Results tagged ‘ Luis Ortiz ’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Huff Jaimes Mendez mound visit

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

 

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

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

Jose Trevino catching

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yohel Pozo catching

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

What is he working on at this point?

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

 

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

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

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

Novoa Huff.jpg

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

 

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

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

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

 

Trevino ready to take the next step forward?

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

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

 

Who’s behind him in your system right now?

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

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

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

isiah Kiner-Falefa

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

Catching Up: 2014-2015 Crawdads pitcher Luis Ortiz

During the playoff run that took the Hickory Crawdads to the 2015 South Atlantic League championship, circumstances put first rounders Luis Ortiz and Dillon Tate into the bullpen as part of a bridge crew between consistent strong starting pitching and closer Scott Williams.

Ortiz had missed much of the second half with a shoulder injury, but then returned the final week of the regular season to allow one hit over three innings. Tate was held to short appearances after a heavy workload in college prior to being drafted by the Texas Rangers.

In game two of the Northern Division series, Tate threw two scoreless innings with two Ks. One night later with Hickory holding a 1-0 lead in the decisive game three, Ortiz threw two perfect innings, striking out four to set up Williams to close out the series.

Three nights later, Ortiz closed out his 2015 season in game two of the championship series. Pitching the seventh and eighth innings, Ortiz allowed one hit and fanned three. Tate pitched a scoreless inning in game three to help Hickory finish the 3-0 series sweep.

Luis Ortiz playoffs

From a playoff appearance vs. West Virginia on 9/12/15, Ortiz struck out four of the six batters he faced (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

“The playoff atmosphere, it’s going to happen,” said Ortiz looking back at his performance in the 2015 Sally League playoffs.  “It’s very tense at the moment, so basically you try to get it and get it done.”

Performances aside, baseball – especially minor league baseball – is a sport where things change fast and for Ortiz those changes came out of nowhere. Nearly eleven months after their playoff heroics, Ortiz and Tate were both traded on the same day in separate deals. Tate struggled with control issues and was sent to the New York Yankees for Carlos Beltran. Ortiz, along with another former first rounder, 2013-2014 Crawdads outfielder Lewis Brinson, was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers as part of a deal that brought catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Texas.

“I was sitting in the training room in Frisco (AA club of the Rangers),” recalled Ortiz on learning of the trade. “I had a bullpen that day. It was me, Brinson and a couple of other guys in there. I was getting ready to go outside and (pitching coach) Brian Shouse comes up to me and tells me, ‘We’re not going to go out there until the trade’s over.’

“So, I kind of knew there was something going on. From right there, I just waited for my name to be called. Brinson already knew. So, it was basically a matter of time when it was going to happen.”

Ortiz had a strong start to the 2016 season, pitching in the ballpark of doom at High-A High Desert in the California League. The ballpark, located in Adelanto, CA, was a hitter’s paradise with its high altitude, arid conditions and favorable wins. But with his family located within a short drive in Sanger, CA, Ortiz adapted nicely to the conditions, posting a 2.60 ERA and fanning 28 in 27.2 innings.

“It was awesome being in California and being a couple of hours from home,” Ortiz said of his Cal League stint. “I had family come out all the time and it was amazing. I already knew how to pitch in California. Every talks about High Desert.  ‘High Desert’s this.’ If you can pitch, you can pitch. If you can pitch straight out, you can pitch there.”

After seven appearances (six starts), Ortiz got a promotion to AA Frisco, where the change of scenery and tougher hitters found Ortiz looking for answers.

“When I got to AA, it was basically knowing how to pitch to hitters,” said Ortiz, who posted a 4.08 ERA over 39.2 innings with a .296 OBA. “I struggled with Texas at AA. I struggled and I struggled. I know you’re going to have your downfalls, but (you’re) learning from it.”

His final outing with Frisco was a benign two-inning start during which he allowed a one run on two hits and K’d four on just 34 pitches. Three days later, he was a Milwaukee Brewer and a surprised Ortiz struggled to make sense of what was happening.

“My reaction was basically like everyone else that got traded,” recalled Ortiz. “I just thought I had a good start. At first I was thinking, ‘What did I do wrong?’… Now it’s a new start for me and a better opportunity for me.”

Ortiz has seized that opportunity with the Brewers and it started soon after joining their AA team at Biloxi. He posted a 1.93 ERA over 23. 1 innings, though his WHIP took a hit a 1.54.

In getting a chance to speak with Ortiz last week, he’s matured physically since he was a Crawdad. He now sports facial hair that his 19-year-old baby face wouldn’t support during that 2015 playoff mastery. Ortiz also has a one-year-old son named Santiago, in honor of Luis’s late grandfather, who played a huge role in his life growing up.

With growing maturity under his belt, Ortiz also sees the opportunities of bigger things ahead, some of what was made possible by the trade.

“Texas developed me very well and now they gave me an opportunity with a new team, the Milwaukee Brewers,” said Ortiz. “I take it as a new start. Right now, I’m loving it.”

Luis Ortiz at Biloxi

Luis Ortiz charting pitches as a member of the Biloxi Shuckers, the Milwaukee Brewers AA club. (Mark Parker) 

The Reality of “Our” Players: Crawdads past and present major pieces in recent trades

Yesterday, two of “our” own players from the Hickory Crawdads were suddenly taken from us. Hickory Crawdads pitchers Erik Swanson and Dillon Tate were a part of a trade in which the parent club Texas Rangers acquired slugger Carlos Beltran from the New York Yankees.

For many Rangers fans, it is a time to get excited about what Beltran can bring to the lineup at Arlington. For many Crawdads fans, their hearts have been stomped.

We don’t see many trades at the low-A level. When pitcher Matt Ball came here in May after a trade with the White Sox, it was the first time a player came to Hickory via a trade since 2008 – the final season of the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliation. As far as sending a player away, that hadn’t happened since 2013 when C.J. Edwards went to the Chicago Cubs. Prior to that, it had been since 2009 when Matt Nevarez left the Crawdads in a trade that brought Pudge Rodriguez back to Texas.

At this level, we know we are going to bid farewell to “our” players in due course. It may happen in a few days, or a couple of years. We certainly hope that when “our” players leave that it is to move up the ladder – to get one step close to their own major league dreams. Of course, at times they leave after being waived and that dream ends.

We often have this fantasy of “our” players moving up to the major league level with the parent club. The joy of seeing in a Texas Rangers uniform Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara and Martin Perez and Hanser Alberto and Ryan Rua and Jurickson Profar is a genuine joy for those of us in Hickory who knew them when. We have this Elysian hope that “our” players will continue to play together always and do so for Texas. It’s like hoping your neighborhood kids will grow up together and always remain friends. The reality is that most of those kids move away from home and rarely keep in touch. The same is true in baseball – minor league teams rarely play together in the big leagues.

