Results tagged ‘ Storm Davis ’

Rise to the top: An Interview with Texas Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez

It’s always fun for me – and for most minor league observers, those who are paid to do this and those who are not – to try and figure out which players from a Low-A roster will get to the major leagues. Looking at the 2012 Hickory Crawdads roster and trying to guess who from that squad would make is a fascinating exercise in hindsight

The 2012 Hickory Crawdads roster featured FOUR first-round selections and only one – Luke Jackson – made it past AA. Nick Martinez, who threw 26 innings at Fordham University, a program which hadn’t had a former pitcher in the majors since 2001, started the 2012 season in the Crawdads bullpen. He went on to make the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, then put together a strong 2013 season that catapulted him to a major league debut with the Rangers at the start of the 2014 season.

Martinez, now looking to his fourth MLB season, has a key stretch coming up during which he is trying to make the team either as a fifth starter or a bullpen arm.

The first full season for Martinez was somewhat average for the then-21-year-old. He posted a 4.83 ERA over 117 2/ 3 innings, though he did strike out 109 batters to just 37 walks. The native of Miami, FL admitted that 2012 was one in which he was learning to become a professional.

In the interview below – done during last week’s Texas Rangers Winter Caravan held at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C., Martinez talks his rise to the major leagues with Texas and what helped him along the way.

 

When you were here in 2012, did you ever think that you’d be coming back here in 2017 as a major league pitcher?

Martinez: No, I couldn’t look that far ahead down the road. It is good to be back. The memories are coming to me. I used to play many golf rounds out here at Rock Barn and I had a lot of great memories playing for Hickory.

 

What is the biggest memory you can recall from that season?

Martinez: Baseball wise, it’s an interesting year because it’s your first full season. You get to learn a lot about yourself mentally and physically. Obviously, that’s one of the milestones of playing a full season. Off the field, though, it’s a chance to really bond with your teammates. We had a lot of great memories playing here at Rock Barn.

 

You had come out of college, and if I remember right, you had thrown something like 26 innings in college. Who or what circumstance gave you the confidence that you could pitch at a professional level?

Martinez: My father, since high school, kind of prepared me just in case I ever became a pitcher. He had me go to some pitching lessons, so it wasn’t completely bazaar for me to make that transition. I was okay with making that transition before it even happened. In college, I just wanted to play professional baseball. Once the Rangers gave me that chance as a pitcher, I was all in and eager to learn and get better. I still am.

 

You had pretty much a quick rise when you left here and debuted in 2014. What flipped the switch and gave you the confidence that you could do this on a major league level?

Martinez: 2013 was probably my best minor league season. I was more consistent. I knew what I needed to do to keep that consistency. I was clear mentally and I knew what I needed to do. Obviously, when you transfer up to the major league level, it doesn’t exactly equal the same amount of mental pressure and mental consistency. I went through my ups and downs in 2014, but once you get over that hump, it makes things a lot easier. Again, once you know what you need to do, you kind of establish a work ethic and things to help you maintain that.

 

Who is somebody that had a big influence for you to get to that level, that you could do this at the major league level?

Martinez: Every pitching coach I came across in the minor league system, as well as the pitching coordinator. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with coaches that have made me better at every level and taken my game to the next step and prepare myself mentally and physically.

 

What was it like to step on a major league mound for the first time?

Martinez: Surreal. It’s crazy. Obviously, you’re anxious and nervous and stuff like that, but it’s kind of an anxiousness and nervousness that you can work with, because I felt prepared. I felt like I was ready for this. Obviously, it’s something you train for your whole life. It’s something you dream of and I felt like I belonged on the mound and I was ready to go. I was very fortunate, also, to be pitching in my home state, so my family was able to drive up and watch my debut.

 

Who was the first hitter that gave you the reality check that you were in the major leagues?

Martinez: Evan Longoria. The reality check that said, “this is the show; this is the big leagues.” In my debut.

 

Did he hit you hard or something?

Martinez: He smoked a ball. I got him out, but he smoked a ball somewhere. I think it was right at someone. Thank God, he got a good handle on it. (Note: In the second inning of Martinez’s debut, Longoria grounded sharply off Martinez for a 1-4-3 putout.)

 

Who was the first hitter you faced that was a dream hitter. Maybe somebody, when you were in high school, that you said, “I’d like to face this guy.”

Martinez: 2014, Derek Jeter’s last year in the major leagues. I got to face him at Yankee Stadium and once again at home in Arlington. It’s just something I’ll never forget, obviously. He does his whole pre-pitch routine in the box. It’s something that you see on TV and on video games, and now he’s doing it to you and letting you know he’s ready. It was a dream come true. It was wild.

 

Looking ahead to this year, I know the Rangers are looking to solidify the number-five spot. What are you looking for, as far as getting your foot in that door and keeping that spot?

