Results tagged ‘ Melvin Novoa ’

Flipping the Switch: A Look at the 2018 Hickory Crawdads with Manager Matt Hagen

Quite honestly, the Hickory Crawdads were a dreadful team to watch much of the first half. There were a few early successes – Catcher Melvin Novoa’s hot April that earned him a promotion and the season-long consistency of Crawdads opening day starter Tyler Phillips – but overall, the team didn’t hit well, didn’t pitch well, couldn’t hold leads, and so on. However, for me, what I will remember about this team is the ability for players to grind through the season and endure the process of development. Several players turned in big second half-seasons and kept the Crawdads in the playoff hunt until the final few days of the season.

The Crawdads came out of the South Atlantic League all-star break at 30-38, and promptly were swept at home in three straight by West Virginia to drop to its low point of the season at 30-41. But the Crawdads bounced back with a sweep of Augusta (S.C.) and then began to piece together series wins. An 18-10 July put the team within the .500 mark, which the Crawdads reached for the first time on August 4 at Hagerstown (Md.).

Hickory stayed within range of first-half Northern Division winner Lakewood (N.J.) for the second-half race and were within 2 1/2 games of the BlueClaws, when they traveled to L.P, Frans Stadium for a series on August 10. Lakewood took 3-out-4 to surge ahead, but a 5-2 road trip by the Crawdads followed and got the team again within 2.5 games of the BlueClaws. Lakewood returned to L.P. Frans for another series and again asserted its dominance with a 3-1 series win to put a bow on the second-half division title. Left with an outside shot at a wildcard slot – something unthinkable when Hickory finished sixth in the first half – the Crawdads took three-of-four at Delmarva (Md.) and the first game of the series finale against Greensboro. However, a loss to the Grasshoppers the next night officially knocked the Crawdads out three games from the end of the season. It was the second straight season in which Hickory was eliminated during the final weekend of the season.

The 70-68 record was the eighth time in ten seasons as the Texas Rangers affiliate the Crawdads had a winning record.

What changed? The hitting improved. The pitching improved. However, in talking with manager Matt Hagen, he was adamant that none of that would’ve occur had the accountability of the squad and their expectations had not changed. In talking with him the first half, there was a constant mantra of being one play short. A big hit in a key spot was missed. One pitch in a key spot wasn’t made. One ball wasn’t caught.

The attitude changed in the second half and the confidence came with it.

During an interview with Matt Hagen prior to the final game of the season on Monday, he talked about that shift in the mental approaches that occurred, as well as highlights of the season with some of the individual players.

Matt Hagen

Manager Matt Hagen from a game in May (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Considering where you guys started, 0-6 and 1-8, that was a heck of a turnaround in the second half. What are some things you contribute that to?

Hagen: Our coaches did a really good job of getting the players better. The players got better, and I think we raised the accountability level and the expectation level. Some of the things we were doing early on, as far as not just not playing with the right level of focus and intensity, we challenged them to be accountable to it.

We flat out just played better. We had a 4.6 ERA in the first half and a 3.2 in the second half. Some of those guys that were hitting .190 at the break ended up hitting .260. So, we had several guys hit over .300 for the second half. So, that was a pretty good deal.

Was there a tipping point at some time in the middle of the season, maybe late June or early July? That time period was a point where there seemed to be a gear shift. You went on a long road trip right after the (July) 4th.

Hagen: It was our first series in Hagerstown (Md.). We had a team meeting and we talked about raising expectations and making sure that guys are completely switched on when they walk in the door, and when they walk out the door to go to the field. From that point on, we won a lot more games than we lost.

The pitching staff, what a turn around: DeMarcus (Evans), Tyler (Phillips), who pretty much had it all year, AJ (Alexy), he finished strong.

Hagen: Reid Anderson.

What were some of the things that you guys were able to figure out?

Hagen: I would give credit to (pitching coach Jose) Jaimes. He’s out there every day sweating in that bullpen with those guys.

Tyler, I think, was more of a continuation of the success he had last year in Spokane.

To see the transformation of Reid Anderson, who won only one game last year. His demeanor on the mound was better. His presence was better. His conviction was better. His belief was better. His confidence was better.

Reid Anderson 2018

Reid Anderson was in the SAL top-ten in ERA (3.22) and WHIP (1.13) in 2018 (Photo courtesy of Ashley Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

I think AJ has just completely progressed as a pitcher, everything from his preparation to his mentality to his repertoire, his control, his attitude. Everything has gotten better.

And then our bullpen, my goodness, our bullpen was probably one of the best one in the league in the second half. If we had a lead in the seventh inning, we held on to it.

You mentioned the bullpen, what a luxury to have DeMarcus and Joe (Barlow). I talked with him and he talked about the walks to the point of saying I’m not going to use the word. (Joe) Kuzia had a good second half. (Josh) Advocate, when he was healthy, had a good second half. Did you get a sense that those guys got together to change the attitude of the bullpen?

Hagen: I think they took a lot of pride being in the bullpen. They saw it as kind of a brotherhood down there. It’s a great collection of guys. They joke around a lot and they pick on each other, but it’s like a family and they hold each other accountable, too.

DeMarcus, his numbers tell the whole story; he was lights out. He and Joe Barlow were like 1 and 1A; take your pick. Statistically, they were two of the best three relievers in the league. You can’t even argue that. The other guys you named were really good down the stretch, too.

DeMarcus Evans 2018

DeMarcus Evans struck out 66 during the second half and had over 16 Ks per 9 innings to lead the SAL (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

So, I think there was a confidence that kind of grew when one or two guys started having some success, and I think it got contagious down there.

 

Tyreque (Reed) was another guy that when the calendar turned to July, he found something. He talked about his approach going up the middle and going away, and he added the power back. What did you see with him, as far as flipping that switch?

Hagen: He came in right away and his first at-bat was a walk-off home run. Then, having not played at an affiliate yet, I think the rigors of playing against better competition, the hotels, the bus rides, the fans, playing under the lights, that kind of stuff caught up to him a little bit. Once he and Bubba (Thompson) kind of realized, hey, not only do we belong here, we can excel here, you just handed the keys over to them at that point. When Bubba was clicking in the leadoff spot, he was a guy that hit over .300 in the second half. Then, Tyreque, more or less, carried the middle of our lineup for the entire last month. If he were here all year, who knows where his numbers end up. We’d be talking a potential league MVP had he been here all year.

To watch those guys and to know the conversations that (hitting coach) Chase (Lambin) was having with those guys every day, making sure they stayed logged in, making sure they stayed confident and got their work in every day. It was a pleasure to high five those guys as they came around the base.

Tyreque Reed (2).jpg

Tyreque Reed finished third in the SAL in slugging pct. (,503) and OPS (.846) (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Bubba (Thompson) had a little hitch and then in July, he found a switch. It just seemed like a bunch of you found a switch at the same time.

Hagen: Bubba is a really talented kid and he can beat you in a lot of ways. One night, he’d go out – you talk about trying to leave your fingerprints on the game in a positive way – he may have gone 0-for-4 at the plate, but he might have made two or three plays in the outfield that might have won us the game. As young players do, they get locked in on the fact that maybe they didn’t have a great day at the plate, but you can still walk, you can steal two bases, you can still make plays in the outfield. He’s a special kid and not a lot of people can beat you in that many ways.

Bubba Thompson- Proffitt.jpg

Bubba Thompson stole 32 bases for Hickory and had a second-half slash of .300/.341/.441 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Yonny (Hernandez), I just like watching him play. You said it in the first meeting you and I had where you called him “The Mosquito”. He’s another guy that had a strong second half. You put him second in the lineup and that seemed to be a good niche for the guy with he and Thompson at the top of the order.

Hagen: The expectations were, we know he can play defense and we know he can run the bases a little bit. The question was, is he going to hit. You look up and he’s second in the league in walks and second in the league in stolen bases. He hit over .300 in the second half and raised his batting average over 70 points. Pretty special. He’s a disruptor, too. He gets on the bases and gets the pitchers thinking about him instead of the hitter. The next thing you know, the pitcher leaves a pitcher over the middle that (Ryan) Dorow or Tyreque and three runs are on the board.

He’s just a fun kid to watch. You just let him go out and do his thing. He attacks the game very aggressively.

Yonny Hernandez

Yonny Hernandez finished the season second in the South Atlantic League in steals (44) and OBP (.371) and third in walks (58) (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

The three-headed monster at catcher wound up being two with (Yohel) Pozo and (Sam) Huff. Please with their progress this year?

Hagen: Yeah. The goal was to get them both over 400 at-bats and they both got their 400 at-bats. Two guys that made an all-star team. Obviously, Melvin was doing good enough to get promoted. He was on fire early.

From a defensive standpoint, they both finished the season, hopefully with winning records <Note: Yohel Pozo was 30-30 entering the final game of the season. Pozo caught the game, which Hickory lost to Greensboro.>

Sam Huff and Yohel Pozo

South Atlantic League All-Star Catchers Yohel Pozo (left) and Sam Huff played a big role in the pitching staff’s turnaround in the second half (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

To see those guys mature, to where the pitchers have confidence in them – you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for the success the pitchers had in the second half, too. Because, they got better in calling the game and controlling the game. Two guys that can throw pretty well and I think they both finished in the top two or three in the league in receiving metrics. They’re getting pitches that are strikes called strikes, and stealing a few strikes here and there.

