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  • Hickory Crawdads

    PROBABLE PITCHERS (Hagerstown pitchers listed first, records are from 2014 season):

    Tonight: Austen Williams (RH, 4-3, 4.36 at two lower levels) and Ariel Jurado (RH, 2-1, 1.63 in Arizona Summer League Rangers);

    Friday: Connor Bach (LH,1-0, 3.31, two lower levels) and Luis Ortiz (RH, 0-0, 1.29 at Hickory);

    Saturday: Luis Reyes (RH, 1-5, 3.71 two lower levels) and Reed Garrett (RH, 6-1, 4.06 at Spokane, Wash.).

    Sunday: Drew Van Orden (RH, 2-4, 4.30 two lower levels) and Brett Martin (LH, 1-4, 5.40 at AZL Rangers).

    “It seems like all of the guys returning are 20 or younger, but it can be nothing but positive for those guys.”

    The group’s veteran is first baseman Ronald Guzman. Guzman, 20, is in his third season in Hickory. He hit .272 during an injury-plagued 2012 season, struggled with off-the-field issues at times last year, and hit .218 in 118 games with just six homers.

    With Guzman’s 6-foot-6 frame noticeably filled out this spring, Ragsdale’s hoping a mature attitude will show on the field.

    “I think that’s part of the thought process,” Ragsdale said. “He has played great and has been great every day of spring training and since he’s been here.

    “We look for him to continue that into the season and see where that goes.”

    Also back is second baseman Travis Demeritte, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2013. A fast start last year pushed him to a team-high 25 homers, the most in Class Low-A and by any teenager in the minors. But as the heat of summer wore him down, it helped pad a high strikeout total of 171 – sixth most in the minors.

    “I think he’s one of the guys that realized how hard a first full season is, how hard it can be and how tough it can be,” Ragsdale said. “I’m excited for him is to see how he comes out this year and (is) able to handle longer stretches of the season and put some better at bats together.”

    Michael De Leon returns at shortstop. He was a defensive wizardry last season, smashing the club’s single-season record with a .967 fielding percentage (11 errors in 330 chances). Still just 18 and with a bevy of talented shortstops up the Rangers chain, De Leon will likely stay put in Hickory.

    Perhaps the most talented infielder is a newcomer Josh Morgan, the Rangers’ third-round pick in 2015 out of Orange (Calif.) High. Named by Baseball America as the Rangers’ 10th-best prospect, he led the Arizona Rookie league last summer with a .468 on-base percentage.

    “J-Mo is a baseball player,” Ragsdale said of Morgan who will begin the season at third, though he will play other infield spots. “He can do a lot of different things.

    “He knows how to play the game, kind of the intangible type things. He really puts good Abs (at bats) together….

    “He knows how to play the game the right way -- a very good baseball player.”

    Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who had a brief stay in Hickory last year, will fill in around the infield, while catcher Kevin Torres will spell Guzman on occasion at first.

    Behind the plate will be Jose Trevino – a sixth-round pick last June out of Oral Roberts who received rave reviews from Ragsdale about his leadership.

    Jairo Beras returns in right field and is looking to springboard a strong second half of 2014 into a stellar season. After limping to a .201 average in the first half, Beras bounced up to .276 in the second half with 18 extra-base hits

    “With Jairo, can he build off of where he ended last year…,” said Ragsdale. “It was a huge night and day between the first and second halves, and we want him to build off of the second half continue to do that this year.”

    Also returning is Eduard Pinto, who after an early-season demotion to Spokane (Wash.) led the Northwest League with a .335 average.

    Starting in center field will be Jose Cardona and in left is Luke Tendler, a product of North Carolina A&T.

    The pitching rotation will also feature a couple of returnees, including first-rounders Luis Ortiz (2014) and Collin Wiles (2011). Ortiz comes with a blistering fastball mixed with a slider and changeup.

