Results tagged ‘ Yanio Perez ’

Potential Power Ranger: An Interview with Yanio Perez

My first encounter with Yanio Perez was in Columbia, S.C. I went there in early April to interview Fireflies manager Jose Leger about ex-football player Tim Tebow, who plays at Columbia. I arrived early and had a chance to catch some of the Crawdads batting practice and I passed this well-built, I mean solidly-build, hunk of a human being. I remember saying, “Now that’s a football player”

Since the Crawdads hadn’t had a home game to that point, the players and names were still unfamiliar to me, so I made a mental note of the number: 28. When I got to the press box, I looked it up. The name: Yanio Perez.

He’s listed at 6-2, 205, but I’m guessing he’s a little heavier than that. Had circumstances been different for his life, I could imagine him as a linebacker. He has a thick neck, battleship arms and the thighs of a weightlifter.

Looking back in my mind’s eye, the Crawdads player I could best compare him to, as far as the build, is former outfielder Jordan Akins. He doesn’t have Akins speed, but as a baseball player to this point, he is further along.

Perez had a quick start to the season, then slow dropped to a .245/.365/.377 slash by April 20. At that time, the whole club had struggled, some of it due to very little field time because of an unusually rainy period. But for Perez adjustments had to make. He had become jumpy in hitters counts, swinging through fastballs that seemed off the plate.

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

Finally, Perez figured out how pitchers were trying to get him out and he had a homestand to remember at the end of April. Over the final eight games of the month, he went 16-for-28 with five homers, a double, four walks, eight runs scored and 15 RBI. He ended the month at .358/.453/.642. Perez was named the South Atlantic League’s hitter of the week and the Texas Rangers tabbed him as their minor league player of the month.

Yanio Perez Spike Owen - Lin

Yanio Perez shakes the hand of Crawdads manager Spike Owen during a home run trot in a game vs. Columbia (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

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

Perez continued to put up good numbers and was in the top-five in the SAL in all three slash categories. (.322/.392/.533). He earned a SAL all-star selection, but a well-earned promotion to high-A Down East has changed those plans.

As well as he’s played, there is a certain sadness that Perez acknowledges: he misses his family. While Perez was able to leave Cuba to come and play baseball in the states, his family is still on the island. He talks to his parents daily, but the 21-year-old hasn’t seen them in two years. He wants to succeed in order to help his family, but behind his infectious smile, the pain from separation is real.

I had a chance to speak with him late last week with the translation help of pitching coach Jose Jaimes. It’s not my best interview and I’ll admit my questions were not the most hard-hitting. We were all rushed for time and it’s hard to get too deep when over half of the 13-minute interview was spent in translation. But for the reader, I hope you get a sense about this kid.

Yanio Perez mug

Yanio Perez (Hickory Crawdads)

 

How do you feel about making the all-star team?

Perez: I feel very happy, more because this is my first year in professional baseball and playing in this league. I feel very proud of what I accomplished.

 

Are you accomplishing this year what you had hoped to?

Perez: I didn’t have as my goal to make the all-star team. My goals were, number one, try to help the team as much as I can. I would like to hit .300 for the year, which I am doing and I’m happy with what I’ve done so far.

 

You signed with the Rangers last October. Has it been a whirlwind getting to the states and then to play ball?

It has been a hurricane to adjust to everything I’ve gone through over the last year – leaving my family, coming here, going to Arizona. So, I’m still going through the process of transition.

 

What’s been the biggest adjustment personally coming to the states?

Perez: The biggest challenge for me is the language and being away from my family. I have my wife with me right now, but everybody else is away. That has been the biggest challenge, the language and the family.

 

What made you decide to leave Cuba to come to the states?

Perez: I played baseball for a while in Cuba, but I felt like coming over to the states I was going to be able to compete in a better environment and I am also able to help my family from here. That was the main reason I left Cuba.

 

Who did you grow watching Cuba?

Perez: I didn’t grow up watching a specific guy. The way that I learned how to play the game was more about thinking I’ve got to get better every single day. It’s easier in Cuba to watch Major League games, so I watched A-Rod and guys like that and names that everybody in Cuba knows. But for the most part, I was just trying to do better every single day with training and listening to coaches.

Yanio Perez - rebel uni

Crawdads 1B/ OF Yani o Perez during a game vs. Kannapolis (Tracy Proffitt)

 

Who is your favorite player?

Perez: Yasiel Puig and Mike Trout

 

What do you like about them?

Perez: About Puig, I like the way that he hits. He’s pretty aggressive with the bat. About Trout, I like the way that he plays the game. He’s very professional and I like the way that he looks on the field.