Our hope was to see Swanson and Tate, as well as Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz – former Crawdads involved in another trade that moved those players into the Milwaukee Brewers chain – in those Texas Rangers uniforms taking the field in Arlington. However, if you ask those four players about their major league dreams, the name on the front of the uniform won’t matter to them – Braves, Brewers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Cardinals, etc. They are chasing the dream of a major league career. It matters not in which multi-tiered stadium that takes place. As minor league fans, we have to remember that.

They are “our” players, but in reality they are not. The name on the front of the jersey says Hickory, but the big red T on the patch located on the sleeve reminds us they belong to another. The Rangers pay the salaries and we have to remember that the minor leagues exist solely to help bring the major league club a championship. As hard as it is, sometimes that involves sending “our” players elsewhere.

However, for those who follow minor league teams – especially for us in Hickory –we gain an attachment during the time they are here. They are “our” players. It’s not just because “Crawdads” is on the front of the jersey with the letter “H” on the cap standing for our hometown of Hickory. At this level, they become part of us – of our community, and in some cases, part of our families. We have a different kind of access to these guys that those in the major league community do not. We celebrate their successes after a game, and share in the struggles and offer encouragement. We meet their families and welcome them to Hickory when they visit and roll out the welcome mat to our town.

So, while Rangers fans celebrate, we here in Hickory are in a bit of shock – for two of “our” own are leaving us for another team. (It could get really weird in a couple of weeks when Charleston (S.C.) visits L.P. Frans, as it is rumored that both Tate and Swanson will be assigned to the River Dogs.) But while the reality that “our” players will always leave, there is another reality present: Swanson and Tate and Brinson and Ortiz and Travis Demeritte and Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams and Edwards and everyone else who donned a red claw on their cap will be “ours”.

We look forward to following their careers all the way to the majors.

Crawdads Alumni Report April 19

Tuesday, April 19

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: ­

Luis Ortiz (’14-’15, P) 4.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 8 K for High-A High Desert (Texas).

 

BIRTHDAYS:

Jordan Akins (’12-’13, OF) turns 24.

Joe Beimel (’99, P) turns 39.

Zach Duke (’03, P) turns 33.

Julien Tucker (’97, P) turns 43.

 

CRAWDADS ALUM IN THE NEWS:

Jorge Alfaro (’12-’13, C) was named the Eastern League hitter of the week while playing for Reading (AA/ Philadelphia). (.500/.526/.750, 8 G, 18-for-36, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 7 R, 1 BB, 6 K)

Travis Demeritte (’14-’15, 2B) was named the California League hitter of the week while playing for High Desert (High-A/ Texas). .378/.415/1.027, 9 G, 14-for-37, 2 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 11 RBI, 10 R, 2 BB, 14 K, 2 SB.

 

TEXAS RANGERS:

Arkansas 2 Frisco (AA) 5 (Game 1): Lewis Brinson (’13-’14, OF) 1-2, three-run HR (1) in the third, BB, 2 R, SB; Zach Cone (’12, 14, OF) 1-3, 3B, 2 RBI, K; Ryan Cordell (’14, OF) 1-3, R; Kellin Deglan (’11-’12, ’14, C) 0-3, 2 K; Ronald Guzman (’13-’15, 1B) 0-2, BB, R, 2 K; Joe Jackson (’14, C-OF) 0-3, K; Isiah Kiner-Falefa (’14-’15, UT) 0-0, 2 BB, HBP, R; Luis Marte (’13-’14, SS) 0-3; Victor Payano (’11, P) 6.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, win (1-0); Adam Parks (’15, P) 1/3 IP, 1 K, save (1).

Arkansas 3 Frisco (AA) 0 (Game 2): Preston Beck (’13, 1B) 0-2; Lewis Brinson 0-3, K; Zach Cone 0-1, BB, K; Ryan Cordell 1-3, K; Joe Jackson (’14, C-OF) 0-3; Luis Marte 0-2, 2 K; Luis Mendez 0-3, 2 K; Jose Leclerc (’13, P) 4 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, loss (0-2); Cody Buckel (’11, ’15, P) 1 IP, 1 K.

High Desert (High-A) 4 Inland Empire 1: Jairo Beras (’14-’15, OF) 1-4, K, CS; Travis Demeritte (’14-’15, 2B) 1-4, 2 K; David Lyon (’13, C) 1-3, two-run HR 2) in the fourth, K; Tripp Martin (’15, 3B-OF) 1-3, two-run HR (3) in the second, K; Josh Morgan (’15, 3B-SS) 1-3, CS;  Jose Trevino (’15, C) 2-4, 2 R; David Perez (’15, P) 2.2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K, win (2-0); John Fasola (’15, P) 2 IP, 3 K.

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

LA Angels 7 Chicago White Sox 0: Zach Duke (’03, P/ Chicago) 1 IP, 1 K.

Toronto 4 Boston 3: Jose Bautista (’02, OF/ Toronto) 0-3, BB, R.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

New York Mets 5 Philadelphia 2: Neil Walker (’05, C/ NY Mets) 1-4, solo HR (4) in the 8th, K / Odubel Herrera (’11/ 2B/ Philadelphia) 1-3, BB, RBI, SB, 2 K; Jerad Eickhoff (’12, P/ Philadelphia) 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, loss (1-2).

Washington 1 Miami 6: Bryan Morris (’08, P/ Miami) 1 IP, 1 H.

 

MINOR LEAGUES:

INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE (AAA):

Norfolk 2 Charlotte (White Sox) 3: Leury Garcia (’09-’10, SS/ Charlotte) 0-2, BB, SB, K; Will Lamb (’11-’12, P/ Charlotte) 1 IP.

Syracuse 0 Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia) 5: Nick Williams (’13, OF/ Lehigh Valley) 0-4, 2 K.

Toledo (Detroit) 2 Indianapolis (Pittsburgh) 4: Dustin Molleken (’07-’08, P/ Toledo) 2 IP, 1 BB, 2 K.

 

PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (AAA):

Memphis 1 Colorado Springs (Milwaukee) 3: Alex Presley (’07, OF/ Colorado Springs) 1-3 RBI.

Nashville 2 Oklahoma City (LA Dodgers) 6: Matt West (’09-’10, 3B/ Oklahoma City) 1.2 IP, 2 K.

Omaha 0 New Orleans (Miami) 3: Cody Ege (’13, P/ New Orleans) 1 IP, 1 K, save (1).

Reno 4 El Paso (San Diego) 14: Carlos Pimentel (’09, P/ El Paso) 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, win (1-1).

