Results tagged ‘ Keone Kela ’
DeMarcus Evans, 25th round pick of the Texas Rangers, has found the proverbial magic bean on the mound. The native of Petal, Mississippi – a suburb on Hatttiesburg in the southeastern part of the state – struggled as a starter with Hickory in 2017 and wasn’t trusted with key game situations out of the bullpen in the early part of this year. In 15 outing in the first half, he pitched with lead in only three of them, and even those were games mostly in hand. Just once did he see a game that had a hold or save situation in the balance.
In the second half, Evans been as untouchable as anyone in the South Atlantic League. He has nine saves since the SAL all-star break – five in August – with a 0.66 ERA. Of the 100 hitters he’s faced in the second half, 56 have struck out. Just 18 have reached base. He went from non-descript “guy” to a player that should start showing up on some of the Rangers top-30 prospect lists over the winter.
I talked with Evans in July, but then the “day job” sidetracked me doing anything with this until now. Since the time of the interview, Evans was named the Rangers reliever of the month award in July. Barring a rough rinal 9 days of the month, he’s the odds-on favorite to win it again.
What’s different? The velocity on his fastball went from 91-92 to 95-96 at its beak. The curveball hits the strike zone with frequency and is nearly unhittable at this level. But for Evans, he admits that gaining trust in his own ability has been the biggest hurdle.
In the interview below, Evans talks through his struggles from 2017 and how he conquered some of the mechanical issues, as well as the mental ones.
Demarcus, well first of all, what switch did you find?
Evans: I just been learning to pitch in the bullpen. I have been starting the last 2 years, so I’ve been picking up stuff in the bullpen. I’ve been learning from (Tyler) Ferguson and (Josh) Advocate and all them. I been talking to them. They’ve been helping me out along the way from the first half to the second half.
In the second half, I still remember I was on the mound and skip (Crawdads manager Matt Hagen) came out there and was like “We’re going to need you the second half to come in situations like this to get out of it.”
I pitched against Kannapolis and I think Louis Robert hit a double off the wall and he got to third, and it was like one out. He came out there and talked to me and told me I need you second half. So, then I just start talking to Ferg and he been helping me out on my curve ball and I’ve been trusting myself a lot lately.
The curveball. Is that a new pitch for you? I don’t remember you throwing that.
Evans: No, I’ve been throwing that ever since. They think it’s a slider but its just hard. Because, I try to throw it as hard as I can like a fastball. It breaks like a curveball and sometimes it goes like a slider. Ferguson told me it’s like a breaking ball. It could go like a slider or a curveball.
Do you throw a slider much?
Do you throw much of a change?
Evans: I threw one or two. I used to, but I didn’t have confidence in it, so I just banged it. So, I’ve just been throwing fast ball.
So, you’re pretty much a fastball and a curveball?
Evans: Yes, I have it, but I just haven’t used it. None of the teams have been on my fastball so I’ve been throwing my fastball and curveball.
So, I’m going to be honest with you. I see you come out – you’re at 91 – 92 – you’re a big guy and I’m thinking “He’s gotta throw harder” then all of a sudden 95 – 96. What have you found? What switch on that have you found?
Evans: I’ve been working out a lot harder and running a lot harder and I’ve been using my legs more. I used to just use my arm, but I’ve been staying back on my legs and driving and my velo’s been going up a lot.
Let me go back to the conversation Matt had with you. Was that after they found out (Alex) Speas wasn’t going to come back?
Evans: No, he was here. It was just my first year in the bullpen and so they’ve had been putting me in situations where it was easier for me to come in to get used to it. But then he said, “The training wheels are off and it’s going to be your situation the second half to make a push for the playoffs.”
I actually learned a lot from Speas, too, since he was in the bullpen.
What did you learn from Speas?
Evans: He’s quick, too. He’s just been trusting his stuff and just throwing and not thinking as much. I was just loving that.
I remember both you and Tyler (Phillips) were here last year and you both struggled. You came here when you were 20 and you were – don’t take this the wrong way – but you were still a baby. How much growing up did you do last year?