    “He can do a lot of things, especially for a high school kid coming out,” Ragsdale said. “He can do some things with the ball that you don’t see a lot of from high school kids.”

    Also returning in the rotation is Kelvin Vasquez, who missed the second half of the season with a forearm injury.

    Rounding out the rotation is Ariel Jurado, who will start tonight’s opener, Brett Martin and Reed Garrett.

    Highlighting the bullpen corps will be Kevin Matthews – a 2011 first-round selection who missed the previous two years with shoulder surgeries – and South Iredell High product Chris Dula, who Ragsdale said opened eyes in the spring with a heavy sinker.

    Lenoir-Rhyne grabs exhibition win over Hickory Crawdads

    Hickory tied it in the bottom half of the inning. Luke Tendler doubled to right, then later scored on a sacrifice fly by Jairo Beras.

    The Bears responded and took the lead for good in the third inning against Wiles. Brantley Rumford and Matthew De La Rosa opened the inning with back-to-back singles, then advanced a base on Ryan Perkins’ sacrifice.

    Rumford scored on a wild pitch with Vieitez walking on the pitch. Colby Dishmond walked, then David Newcomer singled in two runs to make it 4-1.

    The Crawdads cut it to 4-3 in the sixth inning on an RBI double by Ronald Guzman and a groundout by Travis Demeritte.

    Hickory threatened in the seventh inning by getting the first two runners on, but Tad Ratliff struck out Josh Morgan to end the inning.

    An inning later, the Crawdads had two singles and had a third runner reach on an error. But on Tendler’s single, strong throws by right fielder Will Thompson and Rumford at second cut down Ricky Valencia trying to score.

  • #2
    Major Prospects: 2B/3B Travis Demeritte, INF Josh Morgan, SS Michael De Leon, OF Jairo Beras

    Others to Watch: C Jose Trevino, 1B Ronald Guzman, INF Isiah Kiner-Falefa, OF Luke Tendler

    Notes of Interest:

    Travis Demeritte is unsurprisingly repeating Low-A. The 1st rounder had a very uneven 2014. He hit 25 bombs, but at the same time slashed just .211/.310/.450 and struck out in 36.7% of his plate appearances. Once he shows development in that portion of his game, he’ll be on to the hitter’s paradise of the California League.
    Ronald Guzman is three-peating in Hickory. At this point, it’s not looking good for the first baseman to pan out. The bat speed isn’t what it used to be, the hole in his swing on down-and-in pitches persists and production has steadily regressed. Guzman is 20 years old, and has time to turn his career around, but the returns to this point have not been promising.
    Josh Morgan drew raves from just about everyone who took a trip to the Surprise backfields this spring. Last year Morgan slashed .322/.436/.347 in 56 games between rookie ball and Spokane. Be ready for another big season from 2014’s 3rd round pick.
    Notice two players who aren’t on this roster: infielders Yeyson Yrizzari and Ti’Quan Forbes. In many organizations these two would be on the Low-A squad. This is an example of the Rangers middle infield depth pushing players down a level in the system. Yrizarri is ready for full-season ball from what I’ve seen, and Forbes has the makeup to handle the struggles that would come with the promotion well. Both will be up at some point this year.

    (Ariel) Jurado didn't turn 16 until June 30, so he was one of the younger 2012 signings. He touched the high-80s last summer, but before he signed he was more regularly in the mid-80s. With his skinny 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame, there should be projection for some more velocity, but he stands out more for his ability to throw strikes and use his secondary pitches, including a low-70s curveball and a solid changeup for his age.

    Ariel Jurado throws near 90 with some tail, but his fastball works more off the sharp angle at which he throws it, and that angle causes it to tunnel well with his slider.


    • #3
      Mark Parker ‏@CrawdadsBeat
      Ariel Jurado done after 5: 3 H, 2 HR, 0 BB, 8 K 62 pitches, 42 strikes. Fastball stayed down for most part. Used BBalls to good effect.