Tacoma (Seattle) 11 Albuquerque 6: Joe Wieland (’09-’10, P/ Tacoma) 1.1 IP, 10 H, 10 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, loss (1-1).

 

EASTERN LEAGUE (AA):

Altoona 12 Harrisburg (Washington) 5: Abel De Los Santos (’14, P/ Harrisburg) 2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR.

 

TEXAS LEAGUE (AA):

San Antonio (San Diego) 0 Tulsa 2: Fabio Castillo (’09, P/ San Antonio) 5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, loss (1-2).

 

FLORIDA STATE LEAGUE (High A):

Tampa (NY Yankees) 4 Charlotte 2: Jake Skole (’11, OF/ Tampa) 1-4, R, K.

 

JUNIOR COLLEGES:

Oakton CC (IL) 8 Waubonsee 2 (Game 1)/ Oakton CC (IL) 7 (22-8, 12-2 Skyway Conference) Waubonsee 2 (Game 2): Michael Scala (’02, OF/ Asst. Coach, OCC). With the win, Oakton claimed the Illinois Skyline Conference title.

 

HIGH SCHOOLS:

Lambert 14 South Forsyth (GA) 5 (12-11, 7-9, 6-6A): Russ Bayer (’03, P/ Head Coach, SFHS)

Sequim 0 North Kitsap (WA) 9 (9-2, 6-0 Olympic): Jared Prince (’10, OF/ Asst. Coach, NKHS)  

St. Stanislaus College Prep (MS) 8 (14-7, 7-3 8-4A) Bay St. Louis: Brad Corley (’06, OF/ Asst. Coach, SSC)

Valley 1 Foothill (NV) 2 (10-12, 5-8 Sunrise): Denny Crine (’95, P/ Asst. Coach, FHS)

SAL Championship celebration photos

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

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talented Humility: Luis Ortiz Mixing the Two for a Promising Career

Hickory Crawdads pitcher Luis Ortiz literally brings a world of talent to the mound. Named the World Cup MVP for the gold-medal winning, 18-and-under Team USA national baseball team, the Sanger, Calif. native was selected in the first round by the Texas Rangers in June 2014. When he came to Hickory last summer, Ortiz was the first high school pitcher since 1993 to be drafted by the Rangers and then later pitch for a full-season minor league club in the same season.

Those who rank prospects love him. MLB.com currently lists Ortiz as the No. 91 prospect overall in the minor leagues and the Rangers fifth-best prospect. Baseball America tabbed him as the Rangers’ ninth-best prospect prior to the 2015 season.

His 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame supports an easy, fluid motion that belies the 94-96 mph fastball that suddenly springs from his right hand. Wielding that pitch along with a hard, mid-to-upper 80s slider and an occasional change, there is much to like about Ortiz.

After putting up a 1.80 ERA in 50 innings with 65 strikeouts and 15 walks this season, the playoffs have truly given him a center stage in which to display his talents.

Last Saturday in a 1-0 win to clinch the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division series, Ortiz threw arguably his most dominant two innings of the season by striking out four of the six hitters he faced. His slider missed five bats and two of the strikeouts came on a fastball that zoomed up to 98 that kissed the glove-side corner at the knees.

From a playoff appearance vs. West Virginia on 9/12, Ortiz struck out four of the six batters he faced (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

From a playoff appearance vs. West Virginia on 9/12, Ortiz struck out four of the six batters he faced (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Tuesday against Forrest Wall, the number four second base prospect (mlb.com), Ortiz had Wall swinging through a changeup, fastball and slider on successive pitches.

“He’s got a great arm and has a huge upside,” said Rangers field coordinator Casey Candaele said of the 19-year-old. “He’s young and still has a lot to learn, of course, but he’s moving in the right direction.”

While many of his age would rightfully tout their success at such a young age, at this point, Ortiz will have none of that. When you speak with him, you quickly gauge that he has confidence in ability. However, there is a bit of his personality that gives you the feeling that he wonders what all the fuss is about. This is a humble kid and he learned that humility from his earliest days. It’s become an asset to his baseball career.

Known as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree City,” Ortiz’s hometown of Sanger is located near Fresno, nestled against the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California’s Central Valley. It was this small town of raisin and orange farmers that Ortiz grew up with his siblings to a single mom and her family. With a large gang presence there in the area, and his mom working two jobs to support the family, Ortiz credited his great-grandfather Ricardo Santiago for keeping him out of trouble and serving as the male role model growing up.

It was Santiago, who Ortiz said was a catcher in the Mexican League, that helped him developed his love for baseball. But it was Santiago’s work with the area’s homeless population that stuck with Ortiz the most.

“My great-grandfather had a decent-sized home on the west side of Fresno, which is not a bad area,” said Ortiz. “But there’s a lot of homeless and he brought in a lot of homeless. A lot of homeless people were living in the back of his house. He had cooking and a whole set-up for them back there. So, I grew up around a lot of people like that. He showed me how to care in the way that I grew up.”

Ortiz also credits Terance Frazier – the founder of Central Cal Baseball Academy in Fresno – for seeing the immense talent that was there and getting him on track so that Ortiz could do what needed to be done to use that talent.

“He took me into his home and helped me get off the streets and become a better person,” Ortiz said of the man he called a father figure. “I grew up, lost weight, started traveling and getting good grades in school. He transformed me. I went to showcases and made a name for myself, and here I am now playing professional ball.”

The Rangers signed Ortiz away from a commitment to Fresno State for a reported $1.75 million. He had hoped to use the bonus money to put his mom into a better home, but true to her family’s humble spirit passed down from Ortiz’s great-grandfather, she would have none of it.

“My mom didn’t want one single penny from me,” Ortiz said. “No one did. I wanted to help, but they said get to the big leagues. That’s the only thing they wanted me to do was to get to the big leagues. My mom still lives with my grandparents.”

Candaele sees a lot of that humble spirit in Ortiz. He feels that trait along with his talent will serve him well on the road to the majors.

“If you show humility, and have a lot of confidence inside,” said Candaele. “And you can do a lot of things, and be successful in the game, that’s the ultimate teammate, the ultimate player you look at.”

The lessons with which Ortiz grew up still continue with him nearly four years after Santiago’s death in July 2011, following Ortiz’s freshman year in high school. Ortiz honored his loved one with his first autographed baseball that was then placed into Santiago’s casket.

Carrying his great-grandfather’s handkerchief in his pocket, Ortiz still looks to his great-grandfather for advice about humility. In doing so, he recalls the words of Santiago that stick with him to this day.

“Stay humble, no matter what you’ve got, because there are others that want to take it away from you.”

