Results tagged ‘ Ricky Valencia ’

Series Preview: Kannapolis at Hickory July 4-6

Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (43-37 overall, 4-8 second half, tied for 6th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (34-48 overall, 7-5 3rd SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads begin a weeklong homestand with a three-game series against in-state rival Kannapolis.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

PROMOTIONS:

Tuesday – Independence Day Celebration and Post-Game Fireworks

Wednesday – Kids Win Wednesday: All kids 12 and under admitted free, also get vouchers for free meal, bounce house, speed pitch and carousel;

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday; Rudy Wright Night

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section. NOTE: Tickets for July 4 are $12 for regular seats, $17 for VIP section… while supplies last!

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. 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 (Kannapplis/ Hickory):

Tuesday: RHP Yelmison Peralta vs. RHP Walker Weickel

Wednesday: RHP Blake Hickman vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

Thursday: RHP Luis Martinez vs. RHP Reid Anderson

 

Recent Series History:

In 2017, Hickory is 10-9 as the teams enter the final series vs. Kannapolis this season. The Crawdads have not lost a season series against Kannapolis since 2010 (7-9). The Intimidators hold a 4-3 edge in games played at L.P. Frans this season and are looking to win its season-series at Hickory since 2008 (3-1).

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads hope to springboard off a successful road trip and use that momentum to improve upon a 15-24 home record. They return home after their first winning road trip (5-3) of the season. Hickory won 3 of 4 at Kannapolis last week and then earned a split of a four-game series at West Virginia by winning Monday night’s finale… At the plate, the Crawdads are fourth in the SAL in total bases, supported by a league-leading 28 triples and 56 homers, which is fourth in the league. However, that has not added up to tallies on the scoreboard as the Crawdads are ninth in runs scored. Some of that has been due to impatience at the plate. Hickory is tied for last in walks received and next to last overall in on-base percentage (.305) …The Crawdads remain last in the SAL in ERA, but the trend continues towards improvement as the club is under five (4.87) and is no longer on pace to set a club record. Hickory is last in WHIP, and next to last in both walks and hits allowed.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Went 3-for-11 at West Virginia and has a .302/.415/.372 slash for the second half. Has just four extra-base hits since May 30. Tied for first in triples (5), second in ABs, 5th in games played, 8th in runs scored, tied for 9th in hits

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Went 2-for-11 in series at West Virginia. Has shifted mostly to 2B, playing just four games at SS since May 30. Tied for 6th in SAL with 4 triples. Is tied for 4th in Ks and has 13 in 52 plate appearances (31%) in the second half.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Went 6-for-15 at West Virginia with a homer and 5 RBI. Has hits in 9 of 11 games in the second half, including the last six. Hitting .325/.333/.550 in the second half.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Has struggled all season (.186/.248/.305) and is now losing playing time, seeing action in just 7 of 12 games. Went 1-for-14 on the road trip and is 2-for-22 with 7 Ks in the second half.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Named to the SAL All-Star Game as a reserve catcher. Went 4-for-11 at West Virginia and has hits in 6 of his last 8 games. Looking for his first extra-base hit since June 12.

1B Carlos Garay: Signed as an international free agent in 2012 out of La Victoria, Venezuela. Has settled into the starting first base slot since joining the Crawdads on May 20. Has hits in 10 of his last 11 games and multi-hit games in five of the last seven (14-for-32). Very much a contact hitter, has just 3 Ks over the last 11 games, but no walks. Overall, he has just 4 walks in 40 games, but just 14 Ks.

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High (MS). Has missed just three of 82 games. Went 5-for-15 at West Virginia and has 9 hits in 20 ABs. Is hitting just .217/.255/.319 at home.

C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Went 3-for-13 at West Virginia. Is at .333/.368/.417 in the second half. At home, Kowalczyk is .368/.403/.559. Has had trouble however behind the plate with a SAL-high of 9 errors and four passed balls in just 28 games.

RHP Walker Weickel: Signed as a free agent in 2017 out of the San Diego Padres organization with which he was a first-round pick. In his last start at Kannapolis, allowed three hits, a walk and struck out seven over 6.2 innings.

RHP Edgar Arredondo: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Allowed two earned runs over five innings with five hits and three Ks at Kannapolis in his last starter. Has given up one for fewer earned runs in five of his last eight starts.

RHP Kaleb Fontenot: 21st-round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Pitched in three of the four games (2 saves) at West Virginia and has four straight scoreless outings.

 

About the Drive:

Managed by former Kannapolis infielder Justin Jirschele. The Intimidators won six of seven to close out the first half, which included a four-game sweep of then-first place Hagerstown (Md.) to claim the first half Northern Division title. Kannapolis will make its first playoff appearance this September since 2009…Winning the first half earned promotions for several players (six of the seven all-stars received promotions) and for now it has left Kannapolis scrambling for answers. At the plate, about 40% of the homers (21 of 52), one-third of the RBI, and nearly one-third of the hits are elsewhere. In losing the final seven games of its just-concluded homestand, Kannapolis scored 16 runs. It’s a team that doesn’t run much – a league low 50 steal attempts – and relies on station-to-station and situational hitting… The same holds true on the mound as players that made 48 of the 80 starts for Kannapolis are now elsewhere. Only one pitcher currently on the roster (Yosmen Solorzano) has made more than six starts (15).

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:   

RF Micker Adolfo (No. 21 mlb.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R. Went 3-for-16 vs. Delmarva in the last series. Had a 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) in May and was named the White Sox minor-league player of the month in May and June. He had ten homers, 19 doubles and 37 RBI during that stretch. He is tied for first in the SAL with 24 doubles, fifth in total bases and ninth in slugging (.483).

RHP Luis Martinez (No. 22 mlb.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2012 out of Carupano, Venezuela. Had a dominant first start of the season vs. Hickory on May 19 with 9 Ks and one run allowed on four hits over five innings. Bumped up to high-A Winston-Salem, he struggled (16 ERs, 25 hits, 10 BBs over 16 innings), then returned to Kannapolis on June 26 to again dominate Hickory (1 ER, 3 H, 5 K, 6 IP).

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

2B Mitch Roman: 12th round pick in 2016 out of Wright St. Went 3-for-19 vs. Delmarva. Named to the SAL all-star game. Shifted to SS after the promotion of Grant Massey. Currently fourth in the SAL in hits.

RHP Blake Hickman: 7th round pick by the White Sox in 2015 out of Iowa. Made his first pro start vs. Hickory on 5/31/17 and allowed one run on five hits and fanned two over six innings. Had a rough outing vs. Delmarva in his last start on June 30 (5.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 4 K.).

 

Hey now, you’re an all-star: An Interview with Ricky Valencia

It takes a special person to wait as long as Ricardo (Ricky) Valencia did for an opportunity to play and sometimes baseball has a way of rewarding that patience.

Valencia’s selection to the South Atlantic League all-star game played at Columbia, S.C. a couple of weeks ago was all that is right with the minor-league baseball world. At 24, the Valencia, Venezuela native, who signed with the Texas Rangers in 2012, has done everything he’s been asked to do. Unfortunately, through the first half of 2016 very little of that had been during games. He played for four of the Rangers affiliates in 2015, but that totaled 15 games. And that was up from seven games in 2014. Over his first four pro seasons, Valencia played in just 78 pro games.

Injuries to several Crawdads got Valencia out of bullpen catching duties and into the lineup on June 11 at Kannapolis. He walked and doubled in that game, then two days later Valencia singled in a run and walked. The next day he added a single and double. Valencia put together a four-hit game on June 28. His season ended with a six-game hitting streak. His run through the second half of 2016 earned him a chance to play on a regular basis this year.

Playing time aside, Valencia is one of those guys that you want to see succeed. He is a kind soul and here is an example of that. In the interview below, Valencia named a list of those who had helped him improved. After the interview, I walked away to my next task. Ricky caught up to me and wanted to make sure I included Crawdads hitting coach Kenny Hook in his list of mentions.

Valencia is about the team – catching the bullpens, or working with a pitcher through a tough outing, or providing a steady presence in the lineup – he will give his best to help the team succeed. It’s guys like that I love seeing get his own recognition. Our interview happened two days after his all-star selection.

Ricky Valencia - Lin 3

Crawdads all-star catcher Ricky Valencia (Crystal Lin)

 

First of all, what was your reaction when you found out you made the all-star team?

Valencia: First of all, I didn’t know about it until my host family texted me and told me, “Congrats”. I didn’t know and then when I found out, I didn’t believe it. This is my sixth year and the first time I’m playing every day and I’m just doing my best. I knew I had some chance to make it, but I still couldn’t believe it. I was so happy that right away I texted my mom and she was so proud and my dad, too, and all my family were really happy for me.

 

This has to mean a lot more to you because of all the time you put it. You haven’t got to play a lot until this year. Describe what this means to you.

Valencia: it means a lot to me because, first of all, this opportunity I have right now, I’ve been waiting for it since I signed back in 2012. It means a lot to me, because it means that I can actually play. Before, I was only catching bullpens and not even playing was frustrating. But, I knew that I can do it and that’s what I’m showing right now, that I can actually play and do my best every time I go out there on the field. That is a goal that I wanted to achieve this year.

Before the season started and I found out that I was going to be the catcher every day, what I had in my mind was, “okay, I’m going to do my best.” I wasn’t even thinking on making the all-star game, I was just thinking about doing my best for the team. Being the old guy on the team, they expect you to be the leader and talking to the guys, helping them. That was really my focus, to help the team do better every night. That was pretty much what I was thinking from the beginning. But then, when I started good, I was trusting myself that I can do it. This step makes me feel more comfortable and more trusting in myself that I can do good. So, it means a lot to me to make the all-star team.

