Results tagged ‘ Steve Mintz ’

Crawdads at the Quarter Pole: Interview with Steve Mintz

The Hickory Crawdads passed the one-quarter mark of the season last weekend during the series against Rome (Ga.) Entering Thursday night’s game at West Virginia, the team is at 26-13 and sit in second place, one-half game behind Hagerstown (Md.) in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.

The expectation entering the season was that the team would be built around a strong starting rotation that featured four returnees from last season, along with a lineup that was built for speed. For the most part, those expectations have been met. The team ERA of 3.27 is third in the SAL with the squad staying in most games because of overall strong starting pitching. On the bases, Hickory has 90 steals this season, more than the total steal attempts of any other South Atlantic League team.The 43 caught stealing attempts are more than the successful steal attempts of 10 other SAL teams.

I caught up with Crawdads manager Steve Mintz last weekend to get an overall picture of the squad in mid-May.

 

Now you’re at the quarter pole, so to speak. Standing wise you’re in a good position. Although I know you want to win and all of that, but development is the name of the game. How are things with development as a whole?

Mintz: I think it’s good. The team, they’re getting to know each other better. As far as the team meshing, we’re pretty happy with the direction that it’s going. As far as the pitching, we’ve seen really good signs, both starting and our bullpen. We have our little hiccups here and there, but things we’re able to address and fix quickly.

Defensive wise, I think we’re catching the ball and throwing it very well. There’s a few instances where we don’t get outs that we should get, maybe turning a double play when we’re too slow to the ball, or different things like that that are fixable. The main things that we’re looking for is ready position, and fielding, and angles and all those things are getting better.

Obviously from the baserunning side of it, we’re trying to understand the scoreboard, understand what we’re doing, the pitchers and catchers and what the other teams are trying to do, the times to the plate, can the catcher throw and different things like that.

I think in a nutshell, we’re on pace exactly where we’d like to be, as far as the development side of it. Obviously, winning baseball games helps that out tremendously, being able to address things while you’re winning, instead of not.

Hickory Victory

Hickory celebrating another victory in 2016. The Crawdads are 26-13 prior to the weekend series at West Virginia. (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

I’m guessing you’re pleased with effort. If you’re in first place at this point of the season, the guys see the standings and you don’t really have to address effort very much.

Mintz: There’s different times where we’ve seen the guys go out there and battle and come back from deficits and win.  There’s other times when we get a lull there in the dugout and maybe take an at-bat to the field and different things like that. Those are things we can simply address and talk to them about. But for the most part, the effort and the work that they’re putting in before the games, and then obviously the 27 outs that we’re trying to get during the game, no real concerns there.

 

You said coming into the season that you were going to run and run and run, and you certainly have run and run and run. What are the things that you address as far as trying to teach these guys the running game?

Mintz: First and foremost, where we start at is the scoreboard. We direct every attempt and every decision that we’re making at the scoreboard. Our position is if we’re tied, we’ve got the lead, or we’re down a couple of runs, we’re staying aggressive. We want to continually put pressure on the defense. On the reverse side of that, we don’t want to run into outs.

What we’re starting to see now with the guys is they’re studying the pitchers more. They’re having an idea of their times to the plate. They understand the catcher. They’re understanding, “Do I need to get to second base or do I need to get to third base, or can I wait a couple of pitches and let (Andy) Ibanez drive me in or (Tyler) Sanchez drive me in?” All those things, you’re starting to see those come out.

We’ve still got a lot or work to do in the area. The biggest plus of it all is that they’re going. We’ve told them since the first day of spring training, “We want you to run; we want you to run and I’m not going to be the guy that’s stops you.” The guys that have the green lights; the (other team’s) managers can look at me all they want. I’m not putting on any signs over at third base. I’m watching them (his players) and seeing what they’re doing with their jumps and their leads and their secondaries and all that stuff that they’re supposed to be doing on the bases.

So far, I’m satisfied. Not that we’re where we want to be, but we’re learning. We’re taking a good look at the scoreboard and that’s my biggest thing for them to look at. Look at the scoreboard and you decide is it a time that we need to do this, or is it a time that we don’t need to do this.

