s not the ability necessarily – but you see they’ll have a chance to work through that?
Lambin: I think Pedro is a combination of talent and the mind and the deliberate work ethic. He asks questions and he’s hungry to learn and he’s humble enough to know that he needs to learn.
Some of these guys are so talented that that humility hasn’t hit yet. This six-game losing streak and batting .180 will give you some of that humble pie. Pedro stands out for me. (Miguel) Aparicio’s got a really good feel for hitting. (Yohel) Pozo is a tremendous, instinctual hitter. He’s still learning the thought process that goes behind it, but he’s the type that is just going to hit and hit and hit. He’s an unbelievable barrel finder.
There’s a lot of guys on this team. For me, my job is not to pick who’s going to be a big leaguer. Some are more advanced that others, but my job is to teach them up to be big leaguers.
What’s the biggest hurdle for you as a coach to help them get over that?
Lambin: Building trust as a coach is always difficult. I feel like that’s one of my strong suits. I teach with empathy and kindness and service, and I’m not a dictator.
I get with them on their level. I understand the struggles they’re in, I’ve been through it. I’ve been down that road and back 100 times. This game has ripped my guts out. So, I get on their level and I let them know this is going to be hard, but I also know how to work. I show them how to get after it and to have clarity and to have the right intentions with their work and in their process. In doing so, they start to listen to me more.
It’s challenging because they’re still young and their retention level. They may understand it for one day, but to get them to understand it the next day, it’s like they forgot everything when they fell asleep. It’s like a blank slate again the next day. It’s like, “Man, I need you to remember what I told you yesterday.” But at this level, you’ve got to tell them over and over again.”
Is there a point as a coach were you guys as coaches step back and let the failure be a part of the process? You see what they’re doing and let them get the golden sombrero.
Lambin: Failure is a gift. It’s part of being a baseball player. It’s going through the failure and rebuilding, fail, rebuild. The way you’re rebuilding your mind, and then your body and your routine.
Yeah, it’s hard, because I want them all to go bat .330 from start to finish and have a great year. But, the reality of it is that you sometimes have got to let them – it’s just like a young kid learning how to walk. If you’ve never let them fall, then they’ll never learn how to walk. You got to let them fall like a parent would let a child fall. They’re like my children in that sometimes I want to make it easy on them and make the fall stop, but sometimes pain is a great teacher. Nobody wants to go to its class, but pain will let you know.
It’s hard on me sometimes, because every time they get out, I feel it in my heart. It hurts me, but I want to grow and get better, too.
The 2018 Hickory Crawdads start the season Thursday night at Greensboro and the assembled roster of position players had a chance to get their feet wet Monday night in an exhibition game against Catawba Valley Community College after arriving from the Texas Rangers spring training complex at Surprise, Ariz. last weekend.
The game itself was a blowout (12-2 Hickory), but it gave the hitters a chance to see the ballpark for the first time, get some cuts in during a live-game setting and to give local fans a taste of what’s to come at L.P. Frans Stadium.
At first glance, it’s a group that seems to have a decent balance between power and speed, perhaps exemplified best by Miguel Aparicio. Sam Huff had the highlight with a light-tower blast to left center and Yonny Hernandez scampered around the bases impressively. Yohel Pozo slapped the ball around the field and Melvin Novoa hit as low liner for a homer. It was a lot to nod yes at, but the real action begins Thursday.
We got a glimpse of what should be the everyday lineup – though there will be some moving parts as will be discussed below – and the tools each of the players should bring to the field.
In the afternoon following the exhibition I had a chance to sit down with Crawdads manager Matt Hagen and walk through many of the individual players currently on the roster and some of the expectations for 2018. I also explored briefly the absence of both Rangers 2017 first-round picks and the presence of long time college coach Turtle Thomas on the staff.
How was spring training?
Hagen: Spring training was good. You get down to the last week or so and the pitchers are getting their innings in and trying to keep guys healthy and rested for the grind that is our 140-game season.
The lineup looks like it’s going to be a good one. You’ve got some guys that can put the ball on the bat and drive it well, and there looks to be a good mix of speed and power and guys that can put the ball in play.
Hagen: We have a lot of guys that have a lot of potential, which is a nice way of saying, “You haven’t done anything, yet.” Some guys have one or two good months to their name, so far. So, this is their first opportunity to actually go out and put together five full months of good baseball. Some guys have had a good rookie ball season or a good year in the Dominican, which is only 50 games. Some guys had a great year in Spokane last year, but they only played in 60-something games. Now, we’re talking about doubling that workload. It’s really the first true test for a lot of them.
