Results tagged ‘ Sal Mendez ’

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Casanova and Huff go to “Plan B”: Crawdads get the benefit in 4-3 win over Rome

Down three runs early, Hickory Crawdads starting pitcher Jean Casanova settled down and his teammates fought back to take a 4-3 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (12-20) in the series opener with the Braves was the third in four games of the current homestand. Despite the loss, Rome (21-14) remained in a tie for first the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League.

Hickory scored the decisive run in the eighth after two were out. With Austin O’Banion on first, Ryan Dorow put up his third single of the game. Cristian Inoa then hit a grounder that got past second baseman Derian Cruz and allowed O’Banion to score from second.

It looked as if the Crawdads would be run out of the stadium. Facing Jean Casanova, Braves center fielder Drew Waters hit the second pitch of the game out of the ballpark. Two outs later, William Contreras, Kurt Hoekstra and Jean Carlos Encarnacion hit consecutive doubles and suddenly Rome held a 3-0 lead.

The Crawdads pecked away at the lead, starting in the second with Tyreque Reed’s second home run of the season. In the third, Cristian Inoa and Bubba Thompson steered back-to-back doubles just inside the bag at third to get Hickory within 3-2.

Tyler Ratliff worked an eight-pitch at bat into a walk in the fourth. He stole second with two outs and came home when Ryan Dorow lifted a soft liner into right center.

After giving up the homer and five doubles into the third, Casanova settled down and retired 12 straight before he walked Encarnacion to start the seventh.

Sal Mendez (2-2) got out of the inning and worked around an error with two outs in the ninth to seal the win.

Casanova and Huff Work Plan B:

Simply put, the Braves were pounding the fastball of Casanova early. So Casanova, pitching coach Jose Jaimes and catcher Sam Huff decided to alter the attack against an aggressive Braves lineup that had six extra-base hits through the first 11 hitters. After Riley Delgado doubled on a first-pitch fastball in the third, Casanova started the next nine hitters with an offspeed pitch. The right-hander retired the next 12 hitters, striking out four.

Huff and Casanova talked about the change of strategy and what went into the decision to use plan B.

 

It didn’t look like there wasn’t much of a fastball at the start and they were hitting it. You guys made the decision to go offspeed. I think I had one time where you went through the whole order and started everybody offspeed. How did that decision come about?

Huff: Before pregame, we were talking about the hitters. A lot of them, their percentages were they’re early swingers. They’re going to swing at first-pitch fastballs no matter what. Their two-hole shortstop (Riley Delgado), he is ten-percent on striking out, so he’s putting the bat on the ball. The first inning, we kind of got an idea and we got on the same page and we just started working it. I knew he had a good curveball, slider and changeup and we started mixing those in and then just get guys thinking and uncomfortable.

They hit you and hit you hard early. There were five doubles and a homer over the first three innings. What was your part in this decision to make a change in what you were going to throw?

Casanova: The first inning, that came from my head. I was like, “I’m not going to give up. I’m still going to attack the zone.” We all went over to the side with our pitching coach (Jose) Jaimes and we talked about, “Let’s start over and use the offspeed, curveball. Then, when the guy’s got two strikes on them, throw the slider because the slider is way faster than your curveball.” Then we started with the changeup and then the fastball and it started working. So, we just kept doing that throughout the rest of the game after the first inning. That helped a lot.

Sam Huff

Catcher Sam Huff from an early 2018 game (photo courtesy of Sam Huff

Is there are a macho thing where guys will say, “I’m going to throw my fastball, come hell or high water” and you overuse it?

Casanova: As a pitcher, I like to be aggressive with my fastball. Tonight, after they were hitting my fastball, I just worked with whatever was working earlier in the bullpen, which was my curveball and the slider and the changeup looked pretty good. So, I mixed those up. Then, a couple of times I threw a fastball when they were waiting for a breaking pitch and that’s when my fastball started playing.

 

At what point are you watching him and saying, “Okay, this is what we need to do.”? They’re hitting the fastball and you have your pregame stuff and you see what is actually taking place. At what point do you make a decision to call it this way?

Huff: First thing, once I saw them being aggressive throughout the at bat, I was just like, “We’ve got to go curveballs now. We’ve got to switch it up and we’ve got to get them out on their front foot and get them uncomfortable.”

We were talking about going in and they were sitting there. So, we started going away and then hard away and then soft away. I mean, we tried to get them uncomfortable and thinking.

Four guys I knew for sure were like, “he’s throwing a curveball right there” and we’d throw a fastball the first pitch. And then, he’s pretty much already given up on his at bat and then we’d throw two sliders inside.

I have to read hitters, too, and know which guys are going to be swinging no matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fastball or a curveball or a changeup or slider, they’re swinging. And then the guys that are more picky and will take – because the guys that take, they take a curveball right down the pike and, okay, it’s strike one. Here comes another curveball, fouls it off and they’re 0-2. Alright, you can go fastball, curveball, changeup or slider. It just depends on what he wants.

We were pretty much on the same page. He shook me off maybe two or three times and we executed it. We took what we wanted from the first inning and built off of it. We’re taking that as a learning experience and the next time that we play them, maybe not go straight fastballs, but more working counts and getting guys uncomfortable.

 

Have you ever thrown that many offspeed pitches in a row to start a hitter?

Casanova: No, that was the first time where I had to start with my curveball or my slider or my changeup.

Huff: He’s a big fastball guy. This is the total opposite of what he does. He looked the part. He showed you that he can pitch both ways and still carve. You don’t need to just to just trust your fastball. You can use other things. Seeing that, I was really happy to see that from him. For him to hold and get out of that first inning and then come in and go back out there and just say, “You know what, hit it. Try and hit this.” It was really cool to see.

Casanova: It was special to me because he is the catcher that knows me the most. We’ve been together for like three years now. We got onto the same page and everything. After the first inning, I put it away and throw it in the garbage. This is a new inning and I’m going to try and compete and stay in the game as long as I can. That’s what I tried to do and it worked out.

Jean Casanova.jpg

Jean Casanova (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

In a game like this, you had the golden sombrero tonight and I know you’re not happy about that, but you had to take a lot of pleasure in working in that way. That was more important win wise than what you did at the plate?