 

What was it like to sit so much the last few years and watch other people play and not really get an opportunity to play?

Valencia: It was frustrating, because I know who I am and I know I can do good. It wasn’t sad, because I knew in my mind that at some point I’m going to get an opportunity. I was working really hard, even though I knew I wasn’t playing. I was still working every day and getting my work in and keep faith.

 

Who was the people that helped you to keep focused, even when you weren’t playing?

Valencia: My mom and my dad, even though we are apart for seven months. Every day they would tell me, “You are good, keep trusting yourself.” Every day they would talk me because I would go back home and be sad. They would tell me, “Ricardo, you’re good; you’re fine. You’re going to get your opportunity. Just keep working hard and you’ll see. You will get the chance, too.”

 

As far as working on your catching skills, who have you worked with to improve that to get this opportunity.

Valencia: All the catching coaches and coordinators. They focused a lot on me with anything that could help me. Last year, here, I spent a lot of time with Matt Hagen, our assistant coach. He was also our catching coach. I learned a lot from him last year. He talked to me a lot about calling games and all of that.

All the coaches I had before and our old catching coordinator Hector Ortiz, he taught us a lot, and then catching Chris Briones. He was the one that told me to keep working because he knew that I was going to get this opportunity. All of them together, all that information that I got from everybody, it kept me going to get better every day. And then, even though he’s not a catching coach, Sharnol Adriana, anything he could do to help me, he would do it. Also, the pitching coaches, like Jose Jaimes. He helps me a lot with calling games from the pitching side.

 

Did it ever go through your mind that you wouldn’t get the chance to play every day?

Valencia: Yeah, it went through my mind, because I had never got the chance to play. This year, the fact that I finished up last year playing good baseball, and then I went to play winter ball in Venezuela, and I played really good – and I played with some big leaguers – it helped me to say, “I can do this.”

So, I real prepared myself really good because, in my mind, I told myself, “This is going to be a good year.” I don’t know how, but I knew this was going to be the year. So, I prepared myself really good and working hard every single day during the offseason. I went to spring training focused on doing what I do, not saying, “maybe I’m going to play every day.” No, that wasn’t my thinking. My goal was, I’m going to work as hard as I can every day and do my job and see what happens.

 

What was the area of your game that you had to work the hardest on to be able to play every day?

Valencia: My body.  Last year, I went to spring training at 226 pounds and they at the end of the season told me I can play, but I needed to focus on my body. They said if you can drop some pounds, you may have the chance to play more, because your body can handle that. So, I focused on that and came back at 206 pounds. I dropped 20 pounds just working and putting in some strength in my body. I think that impressed the team more to give me the opportunity, because they saw that I was able to do it.

 

Everybody’s goal is to get to the major leagues. What do you see as your path to get there?

Valencia: Baseball is not about skills or about how many tools you have, it’s about your mentality of what you can do in the field. Mostly, for me as a catcher, it’s how you handle a game, how you call a game, how you can help the pitchers. Most of the catchers get to the big leagues as good catchers and then they’ll focus on their hitting. You have to be a plus catcher to get to the big leagues, so that is my focus every single day is to be the best catcher.

 

How’s your throwing?

Valencia: It’s been good. It’s getting better. I’ve been working with Sharnol and Chris Briones. At the beginning of the season I was working on some different things, but then it’s getting altogether and lately it’s been good.

 

When you go home in September and you go to winter, what’s a good year look like for you?

Valencia: First of all, finish up strong here and then go back to Venezuela and rest up a little bit and then have a good winter ball season. They gave me a chance last year to play and this year hopefully I get more of a chance to play there. Winter ball is a pretty tough league because you play with big league guys, but at the same time that’s good experience.

 

Do you see yourself coaching or managing some day?

Valencia: A hundred percent, I see myself coaching. I like baseball a lot. I don’t see myself out of those lines. I’ve doing this my entire life since I was three-years old. At some point at my life, I’ll be coaching and I really like managing. I see myself managing at some point.

 

Have you started to look ahead at those plans and talking to those guys and learning what they do?

Valencia: Not that much. What I do is, I see what they do. I don’t talk that much. I don’t go to them and ask them how they do it, but I see what they do. I’m not going to go to them and say, “Tell me how to coach.” I’m not at that point of my life right now. I want to play as long as I can, but at some point, obviously, in everybody’s career there is an end and that’s when I’ll start asking. But right now, all I see, from any coach and any team I go to, I will take something from them.

 

What catchers have you learned the most from?

Valencia: Robinson Chirinos. Since I got to the states in 2015 for my first spring training, he’s been there. I just listen to him and watch him and all that. This year, we had a meeting with him and Jonathan Lucroy and I starting learning more from them. Last year during winter ball, I learned a lot from Jesus Sucre – he’s the catcher from Tampa Bay – I learned a lot from him last year because he was the catcher for the winter ball team and I was his backup catcher. He taught me a lot how to call games and helped me a lot with pitch sequences. I learned a lot from him.

 

Looking ahead as a possible manager, who do you see yourself being like? Who has impressed you as a manger that you might be like?

Valencia: The one that impressed me the most in the big leagues is Jeff Banister. The way he treats the guys, the way he fights for the guys out on the field. I had the opportunity, he had a meeting in the Dominican a couple of years ago when he had his first year with the Rangers. He went to the Dominican and talked to us the same way he talked to the big league guys. That means a lot because he cares for everybody in the organization. It’s just the way he’s in the game. He’s managing, but at the same time it’s like he’s playing. He’s there for everybody and caring for everybody. He’s strong mentally and that impressed me a lot.

Ricky Valencia catching - Lin.jpg

Weird Baseball: Hickory outlasts Lexington 6-5

When you have a pre-game that has the Red Power Ranger and Dale Murphy throwing out first pitches back-to-back and the box manager announces the attendance dressed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume, the game itself must be weird.

After the offenses were dormant early, the Hickory Crawdads and the Lexington (Ky.) Legends battled back-and-forth until a play at the plate settled the contest, which the Crawdads won 6-5 on Saturday at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win snapped the Crawdads (24-38) losing streak at three and sent the Legends (30-32) to their fourth loss in five games on the current road trip.

 

What happened?:

Well, not much in the first 5 ½ innings. Lexington’s Jace Vines (KC’s 2016 4th round pick from Texas A&M) held the Crawdads without a baserunner until the fifth and a hit until the sixth. Meanwhile, his counterpart Walker Weickel allowed two hits, walked two and struck out five over his four innings.

Lexington scored in the fifth against reliever Christian Torres. Rudy Martin walked, stole second and scored on Angelo Castellano’s single to left.

Alex Kowalczyk broke up the fledgling perfect game with a leadoff walk in the fifth. In the sixth, Jose Almonte laid to rest Vines’s no-hit bid with a clean single through the left side of the infield. Yeyson Yrizarri singled up the middle before Vines walked Anderson Tejeda to load the bases. After Vines fanned Eric Jenkins, Leody Taveras ambushed a first-pitch fastball and drove it over the funeral home sign in center for a grand slam, his fifth homer of the season to make it 4-1.

“It happens in the game,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “(Vines) was throwing well against us the first five innings. We got to the sixth inning and finally had some quality at bats and got the no-hitter out of the way with Almonte’s single and Yrizarri had a great at-bat. Obviously, Taveras get the first-pitch fastball for the grand slam. Up to that point, we didn’t have anything going, but you’ve got to play nine innings. That’s what we’ve been preaching to them all year.”

Matt Smoral picked up for Torres in the seventh and after striking out the first two hitters, he walked the bases loaded. C.D. Pelham entered to face Emmanuel Rivera, who hit the lefty’s second pitch out to left for his fifth homer of the season.

The Crawdads fought back to tie it a 5-5 in the seventh, when Ti’Quan Forbes and Yrizarri pieced two doubles together for the tying run.

Lexington threatened in the eighth when it put Gabriel Cancel on second with one out. Yeison Melo ripped a Pelham pitch to left – or it would have landed there if not for the diving play of Forbes at third, who made the catch and fired to second to complete an inning-ending double play.

What turned out to be the winning tally started in the eighth when Eric Jenkins had a hustle double and moved to third on Taveras’s infield hit. Yanio Perez hit into a fielder’s choice to erase Taveras, but Jenkins inexplicably stayed at third. After Kowalczyk lined out to short, Forbes brought in Jenkins with a single.

Things got harrowing for the Crawdads in the ninth as Pelham hit Martin with a pitch with one out. After Pelham struck out Khalil Lee, Castellano singled Martin to second. Rivera hit a grounder up the middle that SS Tejeda knocked down, which seemingly would’ve kept Martin at third. Except, Martin ran with his head down and either didn’t see manager Scott Thorman with a stop sign, or Thorman didn’t throw one up. Martin circled around third and sprinted for home. Tejeda’s throw to the plate was in plenty of time to allow Ricky Valencia tag Martin sliding in.

 

Yes, Taveras is back.

I thought Taveras was on the way to his usual pest-like self again on Friday. When he’s on, Taveras is marvelously skilled at picking out his pitch. Whether it’s a first-pitch fastball, like on the grand slam, or a 9-pitch AB as in the first inning, he will seek out his pitch, and more often than not, smack it hard somewhere.

 

But he’s bunting?

After Friday night’s ninth-inning loss Spike Owen was pulling out the stops to get a win. AFter Jenkins double in the eighth,  Taveras fouled off the first two pitches on failed bunt attempts before connecting on a slow roller that set up the final run of the game. Hickory has only 8 sac bunts this season – Tejeda has 3 of them – it just seemed a weird strategy to take the bat out of your second-best hitter.

