It’s no secret that the Hickory Crawdads strike out…a lot. A lot, a lot. As of today, the team has 1047 whiffs versus a rather paltry 303 walks. Those numbers aren’t too terribly surprising to anyone who has seen the ‘Dads in person. First of all, they are huge kids. Brinson, Gallo, Mazara, Guzman, Akins, and Williams are all at least 6’3” and caked in layers of sinewy muscles. Jorge Alfaro and Ryan Rua are just a tad shorter, but both might be pound for pound, thicker and stronger than their taller teammates. They all entered the season sushi-grade raw, we knew that coming in, and they’ve all hit the ball over the fence. They’ve hit the ball over the fence in record numbers. But man, do they strike out a lot, and that sorta freaks me out a bit.
One of my easy rules of watching any minor league kids is that they have to hit. And hit. And hit some more. At all levels. Hit the ball. Hitters hit. Everybody’s told me that for years, from Welke to Parks and every scout, coach, and player in between. I understand the mindset of letting kids become comfortable with the knowledge they can do tremendous damage with their bat. They should know they can hit the ball to the gaps, or over the wall, making things happen, but to do so with wanton disregard for the consequences of missing the ball altogether? At a certain point, you also have to learn the game, and learn your own game, right? As the levels of minor league baseball advance, breaking balls spin and dive like shiny bass lures, while offspeed pitches are Funny Cars whose parachutes deploy 100 feet before the finish line. Fastballs are faster and have more movement, not to mention their apparent use of classified-level guidance systems. Oh yeah, and at each advancing level the pitchers’ ability to throw all of their pitches for strikes increases exponentially. That’s why they are advancing too. They can miss bats in a variety of ways. With each advancing level, it gets harder, much harder for the hitters.
This group of Hickory hitters is interesting; they can really sting the ball, but they are just as likely to provide the umpire a brisk breeze to assist him with the sticky North Carolina nights. So, I asked a couple of scouts if we should be worried about high K rates in low-A ball:
“Yeah, it’s really concerning. Any kid that has trouble making contact in low-A is really concerning.” “You’d like to see improvement as the season goes on, but it doesn’t sound like they’re doing that.” “They were so raw, that you knew it would happen, but [shakes head].” “If they can’t make contact at that level, are they going to make contact at the next level?”
-Young scout from an NL team
“I’m the wrong guy to ask. Strike outs in low-A are really, really, really bad. I hate seeing them.” “You have to make contact.” “17 homers, it matters; 57 homers, I don’t really care [about the Ks].” “…but some kids overthink Ks and don’t work the count.” “Teaching approach requires commitment from the club and especially the kid.” “No accountability for Ks is bad.” “Arbitration has affected it too. Homers get you paid, and strike outs don’t matter.” “How many Ks did DiMaggio have like 2 dozen a season?” “I love a 3 run home run too.” “That guy is really fast, he should learn to make contact and use his legs more.” “Tony Gwynn was probably the best hitter on his team when he was 8, 12, 14, 22, 38, now. Wade Boggs, the same.”
-Seasoned scout from an NL team
The young scout looks much newer to the job, but carries himself as someone who has been around the game his entire life. He has, literally, grown up around the game, and he knows that hitters hit. The older scout wears a championship ring and references names like Mackey Sasser, Matt Nokes, and Rob Deer. They’re only two people, but I feel the poll results would have stayed fairly consistent had I increased the sample size. Other scouts were present, and nodding with approval. So are the strikeouts red flags? Maybe not, but they’re definitely not green flags either. Maybe they’re magenta flags. Fuscia flags? Orangey sunsetish flags? Or maybe, because they’re Rangers prospects, our prospects, it’s not the flags that are rose colored. Dammit.
In summary, when my fan bias subsides, I sigh, look at the numbers, sigh again, and mutter “oh crap”... to no one in particular.