Results tagged ‘ Pedro Payano ’

Taking control of the journey: An interview with Pedro Payano

The journey of Pedro Payano to what he hopes will be a major league career has been an odd one since an overweight six-year-old first rambled around the baseball diamond. But with the belief he has in himself, and the prodding of a now late-grandfather, Payano has begun to get into the crosshairs of baseball publications, who are beginning to focus on him becoming a major league pitching prospect.

Payano came to Hickory in August 2015 seemingly out of nowhere. He spent three full seasons in the Dominican Summer League and had started a fourth before suddenly a three-level jump to Hickory with a stop in Arizona on the way. It was a promotion that the Crawdads certainly benefited from as they prepared for the run to the South Atlantic League championship.

The Crawdads had already clinched a playoff berth, but as the team entered August and faced as many as eight extra games, the minimizing of innings for the team’s starters had begun. Luis Ortiz was gradually shifted to the bullpen. Dillon Tate was a one-inning starter after already completing a full college season, as well as dealing with some arm soreness. Brett Martin’ outings were curtailed as he finished a first full season. Ariel Jurado and Yohander Mendez were on a piggyback arrangement. Then here came Payano.

In his first start at Delmarva (Md.) on August 3, he spun a five-hit shutout over six innings and struck out five, needing 87 pitches to do so. He returned six days later and on the back-end of a tandem start with Brett Martin, Payano allowed one hit, three walks, and struck out three over four innings to defeat Lakewood (N.J.)

It was eight days later before he returned to the mound and he gave up his first run. But despite giving up eight hits and hitting two batters over five innings, the damage was just the one run in a win over Hagerstown (Md.).

He then gave up just one run in each over his next three starts, the final one a nine-strikeout performance against Rome (Ga.) over 5.2 innings.

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Pedro Payano in this outing vs. Rome (Ga.) struck out nine over 5.2 innings (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Payano then saved his best for last. In game one of the SAL championship series, he tossed a six-hitter over six innings and struck out eight to defeat Asheville and give the Crawdads a 1-0 series lead.

In an article I did for the Hickory Daily Record after that game, Corey Ragsdale, the Crawdads manager last season, said of Payano, “To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about him when he got here. He’s exceeded my expectations and has been a real pickup.”

Payano throws a fastball in the 92-93 mph range and supplements that with a curve and change. What has set him apart during his stint here in Hickory has been his ability to throw any pitch in any count, along with the smarts to know how to do it.

“I think that Pedro is (a) guy that has a very good I.Q,” said Texas Rangers senior director of minor league operations. “He’s very good in terms of being able to read what the other hitters are trying to do. He’s able to attack them based on what the hitters are trying to read; so, he’s able to read bats.”

With all the ability, it took a while for Payano to get to Hickory and he freely admits to having a “short mind”, as he termed it. One Rangers rover said frankly that Payano had to “grow up.”

There was a start earlier in this season where an observer could see that Payano could be pushed to lose control on the mound. After the Crawdads were pounded in two straight games at home by Greenville (S.C.), they returned for a 10:30 a.m. game. The earlier start prompted both teams to play sloppily in the early going, and after the Crawdads held a 2-0 lead, it threatened to get away from them in the third. Unable to get a consistent arm slot, Payano battled control issues, as well as the umpire’s strike zone. A stolen base and a dropped fly ball in right by Jose Almonte led to two unearned runs. Payano was clearly unhappy on the mound as he’d walk around the mound and go to the rosin bag frequently before slamming it down. Yet, he gathered himself and eventually got through five innings with only the two unearned runs allowed.

Payano followed up that outing with a one-hit shutout of Greensboro.

Pedro Payano

Payano delivers a pitch during an early-season game against Kannapolis (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

“He does a pretty good job of staying within himself,” said Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes. “He doesn’t let things that he can’t control to get in his mind.”

Part of the letting go for Payano has been the past. He didn’t want to get into events that occurred, which kept him in the DSL for a fourth season. He is fully focused on what he needs to do now and where he wants to go later. On that journey, Payano brings along a love of a late-grandfather who pushed him to become a pro ball pitcher.

Below is some excerpts of the interview I did with Payano.

 

What’s your first memory of baseball?

Payano: I was six years old, yeah and I dunno, I was fat, but I loved baseball.

You were fat?

Payano: Yeah, that was my first memory of baseball and I hit a long hit and I just make it to second because I was very slow.

So how big were you at six years old, how fat?

Payano: SO fat, I dunno, SO fat.

So you had the long hit, the double and what’s that memory sort of get you started to wanting to play more and more?

Payano: I don’t know, because I was born with baseball. When I was a little kid I have a lot of pictures with a bat and with a ball, you know. I love baseball.

When did you start getting serious about playing baseball?

Payano: I was like 13 years old and somebody tell me that you have a lot of passion for the game and you (should) keep going and keep playing. And then somebody tell me you going to go to academy and then I started to take it seriously.

Were you hitting then, or doing more pitching?

Payano: I was a hitter and then when I was like 14-years-old, somebody tell me,  “Come, you’re going to pitch,” and I kept pitching.

What position did you play when you were a hitter?

Payano: I was left field.

When did you stop being fat like me?

Payano: I was skinny when I was 12.

Did you work with somebody or just grow out of the baby fat.

Payano: When I was grown, I was skinny.

You said you went to academy – obviously you played baseball, but was that like a high school or just all baseball?

Payano: In the Dominican Republic academy is like, you live there, and you have a cage, a gym, and you have a field like 30 minutes away, but you live there. I was there Monday through Friday and then went home for the weekend.

What is your memory for when it was getting serious and you might go play sign with a pro team?

Payano: When I was 14 I didn’t throw hard, but I had a good curve ball and good change-up, somebody tell me I’m going to be a good pitcher and you know I just keep going.

So when people are telling you at 14 that you have the chance to go pro, did you ever think that you’d get to that point when you were taking those pictures when you were a little kid?

Payano: No.

How weird is that for you at that point?

Payano: Normal.

Is that a dream for a lot of kids growing up in the DR to play pro baseball? Yes, a lot.

What do you think set you apart from other kids – not everybody gets the chance to play pro baseball. What set you apart?

Payano: You just have to be positive. If you just think positive things, it’s going to come for you.  Just keep going and work hard, that’s the key.

Who was somebody who helped you get that positive attitude?

Payano: It was my grandfather –Ephraim Payano

What did he help you with as far as that positive attitude?

Payano: He died like 5 years ago. He always tell me, I want to see you playing baseball. I want to see you with a pro team and I keep that in my mind.

What do you think he would say about you now, if he were alive what would he say about you now playing baseball?

Payano: He’d be very proud of me.

There are a lot of times that the Rangers send somebody here at 19. You came along a little later. What was maybe in the development that took you a little longer to get here?

Payano: When I was in the Dominican Republic, I had a “short mind”. I was doing a lot of stupid things and that’s why I was kept there for 3-4 years. But I grew up, then they say, “Hey Payano is ready to go to the US.”

What were some of the things that kept you back?

Payano: I don’t remember

Did you put those things behind you?

Payano: Yes, I forgot that

Was it on field,  off field or both?

Payano: Both

What maybe helped you grow up?

Payano: I grow up, maybe because I don’t like being in the Dominican. Nobody knows you there. So when we start to move, step by step, it is here in the U.S. So I say, I need to get to the U.S., so I have to make that approach in my mind.

 

You came here last year and nobody knew who you were. Who’s Pedro Payano? You pitched so well at the end of last year and now top prospect. You start reading that Payano is this, Payano is that How fast is this all moving for you?

Payano: I don’t think that it’s moving very fast, but I’m working for that. I was waiting and working  and doing a good job.

What clicked for you on the mound?  What clicked for you when you came here, what took you to the next level on the mound?

Payano: I just tell myself that I’m going to do the same.  I’m going to do the same that I was doing in Arizona, throwing the ball for strikes and having a good tempo and just that.

What are your goals for this year?

Payano: To move up, championship, I just want to move to the next level

What do think you have to do to move to Frisco or the High Desert?

Payano: Just keep going

What are coaches having you work on to get to the next level of better hitters and such?

Payano: I just have to throw all my pitches for strikes and I’m going to move real fast. As you know, I have a good curve ball and changeup and my fast ball is pretty good.  So if I have these pitches for strikes, I’ll have a good year.