 

Forbes making noise like a duck:

Or he could if he gets a promotion to the Down East Wood Ducks. He offers stellar defensive play every night, but it’s been the stick that has held him back. He continues to see fastball and is willing to drive it where it’s pitched. Tonight, he got pitches in and he knows what to do with them. A great play at third deprived him of three hits.

 

Eric, oh Eric:

There is so much raw talent, but wow, there seems to be some baseball acumen missing at times. In the sixth with the bases loaded, he swung through a fastball up –  a big swing, when just putting the ball in play most likely gets a run. Later in the AB, he fouled off a high slider that screamed “hit me”. Jenkins did work the count in the AB, but eventually flew out to shallow left. When he is in a key situation in an inning, he tends to overswing.

Him holding at third with runners on the corners and no outs was just odd – just as odd as it was for the Legends to play back for a double play with no outs and the go-ahead runner at third in the eighth.

Success in Middle Management: Greenville Tops Crawdads 5-3

Greenville (S.C.) scored five runs over the middle innings to support the start of Jhonathan Diaz as the Drive defeated Hickory 5-3 at L.P. Frans Stadium Thursday night in front of 1,725 fans.

The Drive (37-23) took the three-game series by winning the final two games and now lead the South Atlantic League’s first-half Southern Division standings by three games over the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies with ten games to play.

Hickory drops to 23-37 in the first half and are three games behind sixth-place Delmarva (Md.) in its bid to avoid the first last-place finish in a half-season since 2008, when the team was affiliated with the Pirates. The Crawdads are also trying to avoid the worst half-season record by a Rangers affiliated club. The 2009 second-half team finished 30-40.

 

What happened?:

Both lefties – Hickory starter Sal Mendez and Diaz – held the hitters at bay for the most part through the first three innings. The lone flaw by Diaz over the first five innings occurred in the third, when Jose Almonte golfed what appeared to be a low fastball over the fence. The solo blast was his fourth of the season and it gave the Crawdads their only lead.

That was short lived as Greenville returned fire in the fourth to take a 2-1 lead. Ryan Scott doubled hard to left and scored one out later on Rolandi Baldwin’s double to center. After Tucker Tubbs popped out, Tyler Spoon ripped a liner to right for a single. Almonte charged the ball and threw a one-hop bullet home that handcuffed the catcher Ricky Valencia and allowed Baldwin to score. (More on this play later)

In the fifth, Steven Reveles and Chris Madera both singled and later scored when Scott lifted a single past the drawn-in infield (Also more on this play later)

The Drive tacked on their final run in the sixth against Luke Lanphere. Spoon doubled to left, advanced to third on a grounder and scored on Reveles’s ground single up the middle through another drawn-in infield.

Meanwhile, Diaz faced one over the minimum through five innings, the lone blemish being Almonte’s homer and a single by Franklin Rollin in the first that was erased on a double play. The 20-year-old Venezuelan, making just his third stateside start, struck out eight through five innings.

However, the Crawdads finally got to him in the sixth with three straight hits. Yeyson Yrizarri singled to left and moved to third on Anderson Tejeda’s opposite-field double.  Rollin singled in Yrizarri and in the process chased Diaz. Pat Goetze faced Leody Taveras, who bounced into a fielder’s choice to third. Reveles charged the play hard in order to get the force at second, but his throw sailed high and allowed Rollin to reach and Tejeda to score. But with runners at first and second, Yanio Perez hit into an infield fly and Forbes hit into a fielder’s choice. The inning ended when a double-steal attempt blew up and Rollin was caught stealing at home.

The Crawdads mounted an uprising in the eighth against Hildemaro Requena.  With two outs, Taveras and Perez slapped back-to-back singles to place runners at the corners. However, Requena fanned Ti’Quan Forbes to end the threat.

Requena worked around a walk in the ninth by striking out the side to earn his third save of the season.

 

Examples of why errors and earned runs do not tell the whole story:

My friend Scott Lucas, who sends out a Rangers minor league report daily during the season, does a primer at the beginning of the season. In it, he explains that while ERA does reflect some of how a pitcher is doing, there are things that happen during a game that have more of an effect on earned runs (on none) than what meets the eye. Heck, an official scorer’s demeanor might get in the way of a judgment call at times. (Though I’m not one of those… I don’t think.) Earned runs, or the lack of them, do not always tell the fan the whole story.

Hickory was charged with three errors on the night and none officially had anything to do with the scoring. A glance at the box will tell a person the Crawdads played poorly defensively – and they did  – then you look at the pitching line for Mendez and you’ll think, “well, they played poorly, but they didn’t affect Mendez’s earned run total.” While the errors didn’t affect earned runs, misplays that are not charged as errors did.

The first error came opening batter of the game, when Yrizarri’s high throw allowed Chris Madera to reach. Madera was erased on a double play hit into by Santiago Espinal, so no biggie.

The second error was the play that handcuffed Valencia at the plate. The runner, Baldwin, should have been out by 10 feet, as Almonte’s throw was on the money. But, you don’t assume the runner would be out or safe on such a play. There’s usually a benefit of the doubt given to the runner with the hitter getting the RBI. So, what was the error for? Allowing the runner, who had stopped at first, to advance to second. In short, the second run of the fourth shouldn’t have scored, but it did and it ups Mendez’s ERA total.

In the fifth with runners at first and second and none out, Espinal hit a sharp grounder to Perez at first. Perez made the fielding play cleanly, but a hesitation cost him a chance to throw to second for a simple force out, though a double play would’ve been tough. Perez did record an out at first, but his misstep took away a chance at a double play later to end the inning. So, with a runner at second and third and one out, Crawdads manager Spike Owen had to have the infield play in to try and keep the runner at third on a ground ball rather than at normal depth to try and turning an inning-ending double play. It cost them an out and a second run in the inning as Scott’s base hit was a routine pop up just beyond the second baseman’s position ad it fell in for a two-run single. It’s not a play an official scorer can award an error on, but the right kind of out saves a run. Regardless, it cost Mendez an earned run.

One inning later, Taveras and Almonte converge at RCF to retrieve a single that fell in. The runner stopped, but moved up when the two outfielders couldn’t decide on who would make the play. The ball bounced between them and so I gave the error to the player that should’ve taken charge, the CF Taveras – even though neither of them touched it.

Mendez deserves better, but….

The defense did cost him two runs, but Mendez didn’t help his cause by elevating his pitches. Throwing a well-spotted 89-91 mph fastball, he accompanied that with a changeup that dipped well, especially to left-handed hitters early. His effective mix of speeds worked well as he missed several bats with the change.  He pounded the strike zone for first-pitch strikes (17 of 24 hitters). Add to that four broken bats, 10 groundball outs and two Ks and it was good night…. Except in the fourth and fifth he left a lot of pitches up that were spanked. It looked like Valencia kept reminding Mendez to stay out in front rather than fly open on delivery.

I like him more than most. He’s not going to wow you with “stuff”, but to me, there’s a lot there with that changeup that tantalizes hitters to swing… and miss. He has to keep his pitches down, as there’s not enough otherwise to keep him from getting mauled on the mound.

Series Preview: Kannapolis at Hickory May 29-31

Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (26-22, 4th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (19-31, 7th SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads continue the second part of a weeklong homestand with a three-game series against the Kannapolis Intimidators.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Monday-Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

PROMOTIONS: Monday – Make a Difference Monday: Donate a requested item of $5 or more to Foothills House of Hope and receive a free ticket. Click here for requested items: http://m.foothillshouseofhopeministriesinc.com/Donation-Needs-List.html

Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday: Bring pet to the game for $1 each. Dog show each Tuesday night. $1 hot dogs, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products.

Wednesday – Business Card Special: Show your business card at the Ticket Office for a $5 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. 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 (Kannapolis / Hickory):

Monday: LHP Bernando Flores vs. RHP Kyle Cody

Tuesday: TBA vs. RHP Michael Matuella

Wednesday: RHP Jimmy Lambert vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

 

Recent Series History:

So far in 2017, the teams have split the 12 previous games played, including a 2-2 series at L.P. Frans in April. Hickory has not lost a home series to the Intimidators since 2014 and are 42-28 there since 2009. The Crawdads won three of five at Kannapolis earlier in May.

 

About the Crawdads:

Hickory opened the homestand by losing three of four and dropped to 9-16 at Frans this season. The Crawdads enter the series losers of 7 out of 8 and 8 of 10… Hickory is often playing catch-up and often in a big way. The Crawdads have been outscored 139-88 over the first three innings. Opponents have scored in the first inning 24 times, while the Crawdads have 25 total runs in the first inning. In 43 games, opposition has scored at least one run in the first three innings… Pitching continues to make its effects felt on a disappointing first half. Hickory is last in the SAL in ERA (5.45), WHIP (1.54), hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and are next to last in walks allowed. For the season, Hickory has given up seven or more runs 21 times in 50 games, 15 of those during the last 29… The Crawdads continues to slug their way into runs. They are second in the SAL in homers with 42, but are eighth out of 14 teams in runs scored. They are fourth in slugging (.391), but 10th in on-base pct. (.313). They are next to last in walks accepted, but third in total bases.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Has missed one game this season, leads SAL in at-bats, 10th in hits. After sitting out a game during the midst of four-straight games without a hit, Taveras has a hit in five of the last six. He’s also starting to get his patience back with a walk in each of the last two games. After ten walks in April, he has just five in May.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Tied for third in Ks (59). Both his K-rate and walk-rate have declined in May compared to April. Went 4-for-13 in his last three games with a run scored in each. Has two strikeouts in three of the last four games.

LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Hitting just .194/.286/.290 since joining the Crawdads on May 10. Has 14 Ks in 70 plate appearances.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Sat out the final two games of the series with Asheville. Has hits in 17 of the last 20 games, which boosted his average from .155 on May 4 to its current .245.

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. After a rough start, Matuella is coming off two straight strong outings with just one hit and a walk over his last six innings and 8 Ks. He will be limited to 60 to 70 pitches.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Hit a pair of homers over the weekend, but K’d 8 times in 16 ABs. Now with 42 Ks in 15 plate appearances this season (28%).

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After a hiccup in mid-May, Ferguson has two scoreless outings with three Ks over 3 innings and one hit allowed. Control is his key. He has walked or hit 12 of the 58 batters he has faced, but has fanned 24.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High (MS). Played in all 50 games, second in ABs in the SAL. Has posted a .333/.373/.500 slash vs. Kannapolis in 12 games. Hit a three-run homer vs. Asheville on Saturday, his first since mid-April. Has reached base in 12 straight games and is 12-for-41 in that stretch with four walks and two hit batters. Approach of late has been to take pitches up the middle and away.

C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Is 10-for-28 with six RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis in 2017

C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Had three hits on Sunday and is 5-for-13 with two homers in his last three games. He is the leading Crawdads hitter in May, posting a .431/.484/.690 slash in May.

OF Franklin Rollin: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of La Romana, D.R. Is 15-for-36 with two homers and 9 RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis.

RHP Kaleb Fontenot: 21st-round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Currently third in SAL among relievers in Ks per 9 innings (13.50). Has 11 Ks in his last 7 innings over two outings.

 

About the Intimidators:

Managed by Justin Jirschele in his first season with the Intimidators… Kannapolis split a four-game series at Greensboro and are coming to Hickory after striking out 20 hitters in Sunday’s game. The Intimidators are in fourth place, but sit just 3.5 games behind first-place Hagerstown (Md.). Kannapolis will have a chance over the next 17 games to put itself squarely in the division chase. After the Crawdads series, Kannapolis plays four games vs. third place Greensboro, then travels to second-place Lakewood (NJ) for three and sixth-place Delmarva (Md.). The run is capped with a three-game home series vs. Hagerstown… At the plate, Kannapolis is hitting .279 in May, which is second in the SAL. The Intimidators have scored eight or more runs in five of the last ten games. Overall, Kannapolis is third in the league in batting (.264) and OPS (.719)… On the hill, Kannapolis relies on strong starting pitching to eat up innings and get the game to its bullpen. The Intimidators are 18-8 when scoring first and an SAL-best 19-5 when scoring last. When leading after five innings Kannapolis is 20-3… Statistically, both teams should be able to use the running game to generate offense as Hickory and Kannapolis are at the bottom of the SAL in nabbing baserunners trying to steal. However, his is not the Intimidators game. They have just 21 steals in 36 attempts, both SAL lows. Joel Booker has ten of those… Defensively, Kannapolis is third from the bottom in fielding pct.

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:

LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 16 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Tied for 9th  in SAL with 12 doubles. Saw a 12-game hitting streak end on Saturday (19-for-47), he still owns a 14-game on-base streak. Has posted a .338/.422/.606 slash in May.

LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 19 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Allowed one run on four hits over six innings in his last start. Has split his two decisions vs. Hickory, gave up four runs on eight hits over 4 innings vs. Hickory on 5/18.

RF Micker Adolfo (No. 21 mlb.com, 24 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent in 2013. Tied for 3rd in the SAL with 14 doubles. Had a 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) earlier this month. Currently in the midst of a 4-for-22 stretch.

P Victor Diaz (No. 23 mlb.com, No. 26 Baseball America): Traded to the White Sox from Boston in the Chris Sale trade. The Dominican native made his season’s first appearance on May 26. Has retired all nine batters he faced in two outings with six Ks. With an upper-90s fastball, his stay in Kannapolis could be brief.

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC. Quietly putting together a nice season as the Intimidator leadoff hitter. Currently second in the SAL in hits and runs scored, sixth in batting avg. (.318) and tenth in total bases.

RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions. Has allowed the fewest baserunners per 9 IP (3.96) among SAL relievers and is second in saves (8). He has yet to allow a run in 25 innings with 34 Ks to just 11 baserunners. He has given up four hits this season; Hickory has three of them.

RHP Jimmy Lambert: Fifth round pick in 2016 out of Fresno St. Is third in the SAL in innings pitched and has a 1.13 walk-per-nine-inning ratio, the best among starters in the SAL. Relies on defense to make plays, has allowed 57 hits in 55.2 innings. He is 2-1 vs. Hickory with a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings.

C Seby Zavala: 12th-round pick in 2015 out of San Diego St. Tied for second in the SAL with 10 homers and eighth in slugging (.520). Once a top-15 prospect with the White Sox, he’s struggled to make contact. Four of his HRs are against Hickory.

RHP Kyle Kybat: Non-drafted free agent out of Nebraska. Allowed 6.18 baserunners per 9 innings, third among SAL relievers, 0.65 BB per 9 innings 5th among relievers. Has a 0.59 ERA over 30.2 innings. Given up two earned runs, one of those surrendered to Hickory.

2B Mitch Roman: 12th round pick in 2016 out of Wright St.  Tied for seventh in the SAL in hits. Slash line of .242/.279/.293 in May.

Homers Gain Home Team a Win: Crawdads Rally 6-4

A pair of homers, including one that capped a three-run inning in the sixth, helped the Hickory Crawdads to a come-from-behind 6-4 win over the Asheville Tourists Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (19-30) snapped a six-game skid and set them up for a chance to split the series after the Tourists (20-27) took the first two of the four-game set Thursday and Friday. First pitch of Sunday’s finale is scheduled for 3 p.m.

 

What Happened?:

For just the 18th time in 49 games, and the first time since their last win on May 20, the Crawdads scored first. With two outs and the bases empty, Leody Taveras singled to left and reached second when 3B Travis Snyder’s throw to second for the force sailed over Max George’s glove as he covered the bag. Facing Brandon Gold, Ti’Quan Forbes then launched a three-run blast, a high-arching shot that kissed the batter’s eye in center. The homer was Forbes’s sixth of the season, but the first since April 17.

However, the Tourists rebounded quickly against Crawdads starter Matt Ball with two runs each in the second and third innings. In the second, Manny Melendez, Carlos Herrera and Joel Diaz all singled, with Diaz’s hit scoring Melendez. Ball then struck out Robbie Perkins, but a run scored when Diaz took off for second on a double-steal attempt. Herrera scored on the play as Diaz got caught in a run down between first and second.

In the third, Vince Fernandez singled and scored when Jose Gomez hit a sinking liner that Taveras closed in on and attempted to make a diving catch. The ball fell in and scooted past Taveras to the track, turning the play into an RBI triple. Gomez then scored easily on Willie Abreu’s double to the RCF track.

The Tourists had a chance to tack on more runs in the fourth when Ball walked the bases loaded after two outs. However, Ball settled down and struck out Gomez to end the inning.

Hickory held the deficit to 4-3 until the sixth when it scored the decisive runs. Anderson Tejeda singled and then scored all the way from first when Gold fielded Franklin Rollin’s swinging bunt and threw it down the right-field line. Rollin went to third on the play and scored when Valencia lofted a deep fly just over the fence in right for his second homer of the season.

Ricky Valencia - Lin 3.jpg

Ricky Valencia’s two-run HR in the sixth was the difference in the game (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

After Ball got out of the bases-loaded jam in the fourth, he and C.D. Pelham allowed just one baserunner until Pelham walked Abreu to start the eighth. With the tying run at the plate, Pelham struck out Melendez and Herrera. Jake Lemoine was then summoned to face Diaz, who swung at the first pitch and hit into a force play.

Asheville threatened in the ninth after Perkins reached on an error by Forbes and Lemoine walked Fernandez with two outs. However, Gomez ended the game when his soft liner was snagged in the hole at second by the leaping Blaine Prescott.

 

Forbes getting the money swing back; at least, I think he is:

I sent out a tweet Friday night that it appeared Forbes was getting close.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Feel like Ti’Quan is close: hitting ball middle away. Took drive to warning track in CF, last AB was 11 pitches</p>&mdash; Mark Parker (@CrawdadsBeat) <a href=”https://twitter.com/CrawdadsBeat/status/868275387561857025″>May 27, 2017</a></blockquote>
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

The first pitch fastball from Gold was a no-doubter to center. Forbes did try to pull a couple of pitches away and both turned into grounders to short. However in the eighth, he sent the same pitch up the middle for a hard-hit single. He’s still plenty quick enough on the fastball, but secondary pitches away have given him trouble. It appears that he is trying to use his hands more on those pitches – that is when he recognizes them.

 

Taveras pressing?:

It’s only natural during a losing streak to see players try to do something to put the team on their backs. For the most part, he 18-year-old Taveras has been immune from that, but over the first few games of the homestand, it looks like he is trying to do too much.

Though he doubled on Thursday – with the help of a deflection off the 1B’s glove – he seemed impatient on his final three ABs with just three pitches for each one, all strikes with four swing-and-misses – an unusual amount for him.