 

Was there any disappointment that Miguel (Aparicio) didn’t have the year I think folks were expecting from him, and maybe Pedro (Gonzalez), as well? Any concerns on their progress for this year?

Hagen: No, if we look it up, Pedro’s run production is the third best on the team, as far as scoring runs and driving in runs. The only downside there is the batting average is down a little bit. The slugging pct. is good. He’s had some leg issues that kind of plagued him all year, so his stolen bases weren’t as high as he wanted them to be. Earlier in the season, he was stealing bases when he was healthy. For me, I think Pedro actually had a good year.

Miguel was just up-and-down. He was player of the week one week, and then the next week you see a 19-year-old kid who’s going to struggle. He’d struggle to stay in his approach and then the next week he’d get hot again. Obviously, the power is there, as evidenced by the home run he crushed a couple of days ago over the advertisements there. For him, it’s just finding a way to be consistent.

Miguel Aparcio

Top-30 prospect Miguel Aparicio took home a South Atlantic League hitter of the week award in mid-July, but struggled much of the season and finished at .214/.263/.361 (Salinas/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

The glue of the team all year, for me, was Dorow. Is that a fair read for you?

Hagen: That’s a bull’s eye right there. We came in talking about somebody needing to step up to surprise you. I knew Dorow could catch a ground ball if it was hit to him, but I had no idea that he could catch every ground ball within running range and then throw guys out from any arm angle. What he did at the plate, he’s two away from 30 doubles, 12 home runs and right around .300 most of the year.

He really exceeded a lot of people’s expectations and he’s been a pleasure to watch run out and play and go about his business. You just plug him into the lineup and let him go. He has a very mature approach and a very tough kid mentally, and a very tough kid physically. He’s a manager’s dream.

Ryan Dorow

Ryan Dorow (Proffitt)

 

When you look back at this team in a couple of years, what’s going to stick out for you?

Hagen: I think just the turn around from where we were in the first half to where we finished up. The way they came together and started worrying less about themselves and started playing for each other a lot more, which is hard to do in this game, because everybody wants to get to the big leagues. They were able to take the focus off of their individual success and started thinking about what the team was doing.

They learned how to win, so when they get to the next level, or the guys that get to the big leagues, they don’t get there and go, “Well, I’m a big-league player, but I don’t know how to win.” They’re learned how to win and what it takes to win. That’s invaluable.

 

What did you learn this year as a manager?

Hagen: Ooooo, that’s a good question. Something new every day. I think knowing and continuing to learn when to push the guys and when to just pat them on the back. I think I would’ve liked to have held them to a higher level of expectation, earlier on. But there was a lot of getting to know one another still going on at that point.

Definitely letting my staff do their job. That’s been a luxury for me. Knowing when to speak up and when to stay out of the way and let Chase do his thing, or Jaimes do his thing, or Turtle (Thomas). I’m really fortunate to have three really good coaches, and that extends to the weight room, too. I didn’t have to monitor anything there. I’d stick my head in once in a while. Adam (Noel) does a great job with those guys. But, just trusting those guys to do their jobs and letting them do them was a big part of our success.

 

 

The Fire to Win: An Interview with Sam Huff

In writing the feature for the Hickory Daily Record, I had a bit of a writer’s block. I found the subject of this interview, Sam Huff, to be a multi-faceted person and there were so many directions in which I could’ve steered the article.

For the HDR writeup, I chose to go the route of the guy that had his baseball fire sparked at the age of five. As I mentioned in the article, there is a fire there that burns in the baseball soul. This kid wants to win and he wants to win however necessary.

I interviewed Huff a day after a game against Rome during which he and pitcher Jean Casanova put together a clinic on how to change the plan of attack against a lineup when the original plan didn’t work.

The night before, I had talked to the two of them about the game. A minor blip on Huff’s night was getting the golden sombrero (4 strikeouts in a game at the plate, for those that don’t know). When I asked him about that, while he wasn’t happy about the strikeouts, in the grand scheme of the game itself, he didn’t care. His team won. He had a part of that win because of the work as a catcher and that’s all that mattered to him. He repeated the mantra over and over, “I just want to win.” I left without the expletive that was a part of one of those statements.

So, inside of a measured speaker, that fire is there and the more it smolders.

There were other areas we touched on in this interview: his development, his leadership, and his curiosity for learning. I think readers will see that curiosity when reading through the interview and how he seeks to soak up information.

Both Huff and catching coordinator mentioned the influence of former Crawdads catcher Jose Trevino on Huff. So, I tracked down Trevino to get his perspective on Huff and what stands out to him.

Said Trevino about Huff:

“He’s different. Swings different. Throws different. He’s a special kid.

“He doesn’t know how dangerous he is yet though and I think being in his first full season, he will start to figure it out. He’s like that baby snake that doesn’t know how poisonous it is, yet. But sooner or later he will know when to strike and how much he needs to take down someone.

“He always wants to learn and he’s always picking my brain about everything! I like being around the kid because he still needs that person to check him back into place at times. It looks funny, a 5’8” dude telling a 6’8” dude something that will help him.

“But yes, a very special kid with a lot of talent. I don’t really compare him to a player in the big leagues right now cause I don’t think you can. Sam Huff is Sam Huff. He’s going to keep getting better and he’s always going to want to learn. Great ballplayer and a better person!”

However, Huff is not just a student for the sake of being a student. He wants to lead. He wants to lead his team. He wants to lead his pitchers. Huff doesn’t appear to be a person to lead in such a way that gives the feeling he that wants the world to revolve around him; he wants to figure out how to make his teammates better—so they can win.

Sam Huff fist pump

Sam Huff with a first pump during a game against West Virginia (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Here is the interview with Sam Huff:

First of all, your three-headed monster at catcher, I guess, is now down to two with you and Pozo. How did the three of you work together where you’re not getting total playing time behind the plate but you’re having to figure that out?

Huff: At the start it was kind of different because we’d play like Melvin, me, Pozo, Melvin, me, Pozo and we kind of had to work off of that. It was kind of hard to get into a rhythm and a groove. Then we’d finally start to get the hang of it and we were like, “Okay, this is our day.”

The day before that we’d get focused on watching and studying. Then the day of, we’d talk to each other. Melvin would say, “Hey, this team is good at hitting fastballs” or “This team likes to hit offspeeds and the fastball away” or “They’re a fast team, so then like to bunt or run.” We just had to almost give each other reports to keep us in the game and to help our pitchers.

Because, our goal is to help our pitchers. Us three together, we knew we all had to come together and help each other, because overall, we want to be good and we like to see each other do good because we’re winning. What I said last night, we like to win and have us three catchers calling good games and our pitchers in the strike zone and keeping them in good rhythm. It helps a lot to talk to each other.

 

Was it hard to get the pitchers into any kind of consistency, though, when you have three different voices coming at them?

Huff: Yeah, because pitchers will want to throw to a different guy, or to one or the other, but we just had to work with it. We had to learn our pitchers by talking, then catching the bullpens, catching the sides and getting an idea of what they like to do. So, every day I didn’t catch, and it was my off day, I would go to the bullpen and catch all the relievers. That’s the biggest part is every night, you’ve got a new guy coming in. You’ve haven’t caught them in two weeks and you don’t remember the ball movements. My biggest thing is I can remember my pitchers.

I live with four: Tyler Phillips, Joe Barlow, Josh Advocate and Noah (Bremer) – he’s coming back from the rehab. I talk to them. I always work with them. I know them like the back of my hand. I love them and it’s just good to talk to pitchers because then they tell you what pitchers think like from a perspective of what they want to do, how they want to do it. What’s their strengths and what’s their weaknesses. How they rank their pitches. That comes into play because you’ve got to know, if he doesn’t have his fastball, what’s his second best and go off that. You can’t just say, “Okay, we’re going to go to his third best,” and that’s not his strength. You got to work to the strengths of the pitcher and understand them.

 

There’s so much that goes into catching, not just handling the pitching staff, obviously the defense, then you’ve got to come out and bring a stick to the plate and hit. Then, there’s so many intangibles. What’s the biggest thing you are working on right now, at this level?

Huff: The biggest thing is being consistent behind the plate, catching, calling the game, maintaining a good pitching staff and how I want to approach hitters. Last night was a really good thing for me as a catcher to learn. If a plan doesn’t work, we can work off of it where we can modify it a little bit. We don’t have to flip the script and get a whole new plan. We just build off of it. It was really cool to understand that. Here’s a team that’s a fastball hitting team. They don’t like curveballs, so, okay, we’ll pitch backwards now. As a catcher, when I see that, it’s going to be easier to call because you understand, because I’m right here and the hitter’s standing right there. So, it’s easier for me, but it has to come from the pitcher, too.

Learning that as a player and hitting and just being consistent. I’m just working on some stuff. Overall, I don’t try to focus too much about hitting, because the biggest thing for me is to become the best catcher and I want to be the best.

Sam HUff hitting

Sam Huff with a home run swing during an exhibition game vs. Catawba Valley CC (Tracy Proffitt)

 

What made you decide you wanted to be a catcher in the first place? You guys take a beating and there’s so much going into what you do at the position.