Later on, when you get a call saying “Pedro, you’re going to the big leagues”, what is your first reaction going to be do you think?

Payano: I don’t know, say, “Thanks God” and then say, “Thanks grandpa, this is for you.” Then I’ll call my family

Do you think when you take the mound for the first time in the major leagues, you’ll think of your grandpa?

Payano: Yeah, sure – every time I go to the mound I think of my grandpa.

What do you do?

Payano: This is going for you

Do you think he’s smiling?

Payano: Yeah, for sure.

Pedro Payano profile

Pedro Payano (courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Crawdads Send 4 to SAL All-Star Game

The South Atlantic League announced the all-star rosters for the annual mid-season exhibition game that will take place on Tuesday, June 21 at Lexington, Ky. Included on the Northern Division roster will be four members of the Hickory Crawdads.

The lone starter from Hickory is shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri. In 51 games this season (through June 8), Yrizarri, 19, has posted a .256/.278/.387 slash with 16 extra-base hits and stolen 12 bases. The native of Puerto de Ordaz, Dominican Republic will be a part of his second straight league all-star game. Yrizarri was also picked on the Northwest League All-Star team that played against the Pioneer League in an exhibition game in 2015. He has also been adept in the field, as Yrizarri has committed just eight errors in 273 chances. He is the first Crawdads shortstop to start a SAL all-star game since Hanser Alberto was tabbed to do so in 2012.

Yeyson Yrizarri hittinng

Yeyson Yrizarri is the 1st Crawdads SS to go to the SAL All-Star game since 2012. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

The other position player from the Crawdads to make the Northern Division squad is catcher Tyler Sanchez.  The native of Port St. Lucie, Fla. has posted a .265/.374/.412 slash in 39 games with four homers and 23 RBI. Sanchez, 23, was the Texas Rangers 17th round pick in 2015.

Tyler Sanchez hitting

Tyler Sanchez has four homers in 39 games for the Crawdads in 2016 (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt) 

 

Two of the Crawdads starting pitchers will be a part of the Northern Division roster, as Pedro Payano and Erik Swanson parlayed strong first halves in to an all-star spot.

Payano, 21, is second in the SAL in ERA (1.47), opponent batting average (.182) and is seventh in WHIP (1.04) over 55 innings. The native of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R. threw a one-hitter earlier this season against Greensboro and has struck out 57 to just 22 walks.

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Pedro Payano is second in the SAL with a 1.47 ERA (through June 8)  (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Swanson, 22, is fifth in the SAL in WHIP (1.01) and tenth in ERA (2.45) in his first pro season as a starter. The native of Terrace Park, Ohio has struck out 48 and walked 12 over 51.1 innings of work.

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Erik Swanson has a 1.01 WHIP in 51.1 innings (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Crawdads SAL All-Stars

2016 SAL All-Stars (L to R) Tyler Sanchez, Yeyson Yrizarri, Pedro Payano, Erik Swanson

Interview with Mike Daly, Part 3 – the Crawdads pitching staff

This is the final installment of an interview I did with Mike Daly, Texas Rangers Senior Director of Minor League Operations.

He discusses the progress of prospects Brett Martin, Jonathan Hernandez and Pedro Payano, as well as a few other pitchers making their way onto the parent club’s radar.

In case you missed it: Part I focused on the Crawdads top hitting prospect (at the time) Andy Ibanez and the top pitching prospect Dillon Tate

Part II looked at the Crawdads hitting prospects, including Eric Jenkins and Yeyson Yrizarri.

 

I was surprised to see Brett Martin come back here. When I talked with him at the start of the season he said there was a checklist essentially: first pitch curve ball for strikes; work on the secondaries deeper in the count, getting through hitters a little bit quicker rather than running up count. How is he doing with the checklist as far as you can tell?

Daly: I think it’s been real good for Brett. Brett came in here last year, I think he was with that group of Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Luis Ortiz, and now he came back to Hickory being one of the lead guys. I think some of the challenges for him last year was to go out there, get deep in games and get guys out. Now, he’s taken like a step and it’s a little bit about pitch development.  It’s about throwing that breaking ball when you’re behind in the count. It’s about getting guys out in three or four pitches or less. I think it’s been like a challenge for Brett and we think that it’s something that’s ultimately going to be helpful for him as he starts to move up the ladder.

I think there are a lot of discussions at the end of spring training about challenging him there at high A, or do we have him back to Hickory. We felt there were a number of challenges that he could go through here in Hickory that would prepare him better to go to High A, ultimately AA and on up to the Major leagues. Where Brett’s at, it’s been a challenge, but a very good one and something that we see as helping his career up to this point.

 

Jonathan Hernandez is somebody I’m beginning to enjoy more and more watching him pitch. He’s a young guy at 19. In his first start at Kannapolis, he was falling all over the place and he’s toned that down a lot. He seems to learn quickly into what he needs to do to make the next step.

Daly: He also comes from a baseball family. His father pitched in the minor leagues for a number of years. He actually was born in the states when his father was playing for Memphis. His father is also a pitching coach in the Dominican Winter League for Aguilas down there. So Jonathan has grown up in baseball and he’s always been a very focused young man.

I give Jonathan a lot of credit. When we signed him, he was very, very skinny. He’s put on a lot of good weight. He’s put in a lot of time in our Dominican complex. He pitched for two years for our Dominican Summer League team. He’s a young man that has some weapons. He can really mix all of his pitches. He has a very good I.Q. and aptitude of what he’s trying to do out there on the mound. It’s been real exciting to see him grow both physically and mentally over the past few years that he’s been in the organization.

 

Pedro Payano has been at the top of the rotation, when you run them out there one through six. He’s always going to give your five or six innings. He had the one-hitter. In a lot of ways, he came out of nowhere for us when he came here in August last year.

Daly: I think that Pedro is another guy that has a very good I.Q. He’s very good in terms of being able to read what the other hitters are trying to do. He’s able to attack them based on what the hitters are trying to read; so, he’s able to read bats. He’ll throw the breaking ball behind in the count. He’ll throw his changeup in any count. He can throw the fastball up to 92-93 and has good deception.

He’s a guy that took a couple of years in out Dominican Summer League program to kind of get himself going, but he’s been on a rocket ever since.  He’s a guy that started 2015 in the Dominican Summer League, jumped to Arizona and then ended up here and was a huge part of the championship team for the Hickory Crawdads. We see a guy that has a very, very bright future.

 

Erik Swanson is another one that has taken another step forward after not throwing much last year.

Daly: It’s another credit to our scouting department. We get him in the eighth round out of Iowa Western and that was a good job by our scouts to even dig him up.

He’s a young man that has a very, very good arm. He’s really invested in what he’s doing off the field. He’s really invested in the strength and conditioning program and has done an outstanding job with Wade Lamont and Dustin Vissering, our strength and conditioning coach and our trainer, in terms of our arm care program that got derailed last year with some injuries. But he’s a guy that’s come in here this year and taken the ball each and every time that he’s gotten it, and it’s been very impressive.

He’s got a very heavy fastball, sneaky fastball and really pounds the strike zone. He’s a guy that we’ve been really excited about over the first couple of months, and that’s a real credit to Swanny and the investment he’s made in the strength and conditioning program.

 

Who are we not paying enough attention to on the pitching side, someone who’s not on the radar and then all of a sudden, there he is?

Daly: I think anytime you’re six-foot-seven and left-handed, I think Adam Choplick is a guy that is someone to keep an eye on. He throws up to 94 with a slider.

We got a real interesting guy in Matt Ball in the trade there with the Chicago White Sox for Anthony Renaudo. Again, a good job there by our scouting department to identify him – a 6-foot-4 pitcher with a 94, 95 mile-an-hour fastball and a slider. He’s been real impressive in the short amount of time that he’s been here so far.

I think Jeffery Springs from right up the road here (Appalachian State) is a guy whose fastball has taken a couple of steps up. He’s got a plus changeup. He can throw that changeup at any time in any count. He’s a left-hander with a really good makeup.

 

Rome Strikes (Out) for Win

The Rome Braves rallied with single runs in the eighth and ninth inning to claim a 3-2 over the Hickory Crawdads Monday night in the opener of a three-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The loss for the Crawdads (27-17) combined with a win by Hagerstown (Md.) at Lakewood (N.J.) dropped Hickory into second place by a half-game in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. The Crawdads have lost five of the last six games.