 

Have you had a chance to meet any of the players that you watched in Cuba?

Perez: I met with Adrian Beltre and Carlos Gomez in spring training, I knew them from Cuba. Those where guys that were famous on the island.

 

What was it like to meet Beltre?

Perez: It was very exciting meet a guy that’s going to be in the Hall of Fame.

 

You talk about missing your family. Do you get to talk with them very much?

Perez: Yes. I talk to them every day. It helps having a cell phone and the apps to make it easier to communicate. But still, I miss them a lot because it’s been two years since I left the country.

 

Is there a time you think your parents will get to see you play?

Perez: I don’t know. We’re working on that.

 

Is it easier now for Cubans to come here and play baseball than in the past?

Perez: It’s easier right now than in the past.

 

What’s the biggest difference playing baseball here than in Cuba?

Perez: The biggest difference is that the games here are faster. The pitchers here throw harder than most of the Cuban pitchers.

 

What do you mean about the game being faster?

Perez: The runners are way faster, but you have to more to think about and more plays you have to be aware of.

 

You hear about baseball in the Latin countries being a party atmosphere. Is it too quiet here?

Perez: I don’t need that. I actually like the people here in this country that actually come to watch the game and enjoy it. With that said, I do miss playing in front of my people, but the craziness and all that, I don’t miss that at all.

 

What is the biggest thing you are working on for the rest of the year?

Perez: I’d like to be faster and keep working on my hitting. That’s something I’m working on, to be consistent every day.

 

Is first base new to you?

Perez: I had first base two times before coming here.

 

First base, third base, outfield before coming here?

Perez: I’ve played almost every position since I was a little kid. I think it’s more valuable to be able to play a lot of positions.

 

When you get a call to go the major leagues, what do you think your reaction will be?

Perez: I’m going to be really happy, but in my mind I know I will have to work hard to stay there as long as I can. That’s my goal.

Yanio Perez - proffitt

Yanio Perez connects during a game vs. Kannapolis (Tracy Proffitt)

Crawdads trim Legends 7-5

The Hickory Crawdads rallied from behind and then held on late to take a 7-5 win over the Lexington (Ky.) Legends Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win was the seconds straight for the Crawdads (25-38) in the four-game series and they will attempt to take just their fourth series win of the first half, the second at home in Monday’s finale. Meanwhile, Lexington (30-33) dropped its fifth in six games on the current road trip, which concludes on Monday at L.P. Frans.

What happened?:

Hickory pounded out 12 hits on Sunday, seven of those for extra bases, and it started with Eric Jenkins’s lead-off triple in the first. Leody Taveras brought him in with an RBI grounder to short.

Kyle Cody retired the first six hitter before running into trouble in the third. Joe Dudek doubled to the track in center. One out later, Rudy Martin singled in Dudek to tie the game.

Lexington grabbed the lead in the fourth with a three-run inning. Angelo Castellano led off with a single. Two outs later, John Brontsema singled and Yeison Melo bounced a double off the bag at third to score Castellano. Dudek’s second hit in two innings was a two-run single.

Alex Kowalczyk’s homer (5) to right got Crawdads within 4-2. Cody (2-6) provided a boost for his team by working out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. With one out and runners at second and third, Cody intentionally walked Emmanuel Rivera. He then struck out Gabriel Cancel and got Brontsema to fly out to center.

The Crawdads took that momentum to the bottom of the inning and turned it into three runs to retake the lead. Leody Taveras smashed a sharp grounder off the leg off Gomez for a single. Yanio Perez was hit by a pitch. One out later, Forbes doubled off the wall in left to score Taveras. Garay then doubled to the track in center for the other two runs to make it 5-4.

Despite the three-run deficit, Crawdads manager Spike Owen felt confident his club would be able to battle back. “We knew we were in the ballgame,” said Owen. “Especially with the wind blowing out. We put good at-bats on and put men on base and got a big two-out, two-RBI double from Garay.”

Cody pitched a scoreless sixth before Jake Lemoine added two more shutout innings, though he needed a big play to maintain the lead. Melo singled with one out and after Dudek moved him up with a grounder, Mark Sanchez ripped a sharp grounder to left. Eric Jenkins charged the ball aggressively and then hit the catcher Kowalczyk on the fly with a throw that was in time to nab Melo trying to score.

Blaine Prescott cracked his third homer of the season in the bottom of the inning, a two-run shot that made it 7-4.

“Blaine’s home run in the eighth was huge to give us a cushion,” Owen said. Jenkins play in the top of the eighth was big throwing the tying run out at the plate. We made the plays we had to make and got some timely hits.”