Martinez: Competing. I’m going to go into spring training competing for that fifth spot in the rotation. I’m still in the part of my career where being in the major leagues at all is a goal. I’m going to be competing for the fifth spot, but if a bullpen spot opens up, I’m also going to be eager to land that spot. My main goal, first, is to be in the major leagues, but, obviously, I set my goals a little higher. I know I can help this team at the start.

 

 

I meant to ask this earlier, what did (pitching coach) Storm Davis mean to you for that 2012 in Hickory?

Martinez: Storm played a huge part in that mental game of baseball and what to expect in your first full season, mentally and how your body is going to feel physically – how tired you’re going to get and ways to grind through it. He helped me out a lot with different sequences and what to look for in hitters.

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2012 Hickory Crawdads and current Texas Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez (right) answers questions at a round-table event held by the Crawdads at Rock Barn Golf & Spa on 1/11/17. (Courtesy of Hickory Crawdads/ Crystal Lin)

When He Was a Crawdad: The Journey of Jerad Eickhoff from High School 3B to Major League Pitcher

In the space of three seasons, Jerad Eickhoff has gone from low-A starter to a highly-sought trade piece that brought then- Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers. In many ways, the ascension of Eickhoff to major league pitcher is a continuation of a series of events that started at Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind.

Jerad Eickhoff was the 15th round selection of the Texas Rangers in 2011 out of Olney (Ill.) CC (photo Tracy Proffitt)

Jerad Eickhoff was the 15th round selection of the Texas Rangers in 2011 out of Olney (Ill.) CC (photo Tracy Proffitt)

In many ways, Eickhoff was the normal midwestern kid who played whatever sport was in season at the time, but it was in baseball that he excelled. A third baseman mostly in high school, Eickhoff said he threw only about six innings in junior season before his coaches convinced him to give pitching a longer look. He increased his work load to 45 innings in his senior season before heading off to the junior-college ranks.

After his freshman season at Olney (Ill.) Community College, Eickhoff was the 46th round pick of the Chicago Cubs. However, he chose to return to Olney CC  for his sophomore season, during which he struck out 116 in 88.1 innings and earned NJCAA All-American honors. The Rangers picked him up in the 15th round pick in 2011 and signed him away from a commitment to Western Kentucky.

Eickhoff spent his first pro season in the bullpen, splitting time between the Arizona Summer League Rangers and Spokane. He went on to make 25 starts for Hickory in 2012, when he posted a 13-7 mark and a 4.69 ERA in 126.2 innings.

His repertoire with Hickory was a fastball that sat in the 90-94 mph range with an occasional cutter to go with a changeup and curve.

As his pitching career rocketed from a high school junior third baseman to a spot as a major league starting pitcher, Eickhoff’s stop in Hickory was about learning how to understand what he could and could not control.

The start I remember most from Eickhoff’s 2012 season came during a game on July 3rd at Greensboro. Much of the early-inning events worked against Eickhoff.. A misplayed, inning-ending grounder turned into a two-run homer in the first. Two more errors, a passed ball and a disagreement with the umpire’s strike zone led to three more runs in the second. At that point, Hickory Crawdads pitching coach Storm Davis made a mound visit.

“I just wanted to remind him that all that stuff going around him, you can only control what you can control,” said Davis in an interview I did with him the next day. “What can you control? I can control the next pitch I throw, period.  I can’t control if the umpire calls it a strike, if we field it, they call him out or safe, none of that.  I can’t control where the ball is hit.”

“So we’ve really been pounding that into him all year. Not getting involved in stuff I can’t control, just the stuff I can control.”

Eickhoff eventually battled through five innings and the Crawdads rallied back for a 7-6 win – a victory that manager Bill Richardson said was to that point the highlight game of the season.

“He was player of the game for me,” said Richardson. “With any other pitcher, they couldn’t have hung in there with the umpires and the sloppy defense.  He just kept battling and showing that yeoman’s work.  I think our offense fed off of that.  He wasn’t giving up, so we better get in the fight or we are going to get pummeled here. Yesterday, I was pleased, because, number one, what he went through.  That was probably his best stuff.  That could’ve easily been zeroes all the way across.”

Eickhoff went on split the 2013 season at high-A Myrtle Beach and AA Frisco and then returned to the RoughRiders in 2014. He was added to the Rangers 40-man roster last winter and spent this season at AAA Round Rock before going to the Phillies chain, with whom he pitched at AAA Lehigh Valley.

Below is an interview I did with Eickhoff, during which he talked about learning to come to terms with what he could and could not control, as well as how he got into pitching.

2012 Crawdads pitcher Jerad Eickhoff will make his major league debut on Friday, August 21 for Philadelphia at Miami (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

2012 Crawdads pitcher Jerad Eickhoff will make his major league debut on Friday, August 21 for Philadelphia at Miami (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

How did you get started in baseball?