On Friday, Abreu stole second and moved to third on the overthrow by the catcher. Taveras backed the play up correctly, but even with no real chance for the out at third, he threw it anyway. The ball landed on the protective screen behind the third-base dugout. Add to that a K and a couple of weak grounders – two pitches on each of those ABs – and you have a kid that is trying to do too much. Eight Ks in 7 games (through Friday) was not like him.

Tonight, his dive into center was ill-advised – perhaps he didn’t read it well as it was hit directly to him – and what should’ve been a single to set up first and second with one out turned into a run with another at third.

Taveras is very good at ambushing fastballs, or working long counts to get a pitch he can do something with. The single in the first tonight was classic-Taveras. Hitting left-handed, he served an 0-1 fastball away into left. Later in the eighth, we saw him work the count and earn a walk. That serves him well when he doesn’t get those first-pitch fastballs.

Leody Taveras vs Braxton Garrett - Lin

Leody Taveras (Crystal Lin)

 

The rally that almost wasn’t:

After the Crawdads had four – four! – runners thrown out on the bases Friday night in a one-run loss, including pinch-runner Franklin Rollin, who was inserted as the tying run in the seventh and then proceeded to get picked off, a near disastrous start to the sixth almost occurred. If it had, I think manager Spike Owen would’ve had a coronary on the field.

Anderson Tejeda opened the inning with a lined single to right. As Tejeda rounded the base at first, a throw from Willie Abreu in right was already on the way behind him and nearly picked him off as he scampered back to first.

 

Was this closing day?:

The first few innings had the feel of the final day of the season, as the hitters went hacking. Gold needed just 51 pitches to get through the fifth inning and the Tourists hitters went hacking against Ball. Of the seven hits allowed by Ball over the first three innings, five of those were on the first or second pitch as the hitters saw a flat fastball.

Gold went on to record a complete game, despite the loss, needing just 93 pitches. He did a good job of pounding the strike zone (71 strikes) and getting the Crawdads to swing at his pitches early for weak contact. In fact, just six of the 34 Crawdads saw five or more pitches.

 

A smooth CD:

Like fine music, this C.D. (Pelham) was smooth and kept the Tourists in a relaxed state. As Gold did, the 6-6, 235 lb. lefty got outs quickly (39 pitches, 26 strikes over three innings) then finished them off with either a change or a slider. The slider was especially good to lefties as three of the four Ks came courtesy of that pitch. Given the rough treatment Pelham got at Lexington (KY) on Wednesday (2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 ER), the bounce back was badly needed.

CD Pelham - Lin.jpg

CD Pelham retired 9 of  the 10 he faced and fanned four (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Series Preview Hickory at Lexington (KY) May 22-24

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (18-25, 6th place South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Lexington Legends (Kansas City Royals) (19-24, 5th place Southern)

The Hickory Crawdads play the last three games of an eight-game road trip at Whitaker Bank Ballpark

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Monday-Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., Wednesday at 12:35 p.m.

Promotions: Monday: Kids Eat N’ Play for Free (Kids 12 and under eat and play in the kids play area for free); Mommy/ Son Date Night; Super Hero Night. Tuesday: $1 day (Dollar hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream sandwiches, Pepsi products). Wednesday: Hunt Brothers ½ price pizza

TICKETS: $6 for bleacher seats. $9-$23 in advance, add $2 the day of the game.

Where is it?: I-75 North/I-64 Wast to exit 113. Turn right at the end of the ramp onto North Broadway toward downtown Lexington. Follow North Broadway for approximately one and a half miles, past New Circle Road (Highway 4). Turn right into the stadium located adjacent to the Northland Shopping Center.

PARKING: $3-$5. Parking is available at the ballpark as well as other spaces within a 10-minute walk.

CONCESSIONS: Whitaker Bank Ballpark offers a wide variety of food items for fans including Big L’s Gourmet Dogs, Hunt Brothers Pizza, Colonel Cobb, Kona Ice, Kettle Cory, Broadway Cantina and more. For dining, there is the Kentucky Ale Taproom. http://www.milb.com/documents/2/4/0/46314240/Legends_2013_Tap_Room_Menu_v3_opt_0evaa6fd.pdf

 

Probables (Hickory/ Lexington):

Monday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. RHP Travis Eckert

Tuesday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. LHP Andre Davis

Wednesday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP Jace Vines

 

Recent Series History: The Crawdads went 10-5 against the Legends in 2016, which included 5-of-7 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. The teams played sporadically for several years prior to 2016. In 2015, Hickory all four games, which were all played at Lexington. Before that, the teams played all games for three seasons at Hickory, with the Legends edging the Crawdads 9-7.

 

About the Crawdads: Hickory dropped the final game of a five-game series at Kannapolis, but won the weekend series 3-2. It is the third series the Crawdads won this season, the first against a team other than Columbia (S.C.). Overall, the Crawdads have won 5 of 7 over the past week and climbed out of the cellar of the Northern Division… The Crawdads are in danger of snapping a streak of 14 straight half-seasons above .500, stretching back to the second half of the 2009 season. Hickory will have to win 17 of the final 27 to avoid a losing record… The Crawdads lineup has been humming in May, but will have to do so for a while without Yanio Perez, who is on the disabled list with an undisclosed injury. Perez (.356/.429/.630) leads the SAL in batting average and is in the top three in on-base pct., slugging pct. OPS, hits, homers and total bases. Still, Hickory’s .284 average is the second highest in the SAL for May and the lineup scored 4+ runs in three of the four games since losing Perez. The Crawdads are third in the SAL in homers, OPS (.715) and slugging (.397), fourth in RBI and total bases. However, they are near the bottom in walks received and on-base pct. (.318)… On the mound, Hickory remains well entrenched at the bottom of the SAL in ERA (5.52), and WHIP (1.55), runs and earned runs allowed, and next to last in hits and walks allowed. However, this past week has arguably been the best for the staff and the Crawdads will run the two hottest starters for the first two games. During the five wins this past week, Hickory allowed just 11 total runs. In the two losses, it gave up 18. Hickory has allowed seven or runs 18 times in 43 games, 12 of those during the last 23.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Went hitless in three straight games for just second time this season during the Kannapolis series and sat out his first game of the season on Sunday. His slash for May is still .300/.324/.457.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. The rate of strikeouts has lessened (40% in April, 29% in May), but so has the rate of walks (14.3% in April, 8.8% in May). Went 4-for-18 during Kannapolis series with 7 Ks, but three of the hits were doubles.

LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Is 8-for-43 (.186) since joining the Crawdads on May 10, but had a three-run double at Kannapolis on Sunday.

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. After two rough starts, he gave up just one run on three hits and fanned four at Kannapolis on Thursday. Pitches have tended to catch a lot of the plate far as the SAL is hitting .410 against him over 8.1 innings (16 hits to 45 hitters faced).

RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No.17 Baseball America, No. 18 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic. Pitched one-hit ball over seven innings and fanned six last Monday against Greensboro. Over his last four starts totaling 25.1 innings, Hernandez has allowed five runs on 20 hits with five walks and 26 Ks.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Saw a 10-game hitting streak come to an end on Sunday. A stretch of at least one hit in 13 of 14 games moved his batting average from .155 on May 4 to .250.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Has perhaps begun to heat up after a prolonged slow start with an injury mixed in. Is 6-for-17 over his last five games with two walks on Sunday. His nine walks so far this season equals his entire output for 2016.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After two straight outings which yielded runs, Ferguson allowed just one hit in a scoreless outing on Saturday. Has fanned 22 of the 65 batters he faced, but walked or hit 12.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Kyle Cody: Sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Kentucky. Returning to the city where he started for the Wildcats in college. Save for a poor start vs. Charleston (S.C.) on May 10, Cody has had a decent run this season. In his last outing on Tuesday, Cody pitched a four-hitter over seven innings and fanned 10. Held the opposition to fewer than two earned runs in four of seven starts.

1B Carlos Garay: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of La Victoria, Venezuela. Played this season at high-A Down East before he was assigned to Hickory this weekend due to the injury to Perez. Went 4-for-9 with an RBI in his first two games.

C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Enters the series with a five-game hitting streak (7-for-19) and four RBI in that stretch.

LHP C.D. Pelham: 33rd-round pick in 2015 out of Spartanburg Methodist College. Has become a reliable arm out of the pen. Over his last seven outings (13 innings), Pelham has fanned 17 of the 59 hitters he’s faced (29%) and allowed just two earned runs on 17 total baserunners.

 

About the: Legends

Managed by Scott Thorman in his first season with the Legends after two years as the skipper at the Royals rookie-level club at Burlington (73-63) …Lexington returns home after a 5-3 Georgian-road trip to Augusta and Rome. The Legends are tied for the worst home record in the SAL at 5-12. Lexington has played just three home games this month (1-2)… Despite winning two of three from the Braves, the Legends pitching took it on the chin in surrendering 24 runs and playing an 18-inning affair on Friday. Earlier this season, the Legends gave up a SAL record 30 hits during a 22-4 loss to Hagerstown (Md.). Lexington has given up 46 homers in 43 games, seven more than Greensboro. The Legends are also last in hits allowed, next to last in runs allowed, and 12th out of 14 teams in ERA (4.85), WHIP (1.47) and walks allowed… A free-swinging team at the plate, the Legends can run up some numbers. They are second in runs and homers, RBI, total bases, third in hits, doubles, and OPS. Lexington is also second in Ks… The Legends have done well at shutting down the running game with catchers combining to nab 42.9% of runners trying to steal.