Jenkins throw and Prescott’s homer proved crucial has Khalil Lee clubbed his 10th homer of the season in the ninth. Castellano singled to center to bring the tying run to the plate. But Kaleb Fontentot induced Rivera to bounce into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.

“That was a good ball game, today.” said Owen. “We made all the plays and got some big hits. The pitching kept us in the game. Nice to see it all in one game.”

 

Cody guts out six:

(I preface all this by reminding the reader that I am not a scout, baseball mind, etc. My main job at the games is to be the official scorer and so I see the games with those eyes and I miss some things. These are my observations and they could all be just bunk.)

Even when he retired the first six, I’m not sure that Cody had his best stuff today. Rangers trackers had him at 94-96, but pitches tended to stay up. Normally a groundball pitcher, 1.43 GO/AO, three of the first six outs were in the air. Dudek’s double to start the third was crushed to the CF track. Castellano’s single to start the fourth was a liner and Cody needed a leaping, sprawling grab by Forbes at third to take away a potential double off the bat of Rivera. Cancel then flew out to CF.

After the flyout, Cody did run into a bit of bad luck for the three runs with three straight groundball hits, including Melo’s slow bouncer that found the bag.

He seemed a bit rushed in the fifth on two straight walks as Kowalczyk walked in front of the plate to remind Cody to stay in front on delivery. Forbes made a tough, backhanded play for an out at third to move runners to second and third. An intentional walk to set up a double play seemed to settle him down. He got his footing back on three straight fastballs to K Cancel, before a routine fly to center ended the threat.

Of course, a pitcher will not have his best stuff every time out, but learning what to do in those situations will propel or impede a pitcher’s progress.

The Rangers have had a good run with Midwestern-born, hard-throwing, right-handed pitchers out of college in recent years. Nick Tepesch (Missouri), and Jared Eickhoff (Indiana) made it to the majors. Connor Sadzeck (Illinois) is knocking on the door of the majors, as he is on the Rangers 40-man roster at AA Frisco. With that sinking fastball, slider and change, and a good ability to mix them all, the Wisconsin native is intriguing to me. He’ll take his lumps -Tepesch and Eickhoff did during their year here – but pitching coach Jose Jaimes likes his ability to shrug off those lumps. That’s half the battle as a pro.

 

Defensive gems:

Forbes again, (see the Cody section above)

Cody and Perez: With Martin on first and one out, the Legends sent the speedster on a hit-and-run and the SS Yrizarri covered the bag. Lee put the ball in play and Forbes made a charging play towards the mound to collect the roller and throw to first. With Forbes and Yrizarri both in motion, third base was uncovered. Aware of the situation, Cody sprinted towards the open bag. 1B Yanio Perez, who’s not been reliable with infield throws, hit Cody on the run to third and Cody arrived in time to place a tag on Martin. The play kept the Lexington uprising in the third to just one run.

Jenkins: After a couple of poor performances in key spots on Saturday, his throw to nab Melo at the plate in the eighth was huge.

 

Forbes ready to fly?:

The dude picks it at third every single game. He’s made adjustments at the plate and is back smacking nearly everything hard. The K-rate has dropped. Is it time to allow him to ride the bus to different cities in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region? Not sure what else he needs to do.

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.

Legendary Rally Sinks Crawdads 4-3

It’s been a tough season for the Hickory. The pitching staff has taken its lumps. The defensive play has been iffy. There has been time the two aspects have performed well, but the bats went silent.

Friday night had all the makings of a good team win. Solid pitching, nearly flawless defense, and timely hitting added up to a 3-1 lead. And then the ninth…

Taking advantage of a key error, the Lexington (Ky.) Legends tallied three runs in the top of the ninth and claimed a 4-3 victory over the Crawdads in front of 3,025 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Legends (30-31) snapped a three-game losing streak and picked up their first win during a weeklong road trip after being swept at Columbia (S.C). The win was also the first of the season after trailing in the eighth inning. Lexington was 0-25 in such games before Friday’s rally.

Meanwhile, Hickory (23-38) dropped its third straight, all at home where the Crawdads are 11-21. It was first loss (14-1) when leading after eight innings.

 

What happened?:

Crawdads starter Matt Ball held the Legends in check for six innings and Nick Dignacco added two more solid innings to help get the Crawdads to the ninth with the lead.

Ball allowed one run on seven hits and struck out ten before Dignacco tacked on three Ks over two scoreless innings.

