Results tagged ‘ Walker Weickel ’

A New Appreciation: An interview with Walker Weickel

It was a long fall for Walker Weickel from first-round stardom to his release five years later. The native of Orlando, Fla, Weickel was taken as the 55th overall selection by the San Diego Padres out of Olympia High School. With a 6-6 frame that had room to fill, the right-hander presented a 91-94 fastball with a curve. With seasoning in the minors, Weickel would likely land at Petco Field before too many years. At least, that’s what he thought.

He went through a tough, first full-season in 2013 and took some poundings at Low-A Ft. Wayne (IN), as many pitchers do. But the rough outings continued the next season and he finished the 2014 season at short-season Eugene (OR).

The Padres challenged him with an assignment to high-A Lake Elsinore (CA) before six weeks into the season he heard the three words feared by every pitcher: Tommy John surgery. After a little over a year at rehab, he made pitched ten innings at the Padres short-season and rookie affiliates with mixed results. This spring, he was released.

Sitting on the sidelines and rehabbing gave Weickel time to think about how his career had gone to that point, and consider how much effort he had put into his development. Not just effort, but honest effort.

With time to reflect, Weickel adjusted his attitude and recaptured his love for the game. Weickel took on his release from the Padres as a matter-of-fact business decision and dedicated himself to the next opportunity. That door-knocker came with the Texas Rangers, with whom he signed this April.

Since joining the Crawdads on June 3, Weickel has gotten deeper into games and, in the process, dominated South Atlantic League opponents. His OBA is currently at .170 with a 0.89 WHIP. Over the last two starts, Weickel has allowed five hits, walked two and struck out 12 over 13.2 innings. He threw a two-hitter over seven innings against Kannapolis on July 4 in front of a packed house. Weickel’s outing was punctuated with an emphatic fist pump after fanning the final two hitters in the seventh.

Below is part of his story.

Walker Weickel-Lin

Walker Weickel delivers a pitch during a 7/4/17 contest vs. Kannapolis (Crystal Lin)

 

First question for you: the first thing I noticed when you came off the mound after the last strikeout was a huge first pump. Reading your story a bit about your Tommy John surgery and then you get released by the Padres, and then you pitch well before a big crowd here, how much of that was the moment itself or you’re finally getting some things going in your career?

Weickel: I think it was a culmination of things. July 4th has always kind of an interesting day for me in my career. I’ve been scheduled to pitch July 4th two times, but it’s been rearranged for numerous reasons, and this prior to surgery. So, now in my first complete season from Tommy John and with a new team an having an opportunity to pitch on July 4th, it’s always been kind of a career checkpoint for me to pitch. Growing up as a kid and watching The Sandlot, you see the scene where everyone’s playing baseball under the fireworks; it’s something I’ve always wanted to experience and definitely wanted to get a win out of.

I was feeling good on the fourth, and yeah, that last strikeout, it was a culmination of all that. It was also their number four hitter (Kannapolis rightfielder Micker Adolfo). He had kind of given me a little bit of a tricky out the first two times before, so I finally got him on that third at-bat. It felt like a nice little way to end off the outing.

 

It looked like you had all four pitches going: fastball, change, curve and slider. Did I read that right?

Weickel: For me, I heavily run a two-seam fastball and try to sink the ball a lot and then pitch a changeup and curveball off of that. I change speeds on my curveball, so sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s tighter and gets mistaken for a slider. I was pretty pleased with how my pitches were working. Ricky (Valencia) had a good game plan going into the outing and I was able to stick to it. Ricky did a great job calling pitches all night and kept me comfortable and kept me fluid.

I think I had seven flyouts and six ground outs. So, it definitely helped that the hitters put the ball in play quick and let the defense make plays quickly and get back into the dugout and back to the bats. I was pleased with the overall efficiency and quickness of the game.

 

I’m guessing the answer to the next question might take up the rest of the interview. Describe how good it feels for you finally to get back into a rotation and you are taking the ball every six games.

Weickel: It’s tough to put into words. It almost feels like my career is starting over again. I was a starter out of high school and then my first couple of years in pro ball. I’ve definitely had some battles and some ups and downs. Then the Tommy John was a big point in my career and I really felt that allowed me to mentally collect myself and figure out who I was as a pitcher. It allowed me to craft my process for off the field, in terms of preparation and in terms of how I go about my business.