Luis Ortiz struck out 65 over 50 innings with a 1.80 ERA in 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Luis Ortiz struck out 65 over 50 innings with a 1.80 ERA in 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

SAL Championship Game 2 Story: Asheville at Hickory

For the second straight game, the Hickory Crawdads took an early lead. They then used five pitchers to shut down the Asheville Tourists 3-1 Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. The Crawdads now lead the best-of-five series 2-0. After a day off Wednesday. the remaining games shift to Asheville’s McCormick Field starting on Thursday with a game time at 7:05 p.m.

The Crawdads are seeking the club’s third SAL title, the first since 2004. Hickory also claimed the 2002 championship.

What Happened?:

Hickory put together four hits to score two in the second against Tourists starter Ryan Castellani. Edwin Garcia and Eduard Pinto sandwiched singles around a fly out. After Juremi Profar struck out, Carlos Arroyo slapped a soft liner into left to score Garcia. Castellani walked Jose Cardona to load the bases and then took a liner from Dylan Moore off the foot that scored Pinto.

In the fourth, Profar reached when Josh Fuentes’ throw short hopped Roberto Ramos at first. A sac bunt from Arroyo and Cardona’s single pushed Profar to third before he scored on Moore’s grounder to third.

Nineteen days after injuring his hip, Brett Martin returned to the hill and threw a brilliant start. He allowed just two hits and struck out four while pitching to just one over the minimum.

Facing Adam Dian, the Tourists put the first two on before a sac bunt put the runners at second and third. Cesar Galvez ripped a run-scoring single to score Roberto Ramos scoring on the play. After a mound visit by Oscar Marin, Dian got Yonathan Daza to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

The similar script played out in the sixth for the Tourists against reliever Shane McCain. A walk and hit batter put runners and first and second with one out. Again after a mound visit by Marin, McCain got Dom Nunez to roll into a 6-4-3 double play.

That set up Luis Ortiz to enter the game in the seventh and throw two scoreless innings of relief. He struck out three and allowed one hit to earn the scorer’s decision win.

Scott Williams hurled a perfect ninth to get his third save of the playoffs.

Martinized:

After a 19-day layoff, the unknown of what Brett Martin would provide on the mound was the story line prior to the game. It is fair to say that all is well with the 20-year-old as he retired the first seven hitters of the game and 11 of the 13 he faced.

“After the first throw I had in warmups, I knew I was going to be fine,” Martin said. “Everything felt right and was going well. The hip fell great and then I got up there on the mound and just relaxed and stayed calm and did what I know to do.”

His most dominant inning came in the second when he struck out the side – the last two on six pitches. By my count, Martin finished with 52 pitches, throwing 37 strikes. He missed 11 bats with the changeup especially effective, garnering six of the swing-and-misses (4 on fastballs at 91-93, 1 curve).

“I threw it a lot more playing catch the past three weeks that probably I have all season,” said Martin. “I’m just trying to get comfortable with that pitch again. I knew I was going to need it against them to keep them off balance.”

His dominance didn’t go unnoticed by manager Corey Ragsdale, who had said prior to the game Martin would be limited to four innings.

Said Ragsdale of Martin’s outing, “Wow! Coming back and throwing like that, that’s obviously huge setting the tone.”

Middle Management:

Unused in the playoffs prior to Tuesday night, Adam Dian and Shane McCain were put into a tight ball game following Martin’s brilliant work. Their job was simply to bridge the gap to Luis Ortiz in the seventh. The two relievers shook off the rust and made big pitches to get out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings.

Dian – eight days removed from his last appearance – was shaky at the start and it seemed the Tourists line was glad to see someone other than Martin. Roberto Ramos lined an 0-1 slider to right before Dian walked Josh Fuentes on four pitches.

“It didn’t start out the way that I wanted it to,” said Dian. “But I was pretty happy the way that I was able to work out of it and at least limit the damage. It’s pretty tough to pitch when you haven’t thrown in a while, but it’s not an excuse. I thought I made some good pitches off the bat, but I was up a little bit and they took advantage of that. “

After Galvez’s RBI single, Oscar Marin made a mound visit to help Dian gather himself.

“He just told me to take a deep breath and trust my stuff,” Dian said. “He was thinking that I was kind of letting the game get to me a little bit. It was speeding up; you get two runners on right off the bat and it’s a little tough for you to calm down and stay focused on what you need to do. He just wanted to give me a breather and make sure I had my mind straight before I faced that next hitter.”

Dian served up a 2-1 fastball away to Yonathan Daza to get the 4-6-3 double play and keep the Tourists at bay 3-1.

After 11 days off, lefty Shane McCain came in and also struggled at first with fastball command and then the slider in putting two men on.

“I was a little tight,” McCain said. “It did feel a little weird to be out there. I hadn’t been out there in a week or so, or maybe more. I really just had to trust my stuff. I was having trouble keeping my slider in the zone. That’s been my best pitch. I wasn’t able to start it where I wanted to, where I needed to.”

Another mound visit by Marin brought on an adjustment by McCain with the slider.

“I knew I had to start my slider more behind the lefthanders,” said McCain. “Once I did that, I got the two ground balls that I needed and luckily I got out of it.”

Facing LH hitter Dom Nunez with one out after the mound visit, McCain’s slider away was rolled to Edwin Garcia at short for the easy twin-killing.

“Those two guys right there, they went through the heart of the lineup,” said Ragsdale. “So, those two guys were huge for us tonight.”

Dian said that although he and McCain were both out of sorts after not pitching in a regular routine, they were still expected to do their jobs in the ball game.

Dian said, “That’s what Ragsdale asks of us, to come and to our job. It’s nice when you don’t have to have somebody come bail you out and you’re able to finish your inning. Obviously, it could’ve gone a number of different ways for both of us. I thought we both did a good job. We just gutted it out. We didn’t have our best stuff today, but we were able to minimize the damage. Shane did a hell of a job getting out of that situation.”

Ortiz Breaking Down Wall:

Luis Ortiz didn’t have the sharp command of his fastball, but he didn’t need to either. Omar Carrizales was able to expose that in the seventh when he worked the count full and then drilled a high slider for a single. Ortiz got out of the inning with no further damage.

Ortiz then cranked up the slider in the eighth, using three straight to fan Daza. He got away with a poorly placed fastball that Rogers lined hard to second to bring up Forrest Wall, the number 4 second base prospect in the minors (mlb.com). Ortiz struck out Wall on three pitches, swinging through a changeup, fastball and slider.

Domineering Williams:

After getting Shane Hoelscher to fly to right, Williams worked through a nine-pitch battle with Dom Nunez, finally getting him to undercut a high fastball that went lazily to right. A first-pitch slider to Ramos was rolled easily to second.