Looking at the roster, you have four catchers, but you’re obviously not going to use all four catchers – usually you put someone on the inactive to be ready on the spot. But there’s some pieces your going to have to move around with Novoa and Huff and Pozo. How do you see that mix playing out?
Hagen: It’ll be a revolving door. Those guys are all going to get playing time. These three that are going to be on the roster are getting a lot of playing time. They’re going to have to get some at bats in the DH spot and some at bats at first base. We’re going to ask some kids that haven’t played a lot at first base to play first base. At the end of the year, they’ll be ready to become better hitters just by getting better at bats. We don’t care if it comes as a DH, first base, catcher or whatever. We’ll let those guys catch a couple of times a week, but try to at least play four or five times a week.
Do you see one or two of the three guys doing the regular catching duties, or will split it among all three?
Hagen: It’s probably going to be split between all three, which is kind of rare. All three deserve a chance to play. They all bring different and unique things to the table. Some are a little bit more offensive minded and others are more defensive minded. But they all bring enough to the table to make themselves a prospect.
Huff looks like a hoss (6-4, 215 lbs) – a big kid.
Hagen: The scary thing is he’s not even close to being done growing. He’s going to continue to fill out. Heck, he’s 20-years-old. I still grew another inch after I was 20-years-old, so who knows how big he’s going to be. The ball he hit last night was pretty special. There’s not a lot of guys playing that can hit the ball that far. So, it’s just trying to help him to remember that he doesn’t need to do that every night. He’s just got to put the bat on the ball.
Yohel was pretty cool to watch last year. Pretty athletic behind the plate, he looked like he had a plan of how to put the ball into play. What do you see him doing this year?
Hagen: I think Pozo is one of the tougher outs in our whole organization. He makes adjustments at the plate. He can hit offspeed pitches. He hits to all fields. It’s pretty hard to get him off balance. In fact, there’s a lot of things that he does naturally as a hitter that others have to work really hard to do. So, I would look to see him plugged into the middle of our order somewhere, every day that he’s available.
Novoa showed what he had with a one-iron to left that I’m not sure went more than ten feet off the ground.
Hagen: Melvin is a lot of what you look for when you look at catchers. Compact, strong body, great arm, very physically and mentally tough. He will take a beating and keep coming back for more. His raw strength enables him to do what he did yesterday, which is basically hit a line drive that went out of the ballpark.
So, hence the reason that all three of those guys are getting playing time.
(Yonny) Hernandez was kind of a pest last night and was impressive. Given the competition, it’s hard to judge, but he can run a little bit and drove the ball to the wall and looked sharp at short with the few plays he had. He was intriguing to watch.
Hagen: He’s probably the most fun player to watch on our team. He’s going to be the captain of that infield, no doubt about it. He makes the routine plays and he makes some really exciting plays. He’s a very intelligent player, which you want from your shortstop, obviously.
At the plate, (hitting coach) Chase (Lambin) came up with a new nickname for him; he calls him “The Mosquito”. At the end of the of the day, you’re out there in the jungle and you’re worrying about the lions getting you. It’s the mosquito at the bottom of the order that does it.
At the end of the game, he’s made nine plays at shortstop. He got a bunt down to move a runner over and ends up beating it. He’s pesky and the kind of guy you love to have on your team. You hate to pitch against him because he’s not an easy out. He can bunt. He can hit-and-run. He can slash. He’s going to do a good job for us.
Admittedly, (Tyler) Ratliff is a name I’ve read, but I know nothing about. What can you tell me about him?
Hagen: Defensively, he is, even from last last year at Spokane until now, he’s vastly improved. He’s got raw power. He’s got a great arm that you’ll see when he needs to show it to you. Otherwise, he just makes routine throws and then when he has to let it go, he’s really got a strong arm. He’s got a chance to be that prototypical third baseman with a good glove, a strong arm and some power in his bat.
Hagen: Kole is going to play a lot at second base for us this year. He’s a switch-hitter, which is great to have in the lineup because it gives you some flexibility. You don’t have to worry about taking him out against a righty or a lefty. From last year to this year, you can tell he’s put a lot of work into his swing. It’s a lot shorter. He’s put in a lot of hard work and I’m excited to see what he does.