So, it’s been really rewarding getting a chance here and I’m so thankful the Rangers gave me an opportunity to put all that work into play and to see where it goes from here.

Walker Weickel 2 - Proffitt

Crawdads right-hander Walker Weickel (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

What was the journey like going from first-round pick to Tommy John and then your release essentially four seasons after your selection?

Weickel: It was ups and downs and a lot of emotions. It was definitely not something I planned for, that’s for sure. I think everyone has the grand idea of signing and then maybe a couple of stops in the minors and then right up to the big leagues. I would say that’s not quite the path, but at the same time there is no set path for anyone. Everyone kind of has their own journey and battle.

Even though I’ve had quite the ups and downs, and I’ve dealt with injuries and I had to sit out a year-and-a-half for recovery, quite frankly, I don’t think I’d put it any other way. It’s really allowed me to develop, I think, at the right time and it’s allowed me to really enjoy certain aspects of my career and different opportunities. But now to be back playing, to be fully healthy, knowing that my arm is secure and stable, knowing that I’ve had these past 24 months of just hunger and preparation to get back on the mound and prove that I’m still able to get out there and do the job, I couldn’t be more excited.

 

You talk about how everybody has their own path. There are guys that get into the game and realize that it’s much more of a mental game. You guys are growing up, especially if you’re drafted out of high school. There are some guys that are arrogant; there are some guys that are still little boys in many ways. Maybe the question I have to ask is what is the adjustment mental-wise or lifestyle-wise that you had to make?

Weickel: It’s easy to get caught up into the day-to-day activities of being at the park and spending 12 to 16 hours a day, roughly, at or on the baseball field and then essentially your home, your apartment or hotel to sleep and then back to the field. So, it’s easy to kind of fall into a rep versus routine.

You do the rep thing, you show up and kind of go through the motions. You play catch, or you take batting practice, whatever it might be. You actually physically do the practice, but you might not have definitive points that you’re working on or things you’re trying to get out of it. You might not necessarily be challenging yourself at practice. I thought I fell victim to that a little bit. I fell victim to potentially practicing some mechanical adjustments that weren’t quite right for my body, and for how I pitch in my game as a pitcher. So, over the course of time, failure definitely teaches you a lesson; it’s whether or not you want to listen to it.

When I actually had the surgery, and had to sit there on the sidelines, it really gave me nothing but time to think about all the things I’ve practiced, all the things I’ve done, the approaches to the game that I had taken, and really narrow down what was really working and what really wasn’t. I felt like I was able to sit down and craft a new approach for when I finally got healthy and was able to get back out there. So far, it’s been a much more efficient and a much more manageable process for the day-to-day grind.

 

What’s the biggest appreciation you have for the game now that you maybe didn’t have before?

Weickel: Just the fun that comes with playing baseball. I think a lot of guys, when you get into pro ball, it immediately becomes this business. There’s obviously that aspect to it, but it’s a game.

If you can’t get joy out of showing up to the baseball field and playing the game and putting on a uniform and getting excited about fireworks and pitching in front of fans, just the camaraderie with the guys in the clubhouse, or the jokes, or being around batting practice, the competition on the field and the childish fun that you get from this game, you’re doing something wrong. You’re not getting the full value of the game. Coming back and getting a second chance, it’s definitely been a lot more enjoyable and a lot more fun playing.

 

What was the bigger reality check, getting released or having the Tommy John surgery?

Weickel: I would definitely say Tommy John. Like I said, baseball is a business. At the end of the day, teams they have plans and you can’t take it personal. It is what it is.

For the injury, that was something I could control. I could really buy into my rehab and buy into my time down and get something out of it, or I could just go through the motions. When I had the surgery, my mentality towards a lot of things, not just baseball, but my approach in general of how things could change unexpectedly. It really kind of gave me more of an appreciation for game activities, to interactions, friendships, time available with family and friends, and time to work.