Eric Jenkins steal

Eric Jenkins steals 2B in a game against Greenville (S.C.). The speedy outfielder leads the SAL with 22 steals through May 18 (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Is that the biggest part of correction is to learn when to take those chances or not?

Mintz: The scoreboard and the pitchers. We had one stretch there that were throwing 1.2s, 1.25s to the plate and we were running. They were bang-bang, but we were still out. I’m trying to get them to understand that in those situations that we have to look for pitches. We have to maybe try to pick a 0-2 count, or if we can see a catcher’s sign and go on a breaking ball. So they’re learning things those things. So, if the pitcher gets 1.4 and over, they’re going. They’re going out and trying to get their leads and trying to get the best jump that they can get and go. That’s what we want them to do.

If they understand all those factors and they go and get thrown out, I’ll put them on the behind as they go back to the dugout. That’s what we want them to do. They have to learn how to steal bases. You’ve got Jenkins, Garia’s here now, Clark, De La Rosa, Moore – I think everybody sleeps on him, I don’t know why.  But they have to learn how to steal bases.

 

Coming into the season, you had a strong rotation – at least on paper – with (Dillon) Tate, (Brett) Martin, (Pedro) Payano. (Jonathan) Hernandez has added some nice innings for you after a little bit of a bumpy start. Benjamin and Swanson are split off for now. For the most, your starters have run out some good innings.

Mintz: And they have to. I don’t care if you’re in little league or in the big leagues. Your starting pitching is what carries you. You’re not going to win without it and it’s been proven over and over again. You can’t outhit bad pitching. They’ve given us a chance to win in most of the ballgames that we’ve had. I even talked to the guys today. There’s been two ballgames that we’ve been blown out and they were right here against Greenville. All the other games, we’ve either won them or we’ve been in them. It’s not been some runaway mess, except for the two games. Our starters are doing their job and they’re getting us into the games and giving us an opportunity to score, get leads and even come back late in ballgames. That’s all we can ask from them.

Payano 1-hitter Lin

Pedro Payano has a 1.42 ERA over seven appearances (six starts) though May 18. (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

The development side for them and what (pitching coach) Jose Jaimes is doing with them, learning swings and counts and pitch sequences, all are things that come with it. These kids are still learning on how to do. We’re happy to this point. They’ve each had a hiccup here and there, which is fine. We don’t expect them to go out there and have 30 outstanding starts. Where we’re at and what they’re doing, we’re happy. They’ve got more work to put in and more things to learn. It’s all a process, but we’re happy with where they’re at.

 

For you, who has taken the biggest step forward in the first six weeks?

Mintz: I’m not going to lie about it. (Jose) Almonte has been…

Now, you mentioned him before the season. I’m going to ask you about him. You look at the stats coming into this season at the DSL he didn’t hit much and then he skipped levels to come here. You said back then, “He swings the bat like a man.” Everything I saw and read, I went, “OK”. He’s really made you a prophet here.

Mintz: I might have told you or somebody else at the beginning of the year that I thought he was going to be a wildcard for us coming in. Not a lot going on to this point, but I’ve watched him in the last two or three spring trainings and some instructional league. I mean, the kid’s 18, 19 years old. What he’s been able to do for us in the bottom half of that lineup, being able to drive in runs and I think he’s got four or five home runs. He’s hitting .290, or whatever it is. It gives you that added little punch in your lineup knowing you’ve got a guy there that can hit it out and drive in runs. And he plays a great right field and has a good arm and he runs around out there good.

Maybe not so much a surprise to me. I’m happy for what he’s doing, but I guess I did say he was the wildcard of the bunch. You’ve got some of the other ones that you’ve got expectations for, but with limited expectations for him, I thought he would do what he’s doing.

Jose Almonte batting

Jose Almonte has surprised observers with a .281 average and a .753 OPS over the first 39 games of the season (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Martin and Tate came into the season with a checklist. How are they progressing with what you wanted to see from them?

Mintz: I’m not all the way up on what we’re trying to do with them. Obviously, quality starts and offspeed pitches for both of them was a high priority and commanding the zone with their fastballs. Martin coming back in a repeat role and maybe dominate the league for three or four starts and then see what happens.