Huff: I didn’t catch my whole life. I played short when I was little, third, first, the outfield and pitched. I didn’t pitch in high school. I played first base my freshman year.

I watched a guy named Tommy Joseph and Matt Wieters and Joe Mauer. I liked the way they did their catching. I just kind of said, I want to be a catcher. I went to a guy in Arizona – he was Tommy Joseph’s catching coach. Tommy was in the (Arizona) fall league at the time with the Giants, so he’d come and watch and hang out. It kind of got me triggered there. I was in my sophomore year. In my junior and senior year, I caught.

It’s been different. I didn’t think I was ever going to be a catcher when I was younger. I thought I was going to be a third baseman or a first baseman, or the outfield type. It stuck with me. I liked the way it is, that you’re in every pitch. You’re not just standing there, but you’re doing something to help the team win.

 

What is the thing you think you bring to the position? You were playing other positions and now you’re fresh behind the plate. What did you bring to the position that you thought would make it work?

Huff: I thought I received well. I caught the ball. I threw the ball good and I could throw guys out. Blocking, I had to work at it and I’m still working at it, but it’s becoming one of my strengths. I just felt like I could catch and throw really well. I felt like I could bring energy as a player and being able to control my team and help my teammates out, because I want other guys to be good.

To be able to see a catcher, even though he’s down, but he’s still up and going, that’s a leader. I’m just trying to fill the role, because it’s something I want to be, but it’s something I’ve got to work at. Every day I’m working and I’m talking to guys that I feel like are leaders to me and they tell me how they do it and I try to copy that.

 

Who are the leaders to you?

Huff: I feel like Clay Middleton. He’s a really good guy to look after. Tyree Thompson, Tyler Phillips, I could go on. I feel like everybody, in some aspect of the way, is a leader to me. They show me things that I can do different, and they tell me things that I can do different, and I show them things that I’ve improved on that they could do different. So, it’s really cool. As a team, I try and incorporate everybody as a leader. It doesn’t matter how you lead, if you’re just a quiet guy or if you like to talk a lot. If you’re a leader, you’re a leader.

 

You mentioned some guys that got you interested in catching like Mauer and Tommy Joseph. At this stage of you career, who are you looking at as someone you’d like to model your game after?

Huff: I’d like to model my game after Mike Piazza. He wasn’t the best catcher, but he could hit. He’s a Hall-of-Famer, so you can’t say that he’s not that bad of a catcher. But, I really like to model my game after him, because watching video, he had the mentality of, he’s going to beat you. He doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t give, you know what, about you.

He plays hard. He wasn’t given the opportunity, he had to work for it. I like watching him as a player, because he had the flow. He had the mentality to just go out there and play to show everyone that he was better than they thought he would be.

 

(Rangers catching coordinator) Chris (Briones) will come in and say, “it’s time to fill my guys up.” What does a guy like Chris bring to you when he comes on a visit?

Huff: We talk about what I can do different and what I’m doing good at. What things he’s seen that I’ve improved on, or I need to improve on. Lately, we’ve just talked about being consistent behind the plate and getting wins, being consistent with the blocking, the throwing, the receiving, calling. I love Chris and love when he comes here and we talk.

We always bring up Trevino because we’re in the same agency and we always talk. I always talk to Jose, so I ask him little things and he just tells me what’s the deal and how to do it. It’s really awesome to have a guy like that talk to me. It’s really cool.

 

What are you looking at as the next step of development for you?

Huff: Just getting better every day at everything. I feel like I can get better at everything. There’s always something I want to improve on. I feel like once I start to get the hang of hitting, then everything will come together. Overall, I want to get better at everything. I’m always anxious to learn. Briones, he knows that and I’m always talking to him about stuff. So, it’s always cool to have him here and pick his brain a little more.

 

You get a call that says you’re going to the major leagues? Who’s the first person you call?

Huff: My parents. My dad first. He’s been there since the start, so he would get the first call. Then my grandma and grandpa, and then my whole family members and my coaches and friends.

 

Who is the biggest factor in your career that is not a family member?

Huff: As crazy as it sounds, my dad’s best friend, Marty Maier, a pitching coach at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. We talk all the time and he’s been playing for a while.

He was kind of the first guy I talked to in baseball when I was a five-year-old kid. He’s a pretty funny guy, but he told me, “This game ain’t easy, but you can do a lot if you just apply yourself. Play every game like it’s your last. Never, ever take anything for granted.” I took that to heart and I really love this game and I like to play.

I thank myself every day and I thank my parents. I thank everybody that’s helped me along this journey. Even though I’m in the ups and downs, I still remember what would I rather be doing: going to school or playing baseball for a living? When you tell yourself that, you really take it to heart. I’m playing a game that’s a kid’s game and I’m having fun with it. So, I try not to take anything for granted. For him doing that and telling me that at a young age, that was really cool and I thank him for that every day.

Huff Jaimes Mendez mound visit

A mound visit with Sal Mendez (left) Jose Jaimes and Huff (Proffitt)

At the Quarter Pole: A look at the Crawdads progress with manager Matt Hagen

Prior to Thursday night’s game at Kannapolis, the Hickory Crawdads hit the quarter mark of the 2018 season. Since losing the first seven games to start the season, Hickory has been right around the .500 mark and is currently at 14-22.

Over the past week, the entire outfield got a makeover. Eric Jenkins was promoted to high-A Down East, Miguel Aparicio went to extended spring and Pedro Gonzalez. Up came 2017 first-round pick Bubba Thompson – along with first baseman Tyreque Reed – and suddenly the Crawdads are 5-3 since.

The three-headed monster behind the plate went to two as Rangers minor league player of the month Melvin Novoa went to Down East. The pitching staff is looking for consistency and two of the early season sparks have come in the former of utility players Justin Jacobs and Ryan Dorow. All in all, the Crawdads are in a better spot than they were in mid-April and with a tweak here and there, they could be a team to watch later this half and all of the second half.

I took a few moments to chat with Crawdads manager Matt Hagen at the end of the last homestand on Tuesday about the first 35 games of the season and what the hopes are for the next 35 games as the season churns along.

 

It’s the quarter point of the season and, record aside, I know this is about development. First, I want to get an overview of the positives you see in the development side?

Hagen: Record aside, we are trying to develop the ability to win games, too. We put ourselves in such a hole early on the way we came out. We did not swing the bats real well early in the season. The weather was cold and the ball wasn’t carrying. You look at the games we’d win, typically there were some home runs involved.

I think that all three of our catchers have gotten better, that’s why one of them moved up. Infield play has been one of our strengths this season, making the routine plays.

We had the ability to promote an outfielder that had been here for two years, so the work he’d put in paid off.

Our starting pitchers have been better the last few outings If you look at Tyree (Thompson), there’s a few things. AJ Alexy as been throwing the ball better the last few starts. So, we’re definitely getting better on the pitching side. Then I look at the way (Joe) Barlow threw today, (DeMarcus) Evans threw the ball well his last time, Sal’s (Mendez) been throwing lately and the way (Alex) Speas threw yesterday. Those are things to get really excited about from a pitching perspective.

 

There are a lot of changes that can happen at this level and suddenly you have a whole new outfield.

Hagen: The guys that have shown up have contributed right away. Getting a little fresh blood was great for us and when we get Pedro (Gonzalez) back and healthy – at some point in the future – he’s only going to make us better, too.

 

And Miguel was sent down, what is he going to be working on at this point?

Hagen: Well, at this point, he’s going to be working on a little bit of everything. He does a lot of things that the organization values, but just like everybody else, he’s got things to work on and hopefully he will make the most of his time down there.

 

You mentioned at the beginning of the year that you had a lot of hope for the two utility players – Justin Jacobs and Ryan Dorow – and both have really contributed some good innings for you?

Hagen: They’ve been awesome, the ability to plug both those guys in anywhere. JJ might play second one day, first, third, or right field the next day. Ryan, for me, has been a plus infielder no matter what position we’ve put him in. Like I said, they’re both hitting over .300. So, they’ve given us a lot of value and we’re not going to go anywhere without those two guys.

 

Next step that you’ve got to get to in this second-half of the first half

Hagen: I think we’re just looking for some consistency. We had some games in the first month, or whatever, where we weren’t in the game; we weren’t competitive. I looked over the past week, most of them we’ve been competitive in every game. I think that’s kind of the standard now, is to be in every game when you look up in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning, and feel like we have a chance to win.

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)

Series Preview: Columbia (S.C.) at Hickory May 4-7

Columbia Fireflies (New York Mets) (17-14, 3rd SAL South), at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (9-19, 7th SAL North)

 

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Wednesday 6:00 p.m., Thursday 7:00 p.m., Friday 7:00 p.m.