Huff:  As a team, we want to win. If it means I go 0-for-4, it means I go 0-for-4, but if I’m helping my pitchers and my whole staff and my team to win a ballgame behind the plate, then I’ll take it every day of my life. I love to win. I want to win.

 

Ratliff’s battle rewarded

It seemed innocuous at the time, but Ratliff’s at bat in the fourth played a big part in getting the Crawdads the tying run. An eight-pitch plate appearance turned into a walk and began the process of running up the pitch count of Odalvi Javier, who had thrown 42 pitches one out into the fourth.

“The first at bat, I was kind of late on his fastball and I got a hit off his changeup or slider,” said Ratliff about his approach for the key AB. “I actually got into an advantage count to 2-1. I fouled it off and got back even with a 3-2 count. He just kept throwing fastballs, fastballs. He kept trying to get me to chase the fastball up, which I couldn’t lay off of. They weren’t quite up enough to take. He just kept aggressively throwing the fastball up, up, up. I was sitting fastball and then the last pitch was kind of a spiked changeup. It was nice to get rewarded for a long 3-2.”

After hitting .167/.254/.250 in April, Ratliff has come around in May and is now at .371/.421/.486 for the month. He has multi-hit games in six of his last nine contests.

:I was working with Chase Lambin (Crawdad hitting coach) and Josue (Perez), our hitting coordinator, and (coach) Turtle (Thomas) and (manager) Matt (Hagen). They were all like, ‘You just have to go back to you, which is not chasing pitches up.’ I was trying to do too much, like I said. I was trying to go for the big home run. I’m not that type of player. I’m the type of player that’s going to hit balls in the gap, and hit doubles, and make hard contact and grind out at bats.”

Rome roaming out of runs:

The Braves baserunning cost them a couple of scoring opportunities. In the second, Isranel Wilson hit a liner to deep right. Through right fielder Justin Jacobs quickly retrieved and relayed the ball back in, Wilson hustled and reached second well ahead of the throw. However, he slid well past the bag, even avoiding the tag of Inao at short. Inao was able to snare Wilson in the ensuing rundown.

The more perplexing play happened in the seventh. After Encarnacion walked, Drew Lugbauer hit a swinging bunt in front of the plate. Mendez hopped down the mound and quickly got the out at first. Meanwhile, Encarnacion sped around second and made tracks to third. First baseman Tyreque Reed’s strong throw to the waiting Ratliff at third was well ahead of Encarnacion’s slide.

Tyreque Reed’s blast:

Check out Dan Victor’s (@slydanno70) video of Reed’s blast.

 

Series Preview: Greensboro at Hickory April 24-26

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

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

 

If You Plan to Go:

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

 

Promotions:

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

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

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

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

PARKING: All parking is $3.

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

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

 

Probables (Greensboro / Hickory):

Tuesday: Nestor Bautista vs. RHP Tyler Phillips

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

Thursday: RHP Edward Cabrera vs. RHP AJ Alexy

 

Recent Series History:

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

 

About the Crawdads:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Grasshoppers

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

 

Prospects to watch-Greensboro:

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

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

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

 

Others to watch-Greensboro:

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

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

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

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

 

Crawdads Bats Heat up: Have a Legendary Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts:

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

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

Eric Jenkins HR rob

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

Power Cruzing: West Virginia takes early lead, evens series

In similar circumstances to game one of the series, the West Virginia Power took advantage of an error in the first to score three times and never trailed during a 6-4 win over the Hickory Crawdads in front of 2,925 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium Friday night.

The Power (4-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with the win and evened the series with the Crawdads (1-7).

In game one of the series Thursday, the Crawdads used a first-inning error to score four unearned runs on the way to a 6-2 win. On Friday, the roles were reversed.

After Crawdads starter Jean Casanova (0-1) retired the first two batters in the first, Dylan Busby hit a high pop-up near home plate. Catcher Sam Huff settled under the ball, which carried to the fair side of home plate and ticked off the glove for the error. The Power made Hickory pay with a double by Mason Martin and a three-run homer by Oneil Cruz.

Miguel Aparicio cut the deficit to 3-1 with his first homer of the season, a high drive off the top row of billboards in right. Ryan Dorow added his first blast of the season in the second.

The Power regained their initial three-run lead in the third. Cruz walked and Kyle Watson reached on an infield hit that chased Casanova. Sal Mendez entered and recorded two straight grounders, the second by Ryan Peurifoy scored Cruz. Chris Sharpe blooped a single into short right to bring in Watson and the Power led 5-2.

From there, the Crawdads threatened several times with runners scoring position in five of the last seven innings. Melvin Nova singled and scored on Tyler Ratliff’s double to get Hickory back within 5-3. However, Yohel Pozo grounded to third and Gavin Wallace fanned Huff to strand the runner.

Dorow doubled with one out in the fourth, but never advanced. Pozo double to start the sixth, but he, too, never moved.

Cruz’s second homer of the night in the seventh pushed the Power ahead 6-3 before Pedro Gonzalez tripled and scored to create what turned out to be the final margin.

The Crawdads loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but reliever Evan Piechota struck out Gonzalez to end the attempted rally.

Piechota then worked around a two-out single in the ninth to record the three-inning save (1).

Wallace got the win (1-0) with six innings of work during which he gave up three runs on eight hits.

 

Thoughts:

***This felt like a game that Hickory would win. The Power stranded seven over the first four innings and the Crawdads responded each time West Virginia scored. However, the inability by Hickory to capitalize on presented opportunities ultimately doomed the team. The Crawdads went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position for the game and left 10. Through 7 games with RISP, the team is at .190/.239/.206. It feels like the pitcher has the advantage rather than the other way around.

***First home appearance for Alex Speas and it looked sharp. Cruz touched him for the second homer, but the pitch appeared to be a fastball that was down and away. Cruz lined it opposite field, down the line in left. Otherwise, Speas brought a live fastball (sorry, no speed gun readings) with a change and breaking ball (looked like a slider) that kept hitters honest. He fanned four of the last five swinging.