Although Rome (17-27) remains at the bottom of the Southern Division standings, the Braves continue to confound the Crawdads and have evened the series record at 4-4.

What Happened?:

Hickory’s Pedro Payano and Rome’s Patrick Wiegel held the opposing offenses in check for the most part, though each contributed to their own trouble in the game.

Rome used defensive miscues to get onto the scoreboard in the second. With one out, Carlos Castro singled to right and moved to second on a passed ball by Chuck Moorman. After Payano struck out Lucas Herbert, Payano’s attempted pickoff of Castro bounced into center and moved the runner to third. Leudys Baez blooped a single to left for the RBI.

Ti’Quan Forbes got Hickory even in the third with his first pro home run, a fly ball that carried over the fence in left.

Wiegel returned the favor with a miscue of his own that gave Hickory the lead in the fifth. With one out, Eduard Pinto singled. Forbes followed with a bouncer back to the mound. Wiegel turned to second for the force play, but instead bounced the ball into centerfield, which allowed Pinto to go to third. Moorman’s groundout to second scored Pinto.

Though the Braves struck out three times in the eighth, Rome used two of those whiffs to score the tying run. With one out, Blake Bass struck out Austin Riley, but the pitch bounced to the backstop and allowed Riley to reach. Riley stole second and Jonathan Morales walked to end Bass’s night. Reliever Joe Palombo struck out Justin Elliott, but Carlos Castro loaded the bases with his second hit of the night. The Crawdads appeared to be out of the inning as Herbert struck out, but his strikeout pitch went to the backstop with Riley scoring on the play.

Rome scored the go-ahead run in the ninth as Ray-Patrick got an infield hit, stole second, and scored on Austin Riley’s double with two outs.

LeDarious Clark singled and stole second with two outs, but got no further as Pinto bounced back to the mound to end it.

 

Sloppy ‘Dads Hinder Efforts:

At times Monday, Hickory looked like a team that was tired from a weeklong road trip. Alejandro Salazar hit what looked like a routine single in the first. However, when centerfielder Eric Jenkins was slow to retrieve the ball, Salazar turned it to a hustle double, sliding into second easily.

Frandy De La Rosa appeared to lose track of the count as he remained in the batter’s box to hit after a third strike was called for the out.

Chuck Moorman didn’t seem his usual steady self behind the plate as the passed ball and two wild pitches all came on breaking balls by three different pitchers.

 

Forbes Stock up or down:

Ti’Quan Forbes showed in the course of Monday’s game the inconsistent season that has played out thus far.

At the plate, Forbes took a hanging curveball from Wiegel and served it out to left. However, with runners at second and third, Forbes mistimed a first-pitch fastball from new reliever Grayson Jones and hit it into a 4-6-3 double play.

At third base, Forbes made a hard-charging, barehanded play on a bunt by Justin Ellison in the sixth. In the ninth, Forbes bobbled an easy roller to extend the inning.

 

Impatience at the plate:

Of the 33 hitters Hickory sent to the plate on Monday, 21 of them saw four or fewer pitches. Eleven of them faced 1 or 2 pitches.

 

Payano not what it seems:

Payano needed 91 pitches to get through six innings and his fastball wasn’t without control issues, but his line score looks worse than it appeared. Of the seven hits he gave up over six innings, only Castro’s liner in the second was well struck. His curveball throughout the game had good snap to it with several missed bats, including all three strikes in a five-pitch K of Castro in the fourth.

One-hit Wonder: Pedro Payano hums through Grasshoppers lineup in LP Frans gem

On April 27, 2016, an announced crowd of 927 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, N.C. saw Hickory Crawdads pitcher Pedro Payano throw one of the most dominant games in the club’s history. Had Payano given up one fewer hit, likely 9,270 fans would claim to have been there, including myself.

(A note here: Anytime a cool event happens at L.P. Frans Stadium, I am probably not working the game. This time, I was celebrating my 53rd birthday at dinner with the wife.)

Payano threw a one-hitter against the Greensboro Grasshoppers, needing just 99 pitches (70 strikes) to claim the rare complete-game shutout for a class Low-A pitcher.

The outing started out as anything but dominant, as Anfernee Seymour of Greensboro battled Payano through a seven-pitch at bat before sending a full-count pitch lazily to center. Seymour’s at-bat turned out to be the longest plate appearance by pitches in the game.

After Payano struck out Stone Garrett to start the second inning, Rangers pitching rover Jeff Andrews made a comment to the field staff that Payano was going to throw a no-hitter.

“It was obvious when we got into the second inning and looking at some of the swings,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “And how he was able to command his fastball, and the changeup and the breaking ball just got better as he got into the middle innings… it was fun to watch.”

During his previous start a week earlier against Greenville, Payano struggled to get through five innings, needing 80 pitches (47 strikes) to get there. Although he gave up two unearned runs, he had difficulty finding a consistent arm slot and thereby had difficulty commanding his pitches, especially the fastball.

“Better fastball command,” said Payano, when asked about the difference in the two starts. “I was throwing my fastball away and in really good, and that’s why we had success. I was throwing a lot of fastballs for strikes.”

First-pitch strikes were definitely huge for Payano, as he racked up 24 of them to the 28 batters he faced.

Mintz agreed that the fastball command had a lot to do with his success, as it helped his secondary stuff become more effective.

Said Mintz, “He’s got a really, really good changeup and his breaking ball is decent. But when he pitches off his fastball, using those two, that’s when he’s most effective. Last night being able to throw the fastball inside on both sides of the plate really opened up other avenues for his pitches. That was the biggest thing for us, as we sat and watched him, was his fastball command was keen. The other stuff complimented it.”

Chuck Moorman, his catcher on Wednesday, noted that Payano had a much better rhythm during the Greensboro game than in his previous start.

“He had great tempo tonight,” Moorman said. “He was able to get ahead. We mixed in some really good sequences.”

Those sequences paid off in the manner of getting quick outs for much of the night. After walking Isael Soto with one out in the second – the only other seven-pitch at-bat of the game – Payano threw five pitches or less to 22 straight hitters, hitting the five-pitch mark just three times.After Payano needed 42 pitches to get through the first three innings, he threw four straight innings of ten or fewer pitches (44 total), three of those single digits.

“We were also on the same page,” said Moorman. It’s fun to catch a guy that can command all four pitches in any count at any time.”

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Pedro Payano delivers a pitch during his shutout of Greensboro last Wednesday (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

As the innings went on and the idea of a potential no-hitter became real, Payano said he wasn’t so much nervous about pitching in the moment.  “I was good, I was good,” Payano said through a laugh when asked about his reaction when he realized in middle innings he had a no-hitter in tact. His main focus then became to keep the situation out of his mind, as fellow teammates began to ignore him.

Payano said, “I stayed by myself and said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to think about this. Let me keep going.’”

Going and going he did. Having only 77 pitches through seven innings, there was no question in Mintz’s mind that Payano was going to get a shot at achieving the no-hitter.

“We have pitch counts and all that type stuff, but when you get into special moments like that – obviously, we’re not going to put the kid in jeopardy of hurting him – but if we can push him 10, 12, 15 pitches in order to be able to accomplish something like that, we’ll give him an opportunity… He looked strong. He stayed strong, even in the seventh and eighth innings, he was still throwing 92-93 mph. He looked good and he didn’t labor at all the whole night.”

The no-hitter was broken up by Soto to open up the eighth, as he sent a broken-bat flare over the head of shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri and into left.

“I’m good with that,” said Payano. “It was a blooper past the shortstop. It was a good pitch.”

It was assumed by several observers that with the no-hitter gone Payano’s night would conclude at the point. But after a mound visit by pitching coach Jose Jaimes, Payano stayed in and got Angel Reyes to hit the first pitch into a double play.

Still only at 86 pitches through eight – he had already thrown 91 during his first start of the season – Payano was sent back out for the ninth to try for the shutout.

“I felt good,” said Payano, when asked about getting a chance to get the complete game. “I felt normal. When I got done with the eighth inning, I said to myself, ‘I’m probably going to be done with this.’ But then Jaimes told me, ‘Hey, you’ve got to finish this. You’re going to go out again and finish this.’”

Payano needed just 13 pitches to strike out two of the three batters in the ninth, including Seymour for the final out and the 11th of the game.