Meanwhile, the Crawdads put up two runs in the second against Andre Davis. With two outs, Jose Almonte singled and Yeyson Yrizarri doubled him in. Anderson Tejeda reached on an infield hit and Yrizarri scored when second baseman John Brontsema’s throw to first went into the dugout.

Khalil Lee hit his ninth homer of the season in the third to trim the Legends deficit in half.

Hickory got the run back in the fourth when Alex Kowalczyk singled and came around to score on Carlos Garay’s doubled to the track in center to make it 3-1. And then the ninth…

Rudy Martin and Lee opened the inning with singles to chase Dignacco. Reid Anderson entered to face Angelo Castellano and this was the key sequence of the inning. Castellano sent a 2-1 fastball on a liner to left, which scored Martin from second. On the play, LF Eric Jenkins charged the ball aggressively, but it skipped to Jenkins left and that allowed Lee to go to third and Castellano to second.

Gabriel Cancel atoned for a four-strikeout night with a sacrifice fly to the track in left that easily scored Lee from third and was deep enough to allow Castellano to move to third. With the infield in to try and keep the go-ahead run from scoring, the next hitter, Emmanuel Rivera, hit a grounder to Yanio Perez at first. He made the quick grab of the ball and fired home, but Castellano was able to slide under the tag of the catcher Kowalczyk to make it 4-3.

Anderson pitched out of further trouble, but aside from Yrizarri’s second double of the game with two outs, Gavin Grant had little trouble setting down the Crawdads to close out the game.

 

Matt was Ballin’

With a decent arsenal of four pitches (fastball 91-92, change, curve and a slider I don’t remember seeing last year), I was a bit surprised the Rangers hadn’t given him much of a look in the starting rotation other than as a spot-starter. With Demarcus Evans going on the DL, and Tyler Phillips and Jonathan Hernandez moving to different affiliates, Ball has picked up a rotation spot. The results up till Friday in the rotation have been not good: 14 earned runs in his last 14 innings (three starts) with 7 walks. But the Ks have increased. He had eight in 6.1 innings at Delmarva and posted 14 over the last three starts.

He hadn’t been much of a strikeout pitcher, but more of a groundball hurler. The SAL hit .266 against him last year, but when he keeps his sinking fastball down and throws his secondaries for strikes, he’s tough. Friday was one of those nights.

He got Ks on all four pitches – spotting the fastball on corners for looking Ks. He threw a few changes early to good effect, but started leaving some pitches up.

Lee’s homer was a rope that skipped off the top of the 32’ billboard in right – a true liner. In the fourth, Rivera lined to right, Meibrys Viloria then nearly decapitated Ball with a liner up the middle and Brontsema added a hard-hit single. From there, Ball began to amp up the breaking ball arsernal and K’d both Joe Dudek and Marteen Gasparini on good sliders.

Running out of gas in the sixth – a walk and hit batter – Ball got his final K on a slider to Dudek and later returned to the change for a fielder’s choice.

 

Digging Dignacco

The 40th round pick in 2014 finally returned to action after serving out his commitment to West Point and he’s not messing around. Dignacco has a quick pace and brings an 88-90 mph fastball and a curve that seems to have two speeds. It was especially tough on lefties as a couple of them bailed on the bender. He also got a couple of hitters to chase changeups, with which he used to expand the strike zone to righties looking for the curve to come over the plate.

 

Eerie Yrizarri:

Yeyson Yrizarri was moved to second for this season with most of the playing time going to Anderson Tejeda. Occasionally the two will switch, as they have for the last couple of games. Personally, I like Yrizarri more at short. Cannon of an arm and the range to play the position, I thought he made the position look easy last year and continues to do so this year. The issue of him taking his time to make plays has seemed to vanish this season.

One such play on Friday showed his prowess at the position. In the second, Brontsema hit a grounder that seemed destined for a single to center. Cheating up the middle prior to the pitch, Yrizarri fielded the ball to the first-base side of the bag at the cut of the outfield grass. He quickly twirled and fired a bullet to first for the out.

But there were a couple sequences on force plays that seemed to tax him mentally. In the sixth with runners at first and second, Gasparini hit a ball up the middle that Yrizarri fielded near the bag. What looked like a routine step-on-the-bag-at-second play to end the inning, turned into a throw to first that the speedy Gasparini beat out. One inning later, a similar play occurred when Yrizarri fielding the ball near the bag, but there seemed almost a mindset of, “I won’t mess that up again”. He looked up to Tejeda covering at second and the ball kicked off the glove for an error.