***Wallace didn’t appear to have his best stuff. Was told by the Power radio guy that keeping his sinker down was the key to his success. Wallace left a good bit up that Hickory hit hard. But Wallace mixed in the secondaries well until he could find the touch on the sinker and he went on to record nine groundball outs. While fastball command wasn’t there, the control was as he issued no walks. He seemed poised when in troubled and never panicked. After the Power pulled their starter after the first on Thursday, Wallace’s outing was a balm to the Power’s staff.

***Casanova should have been out of the first with just six pitches, but the error started a chain of events from which he never recovered. Like Wallace, he also had command issues with the fastball and it was punished. One wonders what his evening would be like had the error not happened. However, he seemed to panic and was never the same.

***The first “Wow” moment for me this season was Gonzalez’s triple in the seventh. He took a Piechota offering and lined it hard into open grass down into the right field corner. Gonzalez was in full stride between first and second… and then accelerated. It was another gear!

 

Unlucky Seventh Dooms Crawdads

The line will show that Hickory left-hander Sal Mendez had a rough seventh inning, and certainly he contributed to his demise on the mound. However, a couple of unlucky breaks did him in, and in turn it proved to be the difference in a 4-3 loss to the Greensboro Grasshoppers Sunday afternoon at First National Bank Field.

 

What happened?:

Hickory took a 3-1 lead into the seventh-inning stretch and after Sal Mendez dominated Greensboro in the sixth, the Grasshoppers got their revenge when they sent eight to the plate to score the decisive three runs.

JC Millan started the inning with a solidly lined single to right. With the middle infielders playing at double play depth, Micah Brown hit a medium-speed grounder to the hole at second. Kole Enright from his second base position ranged far to his left, made a diving stop of the ball, but from the seated position he wasn’t able to get enough on the throw to first for the out.

Michael Hernandez then line a shot through the box – I thought it might have hit Mendez – and zoomed into center to score Millan. Zach Sullivan’s sacrifice put runners at second and third before Mendez walked Aaron Knapp.

The tying run scored when Sam Castro hit a checked-swing grounder between the mound and first. First baseman Sam Huff charged the ball but he had no play at home for the force. He turned to get the out at first, however no one covered the bag and the bases remained loaded. That proved crucial as the next hitter Isael Soto hit a high chopper that the 6-4 Huff leapt to snag and then step on first for the out.. However, that made it only two outs and Hernandez score the go-ahead and subsequent deciding run.

The Crawdads took a 2-0 lead in the first on Pedro Gonzalez’s two-run blast to right off the scoreboard.

Hickory started Noah Bremer but was pulled after the first with an oblique injury. A.J. Alexy entered in the second and gave up a lone run on a double play grounder in the fourth. Huff’s first homer of the season accounted for the Crawdads other run in the sixth.

After the blast, Hickory had just two more baserunners. Yohel Pozo doubled to start the seventh. From there, Remey Reed, RJ Peace and Tyler Frohwirth combined to retire the next seven straight, which ended with Gonzalez’s check-swing single. Pozo hit the next pitch for a 6-4-3 double play.

 

The offense is offensive: Just five hits on Sunday, two of those left the yard, and the Crawdads leave First National Bank Field with a .214/.267/.337 slash. Hickory fanned 11 times today and have Ks in over 25% of its at-bats.

I do wonder how different this weekend would have been had the team scored in the first two innings of the opening game of the season. Having the bases loaded twice, the Crawdads came up empty both times and needed a ninth-inning HR by Enright to avoid the shutout. After going 5-for-20 RISP, they only had three opportunities Sunday afternoon and went hitless.

There are a couple of members struggling to make contact. Gonzalez is 4-for-12, but 7 of his 8 outs are Ks. Tyler Ratliff is 0-for-10 with 5 whiffs and Chad Smith is 0-for-7 with 4 Ks. But strikeouts aside, the issue I saw on Thursday and a little this afternoon, is the inability to take advantage of opportunities. When Greensboro starter Brady Puckett got into those opening-inning jams, Hickory went first-pitch hacking and let him off the hook.

This afternoon, speedy Eric Jenkins in the eighth went up 3-0, then swung through three straight pitches. In the ninth after Pedro Gonzalez reached on a checked-swing single, Yohel Pozo went first-pitch hacking and hit into a game-ending double play.

I think this team will hit and do it well and score some runs. But, they need that spark. Unfortunately, guys are trying to force the issue.

AJ’s day: I’m guessing Alexy had planned to pitch today, but not as early as the second inning and perhaps he wasn’t loose, etc.

According the Marlins pitch fx guy, Alexy was around 92 mph with the fastball. He appeared to have trouble spotting the pitch consistently, especially from the stretch. By my count – there was no stringer for Greensboro today, so I kept my own pitch count – Alexy threw just 43 strikes out of 75 pitches in four innings. He missed 10 bats, only one on the fastball (at least it appeared to be a fastball from my vantage point in the pressbox, located in the ionosphere. The curveball seemed to have good bite to it.

Sal Mendez: I’m guessing I like Sal Mendez more than most and it’s because of innings like the sixth that appeal to me. The lefty breaks a bat on a fastball to start the inning. He then gets back-to-back strikeouts on a swing-through change and a curveball for a called third-strike. Then there are those moments like the seventh when weird things happen and he is unable to minimize the damage.

He is able to get outs, but his stuff is such that there is a small margin of error to get outs or to get hit. Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes loves Mendez’ changeup and it is an outstanding pitch when he can keep it down and miss bats. When he misses his spots, he’s very vulnerable.

Defensive gems: Hickory has been almost flawless in the field. Through the first three games, the lone two errors have come of pickoff throws by pitchers. The group covers a lot of ground and, at least to this point, are sure-handed.

Jenkins in left went back and to his left to make a diving catch of a liner off the bat of Millan in the second. SS Yonny Hernandez bailed out catcher Yohel Pozo’s off-line throw on a steal attempt. Hernandez had to cross the bag and avoid the sliding runner, but he managed to make the catch and slap a tag on Sullivan, who was sliding in.

 

 

The 2018 Crawdads: Pitchers – An interview with pitching coach Jose Jaimes

The first half of the 2017 Hickory Crawdads season was a tough one to watch. Most of the games were blowouts early as pitchers were under an organizational mandate to throw fastballs and learn how to use the pitch before infusing secondary pitches. Some of them figured it out and moved on – Kyle Cody being the best example – others struggled with the concept and went down to Spokane for more seasoning.