Eickhoff: My dad (Ron) got me swinging a plastic bat at a whiffle ball when I could first walk. He kind of got it kick started. I enjoyed being in sports.

Did all of you play sports?

Eickhoff: Yeah, we did. We had a pretty athletic family…I played football from 5th grade until my freshman year. I put that aside. I didn’t want to get hurt as baseball was my priority. I played baseball and basketball all four years.

What did you play in basketball? 

Eickhoff: Shooting guard. I just kind of got some mismatches because I was a taller guy for that position.

How did baseball become a priority for you?

Eickhoff: I guess for me, I just enjoyed me and my dad and my brothers would go out on a Sunday. My grade school had a baseball field there. I just enjoyed taking ground balls and taking fly balls. When you are younger you enjoy, “Dad, see how high you can hit it up; see how high you can hit it and I’ll see if I can catch it,” and stuff like that. I just enjoyed being on the field and enjoyed getting better at it. It helps that I could hold my ground. I could compete and I just liked having fun.

Did you play other positions in high school?

Eickhoff: I actually didn’t pitch. I only pitched six innings my junior year. I pitched like 45 (innings) my senior year. I played more third base.

How did the transformation to the mound get started and what was it like for you?

Eickhoff: It’s kind of funny, because when I was playing in high school summer baseball, I had some coaches tell me, “hey, you’re playing third base now, but I think your future is going to be in pitching.”

You kind of accept that; you don’t think about it then. As the years kind of took place and I didn’t know college was going to be coming about. Some junior colleges started calling and wanted me to pitch and liked me on the mound. That kind of kick started it and I saw my future started opening up. Maybe I could do this in college and see where it takes me. I just needed to get bigger and get more apt to pitching.

What did people see in you and maybe who was the first person to get you started in that direction?

Eickhoff: I think the biggest thing, first of all, was my body type. I was 6-3 at the time, 175 (pounds) and skinny. I had a decent arm. I could get it across the infield from third base. I guess coaches noticed that that I had played with. I had a good motion; (the ball) looked good coming out of the hand. I think that was the starting point for it. Baseball is such a mental game and mentally I was able to do that sort of thing.

Is there somebody that kickstarted you into that direction, or did it evolve?

Eickhoff: I think it just sort of evolved. My high school coaches, Jeff Schulz, and my pitching coach at the time, as well as Buddy Swift. He was my summer coach. They were all three together in the idea that my feature was in pitching.

Did you have the opportunity to go to a four-year school?

Eickhoff: I did have some opportunities to maybe walk-on and get a smaller scholarship. But the way it was panning out was that I’d fight for a spot. It might take two or three years to see some actual playing time. For me, it was important to get playing right away. If I’m playing, I’m getting better. That’s what my coaches always preached from day one, my dad as well. I think that was the biggest thing, just getting to play every day and being a key factor on the team and really contributing.

What were some highlights for you in high school?

Eickhoff: When I was a sophomore (2007), we went to the state finals (against Norwell High). I wasn’t on the varsity team.  I was on the reserve and I got moved up. Although I wasn’t on the field, I got to be with the atmosphere of the state finals.

We faced the number 9th overall pick that year, Jarrod Parker, who’s now pitching for the Oakland Athletics. That, for me, was a thing I wanted to experience again when I was on varsity the next two years and try to get to things like that. That was a great experience for me.

When you were drafted by the Rangers, was there a thought of waiting a year to see if you could bump up, or the opportunity was there and you took it?

Eickhoff: It was pretty tough for me and my family. I’ve always been a school guy. I’m pretty apt on the academic side. It was tough to weigh the options. People were saying, “Yeah, there might be more down the road, but you have this chance you have to take right now.” It’s hard to weigh that. The college is upping their scholarship and Texas is calling and wanting you bad. I think I’d been wanting it for so long to play professional baseball and that opportunity was there, I just felt the opportunity was right and I made the decision.

How did the adjustment to pro ball go for you?  What were some things that you had to learn pretty quick?

Eickhoff: I think the biggest thing, which I kind of learned of myself, and my junior college coach (Dennis Conley) instilled in me, it’s about yourself and what you can do for yourself as an individual. It’s about a team, but what do you do off the field to get yourself ready for that. That’s what being a profession is all about is taking care of your business. Your individual goals will come together in a team goal.

That’s the biggest thing is taking care of yourself. Keeping your body in check and maintaining your arm care and the conditioning.  Take everything upon yourself.

You’ve gotten off to a 10-4 start (at the time of the interview in early July 2012). I know some of that has been run support, but what’s been the key to your success so far?

Eickhoff: I can’t complain about the run support. The defense and offense has been really great for me. I tip my hat to those guys and what they’ve done. I’m just trying to stay consistent and do my best for them as well and get outs and help my team win.