Will he play some short or third?
Hagen: He may play a little bit at third, but he’s going to be our everyday second baseman.
Hagen: J.J. is a jack-of-all-trades. He puts together quality at bats from the left side, which is nice to plug in. He can play anywhere on the field. He’s average to above average anywhere you put him. He can play the corner outfield spots. He can make the routine plays at short, at third and second.
Hagen: He’s a player I hadn’t seen at all until spring training this year and he’s a pleasant surprise for me. I was like, “Who is this guy?” I didn’t really have any expectations. He turns the double play really well at second base. He has a very strong arm. We got to see him a little bit last night at third base with a couple of throws. And that laser beam he hit to left last night that the guy ended up dropping. He’s got a nice stroke. He’s a kid that came out of college with the reputation of, “this guy hits, no matter what level you put him at.” So far, he’s doing the job and he’s going to be guy that’s going to bounce around a little bit, too, to give the other guys a little bit of rest.
The three guys that you had in the outfield last night, how hard is it going to be to hit a ball into the gap?
Hagen: It’s three centerfielders. It’s a luxury that every manager wishes he had and every pitching coach wishes he had. You hear loud contact as a pitching coach and you think, “Oh no.” Then you look up and you see these three gazelles in the outfield just running balls down. We have a chance to have a pretty special outfield.
Is this this a crucial year for Eric Jenkins? It’s his third full season here, but he was hurt last year and had the full year here the year before that.
Hagen: I would say that it’s Eric’s year. The expectations now are going to be what Eric puts on himself, and I mean that in a healthy way. Last year, kind of being hurt, up and down, the year before being the young guy in the league. Now he comes into Hickory going, “I know this level. I know I can be successful at this level.” He’s just got to go out and prove it.
My expectations for him are to lead the world in stolen bases. Every time he gets on, I want him thinking he can impact the game with his feet. What you saw last night with the home run – not that we’re looking for a ton of home runs from him. Actually, the two-strikes single up the middle is more what we want, when it’s easy to give up plate appearances and be a little bit pesky and bunt a little bit more.
That was my next question: the first pitch of the game, he squared around and drew in the third baseman. I’ve thought for a couple of years, I wish he’d do that more.
Hagen: I think he’s opened up to it more. I think he understands now that it’s got to be a part of his game. Other guys may have to slug their way to the big leagues. He doesn’t have to. He needs to get on base and be a disrupter. He can really do that if he can get on base. The ability to bunt, whether for a hit or to move a guy over really creates value for him.
Pedro Gonzalez, the 190 pounds looks a little light for him. He looks more like 200 to 210 and he appears to be able to carry another 20 or 30 pounds.
Hagen: He’s another one that’s growing. He’s a premium athlete playing center field. He’s just starting to grow into his body and into his power, and he’s only going to mature more. Like you said, I think the frame will probably carry another 20 or 30 pounds at some point. The 190 is probably what he weighed in at two years ago.
He can impact the game with all five tools. He’s that kind of player.
What is the tool he will need to work on this year?
Hagen: You know, he’s only been playing outfield for a couple of years, but already he’s shown the ability to make some quick adjustments out there and learn pretty quickly. He’s shown some good power this spring as he’s gotten stronger. He can steal some bases. He was really excited when he looked at big league guys, when he was at spring training and around these guys. Pedro kind of walked through and physically he’s of that mold – big and fast and strong athlete.
What tool of his is the loudest right now to you?
Hagen: He’s a center fielder that can hit. In the minor leagues, most center fielders can defend but maybe they can’t hit. He can actually do both. You were spoiled last year with Leody, who can do the same thing. It’s kind of fun to watch both those guys in spring training competing against each other in outfield drills, because they both want to be the best guy. They kind of push each other when they’re on the same field and it’s kind of fun to watch. A true center fielder that can hit is pretty special.
Miguel (Aparicio) was here a little bit last year and was a bit overmatched. Obviously, he got well with you over in Spokane. When he got to you, was there a sense that he had something to put behind him or was there a sense of, “Let’s go, I’m where I belong”?
Hagen: Last spring training, he was on fire and couldn’t do anything wrong, which is why he came to Hickory. Then, as young players do when they start struggling a little bit, he put some pressure on himself and felt like he was going to get himself through that slump with every swing. He came down to Arizona and then he came to Spokane with us and kind of got a clean slate and a fresh start after the experience of being here for almost a month. He took off and really excelled. He’s got the ability to put the bat on the ball at his age better than most kids his age can.