 

Promotions:

Wednesday –Wine Wednesday

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday; Dunder-Mifflin Night

Friday – Craw-moms Weekend; Hickory vs. Cancer Night; Boy Scout Night; Post-game Fireworks

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

WHERE: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (Columbia/ Hickory):

Wednesday: RHP Marcel Renteria vs. RHP Tyree Thompson

Thursday: RHP Tony Dibrell vs. Alex Eubanks

Friday: RHP Joe Cavallaro vs. RHP AJ Alexy

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads and Fireflies split a four-game series at Columbia in April. The Fireflies moved from Savannah, Ga. to Columbia at the start of the 2016 season. Since then, the Crawdads are 13-8 overall but just 5-5 at L.P. Frans. Hickory is 41-33 overall, 20-16 at home since 2009, which is the start of the Crawdads/ Rangers affiliation.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads limp home after finishing a rain-shortened, 1-5 road trip with two walk-off losses at West Virginia on Monday… A revamped roster will greet fans at L.P. Frans Stadium at the start of the homestand. Outfielder Eric Jenkins and catcher Melvin Novoa were both promoted to high-A Down East and shortstop Yonny Hernandez is now with AA Frisco (Tex.). Center fielder Pedro Gonzalez is on the disabled list with an undisclosed injury. Coming to the Crawdads are outfielders Bubba Thompson (extended spring) and Austin O’Banion (Frisco), infielder Cristian Inoa (Frisco) and first baseman Tyreque Reed (extended spring)… What had been a strong suit prior to the series at West Virginia stumbled over the weekend. After entering the series with the fewest errors in the SAL, Hickory committed six errors in three games… The pitching staff continues to struggle with walks. Though they have given up the fourth fewest hits in the SAL, the Crawdads are 11th in ERA on the backs of the second most walks allowed in the league.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Bubba Thompson (No. 6) 2017 stats at AZL Rangers: 30 games, .257/.317/.434, 7 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 5 SB, 5 CS. First-round pick of the Rangers in 2018 out of McGill-Toolen High, Mobile, AL.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 5 games (4 starts), 20 IP, 19 H, 16 R (15 ER), 2 HR, 2 HB, 15 BB, 25 K, 6.75 ERA, .257 OBA, 1.70 WHIP. Last start 5/4 at West Virginia: 6 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 12 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 5th walks allowed.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: .216/.260/.340, 2 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 6 BB, 16 K. Last series vs. West Virginia: 1-for-12, 1 HR, 1 K. Signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 10 games, 14 IP, 11 H, 7 R (5 ER), 1 HR, 13 BB, 25 K, 3.21 ERA, .208 OBA 1.71 WHIP. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (16.07).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 26): 2018 stats: .215/.279/.354, 5 2B, 2 HR, 5 BB, 28 K. Last series at West Virginia: 1-for-3, 1 BB, 1 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 5 games (4 starts) 21.1 IP, 22 H, 16 R (13 ER), 2 HR, 2 HB, 4 BB, 9 K, 5.48 ERA, .265 OBA, 1.22 WHIP. Last start at Kannapolis 5/2: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 HB, 2 BB, 2 K. Twenty-sixth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.

RHP Alex Eubanks: 2018 stats: 5 games (5 starts) 21.2 IP, 34 H, 23 R (23 ER), 6 HR, 5 BB, 28 K, 9.55 ERA, .358 OBA, 1.80 WHIP. Last start 5/3 at Kannapolis: 2.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R (7 ER), 2 HR, 1 BB, 3 K. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Clemson Univ. SAL top-10 rankings: T-2nd earned runs allowed, T-2nd home runs allowed, T-5th runs allowed.

1B Tyreque Reed: 2017 stats at AZL Rangers: 35 games, .350/.455/.617, 13 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 22 BB, 26 K. Eighth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Itawamba Community College in Mississippi. Attended Houlka (MS) HS. Named to Arizona Summer League All-star team in 2017.

IF Cristian Inoa: 2018 stats combined at AA Frisco and AAA Round Rock (Tex.): 5 games, .083/.214/.083, 2 BB, 3 K. Played mostly at SS last season at short-season Spokane. Signed with the Rangers in 2016 as an international free agent. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

OF Austin O’Banion: 2018 stats at AA Frisco: 4 games, .188/.235/.188, 1 BB, 7 K. Played mostly in LF at short-season Spokane in 2017. Thirty-seventh round pick by the Rangers in 2016 out of Cal State-Fullerton.

 

About the Fireflies:

Managed by Pedro Lopez in his first season at the helm of the team… Went 5-2 during their homestand over the past week including a 3-1 series win over Lakewood (N.J.). The Fireflies are off to a hot start at the plate in May. Currently, their .278 avg. is second in the SAL for the month and they scored six or more runs in four of the seven games at home. However, the road has been tough for Columbia as it has posted a .240/.367/. 325 slash line away from home. Overall, they are third in the SAL in batting avg. (.257) and second in OBP (.349). It is a patient team as the Fireflies lead the SAL in walks with players occupying the first, second and fifth spots individually. Columbia is second in the league in runs scored, third in hits and total bases…  On the mound, it’s a group that throws a lot of pitches. Columbia leads the SAL in both strikeouts and walks allowed.

Prospects to watch-Columbia (rankings by MLB.com):

LHP David Peterson (No. 2): 2018 stats: 3 games (3 starts) 23.2 IP, 20 H, 8 R (6 ER) 1 HB, 8 BB, 121 K, 2.28 ERA, .227 OBA, 1.18 WHIP. Last start 5/7 vs. Lexington Ky.: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K. Pitched for US National team in 2016. First-round draft pick by the Mets in 2017 out of the University of Oregon. Attended Regis Jesuit HS in Aurora, Colorado. Native of Denver.

LHP Anthony Kay (No. 14): 2018 stats: 5 games (5 starts) 26.1 IP, 21 H, 12 R (10 ER), 9 BB, 24 K, 3.42 ERA, .221 OBA, 1.14 WHIP. Last start 5/5 vs. Lakewood (N.J.): 6.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 HR, 1 HB, 2 BB, 6 K. First-round pick of the Mets in 2016 out of the University of Connecticut. Native of Stony Brook, N.Y. Made pro debut this spring after recovering from “Tommy John” surgery.

C Ali Sanchez (No. 27): 2018 stats: .220/.298/.280, 3 2B, 6 BB, 9 K. Last series vs. Lakewood: 3-for-12, 2B, RBI, 2 BB, 2 K. Signed by the Mets in 2015 as an international free agent. Native of Carora, Venezuela.

CF Quinn Brodey (No. 28): 2018 stats: .231/.305/.453, 5 3B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 12 BB, 42 K, 3 SB. Last series vs. Lakewood: 4-for-17, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 K. Third-round pick by the Mets in 2017 out of Stanford Univ. Native of Glendale, Calif. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd RBI, 2nd strikeouts, T-5th triples, T-5th home runs, 8th total bases.

 

Others to watch-Columbia

RHP Marcel Renteria: 2018 stats: 4 games (4 starts), 23.1 IP, 24 H, 11 R (10 ER), 1 HR, 2 HB, 6 BB, 22 K, 3.86 ERA, .273 OBA, 1.29 WHIP. Last start 5/2 vs. Lexington (Ky.): 7.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. Sixth-round pick of the Mets in 2017 out of New Mexico State. Played at Pima CC (Tucson, AZ) and high school ball in his native Nogales (AZ).

RHP Tony Dibrell: 2018 stats: 5 games (5 starts), 25.2 IP, 22 H, 16 R, 14 ER, 2 HR, 1 HB, 15 BB, 37 K, 4.91 ERA, .232 OBA, 1.44 WHIP. Last start 5/3 vs. Lexington: 6 IP, 1 H, 1 R (0 ER), 4 BB, 6 K. Fourth-round pick by the Mets in 2017 out Kennesaw (Ga.) State. Attended Chattahoochee HS, Alpharetta, Ga.

RHP Joe Cavallaro: 2018 stats: 5 games (4 starts), 28 IP, 19 H, 11 R (6 ER), 3 HR, 20 RBI, 2 HB, 9 BB, 28 K, 1.93 ERA, .196 OBA, 1.00 WHIP. Last outing 5/4 vs. Lakewood: 4 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K. Twenty-fourth round pick by the Mets in 2017 out of the Univ. of South Florida. Attended Sarasota HS.

RHP Trey Cobb: 2018 stats: 10 games: 11 IP, 12 H, 4 R (2 ER), 2 HR, 2 BB, 1 BB, 16 K, 1.64 ERA, .273 OBA, 1.18 WHIP. Eighth-round pick by the Mets in 2017 out of Oklahoma State. Attended Broken Arrow HS (Okla.). SAL Top-10 rankings: T-4th saves (4).

1B Jeremy Vasquez: 2018 stats: .343/.457/.559, 9 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 23 BB, 22 K. Last series vs. Lakewood: 7-for-17, 2B, HR, 4 R, RBI, 1 BB, 3 K. Twenty-eighth round pick of the Mets in 2017 out of Nova Southeastern Univ. (Fla.) Played at Univ. of Florida as a freshman and sophomore. Attended Martin Co. HS and a native of Palm City, Fla. SAL Top-10 rankings: 1st OPS (1.016), 1st walks, 2nd batting avg., T-2nd doubles, T-3rd hits, 4th slugging pct., T-4th total bases, lT-10th RBI,

2B Blake Tiberi: 2018 stats: .309/.433/.402, 6 2B, 1 HR, 20 R, 9 RBI, 21 BB, 25 K. Last series vs. Lakewood: 7-for-15, 2B, 3 R, RBI, 3 BB, 4 K. Third-round pick of the Mets in 2016 out of the Univ. of Louisville. Attended Holy Cross HS in Covington, KY. SAL Top-10 rankings: 2nd walks, 4th OBP, T-8th runs, 10th batting avg.