Of the pitchers to start the 2018 season, eight spent time at L.P. Frans Stadium last year. Tyler Phillips and Demarcus Evans figured out some things at lower levels and are back again with Phillips snagging a top-30 prospect ranking along the way.

With the returnees and a healthy load of college pitchers, the 2018 version could – and should? – be better equipped to handle what is being asked of them: place the fastball correctly, throw strikes and get outs. A group of eight of them did that during Monday night’s exhibition game against Catawba Valley Community College. Save for a second-inning hiccup by Alex Eubanks, the group that pitched threw gas and made quick work of the overmatched JUCO club.

Starting with Phillips on Thursday at a hitter’s park at Greensboro, we’ll begin to see where he and the Crawdads are to start the 2018 season.

I interviewed Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes about the pitching staff and basically went down the list to get a sense of where everyone is at the start. At least until he had to get to on-field workouts before we could finish.

So below is an overview of many, but not all, of the Crawdads pitchers to start the season.

 

 

 

That was impressive last night. There was no gun, but I’m guessing you ran guys out there throwing 93, 94, 95 pretty much all along the line last night.

Jaimes: Yeah, it was exciting. We have a pretty exciting group. Starting with our rotation, our rotation is a little more experience than last year, so that’s going to make a difference. We’ve got a few college guys and that’s going to help the young kids. Then, when you look to the bullpen, everybody’s around the mid-90s, which is exciting. Hopefully, they can do what you saw yesterday and keep getting better.

 

There was a lot of talk last year about the Rangers wanting the guys to work fastball, fastball, fastball. They had to spot it so many times, or whatever percentage was set before they started to bring in the secondaries. Are they staying with that or is it being tweaked any?

Jaimes: It’s still going to be a priority to control the fastball. That’s still the number one thing, so we’re going to keep preaching that. Definitely, we’re making some adjustments on the plan, but for the most part it’s going to stay the same. It’s fastball and they’ll learn how to use it and learn how to get outs with it and learn to how to play with it. You’ve got basically six pitches with the fastball – going down and away, down and in, up and in, up and away, middle – so you can do anything you want with your fastball. That’s going to be the main focus again this year. I think with the group that we have this year, they have more experience and a little better command than last year.

 

Will it be as strict the first time through the order as it was last year?

Jaimes: (hesitating) No, no, no.

 

I don’t mean to have you give away things, but it at almost seemed like last year, “You will throw the fastball to everybody pretty much the first time through the order.” Like you said, it’s six pitches, but still guys are sitting on it.

Jaimes: Yes, it was tough and you saw it. But it’s a great plan and we saw it pay off towards the end of the year in the second half. Guys learned how to use their fastball and learned how to get outs with it and once they implemented the other pitches, it made a huge difference. I think that was one of the biggest turnarounds that we had in the second half of last year, because they were able to pitch with it. They relied too much on their secondary stuff, so again, that’s going to be a main thing.

 

The rotation, is it still going to be six guys?

Jaimes: Yes, it’s still a six-man rotation. Tyler Phillips will be our opening-night guy. Alex Eubanks will be our second guy. AJ Alexy, that you saw last year, Noah Bremer. Reid Anderson is going to join the rotation and then Tyree Thompson will be the sixth guy.

 

I’m just going to go down the list and if you can give me a little bit about their stuff and your expectations for them. I’ll just start with Tyler. He just seemed overmatched here last year when he started. Like Miguel (Aparcio), he seemed overmatched and then found himself when he went to Spokane. What do you see from him coming back here that he learned from last year?

Jaimes: I think last year was a big learning year for him. He had a good spring training. He showed up this spring stronger, bigger, but most important, more mature. So, I’m expecting him to lead the rotation and be that guy that’s going to teach the young kids. Stuff wise, I was watching down in Arizona, he was 94-95 (mph) fastball. He’s got a really good changeup and a breaking ball. I think he’s come really far physically and mentally and I’m expecting good things about him this year.

Slider?

Jaimes: Curveball and it’s improved a lot since last year.

 

Alex Eubanks.

Jaimes: A strike thrower. He’s a very mature guy. I love the way that he handles himself on the mound. It seems like nothing bothers him when he doesn’t have his best stuff. You saw him last night, the second inning he gave up three hits in four pitches. He never lost his composure; he stayed within himself and minimized the damage. So, that’s him. He’s going to be that guy that’s going to be able to bounce back quick. I love the stuff that he brings. He has good movement on his fastball and a really good changeup, cutter and slider. Good command of every pitch.

 

AJ, he came here and was pretty impressive for a guy who got bounced from his first organization all of a sudden. He had some moments, but all in all not a bad August.

Jaimes: No, he was actually one of our best guys in August. We’re going to continue to build onto what he did towards the end of the year. He had a good spring training, too, so again he’s another guy that’s bigger and stronger, which is good for him. Command wise, it definitely has improved from last year. Again, it’s another guy that we have a lot expectations for.

 

Curveball for his breaking ball, if I remember?

Jaimes: Yes, curveball and it’s a pretty good one and a really good fastball, which is mid-90s that looks harder than what it is.

 

Noah Bremer.

Jaimes: He’s a funky guy delivery wise. He hides the ball really well – I think that’s his biggest weapon – the hitters don’t really get a good pickup of the ball. Again, he’s another gut that can play with his fastball on each side of the plate. He has a really good changeup and a nice breaking ball, too. He’s kind of like what you’re going to see from Eubanks; they’re pretty similar guys.

 

Reid Anderson. He pitched better in the second half, but he always seemed to be the guy that had the one quirky inning or the one quirky moment that would fell him. He’d get 5 2/3 and we could see you’re trying to get him through six and he’d have that one moment where the guy would hit the ball out of the ballpark and you’d be like, “doggone it.” Did he grow up from that last year?