Moore and Moore:

Dylan Moore continues a strong playoff run with a couple of hits and an RBI. He stayed on Castellani’s slider in the first for a single, then was able to gear up for the fastball that was lined off Castellani’s foot for the RBI hit. Moore pulled off an away fastball in the fourth, but got enough on it to score the runner from third.

Castellani’s Early Struggles:

The 19-year-old threw a fastball that ranged 93-95 mph that at times had a slider look. However, he is a pitcher that relies on keeping the ball down (1.30 GO/AO) and the inability to do that early cost him. Six of the nine hits against him were hard liners with seven of his outs coming on liners or fly outs. He dodged a bullet in the fifth when Juremi Profar ripped a line drive that went straight to Fuentes at third. The catch likely saved two runs.

Defensive Woes Continue:

A lazy throw by Fuentes to first allowed Profar to reach and score in the fourth to make it a three-run lead. In the fifth with Beras at first, Pinto lifted a bloop single to left center. Beras running on contact made it easily to third, the left fielder Carrizales threw to third anyway, which allowed Pinto to move up to second.

Small Ball, Small Expectations:

Down two runs in the fourth, the Tourists got a base hit from Wes Rogers to start the inning. Rather than taking a chance with leading base stealer (46 steals) to try and get to second on his own, Asheville chose to use Wall – the number one draft pick and No. 4 second base prospect, who had a .288/.355/.438 slash as a 19-year-old – as a bunter. The sacrifice worked, but Rogers advanced no further.

In the fifth after the Tourists put the first two runners on, they chose to use their SAL all-star leftfielder – who as a 20-year-old posted a .286/.333/.410 slash and hit into one double play all year – as a bunter. The sacrifice was successful and a run was scored, but it also proved crucial when a double play ended the inning.

It seems to me those were opportunities for the Tourists to try and siphon some momentum by letting a player make a play. But managers manage to a fault at times and this appeared to be a case of overmanaging.

Shutting down the running game:

Not enough can be said as to how well the Crawdads during the series have shut down the running game of the Tourists, who stole 258 bases this season. The pitchers have been relentless at keeping the runners close and allowing the catcher Trevino to make plays. He’s thrown out both runners trying to steal in the series, including the lone attempt on Wednesday.

Game Story: SAL Playoff Game 3 West Virginia at Hickory September 12

Game Story: West Virginia Power at Hickory Crawdads (Game 3, SAL Playoffs)

The Hickory Crawdads scored a run in the fourth and made it stand up among a strong pitching and defensive effort to claim a 1-0 win over the West Virginia Power in the decisive game of the South Atlantic League series.

The Crawdads will move onto a best-of-five SAL Championship Series against the Asheville Tourists starting Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. Hickory will host games one and two on Monday and Tuesday. After a day off, the series will shift to Asheville’s McCormick Park from games three through five starting Thursday.

What Happened?:

The lone run of the game came in the fourth inning when Dylan Moore led off with a double, moved to third on a Jose Trevino groundout and scored on Luke Tendler’s sacrifice fly.

The Crawdads used three pitchers to shut down the SAL’s top-hitting team on six hits and three walks. Collin Wiles pitched the first six innings. He issued all three walks and four of the six hits and struck out four. Luis Ortiz struck out four of the six batters he faced. Scott Williams struck out the first two hitters before Elvis Escobar and Connor Joe singled. The game ended when Taylor Gushue lined to Moore at second.

Defensive Brilliance:

With Wiles struggling early, the defense held the Power off the scoreboard. Kevin Newman led off the game with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Kevin Kramer then lined a single to right. Power manager Brian Esposito made an aggressive move to send Newman to the plate. Jairo Beras fielded the ball and fired a throw directly to catcher Jose Trevino, who slapped a quick tag onto Newman sliding into the plate.

In the second, Jerrick Suiter singled and also moved to second on another sac bunt. A grounder to short by Joe kept Suiter at second.  Shortstop Edwin Garcia’s diving stop robbed Gushue of a hit on a sharp grounder and ended the inning.

The next inning Newman again walked before Pablo Reyes sent a long fly ball to left center. Jose Cardona raced over from center and then made a running, lunging catch on the track, moving Newman, who was on the way to third at the time of the catch, back to first.

“I told the guys before the game, ‘if we pick it up and throw it like we need to, we have a chance to win the game,’ said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “They went above and beyond and they made some unbelievable plays and that won us the ballgame.”

Wiles said the defensive plays were a reflection of what the team has done this season.

“The confidence coming into the game was high on our defense,” said Wiles. “You’ve seen it all year. Our defense has made spectacular plays all year. There was no let down. If anything, they took it to the next level and that’s a credit to them.”

The final defensive gem of the game came when Moore snared Gushue’s hard liner at second.

 

Wiles Pitches Around Trouble:

Wiles had problems finding a feel for his secondary pitches the first few innings. However, he had good fastball placement around the strike zone and kept the Power hitters from squaring them up.

Kramer’s single in the first appeared to be on a slider that caught a lot of the plate. Gushue’s hard grounder to Garcia was a high change. The worst pitch of the night was a hanging curve that turned into Reyes’ liner that was run down by Cardona.

“My style is to put the ball in play and let the defense work,” Wiles said. “I tested them quite a few times and they answered every single time. To bounce back down a game to winning like that throwing a shutout, a team shutout in the third, unbelievable, I couldn’t be prouder of my team right now.”

Wiles found the ability to use all his pitches in the fourth in his lone perfect inning of the night. A cut-fastball struck out Reyes to end a minor jam in the fifth and the final out of for Wiles was a strikeout of Escobar on a fastball.

Battling 0-2 counts the difference:

SAL pitcher of the year Yeudy Garcia was the equal of anyone on the mound Saturday as he struck out seven, walked one, and allowed four hits. The inability to finish off Moore and Tendler after getting ahead 0-2 was a difference in the game.

In his at bat, Moore laid off back-to-back sliders just off the outside corner, then got a belt-high, 95 mph pitched that he ripped to the wall. Likewise, Tendler laid off an 0-2 change, spoiled another before sending a third-straight change that was up out to deep left for the sac fly.

“We knew that we were going to have to fight and claw for everything we got,” said Ragsdale. “They battled their tails off. We didn’t get a ton of hits, but they were up their fighting. That kid’s the SAL pitcher of the year for a reason. I’m super proud of the way the guys game out and battled. You knew it was going to be tough to get anymore. We were going to get their best stuff just like they were going to get our best stuff. We were able to make it stick.”

