JP Crawford Hits 2 Run Homer in 2015 Clearwater Threshers Debut

JP Crawford, 20 from Lakewood California,  was the DH today in Clearwater as he ended his stint on the DL for an oblique injury.

Crawford, had 3AB, 2 R, 2H, 1HR, 3RBI, 1BB, 1SO and was HBP, giving him a .667 average for the day.

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Road Trip: Watching the Lakewood BlueClaws on the Road in Savannah Georgia

If you have been reading our blogs for a while, you will remember that Baseball Ross and I have become unofficial “American Parents” to a few of the young Dominican players, two of which are currently on the Lakewood BlueClaws roster. The first weekend in May, the BlueClaws made their trip to the most southern team in the South Atlantic League, the Savannah Sand Gnats.

Savannah’s Grayson Stadium is a beautiful, old stadium, reminiscent of the Williamsport Cross Cutters’ Historic Bowman field.

Grayson Stadium
Grayson Stadium

We were in town for three games of the four-game series. We drove seven hours each way to get there, and it was so worth it. The BlueClaws won all three games we attended and only dropped the final game of the series.

Our “baseball son” Ranfi Casimirio, a RHP, pitched the first game.

Ranfi Casimiro
Ranfi Casimiro

Casimiro led the team to a 2-1 win over the Sand Gnats, the Mets Low-A farm team. Casimiro went five shut-out innings to increasing his record in his last two starts to 12 innings of allowing only one run. He executed four strikeouts in this five inning start. When he walked off the field at the end of the fifth, the BlueClaws were ahead 1-0.

The  Sand Gnats tied it up in the sixth when BlueClaws reliever Alexis Rivero gave up a run, but the Threshers would win it with a run in the top eight with the help of a wild pitch after a double by Carlos Tocci. Matt Hockenberry, who has held the opposition scoreless in his five appearances this season, recorded the save.

Saturday night, RHP Chris Oliver pitched the team to a 4-0 victory, striking out seven over seven innings. Carlos Tocci-CF went 3 for 4 and had stolen bases. Rhys Hoskins-1B went 2 for 4 including a double and 2 RBIs. Reliever, RHP Jesson Therrien, pitched the last two innings to preserve the shut out.

Sunday afternoon, our other BlueClaw baseball son, Elniery Garcia, a LHP, pitched.  Garcia surrendered three runs in six innings, still a quality start and he got the win. His Clayton Kershaw-esque curve ball helped him to strike out six including four in the first two innings. Later, he used his sinker to induce two infield ground ball double plays in the outing.

Elniery Garcia
Elniery Garcia

In the nine innings of relief in the three games I saw the bullpen has given up only two runs. Closer Matt Hockenberry got his sixth save of the season on Sunday,  but gave up his first run of the season.

One thing I noticed this weekend, in addition to the BlueClaws games I’ve listened to on “Tune In Radio” is that Carlos Tocci is a target. Unfortunately the opposing teams in the South Atlantic League are “head hunting” Tocci.  Already this season, he has been hit by a pitch three times but that is not the whole story. Friday night in the ninth inning he had to jump out of the way with an up and in pitch.  Saturday, he also dodged a pitch. Sunday in the first inning he had to do duck out of the way with a ball aimed right at his head by Sand Gnat pitcher Martires Arias. The plate umpire then warned both teams that the next hit batter would result in the ejection of the pitcher.

Carlos Tocci dodged a pitch Friday night.
Carlos Tocci dodged a pitch Friday night.
IMG_2800
Carlos Tocci ducks and narrowly misses being struck in the head by a pitch Sunday afternoon

Three games in three days and the BlueClaws won all three. We were lucky that we got to see both of our baseball sons get to pitch–and win. We also were lucky enough that they each were “charting” the game (pitchers will write down the pitches, placement and speed of both their team and the opposing team) so that they were in the stands.

The best part of the entire trip was getting to spend a little time with my “boys”.