Jaimes: I think so. In spring training at one of his last games, it was the first time he was going to five innings. He got through four innings without any issues, really good. He got to the fifth, the first two pitches he spiked the fastball and threw one over the catcher’s head and went to 3-0. I’m thinking, maybe it’s going to happen what happened last year and he’s not going to get through the fifth and he’ll lose everything. But he did. He went to a 3-0 count and then came back with two good fastballs and struck the guy out and then retired the next two guys with no issues. The next outing, he went six innings without any problem.

So, again, he’s another guy that learned a lot from last year. He knows that he needs to keep the game simple. He knows that he’s preparing himself not to pitch five innings; he’s preparing himself to pitch nine innings. I think that was his main issue last year; he knew that he was about to be done and doubt set in and he couldn’t control it. He’s doing a better job with it.

Remind me of his stuff:

Jaimes: Fastball, changeup, curveball and a cutter.

 

Tyree Thompson.

Jaimes: He’s a real competitor. I love what he brings. I love that he’s a strike thrower. Maybe he’s not that big of a stuff guy, but he’s a pitcher with a fastball, curveball and a changeup. His biggest weapon is that he competes no matter what the situation is. So, I’m excited about having him on the staff and I think he’ll be a big part of it.

 

Tell me about Alex Speas. I read the stuff about his big fastball, but he doesn’t always know where it’s going. After getting used to things last night, he settled in and pitched a good inning.

Jaimes: I think by him being in the bullpen he’s going to be able to keep the game simple. Definitely, he has some command issues at times, but I think he has improved a lot since last year. He had a really good year in Spokane when he went to the bullpen. Yesterday with the first guy, he was guiding the ball, then he just let it go and you saw it, he had really good stuff. He has a good fastball and a really, really good slider. I think he’s going to be a big part of the back end of the bullpen for us.

 

Sal Mendez is back. When you and I talked at this same time last year, I asked you who had the best secondary stuff among your staff. You said Sal Mendez’s changeup. How is his progression from last year and what is he coming back to do?

Jaimes: He’s going to be helping to be the leader of the bullpen. He’s going to have the same role that he played last year – a long man, then he’ll spot start here and there. He’s a big changeup guy, but this year’s it’s going to be more of finding a breaking ball. I think it’s doing better, but I think that’s going to be his priority, having the breaking ball to face left-handed hitters.

 

Going down the list of who was here last year. Joe Kuzia had a cup of coffee and got hit around a bit, but like Phillips, once he got back to Spokane he found himself in the bullpen. He seems like he will be a key bullpen guy that will give you some innings.

Jaimes: Yeah, I’m excited about him. Like you said, when he came up I felt like he wasn’t ready for the competition here. He went down to Spokane and worked on some reliever’s stuff and he got back into a rhythm and had a really good spring training. He’s ready to go.

 

As you have time, run down a quick couple of things about the bullpen guys.

Jaimes: Demarcus Evans. We had him last year.

 

He looked more controlled last night, as far as his delivery.

Jaimes: Yeah, I think he’s going to be our guy. I’m excited for him and I think it’s going to be a good thing for him now to be a part of the bullpen and being able to pitch more often is going to help him. Definitely, command wise, it is the main thing that needs work, but he’s doing better. I’m excited to work with him because I know that whenever he finds it, he’s going to be pretty special.

Meet the 2018 Hickory Crawdads

The Texas Rangers announced the initial roster for the 2018 Hickory Crawdads. A total of 28 players are on the list with three to be pared off before opening day begins on Thursday, April 5 at Greensboro.

Six of the 28 players assigned to Hickory are currently on the Rangers top-30 prospect according to MLB.com. They include outfielders Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10) and Miguel Aparicio (18), catcher Sam Huff (25), and pitchers A.J. Alexy (17), Alex Speas (23), and Tyler Phillips (30).

Twelve of the 28 listed on the initial roster spent some time at Hickory last season, including eight pitchers.

Among the pitchers, five of them – Alexy, Phillips, Reid Anderson, Demarcus Evans and Sal Mendez – made starts for the Crawdads in 2017. Also returning are Dario Beltre, Joe Kuzia and Grant Zawadzki.

The four position players returning to Hickory are catcher Yohel Pozo, infielder Ryan Dorow – his only game with the Crawdads was a start in the final game of the 2017 season – Aparicio and Eric Jenkins, who will spent at least part of a fourth season in Hickory.

Below is a brief look at all 28 players on the initial roster:

PITCHERS                                                                                                           

Josh Advocate (6-1, 195 lbs., 24 y/o) RHP

The native of Mohave Valley, Ariz. pitched in 18 pro games (1-3, 3.63 ERA) out of the bullpen with rookie-affiliate Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers and short-season Spokane (Wash.) after his 20th round selection out of Long Beach State. Was a first-team All-Big West Conference pick in 2017. Played one season at Cochise (Ariz.) College and was a first-team Small School All-American in 2012 while at River Valley (Ariz.) High. Also played football in high school and was a first-team All-State pick as a free safety.

 A.J. Alexy (6-4, 195, 19) RHP

The native of Honey Brook, Pa. was obtained by the Rangers last summer as part of a four-player deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Assigned to Hickory after the trade, he made five starts (1-1, 3.05) and struck out 27 in 20.2 innings. Held opponents to a .180 batting average, the third-lowest among all full-season minor league pitchers (min. 90 innings). Originally drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round in 2016, he was signed away from a commitment to Radford. Was a catcher before switching to the mound in his junior season in high school (Twin Valley, Elverson, Pa.). Also wrestled in high school. Currently the No. 17 Rangers prospect according to MLB.com.

Reid Anderson (6-3, 185, 22) RHP

The native of New Egypt, N.J. made 28 appearances (13 starts) for Hickory in 2017 (1-11, 5.30). Was a starter almost exclusively in the second half of the season. The 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville Univ. (Pa.) in 2016, he attended college as an outfielder and moved to the mound during his sophomore season. Went 8-1 in 2016 and made three relief appearances during Millersville’s run to the Division II final. Played baseball and basketball at New Egypt High.

Joe Barlow (6-3, 195, 22) RHP

The native of Riverton, Utah made 16 relief appearances (6-1, 2.00) for Spokane in 2017. An 11th-round pick of the Rangers out of Salt Lake Community College in 2016, he struck out 64 of the 158 batters faced (40.5%) in 45 innings. Barlow was second in the Northwest League in opponents batting average (.177) and fifth in Ks-per-9-innings (12.80). A two-way player in college, he also caught 25 games in college. Pitched in high school at Riverton.