Ortiz Unhittable:

West Virginia was out of sync the entire two innings that Luis Ortiz was on the mound and it started on the first pitch. Sitting on a first-pitch fastball, Joe swung badly at a slider that was off the plate away. Gushue flew out to right and then after swinging through a slider, the right-handed Tyler Filliben watched a 98 mph fastball catch the outside corner at the knees.

Ortiz went on to strike out the side in the eighth two swinging on sliders and the final one another called third strike on a fastball at the knees.

The two innings that Ortiz threw was arguably the most-dominant two innings of the season, including five missed bats on sliders in the two innings.

“Wiles set the tone right away,” Ortiz said.  Him getting deep into the game and messing with the hitters and having them on hold. He made it easier for me just to let it go and do what I have to do.

Williams Pitches Rare Back-to-Back Outing:

Scott Williams worked around two two-out hits and got a break on the liner hit to Moore for the final out of the game. He worked mostly off his 95-97 mph fastballs in getting two strikeouts in the inning.

Having pitched two innings in Friday night’s win, it was thought that he would not be available on back-to-back nights. However, the wheels were put in motion on Saturday and Williams was brought in to seal the series.

“Oscar and Rags told me that I might have a possibility of doing it,” said Williams. “So, we had to convince the pitching coordinator (Danny Clark) to let me do it. He gave me the heads up and I was pumped to get an opportunity to come back out.”

Kudos to Trevino:

Wiles was effusive in his praise of catcher Jose Trevino’s work in the series and felt he had as much to do with the shutout as anyone.

Wiles said, “The consensus between me, Ortiz and Williams is Jose Trevino behind the plate. He told me before the series that he’s got a plan, just stick with him. It worked in game one; we just didn’t get the win. You see a man battle his butt off the last two games and basically willing us to win, willing us to make the right pitch at the right time, all the credit goes to him.”

SAL Playoffs Game 3 Preview: West Virginia at Hickory

South Atlantic League Playoff Series

Game 3: West Virginia Power (87-52, 1-1 series lead) at Hickory Crawdads (81-57, 1-1)

Site/ Time: L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, N.C.

Game 2 Recap: The Crawdads finally took control of a see-saw affair in the middle innings and went on to even the series with a 6-3 home win at L.P. Frans. After an Edwin Garcia, RBI single put the Crawdads ahead in the first, the Power jumped back ahead 2-1 with a two-run blast in the second by Connor Joe. Hickory tied it in the third when Dylan Moore doubled and scored when Garcia picked up his second RBI of the game on a groundout. An unearned run put the Crawdads ahead in the fourth, but again the Power tied the game 3-3 when Pablo Reyes singled with two outs and later scored Kramer’s run-scoring single. The Crawdads inched ahead for good in the sixth when after Stephen Tarpley issued back-to-back walks, Jose Cardona lofted a soft liner to left that scored Juremi Profar. Luke Tendler provided the final margin by tripling in two more in the eight. Dillon Tate picked up the win in relief with Scott Williams throwing two scoreless innings and striking out three for the save.

Game 1 Recap: The Power struck for three runs in the fifth inning and went on the capture a 4-2 home win. After Crawdads pitcher Yohander Mendez allowed two baserunners over 4.1 innings, a double by Chase Simpson and Taylor Gushue tied the game at 2. West Virginia added an unearned run in the inning, which scored on a wild pitch by Joe Filomeno on a dropped third-strike after fanning Michael Suchy with two outs. The Power tacked on the fourth run in the seventh on an error by 1B Carlos Arroyo. The Crawdads put seven baserunners on over the first five innings, but managed only a solo homer by Jairo Beras and an RBI groundout by Arroyo. The trio of Austin Coley Sam Street and Nick Neumann retied the final 13 Crawdads of the game.

Probables: WV: Yeudy Garcia (RH, 12-5, 2.10) vs. HKY: Collin Wiles (RH, 11-3, 2.96)

Lineup: WV: Kevin Newman-6, Pablo Reyes-4, Kevin Kramer-D, Michael Suchy-9, Jerrick Suiter-7, Elvis Escobar-8, Connor Joe-3, Taylor Gushue-2, Tyler Filliben-5.

HKY: Eric Jenkins-7, Dylan Moore-4, Jose Trevino-2, Luke Tendler-D, Edwin Garcia-6, Jairo Beras-9, Juremi Profar-5, Carlos Arroyo-3, Jose Cardona-8.

Garcia vs. Hickory: The righthander from Sabana Yegua, D.R. was named the SAL pitcher of the year after leading the league in ERA, was second in OBA (.204) and third in WHIP (1.07). He went 1-1 against Hickory, though he did not allow an earned run. In the loss on May 19 at L.P. Frans, the Crawdads scored two unearned runs in the first and made them stand up for a 3-1 win. Garcia allowed three hits and two walks with four strikeouts over 4.2 innings. Chase Simpson’s error at first was key in the opening inning with Josh Morgan scoring on the play with outs before Luke Tendler followed on Travis Demeritte’s single.

In the August 16 contest, only Eduard Pinto’s walk in the third and Luke Tendler’s single in the fifth smudged Garcia’s outing over five innings in a 2-1 win. Garcia struck out three in the contest, but needed 68 pitches (40 strikes) to complete the five innings.

Wildness has been a problem for Garcia coming down the stretch as he walked five over five innings in a start at Lexington and then two over four innings at Kannapolis. Garcia has gone past five innings just twice this season.

Wiles vs. West Virginia: The right-hander Overland Park, Kansas has not faced the Power this season. He was second in the SAL in WHIP (1.05), fifth in OBA (.239 and fifth in ERA. He has thrown at least six innings in 13 of 22 starts this season going into the eighth twice.

In the final outing of the season, Wiles took a no-decision after allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits over 7.1 innings. He did allow a season high of five earned runs in the previous start on August 27 against Charleston. Wiles has walked more than one batter just five times this season.

Control is the key for his success. He offers a high-80s, low-90s fastball that he will cut on occasion. Wiles also throws a mid-80s slider, a change and a curve that he generally brings out the second time through the order.

Power hitters vs. Hickory: Kevin Kramer is 4-for-7 in the two games so far with Pablo Reyes cranking out three hits. Taylor Gushue and Connor Joe each have homered and have two RBI each. Kramer has the other RBI for the Power. West Virginia has struck out 20 times in 65 at bats.

Among active players, Elvis Escobar has the highest batting avg. vs. Hickory during the regular season at .355 (11-for-31). Jerrick Suiter went 6-for-18 (.333) and Kevin Newman went .286 (4-for-14).  Connor Joe hit only .200, but picked up eight walks in six games. All-star OF Michael Suchy had a team-high five RBI on four extra-base hits.