Payano celebration by Crystal Lin

Pedro Payano (#40) celebrates with his teammates at the end of his one-hit shutout on Wednesday, April 27 (photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Crawdads No-hitter History:

The team has thrown four no-hitters in their history, but just one of those was a complete game.

Wayne Lindemann still claims the distinction of having the only complete-game, nine-inning “no-no”, which came against the Albany (Ga.) Polecats in Albany on May 15, 1993.

The next no-hitter, and the first one of two that came at home, was on July 26, 2004 against the Charleston (WV) Alley Cats. Brian Holliday pitched the first 7.1 innings and surrendered two walks and a hit batsman, fanning 11. Chris Demaria retired all five batters he faced to complete the no-hitter.

Martin Perez made a strong impression to Crawdads fans and the baseball world in his first start for the team in 2009. In the first game of a doubleheader on April 11, 2009, Perez, who had turned 18 the week prior, tossed four no-hit innings in a home outing against the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The future Texas Rangers big leaguer struck out six and walked three before giving way to Tyler Tufts for two perfect innings and Fabio Castillo for the seventh to close out the game.

The last no-hitter for Hickory came on May 19, 2013 in the first game of a doubleheader. It also began with a pitcher making his first Low-A start, as Luis Parra shutout Delmarva (Md.) over the first three innings with one walk and three strikeouts. Keone Kela threw a scoreless fourth and struck out one. Ryan Bores walked one and struck out one over the fifth and sixth innings before Alex Claudio pitched a perfect seventh with one strikeout to close it out.

Recent complete game shutouts:

2000: Future major league pitcher Dave Williams and Jose Luis Lopez each threw a shutout that season.

2001: Brady Borner tossed one for the Crawdads

2003: Zach Duke had a one-hitter in a seven-inning whitewash during game one of a doubleheader at Rome, Ga. The lefty hit one batter and struck out four Braves in the June 12, 2004 contest.

2006: Luis Valdez, later to be known in the big leagues as Jairo Asencio, threw a five-hit, nine-inning shutout against Delmarva on July 17. The right hander allowed one walk and struck out seven in the game, which ended on Zach Dillon’s game-ending double play. While still atop the mound, Asencio pounded his glove and gave a point to the sky in celebration at the end of the one-hour, 56-minute contest. Asencio’s outing was also the last home complete-game shutout until Payano’s feat. Overall, it was the last such feat under the Pirates affiliation.

2010: Right-hander Joe Wieland tossed a five-hitter at the Hagerstown Suns on June 25th of that season, ending the game with one walk and five strikeouts. Wieland was perfect through four innings and carried a no-hitter into the sixth before Sandy Leon singled to right with two outs. It turned out to be his last start in a Crawdads uniform as Wieland was promoted to class High-A Bakersfield soon after. Wieland eventually got his no-hitter while pitching for AA Frisco against San Antonio. Similar to the events following his shutout with Hickory, Wieland was traded to the Padres in a July trade-deadline deal and finished that series with San Antonio.

Jake Brigham had the last nine-inning, complete game shutout prior to Payano’s gem on August 10 at Greensboro. The game started ominously for Brigham as Wes Long singled to left and Chase Austin reached on a bunt. Brigham got a break with Jeff Corsaletti lined into a double play. He then retired the next 25 batters he faced in the game and struck out 12.

2012: Lefty Victor Payano had the last shutout of any kind as he put up a rain-shortened whitewash at Savannah against the Sand Gnats. He allowed one hit, two walks and struck out three over five innings before inclement weather washed out the final four innings. Hickory scored an unearned run in the third against now major leaguer Michael Fulmer. The win was an important one for Hickory manager Bill Richardson, as it made him at the time the winningest manager in Crawdads history.

 

Game Story: Hickory 5 Greenville 4 (17)

Hickory 5 Greenville 4 (17 innings)

 

So, I tweeted this in the sixth:

“Alexander Basabe crushes a very flat slider. Greenville up 4-3 and this feels like it’s over.”

I’m an idiot.

In the longest home game by innings since…. last May, the Hickory Crawdads used the hot bat of Andy Ibanez to defeat the Greenville Drive 5-4 in the final game of the three-game series between the squads. The win was the lone victory in the series and clinched a 4-3 season-opening homestand.

What Happened:?

Andy Ibanez had five hits and a walk in eight plate appearances for the Crawdads, including a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI double in the 17th.

The game winner came after the clubs combined for 12 baserunners in the previous 9 ½ innings of play.

Both teams put up two unearned runs early on. In the first, a fielding error by Drive 3B Chad De La Guerra allowed Eric Jenkins to reach. Ibanez doubled him in and later scored himself on Frandy De La Rosa’s sacrifice fly to the wall in right.

Greenville used a dropped fly ball in right by Jose Almonte with two outs to get even. After the error put runners at second and third, Josh Ockimey walked and Tate Matheny singled in both runs.

Luis Alexander Basabe cracked a two-run homer in the sixth off Crawdads reliever Johan Juan, but Ibanez’s blast tied it, setting up the battle of attrition in the bullpen.

A quartet of relievers for Hickory held the hottest lineup in the South Atlantic League to three hits and four walks with 10 Ks over the final 10 innings. Lefty Jeffrey Springs allowed a single and walk with five strikeouts over four innings. Fellow southpaw Adam Choplick added three scoreless innings with only a walk allowed and fanned two. Jacob Shortslef made a successful Crawdads debut with a hit and a single allowed with three Ks. Blake Bass pitched in his second straight game and worked out of a two-on, one-out situation in the 17th.

Greenville was nearly equal to the Crawdads bullpen corps. Bobby Poyner struck out five and gave up two hits over three shutout innings. Former Crawdads hurler Anyelo Leclerc (’14) allowed just one walk and struck out five over three innings. Triple-digit hurler Victor Diaz had given up two hits over the first three innings and struck out four prior to Jenkins and Ibanez getting to him for the game winner.

 

The bats:

Andy Ibanez, Andy Ibanez, Andy Ibanez: My Twitter feed lit up all afternoon with praise over the 23-year old’s work at the plate. Quite simply at this moment, his bat is simply too much for this league.Thus far, it has taken an elite prospect (ie. Anderson Espinoza) to quiet him at the plate.

His manager, Steve Mintz is running out of new things to say about the Cuban import.“He continues to put the ball in play. He’s huge for us. Right now, you watch him and he just seems to be a step above everybody – the adjustments that he makes to different pitchers. That last guy, there, he was throwing 100 – just being able to see it, be on time and square it up like he does.”

In the first against Roniel Raudes, Ibanez pulled the hands in for a 90 mph fastball and rapped it off the wall in left-center. In the third, he showed good patience in not chasing a trio of curveballs and a fastball off the plate in working a walk.

Against Kuehl McEachern in the fifth, he fouled off an attempted bunt on the first pitch, then got enough on an 88 fastball to single to the hole at short. Ibanez faced McEachern again in the seventh. He swung through a fastball off the plate, then ignored a couple of sliders off the plate sandwiched around a fastball away. The final pitch was a flat slider that Ibanez sent easily over the fence in LCF.

Ibanez got a gift single in the 10th as he got jammed , but got enough to bloop it to shallow right.

A fly out to center and a strikeout on the 15th led to the 17th. After fouling off a change and a fastball, an 0-2, 99 mph pitch got too much of the plate and Ibanez sent it to the wall.

Eric Jenkins:

After a rough opening weekend, (7 Ks in 14 PAs), Jenkins has hit a nice groove for now. He has hits in 7-of-8 games with multi-hit games in three of them, including a three-hit game on Wednesday.

The thing I’ve noticed about Jenkins in the short time I’ve seen him late last season and early this year is how quick he learns and makes adjustments. At the plate, he has a better sense of what to do with breaking balls. Combined with his ability to hit the fastball, he’s a tough out right now.

In the 15th, Jenkins absolutely crushed a 98 mph from Diaz to the gap in right-center. He also got enough on one in the 17th to get it up the middle.

He will take a walk and not chase pitches, as he did in the 12th. His strikeout in the seventh was against sidewider Kuehl McEachern, who was able to use a changeup effectively at the outside corner.

But for me, the first AB was priceless: a 9-pitch AB that wound up into a hard –hit grounder for an error. After getting down 0-2 (fastball up swinging, fastball up & in foul), he let a show-me fastball away go by for ball one. A changeup just inside was ignored (2-2). He spoiled a fastball, spit on a curveball down, then fouled off two-straight fastballs in before finally ripping a fastball outside-corner for the grounder.