Being a 15th round choice, do you feel like you have to work extra hard because of the draft selection and the coming from a not well-known baseball school?

Eickhoff: Knowing me and my nature, I’ve always worked as hard as I can. If I was a first-round pick I’d work the same amount as I do now. That’s a big thing, to work hard from day one. That’s what my mom and my dad instilled in me. I just continue taking it day by day and keep working to see where things take me.

One of the things Storm Davis said in talking about you is having you learn how to let things go that you can’t control.  Has that been a part of the process of learning to be a pro, whereas before you could strike out a bunch of guys?

Eickhoff: Absolutely. Me and Storm talk every day, and D.C. (Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark) as well, about focusing on what you can control and that is when the ball leaves my hand. That’s the end of my control. That’s all I can do is do that. I can’t make the plays at shortstop; I can’t make the plays at second. So, what happens, happens. What I can do is make good pitches and hopefully get good results by ground balls and strikeouts. That’s the biggest thing, just letting things pass that I can’t control.

Is that a continuation of learning about letting go of things you can’t control, like being a 15th-round pick?

Eckhoff: Yeah, I wish I was a first-rounder, but that’s passed and what’s happened, happened. I just continue to work every day and do what I can. What I control is conditioning and the effort I put in and the throwing program and things like that and keeping my body in check. I’m a competitive guy and I’m going to do what I can to try to make it in this game.

What’s the thing that you will need to work at most moving up the chain that you’ll have to work hardest at?

Eickhoff: One of the biggest things is just letting things go. No matter how bad things may seem on the field, if I give up six runs or so, just reel it in and work on keeping those innings shorter and keeping those innings from exploding. Maybe keeping it at one or two runs instead of five runs. Just continue to pitch instead of walking out and letting negative things seeping in with doubts. Keeping and staying positive, as skip (Bill Richardons) says, “Stay the course” and continue with what I can do and what I can control and be myself as a pitcher.

What do you think has been the biggest success of your season so far?

Eickhoff: I think the success is, obviously, I’ve been very fortunate to stay healthy. I’m very fortunate for that. I know a lot of guys that have had injuries here and there. I continue to work on things with Storm and Danny Clark and translating that from the bullpen to the game mound when the hitter steps in.  I think that’s the biggest thing that has helped me translate the success that I’ve had.

What others said about Eickhoff in 2012:

Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark:

The reports we are getting is that he’s a very durable guy. The biggest thing for Jerad is to be able to make adjustments during the game. I think that’s one of the positives he has at a young age. I think his work ethic comes into play during the competition. So, Jerad has got a really high up-ceiling, for him. We see a lot of good things that he’s doing. He’s starting to be able to command the baseball when he’s behind in the count. So, I think there’s a lot of combinations there that’s leading to that success that he has.

Clark on Jerad’s work effect:

With guys at this level, a lot of times quantity is not always quality. I think he separates himself with the quality of work that he puts in along with the quantity. I think that’s the way he looks at it and I think that’s what we see. So, he is separating himself. A lot of times with young pitchers they don’t know how to work.  I think he will seek out that information and he’s put it into his play.

What’s the biggest thing he’ll need to work on from here going up the chain?

He’s no different than anybody. Obviously, being able to throw strikes behind in the count is one. Number two, just having overall better command. As you go higher, obviously mistakes are not as forgiving. I think he’ll adjust to that. I think he’s got the capability of adjusting to that and he’s got the aptitude to adjust to that.

Storm Davis on Eickhoff:

What are some things that have set him apart in his first full season?

Jared is a really hard worker, so he’s physically up to the challenge, not that the other guys aren’t.   I’d think he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not blessed with a lot gifts that some are blessed with.  He’s got a good arm.

He’s retaining better.  He’s not fighting himself as much out there. He’s very perfectionist oriented.  When things aren’t going perfect, it’s a bit hard for him to slow pitch-to-pitch.  He’s getting better at it.

The last few starts, where we’ve been able to score runs for him, he’s felt like he’s not been able to pitch up to what he’s capable of pitching. That’s been good for him because he’s had to learn a) to pitch with a lead and b) to fight those inner demons, so to speak, when it comes to not getting into all the negative thoughts that comes with, “Hey I’ve got this big lead and I’m letting my team down.“

What is the thing he’ll need to work on moving up?

I think physically, he’s going to have to get bigger. I think he’s going to need to put on some weight. He was weighs about mid 220s. He’s going to have to get into the mid 230s, maybe 240 before it’s over with.

I think his stuff, like I tell these guys, mostly their stuff and delivery is going to look the same now as it will five years from now. There’ll be tweaks here and there.

I think he needs to keep commanding the fastball which sets up his cutter and curve ball. When he’s doing that, he’s going to be successful.