Crawdads hitters vs. West Virginia: In the two games of the series, Jose Trevino have four hits to lead the Crawdads attack. Six other players have two hits. Edwin Garcia and Luke Tendler have two RBI each. Newcomers Eric Jenkins and Dylan Moore have had trouble with contact as Jenkins has struck out four times and Moore has three.

Among active players during the regular season, Carlos Arroyo is the lone player hitting above .250 against West Virginia. Arroyo is 6-for-15 (.400) with a triple, a homer and two RBI. Beras and Garcia are at the .250 mark with Beras cranking a pair of homers to go with the one in game one. He leads the team with five RBI and Jose Trevino has four.

What to watch for: How deep the two starts can go and how well the bullpens bridge the gap to their closers will be a key. Wiles has shown the ability to minimize damage in early innings, then get into a groove over several innings. The goal for Garcia is to get through five innings and let the pen take over… After pitching two innings on Friday, Crawdads closer Scott Williams is likely not available. Look for Luis Ortiz to get an inning or two if the game is close or the Crawdads have the lead late with Adam Dian pitching the ninth… The Crawdads should see Sam Street at some point in the middle innings with Nick Neumann available for the ninth.

Catching on at the Position: An Interview with Jose Trevino

The stat sheet will show that Hickory Crawdads catcher Jose Trevino put up a .262/.291/.415 slash in 2015. His 14 homers were one behind teammate Luke Tendler for the team lead. Generally, he put the ball in play with a manageable 60 strikeouts in 449 plate appearances, though the 18 walks could perhaps use a bump.

Behind the plate, Trevino was a steady force. He caught 87 games – the fourth most in a Crawdads single-season and the most since the affiliation with the Texas Rangers began in 2009 – and in that span he put up some remarkable defensive numbers. Trevino committed only six errors and nine passed balls this season and set the club’s single season and overall fielding pct. mark (.992, minimum 70 games). He threw out 33.7% of runners trying to steal.

Several pitchers this season have raved about his game calling ability.  In an interview with Luis Ortiz after his start on June 9, he said of his catcher, ”I thank Trevino, because he’s the one who called the game for me. I believe in my catcher. I go with him and I trust him. That’s how pitchers should be: trust their catchers.”

After Collin Wiles threw seven shutout innings against Augusta on July 18, he credited Trevino with a game plan that included only three first-pitch fast balls during the first time through the lineup.

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

Not bad for a guy who was mostly a shortstop in his junior season at Oral Roberts.

With all of the accolades of his play, it’s the relationships that he brings to the clubhouse and on the field that arguably has had the biggest impact on the 2015 Crawdads. On the various trips I take to the clubhouse, there’s little doubt that one of the guys in charge of the space is Trevino. He’s always engaged with someone, whether it’s a video from the night before, a card game, or an occasional prank. You’ll rarely see Trevino alone in the clubhouse. (Honestly, I can’t recall seeing that.)

Trevino seemingly is a second pitching coach on the team. His mound visits nearly always produce a positive outcome from the pitcher in the sequence to come.

In the interview below, Trevino talks about his first full-season work as a catcher, including his preparation for this season along with mound visits and the ability to keep pitchers relaxed. He also talks about the progress of some of the Crawdads pitchers this season.

Jose Trevino behind the plate for the Hickory Crawdads (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino behind the plate for the Hickory Crawdads (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

First of all, I want to talk about your season in catching where you didn’t do a whole lot of it in college. You’ve now caught 87 games, which is the most here by a Rangers affiliated catcher. How have you held up for a first full season?

Trevino: Good. I think the main thing was to listen to my body. I know that off-season workouts had a lot to do with it. I had a good trainer back at home. I told him, “Now, I’m going to need my legs up under me when it comes to September and playoff time. I’m really going to need my legs and need that extra gear.” He said, “Alright, we’re just going to work your legs and we’re going to get them to where you want them to be.”

Last year, I kind of died out a little bit just because I was getting tired and my legs were getting tired from a long college season. Now, I feel good. I feel like my legs are up under me. I feel fine other than some cuts and bruises from nagging injuries from being a catcher, my legs are fine and everything’s good. I’m ready to go.

How much weight have you lost this year?

Trevino: I think I’ve dropped two or three pounds. I really try to stay on top of it, especially since that will carry you and help you out a little bit more.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you in converting to being a full-time catcher?

Trevino; When I first started catching last year, I guess it was my bat, balancing out hitting and catching. You can’t take your hitting to your catching because it’s going to affect the whole team; it’ll affect the game. If you try to square up a circle and a circle, it’s hard enough to do already. Then you go out there and you try to catch 90-plus that’s sinking and moving, it really affects you and really wears off on you.

What did you have to learn as far as dealing with pitchers? 

Trevino: Just learning how they like to pitch guys. Learning what their best pitch was. Learning what their best put-away pitch was. Learning what they like to go to when they’re ahead and when they’re behind, and in certain counts what they like to do – what every guy likes to do. So now, you can ask me what every guy likes to do and I can probably tell you what pitch they want to go to and I think they’ll agree with it.

Who did you have help you with that? Or was that something that you figured out on your own?

Trevino: I mean the Rangers go through a whole thing where you’ve got to know your pitchers. You have to know your pitches, especially if you want to play in this game, you have to know what they want and what they like. You just kind of catch onto it. Since you catch the same guys over and over and over again, I know what kind of pitches they’ll want to go to. I can see in the bullpen what’s been working. I can see throughout the game what’s been working maybe in a situation with the hitter and their best stuff. I’m going to take their (pitcher) best stuff over the hitter’s best stuff any day.

I’m going to ask an oddball kind of question. Did you take psychology in college? The reason I ask is that you are so good with mound visits. You just seem to have a sense of when to go and make a visit. Things seem to happen and you’re able to say the right things in a visit.

Trevino: I didn’t take psychology in college, but I took a class, kind of like a managing class – sports management, pretty much. It was learning how to go through things and learning what you could say to some people. Some people it’s a pat on the back and it’s fine. Other you guys it’s, “Hey, you’ve got to figure it out now, because we’ll get somebody else in here.”

You know how to handle certain guys. You know, you’re used it. You get up there and you see the look on some of their faces like, “I’ve got this. I’m fine. You’re just up here because you want to calm me down a little bit.” Other guys, there’s going to be certain guys that are like, “All right, let’s go,” and they’re hyped up. I’m like, “Calm down a little bit. You’re fine. Relax. Get this guy out. It’s easy. It’s going to be easy for you.”

I have other things I’ll say to other guys out there. You’ve just got to pay attention to their reactions. If they’re laughing, I’ll probably go out there and tell them something funny that probably didn’t have anything to do with baseball. I’ll tell them something and they’ll just be like, “Why did you just tell me that?” and I’ll just walk off.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve said to a pitcher?