 

Prospects to watch – Lexington:

RF Khalil Lee: (No. 12 Baseball America, No. 13 MLB.com) Third-round pick in 2016 out of Flint Hill High (Oakton, VA). Was the Gatorade player of the year in Virginia last year. The Legends leadoff hitter takes a lot of pitches as he leads the SAL in Ks and is fourth in walks. Tied for 9th in runs. Posted a .213/.338/295 slash in May. A threat on the bases with 11 steals (5th in the SAL), though he has been caught six times.

C Meibrys Viloria (No. 14 MLB.com, No. 18 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Cartagena, Colombia. Was the MVP in the Pioneer League (rookie) at Idaho Falls in 2016 after posting a .376/.436/.606 slash. After a .186 average in April, Viloria has been hot in May at .339.422/.679 with four homers and 16 RBI in 15 games. Enters the series with an RBI in six straight games and seven of eight. Behind the plate has thrown out 17 of the 40 runners trying to steal.

CF Marten Gasparini: (No. 19 MLB.com, No. 22 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Ruda, Italy. Signed the largest contract given to a European prospect. Hit .196 as the Legends starting shortstop last year and has not been much better (.186) in 2017. Committed 48 errors last year precipitating the move to center. Has just four extra-base hits this year in 35 games.

SS Ricky Arcena (No. 27 MLB.com) Signed as an international free agent in 2014 out of San Francisco de Macoris, D.R. Like Gasparini, the stick has been light and the game a bit fast in the field (60 errors in 115 pro games). Started the last road trip with hits in five of the first six games, before an 0-for-7 with 6 Ks over the final two games.

 

Others to watch – Lexington:

LF Kort Peterson: 23rd-round pick in 2016 out of UCLA. Tabbed to the Appalachian League post-season All-Star team in 2016, as well as a Royals organizational All-Star by MLB.com. Fifth in the SAL in OBP (.405) and tied for 10th in hits. Enters the series with a seven-game hitting streak and hits in 16 of the last 18 games (26-for-77, .338). Is 8 for his last 17.

RHP Jace Vines: Fourth-round pick in 2016 out of Texas A&M. Expected to make his third straight appearance as a starter on Wednesday (10 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 1 HB, 1 BB, 4 K). Enters the series with a 1.67 ERA as a starter. Relies on defense to make plays (1.81 GO/AO) with just 24 Ks in 40.1 innings overall.

RHP Grant Gavin: 29th-round pick in 2016 out of Central Missouri. Has struck out 23 of 81 batters faced (28%). Has allowed one earned run over 21 innings (0.43 ERA) and the league is hitting .130 against him.

1B Joe Dudek: Non-drafted free agent in 2016 out of Kentucky. Enters series with seven-game hitting streak (10-for-26, .385) with three walks. Has reached base in all ten games since he joined the Legends. Was teammate of Crawdads P Kyle Cody.

Series Preview: Hickory at Kannapolis May 18-21

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (15-23, 7th place South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (20-16, Tied for 3rd place Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads start a road trip with a five-game series at Intimidators Stadium.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Thursday 7:05 p.m., Friday Doubleheader 5:05 p.m., Saturday 7:05 p.m., Sunday 5:05 p.m.

Promotions: Thursday: Motorsports Night with a Bank of America 500 ticket giveaway; Thirsty Thursday. Friday: Daddy-Daughter Date night with Pre-game Princess Parade. Saturday: Faith and Family Night with post-game fireworks; Sunday: Team Photo Giveaway, Bark at the Park; Pre-Game Autographs; Picnic in the Park (All-you-can-eat for $10).

TICKETS: $5-$7 for children, $6-8 for adults in advance. $2 more per ticket the day of the game.

Where is it?: Ballpark is off I-85 at exit 63. Exit ramp to Lane Street and head west. Turn right onto Stadium. NOTE: There is heavy construction along I-85, so allow extra time.

PARKING: All parking is $2

CONCESSIONS: Intimidators Stadium has the basic ballpark food at a main concession area behind home plate. Other items include Chicken Tenders, Chicken sandwiches, Pretzel Dogs, Wings, and Turkey Wraps. The Hot Dog Hut has footlongs, brats, burgers, Italian sausages, as well as Dale’s Mater Sandwiches, and Veggie Burgers. BBQ Stand has pulled pork and turkey sandwiches.

 

Probables (Hickory/ Kannapolis):

Thursday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP Chris Comito

Friday (DH): RHP Edgar Arredondo and RHP Reid Anderson vs. LHP Bernardo Flores/ TBA

Saturday: RHP Demarcus Evans vs. RHP Jimmy Lambert

Sunday: RHP Matt Ball vs. RHP Yosmer Solorzano

 

Recent Series History:

Kannapolis is 5-3 against Hickory this season, which includes a 3-1 series win at home back in April The Crawdads were 12-4 in 2016 against Kannapolis with a dominant 7-1 record at Intimidators Stadium. Since the Crawdads began the affiliation with the Rangers in 2009 they are 87-58 overall, 45-30 at Intimidators Stadium.

 

About the Crawdads: After a horrendous start to a just-concluded home stand, the Crawdads won the final two games vs. Greensboro to split that series and salvaged a 3-4 record. Hickory is 7-10 in road games… For the most part, the team’s pitching has posted some ugly numbers. Their 5.52 ERA is nearly .60 higher than the next lowest team (Hagerstown) and the 1.56 WHIP is .12 higher than Lexington. Hickory is second in the SAL in hits allowed and walks issued. The Crawdads team ERA would be worse if not for No. 1 starter Jonathan Hernandez (2.80) and No. 2 starter Kyle Cody (3.41). Neither are scheduled to pitch during the series. Ball and Anderson will each make their first start in the series. Hickory has allowed seven or runs 16 times in 38 games, ten of those during the last 18… The lineup continues to hum along, hitting .281/.331/.394 in May after a .235/.306/.394 slash in April. After hitting 25 dingers in April, Hickory has just eight so far this month. Overall, the Crawdads are tied for third in homers, and fourth in slugging and OPS (.709)… Hickory stole a single-game record of 8 in a game at Kannapolis in April and may again wish to take advantage of catcher Seby Zavala, who has thrown out just 7 of 37 base stealers.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Hitting .345/.362/.545 in May with seven extra-base hits. Prior to an 0-for-4 on Wednesday, he had at least one hit in 15 of 16 games, seven of those with 2+ hits. Along with 3B Ti’Quan Forbes, has played in all 38 of the Crawdads games and leads the SAL in at bats. He is also 6th in total bases.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Still among the leaders in the SAL in strikeouts, but the rate of his strikeouts is shrinking. Tejeda fanned in 40% of his plate appearances during April, but is down to 26.5% in May.

LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Is 5-for-23 since joining the Crawdads on May 10.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. Leads the SAL in OBP (.430), and is tied for first with 46 hits. Other top-ten rankings: 2nd in batting avg. (.354), OPS (1.030), third in homers (8), slugging pct. (.600) and total bases, tied for third in RBI (26).

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. In many ways, he is still on the mend from injuries (back and Tommy John surgery) suffered in 2015, but would like to see results. Has given up 9 runs over 5.1 innings with SAL hitters pasting him for a .481 batting avg. Is limited to 60-70 pitches per outing.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) to start the season, he is more than making up for lost time with a .425/.452/.475 slash in May. Was at .155 for the season on May 4, but with hits in 9 of the last 10 games (17-for-33) – including two four-hit tilts in that stretch – he is up to .246.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Enters the series 4-for-8 in the last two games, which included a walk-off homer vs. Greensboro.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After five straight scoreless outings, he has given up three runs over 2.1 innings during his last two outings. He has hit or walked 12 of the 61 hitters he has faced.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Edgar Arredondo: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Had his best outing of the season last Friday when he allowed one run on five hits and fanned three over five innings for the win. The Intimidators has touched him up for 16 hits over nine innings in two starts.

RHP Matt Ball: Acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a trade in 2016. Expected to make his first start of the season against his old team. Has allowed two runs over five relief appearances (8.1 innings) since joining the Crawdads on 4/27/17. Fanned 12 and walked just one during that stretch.

C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Returned to the team after a disabled list stint with an injured hamstring. Will split time with Alex Kowalczyk.

 

About the Intimidators:

Managed by Justin Jirschele, who played in 15 games for the Intimidators in 2013. He was the team’s hitting coach last year… A Shermanesque march through Georgia has placed Kannapolis in the thick of the Northern Division chase. The Intimidators won three of four at Rome after taking two at Augusta… Pitching has been a strong suit with the I’s allowing just 8 total runs during their five wins on the trip. Their 3.32 ERA in May is fourth in the SAL… At the plate, Kannapolis’ .282 average for May is just behind Charleston for the league lead… Speed is not their game. The Intimidators have just 17 steals in 27 attempts, both SAL lows.

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:

LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 15 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Has hits in each of his last three games, but is at .226/.333/.419 for May. Hickory struck him out ten times in 33 plate appearances in April.

LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 18 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Pitched four-hit ball over six innings in his last start with six Ks.

RF Micker Adolfo (No. 20 mlb.com, 24 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent in 2013. Saw his 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) end with an 0-for-5, four-strikeout game at Rome.

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC. Is tied for 7th in hits, tied for 8th in runs scored. He tortured the Crawdads pitching staff in April with 9 hits in 26 ABs and scored seven runs.

RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions. Currently tied for second in the SAL with seven saves. Over his 14 appearances spanning 17.1 innings, he has allowed eight baserunners and struck out 26 with no runs allowed.

Progress Report: An Interview with Crawdads Hitting Coach Kenny Hook

 

The Hickory Crawdads had a rough start at the plate. April rains in the area often limited the hitters work to the batting cage and on the field the Crawdads as a unit struggled to put an offense together other than homers.