 

Taveras back?:

A 1-for-18 at Delmarva (Md.) last weekend seemed to be a cry for help in the form of time off for the 18-year-old. With Monday’s off day, he got three days of R&R before returning to the lineup Thursday. He looked a little rusty last night, but seemed back on track again. In the first, a 9-pitch AB right-handed AB turned into a hard out to right. He waved through a breaking ball for an out in the third, then in the fifth Taveras slapped a pitch away to the RF corner for a double. Batting lefty in the eighth, he turned on a fastball in and again peppered the right fielder with a liner.

Success in Middle Management: Greenville Tops Crawdads 5-3

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

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

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

 

What happened?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mendez deserves better, but….

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

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

Greenville Rallies, Defeats Hickory 5-3

The Greenville (S.C.) Drive rallied with two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to defeat the Hickory Crawdads in front of 3,625 fans, many of whom spent the 10:30 a.m. matinee in line at the lemonade stand at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Drive (35-23) snaps both their three-game losing streak and the Crawdads (23-36) three-game winning streak. Pending today’s other action in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division, the Drive is guaranteed at least a three-game lead with 11 games to play in the first-half title chase. Columbia (S.C.) already defeated Lexington (Ky.) today and is three back. Rome (Ga.) will play at in-state rival Augusta this evening. The Braves started the day 2 ½ games behind the first-place Drive.

The loss assured the Crawdads first sub-.500 record for a half-season since the second-half of the 2009 season. Hickory is now simply trying to avoid its first last-place finish since their affiliation with the Pirates ended in 2008. They entered the day two games behind sixth-place Delmarva (Md.). The Crawdads worst half-season record as a Rangers affiliate came in the 2009 second half with they finished 30-40.

 

What happened?:

The Greenville started the game with a single by Chris Madera and a walk issued by Edgar Arredondo (2-3) to Santiago Espinal. One out later, Tyler Hill doubled to left to score Madera.

Hickory pounced back with two of its own in the bottom of the first against Darwinzon Hernandez. With two outs and the bases empty, Yanio Perez singled and then walks to Ti’Quan Forbes and Alex Kowalczyk loaded the bases. Carlos Garay hit a broken-bat, jam-shot blooper into shallow center to score both Perez and Forbes.

That turned out to be almost the last of the Crawdads offense as Robby Sexton replaced Hernandez in the second and was nearly unhittable in earning his first pro win (1-5). The lefty, a 14th-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2016 out of Wright State, retired the first 11 and 18 of the 20 hitters he faced.

Greenville vaulted ahead 3-2 in the fifth with two runs that came after the Crawdads missed a chance for the third out.  Mitchell Gunsolus doubled and one out later moved to third on Arredondo’s wild pitch. Madera joined him on the bases when he was hit by a pitch. The key play of the inning occurred when Espinal flew out to shallow right. Jose Almonte made the catch and while Gunsolus held at third, Madera, for some unknown reason, tagged up from first and tried to advance to second. 1B Yanio Perez cut the ball off, but his throw to second to cut down Madera was high and the runner slid in safely. Ryan Scott singled in both runners to give the Drive a lead they would never relinquish.

Greenville used a two-out rally for a run in the sixth. Reliever Christian Torres loaded the bases by sandwiching walks to Gunsolus and Madera around a single by Carlos Tovar. Espinal hit a liner that was initially caught when SS Yeyson Yrizarri made a leaping grab. However, the ball tumbled out as he fell to the ground and that scored Gunsolus.

Franklin Rollin hit his third homer of the season in the eighth off closer Stephen Nogosek (11th save). However, Madera returned serve with his third homer of the season to start the ninth and accounted for the final score.

 

Strikes matter:

A missed opportunity for the final out in the fifth aside, the game came down to the ability of the pitchers to throw strikes. When Hernandez couldn’t throw strikes in the first (32 pitches, 16 strikes), the Drive moved quickly to shuffle in Sexton and he was brilliant. He mixed in a few breaking balls to miss bats – especially to Jose Almonte and Alex Kowalczyk – but it appeared he stayed with a fastball that was 88-90 according to the pitch trackers with a few changeups mixed in. Sexton (65 pitches, 46 strikes) moved the ball around well, hit spots and the Crawdads never really made solid contact against him.

Arredondo’s fastball was in the 90-92 range with iffy command and he had difficulty getting any of his secondary pitches (change, curve, slider) over the plate. He finished with just 57 strikes out of 87 pitches through 4 2/3 innings.

Christian Torres walks (32 pitches, 19 strikes) cost him a run in the sixth, though he used his change effectively in getting out of Arredondo’s jam in the fifth.

