After a slow start last season, the Spokane Indians came within one play – a walk-off balk – of winning the Northwest League championship series.
The Indians don’t begin their 2019 campaign for another two months, but players from last year’s team are off to a good start with the Texas Rangers’ full-season affiliates across the country.
Here’s a look at how some are faring a few weeks into the season.
The big righty went 5-1 with a 2.37 earned-run average and 0.947 WHIP, with 47 strikeouts against 11 walks, over 38 innings in eight starts for the Indians last season before earning a call-up to Low-A Hickory after the Northwest/Pioneer League All-Star game last season.
In five starts for Hickory last year, Crouse went 0-2 with a 4.86 ERA and 1.560 WHIP.
Crouse earned offseason honors from Baseball America and MLB.com, ranking on the publication’s and website’s top-100 prospects lists. Crouse came in at No. 73 on BA’s rankings and at No. 85 on MLB.com.
He started this season back at Hickory and has impressed. In three starts he’s 2-0 and has allowed just two earned runs (1.26 ERA) with a 0.349 WHIP – he’s given up a mere five hits and no walks over 14 1/3 innings while striking out 19.
Crouse throws a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, but the difference this season has been a new grip on his change-up, which has allowed him to be more dangerous against left-handed hitters.
The Rangers challenged Terry last year, sending him back to the Indians for his third trip. The parent club wanted to see him become more patient at the plate, shorten his swing and work on his defense.
The “Big Rig” took it to heart and broke out last year for Spokane in his age-21 season. He led the NWL in homers (15) and RBIs (60), hitting .337/.434/.606 over 290 plate appearances in 67 games.
His defense will probably never win a Gold Glove, and with his size (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) he’s not a great runner. But if (when) the National League moves to the designated hitter, that would open 15 more potential jobs for the slugger.
Terry has picked right back up where he left off last season. In 14 games and 55 plate appearances for Hickory, Terry is hitting .294/.345/.647 with four homers, six doubles and 19 RBIs.
The 23-year-old Latz is still learning to pitch – a series of injuries in college led him to be drafted without throwing a pitch for Kent State.
In his NWL debut last season, the 6-2 lefty went 6-2 with a 3.93 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 71 innings in 13 starts for the Indians.
Latz was assigned to Hickory at the start of the season and dazzled, striking out 14 over 10 innings in two starts. He allowed one earned run on five hits and three walks and won both decisions.
He was promoted to High-A Down East of the Carolina League. In one shortened start, he struck out two and gave up an unearned run on two hits and two walks in three innings.
Rodriguez’s time with the Indians was short – but sweet. He replaced Crouse on the roster for the second half of last season and sizzled, going 3-0 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 27 Ks over 24 2/3 innings in four starts.
For Hickory, the 21-year-old is 1-1 and has allowed one earned run on six hits and two walks, with 10 Ks over nine innings and two starts.
The reliever who coughed up the balk that forced in the winning run in the NWL championship series is off to a terrific start.
After posting 12 saves with a 0.64 ERA and 0.776 WHIP with 27 strikeouts over 28 1/3 innings for Spokane last season, the 6-2 Dominican righty was assigned to High-A Down East to start the 2019 season.
He hasn’t allowed a run in his five appearances over six innings, allowing just four hits and one walk, while striking out eight. He gets terrific movement on his mid-90s fastball and shows impeccable control.
Though still young for the level, he could move quickly though the organization if he continues to show back of the bullpen dominance.
Martinez, from Cuba, signed a big international free-agent contract with the Rangers last year after the parent club failed to land prized free agent Shohei Ohtani, who signed with the Angels.
He made his affiliate debut with the Indians last summer and dazzled at times, showing off the pop/speed/defense combo the Rangers admired. He occasionally showed off a propensity to overswing, resulting in high strikeout totals for a leadoff hitter.
He hit .252/.351/.436 in 273 plate appearances with eight homers and 11 stolen bases for the Indians last season.
Martinez opened the season at Hickory and was off to a mediocre start, hitting .250/.295/.400 with three extra-base hits and 12 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances.
That hardly sounds like a recipe for promotion, yet when Bubba Thompson was injured playing for Down East last week, Martinez got the call to move up the ladder.
In two games for the Wood Ducks, Martinez is hitless in nine trips with four Ks.
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