What will stand out about him for folks seeing him for the first time?
Hagen: The power for him kind of came on the second half of the season at Spokane, really the last month of the season because the season is so short. The last month, he started to drive the ball a little better and he carried that over into spring training. So, we think he’s going to drive the ball better than he did last year.
In the area of base running, he’s an athletic kid that is learning how to run the bases and learning what his limits are. His mistakes are, fortunately, on the aggressive side. He’s starting to do a better job of running with his head up and being more aware of what’s going on on the field. He just needs reps. He needs to be on base with guys on with him. He needs to be on base when a guy hits a ground ball. He needs reps stealing bases and getting jumps. “Was that a good jump or a bad jump and why?” He’s a pretty athletic kid, but his stolen bases numbers last year didn’t show. Hopefully this year, we can get him a little bit closer to understanding when to steal.
Hagen: Chad, before he got hurt last year at Spokane, might have been our best player. I think he might have led our team in stolen bases, even though he was hurt the last month of the year. He hit a bunch of doubles last year, so he can hit for some power. He can steal some bases. A left-handed bat, which is nice to be able to put into the order. He’s got a pretty good eye and can go deep into counts, which can lead to some strikeouts but it can also lead to walks. He’s going to be that swing man in the outfield for us. He might play two days a week in left and two days a week in right and DH when we need him.
I want to ask you about a couple of guys that we were hoping to see this year that weren’t assigned here. The first is Bubba Thompson. Usually, when the Rangers have drafted first-rounders, we see them the next spring. Right now. he’s unassigned. Are the Rangers looking to delay guys a little bit to slow the aggressiveness of the assignment or are there too many outfielders here?
Hagen: I think part of it is who’s already here. The fact is that Bubba didn’t get a whole lot of playing time last year at Arizona. So, they want to get him some at bats and let him go down there and play every day instead of coming up here where we already have four outfielders. He’s there and he’s going to play every day. Whenever they decide the time is right for him to move, they’ll move him.
It is our goal in the organization to challenge our kids to play against older competition because in the long run it helps them become better, quicker going against those guys.
Chris Seise is another player that did not advance here, though I understand there is a shoulder injury. Is he someone we may see later in the year, or like Bubba, will he need some more playing time?
Hagen: Playing time and the health. We want to make sure he’s fully healthy before they send him anywhere. I had Chris the last two or three weeks last year at Spokane and he’s a heck of an athlete. He’s fun to watch. He’s another guy where the sky is the limit for this guy.
If fact, I think that he and Bubba have a chance to be really special athletes and that’s why they were taken so early in the draft. We’re going to give them a little more seasoning before they come on up.
There is always one guy that sticks out and makes a run, maybe not quite to a big league level, but takes some steps to begin standing out. Who is that for you?
Hagen: I would say our two utility infielders (Dorow and Jacobs). They’re going to get playing time. They’re a little bit under the radar – even though they have great track records of producing at every level they’ve been at. They won’t come into the season getting a ton of at bats, but as you know, sooner or later somebody goes some place and one or both of them are going to step into a role and get a ton of playing time.
What are your expectations this year for these guys? You get some year like 2013 where the power is off the charts and 2016 where guys were all over the bases. This looks a bit more balanced.
Hagen: We’ve got some pop in our bats and that’s Chase’s department and he does a great job with the guys as far as staying with the reps and staying with the plan. We’ve got a few guys that can run, but the depth of our lineup and the depth of our rotation and bullpen is really going to be our strength. We have guys that are going to hit seventh or eighth one night and then will be batting third or fourth the next night. We’re just that deep. There’s not a huge drop off between our three-hole hitter and our eight-hole hitter. The guy batting ninth – Yonny – could be batting first or second for a lot of teams. We just happen to have two pretty good 1-2 guys.
The guys that come off the bench are not your typical play-the-guy-once-a-week bench players. They have a lot to offer.
In our six-man rotation this year, our sixth man, Tyree Thompson, was second in the league (Northwest League) last year in ERA. So, we have a lot of expectation for those guys.
What you saw from our bullpen last night, where it was a lot of really hard fastballs, one guy after another. If we can just get those guys lined up, if we’re getting close or have the lead, I expect to those guys to be pretty tough to score on late in the game, as long as they’re throwing strikes.