They’ve both had spots. Tate’s coming back and he’s doing all the stuff that he needs to do to make sure that he’s 100 percent go on everything. They’re pretty close to being on track. As I said, they’re all going to have their little sideways days, but you can’t get too hung up on that. You’ve got to look at the whole body of work and what they’re trying to do. We’re happy where they’re at. There’s no red flags or anything that’s had us so, “oh gosh, we’ve made the wrong decision.”

 

How much longer does Ibanez get to stay here?

Mintz: I have no idea (laughing). I reckon he’ll be here until they call me and tell me that he needs to get on a plane. Stuff like that is out of my control. I’m just going to mess with him while he’s here and have him do the things he needs to do to be prepared to go to that next step when they ask him to.

Andy Ibanez batting

Andy Ibnanez has been among the SAL best hitters much of the season. (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

 

When you and I talked before the season, you said there were two things he needed to do: Get used to USA ball and work on some fielding issues. Are both of those progressing as you’d hope?

Mintz: No doubt. I think playing baseball in America, he’s acclimated himself very well to that. His second base play has grown leaps and bounds. Our infield coordinator Kenny Holmberg was in Charleston (S.C.) with us. He made a couple of plays and I walked up to Kenny and I said, “He don’t that play in spring training.” And he said, “You’re right.”

His angles and reading balls off the bat and different things like that, we’re tickled to death with. Obviously, he’s swinging the bat and leading the world in doubles. Everything we’ve wanted him to do, he’s accomplished to this point.

The Slide: Dylan Moore’s Elusiveness Gains ‘Dads Win

The play-by-play log from Sunday (May 1) afternoon’s 4-3 win by Hickory over Lexington shows the play that turned out to be the winning run occurred in the bottom of the seventh inning. It simply reads:

  • Dylan Moore doubles (3) on a line drive to right fielder Amalani Fukofuka.
  • With Yeyson Yrizarri batting, passed ball by Chase Vallot, Dylan Moore to 3rd.
  • Yeyson Yrizarri out on a sacrifice fly to center fielder Cody Jones. Dylan Moore scores.

However, the ability of Dylan Moore to deftly run the bases doesn’t show up in the box score, but it turned out to be a key part of the game’s decisive play.

The score was tied at 3-3 with one out in the bottom of the seventh when Moore took a fastball away from Legends reliever Yunior Marte and slapped it down the line in right. Running hard out of the box, Moore slide in ahead of the throw to second for a double.

For the reader going forward, it’s important to note just how smart a baserunner Moore has proven to be in his young pro career. So far in 2016, Moore is second in the South Atlantic League with 12 steals (teammate Eric Jenkins has 15) and has yet to be caught stealing. Looking back further in Moore’s pro career, now in its second season, he has been caught once in 28 attempts. That one came when Eugene (OR) left-handed pitcher Kyle Twomey – a teammate of Moore in high school at El Dorado High in Placentia, CA – picked him off first and Moore was caught in a subsequent run down. The pickoff/ caught stealing occurred on July 29, 2015 in his fourth overall pro attempt. Since then, Moore has stolen 24 straight bases in a row.

While not as fast as the seemingly winged-footed Eric Jenkins, Moore picks his spots, as if he’s attempting to avoid a spotlight going from building to building in the dark during a late-night prison escape.Always on his toes, Moore continually looks to move on the slightest mistake.

Dylan Moore at second

Dylan Moore looks to advance to third at a moment’s notice. (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

He got one as a breaking ball from Marte skipped off the back-handed mitt of Chase Vallot for a passed ball, which allowed Moore to scamper to third.

Dylan Moore slide 1

Crawdads manager Steve Mintz gives instructions from the third-base box to Dylan Moore. (Crystal Moore/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

The batter at the plate was Yeyson Yrizarri, who at 19 has proven to be a tough-hitter with two strikes and that turned out to be key for the play to come. During a weekend in which the Legends challenged him with a steady diet of secondary pitches, Yrizarri got a changeup up and away and lofted it into medium centerfield towards Cody Jones for the second out of the inning.