Evans: I had to do a lot. When I got sent down, I was going to throw out of the bullpen, but they said they still wanted me to start. This year, they said wanted me to go to the bullpen, and I was like, “Oh well.”
I figured out a little stuff at Spokane when I went back. That team was a lot better atmosphere for me with them, and we clicked a lot better. So, I learned stuff from people like Tyler (Phillips). Me and Tyler have been together since we were drafted. I guess I felt more comfortable. Here, I was stressing and trying to be perfect every time I went out.
What was the biggest thing you learned?
Evans: Honestly, everybody tells me, “DeMarcus, when you throw your fastball, nobody can hit it” and all this stuff. I just didn’t trust myself, as much. But now, I’m like, I can do it and I been learning to better myself by having more confidence and trusting my ability more.
Is the game much more mental than you thought it would be when you got into it?
Evans: It was. It’s a lot more mental, but I’m starting to block all of that out and focusing on a tunnel vision. It’s been working ever since.
You said you went back to Spokane and things began to click. What were some things that clicked for you?
Evans: Mechanic wise, staying behind the ball more. Getting out in front and let it come off the fingers.
Who are some guys, maybe more specific, and some of the things they said that helped you?
Evans: Joey Seaver – he’s not with us anymore, he’s with the Pirates. He had me do these drills every day where he’d set these cones behind me and they let me stay straight. He held my belt inside and it made me stay back on my back leg. I worked with (Crawdads pitching coach Jose) Jaimes a lot in spring training on up/down so I can keep my ear over my back shoulder and get out in front with it and use my legs more.
What is the biggest thing mentally that you figured out? I know you mentioned that you’d block things out, but that can be easier said than done. Some guys can do it a couple of times and things creep back in again.
Evans: Sometimes last year, when I was with Matt, I’d do bad walking a lot of guys. I’d get into the dugout and I’d get mad at myself and do stuff. Now, I’m just like, there’s nothing I can do about it except work harder. So now, if I do something bad, I’ll just flush it out, work harder and do better next time.
So, what do you do next time when have a bad outing? You’ve rolled lately, but it’s coming where something is going to happen.
Evans: I’ll just focus on what I need to work on. Like, I had a couple of breaking balls yesterday that I left up, so today I worked on breaking balls and tried to get out front with it. I’m keeping the same mind focus. If they’re going to hit me, they’re going to hit my best stuff, so I just let everything go. Because, I’ll usually hold something back and try to make perfect pitches sometimes. Now, I’m just like, “All right, throw everything. Don’t use max effort, but try to let the ball eat and see if they’re going to hit it or not.”
Petal, Mississippi. You’re 6-4, 240 now?
Why didn’t you play football?
Evans: I did, but
I gotta ask because you’re in the heart of SEC country.
Evans: I had a couple of offers for football, but my main focus is baseball.
Where did you get offers for football?
Evans: I had offers from two JUCOs. I had one from Pearl River and Jones County Community College, which was right down the street from me.
So, why did you decide baseball?
Evans: I thought it would be the best fit for me.
Evans: I think my heart was more with baseball than football because I was always around it since I was little.
What influenced you?
Evans: When I was growing up around two years old, my mom coached at this boys and girls club. So, it was around that time that I started to play baseball. Me and Ti’Quan (Forbes) grew up playing together. I was playing from the time I was two all the way to 16, 17 years old.
I really thought I wasn’t going to play baseball, because I got hurt in my ninth-grade year. It was something in my growth plate. Out of nowhere – I had to sit out three months – I was throwing like 88. I was like, “what in the world happened?” That was about it.
When did you get a sense that you might get to play professionally?
Evans: Actually, my 11th grade going into my 12th grade year. We had this thing where all the best players in the state of Mississippi played in a tournament. I tried out for it and I got home and this man called me. I was like, “Who is this?” It was a man from the Miami Marlins scout team. He said, “Do you want to come play for – you get a free month to come play for Perfect Game.” I had never heard of Perfect Game.