Hickory jumped to the South Atlantic League’s lead in homers in April and still remain near the top. However, hitters too often missed in-game opportunities during individual at bats and wasted scoring chances as a team.

But, the season is long and as the sunshine returned to the area, the team perked up as well, especially during a late-April series against Columbia (S.C.). Yanio Perez tortured Fireflies pitching and won the Sally League hitter-of-the-week award as a result of that work and hasn’t looked back. Leody Taveras – the Texas Rangers top prospect – has been as advertised. He went through a 15-game stretch during which he had more hits (20) than swings-and-misses (15). Yeyson Yrizarri woke out of a 1-for-39 slump and has had two four-hit games this month. Anderson Tejeda has cut his strikeout rate.

The talent is here and, more importantly, it is developing. I had a chance to speak with Crawdads hitting coach Kenny Hook during the recent home stand about the young hitters and how that development is coming along.

Perez Taveras - Lin

Yanio Perez (left) and Leody Taveras have led the Crawdads attack in recent weeks (photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Let me ask you first of all, the team, started really slow. You and I talked a little bit on the side about all the rain we had and guys not being able to get into a routine. Suddenly, a lot of guys have found a stroke of genius that you’ve given them, or whatever. What about that turnaround and where the guys have come from?

Hook: The weather and not being able to spend a lot of time out on the field. The main thing is, you can get kind of fooled inside a cage sometimes. Being out on the field and seeing the flight of the ball offers you some pretty valuable feedback. So, that did play a factor, but some of it is being able to get locked in on a routine, develop more of a plan and an approach at the plate, and then getting a good understanding of how they’re going to get pitched in certain situations.

I think that’s been the biggest thing is the ability to get a better pitch earlier in the count, to not be afraid to get deep into a count, then be a little more refined in a two-strike approach. I think you saw that really with our last road trip. That was really good with two outs and two strikes was a big difference.

 

One of the things I noticed up front – and that turned around in the second home stand – is when guys would get in hitter’s counts, they almost seemed jumpy to try and do something, rather than waiting on the next pitch. That 2-1 or 3-0 pitch wasn’t the one you wanted and they weren’t ready for a fastball. That seems to have come around.

Hook: Yeah, I think some of that is having to do with their youth. I think a lot of them really want to get big hits instead of just getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it. They’re trying to do too much at those times. I think they get excited and a little anxious when they work themselves into good counts. They kind of anticipate something good is coming pitch wise and then maybe they chase a little bit and swing at a pitcher’s pitch in those counts.

That’s gotten a lot better. We’ve slowed it down and allowed pitchers to make mistakes more often. But, I think that’s going to come and go because we’re young. These guys get really high and then they get down on themselves because they all want to perform and they put a little too much pressure on themselves at the plate in certain situations. They’ll get better at the more games and the more times they are in those situations.

 

I’m going to do a little name association and start with Leody Taveras. As an 18-year-old, he brings a lot. I know you’ve watched the twitter things I’ve posted of him having more hits that missed bats over the last couple of weeks. For an 18-year-old, that’s pretty rare.

Hook: You know what, I would say, other than his baseball skills, I’ve been most impressed with just his preparation, how intense he is. He shows up and performs every night and he is really locked in as far as playing one pitch at a time. He really understands what he needs to do in certain situations in the game. He understands that guys aren’t just going to just attack him and allow him to get good pitches in certain situations.

Leody Taveras - Lin vs Columbia

The switch-hitting Leody Taveras in a game vs. Columbia (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

I think the switch to the three hole has really kind of changed his mindset there. He’s been more patient and he’s really refined his play, as far as looking for a really small zone early in the count, something he can do some damage on, and then later in the count being able to use the whole field. I think shrinking the zone early has allowed him to work into deeper counts and get ahead in counts, and then trust that he can drive the ball the other way later in counts is huge for him.

 

You mentioned his preparation, what does he do differently than the average 18-year-old that stands out to you?

Hook: I think it’s just mentally. I don’t think it’s something you can really see as far as that. I think all the guys prepare physically. I think he has a certain way, as far as his demeanor and really processing whatever it takes to win. He’s a fierce competitor. I think a lot of them are competing and are great competitors, but he just has a knack for being able to stay in the moment and not get too outside of himself or try to do too much in certain situations. Where I think he’s built a little different, as far as being able to control his emotions at such a young age, is what stands out for me the most.

 

 

Yanio Perez started slow, but man did he find a stick in the Columbia series. He pretty much tortured anything they threw up there. He was one of those that seemed a little jumpy in hitter’s counts early, but has found a groove.

Perez: For him, I think it’s just his mind set as a hitter. He’s so good at kind of being able to hit breaking balls and offspeed pitches up the middle and the other way to where, he was seeing a lot of them and he was just giving up on fastballs and looking to drive the breaking stuff the other way and get his hits that way.

What you saw in the Columbia series, and kind of the ongoing thing with him as far as what he needs to improve on, and what we’re preaching is, stay on the fastball timing all the time. Because, at any point, he recognizes well enough to where he can still hit the offspeed the other way. What you saw in that series is, he was looking fastball and he was committed to it, so when they did hang a slider or offspeed, you saw him get the bathead out and pulled more baseballs in that series. When he gets extended and pulls the ball, obviously you’re going to do more damage. So, you saw big power numbers in that series.

Yanio Perez Spike Owen - Lin

Yanio Perez (left) and manager Spike Owen shake hands as Perez rounds the bases after one of four HRs against Columbia at L.P. Frans Stadium (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

When Andy Ibanez came here last year, one of things that the Rangers wanted him to do was having him get used to how baseball is played here. How has Perez coming here and playing here made those adjustments at this level, in this country, at this setting, etc.?

Hook: I think he’s done a really good job, especially for a guy that’s played multiple positions and is getting moved around a lot. He’s transitioned pretty well. Offensively, that’s been the easiest aspect. The defensive stuff at first base – he may be in right field, left field, third base, first base – I think that’s something that’s his biggest asset, as far as being able to move around. But at the same time, it does take a certain understanding that you have to get your groundballs during BP, you have to get fly balls. There’s a lot of work to stay ready to play those positions.

I would say is, what you’re seeing is that he’s a pretty sound defender when he’s on the dirt and he can always go play corner outfield, but I think being able to do both is a huge asset, I would think in the industry as a whole and obviously, for our club.

 

Ti’Quan Forbes has gone the opposition direction. He started real hot and has cooled off. But the thing I noticed about him last year and the start of this year is that his confidence is so much above when he started here last year. What you do you see in him, even now when he is slumping, what he is bringing to the plate?

Hook: What I think is that it’s a trust in himself and maturing and understanding his body and his swing, and he realizes if he sticks to his plan and stays and gets ready to hit fastballs, he’s athletic enough to where good things are going to happen. That confidence and I think it’s a matter of maturing.

As kids mature, they start to understand what kind of player they are, what’s important for them to have success. You’ve seen that and even through not getting hits, he’s still hitting the ball hard every night. He’s still a threat in our lineup. He spent a lot of time in that four hole where you go into a series and you put that batting average and those power numbers up on the board, they’re going pitch him a little different. I think he’s shown how much he’s grown up by the way he’s handled that.

He’ll come out of it and they’ll start falling. He hit two balls last that were right on the barrel and hit them over 90 miles an hour. That’s all you can ask for as a hitter is hard contact and eventually those are going to turn into hits.

Ti'Quan Forbes at 3B - Lin

3B Ti’Quan Forbes continues to play stellar defense while developing his stroke at the plate (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

It doesn’t look like it’s hurt him defensively and it didn’t last year. He doesn’t take it to the field.

Hook: He’s got a great routine and he realizes how important his defense is. So, I think that’s one other aspect of his maturity. He understand that once it’s time to play defense, he really focuses on that and doesn’t let his offense affect his defense and vice versa. It’s just a matter of being a well-rounded play and understanding his role and his job.

 

Where does Anderson Tejeda get that power? He’s still a bit of a scrawny guy and not much bigger than my 15-year-old?

Hook: Well, I think it’s what he generates in his swing. He’s got a big leg kick and he really gets a lot of separation, and there’s a ton of bat speed in there. He’s a guy who’s at bats have gotten a lot better because he’s been able to control his body a little bit. He’s another guy that understands that people aren’t going to throw fastballs inside, because that’s his strength. So, he’s been able to be more selective. He can hit the ball out to any field. I think trusting that has been the key for him. He doesn’t have to pull the ball to do damage. He’s just a talented, gifted hitter that, at his age, is pretty impressive.

Anderson Tejeda leg kick - Proffitt

Anderson Tejeda with the high leg kick as he prepares to swing in a game vs. Rome (photo courtesy of Anderson Tejeda)

 

Yrizarri came back and for me, that was a bit of a surprise. He came back here and struggled at the start, but has seemed to find himself again. Did he struggle with all of this coming back and trying to figure out what he’s doing here and moving positions?

Hook: I think there’s probably something to that, as far as feeling a little disappointed that he didn’t move up from here. You know, I think he understands at this point that’s what’s best for him. He’s got to take it for what it’s worth, but come out and improve on what he did last year here and play a little more second base and being able to control the strike zone better and really get more of a well-round game. I think what you’ve seen with him lately is he’s got a lot of two-strike hits. He’s not chasing as much.

I think what you saw early on was a guy who felt like: I was one swing away every time I went up there, getting big hit and then getting moved out of here as fast as possible. You’ve just got to do what you can and stay in the present every time and that stuff will take care of itself.