Ever the riverboat gambler with baserunners in 2016, Mintz sent Moore toward home for the potential go-ahead sacrifice fly. The throw from Jones got to the catcher Vallot ahead of Moore and it seemed the play would be an inning-ending double play, as Vallot caught the ball and turned to tag Moore.

 

Dylan Moore Slide 2

Catcher Chase Vallot with the ball turns to tag Moore (6), while he slides toward the plate (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Perhaps, Moore sees Vallot juggle the throw, or not. However, in a move that would make a contortionist proud, Moore ducks under the oncoming glove of Vallot and in the same motion reaches his left hand for the plate to score the run, as the ball drops to the ground.

Dylan Moore slide 3

Dylan Moore (6) puts a hand out to catch the plate during the winning play against Lexington (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Dylan Moore slide 4

(Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

While the play seemed mundane in the box score, or even the play-by-play log, it’s one of those plays that had much more going for it that a simply sacrifice fly.

(Note: Thanks to Crystal Lin of the Crawdads for allowing me to use her pics. Masterful job of photography.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payano 1-hitter Lin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payano celebration by Crystal Lin

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

Crawdads No-hitter History:

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

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

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

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

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

Recent complete game shutouts:

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

2001: Brady Borner tossed one for the Crawdads

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

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

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

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

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

 

Game Story April 7: Hickory 5 Kannapolis 1

(I apologize ahead if I miss anything grammatical, as I am in a hurry. :-))

 

The Hickory Crawdads won the opening South Atlantic League game with a 5-1 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators at Intimidators Stadium Thursday night.

The win was the first managerial win for new skipper Steve Mintz in his first game.

Said Mintz of the win, “That was fun to finally get out here and play a game that really counted and see these guys do the work after all the stuff that they’ve done in spring training to prepare for it.”

After Kannapolis scored an unearned run in the first, Hickory took the lead in the third via a two-run triple by Andy Ibanez, after Eric Jenkins reached safely on an error with two outs in the inning. Ibanez added a fielder’s choice RBI in the fifth before Yeyson Yrizarri tacked on an RBI single.

Hickory’s final run came in the seventh as Chuck Moorman doubled and scored on an Ibanez single.

The Crawdads put up ten hits on offense while the pitching staff combined to shutout Kannapolis over the final eight innings with 13 strikeouts.

 

Sticks:

Andy Ibanez had four hits and four RBI on the night, as he looked the part of schoolroom bully against Kannapolis pitching. After reaching on an infield hit in the first, Ibanez smoked a fastball from Luis Martinez that one-hopped the wall to the right of straight-away center. He went on to single up the middle and line a fourth hit to left.

“He got some good pitches to hit and didn’t miss them. He had a couple of big hits there to give us some runs.

Jose Almonte showed good bat control by slapping an away fastball hard to the hole at second for an infield hit.

Eric Jenkins showed the wheels with a bunt single in the fifth. His speed likely rushed Intimidators 2B Daniel Mendick into an error that wound up leading to a two-run inning that gave Hickory the lead for good.

Arms:

After giving up an unearned run on a freaky play in the first, Brett Martin appeared to pitch a bit angry and K’d the side -2 on fastballs, 1 on a change. From there, Martin had complete control as he allowed four hits, two walks and struck out eight. He introduced more offspeed offerings the second time through the order. Against Zach Fish in the third, Martin got strike one and two on curveballs, then completed the K by getting Fish to swing through a CH. He finished the game with 8 Ks in 4 innings, getting 50 strikes (19 missed bats) out of 73 pitches.

Mintz said that Martin’s experience was the key to keeping things under control after the crazy play in the first. “You grow up each year and you learn more and he showcased that tonight, being able to keep his cool. When he got in trouble there, he went to his offspeed, like he’s supposed to, and slowed the game down properly. It was nice to see.”

Tyler Davis showed a good slider as he threw three scoreless innings. He was especially tough in the sixth after allowing a walk and a double to the wall in left. He then struck out Silverio and Mendick swinging and finished off the inning on a 5-3 grounder.