 

Early-run woes continue:

The first-inning run by Greenville was the 30th time in 59 games that an opponent has performed that feat. Further, Hickory has kept the opposition off the scoreboard over the first three innings just nine times.

 

Center field prospects take the day off:

Hickory’s Leody Taveras – the Texas Rangers No. 1 prospect – had his second straight off day on Wednesday. He had missed only one game this season prior to this week and on the heels of a 1-for-18 weekend at Delmarva (Md.) a chance to rest and regroup could be what is needed for now.

Greenville’s Lorenzo Cedrola – the Boston Red Sox No. 15 prospect – sat out on the heels of getting pulled from Tuesday’s game for not running out a groundball.

 

 

Crawdads Drive Greenville to 2-1 loss

Tuesday night, it was the last place (Northern Division) Hickory Crawdads against the first place (Southern Division) Greenville (S.C.) Drive. So of course, the Crawdads won 2-1 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win was the third straight (23-35) for Hickory and sent the Drive (34-23) to their third loss in a row. However, the loss didn’t harm Greenville in the chase for the first-half Southern Division title. It remains 2 ½ ahead of second-place Rome (Ga.), which lost at Augusta (Ga.). However, Columbia (S.C.) moves to three games out with 12 to play.

 

What Happened?:

Four Crawdads pitchers combined to hold the Drive to seven baserunners and Ti’Quan Forbes drove in both runs, including the go-ahead tally in the eighth.

Michael Matuella retired nine of the first ten hitters he faced before Santiago Espinal hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Espinal stole second and scored when Ryan Scott lined a hard single to center to chance Matuella.

Hickory got even in the bottom of the inning against starter Bryan Mata. Yanio Perez singled with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch before Forbes singled him in.

Mata held the Crawdads in check through the sixth innings as he allowed just the one run on four hits, one walk, and fanned six.

Kaleb Fontenot quelled further damage by Greenville in the fourth and went on to pitch three scoreless. He struck out three and allowed a walk and a hit.

Hickory’s Matt Smoral and Matthew Gorst matched scoreless seventh innings before action for both sides in the eighth determined the final score. Smoral walked Chris Madera to start the eighth and that prompted manager Spike Owen to bring in Reid Anderson. Espinal failed at two sacrifice attempts before Anderson got him looking. Scott then bounced back to the mound and Tyler Hill flew out to right to end the threat.

Gorst retired the first two hitters in the eighth before the Crawdads put together three hits. Miguel Aparicio lined to right, Perez followed with an opposite field liner to right. Forbes then singled to left to score Aparicio.

Roldani Baldwin singled to start the ninth and moved to second with one out on a wild pitch. Anderson then struck out Isaias Lucena and got Mitchell Gunsolus to ground out to second and end the game.

“We haven’t had a lot of those from the standpoint of solid pitching, good defense and timely hitting,” said Owen. “That was a fun game. A 2-1 game, obviously, you want to be on the winning side of it, but that’s all we’re looking for is good baseball. That was a good baseball game.”

 

Forbes back to April?:

Ti’Quan Forbes was a pleasant surprise when he cranked out a bunch of homers and hits to start the season. Then, what seemed like a hitch showed up in the swing in the latter part of April and was it made him late on fastballs. He also swung through a ton of breaking balls.

During the last homestand, Forbes seemed to have an approach of taking everything up the middle and away and was able to pick up the breaking pitches better, but was still able to stay on the fastball.

Mata chewed him up with breaking pitches (looked like sliders) in the second for a strikeout. In the fourth, Forbes waited back on the curveball and bounced it along the line and past third. In the eighth, he sat dead-red and ambushed a fastball to left.

He now has a six-game hitting streak (8-for-24). Over a longer stretch, he has hits in 15 of the last 18 games, five of those with two hits. More importantly for him, he has just 10 Ks in that stretch over 69 plate appearances (14.4%). Forbes whiffed 27% of the time in April. He still needs to work the occasional walk, but he’s seeing the ball better and making contact.

 

Matuella no-match for the Drive:

The Rangers pitch trackers had him at 96-98 mph and most of his secondaries were changeups. There seemed to be a few sliders mixed in, but I was told they were changes. He needed only 38 pitches (27 strikes) to get through the third and so having him go to the fourth seemed to be an easy call. The first sign of trouble got him pulled.

“He had a good fastball and threw some changeups,” Crawdads manager Spike Owen said. “He’s still on a pitch limit and once action started happening in the fourth, we went ahead and went to the pen.”

