A Look At Futures Past: 2013 Hickory Crawdads
Prospects are great. They have this feel about them like they are innocent and clean from sin because they usually haven’t done anything to piss you off just yet. Prospects are key to any teams success and often a look into the future. Well now I would like to look back at a team that will be vital to the future of your Texas Rangers, the 2013 Hickory Crawdads.
Now you are probably asking yourself why the hell I would want to write about the Rangers Low-A affiliate? Many of my life choices to this point have been highly questionable so why stop now? Anyway, the reason is because the 2013 Hickory Crawdads were special – record breaking special. They broke a few league records and even broke a record that included all other minor league teams in history across every league. That’s what happens when you stick a bunch of extremely talented yet still extremely raw prospects on one team. The Rangers have gained somewhat of a reputation in recent years of letting guys swim on their own before reeling them in coaching them up and making adjustments. There is no clearer example of this than the 2013 Hickory Crawdads.
Just before the 2013 season, Jon Daniels and company had just started trying to inject an influx of power bats into a system that was running dry at the lower levels. The system was just stacked with middle infield depth and some solid arms but were lacking in future middle order of the order bats. That all changed soon after drafting Lewis Brinson, Joey Gallo, and Nick Williams – three boom or bust bats with sky high ceilings but also cavernous-like floors. Accompanying those three in Hickory and making their pro ball debut in the states were J2 bonus babies Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman. At the time, those guys had two of the top three International Free Agent Bonus’ ever. Almost eight million dollars for two Dominican teenagers who couldn’t even buy lotto tickets yet! There have been some whispers that the Rangers spending on the international market during these years is what caused MLB to change their rules in an effort to limit what teams could spend, similar to the amateur draft.
Now, this team wasn’t especially good at winning ball games, they just missed post-season ball by half a game. No, this team was unique in the sense that it was the most all-or-nothing group of batters I had ever heard of.
I’ll start with the good. This team had tons of power and the South Atlantic League (SAL) got to see every bit of it. The ‘dads completely shattered the team record for home runs – which was 135 – and set a new SAL record with 178 breaking the old record set by the 1998 Macon Braves. A huge part of this teams success with the long ball was Mr. Light Tower Power himself Joey Gallo aka #JoeyMuscle, of course I’m the only one who calls him that but maybe it’ll stick. Gallo hit a blistering 40 dingers (38 for Hickory) in 2013 despite missing about a month with a groin injury, becoming the first teenager to hit 40 home runs in a season since Dick Simpson hit 42 in the hitter friendly CAL League in 1962(!!!!). Breaking records is nothing new to Gallo though, he currently holds the Nevada high school home run record with 67 (career) and the Arizona fall league home run record with 18 (season). Oh, did I mention the Rangers drafted Gallo with the compensation pick they got for losing CJ Wilson to the Angles?
Of course Gallo wasn’t the only bright spot in this stacked lineup. With all of the hyped up talent on the roster it was pretty easy for someone to get lost in the shuffle. Especially for a 23 year old second baseman just now making his full season debut after being taken in the 17th round of the 2011 draft out of Lake Erie College who had just moved up to division II baseball in 2008. Most of the prospect publications had written this guy off as an organizational depth guy cursed to an eternity of long bus rides and a constant diet of PB&J and Chipotle. So obviously this guy had to come in and impress in a hurry and boy did he.
Ryan Rua was arguably the best overall hitter on this Hickory squad hitting 29 home runs in 104 games before getting the call up to AA Frisco, skipping High A Myrtle Beach. Rua exploded in 2013 and he surged through the system making it all the was to Arlington in 2014 and starting the season as the opening day left fielder for your Texas Rangers.
After Rua and Gallo, the third best hitter on the team in my opinion was Nick Williams. Williams is one of my absolute favorite Rangers prospects in the system because the guy has tools for days. The Galveston product was projected to go very high in the first round after his junior year but he didn’t put up astonishing numbers and showed absolutely no regard for even a smidgen of plate discipline. For Hickory, Williams put up a disturbing 3.7 BB% in 404 plate appearances. Despite the lack of discipline, Williams was raking while he was at Hickory. Williams had 48 extra base hits and put up an impressive .543 slugging percentage, third on the team behind only Gallo and Rua. With his lightning quick hands and superb bat speed, Williams could become a force at the plate especially if he can fix his discipline issues and refine all of those tools into baseball skills.
Then there’s the bad. You can’t have this much raw young talent on a roster and not expect some growing pains. Along with breaking the SAL record in home runs they also broke the entire minor league record for strikeouts with 1,403 total K’s. The main culprit was Lewis Brinson who was just one strikeout away from the minor league lead and was on pace to break the individual minor league strikeout record for most of the season. Brinson struck out 191 times in 122 games, 38% of his at bats. 2013 was not all bad for Brinson though as he had a 20/20 season (21 HR, 24 SB) and put up a solid slash line while playing great defense in center field. Brinson has cut back on some of those strikeouts, he is now down to around 25%. There is still plenty of time for the guy to figure things out and continue to improve on making contact.
Another player who struggled, although maybe expected, was right fielder Nomar Mazara. Mazara had entered the season as a highly touted and highly paid teenager out of the Dominican Republic. The J2 signing bonus record holder might not have been seen as the best player in that J2 class, not even the best Rangers signee for that matter. Coming out of the Dominican Mazara had been “carefully showcased” and there were all kinds of rumors and speculation but no one expected the Rangers to blow almost 5 mill on this kid and have him as the centerpiece in their record breaking J2 class. The Rangers were aggressive in his 2013 assignment as they usually are with talented prospects, sending him to the South Atlantic league to make his state side debut as the third youngest player in the league. Although Mazara put up a disappointing triple slash line of .236/.310/.382 there was plenty to build off in Mazara’s first full season debut. Mazara also didn’t have such a huge issue with the strikeouts, his 25.9 K% on this team makes him look like Ichiro. Apparently the Rangers saw something they liked in this guy when they signed him as a teenager and it seems to have payed off as Mazara has matured into one of the safest most balanced all around bats in the Rangers minor league system.
2013 was a unique season for the Crawdad’s and while I wasn’t fortunate enough to make it out for a game at L. P. Frans Stadium, I am glad that I was able to follow all the interesting story lines through out the season and it will definitely be one to remember. Unfortunately there was an ugly as well. Jordan Akins was the Rangers third round pick in the 2010 MLB draft – an outfielder out of Georgia, he is your typical Ranger prospect. Uber athletic and toolsy, he is a guy teams dream on breaking through. Akins struck out 129 times in 95 games and only drew seven walks. That is a K% of 35.1 compared to a measly 1.9 BB%. Akins was cut following the 2013 season but fortunately he still had football to turn to. Akins is now a sophmore at the University of Central Florida, playing wide receiver and kick returner for the Knights in Orlando.
2013 Hickory.. F the world.