“Davis pitched out of that second and third with nobody out and saved two big runs right there,” Mintz said. “All they (the Intimidators) needed were two ground balls and they could’ve picked up two easy runs, but he didn’t let them get them.”

Eric Swanson worked out a leadoff walk with two weak popups and an easy fly. (Honestly, I missed much of the 8th inning.)

Jeffrey Springs worked around an E-3 in the ninth with little trouble.

As a whole, the quartet allows six hits, four walks and struck out 13 in the game.

“The starting pitching, like I said, if they can keep us in it,” said Mintz. “Davis came in and gave us three quality innings, Springs finished it up there and Swanson in the middle. That’s what we want, keep us in the game.”

Leather:

Kannapolis got its first run on a bit of a comedy of errors. With Tyler Sullivan at first, Johan Cruz hit a grounder to Dylan Moore at 1B. Moore botched the grounder, but gathered the ball. However, Moore lofted the throw to Brett Martin covering at first. Sullivan circled the bases on the play and came home as Martin was late covering the plate.

The wind played havoc with pop ups in the top of the fourth inning, but Hickory weathered the storm, so to speak. A popup by Louis Silverio started to the left of the mound, but curved back to Frandy De La Rosa well to the right of second. After Daniel Mendick walked, a popup by Grant Massey that carried beyond De La Rosa and into RF. Jose Almonte wound up recording a 9-6 fielder’s choice on the play.

Ti’Quan Forbes came into the season with a bit of a reputation of the game being too fast for him at third. At least on Thursday, those reports appeared off base. Forbes easily made the long throw across the diamond to nab Fish. But the highlight play of the night came in the fifth when Forbes sprinted across toward the mound to make a quick bare-handed snatch of a roller from Johan Cruz and fired a laser to first to get the speedy Cruz.

Bases:

The Crawdads had three baserunners thrown out stealing and should have had a fourth. Andy Ibanez was thrown out in the first with De La Rosa going down in the second and fourth. Ibanez should’ve been caught a second time in the fifth as he went into second standing, but Mendick bobbled the catch at 2B.

Jose Almonte showed good speed as he stole second in the third (at 6-3, 205, he looked like a linebacker running) but nearly got picked off at 3B in the third as he circled too far after Eric Jenkins reached on an error. Almonte further showed good wheels by just missing a second infield hit in the eighth.

Prepared for the job: New Crawdads skipper takes reins of club

There are figures who get into managing after being groomed for the position as players. St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny entered the job with no coaching or managerial experience. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose prior coaching experience was leading Team Israel for three seasons in international competition. Both, however, were seen as students of the game as long-time major league catchers.

However, most get into managing pro clubs after lengthy careers as coaches. Case in point: new Hickory Crawdads skipper Steve Mintz.

Mintz throwing BP

Crawdads manager Steve Mintz throwing batting practice during a workout prior to the 2016 season.

Mintz is a baseball lifer. Now 47, the native of Leland, N.C. was originally drafted as a catcher by the Dodgers out of Mt. Olive College. The Los Angeles Dodgers quickly converted him to the mound and his playing career took off. After spending time with the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox organizations, it was with the San Francisco Giants that Mintz made his big-league debut in 1995. After the proverbial cup of coffee and tenures with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres systems, Mintz got another brief chance with the Anaheim Angels in 1999. He played out his career with the Angels AAA farm team at Salt Lake in 2001 before signing on as a short-season pitching coach with the Angels to finish out the 2001 season. He then spent ten seasons as a pitching coach in the Minnesota Twins organization before coming to the Texas Rangers chain in 2012.

With the Rangers, Mintz has spent the last three years as the pitching coach at high-A Myrtle Beach and High Desert. He was slated for a promotion to AA Frisco to start this season. However, when Texas Rangers third base coach Tony Beasley was diagnosed with cancer, the wheels went into motion throughout the organization. Spike Owen, originally assigned to manage the Crawdads this season, replaced Beasley in Arlington and Mintz was assigned in late February to manage at Hickory.