Pitchers will adjust to him, of course, but Jenkins will adjust back. Once that 6-1, 170-lbs frame fills in…

“He had a rough start, obviously, but we weren’t too worried about it,” Mintz said. “Now he’s swinging with more contact and taking some bases when he needs to. It just seems like his game’s coming together better.”

 

Yeyson Yrizarri

Went 1-for-7 with two Ks. Was impatient early, as he saw just seven pitches over first 4 ABs. In the 5th AB, he was unable to get a bunt down against breaking balls and eventually struck out. But over the final two ABs, he saw 16 pitches, including a 9-pitch battle in the 16th.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”>

Yrizarri AB in 15th
96 looking
97 in foul
99 in foul
90 away foul
99 in ball
88 foul
97 foul off ump
97 off own shin
81 curve whiff

— Mark Parker (@CrawdadsBeat) April 20, 2016

 

<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″>

There are times he is overmatched on fastballs and he can be impatient in swinging at a pitcher’s pitch, but there are times he can and will battle.

RISP:

1-for-17 with runners in scoring position, left 11 on base.

“It was unbelievable,” said Mintz. “I felt like we left so many runners on base. In the fourth inning, we had first and second with nobody out. In the fifth inning, we had bases loaded and nobody out. It seemed like every time I turned around, Jenkins was on second base, but we couldn’t get him in.”

 

The mound:

Pedro Payano:

He just never looked right on Wednesday. Fastball that topped at 89 had little life or control. The curveball seemed to have two speeds – high 70s, and then a few low 70s with a bottom of 69. It missed five bats by my count. Change was around 82-85 that was enough to throw off timing.

Usually – at least when I’ve seen him – very stoic on the mound. On Wednesday,  there were times he’d go to the rosin bag in frustration and toss it down and there was much more walking around the mound than I can recall.

Given the low-fastball velo for him, and the demeanor, the Crawdads radio guy and I wondered if he was hurt in the third.

With all that said, Payano still gave up just the two unearned runs in the third with two hits, three walks and three Ks. He gutted out 87 pitches by my count (50 strikes).

Here’s what Mintz had to say about his start:

“One thing, too, is it seemed like he was changing some arm angles and trying to do a little bit too much with some pitches. But, he kept being able to get his offspeeds over in different counts and kept them off balance and they weren’t able to square a lot of balls up on him. He wasn’t as comfortable or as sharp as you would like him, but he found a way us through five innings against that lineup.”

Jeffrey Springs:

Maybe it’s because he went up the road to Appalachian St., where my kid is attending, but I like this lefty… a lot – and I did when he came here last year.An 11-5 curve that buckles the knees of LH-hitters and goes for strikes. Put that with a 89-91 fastball and that was a tough combination for a Drive lineup that had been hot.

Adam Choplick:

One of these days he’s going to pitch at a time when I can really pay attention, and not writing in the middle of it.(I had an original deadline of 4:30 for the newspaper story.) Tall lefty runs a fastball 92-93 that ate up RH hitter Joseph Monge in the 12th, with the final pitch hitting the inside corner looking. Curveball didn’t seem to have quite the feel or accuracy as Springs,

Jacob Shortslef:

Fastball 93-94, Slider that missed five bats over two innings (by my count). Pretty impressive outing for his debut.

The baserunning:

Andy Ibanez: For those that are ready for him to get to AA need to know his baserunning is a mess. Really having a tough time reading the move of pitchers. Got a horrible jump against lefty Bobby Poyner in the 10th and was thrown out easily … on a curveball.

From what I’ve been told by Rangers staff is they want the whole package to be ready for a move up, not just the bat.

For the season in his 12 games, Ibanez has been caught stealing six times and picked off three.

 

Notes of interest:

The walk-off win over Greenville was the fifth by the Crawdads in four seasons and the fifth straight season with at least one…. It was also the first walk-off since 7/1/15.

Series Preview: Kannapolis at Hickory April 14-17

Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) 

The Hickory Crawdads open the home portion of the 2016 South Atlantic Season with a four-game series against their neighbor to the southeast, the Kannapolis Intimidators at L.P. Frans Stadium.

 

If you plan to go:

Games Thursday and Saturday are at 6 p.m., Friday is at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

All ticket prices are $9 with VIP tickets going for $14. Parking is $3. On Sundays, the Crawdads offer $6 tickets when presenting a church bulletin.

The Crawdads are giving away 2016 magnet schedules on Thursday, a commemorative 2015 SAL championship banner on Saturday, and a poster schedules on Sunday. All giveaways are to the first 1,000 fans to the gates. There will be post-game fireworks on Friday.

Concessions are basic ballpark fare with a wider selection of items at the Crawdads Café, which is located above the 1B stands. New this year is a mac-and-cheese footlong hotdog.

 

Where is it?:

L.P. Frans Stadium is located on Clement Blvd., approximately 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321. From I-40 east or west, take exit 123 B and follow the signs to U.S. 321 North. The left turn for Clement Blvd. is at the light that houses Pizza Hut, CVS, RaceTrac gas station and Peak Motors.

From the north, take Hwy 321 South to Clement Blvd. and turn right.

From downtown Hickory, take 3rd street NW to the west and follow it until it turns into Clement Blvd. past the U.S. 321 intersection.

 

Probables (Kannapolis/ Hickory):

Thursday: RHP Zach Thompson vs. RHP Dillon Tate

Friday: LHP Tanner Banks vs. RHP Pedro Payano

Saturday: RHP Johnathan Frebis vs. RHP Jonathan Hernandez

Sunday: RHP Luis Martinez vs. RHP Erik Swanson/ LHP Wes Benjamin (piggy back)

 

Recent Series History:

Hickory won three out of four games last week at Intimidators Stadium to open the season. Last year, the Crawdads took a 9-6 season-series win, which included a 5-2 record at L.P. Frans Stadium. Against Kannapolis, the Crawdads are 75-50 since 2009 – the start of the affiliation with the Texas Rangers – 35-23 at LPFS. Kannapolis has one series win at Hickory since 2011, which came when the Intimidators took 2-of-3 in the first week of the 2014 season.

 

Entering the series – Hickory:

The Crawdads return home after a three-game sweep at Greensboro, which wrapped up a 6-1 season-opening road trip, and are a game ahead of West Virginia in the SAL’s Northern Division… At the plate, the Crawdads are tops in the 14-team league with a .429 slugging pct. They also lead the league in homers, total bases and are tied with Lakewood for the most hits. Hickory is second in runs scored, RBI, and team OPS (.734)… Expected to be aggressive on the base paths, the Crawdads have attempted a league high of 24 steals and lead the SAL with 9 caught stealing attempts. They are second in steals with 15…On the mound, the Crawdads pitching staff has allowed two or fewer runs in five of their seven games. Overall, their 2.14 ERA is third in the SAL and they have allowed just one home run… After committing 8 errors during last weekend’s Kannapolis series, the Crawdads had just one during the three-game series at Greensboro.

 

Entering the series – Kannapolis:

Kannapolis swiped two out of three at home against Delmarva (Md.) and went 3-4 on its homestand… At the plate, the Intimidators have scored two or fewer runs in five of their seven games. They are third in hits, fourth with a .254 batting average. Kannapolis leads the league with the most strikeouts… On the mound, the Intimidators are second in the league in strikeouts… In the field, they are tied with Lexington with 10 errors committed and are next to last in fielding pct.

 

Players to watch- Hickory:

RHP Dillon Tate: The Rangers No. 4 prospect by MLB.com, No. 5 by Baseball America. He is also MLB.com’s No. 35 overall prospect and the 8th best RHP. In his opening start of the season, Tate allowed an unearned run on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts over 4.2 innings at Kannapolis. It is apparent that Tate will have a higher pitch count than has been the case for a younger pitcher at the start of the season. He threw 85 pitches (52 strikes) in last Friday’s start. Possesses a fastball/ slider combo with a developing changeup.

RHP Pedro Payano: The MLB.com No. 29 Rangers prospect had a steady start last Saturday, but it was tainted by control issues. Payano held the Intimidators to one run on two hits and struck out seven over five innings. However, he also tied his career high for a game with four walks. Like Tate, it appears that Payano also will be pushed early on with pitch counts, as he threw 91 pitches (45 strikes) in the start at Kannapolis. Armed with fastball/ curve/ change, he will throw any pitch at any count.