Dario Beltre (6-3, 210, 25) RHP

The native of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic made his first full-season appearance last year since signing as an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2010. Made 11 appearances with Hickory (1-0, 2.60) with 19 Ks in 17.1 innings before ending the season on the disabled list with a right elbow strain. Missed the 2016 season due to elbow surgery. Fanned 173 in 153.1 innings during his pro career.

Noah Bremer (6-5, 200, 21)

The native of Berkeley, Calif. was the sixth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of the University of Washington. Ranks third in innings, sixth in strikeouts and tied for sixth in starts among all hurlers in school history. In his pro debut with the AZL Rangers and Spokane, he made 12 relief appearances (1-0, 2.61) with 30 Ks and four walks in 20 innings. Held opponents to a .152/.211/.212 slash. Was an All-Pac 12 pick in 2017. Pitched in high school at Berkeley.

Jean Casanova (6-3, 155, 21) RHP

Was the 35th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukegan (Ill.) High. Spent both pro seasons with the AZL Rangers. Made 11 appearances (five starts) with the rookie affiliate in 2017 (5-2, 2.70) and 47 Ks in 36.2 innings. Moved to the U.S. in fifth grade from the Dominican Republic. His cousin Raul played in the majors from 1996 to 2008.

Alex Eubanks (6-2, 180, 22) RHP

The native of Moore, S.C. made 10 of his 11 appearances with Spokane (3-0, 1.17) after his 14th-round selection by the Rangers out of Clemson last June. Struck out 25 and walked just two in 16.1 innings. Made 16 starts for Clemson as a redshirt sophomore last year and walked just 1.73 per nine innings with the Tigers. Was an all-state as a senior at Byrnes (S.C.) High.

Demarcus Evans (6-4, 270, 21) RHP

The native of Petal, Miss. started the 2017 season with Hickory. A shoulder strain placed him on the disabled list in May and he rejoined the club after a rehab assignment with AZL Rangers. Finished the season at Spokane. With the Crawdads (2-5, 4.85), the Rangers 2015 25th-round pick (Petal High) made 12 appearances (six starts) with 46 Ks in 29.2 innings. Held opponents to a .170/.250/.250 slash in five starts at Spokane. As a high school senior, chosen as one of baseball’s “Dandy Dozen” by The Clarion-Ledger.

Joe Kuzia (6-4, 196, 24)  RHP

A free agent signee of the Rangers in April 2017, the native of Cape Coral, Fla. had a four-game stint with Hickory last summer (1-1, 12.79). Spent the rest of 2017 with Spokane where he made 16 appearances. Had the lowest walk-per-9 inning rate (0.86) among Northwest League relievers to go with a 12.93 K-per-9 inning rate. Previously pitched professional with Garden State in the independent Can-Am League, as well as Bridgeport and New Britain in the independent Atlantic League. Was first-team All-Big East at St. John’s in 2014. Pitched in junior college at Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC and at Seymour (Ct.) High. where he also lettered in basketball, football and indoor track.

Sal Mendez (6-4, 185, 23) LHP

The native of Weehawken, N.J. made 25 appearances (6-6, 4.71), including nine starts, with Hickory in 2017. Spent part of August on the disabled list with a strained quad. Was the Rangers 40th round pick in 2013 out of Weehawken High. Missed first two pro seasons with an elbow injury. Threw a no-hitter in high school. Signed away from a commitment to Howard (Tex.) College. Father Sabah played two seasons in the New York Yankees system and one year with the Minnesota Twins chain in the 1970s.

Tyler Phillips (6-5, 191, 20)

The native of Lumberton, N.J. started the 2017 season with Hickory and struggled (1-2, 6.39 in his seven appearances (four starts) before an assignment to Spokane. With the Indians, the Rangers 2015 16th round pick out of Bishop Eustace Prep (N.J.) had 12 Ks in his final start of the season. Had an 18-0 career record in high school and posted a 1.02 ERA his senior season.

 

Alex Speas (6-4, 180, 20) RHP

The native of Powder Springs, Ga. made 16 appearances (7 starts) for Spokane (1-6, 6.15) in 2017 with 45 Ks in 33.2 innings. Was ranked the 12th-best prospect in the Northwest League by Baseball America. The Rangers drafted him in the second round of the 2016 draft out of McEachern (Ga.) High and signed him away from a commitment to Auburn. Threw 8.1 scoreless innings with the AZL Rangers in his pro debut season in 2016. Was an Under Armour All-American. Baseball America had him as the 11th-best high school pitching prospect before the 2016 draft. Signed away from a commitment to Auburn. Currently the Rangers No. 23 prospect according to MLB.com

Tyree Thompson (6-4, 165, 21) RHP

The New Orleans native made 13 starts (5-1, 3.15) for Spokane in 2017 and was second in the Northwest League in ERA, fourth in WHIP (1.24). The Rangers 26th-round pick in 2016 was the first player drafted by MLB out of Edna Karr (La.) High, where he threw six no-hitters and two perfect games in his high school career. Signed away from a commitment to play baseball and basketball at Northwestern St. (La.)

Grant Zawadzki (5-10, 200, 25) RHP

The native of Shrewsbury, Mass. signed a free-agent contract with the Rangers in February 2017. Split time with Spokane, Hickory and high-A Down East last season. Made seven relief appearances with Hickory (0-1, 7.71). Previously pitched in the San Diego Padres organization as well as with Lancaster and Southern Maryland in the independent Atlantic League. Played collegiately at Cleveland State (Tenn.) CC and Bryan College (Tenn.). Went to St. John’s High (Shrewsbury).