Series Preview: Hickory at Kannapolis May 1-3

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (8-14, 6th SAL North) at Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (14-10, 3rd SAL North)

 

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Tuesday through Thursday 6:30 p.m.

PROMOTIONS:

Tuesday– Baseball Bingo

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday

 TICKETS: Advance tickets: Adult General Admission $6.50/ Children $5.50; Adult Reserve $8.50/ Children $7.50. Add $1.50 to each ticket the day of the game.

Where is it?: From I-85 take Exit 63 (Lane Street). From I-85 South, turn left; I-85 north, turn right. Stadium Drive will be on the right.

PARKING: All parking is $2.

 CONCESSIONS: Intimidators Stadium is your no-frills ballpark with traditional burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, BBQ sandwiches, etc.

 

PROBABLES (Hickory/ Kannapolis) (Note Crawdads pitchers supplied by Rangers media mailings/ Kannapolis probables based on usage by team to date. All pitching assignments scheduled to change):

Tuesday: RHP Tyler Phillips vs. LHP Parker Rigler

Wednesday: RHP Tyree Thompson vs. RHP Kade McClure

Thursday: RHP Alex Eubanks vs. Lincoln Henzman

 

Recent Series History:

Hickory won the season series in 2017 12-10, which included a 7-5 edge at Intimidators Stadium. Since the start of the Crawdads affiliation with the Rangers in 2009, Hickory is 96-63 against Kannapolis, 51-32 at Intimidators Stadium. The Intimidators last won a season series vs. Hickory in 2010 (7-9).

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads salvaged the final game of three against Delmarva (Md.) over the weekend and settled for a 2-4 homestand against the Shorebirds and Greensboro… Hickory is 2-8 on the road, but split the last roadtrip 2-2 at Columbia… The Crawdads remain solid defensively with a SAL-low 18 errors committed. That has helped minimized some damage by the pitching staff, which had some rough patches over the homestand with six or more runs allowed in three of the final four games (25 total). Walks continue to plague the team as the staff is tied for second with 82 in 22 games. The group has struck out 184, the third fewest in the SAL… At the plate, Hickory is solidly in the middle of the SAL in slash stats .242/.309/.377. They put the ball in play for the most part. The Crawdads are next to last in Ks and last in walks received.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10): 2018 stats: .229/.267/.414, 2 3B, 3 HR, 25 K, 3 BB, 4 SB. Last series vs. Delmarva (Md.): 0-for-6, RBI, 3 K. Came to the Rangers in a trade for C Jonathan Lucroy. Originally signed with Rockies in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 4 games (3 starts), 14 IP, 18 H, 16 R (15 ER), 2 HR, 2 HB, 12 BB, 13 K, 9.64 ERA, .321 OBA, 2.14 WHIP. Last start 4/27 vs. Delmarva.: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 1 HR, 1 HB, 3 BB, 3 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: .250/.299/.347, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 BB, 14 K. Last series vs. Delmarva 1-for-8, 2 R, 2B, 1 BB, 2 K. Signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 7 games (all in relief), 10 IP, 8 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 HR, 10 BB, 18 K, 3.60 ERA, .211 OBA 1.80 WHIP. Second-round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA). SAL Top-10 Rankings: 4th Ks-per-9 innings among relievers (16.20).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 25): 2018 stats: .222/.279/.381, 4 2B, 2 HR, 3 BB, 22 K. Last series vs. Delmarva: 2-7, 2 R, HR, 1 BB, 3 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Tyler Phillips: 2018 stats: 4 games (4 starts), 21.2 IP, 21 H, 8 R (8 ER), 1 HR, 1 HB, 3 BB, 23 K, 3.32 ERA, 256 OBA, 1.11 WHIP. Last start 4/25 vs. Greensboro: 7 IP (complete game), 5 H, 1 ER, 1 HB, 4 K. Sixteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken, N.J.

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 4 games (3 starts), 15.2 IP, 15 H, 10 R (7 ER), 2 HR, 2 BB, 7 K, 2.78 ERA, .231 OBA, 1.02 WHIP. Last start 4/25 vs. Greensboro: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 K. Twenty-sixth round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out or Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.

RHP Alex Eubanks: 2018 stats: 4 games (4 starts), 19 IP, 25 H, 16 R (16 ER), 4 HR, 4 BB, 25 K, 7.58 ERA .313 OBA, 1.53 WHIP. Last start 4/26 vs. Greensboro: 4.1 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 4 K. Fourteenth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of Clemson Univ. A native of Duncan, S.C. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th HR allowed

C Melvin Nova: 2018 stats: .358/.411/.552, 7 2B, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K. Last series vs. Delmarva: 4-for-8, R, 2 2B, 3 RBI, BB, K. Caught 5 for 6 runners attempting to steal this season. Native of Nandaime, Nicaragua signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd RBI, 4th batting avg., T-4th doubles, 5th OBP, 6th OPS, 8th slugging pct., T-10th hits (24)

OF Eric Jenkins: 2018 stats: .289/.337/.439, 1 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 11 R, 13 RBI, 7 BB, 25 K, 12 steals, 2 CS. Last series vs. Delmarva: 3-for-12, R, RBI, 2B, BB, 5 K, 1 SB. Native of Cerro Gordo, N.C. Was the 2nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of West Columbus High. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 1st triples, T-2nd triples.

RHP Joe Barlow: 2018 stats: 6 games, 9.1 IP, 7 BB, 17 K. Eleventh-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Salt Lake CC. Attended Riverton (Utah) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: Leads relievers in OBA (0-for-27). 2nd in SAL among relievers Ks per 9 IP ratio (16.39). 4th in fewest baserunners allowed ratio per 9 innings (6.75).

 

About the Intimidators:

Kannapolis is managed by Justin Jirschele in his second season with the team (82-79). The Intimidators won the SAL North first-half title and went on to the playoffs before losing in the championship series to Greenville (S.C.)… Kannapolis returns home after a 3-4 trip to Delmarva (Md.) and Lakewood (N.J.). The Intimidators threw a two-hitter in the finale against the BlueClaws but lost 1-0 as they stranded 13. They were shutout twice on the trip and scored 19 runs over the seven games – ten of those came over the first two games of the series at Lakewood… Kannapolis at the plate is second in batting (.263) and hits, and third in OBP (.332) and doubles…Kannapolis has been stingy with runs this season with a team ERA of 2.36. The WHIP of 1.12 is third in the SAL.

 

Prospects to watch-Kannapolis (rankings by MLB.com):

CF Luis Gonzalez (No. 18): 2018 stats: .310/.386/.448, 3 2B, 3 HR, 12 BB, 25 K, 3 SB. Last series vs. Lakewood (N.J.): 7-for-15, 2B, 1 R, 2 BB, 3 K. Third-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Univ. of New Mexico. Born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Attended high school at Catalina Foothills in Tucson, Ariz. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-4th (27), T-9th walks, 10th batting avg.

C Evan Skoug (No. 22): 2018 stats: .150/.268/.233, 2 2B, 1 HR, 10 BB, 24 K. Last series vs. Lakewood: 1-for-8, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K. Seventh-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Texas Christian Univ. Native of Libertyville, Ill. Big 12 Co-player of the year in 2017. First-team All-American). Has thrown out 4-of-6 base stealers in 2018.

RHP Tyler Johnson (No. 25): 2018 stats: 8 games, 10.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 2 HB, 3 BB, 19 K, .171 OBA, 0.87 WHIP, 3 saves. Fifth-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of South Carolina. Native of Midlothian, Va and attended Trinity Episcopal HS there. Pitched for USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.

RHP Lincoln Henzman (No. 26): 2018 stats: 5 games (5 starts), 25 IP, 26 H, 16 R (8 ER), 3 BB, 20 K, 2.88 ERA, .252 OBA, 1.16 WHIP. Last start 4/27 vs. Lakewood: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R (2 ER), 5 K. Fourth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of Louisville. Native of Lexington, Ky. and attended Lexington Christian Academy. First-team All-American and NCBWA Stopper of the Year in 2017. SAL Top-10 Rankings: T-9th innings pitched. T-9th hits allowed.

1B Justin Yurchak (No. 28): 2018 stats: .205/.363/.247, 3 2B, 18 BB, 17 K. Last series vs. Lakewood: 2-for-10, 3 R, 1 RBI, 6 BB, 1 K. Twelfth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Binghamton (N.Y.) Univ. Attended Shenendehowa HS in his native Clifton Park, N.Y. Played at Wake Forest his freshman season. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd walks

 

Others to watch-Kannapolis:

LHP Parker Rigler: 2018 stats: 4 games (4 starts), 20.1 IP, 13 H, 4 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 8 BB, 16 K, 0.89 ERA, .181 OBA, 1.03 WHIP. Last start 4/25 vs. Delmarva (Md.): 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K. Thirty-first-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Kansas State. Attended Edmond (Okla.) Memorial HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd ERA, 5th OBA.