Yeyson Yrizarri at 2B - Proffitt

Switched to 2B for 2017, Yeyson Yrizarri struggled at the plate at the start of the season, but has two four-hit games in May (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

I’m really happy with his work ethic through all his struggles. He’s been at it every day and his mindset hasn’t changed. He’s a great kid that puts a ton of pressure on himself. He’s very emotional and cares so much about the team and about his performance that sometimes to a fault. Keeping an even keel is probably the biggest challenge and will directly affect his success.

 

What happened with Eric Jenkins? He came here and had really good at bats the first couple of games. But there was the Columbia series where the team had a tight game in the ninth, and he had a chance for a big hit and the uppercut swing came back. What mindset do you see with him so far?

Hook: I think it’s a work in progress. I think he was on to some really good things and having some plate discipline in there. I think, as it is with any hitter, if you don’t start to see the results, as any human would do, you revert back to what you know and what you’re comfortable with.

Eric Jenkins - Lin

Eric Jenkins struggled to make contact during a 2017 cameo with Hickory (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

I expect him to go down there (extended spring) and work and be back here soon. He’s very talented and a very likable kid and he’s got a lot of tools. So, I think it’s a matter of giving him a chance to step back and just understand what he needs to do to develop his game. He’ll be back here, I’m sure pretty soon.

 

Who has surprised you the most to this point of the season?

Hook: To this point, I think Ricky Valencia. I’ve known, but I haven’t seen Ricky, though this is my fourth year with Texas. Ricky has never been in a situation where he’s been a frontline guy, in my time with the Rangers. His leadership – he’s a little bit older – but his ability to hit and to understand having a plan, and being that guy that can teach the younger Latin kids. He’s a great role model and a great leader for them. He’s a solid, solid guy. Every night, you know what you’re going to get. Whether he’s 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he’s pretty much the same.

He’s probably been the most impressive because I’ve never seen him in that role and it looks like he’s talking full advantage of that chance and opportunity.

Ricky Valencia 2 - Lin

C Ricky Valencia in a game vs. Rome Braves (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Kowalczyk is taking advantage of his opportunity.

Hook: Yeah, he’s a big strong kid that can obviously generate some bat speed. He just needs experience, I think, learning how to call a game and learning the catching position at this level. He’s been impressive since he’s gotten here with the bat.

 

 

What do we look for in Aparicio?

Hook: A guy that is a lot like Tejeda. He’s got a little pop. He can really play the outfield and has a really good and a really food competitor. He’s a guy that sprays the ball around. I think he’s got some real tools. He can run. He’s got the hitability. I think we’re getting a player that’s exciting, a lot like that players we have here right now, so he should fit in great.

Game Story 4/29/17: Crawdads Rally, Defeat Fireflies in Extras

The Hickory Crawdads shook off the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies with a tying run in the ninth and a walk-off RBI double by Preston Scott in the tenth to claim a 9-8 win in front of 4,325 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (9-14) is the third in a row during the four-game series, which concludes Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Columbia (12-12) has dropped four of its last five games and six of eight.

 

What happened?:

Columbia’s outfielder Tim Tebow did not play. The crowd behaved and were quite well-mannered. Only one chant of Tebow occurred in the ninth inning.

 

What really happened?:

For the third straight game, the Crawdads offense got in gear and carried the team to the walk-off win. After scoring just 22 runs over its first 10 home games, Hickory now has 28 over the last three.

Columbia took a 3-0 lead after its first two at-bats. In the first, Andres Gimenez, the New York Mets No. 8 prospect (MLB.com) who was just added to the Fireflies roster, homered in his first stateside at-bat, a towering blast over the 32-foot high billboards in rightfield. Gene Cone added a two-run double in the second.

The Crawdads, who lead the Sally League in homers, added two in the second as Yanio Perez and Preston Scott snacked back-to-back solo blasts to left against starter Harol Gonzalez.

The Fireflies got the two runs back in the fourth. Jay Jabs singled and Desmond Lindsay walked before a passed ball moved both runners up. Ali Sanchez slammed a liner off the back of starting pitcher Argenis Rodriguez. 3B Ti’Quan Forbes scooped the ball up and made the play to first, but Jabs scored on the play. Milton Ramos doubled in Lindsay.

Yanio Perez then continued his assault on Fireflies pitching with a three-run homer to left to tie the game at 5-all. For the season, Perez is now 10-for-20 in six games with a double, four homers, four walks, 8 runs scored and 11 RBIs.

Hickory took the lead in the fifth as Yeyson Yrizarri singled in Eric Jenkins and scored himself on Forbes’ groundout.

The see-saw affair continued in the sixth when Columbia scored three times to take an 8-7 lead. Sanchez singled in two runs before Cone’s grounder brought in Lindsay for the go-ahead run.

The score remained there until the bottom of the ninth when Anderson Tejeda doubled to start the inning. One out later, Yrizarri squeezed in a single through the left side of the infield. Taveras then lofted a blooper just beyond the reach of the shortstop Gimenez, who had retreated to center, to score Tejeda.  Matt Blackham then struck out Forbes and Ricky Valencia to end the inning and send the game to the tenth.

A perilous moment occurred in the tenth, when Ramos drove a deep fly to left. Eric Jenkins trotted back to the track, then dropped the ball and allowed Ramos to reach second. However, C.D. Pelham recovered to strike out Cone looking to end the threat.

In the bottom of the tenth against new reliever Joseph Zanghi (0-2), Perez got his third hit of the game with a hard single to left. Scott then lasered a double to the wall in left center to score the winning run.

Pelham (1-0) pitched two-hit ball over three scoreless innings with three strikeouts to keep the Fireflies at bay. Jake Lemoine preceded Pelham’s work with two shutout innings of his own.

 

Tejeda base savvy:

I have to make note of a couple of brilliant base-running plays by Anderson Tejeda in the game, both occurring on second-to-third plays.

In the third, Yeyson Yrizarri hit a grounder to Ramos at third. Ramos made the diving stop to his left and threw to first on his knees for the out. Watching the play, Tejeda crept off the bag at second and then scrambled to third ahead of the return throw.

After he doubled in the ninth, Yrizarri’s grounder was just out of the reach of Ramos and Gimenez at short. Tejeda, anxious initially, waited until the play developed before making his move to third.

 

A near disaster in the OF Part 1:

Columbia’s Luis Carpio lined a shot to the gap in right-center field. Perez from right and Taveras from center both tracked the ball with neither calling the other off. The two converged and bumped, but Taveras made the catch and held on. The two had a conversation before returning to their positions. For a brief moment, it looked scary.

 

A near disaster in the OF Part 2, or Jenkins part 1:

There’s no gentle way to put this. On the play in left in the tenth, Jenkins trotted and pranced to the track and then put the glove up for the nonchalant catch. Except he didn’t make the catch. It didn’t look good.

 

Jenkins part 2:

In talking with Eric some on Saturday, he talked about some of his adjustments, especially in addressing the strikeouts from 2016. He talked about not following the swing high, but keeping the swing up the middle. An emphasis on working the count is also a part of his approach. For the most part, he’s done well with getting deep into counts and putting the ball in play. Though the average hadn’t shown it, he hadn’t been giving away at bats.

The two steps forward this week is now a step back. First AB was a one-pitch, weak grounder to 1B. The second AB was a one-pitch fly to LF. He reached on an infield hit in the fifth, then was looking on three pitches in the seventh and tried to muscle up a pitch in the ninth and struck out.

 

Taveras mastery at the plate:

In this homestand, Taveras has seen 102 pitches. He has swung and missed just five. Think about that when considering this is an 18-year-old. Three of those were vs. Braves No. 6 (MLB.com) prospect Ian Anderson.

One of those was tonight in the ninth when he wailed violently at a 1-0 fastball from Matt Blackham with runners on the corner. He settled down, worked the count full, then put the bat to the ball. It wasn’t a full-swing, but he made enough contact to loft the ball into short center for the game-tying RBI single.

In the fifth, he yanked an 0-2 off-speed pitch to RF for a single. Two innings later, it was an 0-2 fastball off the plate that he served to left.

Looking back through my mind’s eye, I remember how good Jurickson Profar was as an 18-year-old here. More walks than Ks, he would spoil two-strike pitches to the point of driving opposing pitchers batty. At 17 and early 18, Nomar Mazara, though he fanned a good bit, would battle and battle with two strikes. For me, at least for now, Taveras is right up there as far as strike-zone judgment.

 

Perez zeroed in:

After the two homers, he saw only curveballs during a full-count walk in the fifth. In the eighth, he crushed a change which wondered over the plate that Gimenez made a leaping catch of. The single in the tenth, also a fastball, was smoked to left.

 

Baserunning rally killers:

Both teams made curious decisions on the bases that stunted run-scoring innings. In the fourth, Columbia scored two and took a 5-2 lead with seemingly more on the way. With one out and Cone at the plate, Ramos wondered off the bag at second as Cone bunted through a pitch. Alex Kowalczyk saw the play and calmly threw to second for the pickoff. Cone then struck out to end the inning.

Hickory took a 7-5 lead with two in the fifth and had runners at the corners with two outs. With the count 2-2 to Preston Scott, Perez took off from first. When the throw from the catcher Sanchez went to second, Taveras scrambled for home. Luis Carpio cut off the throw at second and easily gunned down Taveras at the plate.

 

Walk-off remembered:

The walk-off win is the second of the season for the Crawdads and the first over the Mets Low-A affiliate since a 17-inning win over Savannah on 5/9/15, when Jose Cardona lined a homer into the leftfield corner. The day after, manager Jose Leger, who had argued Cardona’s homer was foul, was ejected during the home-plate meeting.