Trevino: (long pause) I know, but I probably wouldn’t say it. I’ve said some funny things pretty much.

There are some clubs in development that the pitches are called from the dugout. I know the Rangers pretty much expect the catchers to make the calls from the plate. How much of a learning curve did you have in doing that after perhaps having not done it at college?

Trevino:  In college, I didn’t do it at all. Our coach gave us the signs and I put them down. And if our pitchers shook, I looked back at our coach and here we go. So, I had to learn that, too. I had to learn to call the game. I had to learn that it wasn’t to pitch other hitters the way I liked to hit or what I wouldn’t like to hit. It’s what they (hitters) don’t want to hit – what they don’t like to swing at. What they won’t swing at. What they’ll take, but have a bad swing at, and then you go from there.

If some guys are pulling off on the fastball away, you can go with another pitch there in that situation. You learn to read these things. You learn to pay attention more and that’s what I like about catching.

You’re in the game 24/7. You’re looking at everything because you come back into the dugout and you’re talking about hitters with the pitcher and the pitching coach. But then you’ve got to pay attention to the pitcher that’s pitching on the mound and you’ve got to pay attention to the situation that’s going on in the game. You’re in the game and you’re the quarterback. You call the shots.

With me, I don’t have any problem with taking the blame for a pitch that I called. I’ll turn to the dugout and say, “It’s my fault. All right let’s go, move on.”

How did it come about that you shifted from shortstop to catcher?

Trevino: I don’t know. I caught Alex Gonzalez in college on Fridays. He would come in and throw and that’s basically how much I would catch in college. I was also beat up in college. I had a messed up ankle, messed up foot. I was catching “Chi Chi”. I toughed it out and it was fine and it was good and I liked it.

People would come and talk to me and say, “Hey, we know you’re an infielder; we know you’re a third baseman and you can play anywhere.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve heard that one too.” They said, “What about catching?” And I said, “I liked it.” They’d ask me, “What do you think the biggest transition would be?” I said, “Separating my offense from my defense.”

Sure enough, you learn – and that comes from maturity – you learn to grow up real fast. I’ll rarely come in and be mad about an at-bat and take it out there. Once I get that last pitch and I say, “It’s coming down.” I’ll throw to second and that’s it. I don’t want to take the shine away from the pitcher that’s on the mound, because it’s his job. He’s trying to put money in his pocket. He’s trying to food on the table for his family, and I don’t want to be the guy responsible for not having his best stuff out there because I missed a block or I missed a fastball coming at me.

Who’s been the biggest help as far as teaching you as a catcher?

Trevino: I’d say all the catching coordinators, Chad Comer especially. He’s been with me through this whole season. He’s fixed so many things hitting wise and catching wise. He’s given me little tips.

Chris Briones, he’s also helped me a lot. He’s a guy that will instill a lot more confidence in me. He’ll just feed you confidence. When he comes during the year, it’s like, “Hey, I’m here to fill you with confidence.” You’re running a little low on gas and he’s like, “No, we’re going to refill you, you’re fine.”

Hector Ortiz. I talked to Hector Ortiz last year at instructs. He said, “We’ve got to work this if you really want to do this and get into it.”  I said, “I want to do this.”

Ryley Westman, he was here last year with the Rangers – he’s with the Padres now. He really got me into catching a ton.

Whenever I walk into the clubhouse, there are certain guys that are in charge, and you’re one of those. What has been the key of keeping the clubhouse together, especially in the second half when there’s been so much movement of guys in and out?

Trevino: Just having fun. You’ve just got to have fun with everybody. When a new guy comes in, you don’t want him just have him sit there on his chair. You might play a joke on him. I’m the one that plays the jokes. I’ll play a joke on him right away and I’ll get him and everybody will see how he reacts and see what kind of guy is he. If he’ll laugh and shake it off, everybody will say, “He’s a good dude.”

We have a bunch of good dudes in there and we all take everything good. They’re fun guys and they know we’re a fun club. Everybody that comes into this clubhouse and everybody that leaves and goes somewhere else, they’re like, “Man, Hickory was so fun.” I think that has a lot to do with our skip, with Ragsdale. He really likes to keep it loose, too. But when it comes game time, we’re going to play.

Let me talk about pitching a little bit. Who has impressed you the most as far where they started in April or maybe into May when they got here to now? Who’s made the biggest jump ahead?

Trevino: Brett Martin. He developed a curveball – a good curveball.

Chris Dula. He has a lot of stuff that plays in AA and AAA. I caught big league guys in spring training and Dula has some stuff in his arsenal. He goes and he keeps working, he has a chance to be really good.

Lulu Ortiz. Stuff wise, mentally wise, he’s locked in ready to go all the time. Every time he goes out there, he’s locked in and ready to go.

I can go up and down the list. I feel like every pitcher has gotten better. Nobody has taken a step back. Everybody has been going forward and forward and forward. Even if it’s a little step, it’s a big step to us.

For me it’s been Scott Williams. Your thoughts?

Trevino: Oh yeah. I caught him actually in my pre-draft workout for the Rangers when we were in Arlington together.

I have a funny story with Scott. They asked me, “Hey, do you want to get some at-bats against Williams.” I was like, “How hard do you throw?” He said, “97”. I said, “Ah, I think I’m just going to sit back here and catch for a little bit.” They were like, “Ok, that’s all right.” I got drafted and then I found out he got draft and I thought, “Sweet.”

He’s been really good and he has that kind of mentality that you can’t teach people. He’s ready to play. If you look down in the bullpen in the fourth or fifth inning, he’s out here stretching because he knows that if we get the lead in the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, he’s going to come in and he’s going to shut it down.  In his head, he’s going to shut it down. There are no negative thought in that head.

With nothing to really play for, has there been any let down as you guys get into August and think, let’s get into the playoffs?

Trevino: No. Everybody’s taking a step forward in their game mentality wise, in like they’re ready to play every day. It’s not just for themselves, but for everybody on the team. I want to do good for Luke (Tendler). I want to do good for the pitcher. I want to do good for Profar. I want to do good for Ragsdale. I want to do good for Comer. I want to do good for everybody around me. I feel like that’s what everybody has here. Everybody wants to get everybody better.

Last thing. You guys have won the championship because this happened?

Trevino: Execute. We just have to execute. We have it. We’re a good team, a really good team. No matter who you bring in, it’s going to be a good team here. We have a bunch of good players and everybody’s going to have fun doing it. If we just execute, we’ll be all right.

Jose Trevino cracked 14 homers and drove in 63 for Hickory in 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino cracked 14 homers and drove in 63 for Hickory in 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)