I pitched two innings and the Miami scouts were like, “Wow, that’s nice.” They said my fastball was kind of live. A lot of people were swinging and missing and stuff. So, I went down there, and I was pitching and everybody was swinging and striking out. I struck four batters out and I was like, “Wow, these guys have never heard of me.” I just kept going on and on and on. I had a lot of strikeouts. It was that way the whole summer and that’s when people started contacting me, calling my house, coming to my games.
Did you have offers to play baseball in college?
Evans: I had USM (Southern Mississippi), Tulane, every JUCO in the southern part – San Jacinto, Chipola. I had Alabama State, Jackson State.
Anything thoughts about playing and not signing?
Evans: I did sign. I dual committed. I was going to go to Hinds Community College, where Chad Bradford was the pitching coach. I was like, if I go anywhere to pitch, I’ll probably go there because he pitched in professional baseball and he’d probably give me a lot of good aspects of the game.
All of the sudden, I got drafted by Texas. I wasn’t going to go because they drafted me the third day. I was like, “No, I’m going to go to school.”
Why did you decide to come out?
Evans: I had a long talk with my agent. He was like, “If you want to play professional baseball, then go. It’s a better percentage if you go out of high school than out of college.” A lot of kids go into college and get hurt and stuff like that. So, my agent said, “If you want to go, then just go and you don’t have to worry about nothing. Just keep going and you don’t have to pay me until you get to the big leagues.”
Who’s been the biggest influence for you?
Evans: I’m very close, player wise, with C.D. (Pelham). I talk a lot with Keone Kela. Coaching wise, Jono Arnold, he’s the pitching coach at Spokane now.
Tell me about Keone Kela. He’s now a closer and eating it up.
Evans: We started hanging out last year. It was me, Ti’Quan and C.D. We all hang out with him and he’d always take us out to eat and stuff. He’d talk to us about the game and how we should play it. I’ve learned a lot from him.
He’d tell us, “You’ve got to go out there and change your mind focus. Don’t dwell on it, if you go out there and do bad. Just be ready to go next time, when they call your name.” I’d talk to him about how the bullpen works, because I’d never been in it. How to recover, because everybody’s different.
I don’t mean this in a bad way, but he has an attitude, doesn’t he? I don’t mean it in a negative, but it’s what you’ve got to have in the bullpen, I guess.
Evans: He’s a competitor.
Does that rub off on you?
Evans: Emotion wise, I don’t try to show as much. I get fired up, but I don’t try to show it.
You get a call to the major leagues, what does that mean to you and who’s the first person you call?
Evans: Ohhhh. That would mean a lot; that’s what I’m working for. The first person I’ll call will probably be my mom.
She was your first coach.
Evans: My mom coached me in everything from soccer, basketball, football, everything. She coached me from the sideline.
Was she an athlete?
Evans: She played basketball at JUCO. (Pearl River CC).
What did she teach you as an athlete?
Evans: I used to have a lot of anger problems. She always told me, “You’ve got to go out there and give it all you’ve got because a lot of kids don’t get the chance to do it.” That’s just stuck with me ever since.
Did she have to get on you?
Evans: Yes, a lot.
More than other kids?
What was the biggest thing she’d get on you about?
Evans: I used to get mad if I’d strikeout, or if I’d walk a lot of people, I’d get mad all the time and throw stuff.
The 2018 Major League Baseball season has begun and across the landscape former Hickory Crawdads dot the big-league rosters. Thirty-two former players are on 16 different teams, including 11 with the Texas Rangers, the parent club of the Crawdads.
Below is an overview of where former Hickory players will start the 2018 season:
Alex Claudio: The 2013 Crawdads reliever will bring his changeup to the Rangers for his fifth season at Arlington. Claudio posted 11 saves and a 2.50 ERA over 70 games (8th in the AL) last year. He again is expected to be a key member of the Rangers bullpen.
Joey Gallo: The Crawdads single-season home run record holder joins the Rangers for his fourth season in the majors. A third baseman for the 2013 team, Gallo will start at first for Texas. He is coming off a season in which he hit 41 homers (third in the AL) and slugged .537 (9th).