RHP Jonathan Hernandez: The righthander is the Rangers No. 20 prospect, as determined by Baseball America, No. 28 by MLB.com. Hernandez was the lone starting pitcher to struggle his first time through the rotation. Needing 73 pitches to record 10 outs, Hernandez gave up 8 runs (6 earned) on seven hits and walked two over 3.1 innings at Kannapolis in his last start on Sunday. His defense committed four errors behind him during the game, but Hernandez had control issues with his fastball, as well. He has allowed the lone Crawdads homer surrendered thus far in 2016

RHP Erik Swanson: The Rangers 8th round pick in 2014 out of Iowa Western CC had a stellar first pro start at Greensboro on Monday, during which he gave up two hits and a walk over five innings and struck out four. Swanson had the sinker working as he recorded 11 groundball outs.

LHP Wes Benjamin: Will piggyback with Swanson for now. The 22-year-old was the Rangers fifth round pick in 2014 out of Kansas. Had Tommy John surgery while with the Jayhawks in 2014. In his first outing last Monday, Benjamin earned a four-inning save at Greensboro during which he allowed three baserunners (one hit) and struck out two.

2B Andy Ibanez: Continues to be among the conversation when considering the hottest hitter in the minors at the start of the 2016 season. Ibanez leads the SAL in hits (14), doubles (5), total bases (24), batting avg. (.560), OBP (.607), slugging (.960) and OPS (1.567). Last week at Kannapolis, Ibanez went 9-for-17 with two doubles, a triple, a homer, 6 RBI and three runs scored. The 23-year-old Cuban native is the No. 8 prospect according to MLB.com and Baseball America has him No. 16. He is splitting time at second with Frandy De La Rosa and DHing.

CF Eric Jenkins: At 19 on opening day, he is Baseball America’s No. 6 Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 7. Had a tough weekend at Kannapolis with seven strikeouts in 14 plate appearances, including a “Golden Sombrero” in Saturday night’s game. Jenkins struck out six more times at Greensboro, but started to make better contact in the series with three hits, including his first pro homer, over the final two games.

IF Dylan Moore: He began to get well at Greensboro this week. During the three-game series, the Orange Co. California native went 4-for-10 with a homer, a double and four RBI.

RF Jose Almonte: Had a nice weekend series at Kannapolis, going 5-for-11 (all singles) and walked twice. Overall, the Dominican Republic native has a .318/.400/.455 slash with four RBI and five runs scored. He hit his first homer of the season at Greensboro and only his third overall as a pro.

 

Players to watch-Kannapolis:

LF Landon Lassiter: The 22-year-old attended North Davidson High in Lexington and UNC  Chapel Hill. Was drafted two different times prior to finally signing with the White Sox after being picked in the 21st round in 2015.  His 4-for-4 game vs. Delmarva on Wednesday placed him behind only Ibanez in the SAL with a .526 batting avg. Lassiter is third in the league in OBP (.571) and OPS (1.256). He also had three hits in the game that Hernandez started on Sunday.

CF Tyler Sullivan: Tied for third in the SAL in walks (5), he has a slash of .333/.455/.444. Went 6-for-16 against Hickory last weekend. Sullivan was the White Sox 14th round pick in 2015 out of Pacific.

1B Corey Zangari: The White Sox sixth-round pick out of Carl Albert High in Midwest City, OK. He is currently the White Sox’s No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com and No. 13 prospect according to Baseball America. Went only 3-for-16 against Hickory, but had three hits including a homer over the last two games vs. Delmarva to push slash to .231/.310/.346.

SS/3B Johan Cruz: Currently the White Sox’s No. 16 prospect from MLB.com and No. 27 by Baseball America. Struggled versus Hickory last weekend at the plate (4-for-17, 6 Ks) and on the field (3 errors). Had two hits and three RBI in a game that Hernandez started for Hickory last Sunday.

C Seby Zavala: No. 26 prospect by Baseball America. Was the 12th round pick of the White Sox in 2015 out of San Diego St. Started the season 0-for-16 before putting up a 2-for-4 game vs. Delmarva on Wednesday. Had Tommy John surgery in 2013.

1B/ OF Zach Fish: Has the Intimidators only homer through seven games this season – a three-run blast vs. Hernandez on Sunday. Named the Big XII Conference Player of the Year at Oklahoma St. He was the Rangers 4th round pick in 2011 out of Gulf Lake High (Mich.).

RHP Zach Thompson: A native of Burleson, Tex., Thompson was the White Sox fifth round pick in 2014 out of Texas-Arlington. Allowed one run on five hits and struck out eight over five innings in his lone start of the season, which came against Hickory last Saturday.

LHP Tanner Banks: The White Sox 18th round choice in 2014 out of Salt Lake CC helped pick up the Intimidators first win of the season on Sunday, as he held Hickory to three earned runs on six hits and struck out five over five innings.

RHP Luis Martinez: No. 29 prospect by MLB.com. Made 24 starts for the Intimidators last season as a 20-year-old and allowed 155 baserunners in 108.2 innings. So far in two 2016 starts, Martinez has given up just 13 baserunners in 10 innings. He has 10 Ks and one walk, a promising improvement after a 69/ 53 ratio in 2015. Had Tommy John surgery in 2011.

RHP Taylore Cherry: Was the 32nd round pick of the White Sox in 2015 out of UNC Chapel Hill. Is listed at 6-9, 290 lbs.

 

Notes of Interest: Like last season, it appears the Rangers will play a bit of merry-go-round with the Crawdads roster to accommodate a six-man rotation that will actually contain seven pitchers, as Erik Swanson and Wes Benjamin throw in a piggyback situation. For now, it is Swanson and fellow starter Peter Fairbanks switching places on the active list… Crawdads reliever Jacob Shortslef is on the DL with a cut on his pitching hand…Kannapolis RHP Drew Hasler is the son of former Crawdads pitching coach (1993-1994) Curt Hasler, now the White Sox minor league pitching coordinator… Crawdads catcher Tyler Sanchez and Kannapolis pitcher Alex Katz were teammates at St. John’s. Katz surrendered his first pro home run last Sunday – to Sanchez.

Game Story: Lenoir-Rhyne at Hickory April 4

Division II school Lenoir-Rhyne continued a ten-year unbeaten streak in Hickory exhibition games at L.P. Frans Stadium by defeating the Hickory Crawdads 7-5 Monday night.

The Bears, which defeated Hickory 4-3 in last year’s game and tied the 2007 contest, were the aggressors from the start and never trailed in the contest. (The series was not played from 2008 through 2014.)

Colby Dishmond cracked a solo blast in the ninth to break a 4-4 tie. The Bears added a run in the inning after a Dylan Moore error at first and Tripp Hamrick’s grounder accounted for the final run.

“(Dishmond) knocked the fire out of that ball,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz of the go-ahead homer.

LRU, which is 26-12 during its South Atlantic Conference season, scored two in the first on a bloop single by Will Thompson. Hickory cut the deficit in half as Andy Ibanez and Yeyson Yrizarri hit back-to-back doubles.

The Bears made it 4-1 in the second. Hamrick scored from second after left fielder LaDarious Clark dropped a slicing liner in left off the bat of Justin Lara. Lara then scored on Chase Hathcock’s single.

Clark earned one of the runs back in the fourth when he tripled in Yrizarri. The Crawdads then tied it in the fifth after Ibanez tripled in Chuck Moorman and Eric Jenkins.

“Our guys played well and gave us a chance to win,” said LRU head coach Tom Fleenor. “I’m proud of our team and hopefully it’s something we can use as a springboard for us for our season.”

Sticks:

Hickory put up ten hits, but six of those came from Ibanez and Yrizarri, both of which sprayed the field with their base-knocks.  Ibanez doubled down the line in left in the first, tripled to the wall in right in the fifth, then returned to double down the line in left in the eighth. “That’s what we expect him to do, hit the ball and drive in runs” said Mintz.

Yrizarri’s three hits went to left, center and right.