I feel like that really was to me was the greatest challenge and greatest test of my willpower and my dedication to the game, to sit through all the rehabs, to sit through maybe the minor setbacks and discomforts and negative thoughts during the rehab process and come out victorious on the other side.

 

Tell me about the Rangers contact and how that all came together.

Weickel: I was let go the last week of spring training. I had some calls out and was looking to see if any teams had any interest. It’s a tough time right then and there because a lot of teams are looking to finalize rosters and it’s tough to make additions.

I actually went home for a couple of weeks and never once had a doubt that I was going to be out of baseball. I felt like that after all the work that I had put in rehab and the work I had done to come back and prove myself – and I felt like I was at a stronger point than in my previous years before surgery. So I was able to actually get home and work a little bit and continued throwing bullpens, and stay sharp and stay strong.

I was able to finalize a workout with the Rangers scout back home. It was great because immediately he was excited and pumped and full of enthusiasm. To see that from the team really made me excited that they would give me an opportunity. When things finalized and came together, I was able to get out to Phoenix and join the club at extended spring for a couple of weeks and get my feet wet and adjusted to the organization. It was just all positives from the get go.

I feel like I was able to jump right in and continue my work and continue getting better with the coaching staff and the training staff down there, and really get a strong foothold into getting myself ready to come here and give the Crawdads a shot at winning some ballgames.

 

When you get a call to the major leagues, what do you think that will be like for you?

Weickel: I can’t imagine. I really can’t imagine it. It would definitely be surreal. I honestly don’t even know what I would say on the phone to my parents, or my girlfriend or my parents or anyone. I guess it’s going to have to be an in-the-moment experience.

But, I got carried away early in my career trying to think too far into my future. And now, I think about the next hour, the next two hours, the ballgame that night, and then go to sleep and wake up and try to do it all again tomorrow. I pitch from inning-to-inning, start-to-start and then go from there and try not to get too ahead of myself.

 

 You have you, you have (Matt) Smoral, who was a former first-round pick with the Blue Jays who’s come here. You’ve got (Michael) Matuella, who was going to be a potential first-round pick, but then had the Tommy John and dropped to third. You’ve got (Jake) Lemoine, who battled injuries. Do you guys trade stories, in the sense that you have similar experiences?

Weickel: Yeah, it’s actually kind of funny, because all four of us are roommates. I feel like between the four of us, we definitely have a collection of experience and knowledge in just about every aspect, in terms of struggles and triumphs and things going not the way we’d planned for them to go. But, I’ll tell you what, I’ve never met a more positive group of guys. Guys that are willing to come out and give everything that they have each and every day, for their hunger to be better each and every time on the mound.

And that goes for the whole team. I think it’s exemplified in some of our performances this second half. They’ve really bought into the process. We have a fantastic team here – the pitching staff and the infield and outfield. It’s impressive.

If you get here during b.p. and watch some of the batting practice that goes on and some of the infield work, flashes of it are here in the game, but there’s some serious talent on this team. It’s enjoyable to pitch and to have solid defense behind me – guys that are going to bust their butts and do whatever it takes to win a ballgame. Our bullpen and coaching staff wants the exact same thing. So, it’s really refreshing being here with a winning team and a winning environment and a winning organization.

Walker Weickel - Proffitt

Walter Weickel delivers a pitch during a June 23 game vs. Augusta (Tracy Proffitt)

Series Preview: Kannapolis at Hickory July 4-6

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

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

 

If you plan to go:

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

PROMOTIONS:

Tuesday – Independence Day Celebration and Post-Game Fireworks

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

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday; Rudy Wright Night

 

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

WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (Kannapplis/ Hickory):

Tuesday: RHP Yelmison Peralta vs. RHP Walker Weickel

Wednesday: RHP Blake Hickman vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

Thursday: RHP Luis Martinez vs. RHP Reid Anderson

 

Recent Series History:

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

 

About the Crawdads:

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

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

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

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

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

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

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Drive:

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

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:   

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

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

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

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

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

 

Weird Baseball: Hickory outlasts Lexington 6-5

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

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

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

 

What happened?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yes, Taveras is back.

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

 

But he’s bunting?

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

 

Forbes making noise like a duck:

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

 

Eric, oh Eric:

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

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