Keone Kela: Another Crawdads reliever from the 2013 club returns to the Rangers for his fourth big-league season. Kela is expected to be the closer for the Texas, one season after posting a 2.79 ERA and struck out 51 in 38.2 innings (39 games).
Jose Leclerc: A third reliever off the 2013 Crawdads squad will be in his third season with the Rangers, but his first on the opening-day roster. He appeared in 47 games out of the Texas bullpen in 2017 and put up a 3.94 ERA. Opposing hitters hit just .145 against Leclerc, who struck out 60 in 45.2 innings.
Nomar Mazara: The Crawdads right fielder in 2013 and 2014 will be in his third season with Texas to start the season. Mazara posted a .253/.323/.422 slash in 2017 with 20 homers and 101 RBI (9th in the AL). He opens the season as the Rangers starting right fielder.
Rougned Odor: The Crawdads 2012 second baseman suits up for Texas in his fifth season as the club’s starter at the same position. Though he hit 30 or more homers for his second straight season, Odor struggled at the plate with a .204/.252/.397 slash.
Martin Perez: The 2009 Crawdads starting pitcher will begin the season on the disabled list (right elbow) but is expected to make his first start for the Rangers on April 5. Now in his seventh season, Perez went 13-12 in 32 starts in 2017. He’s looking to improve on a 4.82 ERA and a .301 opponents batting avg.
Jurickson Profar: The 2011 Crawdads shortstop is now in his fifth season with the Rangers after spending much of last year at AAA Round Rock. Profar hit .172/.294/.207 in 22 major league games in 2017. He will play a utility role for Texas.
Drew Robinson: The 2012 Crawdads third baseman is in his second season with the Rangers after making his debut with the club last April. Sent down to AAA Round Rock shortly after his debut, Robinson returned mid-season and hit .224/.314/.439 in 48 games with Texas. He starts the season as a utilityman.
Ricardo Rodriguez: The 2014-2015 pitcher for the Crawdads will start the 2018 season on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. Rodriguez made his big-league debut with the Rangers last August. In 16 relief appearances, he had a 6.15 ERA in 13 innings.
Ryan Rua: The 2013 Crawdads second baseman is in his fifth major league season with the Rangers and is the team’s starting left fielder. Rua split last season with Texas and AAA Round Rock. With the Rangers, he had a .217/.294/.333 slash with nine extra-base hits in 144 plate appearances.
Richard Bleier: A starting pitcher at the beginning of the 2009 season, the lefty is in his third major league season, the second with the Orioles. Bleier was called up to stay with the Orioles in May 2017 and became a key part of the team’s bullpen. In 57 games covering 63.1 innings, Bleier went 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA to go with an opponents batting average of .257 and a 1.18 WHIP.
Chicago White Sox:
Leury Garcia: The Crawdads shortstop from 2009-2010 is in his sixth major league season with 215 his 240 big-league games coming with the White Sox. Garcia hit for a MLB career high .270 in 87 games with nine homers and 33 RBI. He will play a utility role, mostly as a fourth outfielder.
Rajai Davis: The Crawdads 2003 center fielder – he also played a handful of games with the team in 2002 – begins his 13th big-league season by rejoining the Indians. Signed by Cleveland to a minor league contract in the offseason, Davis had a strong spring to make the team. Davis stole 43 bases for Cleveland in 134 games in 2016 and his eighth-inning, three-run homer against Aroldis Chapman in game seven of the 2016 World Series tied the game at the time. He played in 100 games with Oakland last season before going to the Boston Red Sox in a late-season trade. Davis posted a .235/.293/.348 slash and stole 29 bases last year. He will be a fourth outfielder this year for the Indians.
Kansas City Royals:
Justin Grimm: A 2011 starting pitcher for Hickory is now in his seventh major league season, the first with Kansas City. The Royals signed him after the Chicago Cubs released him in spring training. Grimm went 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA in 50 relief appearances last year with the Cubs.
Zach Duke: A starting pitcher for the Crawdads in 2003, Duke is now in his 14th season in the major leagues and will begin his tenure with the Twins this season out of the bullpen. Coming off 2016 “Tommy John” surgery, Duke made 27 relief appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017 with a 3.93 ERA and a .197 OBA in 18.1 innings. He’s expected to be a left-handed specialist for Minnesota.