 

CATCHERS

Sam Huff (6-4, 215, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Phoenix spent both pro seasons with the AZL Rangers after his selection in the seventh-round of the 2016 draft out of Arcadia High. Posted a .249/.329/.452 slash in 49 games last season. Tied for the AZL lead with nine homers and was fourth in total bases. Named to the post-season AZL All-star team. Reached base safely in 24 of 28 games in 2016. Named to Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona baseball team in 2016 after hitting .554 with 14 homers and 49 RBI. Signed away from a commitment to Grand Canyon Univ. Currently the Rangers No. 25 prospect according to MLB.com

Clay Middleton (6-0, 205, 24) B-T: R-R

The native of Oviedo, Fla. spent both pro seasons with Spokane, splitting time behind the plate and at first last season. Posted .263/.323/.415 slash in 39 games with four homers and 17 RBI last season. Was the 22nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Bethune-Cookman University. Named first-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2016. Played high school ball at Hagerty (Fla.) High.

Melvin Novoa (5-11, 215, 21) B-T: R-R

The native of Nandaime, Nicaragua signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. When he appears in a game for Hickory, Novoa will be the first Nicaraguan to play for the Crawdads. Hit for a .281/.338/.467 slash with four homers and 15 RBI in 38 games last season at Spokane. Was suspended for the 2016 season after testing positive for PED.

Yohel Pozo (6-0, 201, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Maracaibo, Venezuela signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. In his first full-season assignment last season, posted .338/.373/.465 slash with two homers and 15 RBI at Hickory. His .338 batting avg. is the eighth highest in Crawdads history for a player with a minimum of 150 plate appearances. Opened the 2017 season with Spokane before joining Hickory in July. Threw out 35.1% of baserunners for the Crawdads in 2017. Named to 2016 post-season AZL All-Star Team after hitting .341 for the AZL Rangers.

 

INFIELDERS

Ryan Dorow (6-0, 195, 22) B-T: R-R

The native of South Haven, Mich. played in the final game of the 2017 for Hickory (1-3, double) after suiting up for 40 games with the AZL Rangers. A 30th-round pick last June out of Division III Adrian College (Mich.), he posted a .296/.382/.384 slash. Named MVP of Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association three straight seasons. He is the first player drafted by MLB out of Adrian since 1974 (Sherwin Rogers by Baltimore). Played baseball, soccer and basketball at South Haven. Named to all-state baseball team his senior season.

Kole Enright (6-1, 175, 20) B-T: S-R

The native of Winter Garden, Fla. was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of West Orange (Fla.) High. After posting a .313/.378/.420 slash with the AZL Rangers in his first pro season, played in 67 games at Spokane last season when he hit .233/.314/.323 with three homers and 20 RBI. Named to the Orlando Sentinel all-area team in his senior season. Signed away from a commitment to Stetson Univ.

Yonny Hernandez (5-9, 140, 20)B-T: S-R

Signed as an international free agent in 2014, he made his stateside debut as a pro last May with AA Frisco (Tex.), where he went 0-for-3. The native of Planta, Baja, Venezuela spent much of the season with the AZL Rangers (32 games) before ending the season at Spokane (18 games). Hit his first pro homer in three seasons with Spokane last year.

Justin Jacobs (6-1, 195, 22) B-T: L-R

The native of Spokane, Wash. signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in 2017 after playing college ball at Gonzaga. Played in 48 games with the AZL Rangers posting a .326/.438/.431 slash. Was second in the AZL in hits (59) and on-base percentage (.438), sixth in batting avg. Named a JUCO All-American at Lower Columbia College (Wash.). Played high school ball at Auburn Riverside (Wash.).

Tyler Ratliff (6-2, 210, 22) B-T: R-R

The native of Port St. Lucie, Fla. played mostly with Spokane in his initial pro season after his selection by the Rangers in the 17th round out of Marshall Univ. last June. After hitting .500 in eight games with the AZL Rangers, Ratliff hit .264/.330/.421 with the Indians six homers and 25 RBI. Named to the Northwest League All-Star Team. Was a Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week during his sophomore season. Played in high school at T.C. Williams (Va.).

 

OUTFIELDERS

Miguel Aparicio (6-0, 175, 19) B-T: L-L

Signed as an international free agent in 2015, the native of San Carlos, Venezuela struggled as an 18-year-old during a 25-game stint (.176/.255/.247) with Hickory last season in his stateside pro debut. Re-assigned to Spokane, he put together an all-star season with the Indians (.293/.333/.395). Was second in the Northwest League in hits (86), fourth in runs (47) and the third-hardest player in the league to strikeout. Named by Baseball America as the 13th-best prospect in the NWL. Currently the Rangers No. 18 prospect according to MLB.com.

Pedro Gonzalez (6-5, 190, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Santo Dominguez, Dominican Republic was obtained by the Rangers from the Colorado Rockies last August in a deal for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Originally signed by the Rockies as an international free agent in 2014. Went 0-for-17 with Spokane in six games after the trade. Before the trade, he put up a .321/.388/.519 slash with 25 extra-base hits in 45 games with the Rockies rookie affiliate at Grand Junction (Colo.). Named the seventh-best prospect in the Pioneer League by Baseball America. Originally a shortstop in the Rockies organization, moved to centerfield in 2016. Currently the Rangers No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com.

Eric Jenkins (6-1, 170, 21) B-T: L-R

The lone North Carolina native (Cerro Gordo) on the Crawdads roster was drafted by the Rangers in the second round of the 2015 draft out West Columbus High. After playing in 51 games with the AZL Rangers in his pro debut season, he hit .389/.421/.444 with the Crawdads in the final five games of 2015 and started in left during the playoffs. Led the South Atlantic League with 51 steals in 2016. Started the 2017 season with a hamstring injury before rejoining Hickory last May. Hit .216/.266/.310 in his final 60 games with the Crawdads. Also played basketball in high school. Signed out of a commitment to UNC Wilmington.

Chad Smith (6-2, 193, 20) B-T: L-L

The native of Snellville, Ga. played for Spokane (.277/.354/.447) for a second-straight season in 2017 before a shoulder injury shut him down for the season after 39 games. A fifth-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of South Gwinnett (Ga.) High, he was as Northwest League all-star in 2016. Named a Perfect Game second-team All-American as a high school senior. Signed away from a commitment to the Univ. of Georgia.

 

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.