RHP Kade McClure: 2018 stats: 5 games (5 starts), 29 IP, 27 H, 10 R (8 ER), 2 HR, 1 HB, 11 BB, 29 K, 2.48 ERA, .245 OBA, 1.31 WHIP. Last start vs. Delmarva 4/26: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R (2 ER), 1 HB, 4 BB. Sixth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of Louisville. Attended Mentor (Ohio) HS. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd innings pitched, T-7th hits allowed, T-7th walks allowed, T-10th strikeouts

2B Tate Blackman: 2018 stats: .333/.387/.488, 4 2B, 3 HR, 7 BB, 28 K, 1 SB, 2 CS. Last series at Lakewood: 4-for-11 (was 4-for-5 on 4/27), 2B, R, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 3 K. Thirteenth-round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of Ole Miss. Attended Lake Brantley HS (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) SAL Top-10 Rankings: 3rd hits (28), 6th batting avg., T-9th total bases

SS Laz Rivera: 2018 stats: .333/.356/.471, 6 2B, 2 HR, 2 BB, 15 K, 3 SB, 2 CS. Last series at Lakewood: 4-for-14, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 K. Twenty-eighth round pick of the White Sox in 2017 out of the Univ. of Tampa. Played at Univ. of Miami and Chipola CC (Fla.) before going to Tampa. Played at Columbus High in Miami. SAL Top-10 Rankings: 2nd hits (29), T-6th doubles (6), 7th batting avg. T-8th runs scored (15), T-9th total bases.

 

Crawdads Cap Tough Month with a Walk-off Win

On the brink of another loss to Delmarva (Md.) to end a dreadful homestand on the final game of a tough month, the Hickory Crawdads on Sunday erased a five-run deficit over the final three innings, which was capped by a wild pitch that scored a runner from second base to end a three-run, ninth-inning rally and beat the Shorebirds 7-6 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for Hickory (8-14) ended both its four-game losing streak and the Shorebirds (16-8) four-game winning streak. The Crawdads also avoided the first sweep by the Shorebirds at L.P. Frans Stadium since July 2008.

The walk-off win was the first by Hickory since defeating the Shorebirds on July 9, 2017 on a solo homer by Blaine Prescott. It was also the first walk-off win by a wild pitch for Hickory since May 23, 2013 when the Crawdads capped a five-run 12th innings as Jordan Akins scored against Kannapolis.

The Crawdads entered the game with a total of six runs over the first five meetings with Delmarva and it looked like they would be snake bit again. After Seamus Curran put Delmarva ahead with a two-run single in the third, the Crawdads cut the deficit in half when Melvin Novoa doubled in Miguel Aparicio. Novoa went to third on the throw home and it appeared he would score the tying run when Sam Huff lined a single up the middle. However, Huff’s liner struck the base umpire and Novoa was sent back to third. Yohel Pozo then fouled out to right to end the inning.

Delmarva’s 2-1 lead increased by four in the seventh when the Shorebirds put the first four on base against reliever Dario Beltre. Jean Carrillo homered, Branden Becker and TJ Nichting both singled and scored on Mason McCoy’s triple. Josh Advocate entered and struck out the first two he faced before Will Robertson lined an RBI double to make it 6-1.

Hickory cut the lead by a run in the seventh but missed a chance for more after loading the bases with one out. The Crawdads settled for an Eric Jenkins RBI grounder.

In the eighth, Scott Burke walked Novoa and Huff to open the inning. Both runners advanced on Pozo’s deep fly to right and scored when Tyler Ratliff got enough on a soft liner to left for a single. Reliever Alex Katz entered and induced Kole Enright to ground into a double play.

The Shorebirds had a chance to increase the 6-4 lead in the ninth as they worked two walks and a hit batter. However, Grant Zawadzki started a 1-6-3 double play during the inning and he struck out Ryen Ripken to get through unscathed.

Delmarva entered the game statistically as the best defensive team in the South Atlantic League but it was its defense that played a hand in the decisive ninth. With one out, Yonny Hernandez and Jenkins walked. Aparicio chopped a bouncer back to Katz on what appeared to be a game-inning double play. Katz initially dropped the ball but recovered and threw to second on time only to have the shortstop McCoy drop the ball allowing Jenkins to reach to load the bases.

Reed Hayes was brought in to face Novoa, who lined a hard single to left to bring in Hernandez and Jenkins to tie the game. On the play, Delmarva missed a chance for an out as when the throw from left fielder Zach Jarrett skipped away past home, Novoa was caught between first and second as Aparicio remained at second on the overthrow. A throw to first from Hayes, who had backed up the play, was in plenty of time to get Novoa, but Ripken never turned to apply the tag as Novoa sneaked by.

With Huff at the plate, a wild pitch by Hayes skipped away from the catcher Carrillo. With the runners taking off, Novoa was caught in a rundown on his way to second. Though he was tagged out after the fourth throw of the play, Novoa stayed in the rundown long enough to allow Aparicio to sprint from second to home to score the winning run.

 

Novoa’s day: The 21-year-old returned behind the plate for the first time since taking a pitch off the right knee in a game against Greensboro on Wednesday. He certainly played a big part of the outcome on Sunday in the batter’s box and defensively.

Novoa went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a walk. (The one out was a hard liner to short.) He had two of the four hits allowed by Hall, including a run-scoring hit in the third.

“He’s a good pitcher,” said Novoa. “But when I go up to home plate and I make good contact I can have a good moment. I want to help my team for at bat and every pitch. It was a good moment for the team and we want it to continue.”

Novoa threw out McCoy attempting to steal in the fifth, the fifth runner nailed out of six trying to steal this season. Manager Matt Hagen said that Novoa blocked seven balls in the dirt as well.

On the game’s final play, Novoa said, “When I got into the rundown, I think I was able to cause some confusion and Miguel was able to score and win the game. “

Series Preview: Delmarva (Md.) at Hickory April 27-29

Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore Orioles) (14-7, 1st SAL North) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (7-12, 6th SAL North)

The Hickory Crawdads continue a weeklong homestand with a three-games series against the Shorebirds.

 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:

GAME TIMES: Friday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 5:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

 

PROMOTIONS:

Friday – Post-game fireworks

Saturday – Post-game concert featuring Finding Favour

Sunday – Bark at the Park, Red Out Sunday (Wear a red shirt to receive a free ticket to the game), Church Bulletin Sunday (Bring a church bulletin for a $6, $4 is donated back to that organization)

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section. Note: Tickets for Saturday’s game/ concert at $15/ $20.

WHERE?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

PROBABLES (Delmarva / Hickory):

Friday: RHP Brenan Hanifree vs. RHP AJ Alexy

Saturday: LHP Zac Lowther vs. RHP Jean Casanova

Sunday: LHP DL Hall vs. RHP Reid Anderson

 

RECENT SERIES HISTORY:

Delmarva swept a three-game series at home vs. Hickory earlier this month. The Crawdads held a 7-4 advantage in last year’s season series, including a 3-1 mark in the only series played at L.P. Frans. During the Crawdads affiliation with the Rangers, Hickory is 72-48 overall, 39-19 at Hickory. The Crawdads have lost one season series to Delmarva since 2009. Oddly that came in 2015, the season Hickory won the SAL title.

 

ABOUT THE CRAWDADS:

The Crawdads lost 2-of-3 against Greensboro to open the homestand but fought the rain as much as they did the Grasshoppers. Games from Monday and Tuesday were rained out, as was the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader… After snapping out of an early season funk during the previous homestand, the Crawdads have scored in just four of the last 30 innings. They were shutout by Columbia (S.C.) in the series finale on Sunday, then used a four-spot in game one Wednesday’s doubleheader to secure their only win of the Greensboro series. Hickory has scored ten runs over the last four games, five coming on home runs. The Crawdads put the ball in play. They are last next to last in strikeouts AND in walks received…The pitching staff has been a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde act recently. Over the last ten games, the Crawdads have allowed two or fewer runs on half of them but five or more in the other half. Walks have hurt the Crawdads cause more than anything else. Hickory has allowed the third fewest hits in the SAL but are third in walks surrendered… The Crawdads are tied with Delmarva for the fewest errors committed (17 in 19 games) in the SAL. Catcher Melvin Novoa has thrown out four of five attempted base stealers.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10): 2018 stats: .250/.294/.453, 2 3B, 3 HR, 22 K, 3 BB, 4 SB. Last series: 1-for-9 with 5 Ks vs. Greensboro. Came to the Rangers in a trade for C Jonathan Lucory. Originally signed with Rockies in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 3 games (2 starts), 11.1 IP, 12 H, 10 R (9 ER), 1 HR, 10 K, 9 BB, .279 OBA, 1.85 WHIP. Last start 4/20 at Columbia S.C.: 3.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 2 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: .250/.276/.357, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 K, 2 BB. Last series 3-for-8, 2B, R, 2 RBI, 1 K vs. Greensboro. Signed with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 6 games (all in relief), 8 IP, 8 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 HR, 8 BB, 16 K, 2.00 WHIP. Second among relievers Ks per 9 IP (18.00). Second round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 25): 2018 stats: .214/.267/.339, 4 2B, 1 HR, 19 K, 2 BB. Last series: 0-5, BB, 2 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Jean Casanova: 2018 stats: 4 games (2 starts), 11 IP, 7 H, 6 R (3 ER), 2 HR, 6 BB, 5 K, .171 OBA, 1.18 WHIP. Last start 4/21 at Columbia, S.C.: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 HR, 2 BB, 2 K, 4/21.