I want to ask you about one of your coaches, and that is Turtle Thomas, who had a long career as a head coach and the Rangers have brought him on. What are you and the Rangers looking to do as far as a guy that has seen a lot of baseball?
Hagen: I know the Rangers are cashing in on a lifetime of baseball experience. Usually, your four coaches are guys like myself, who a couple of years ago were just getting into the pro game as a coach. We’re going to help out with whatever you can help out with.
Turtle comes in here with more experience than anybody and his catching is really his specialty. So, he’ll spend a lot of time with the catchers and coaching first base. At the same time, you can say, “Hey Turtle, can you take the first basemen and work with them and the outfielders?” And he’s got an encyclopedia worth of drills that he can use with these guys.
We bounce things off of him a lot of times to get his perspective that we don’t have because we’re in our up-to-date, greatest, latest craze when it comes to analytics and sabermetrics. We’ll get his perspective of something he learned coaching 20 or 30 years ago that we’ve forgotten or don’t know. We’ll sit here and go, “Yeah, that was a really good point.”
A case in point, we’ll run a team fundamental in spring training, and say we’re doing rundowns for example. We’ll hit all nine points of the rundown points. And you’ll go, “Turtle, do you have anything to add?” And he’ll draw out two pieces of gold right there that didn’t even cross our minds.
To have him as a fourth coach, I think puts us slightly ahead of everybody in our league.
What are you looking for this year, as far as your growth? You’re like everybody else in wanting to move up the ladder and at some point get to the big leagues. What is your marker?
Hagen: You don’t want to look back at the end of the year and see guys didn’t get better. That’s where I’ll feel like it’s been a bad year or I’ll have been a failure, if there are guys in the clubhouse that didn’t take steps to get to the big leagues. There is no staying put. You’re either taking a step back or taking a step forward. So, if I can look up and down that roster of 25 guys and say that all of them took that one step, or two or three steps, whatever the case may be to get to the big leagues, then I’ll feel like our staff has done our job.
There are so many other things that are completely out of your control. You don’t know what the circumstances are going to be, as far as who gets moved up, who gets moved down, injuries that happen, guys that overperform, guys that underperform. If they play hard every day and they learn to love the process of the game, not just the three hours of the game, but the three hours that lead up to it, then I’ll feel like we’ve been successful.
The Texas Rangers announced the initial roster for the 2018 Hickory Crawdads. A total of 28 players are on the list with three to be pared off before opening day begins on Thursday, April 5 at Greensboro.
Six of the 28 players assigned to Hickory are currently on the Rangers top-30 prospect according to MLB.com. They include outfielders Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10) and Miguel Aparicio (18), catcher Sam Huff (25), and pitchers A.J. Alexy (17), Alex Speas (23), and Tyler Phillips (30).
Twelve of the 28 listed on the initial roster spent some time at Hickory last season, including eight pitchers.
Among the pitchers, five of them – Alexy, Phillips, Reid Anderson, Demarcus Evans and Sal Mendez – made starts for the Crawdads in 2017. Also returning are Dario Beltre, Joe Kuzia and Grant Zawadzki.
The four position players returning to Hickory are catcher Yohel Pozo, infielder Ryan Dorow – his only game with the Crawdads was a start in the final game of the 2017 season – Aparicio and Eric Jenkins, who will spent at least part of a fourth season in Hickory.
Below is a brief look at all 28 players on the initial roster:
Josh Advocate (6-1, 195 lbs., 24 y/o) RHP
The native of Mohave Valley, Ariz. pitched in 18 pro games (1-3, 3.63 ERA) out of the bullpen with rookie-affiliate Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers and short-season Spokane (Wash.) after his 20th round selection out of Long Beach State. Was a first-team All-Big West Conference pick in 2017. Played one season at Cochise (Ariz.) College and was a first-team Small School All-American in 2012 while at River Valley (Ariz.) High. Also played football in high school and was a first-team All-State pick as a free safety.
A.J. Alexy (6-4, 195, 19) RHP
The native of Honey Brook, Pa. was obtained by the Rangers last summer as part of a four-player deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Assigned to Hickory after the trade, he made five starts (1-1, 3.05) and struck out 27 in 20.2 innings. Held opponents to a .180 batting average, the third-lowest among all full-season minor league pitchers (min. 90 innings). Originally drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round in 2016, he was signed away from a commitment to Radford. Was a catcher before switching to the mound in his junior season in high school (Twin Valley, Elverson, Pa.). Also wrestled in high school. Currently the No. 17 Rangers prospect according to MLB.com.