Mintz had his first taste of managing this offseason with the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League. With former Crawdads players Travis Demeritte and Chris Dula on the roster, Mintz led the Bite to a 30-26 record and a spot in the ABL’s championship game.

But now, after 12 seasons as a player, 14 seasons as a pitching coach in 20 different cities altogether, Mintz will finally get his first gig as a stateside manager with Hickory. He comes into the job with a host of connections from around baseball and Mintz will quickly tell you that a lot of good baseball people had a hand in preparing him for his first managerial job. But Mintz is looking forward to creating his own style on the field and in the clubhouse.

Mintz is married to his wife Cathi, with whom they have three children: Abby, Hunter and Jacob.

(Mintz’s connection with Beasley is an interesting one to note with Mintz coming to Hickory in light of Beasley’s health issues. Not only is Beasley a former Crawdads manager (2002-2003), but both Mintz and Beasley played junior college ball at Louisburg (N.C.) College.)

 

This is the first time managing after 14 years, other than the Australian thing?

Mintz: I’m super excited. I thank the Lord every day. I’m a blessed man for the opportunity that the Texas Rangers have given me. Not just this, but in the previous three years in the things they’ve let me do to get better at managing, to understand managing and allowing me to go to Australia and the different things they’ve let me do. I’ve been preparing for this a long time, hoping that I would get one some time or another. Then, with the situation that took place with the organization, and then overnight, it happened. I’m very excited and very blessed and grateful, and I’m looking forward to the season. I’m ready to get started.

 

And you get to do this close to home?

Mintz: That’s icing on the cake, as they say. Especially last year, being in California and then going to Australia. I think I was away from my wife and kids over nine months last year, in just the one year. My wife was able to come out here this weekend and help me get set up, and being able to spend those things with her. My daughter’s at North Carolina State, so she’s two-and-a-half hours away and she can come whenever she wants. Obviously, that’s a plus with the job, but I would have took wherever it was at.

But the fact that it was back in North Carolina, and going to Louisburg Junior College and then to Mount Olive College, and all the people that I know around here, and the support and the excitement of a lot of friends and family have shown has been overwhelming at times. You just keep doing your job and try to get better in different areas and stuff, and you never know when something’s going to pop up. You just feel like, I’ve been prepared and I guess I’m going to find out if I am.

 

How did you find out you were coming here and how quick was the whirlwind when Spike had to go to Arlington and here you are?

Mintz: It all started with Tony Beasley, when he got his diagnosis and, obviously for health reasons, making sure that he was doing what was best for him and his family. Then they went through the process of who they wanted to be the third base coach. Spike was the one that they chose.

Knowing my desire to manage and what I had did in Australia, from what they relayed to me, it was an easy decision to offer me the position, knowing that I wanted to do it. I had managed instructional league and during the season, if the manager left, I would take over. Or, if they got ejected in a game, I would take over.

Doing the duties in and out for the last three years with the Rangers, I guess it kind of showed them that I at least had an idea of what was going on. Then Mike Daly got to come over to Australia and see the operations over there and what I was doing and such. I’m sure that helped me out a lot, him being able to come out and see exactly what we were doing over there. Obviously, when the position arose they said, “Hey, this is available. Is this something you’d like to do?” I said, “Yes, sir.” That was kind of how it happened. We had a 5:30 meeting in the morning and they sent me a text to be there. I was there already, but I didn’t really understand what it was. When they told me, I was super excited, I can tell you that. I had waited a long time for somebody to say that.

 

What is the biggest adjustment you will have to make as a manager? Obviously, you did some of this in Australia and got some of that under your belt, but being a pitching coach as opposed to a manager. There’s not really a lot of pitching coaches that go that route, essentially.

Mintz: What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I caught my whole life. I got drafted as a catcher by the Dodgers, and so being able to see the whole game from both sides of the plate, I think, has helped me over the last 27 years.

I think the biggest thing, for myself is, the game, I have no problem with the game. I’ll make a wrong pitching change, or I’ll put on a hit-and-run when I’m not supposed to. All those things, I’m not worried about that. Now, you basically get to take over 25 guys, as opposed to 12 or 13. Doing those relationships with the guys and making sure they understand what we’re doing, kindness and harshness, and all the things that come with being the manager and in charge of everything, and obviously letting my staff do their job – Frankie with the hitting and Jaimes’ got the pitching, and Hagen will work with the catching the most – but basically overseeing and making sure that, as an organization, the things that we have in place are being taken care of.