As good as his stuff is, whether Matuella is tiring or hitters are adjusting to him, the few times he faces the lineup the second time through the order, he is getting hit. Both hits tonight came the second time through the order and both were smacked hard. He’s faced the order a second time in four starts and thus far hitters are 6-for-15 (2 Ks) with two doubles, a hit batter and a sac fly. There are adjustments to be made on Matuella’s part as to what he offers the hitters.

 

Fontenot signaling he is ready to become a DEWD?:

He throws 91-92 with a slider, change and curveball. When he is on, the fastball is spotted well and he can befuddle hitters with the breaking stuff. His 12.54 Ks per 9 innings (52 Ks in 37.1 IP this season) is the fifth best among SAL relievers.

Over the last four outings, he has allowed two hits, hit two, walked three and struck out 14 over 11.2 innings.

“Fotenot’s been outstanding all year,” said Owen. “He can flat out pitch. He throws harder than you think and he can put it where he wants. He’s got a good changeup and slider he can throw at any time in the count, so he’s able to keep them off balance. He’s not afraid to throw an offspeed pitch behind in the count. He’s been really good.”

 

Smoral and Anderson:

Smoral’s fastball was at 85-87 with iffy command which led to two walks of the five hitters he faced. He was able to get the slider to miss bats and it accounted for the lone K. His delivery out of the stretch is glacially deliberate and it led to his removal Smoral walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth with the game tied.

“He could’ve went more, but his situation was once he walked the leadoff guy, we wanted to be able to control the running game better,” said Owen. “He’s slow to the plate and we didn’t want to ask him to do something he’s not comfortable doing right now.”

The outing for Anderson was a needed one, as tonight was just the fourth scoreless outing in 13 appearances (2 starts). He attacked the strike zone with the fastball, pounding 17 of his 23 pitches for strikes.

“I’m happy for him and I hope he can gain some confidence off that in a tight game, coming in with a go-ahead run at first base and doing what he did,” said Owen. “Then once we took the lead, coming back and attacking the strike zone.”

 

Prospect benched:

The Drive entered Tuesday night’s game on the heels of two straight shutouts, the last a 17-0 pasting on Sunday by Charleston. So, when Drive CF Lorenzo Cedrola (Red Sox No. 15 prospect) jogged unenthusiastically to first on a 4-3 grounder to start the game, it was not received well. 1B coach Wilton Veras gave him an earful as he returned to the dugout and manager Darren Fenster took out the lineup card in the third-base coach’s box.

Surprisingly, Cedrola took the field in the bottom of the first, though he did not return for the second.

 

What’s the Mata?:

The 18-year-old from Maracay, Venezuela has impressed in his first three stateside starts. The Red Sox No. 27 prospect has now 16 Ks in 15 innings with 11 hits and five walks allowed. On Tuesday, he was clocked in the 90-92 mph range with which he was able to paint the corners for punchouts. Add in a curveball that had some bite and found the strike zone, Mata was tough to solve at times. However, the curve could be loopy and Forbes was able to wait on one long enough for an RBI single in the fourth.

From what I saw, there’s a lot for Red Sox fans to be excited about.

Series Preview Hickory at Delmarva (Md.) June 1-4

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (20-33, 7th place South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds (Baltimore Orioles) (21-30, 6th place Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads make the trip to Salisbury, Md. to take on the Delmarva Shorebirds in a four-game series.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Thursday – Saturday 7:05 p.m., Sunday 2:05 p.m.

Promotions: Thursday – Thirsty Thursday. Friday – Orange Friday Jersey Draw String Bag Giveaway. Saturday: Post-Game Fireworks. Sunday – Strike Out Hunger Sunday (Bring 2 canned food items and get an upper-reserved ticket for $3

TICKETS: $8 Upper Reserved for children, seniors or military, other tickets $9-14. Add $1 on game day.

Where is it?: From U.S. 13, takes U.S. 50 East toward Ocean City. Turn right onto Hobbs Rd.

PARKING: $4.

CONCESSIONS: Hot Corner Grill, Scoop It Up, Angus Stand, Bird’s Eye Café, Sweet Shop, Dip N Dots, Pizza Stand.

 

PROBABLES (Hickory/ Delmarva):

Thursday: LHP Sal Mendez vs. LHP Alex Wells

Friday: RHP Matt Ball vs. RHP Lucas Humpal

Saturday: TBA vs. LHP Travis Seabrooke

Sunday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. LHP Zach Muckenhirn

 

Recent Series History: The Crawdads went 7-6 against the Shorebirds in 2016, including a 3-2 record at Purdue Stadium. Hickory has dominated the series since the affiliation with the Rangers began in 2009 with a 65-41 overall record. The Crawdads are 29-23 in Maryland. Hickory has won every season-series against the Shorebirds since 2009, except for the 2015 season when Delmarva edged Hickory 5-6.