Arguably the best at-bat of the night came by Eric Jenkins in the fifth. After swinging through a breaking ball for strike two in the fifth, Jenkins laid off the same pitch two other times and worked a walk. My impression of Jenkins from last year’s cameo appearance at Hickory was that the game could be a bit fast for him at first. However, he’s a quick learner and doesn’t get fooled by the same thing more than once or twice. He does make adjustments on the fly, something that should serve him well as he sees breaking balls away from South Atlantic League pitchers.

Frandy De La Rosa went 0-for-4, but had two hits taken away. He lined hard to shortstop Matthew De La Rosa in the first to strand Yrizarri at third, then lined hard to left in the fourth, but Marcus Shoemaker made a sprawling catch of the liner off the grass.

Arms:

Peter Fairbanks threw what appeared to be a slider with some bite as it whipped away from the right-handed hitters. However, he had trouble commanding the fastball and the Bears hitters took advantage.

Dillon Tate fanned two in the fourth, but hit a batter and walked one. His strikeout of Dishmond came on a changeup that pasted the inside corner for a called-third strike.

Pedro Payano gave up two hits, but got a double play to work out of the inning.

Jonathan Hernandez needed 22 pitches to get through the sixth, throwing just 10 strikes, as he worked out of a bases-loaded jam.

For my eyes, Erik Swanson had the best stuff of the night, as he ran a live fast ball up in the zone that the Bears hitters had problems catching up to. “It looked hard, didn’t it,” said Mintz. “He was out of the zone a lot, but they kept chasing it, so he kept throwing it up there. They kept trying to hit it, but they couldn’t.”

Lefty Wes Benjamin worked around a single for a scoreless eighth inning.

Johan Juan left a fastball up that Dishmond connected for the go-ahead homer.

“To be honest, I just kind of saw a fastball, not necessarily left over the plate, but it was something I could handle,” said Dishmond. “I didn’t really think it was going out, but I thought it was a double, at least. Then I looked up and saw the umpire throwing his hand around.”

Leather:

After the Bears put two on with no outs, third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes began to charge in from third as the Crawdads put on the wheel play to defend an expected sacrifice. Ryan Perkins pulled the back and hit a hot smash that Forbes speared and turned into a 5-4-3 double play.

LaDarious Clark dropped a slicing liner along the line in LF by Tripp Hamrick after a long run. It was ruled an error which scored a run and led to the second of the inning. Dylan Moore’s error in the ninth was a routine grounder to first that short-hopped his glove.

LRU had four steals over the first four innings against catcher Chuck Moorman. Three of the throws were off line and to the right of second. He appeared to catch Hamrick on a throw to second in the second, but was called safe.

Bases:

The Crawdads plan to push the envelope with their speed in 2016, but will need to be mindful of running into outs in close games. Ibanez doubled and was picked off in the eighth. Yrizarri followed the pickoff with a single, but he, too, was picked off. “That eighth inning killed us getting picked off second and getting picked off first,” said manager Steve Mintz. “Those are things we can’t do. We’re forcing these guys to be aggressive on the bases and different things like that, but on situations like that, we gave away two baserunners with a chance to win the game.”

“The pick plays kind of surprised them a little bit,” said LRU manager Tom Fleenor. “I know they don’t do a ton of that, as far as practicing baserunning. They might practice doing it, but they probably don’t practice it a lot doing the bases. They would be to our advantage.”

On a grounder to third in the first inning, Yrizarri made it from second to third after third baseman Hamrick failed to check the runner.

Eduard Pinto held up at first on a bloop single to short right by Forbes and should have been thrown out easily at third, but Hamrick dropped the throw in from right.

Post-Mortem:

Mintz: “All in all, I was happy with it. We’d love to win the game, but with what we’re doing and where we’re at preparing for the season, it was a pretty good deal for us.”

LRU coach Tom Fleenor: “It’s just fun to get out here. I appreciate the Crawdads for letting us do this with them. It’s a great event and hope it’s something we can do. I know we’re not going to win every year and we may not win again for 20 years, but it’s fun coming out here and rubbing elbows with these guys that get paid to play the game. It’s honor to be on the same field with them.”

Dishmond: “Coming out here and playing in a great ballpark like this, it’s not every day you get to play against pro guys. It’s a really good experience for all of us.”

Looking at the 2016 Crawdads Roster: Pitchers

The Texas Rangers and Hickory Crawdads released the opening-day roster for the Crawdads earlier this week. I’ll take a look at the roster over two parts beginning with the pitchers in this entry.

 

In looking at the roster, the first thing I noticed was how much older the pitching staff is this season compared to season’s past as a Texas Rangers affiliate. During the Crawdads-Rangers tenure over the past seven seasons, Hickory has had such teen pitching phenoms as Martin Perez, Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Joe Ortiz, Robbie Erlin, Andrew Faulkner, Victor Payano, Jose Leclerc, Akeem Bostick, Luis Ortiz, and Ariel Jurado start the season in a Crawdads uniform.

 

In 2015, 19-year-olds Jurado and Ortiz, along with 20-year old Brett Martin were the cornerstones of the starting rotation with LHP pitching prospect Yohander Mendez – himself 20 – waiting in the wings in the bullpen. This season, Jonathan Hernandez is the lone teen wolf (19) on the Crawdads staff.

 

Now, in the past, the Rangers have sent teen-aged pitchers to Hickory in early-to-mid May to save wear and tear on the arms (Joe Wieland, Neil Ramirez, Cody Buckel, Luke Jackson to name a few), with most repeating the Low-A level the following season. That may well happen here and that remains to be seen.

 

I also noticed a heavier – at least it seems to me – tilt towards pitchers with college backgrounds than in years past. Last year, seven of the 14 pitchers on the opening-day roster had four-year or two-year backgrounds. This year, 10 of the 12 have college experience, eight of those from a four-year school.

Last year’s pitching staff was an average of 21.4 years old (Baseballreference.com). At the start of this season, eight of the 14 members of the pitching staff are 22 and older. This is similar to the Pirate-affiliate days.

 

One possible effect of the heavier-than-normal college presence on the roster could be the allotment of innings. In years past, the Rangers would begin skipping starts at the midpoint of the season and heavily monitor the wear-and-tear of the younger arms to limit innings. However, with the older group, I wonder how much of that will be in play with this group. Even the younger pitchers on the roster (Brett Martin and Pedro Payano) have already built up to 90+ innings the past year. One thing to keep in mind, though, is several of the pitchers on the roster (Wes Benjamin, Adam Choplick to name a couple) have had “Tommy John” surgeries in the past and that will, of course, bear watching.

 

SURPRISES:

A couple of surprises, at least to me, related to the pitchers sent to Hickory. The first, for me, is the return of 2015 SAL All-Star Brett Martin. The left-hander had 72 Ks and 26 BBs in 95.1 innings, but at times struggled with consistency (1.07 WHIP first half of 2015, 1.41 second half) and with nagging injuries. Like Collin Wiles from 2015, this season could be about finding that groove of becoming a consistent six-to-seven inning starter each time out.

Brett Martin 2

2015 SAL all-star Brett Martin looks to build consistency during his second season with Hickory (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Another is the return of Dillon Tate, the fourth-overall pick in 2015. A major checklist item from his time at Hickory in August of 2015 was the development of a changeup and that could be better suited during his time in South Atlantic League ballparks rather than in the rarefied air of the high desert of California.

Dillon Tate 2

Dillon Tate rejoins Hickory after a brief stint with the Crawdads last summer (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

 

WHAT ELSE TO LOOK FOR:

Wes Benjamin comes to Hickory after pitching a lone inning in the AZL last summer. The Kansas product had been out since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.

 

Pedro Payano opened a ton of eyes in 2015, pitching at three levels with the final coming at Hickory. His three-pitch combination (fastball, curve, change) was used to great effect here in August and the playoffs, as he showed the ability to use any pitch in any count. Given that ability at age 21, his No. 29 prospect listing by MLB.com seems a bit low, though that could have more to do with the Rangers talent up the chain rather than with Payano’s ability. With his pitchability and poise on the mound, Payano could have a Ariel Jurado-type season that further opens eyes.

Pedro Payano

RHP Pedro Payano dominated the SAL in the final month of the 2015. season (Tracy Proffitt)

Starting rotation likely begins with Tate, Payano, Martin and Hernandez. Others with starting experience in the pros include Bass, Tyler Davis, Peter Fairbanks and Joe Palumbo. Jeffrey Springs started at Appalachian St.