RHP Reid Anderson: 2018 stats: 4 games (3 starts), 18.2 IP, 14 H, 6 R (5 ER), 1 HB, 5 BB, 15 K, .212 OBA, 1.02 WHIP. Last start 4/22 at Columbia: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 1 HB, 3 BB, 5 K 4/22.

RHP Joe Barlow: 2018 stats: 5 games, 8 IP, 4 BB, 14 K. Leads relivers in OBA (0-for-23). 4 in SAL among relivers 15.75 Ks per 9 IP ration. 4th in fewest baserunners allowed ratio (4.50 per 9 innings).

C Melvin Nova: 2018 stats: .339/.391/.525, 5 2B, 2 HR, 2 BB, 9 K. SAL top-10: 3rd in RBI (18), 5th batting avg., 9th OPS (.916), 10th OBP. Last series: 0-for-5. Caught 4 for 5 runners attempting to steal this season. The native of Nandaime, Nicaragua signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013.

OF Eric Jenkins: 2018 stats: .286/.342/.471, 1 2B, 3 3B (tied for 2nd in SAL), 2 HR, 6 BB, 20 K, 11 steals (1st n SAL). Last series: 5-for-10, 2B, BB, 4 K, 4 SB. Native of Cerro Gordo, N.C. Was the 2nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of West Columbus High.

IF Ryan Dorow: 2018 stats: .286/.381/.629, 3 2B, 3 HR, 5 BB, 14 K. Last series: 1-for-7, HR, 2 BB, 4 K. Taken over at second in the absence of Kole Enright. Was 30th-round pick of Rangers in 2017 out of Adrian (Mich.) College. Native of South Haven, Mich.

 

 

ABOUT THE SHOREBIRDS:

Managed by Buck Britton in his first season with the Shorebirds. He is the brother of Orioles closer Zach Britton… Split a four-game series at home vs. Kannapolis, winning the last two and reclaiming first place… Their pitching staff, especially the starters, have carried the team to an extent. Delmarva’s 2.47 ERA is third in the SAL, but it has allowed the fewest runs, courtesy of a league-leading defense (only nine unearned runs). The Shorebirds have surrendered just seven home runs and are third in Ks. The 1.13 WHIP is second in the SAL… The sticks have been fairly consistent as well. The .260 batting avg. is third in SAL., but runs have been at a premium lately with just ten over the last five games. Delmarva is third in hits, tied for fourth in runs scored…Third baseman Trevor Craport and SS Mason McCoy each lead the SAL in assists at their position and they’ve committed just five errors between them. However when runners get on base, those with speed have taken advantage of catcher Ben Breazeale, who has thrown out just three of 16 attempting to steal and just 10-of-48 for his pro career.

 

Prospects to watch-Delmarva:

LHP D.L. Hall (No. 5): 2018 stats: 3 games (3 starts), 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R (1 ER), 6 BB, 6 K, .192 OBA, 1.38 WHIP. Last start 4/3 vs. Kannapolis: 3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K. First-round pick (21st overall) of the Orioles in 2017 out of Valdosta (Ga.) High. Signed away from a commitment to Florida St.

RHP Brenan Hanifee (No.10): 2018 stats: 3 games (3 starts), 19 IP, 15 H, 3 HR, 3 BB, 12 K, .211 OBA, 0.95 WHIP. Last start 4/21 vs, Lakewood, N.J. 7 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, .211 OBA, 0.95 WHIP. Was Fourth-round pick of the Orioles in 2016 out of Ashby High in Bridgewater, Va. Signed away from a commitment to East Carolina.

RHP Michael Baumann (No. 15): Not expected to start in the series. Third-round pick of the Orioles in 2017 out of Jacksonville Univ. Native of Mahtomedi, Minn. and pitched in HS there. In his opening night start, threw four-hit shutout over five innings with 10 Ks and a walk.

LHP Cameron Bishop (No. 16): Not expected to start in the series. Was 26th-round pick of Orioles in 2017 out of Univ. of California-Irvine. Native of Brea, Calif.

LHP Zac Lowther (No. 17): 2018 stats: 3 games, (3 starts) 16 IP, 5 BB, 31 K, .094 OBA, 0.44 WHIP. Last start 4/22 vs. Lakewood, N J.: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K. SAL Rankings: T-1st Ks, Was Orioles second pick in competitive balance round in 2017 out of Xavier. Named SAL pitcher of the week 4/16-4/22

RHP Gary Fenter (No. 23): 2018 starts: 3 games, 9 IP, 2 BB, 12 K, .257 OBA, 1.22 WHIP. 7th-round pick of the Orioles in 2015 out of West Memphis (AR) High. Signed away from commitment to Mississippi St.

SS Mason McCoy (No. 29): 2018 stats:.193/.281/.281, 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 BB, 14 K. Last series vs. Kannapolis: 2-for-12, 2B, BB, 2 K. Sixth-round pick in 2017 out of Univ. of Iowa. Named to New York-Peen A native of Peoria, Ill.

RHP Matthew Dietz (No. 30): Not expected to start in the series. Second-round pick of Orioles out of John A. Logan CC (Ill.).

 

Others to watch-Delmarva:

RF Zach Jarrett: 2018 stats: .338/.413/.723, 4 2B, 7 HR, 7 BB, 18 K. Last series vs. Kannapolis: 6-for-15, 2 HR (walk-off HR on 4/26), 1 K. SAL rankings: T-1st HR, 2nd slugging pct., 2nd OPS (1.136), T-2nd runs (16), 4th total bases (47), 6th OBP, 7th in avg., T-7th hits (22), T-10th RBI. Drafted 28th-round by the Orioles in 2017 out of UNC Charlotte. Played his high school ball at Hickory High.

C Ben Breazeale: 2018 stats: .167/.273/.229. 3 2B, 6 BB, 12 K. Last series vs. Kannapolis: 1-for-11, 3 BB, 2 K. Seventh-round pick of Orioles in 2017 out of Wake Forest.

2B Kirvin Moesquit: 2018 stats: .261/.354/.348, 3 2B, 1 HR, 10 BB, 19 K. Last series vs. Kannapolis: 3-for-11, 2 2B, 1 BB, 4 K, 2 SB, 1 CS. SAL Rankings: 2nd steals, T-5th runs scored (14). Drafted 24th round 2015 out of Seminole St. College (Fla.). Born in Willemstad, Curacao, attended high school at Highland Christian HS (Pompano Beach, Fla.).

CF TJ Nichting: 2018 stats: .297/.354/.405, 6 2B, 1 3B, 6 BB, 16 K. Last series vs. Kannapolis: 2-for-13, 2 BB, 2 K. SAL Rank: T-4th doubles, T-7th hits.Drafted 9th round out of UNC Charlotte 2015. Native of Hamilton, Ohio, attended Badin High (Ohio).

1B Ryen Ripken: 2018 stats .310/.355/.345, 2 2B, 4 BB, 7 K. Last series vs. Kannapolis: 5-for-13,

2B, BB, K. SAL Rankings: 3rd fewest plate appearances/ K ratio 8.86. Signed free agent deal with Orioles in 2017. Played previously in SAL with Hagerstown (Washington) in 2016. Son of Cal Ripken, Jr.

 

Series Preview: Greensboro at Hickory April 24-26

Greensboro Grasshoppers (Miami Marlins) (10-6, 3rd SAL North) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (6-10, 6th SAL North)

After Monday’s rainout, the Hickory Crawdads hope to start a seven-game homestand on Tuesday with a four-game series with intra-state rival Greensboro

 

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday (DH) at 10:30 a.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

 

Promotions:

Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday (Dogs admitted for $1 each, Hot Dogs $1 each, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday; NFL Draft Party (Wear an NFL jersey to receive a free ticket)

 TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

 Where is it?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (Greensboro / Hickory):

Tuesday: Nestor Bautista vs. RHP Tyler Phillips

Wednesday: RHP Ryan Lillie/ RHP Taylor Braley vs. RHP Alex Eubanks/ LHP Sal Mendez

Thursday: RHP Edward Cabrera vs. RHP AJ Alexy

 

Recent Series History:

Greensboro opened the 2018 season by sweeping the Crawdads three straight in a rain-shortened series. The Grasshoppers won the 2017 season-series 13-9, but the Crawdads held a 6-5 mark at L.P. Frans Stadium. Greensboro won 3-of-4 at Hickory over the final weekend of the 2017 season to claim the second-half Northern Division title and knock the Crawdads out of the running.