 

About the Crawdads:

Hickory enters the series on a 3-9 skid, which includes a 2-5 homestand that ended on Wednesday… The SAL-worst pitching staff took a hit on the roster when No. 1 starter Jonathan Hernandez and arguably its best reliever Tyler Ferguson were promoted to High-A Down East. Hickory finished May with the league’s worst ERA for the second straight month. The Crawdads are last in the SAL in ERA (5.36), WHIP (1.51), hits allowed, runs allowed and earned runs allowed…  The hitters found it rough going against the Intimidators, scoring five runs in three games. The lone win of the series with Kannapolis was a 1-0 win. As a team, the Crawdads showed improvement in May (.268/.314/.381) compared to April (.235/.306/.394). Hickory is tied for second in HRs (43), but next to last in walks received. Two big bats return to the lineup as 1B/ OF Yanio Perez (finger) and 2B Yeyson Yrizarri (hamstring) recovered from injuries.

 

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. After 4 straight games without a hit, Taveras has hits in eight of the last nine games, including the last five, during which he has not struck out. He is 11-for-34 in that stretch with a double and a triple.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. After a .204/.257/.347 May at the plate and 9 errors in the field, he is ready to turn the page of the calendar. Though he remains fourth in the SAL in Ks (62), the rate he is striking out has decreased. After whiffing at a 40% rate in April, that dropped to 29% in May.

LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Is 4-for-25 (.160) over the last 8 games and is at .186/.278/.271 in 21 games. However, he has making adequate contact with a 20% K rate to go with seven walks in 79 plate appearances.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. Back after missing over a week with a finger injury, Perez looks to pick up where he left off. He leads the SAL in slugging (.621) and OPS (1.050) and is second in batting avg. (.357) and on-base pct. (.429).

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Missed five days from a hamstring injury. Went 0-for-5 in his return on Wednesday. Posted a .321/.357/.385 slash in May.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Has a hit in each of his last four games and poked two of his three homers during the homestand.

 

About the Shorebirds:

Managed by Damon Minor in his seventh season (397-488) with the Shorebirds over two stints… The Shorebirds return home after taking two of three at first-place Hagerstown and splitting a four-game series at Lakewood (N.J.)… Offensively, Delmarva has struggled to find runs. The Shorebirds have scored two runs total in their last four losses. The strike zone has been a problem as Delmarva is strikeouts and third from the bottom in walks.

 

Prospects to watch – Delmarva:

LHP Alex Wells: (No. 15 MLB.com, No.25 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. Named an Orioles organizational all-star by MLB.com in 2016. Was roughed up in his last outing on May 26, but much of it came as the result of five errors, which led to eight unearned runs. With the exception of a six-run outburst on May 15 (three homers allowed), Wells has given up two or fewer runs in all other eight starts.  Has 35 Ks to just 8 walks over 44.1 innings. His 2.01 ERA is seventh in the SAL.

LHP Zach Muckenhirn (No. 26 MLB.com, No. 28 Baseball America) 11th-round pick in 2016 out of North Dakota. Despite allowing 17 hits over his last two starts, he has allowed just four earned runs over those 12 innings. SAL have hit him at a .314 clips this season. His 70 hits allowed are a SAL high.

Series Preview: Hickory at Kannapolis May 18-21

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

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

 

If you plan to go:

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

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

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

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

PARKING: All parking is $2

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

 

Probables (Hickory/ Kannapolis):

Thursday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP Chris Comito

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

Saturday: RHP Demarcus Evans vs. RHP Jimmy Lambert

Sunday: RHP Matt Ball vs. RHP Yosmer Solorzano

 

Recent Series History:

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

 

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

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

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

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

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

 

About the Intimidators:

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

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:

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

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

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

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

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

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

Progress Report: An Interview with Crawdads Hitting Coach Kenny Hook

 

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

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

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

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

Perez Taveras - Lin

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Leody Taveras - Lin vs Columbia

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Yanio Perez Spike Owen - Lin

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Ti'Quan Forbes at 3B - Lin

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Anderson Tejeda leg kick - Proffitt

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

 

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

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

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

Yeyson Yrizarri at 2B - Proffitt

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

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

 

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

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

Eric Jenkins - Lin

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

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

 

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

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

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

Ricky Valencia 2 - Lin

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

 

Kowalczyk is taking advantage of his opportunity.

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

 

 

What do we look for in Aparicio?

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