      • #4
        Mark Parker ‏@CrawdadsBeat
        Trey Lambert line: 2 IP, 7 batters, 4 Ks, 1 BB.

        Mark Parker ‏@CrawdadsBeat
        Adam Parks Ks 2 in the 9th to seal Crawdads 5-2 win in the opener.


        • #5
          RHP Ariel Jurado is a strike-throwing machine. He allowed two runs, on solo homers, but also allowed no walks with eight strikeouts in five innings for low Class-A Hickory during a 5-2 win against Hagerstown (Washington.)

          This was the first appearance for Jurado, a 19-year-old Panamian [(January 30, 1996 in Aguadulce, PA (Age 19.070, YY.DDD)], above the rookie-ball level. For his budding career, he has allowed 11 walks with 90 strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings.


          • #6
            Tepid Participation @TepidP
            Per @CrawdadsBeat, Jairo Beras was pulled for not running out a pop-up. Coaches were settin' the tone today I guess.


            • #7
              The Hickory radio dude said the pitch f/x guys in the booth next door had LuLu Ortiz at 95-97 on every fastball in the first inning. Having trouble tempering my excitement.

              ALso a reminder, minor league radio is free



              • #8
                2.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K. Roughly 60 pitches, roughly 30 strikes, 5 swinging strikes
                Mostly fastballs with a few sliders, and the announcer called two changeups.


                • #9
                  Scott Lucas ‏@scottrlucas
                  Luis Ortiz pulled after 2.2. …….

                  This scared me…

                  Scott Lucas ‏@scottrlucas
                  Luis Ortiz pulled after 2.2. Walked just 1 of 14 but control lapsed after quick 1st. 4 hits, 2 runs, 3 Ks.


                  • #10
                    From Scott Lucas: The highlight was David Perez, the unfortunately strong rebuttal to those who think Tommy John is a cure-all. Perez barely pitched during 2012-2014 because of elbow trouble and August 2012 surgery. Perez touched 98 in 2011 but was down to the upper 80s when I saw him in March preceding the surgery. He reached 95 last night.

                    It was good to see,” Ragsdale said. “Games like this, somebody’s got to throw. It could easily be a letdown… David Perez is taking steps forward.”


                    • #11
                      Starter today: Reed Garrett (2014 Round 16 draft)

                      VMI baseball SID Brad Salois recently sat down with Reed Garrett, former Keydet pitcher drafted last season by the Texas Rangers. Garrett pitched last season for the Spokane Indians, the Rangers' short-season A ball affiliate, and is now back at VMI working toward his degree before resuming baseball pursuits next spring.

                      Q: First off, with the offseason now having been in full swing for a couple of months, what has your schedule been like recently?

                      My schedule was crazy at first. We ended our last game on Thursday night, got back to my host house, packed all my stuff up, got on a plane at 7 AM Friday morning, touched down in Richmond at 8 PM, packed all my stuff up for school, and then got to VMI on Saturday afternoon. Lately, I have been spending my time in class and working to get my degree and working out with Coby (Cowgill, former VMI pitcher now in the San Diego system). It has been nice being able having someone going through the same situation.

                      Q: Tell me about Spokane - I know the Indians have a sterling reputation in the minor league community, in terms of facilities, community involvement and fan support.

                      Spokane was awesome. We averaged over 5,000 fans at our home games and they were very interested in our success as a team. Our team really played great baseball, winning the first half and getting a post season berth with a majority of first-year guys. We also had some great opportunities for community involvement. We had several camps for the kids, I went to the Children's Hospital with some of the other guys twice, and we were able to reach out and give back to the community on several occasions.

                      Q: Talk to me about your first season as a whole. What did you feel went well, where can you improve, etc.

                      I was extremely lucky to have the first year experience I did. I was part of the starting rotation upon my arrival. I got nine starts as well as six appearances out of the bullpen. I was moved there at the end of July due to the amount of innings I had thrown. It was cool to experience both aspects of pitching. I was able to get six wins and only one loss, but there were things that I found that I need to work on. First pitch strikes is huge in the game and I struggled with that at times. Also, just fine tuning my mechanics to be able to be more repetitive are the two main points I will focus on this off season in preparation for spring training.