Reid Anderson (6-3, 185, 22) RHP
The native of New Egypt, N.J. made 28 appearances (13 starts) for Hickory in 2017 (1-11, 5.30). Was a starter almost exclusively in the second half of the season. The 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville Univ. (Pa.) in 2016, he attended college as an outfielder and moved to the mound during his sophomore season. Went 8-1 in 2016 and made three relief appearances during Millersville’s run to the Division II final. Played baseball and basketball at New Egypt High.
Joe Barlow (6-3, 195, 22) RHP
The native of Riverton, Utah made 16 relief appearances (6-1, 2.00) for Spokane in 2017. An 11th-round pick of the Rangers out of Salt Lake Community College in 2016, he struck out 64 of the 158 batters faced (40.5%) in 45 innings. Barlow was second in the Northwest League in opponents batting average (.177) and fifth in Ks-per-9-innings (12.80). A two-way player in college, he also caught 25 games in college. Pitched in high school at Riverton.
Dario Beltre (6-3, 210, 25) RHP
The native of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic made his first full-season appearance last year since signing as an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2010. Made 11 appearances with Hickory (1-0, 2.60) with 19 Ks in 17.1 innings before ending the season on the disabled list with a right elbow strain. Missed the 2016 season due to elbow surgery. Fanned 173 in 153.1 innings during his pro career.
Noah Bremer (6-5, 200, 21)
The native of Berkeley, Calif. was the sixth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of the University of Washington. Ranks third in innings, sixth in strikeouts and tied for sixth in starts among all hurlers in school history. In his pro debut with the AZL Rangers and Spokane, he made 12 relief appearances (1-0, 2.61) with 30 Ks and four walks in 20 innings. Held opponents to a .152/.211/.212 slash. Was an All-Pac 12 pick in 2017. Pitched in high school at Berkeley.
Jean Casanova (6-3, 155, 21) RHP
Was the 35th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukegan (Ill.) High. Spent both pro seasons with the AZL Rangers. Made 11 appearances (five starts) with the rookie affiliate in 2017 (5-2, 2.70) and 47 Ks in 36.2 innings. Moved to the U.S. in fifth grade from the Dominican Republic. His cousin Raul played in the majors from 1996 to 2008.
Alex Eubanks (6-2, 180, 22) RHP
The native of Moore, S.C. made 10 of his 11 appearances with Spokane (3-0, 1.17) after his 14th-round selection by the Rangers out of Clemson last June. Struck out 25 and walked just two in 16.1 innings. Made 16 starts for Clemson as a redshirt sophomore last year and walked just 1.73 per nine innings with the Tigers. Was an all-state as a senior at Byrnes (S.C.) High.
Demarcus Evans (6-4, 270, 21) RHP
The native of Petal, Miss. started the 2017 season with Hickory. A shoulder strain placed him on the disabled list in May and he rejoined the club after a rehab assignment with AZL Rangers. Finished the season at Spokane. With the Crawdads (2-5, 4.85), the Rangers 2015 25th-round pick (Petal High) made 12 appearances (six starts) with 46 Ks in 29.2 innings. Held opponents to a .170/.250/.250 slash in five starts at Spokane. As a high school senior, chosen as one of baseball’s “Dandy Dozen” by The Clarion-Ledger.
Joe Kuzia (6-4, 196, 24) RHP
A free agent signee of the Rangers in April 2017, the native of Cape Coral, Fla. had a four-game stint with Hickory last summer (1-1, 12.79). Spent the rest of 2017 with Spokane where he made 16 appearances. Had the lowest walk-per-9 inning rate (0.86) among Northwest League relievers to go with a 12.93 K-per-9 inning rate. Previously pitched professional with Garden State in the independent Can-Am League, as well as Bridgeport and New Britain in the independent Atlantic League. Was first-team All-Big East at St. John’s in 2014. Pitched in junior college at Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC and at Seymour (Ct.) High. where he also lettered in basketball, football and indoor track.
Sal Mendez (6-4, 185, 23) LHP
The native of Weehawken, N.J. made 25 appearances (6-6, 4.71), including nine starts, with Hickory in 2017. Spent part of August on the disabled list with a strained quad. Was the Rangers 40th round pick in 2013 out of Weehawken High. Missed first two pro seasons with an elbow injury. Threw a no-hitter in high school. Signed away from a commitment to Howard (Tex.) College. Father Sabah played two seasons in the New York Yankees system and one year with the Minnesota Twins chain in the 1970s.