 

About the Crawdads:

After an 1-8 start, the Crawdads have played better baseball over the past week. Hickory swept three from Lexington (Ky.) and split a four-game road series at Columbia (S.C.) over the weekend. Prior to a three-hit shutout on Sunday, the Crawdads bats had awakened. Last in the SAL all three slash categories after the season-opening road trip, the Crawdads put up a .310/.380/.509 slash during a six-game homestand. Hickory is currently fifth in slugging at .389. As a team, they put a lot of pitches in play. The Crawdads are next to last in the SAL in walks received, but have the fourth fewest strikeouts in the league… With the cold weather, offenses around the league have struggled and it could best be shown in the pitching numbers. The Crawdads have a 4.04 team ERA, but that is good for 11th in the 14-team SAL. The staff has allowed the fourth fewest hits in the league. However, walks have hurt, as the team has given up a league high off 66 in 16 games… 2B Kole Enright is on the inactive list, catcher Clay Middleton has been activated.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10): 2018 stats: .273/.322/.509, 2 3B, 3 HR, 17 K, 3 BB, 4 SB. Is 5-for-14 in last 5 games with 2 HRs. Came to the Rangers in a trade for C Jonathan Lucory. Originally signed with Rockies in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 3 games (2 starts), 11.1 IP, 12 H, 10 R (9 ER), 1 HR, 10 K, 9 BB, .279 OBA, 1.85 WHIP. In last start, allowed three runs on four hits and four walks with two Ks over 3.1 IP. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: .250/.276/.357, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 K, 2 BB. Signed with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 6 games (all in relief), 8 IP, 8 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 HR, 8 BB, 16 K, 2.00 WHIP. 18 K/9 IP ratio is second in SAL among relievers. Second round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 25): 2018 stats: .235/.278/.373, 4 2B, 1 HR, 17 K, 1 BB. 6-for-18 in last 5 games. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Tyler Phillips: 2018 stats: 3 games (3 starts), 14.2 IP, 16 H, 7 R (7 ER), 1 HR, 3 BB, 19 K, .276 OBA, 1.30 WHIP. Pitched four-hitter over six innings and struck out eight in last start vs. Lexington. Was 16th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken, NJ.

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 3 games (2 starts), 11.2 IP, 11 H, 8 R (5 ER), 2 HR, 2 BB, 6 K, 1.11 WHIP. Allowed two runs on five hits over 5.2 IP in last start vs. Lexington. Was 26th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out or Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.

LHP Sal Mendez: 2018 stats: 4 games, 10 IP, 6 H, 3 R (3 ER), 6 BB, 6 K, .176 OBA, 1.20 WHIP. Was the 40th-round pick of the Rangers in 2013 out of Weehawken HS (N.J.)

RHP Alex Eubanks: 2018 stats: 3 games (3 starts), 14.2 IP, 15 H, 9 R (9 ER), 2 HR, 4 BB, 21 K, .269 OBA, 1.30 WHIP. 12.89 Ks/9 IP ratio is fifth among SAL starters. Gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with six Ks over four innings in his last start. A native of Duncan, S.C., was the Rangers 14th round pick in 2017 out of Clemson Univ.

C Melvin Nova: 2018 stats: .370/.414/.574, 5 2B, 2 HR, 2 BB, 9 K. SAL top-10: T-2nd in RBI (18), 3rd batting avg., tied-4th doubles, 7th slugging pct., 7th OPS (.988), 8th hits. Caught 4 for 5 runners attempting to steal this season. Snapped 10-game hit streak on Sunday (0-3). Had two or more hits in eight of the ten games. The native of Nandaime, Nicaragua signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013.

OF Eric Jenkins: 2018 stats: .250/.308/.450 3 3B (tied for 2nd in SAL), 2 HR, 5 BB, 20 K, 7 steals (2nd in SAL). Went 0-for-8 in last two games after ending seven-game hit streak on Saturday. Native of Cerro Gordo, N.C. Was the 2nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of West Columbus High.

IF Ryan Dorow: 2018 stats: .321/.406/.643, 3 2B, 2 HR, 3 BB, 10 K. Has hits in 8 of the last nine games that he’s played (9-for-25). Was 30th-round pick of Rangers in 2017 out of Adrian (Mich.) College. Native of South Haven, Mich.

 

About the Grasshoppers

Managed by Todd Pratt in his second season (85-67) with the Grasshoppers… Greensboro has won 7 of the last 10 after a 3-1 series win over Charleston (S.C.) this weekend. The Grasshoppers went 4-2 on their last road trip at Hagerstown (Md.) and Lakewood (N.J.)… Greensboro plays a lot of low scoring games. The Grasshoppers have allowed more than five runs in a game just twice but have scored more than five in a game just three times. The staff has a SAL-best 1.11 WHIP. Teams put the ball in play against Greensboro. The staff has allowed the fewest walks and struck out the fewest batters in the SAL, but have given up a league high of 18 home runs. The 2.95 team ERA is 6th in the league… The Grasshoppers are offensively challenged at the plate. At a home ballpark that is hitter friendly, Greensboro is last in HRs (6), last in slugging (.327), 13th in runs scored, 12th in OPS (.632), and 11th in hits.

 

Prospects to watch-Greensboro:

RHP Edward Cabrera (No. 12): 2018 stats: 3 games (3 starts) 16.1 IP, 1.65 ERA, 11 Ks, 10 BBs, .075 OBA, 0.80 WHIP. Last start on Saturday, 3 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 3 BB, 4 K against Charleston. Native of Santiago, D.R., signed with Marlins in 2015.

SS Jose Devers (No. 23): 2018 stats: 3-17, 5 K. Called up to Greensboro on April 19 from extended spring. Obtained by the Marlins from the New York Yankees as part of a deal the sent Giancarlo Stanton to New York. A native of Samana, D.R.

OF Isael Soto (No. 26): 2018 stats: .217/.275/.348, 3 2B, 1 HR, 18 K, 3 BB. Missed entire 2017 season with fractured foot, his third leg injury in three seasons. Signed with Marlins as an international free agent in 2013. Native of Bani, D.R.

 

Others to watch-Greensboro:

RHP Nestor Bautista: 2018: 3 games, 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 1 BB, 7 K, .179 OBA, 0.75 WHIP. Native of New York City, was the 32nd round pick of the Marlins in 2014 out of Ball State.

RHP Ryan Lillie: 2018 stats: 3 games (3 starts), 16 IP, 11 H, 5 R (5 ER), 2 HR, 1 BB, 14 K, .200 OBA, 0.75 WHIP. Last start: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 8 K vs. Charleston last Thursday. Native of Murieta, Calif., Was the 5th round pick of the Marlins in 2017 out of Univ. of California-Riverside.

RHP Taylor Braley: 2018 starts: 3 games (3 starts), 17 IP, 19 H, 9 ER (7 ER), 4 HR, 6 BB, 14 K, .288 OBA, 1.47 WHIP. Last start: 7 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 9 K vs. Charleston last Friday. Native of Hattiesburg, Miss. Sixth-round pick of the Marlins in 2017 out of Southern Mississippi.

CF Aaron Knapp: 2018 stats: .261/.426/.326, 1 2B, 1 3B, 14 BB, 13 K. Tied for 2nd in SAL in walks. 8th-round pick of the Marlins in 2016 out of California. Native of Roseville, Calif.

 

Crawdads Bats Heat up: Have a Legendary Night

Winter-like weather here on the east coast has held some plants at a dormant stage in this area. The Hickory Crawdads bats could be included on that list much of the early season.

With more seasonal temperatures last night, the Crawdads bats stirred and had their biggest scoring output in eight seasons at L.P. Frans Stadium as they overwhelmed the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 18-6.

The 18 runs were the most scored by the Crawdads at home since putting up 18 against Lexington on June 6, 2010. Overall, it was the most runs since scoring 19 in a road win at Lexington on August 4, 2016.

Eight of the nine players scored, seven coming across the plate at least twice. Hickory collected 14 hits – eight for extra bases – walked six times and were hit by four pitches.

Melvin Novoa led the way with three extra-base hits (a homer and two doubles), four runs scored and three RBI. Along with Novoa, Eric Jenkins and Yohel Pozo each hit their first homers of the season.

After the Crawdads put up four in the first, they put the game away with nine in the third. Miguel Aparicio’s three-run triple and Novoa’s two-run blast were among the highlights.

The Legends cut their deficit to 13-6 after bringing in four in the sixth. However, the Crawdads answered with four of their own to squelch any hopes of a comeback. Jenkins’s three-run triple was the big hit of that inning.

Tyree Thompson (1-1) was the beneficiary on the mound for Hickory. The right-hander gave up five runs (two earned) on five hits over 5.2 innings with two strikeouts. Jean Casanova threw two scoreless innings of relief and Sal Mendez struck out two during a scoreless ninth.

Thoughts:

***I wanted to write a little bit about Eric Jenkins on Saturday, but time constraints worked against me there. I’m certain the Rangers would like to see the youngster finally put together the natural tools he has and take a step forward in 2018. Contact can still be an issue (15 Ks in 47 PAs), but, at least to me, it seems on this home stand that he is willing to battle more rather than give up ABs. The 21-year-old is in the midst of a mini five-game hit streak and has multi-hit games the last three.

The game that got my attention was Saturday’s contest at West Virginia. After taking off Friday following a three-K effort the night before, Jenkins had one of those games were his natural ability stood out. He just missed reaching on a bunt in the first. One inning later, he turned on a 0-2 offering and ripped it into the corner for a two-run triple. In the third, a bunt single plus a steal of second. In the fifth, a walk and a steal of second. Defensively, he made arguably his best catch of the three seasons with Hickory, a leaping catch in left to rob Dylan Busby of a homer.

Eric Jenkins HR rob

With a plethora of center fielders in the Texas Rangers system, Jenkins, who was the Crawdads starter at that position in 2016, has been taken out of the conversation for now. But if he puts together those natural tools of speed and occasional power, the mentions of him by others could return.