                      Q: Tell us about one of two well-known prospects you might have faced…Who has really impressed you and why? Did you face Barreto or Pentecost from the Toronto organization? I know you started your career against Trea Turner, San Diego's first round pick last year.

                      Franklin Barreto from the Blue Jays organization was one of the better players I faced this summer. He is an all-around good ball player, plays defense well, is an offensive threat and he has speed. Definitely a tough guy to pitch to.

                      Q: You had a couple of highly regarded prospects on your own team this year, Jose Trevino and Josh Morgan. Give us a scouting report on them.

                      Jose and Josh are two very good players. Both play the game extremely hard and the right way. They are there early working to get better, both are clutch players, and definitely great teammates. They are there to pick you up when things don't go well and also are the first to congratulate you when you do well.

                      Q: One of your teammates this year was Andrew Barnett, the former Gardner-Webb pitcher. Was that strange to be teammates just two months after playing in a Big South series?

                      I thought it was cool to be with someone that you had played against. I also had Adam Parks, a pitcher from Liberty, on the team too. It was nice to have guys that you've played against there, just so you had some guys to talk to and get to know.

                      Q: Out in the baseball world, what is the reaction when people learn you’re from VMI? Positive, negative, indifferent?

                      Most people think it is cool. I had a teammate from Army this summer and we would just joke about how much harder VMI is than West Point. Most wonder if I have to serve time in the military or what VMI is like.

                      Q: Any stories, amusing tales, etc from the pro game that you want to share?

                      We were part of the greatest game of this year and it might possibly be one of the best performances in minor league history. As a team we completed an 11-inning no-hitter. That was the craziest thing I have been apart in my career.



                      • #12
                        Michael DeLeon, an 18-year-old shortstop, had two hits for low Class A Hickory in a 2-1 win over Hagerstown (Washington.) DeLeon is off to a 5-for-12 start.



                        • #13
                          Right fielder Luke Tendler hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday night, lifting Hickory to a 6-4 win over Hagerstown (Md.) to close a season-opening four-game South Atlantic League series.

                          Jefri Hernandez came on in the fourth inning and used a fastball that consistently hit 98-99 mph on the speed gun to retire all nine batters he faced, striking out four.

                          “I just came into the game and did what I needed to do to help the team out,” said Hernandez through the translation of Ronald Guzman. “I wanted to be consistent and throw strikes.”



                          • #14
                            CRAWDADS: Cruise past Asheville in series opener, improve to 4-1

                            Crawdads starter Collin Wiles – who battled through an injury-plagued season in 2014 – was steady in his first start of the season.

                            The first Hickory starting pitcher to go at least six innings this season, Wiles allowed four hits and struck out one. He used a changeup and a 89 to 92 mph fastball to good effect as the Tourists swung early in the count and mustered mostly weak grounders or lazy fly balls.

                            “That’s the type of pitcher I am” said Wiles. “I have to pitch to contact. I’m not a big velo(city) guy to be able to get it by people.”

                            The Hickory lineup scored in five of the first six innings to put the Tourists away early. Josh Morgan (3-for-5) started the first inning with a single. After stealing second, he scored on a double by Travis Demeritte. Jose Trevino hit his first homer of the season in the second to make it 2-0.

                            Hickory continued its early-season knack of manufacturing runs in the third and fourth innings. Michael De Leon (3-for-5) doubled to left, moved to third on a grounder and scored on Demeritte’s sacrifice fly.

                            In the fourth inning, Eduard Pinto (3-for-4) singled, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error before scoring on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s groundout. Morgan and De Leon followed with back-to-back doubles to tack on another run.



                            • #15
                              I know I'm going to jinx him, but you have to be impressed with De Leon.