Obviously, you have to be the bad guy from time to time, but then encouragement and staying positive, especially with these young kids, and not getting in any kind of panic and making sure that they understand that we’re behind them one-hundred percent.  They’re going to make mistakes and this is a hard game, and making sure they understand that. But, those aspects are where I will have to work maybe a little more to make sure that everything is happening as it is supposed to be, as opposed to looking at just the pitching and making sure that it is right. You’re in charge and if it’s not going right, it’s all on you and nobody else.

 

Is there somebody, maybe at the start that you look to and say, “I want to pattern myself as a Jim Leyland or Ned Yost, or whomever?”

Mintz: I guess I’ll have my own style. I guess I’m more of a laid-back guy. I don’t like to yell a lot. I don’t curse, that’s just some things that I don’t do. When my voice goes from here to hollering, there’s no doubt about it; I’ll just put it that way.

Guys that I came up with: Jerry Royster is obviously one of my favorites; he coached me when I was playing. A couple of years ago when I interviewed for a managing job with the Rangers, that was the first person I called; I called Jerry Royster and I asked about the interview process and what I should do. Then I played with Garry Templeton; he was another manager of mine when I was in AAA, and the wisdom and stuff that he gave me. Another huge guy is Dusty Baker. When I was in the big leagues for him, we got to be pretty good, buddy pals. Him being over with the Nationals now, I’ll call and talk with him from time to time.

I’ve had some really, really good people in my life, as far as managing and learning and understanding this game. Once again, I’ve very blessed for the people that have been in my life, playing and coach. Another guy that really gave me a lot of what I have now is Rick Knapp; he used to be the big league pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers. He was the guy that hired me on with the Twins as a pitching coach, when my shoulder went out. The things that he taught me for 8, 9, 10 years with the Twins, not so much just from the pitching standpoint, but baseball itself. The players and the caring and what you need to be able to do to develop these players and things, I owe him a ton. Even now, he’s with the Dodgers as their pitching coordinator, I still call him a lot and bounce things off him. I’ll ask for his advice for different things. Those handful of people have been instrumental on me.

If we want to go back further, Carl Lancaster back here at Mt. Olive College. I learned a great deal from him just playing one year of college baseball with him. He’s one of my best friends, even to this very day. He was one of the guys most excited about me getting this position. I’ve had a ton of people in my life that have actually helped me along the way and preparing me for this day.

 

What’s the biggest piece of advice that you’ll bring with you into this?

Mintz: Oooh, the biggest piece of advice? (Laughing) I’ve got a lot of them. I guess talking to Jeff Banister, our big league manager. I guess me and him got a little closer this spring training. I knew him from the past and obviously last year. I spent a lot of time talking to him this year, not so much always on baseball things, but I, myself, am big on, we’re trying to develop these guys as baseball players, but first and foremost, I want them to be good human beings. I want them to be able to be in society.

They’re going to have to be husbands. They’re going to have to be fathers. They’re going to have life after this baseball field. I spent a lot of time on that. I want to make sure that the guys are growing up and that they’re turning into men, and not just ballplayers.

But me and Banny had a talk about that one day and making sure that, we’re pouring baseball into these guys, but we’re also pouring in humility and humbleness and all these things into these guys, so they know how to react in the world when everybody’s not screaming their name out on the baseball field. That aspect, for me, is huge, being in the position that I’m in now and being able to have these guys watch me and my actions and how I go about doing stuff each day, it’s very important to me.

I have three kids that watch it every day, also. Hopefully, I’ve had the same impression on them as I have the players that I’ve been around the past 14 years in coaching. But that’s one thing, I guess as far as advice goes, is to continue doing that, even though I’m a manger, but continue pushing these things into these guys’ heart and soul, and making sure that they understand that you have to be a decent human being.

A New Season Begins

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luis Ortiz playoffs

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