New York Yankees:
Neil Walker: The 2005 Crawdads catcher is in his 10th major league season, his first with the Yankees after signing a free-agent contract with the club in March. After seven seasons as the starting second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets, Walker moved around the diamond in 2017, first with the Mets and then with the Milwaukee Brewers after a midseason trade. At the plate, Walker posted a .265/.362/.439 slash with 14 homers and 49 RBI. He is expected to play first and second with the Yankees.
Toronto Blue Jays:
Steve Pearce: The 2007 Crawdads first baseman is in his 12th major league season, the second with the Blue Jays. Last year, Pearce was the right-handed part of the Blue Jays platoon in leftfield and is expected to play in the same role in 2018. He hit .252/.319/.438 with 13 homers and 37 RBI in 92 games last year.
Carl Edwards, Jr.: A member of the Crawdads starting rotation in 2013, Edwards is now in his fourth season as a reliever with the Cubs. In 73 games last season, Edwards had a 2.98 ERA with an opponents batting average of .134 on 66.1 innings. His 25 holds last year was second in the National League. He is expected again to be a key member of the Cubs bullpen.
Jared Hughes: A starting pitcher for the Crawdads in 2006 and 2007, Hughes enters his eighth season in the big leagues, his first with the Reds after signing a two-year contract in the offseason. Last season with the Milwaukee Brewers, Hughes with 5-3 with a 3.02 ERA and one save. Hughes will pitch out of the bullpen for the Reds.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
Wilmer Font: A starting pitcher for the Crawdads in 2009 and 2010, Font is in his fourth major league season, the second with the Dodgers. Font spent much of 2017 at AAA Oklahoma City where he put together a strong season that led to his selection as the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year. Font pitched in three games with the Dodgers after rosters expanded in September and gave up seven runs in 3.2 Innings. He’ll pitch out of the bullpen for the Dodgers.
Lewis Brinson: The Crawdads starting center fielder in 2013 and 2014, Brinson has a full-fledged opportunity for the same role in the majors after Brinson was traded to the Marlins in the offseason. Brinson made his big-league debut last summer with the Brewers and went 5-for-47 in 21 games.
Tomas Telis: The Crawdads catcher from 2011 is in his fifth major league season, the fourth with the Marlins. He spent much of 2017 at AAA New Orleans but posted a .240/.279/.367 slash in 48 big-league games. Telis will be the starting catcher for the Marlins due to an injury to J.T. Realmuto
Jorge Alfaro: The Crawdads catcher from 2012 and 2013 will be on his first opening-day roster after parts of two seasons with the Phillies. A midseason all-star at AAA Lehigh Valley, Alfaro hit .314/.360/.514 in 29 games at Philadelphia. He will split time with Andrew Knapp behind the plate.
Jerad Eickhoff: The Crawdads starting pitcher in 2012 is in his fourth season with the Phillies, though he starts the season on the disabled list with a strained right lat. In 24 starts last season, Eickhoff went 4-8 with a 4.71 ERA.
Odubel Herrera: The starting second baseman for Hickory in 2011, Herrera is now cemented as the Phillies center fielder for the fourth straight season. In 138 games in 2017, he hit .281/.325/.452 with 42 doubles – the third most in the NL – 14 homers and 56 RBI.
Nick Williams: The 2013 starting left fielder for Hickory is in his second season with the Phillies after he made his major league debut for the team last June. Williams went on to hit .288/.338/.473 with 12 homers and 55 RBI in 83 games with the Phillies. He is the starting right fielder.
Jordy Mercer: The starting shortstop the second half of the 2008 season with the Crawdads is the final member remaining with Pittsburgh from the former Hickory affiliation with the Pirates that ended in 2008. Now in his seventh season – the sixth as the Bucs shortstop – he is likely on the move in what is his final contract year with Pittsburgh. With the Pirates in 2017, Mercer hit .255/.326/.406 with 14 homers and 58 RBI in 145 games.