Tyler Phillips (6-5, 191, 20)
The native of Lumberton, N.J. started the 2017 season with Hickory and struggled (1-2, 6.39 in his seven appearances (four starts) before an assignment to Spokane. With the Indians, the Rangers 2015 16th round pick out of Bishop Eustace Prep (N.J.) had 12 Ks in his final start of the season. Had an 18-0 career record in high school and posted a 1.02 ERA his senior season.
Alex Speas (6-4, 180, 20) RHP
The native of Powder Springs, Ga. made 16 appearances (7 starts) for Spokane (1-6, 6.15) in 2017 with 45 Ks in 33.2 innings. Was ranked the 12th-best prospect in the Northwest League by Baseball America. The Rangers drafted him in the second round of the 2016 draft out of McEachern (Ga.) High and signed him away from a commitment to Auburn. Threw 8.1 scoreless innings with the AZL Rangers in his pro debut season in 2016. Was an Under Armour All-American. Baseball America had him as the 11th-best high school pitching prospect before the 2016 draft. Signed away from a commitment to Auburn. Currently the Rangers No. 23 prospect according to MLB.com
Tyree Thompson (6-4, 165, 21) RHP
The New Orleans native made 13 starts (5-1, 3.15) for Spokane in 2017 and was second in the Northwest League in ERA, fourth in WHIP (1.24). The Rangers 26th-round pick in 2016 was the first player drafted by MLB out of Edna Karr (La.) High, where he threw six no-hitters and two perfect games in his high school career. Signed away from a commitment to play baseball and basketball at Northwestern St. (La.)
Grant Zawadzki (5-10, 200, 25) RHP
The native of Shrewsbury, Mass. signed a free-agent contract with the Rangers in February 2017. Split time with Spokane, Hickory and high-A Down East last season. Made seven relief appearances with Hickory (0-1, 7.71). Previously pitched in the San Diego Padres organization as well as with Lancaster and Southern Maryland in the independent Atlantic League. Played collegiately at Cleveland State (Tenn.) CC and Bryan College (Tenn.). Went to St. John’s High (Shrewsbury).
Sam Huff (6-4, 215, 20) B-T: R-R
The native of Phoenix spent both pro seasons with the AZL Rangers after his selection in the seventh-round of the 2016 draft out of Arcadia High. Posted a .249/.329/.452 slash in 49 games last season. Tied for the AZL lead with nine homers and was fourth in total bases. Named to the post-season AZL All-star team. Reached base safely in 24 of 28 games in 2016. Named to Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona baseball team in 2016 after hitting .554 with 14 homers and 49 RBI. Signed away from a commitment to Grand Canyon Univ. Currently the Rangers No. 25 prospect according to MLB.com
Clay Middleton (6-0, 205, 24) B-T: R-R
The native of Oviedo, Fla. spent both pro seasons with Spokane, splitting time behind the plate and at first last season. Posted .263/.323/.415 slash in 39 games with four homers and 17 RBI last season. Was the 22nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Bethune-Cookman University. Named first-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2016. Played high school ball at Hagerty (Fla.) High.
Melvin Novoa (5-11, 215, 21) B-T: R-R
The native of Nandaime, Nicaragua signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. When he appears in a game for Hickory, Novoa will be the first Nicaraguan to play for the Crawdads. Hit for a .281/.338/.467 slash with four homers and 15 RBI in 38 games last season at Spokane. Was suspended for the 2016 season after testing positive for PED.
Yohel Pozo (6-0, 201, 20) B-T: R-R
The native of Maracaibo, Venezuela signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. In his first full-season assignment last season, posted .338/.373/.465 slash with two homers and 15 RBI at Hickory. His .338 batting avg. is the eighth highest in Crawdads history for a player with a minimum of 150 plate appearances. Opened the 2017 season with Spokane before joining Hickory in July. Threw out 35.1% of baserunners for the Crawdads in 2017. Named to 2016 post-season AZL All-Star Team after hitting .341 for the AZL Rangers.