Elniery Garcia, me and Ranfi Casimiro in Savannah
Elniery Garcia, me and Ranfi Casimiro in Savannah

It made the 14 hour round trip worth while to see them (as well as many of their teammates) happy to see us. I can’t wait to see them again, hopefully in June in Lakewood.

 

 

They’re Leaving on a Jet Plane

I never knew it was going to be this hard. It hadn’t been in the past, but this year was different.

My husband and I have gotten close to many of the Minor League players over the last year and it was solidified by this year’s spring training. I’m not just referring to the boys that we refer to as our “sons”. There is a large group of players who have become friends with us and what happened today when they got ready to leave today surprised me.

I’ve never been hugged/cheek kissed by so many people in one day in my life. It seemed like dozens. The thing that struck me the most was one of the Venezuelan players, Alexis Rivero.  We’ve been just casual friends, but when it came time to go, he came over and asked my husband to take his picture with me. Then he wanted to be Facebook friends. It was so special to me. I never realized how I might have had an affect on them, just by being there.

People wonder why I am so into watching the minor league guys, this is why, they care. They know you because it’s obvious you care because there are so few people there, especially during Extended Spring Training and Gulf Coast League. For GCL there is only a group of about SIX people that are there every single day. It makes it easy to get to know them. To be fair, the games are in the Florida heat, in summer, at noon, but it is almost always the same six stalwart fans there.

One of the cutest things today was my little friend, Parker. Parker is probably my favorite little human on the planet. He’s just amazing. He loves baseball and many of the players know little Parker. Today, when his dad told him they were coming to the Complex because the players were going “Bye-bye”, Parker had to pack his little suitcase (with toys) to bring to the field.

Parker wanted to say "bye-bye"
Parker wanted to say “bye-bye”

We also said goodbye to two of our “sons”, Ranfi Casimiro and Elniery Garcia. Both are going to Lakewood. It was bittersweet. I am so proud of them, but it broke my heart to let them go. I shed more than a few tears as we walked to the car.

We had hoped that we might have had one as our houseguest…not yet..but may be once the season starts there will be some movement and we will have one.

My "son" Elniery Garcia and I before he left for Lakewood.
My “son” Elniery Garcia and I before he left for Lakewood.

And now, Spring Training is officially over.

spring training closed

Closing Time, Spring Training Comes to an End.

As I drove to the Carpenter Complex Closing Time by Semisonic was playing in my mind. Especially the following:

Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from
Closing time
This room won’t be open till your brothers or your sisters come
So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend
Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

The end of Spring Training is always bittersweet. Some of the guys get promoted and that’s always amazing, some of the guys are held at the same level as the year before and sadly, a few are given their outright release. For me, the releases are especially hard. I’ve known some of these players 6, 7, 8 years and have grown fond of them and to see their dream end always makes a little piece of my heart die.

This year, it was the release of Perci Garner that broke my heart. I’ve known Perci since his days here in Clearwater. I got to know his beautiful son as he spent time around the Complex this spring. When he was released, it hit close to home.

I was also stunned by the release of Kyle Bogese. 24-year old Kyle Bogese was one of my favorite stories of the last year. Bogese, a Trinity University Alumni, went undrafted. He appeared at a “walk-on” tryout held in Williamsport and pitched himself into a contract. I thought that he had been doing rather well considering his short time with the team, however, he was released at the same time as Garner.

It is my hope that they can be picked up by another team looking for pitching, even if it is in independent ball. That’s what happened to Jiwan James. James, an outfielder, was released at the end of last season by the Phillies after spending considerable time on the DL in Reading after abdominal surgery. James first signed with the Bridgeport Bluefish, an independent team, before signing with the Detroit Tigers. As of today, he has yet to be assigned to a team within their organization.

While I was able to talk to my friends and I know where they are headed, there has been no official rosters released as of when this blog was posted, so I’ll have to wait for that. I’m glad that my friends seem to be ok with whatever their lot was and they all realize that a lot of changes happen in the first month or so of the season as some players’ dreams will end as they cannot play at the level they are assigned, some are injured, some players over perform and get promoted.