San Diego Padres:
Robbie Erlin: The 2010 South Atlantic League’s ERA champ while with Hickory is now in his fifth season with the Padres. Tommy John surgery cost the left-hander much of the 2016 and all of the 2017 season. Erlin will likely be in the San Diego rotation.
Christian Villanueva: The 2011 Crawdads third baseman made his big-league debut with San Diego last September in grand style after hitting four homers and going 11-for-32 in 12 games. Villanueva returns to the Padres as a utility infielder after he made his first opening-day roster.
San Francisco Giants:
Andrew McCutchen: The 2006 Crawdads center fielder is in his tenth major league season, but after an offseason trade, he’ll suit up for another club other than the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time. The 2013 National League MVP now patrols right field for the Giants after nine seasons as the Pirates center fielder. In 156 games last season, McCutchen hit .279/.363/.486 with 28 homers and 88 RBI.
Tony Watson: A starter in his brief stint with the Crawdads in 2007, the left-hander is now in his seventh major league season as one of the game’s best left-handed setup relievers. After five full seasons with the Pirates, he was dealt in a midseason trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he made his first World Series appearance. In 71 games last season, he was 7-4 with ten saves and a 3.38 ERA in 66.2 innings. Watson signed a two-year contract with the Giants in the offseason.
Monday, March 28
HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY:
Keone Kela (’13, P/ Texas) struck out two over a perfect inning of relief to close out the Rangers 5-4 win over Arizona.
Bryan Morris (’08, P) turns 29.
Steve Sparks (’99, P) turns 41.
Joe Wieland (’09-’10, P) optioned by the Seattle Mariners to AAA Tacoma.
ALUM IN THE NEWS:
MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan writes that Martin Perez (’09, P) is primed for a big season with the Rangers.
MLB.com’s Greg Johns writes that Luis Sardinas (’12, SS) is getting some work at first base for the Mariners.
MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes that Odubel Herrera (’11, 2B) is returning to form after an injury earlier in spring training.
Arizona 4 Texas 5: Hanser Alberto (’12, 3B- SS/ Texas) 1-1, CS; Jairo Beras (’14-’15, OF/ Texas) 0-1, R; Jose Cardona (’15, OF/ Texas) 0-1, K; Rougned Odor (’12, 2B/ Texas) 1-4, K; Luke Tendler (’15, OF/ Texas) 0-1; Jimmy Reyes (’11, P/ Texas) 1/3 IP, 1 BB;
Chicago White Sox 13 San Francisco 9: Leury Garcia (’09-’10, SS/ Chicago) 0-1, R.
Kansas City 1 Oakland 10: Chris Young (’01-’02, P/ Kansas City) 4.1 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 4 K, 2 HR, loss (2-2).
Milwaukee 3 Cleveland 10: Alex Presley (’06, OF/ Milwaukee) 0-1.
Seattle 12 Chicago Cubs 9: Luis Sardinas (’12, SS/ Seattle) 0-2, 2 BB, 2 R, 2 K.
Atlanta 2 Washington 7: Sean Burnett (’01, P/ Washington) 1 IP, 1 H, 2 K.
Baltimore 5 Pittsburgh 3: Andrew McCutchen (’06, OF/ Pittsburgh) 1-3, BB, R, K; Jordy Mercer (’08, SS/ Pittsburgh) 2-2; Tony Watson (’07, P/ Pittsburgh) 2 IP, 1 H, 2 K.
Philadelphia 1 Boston 5: Odubel Herrera (’11/ 2B/ Philadelphia) 3-3, R; Jerad Eickhoff (’12, P/ Philadelphia) 5 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 3 K, 2 HR, loss (0-1).
St. Louis 2 Miami 4: Cody Ege (’13, P/ Miami) 1/3 IP.
Washington 4 New York Mets 2: Neil Walker (’05, C/ NY Mets) 2-3, 3B, R.
Massachusetts- Lowell 3 Maryland-Baltimore County 4 (10-10, 4-1 American East): Bob Mumma (’93-’93, C-1B/ Head Coach, UMBC)