 

 

2016 HICKORY CRAWDADS PITCHER CAPSULES

 

BLAKE BASS (RHP, 6-7, 265)

2015 Pro Season: 13 games (4 starts) at Spokane (Wash.), 33 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 15 BB, 29 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .242 OBA.

About Bass: A native of Lubbock, Tex,. Bass, 22, was the Texas Rangers eighth-round pick in 2015 out of Angelo (Tex.) St., where he was a first-team All-Lone Star Conference pick. Was an All-State performer as a senior at Coronado High.

 

WES BENJAMIN (LHP, 6-1, 197)

2015 Pro Season: 1 game (1 start) at Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers, 1 IP, 1 BB, 2 K.

About Benjamin: A native of St. Charles, Ill., Benjamin, 22, was the fifth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Kansas. Was an All- Big 12 Freshman Team selection. Underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2014 (Tommy John). Formerly drafted by the New York Yankees (48th round) in 2011.

 

ADAM CHOPLICK (LHP, 6-8, 275)

2015 Pro Season: 16 games at Spokane, 33 IP, 1 HR, 23 BB, 35 K, 2.18 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .242 OBA.

About Choplick: A native of Denton, Tex., Choplick, 23, was the 14th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Oklahoma. Was formerly drafted by the Chicago White Sox (32nd round) in 2014 and the Arizona Diamondbacks (17th round) in 2011. Underwent Tommy John surgery while a junior at Denton Ryan High. Was second team All-State pick in baseball as a high school senior and a first team All-State performer as a senior in basketball.

 

TYLER DAVIS (RHP, 5-10, 190)

2015 Pro Season: 16 games (2 starts) at Spokane, 35 1/3 IP, 4 HR, 12 BB, 30 K, 5.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .293 OBA.

About Davis: A native of Seattle, Davis, 23, was the 23rd round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Washington. Was the Northwest League Pitcher of the Week (Sept. 1-7) after throwing six no-hit innings in a start for Spokane. Holds the Huskies record for innings pitched at the school, second in starts and fourth in wins and strikeouts. Was an All-Pac 12 selection his junior and senior seasons and an All-American in 2014. His brother Erik pitched for the Washington Nationals in 2013.

 

PETER FAIRBANKS (RHP, 6-6, 219)

2015 Pro Season: 13 games (11 starts) at Spokane, 57 1/3 IP, 3 HR, 22 BB, 47 K, 3.14 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .246 OBA.

About Fairbanks: A native of St. Louis, Mo., Fairbanks, 22, was the ninth round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Missouri. Was a first-team All-Conference infielder in high school at Webster Grove in 2012.  Underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school junior. His father played one season in the Houston Astros chain in 1983.

 

JONATHAN HERNANDEZ (RHP, 6-2, 173)

2015 Pro Season: 11 games (9 starts) at AZL Rangers, 45 IP, 0 HR, 12 BB, 3 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .250 OBA.

About Hernandez: A native of Santiago de los Caballos, D. R., Hernandez, 19, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.Baseball America has Hernandez as the 20th best Rangers prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 28. His father, Fernando, pitched briefly for the Detroit Tigers during a 14-season pro career.

 

JOHAN JUAN (RHP, 6-1, 180)

2015 Pro Season: 18 games at Dominican Summer League (DSL) Rangers, 43 1/3 IP, 2 HR, 7 BB, 46 K, 1.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .218 OBA.

About Juan: A native of La Romana, D. R., Juan, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013. After posting a 1.95 ERA over three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Juan will be making his U.S. debut this year.

 

OMARLIN LOPEZ (RHP, 6-3, 162)

2015 Pro Season: 20 games at Spokane, 36 IP, 3 HR, 16 BB, 36 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .267 OBA.

About Lopez: A native of Payita, D.R., Lopez, 22, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2013.

 

BRETT MARTIN (LHP, 6-4, 190)

2015 Pro Season: 10 games (18 starts) at Hickory, 95 1/3 IP, 6 HR, 26 BB, 72 K, 3.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.65 OBA.

About Martin: A native of Morristown, Tenn., Martin, 20, was the fourth round pick of the Rangers in 2014 out of Walters St. (Tenn.) CC. Named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in 2015. Threw four shutout innings against Asheville in Game 2 of the 2015 SAL Championship Series. Originally attended Tennessee before transferring to Walters St. He is the Rangers No. 11 prospect, according to MLB.com and No. 18 tabbed by Baseball America.

 

JOE PALUMBO, (LHP, 6-1, 168)

2015 Pro Season: 13 games (9 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 58 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 25 BB, 43 K, 3.07 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .253 OBA.

About Palumbo: A native of Holbrook, N.Y., Palumbo, 21, was the Rangers 30th round pick in 2013 out of St. John the Baptist (N.Y.)  High. Made a start for Hickory on the final regular season game in 2015. Named to the Arizona Summer League All-Star Team in 2014.

 

PEDRO PAYANO (RHP, 6-2, 207)

2015 Pro Season: 17 games (12 starts) at DSL Rangers, AZL Rangers, Hickory, 89 IP, 1 HR, 22 BB, 101 K, 1.11 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .244 OBA.

About Payano: A native of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., Payano, 21, signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2011. Named Rangers minor league pitcher of the month in July 2015 after going 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA. Allowed one or fewer runs in five of six starts for Hickory after joining the club August 1, 2015. Threw six shutout innings vs. Asheville in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Championship Series.

 

JACOB SHORTSLEF (RHP, 6-5, 235)

2015 Pro Season: 16 games at AZL Rangers and Spokane, 37 IP, 1 HR, 8 BB, 33 K, 1.95 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .271 OBA.

About Shortslef: A native of Sterling, N.Y., Shortslef, 21, was the Rangers 26th round pick in 2015 out of Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC. As a sophomore, ranked ninth nationally with a .157 opponent batting avg. Struck out 20 of 21 batters in a game while a senior at Hannibal (N.Y.) High. Brother Josh pitched for Hickory in 2003 and 2004, as part of his ten-season, minor-league career with the Pirates.

 

JEFFREY SPRINGS (LHP, 6-3, 193)

2015 Pro Season: 17 games at Spokane and Hickory, 27 2/3 IP, 2 HR, 15 BB, 39 K, 2.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .200 OBA.

About Springs: A native of Belmont, N.C., Springs, 23, was the Rangers 30th round pick out in 2015 of Appalachian St. Left the Mountaineers third in career starts and fourth in strikeouts. Attended South Point High and led the Red Raiders to the state 3A title in 2011 and named the MVP of the championship series. Named 2011 North Carolina 3A player of the year.

Jeffrey Springs

Appalachian St. product Jeffrey Springs returns to Hickory after a brief stint last August. (Tracy Proffitt)

 

ERIK SWANSON (RHP, 6-3, 250)

2015 Pro Season: 10 games at AZL Rangers, Hickory, Frisco (Tex.) and Round Rock (Tex.) 15 1/3 IP, 1 HR, 7 BB, 14 K. 2.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .185 OBA.

About Swanson: A native of Terrace Park, Ohio, Swanson, 22, was the Rangers eighth round pick in 2014 out of Iowa Western CC. Made seven appearances for Hickory before landing on the disabled list (elbow strain) on July 23 through the remainder of the season. Named Most Outstanding Pitcher while leading Iowa Western to NJCAA Division I College World Series title in 2014. Was to attend Pittsburgh before deciding to sign with Texas.

Erik Swanson 2

Erik Swanson pitched across four minor league levels with the Rangers in 2015 before an elbow strain ended his season in July (Tracy Proffitt)

 

DILLON TATE (RHP, 6-2, 197)

2015 Pro Season: 6 games (6 starts) at Spokane and Hickory, 9 IP, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K. 1.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, .100 OBA.

About Tate: A native of Claremont, Calif., Tate, 21, was the first round pick (fourth overall) of the Rangers in 2015 out of California-Santa Barbara. Was highest-drafted player to appear in a Crawdads uniform since Brad Lincoln (4th overall) did so in 2006.Named 2015 Louisville Slugger All-American and a Golden Spikes Award semi-finalist in 2015. Allowed 2 runs over four innings in three appearances for Hickory during the 2015 postseason. Currently the No. 4 Rangers prospect by Baseball America and No. 5 by MLB.com, which has Tate as the No. 36 prospect in the minors and the eighth-best right-handed pitching prospect.

A New Season Begins

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luis Ortiz playoffs

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