Personally, I think that with the large number of older pitchers that were picked up in the off-season, there may be a few that do not measure up or become injured which will allow some promotion of the younger pitchers. It’s inevitable and I know that those younger players are hungry to progress.

That’s why I try to focus on the last line of the section of Semisonic’s “Closing Time”… Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…

spring training closed

Aaron Nola’s First Phillies Spring Training Game

Last summer, I had the privilege of witnessing Aaron Nola’s first professional game when he took the mound for our Clearwater Threshers.  It was a rainy, stormy night…and you can read about it HERE.

It was a solid start for the pitcher out of LSU who had just completed the College World Series. I thought that he may have been a bit tired, since he had pitched the entire college season and was starting basically a second season pitching for the Threshers. I remember that he did “Okay” but thought that fatigue might be a factor in his performance last season.

Paramount in my mind yesterday, was getting a chance to see Nola pitch in a game with a fresh arm. Only then, could I get a more accurate feel for the kind of pitcher he is.

It had been announced he would start but when I got to the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon was warming up. I was disappointed because my only reason for going to the game was to see Nola. I very nearly left as the weather was turning for the worse. The temperature was dropping and living in Florida, I knew this meant a storm was coming.

However, my perseverance was rewarded as Nola started warming up in the bullpen.

Aaron Nola warming up in the bullpen.
Aaron Nola warming up in the bullpen.

 

I was excited to see him pitch. He looked much more relaxed and frankly, more powerful than he did in his short stint with the Threshers last summer.

I was impressed.

Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola

He went into the game to face the dreaded Yankees, including Alex Rodriguez. After the game, A-Rod was quoted as saying, “Good arm, power slider, power change-up. I think he has a bright future.”

After his performance:  3IP, 5H, 4K, 0W, I think A-Rod might be onto something.

 

Garcia and Harang a Study in Contrasts

Yesterday the starting pitchers for the A ball games really gave me pause. It shows, in my opinion, the hope and hopelessness of the Phillies organization.

You can contrast the youth, health and play of just these two players and get a sense of what is wrong with the front office’s plans.

Garcia and Harang
Elniery Garcia and Aaron Harang
garcia and harang
Elniery Garcia and Aaron Harang

Garcia is 20 and in the peak of health.   Harang will be 37 and has already two missed starts this season due to back issues. If you saw my picture from the first day of Spring Training, it’s easy to see that he did not report to camp in shape.

Aaron Harang
Aaron Harang

To me, this is the most glaring problem with the organization, they bring in a high-priced older player with obvious health issues, pay them a ton of money (for Harang it’s 5 MILLION) and then are stymied when they break down.

Contrast that with kids like Garcia, who are in great shape and developing, improving with almost every start, kids that are barely making enough money to get by.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’d rather lose games because a kid is learning how to play at a higher level where they can use the loss to improve their play than to lose because a “veteran” isn’t able to perform at a high enough level.

Garcia is in MiLB camp, which started later than MLB camp, so he hasn’t been “stretched out” as much as Harang…but if you look at their lines, it makes the problems with Harang seem glaring, like the lights of Las Vegas. Both pitched against A-ball teams.

Garcia: 3IP, 1H, 0R, 0W, 2K (both swinging)

Harang: 5IP, 7H, 3R, 0W, 5K

For me, this is what is going to make the MLB season long and arduous…and give me hope for quality minor league teams. The more I think about it, the more excited I am getting for  the minor league season to start. With some of the young players we have, Garcia, Franklyn Kilome, Aaron Nola, Roman Quinn, Dylan Cozens, Matt Imhof, Jan Hernandez, Rhys Hoskins, JP Crawford, Deivi Grullon, and Grenny Cumana we could have some contenders in the minor league system. So if you want to catch me at a game, don’t look for me at Citizens Bank Park.