Charles(ton) in Charge: RiverDogs Take Bite out of Crawdads 14-4

The Charleston RiverDogs entered Thursday night’s game with a South Atlantic League high .319 batting avg. in May. The Hickory Crawdads have the league’s worst pitching statistically. That’s proved to be a bad combination over the last two nights and on Thursday, the result was a 14-4 thrashing by Charleston in front of 2,525 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

For the second straight night, Charleston (17-17) scored the first nine runs of the game and cruised to victory. The Crawdads (12-21) have been outscored 25-6 over the first two games of the three-game series.

 

What happened?:

Charleston put the first five runners aboard and eventually sent ten to the plate in the first inning to open a 6-0 lead. Poor defense and poor pitch execution by starter Michael Matuella went hand-in-hand. (More on the defense later.)

Matuella had little command of the fastball in his lone inning, which started with a four-pitch walk to Estevan Florial. After a dubious bloop single to center by Isaiah Gilliam, Hoy Jun Park tripled in both runners. Blake Rutherford singled in Park. Oswaldo Cabrera’s sac fly got a run and Diego Castillo’s two-run single capped the scoring and ended Matuella’s night.

The RiverDogs treated lefty Sal Mendez no better in the second as they sent eight more to the plate and scored three. Gilliam reached on an error and after Park replaced him on a fielder’s choice, Donny Sands singled him in. Cabrera added two more with a single.

Brian Keller kept the Crawdads without a baserunner until the fourth before Miguel Aparicio’s grounder went through the infield. Hickory finally got on the board one inning later as Isaiah Quiroz singled in two.

Alex Kowalczyk (2-for-4) hit a two-run homer in the sixth to cut the Crawdads deficit to 9-4.

However, RiverDogs tacked on three in the eighth and two in the ninth, all against Jake Lemoine, to account for the final margin.

“They have a good hitting ballclub, no doubt,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “We just have to find a way pitching wise to limit the damage and make better pitches. That’s the bottom line. We’re not doing it. We’re not getting it done. The last two nights, we’ve not given our offense a chance to do anything.”

 

Crawdads pitching beginning to look historic… and not in a good way.

As a team, the Crawdads 5.72 ERA and 1.59 WHIP are the worst in the Sally League. They also have allowed the most hits, runs, and earned runs. With the quarter of the season two games away, one begins to look at how they stack up to Crawdads club records. They’re chasing a few.

Hickory has had just two seasons with an ERA over five, which came in back-to-back seasons in 2007 (5.13) and 2008 (5.02). The club record for the worst WHIP in a season is 1.54 in 2007.  The Crawdads are also on pace to set club records for the most hits, runs and earned runs allowed.

 

Defense was offensive:

While Matuella didn’t have his best stuff, some of the first inning struggles could be laid at the feet of the defense.

After Florial walked, Gilliam hit a short fly to center that appeared to be an easy can of corn for Leody Taveras. Meanwhile, shortstop Anderson Tejeda and second baseman Yeyson Yrizarri were pulling a double-play decoy on Florial running hard to second. The decoy worked beautifully except… Taveras couldn’t pick up the ball and with no fielders pointing out the ball, eventually it fell harmless to the turf. So what could’ve been a double play with Florial totally fooled at second turned into a 1st & 2nd situation with no outs.

Later in the inning, a routine double play turned into one out when Tejeda’s throw to first went wide of Yanio Perez’s stretch at first.

And still later in the inning, 3B Ti’Quan Forbes took his time on a grounder by Ben Ruta. Forbes circled around to make the play, but as he appeared in no particular hurry to complete the play, Forbes throw to first was beaten by the hustling Ruta.

A frustrated Owen spread the blame around equally between hurlers and defenders.

“It accumulates and everything when you don’t make plays,” said Owen. “But, we talk to (the pitchers) all the time that sometimes you’re going to have to get four outs and sometimes five outs in an inning. You’re even going to do that in the big leagues. Obviously, not nearly as much, because they are big league infielders, but they have to overcome those things. They sooner they learn that and figure it out rather than say, ‘I should’ve been out of the inning’ or whatever. It is what it is out there….”

Owen later added, “We’ve got to clean it up all the way around, especially the pitching and defense. We’ve been working really hard during the last four defensively and cutting b.p. time saying ‘Let’s have a clean game.’ We haven’t been able to do that.”

 

Better Call Sal:

Once Mendez got settled, he went on to retire the last 14 batters he faced and fanned 6 over 5.1 innings. His work allowed the Crawdads offense to chip away at the lead and take some momentum into the late innings.

The two parts of his outing show just how careful he has to be with his stuff. His changeup is a formidable pitch, at least at this level, and had 7 or 8 missed bats. That with his fastball at 90-91, if he keeps his pitches down, he’s tough.

“I thought Mendez did a really nice job,” Owen said. “His first inning of work he left some balls up and he paid for it. Then he comes out and puts up zeroes from that point on. That’s a good adjustment by him.”

 

Batter Adjustments:

The way that Charleston starter Brian Keller mowed through the first three innings, it looked like history was in the making. He fanned six of the first ten hitters, which included a 10-pitch, three-strikeout third inning. The second time through the order, Keller started missing his location and the Crawdads hitters adjusted to the breaking ball.

Owen: “The guy that started was impressive and did exactly what you’d want to see with a guy that’s got a nine-run lead in popping and pounding the zone. We made some adjustments. It’s good to see that you’re down nine runs and still have competitive at bats from our side.”

 

Smoral on the Fire:

Lefty Matt Smoral made his Crawdads and Rangers affiliate debut on Thursday. A tall presence at 6-8, a SLOW delivery seemed to make his fastball even faster as it whipped from his left hand to the plate. However, the delivery never seemed in control as he flailed about the mound. There’s a lot of moving parts to the motion.

Smoral walked two and threw quite the wild pitch to the back stop.  Control has been the issue for the former Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick as he has walked or hit 122 batters in 107.2 innings as a pro

 

Who was that Lemoine’s jersey?

There seemed to be a body language on the mound that said, “here ya go, hit it if you can.” And Charleston did: Five runs on six hits – all hit hard – over two innings of relief. Fastball straight as an arrow and it went to the wall harder. Throw in a walk and two wild pitches and you have a RiverDogs lineup fattening their stats.

Meanwhile, It’s the second poor outing in a row for the right-hander, who allowed two in a walkoff loss at Hagerstown (Md.) last Saturday.