Ryan Dorow (6-0, 195, 22) B-T: R-R
The native of South Haven, Mich. played in the final game of the 2017 for Hickory (1-3, double) after suiting up for 40 games with the AZL Rangers. A 30th-round pick last June out of Division III Adrian College (Mich.), he posted a .296/.382/.384 slash. Named MVP of Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association three straight seasons. He is the first player drafted by MLB out of Adrian since 1974 (Sherwin Rogers by Baltimore). Played baseball, soccer and basketball at South Haven. Named to all-state baseball team his senior season.
Kole Enright (6-1, 175, 20) B-T: S-R
The native of Winter Garden, Fla. was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of West Orange (Fla.) High. After posting a .313/.378/.420 slash with the AZL Rangers in his first pro season, played in 67 games at Spokane last season when he hit .233/.314/.323 with three homers and 20 RBI. Named to the Orlando Sentinel all-area team in his senior season. Signed away from a commitment to Stetson Univ.
Yonny Hernandez (5-9, 140, 20)B-T: S-R
Signed as an international free agent in 2014, he made his stateside debut as a pro last May with AA Frisco (Tex.), where he went 0-for-3. The native of Planta, Baja, Venezuela spent much of the season with the AZL Rangers (32 games) before ending the season at Spokane (18 games). Hit his first pro homer in three seasons with Spokane last year.
Justin Jacobs (6-1, 195, 22) B-T: L-R
The native of Spokane, Wash. signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in 2017 after playing college ball at Gonzaga. Played in 48 games with the AZL Rangers posting a .326/.438/.431 slash. Was second in the AZL in hits (59) and on-base percentage (.438), sixth in batting avg. Named a JUCO All-American at Lower Columbia College (Wash.). Played high school ball at Auburn Riverside (Wash.).
Tyler Ratliff (6-2, 210, 22) B-T: R-R
The native of Port St. Lucie, Fla. played mostly with Spokane in his initial pro season after his selection by the Rangers in the 17th round out of Marshall Univ. last June. After hitting .500 in eight games with the AZL Rangers, Ratliff hit .264/.330/.421 with the Indians six homers and 25 RBI. Named to the Northwest League All-Star Team. Was a Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week during his sophomore season. Played in high school at T.C. Williams (Va.).
Miguel Aparicio (6-0, 175, 19) B-T: L-L
Signed as an international free agent in 2015, the native of San Carlos, Venezuela struggled as an 18-year-old during a 25-game stint (.176/.255/.247) with Hickory last season in his stateside pro debut. Re-assigned to Spokane, he put together an all-star season with the Indians (.293/.333/.395). Was second in the Northwest League in hits (86), fourth in runs (47) and the third-hardest player in the league to strikeout. Named by Baseball America as the 13th-best prospect in the NWL. Currently the Rangers No. 18 prospect according to MLB.com.
Pedro Gonzalez (6-5, 190, 20) B-T: R-R
The native of Santo Dominguez, Dominican Republic was obtained by the Rangers from the Colorado Rockies last August in a deal for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Originally signed by the Rockies as an international free agent in 2014. Went 0-for-17 with Spokane in six games after the trade. Before the trade, he put up a .321/.388/.519 slash with 25 extra-base hits in 45 games with the Rockies rookie affiliate at Grand Junction (Colo.). Named the seventh-best prospect in the Pioneer League by Baseball America. Originally a shortstop in the Rockies organization, moved to centerfield in 2016. Currently the Rangers No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com.
Eric Jenkins (6-1, 170, 21) B-T: L-R
The lone North Carolina native (Cerro Gordo) on the Crawdads roster was drafted by the Rangers in the second round of the 2015 draft out West Columbus High. After playing in 51 games with the AZL Rangers in his pro debut season, he hit .389/.421/.444 with the Crawdads in the final five games of 2015 and started in left during the playoffs. Led the South Atlantic League with 51 steals in 2016. Started the 2017 season with a hamstring injury before rejoining Hickory last May. Hit .216/.266/.310 in his final 60 games with the Crawdads. Also played basketball in high school. Signed out of a commitment to UNC Wilmington.
Chad Smith (6-2, 193, 20) B-T: L-L
The native of Snellville, Ga. played for Spokane (.277/.354/.447) for a second-straight season in 2017 before a shoulder injury shut him down for the season after 39 games. A fifth-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of South Gwinnett (Ga.) High, he was as Northwest League all-star in 2016. Named a Perfect Game second-team All-American as a high school senior. Signed away from a commitment to the Univ. of Georgia.