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Looking at the 2021 Hickory Crawdads roster

Taking a look at the preliminary roster for the 2021 Hickory Crawdads of the high-A South Atlantic League

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

The Texas Rangers announced the “Break Camp” rosters for their A ball and AA rosters earlier this week. R.J. Coyle did a deep dive on the roster for the Frisco Roughriders yesterday, and while I am not going to be able to match the depth of analysis he offered for the Roughriders prospects, I am going to talk a little bit about some of the guys on the roster for the high-A Hickory Crawdads.

And yes, it is the high-A Hickory Crawdads. The South Atlantic League, which has long been a low-A league, is now a high-A league, swapping classifications with the Carolina League, which is now a low-A league. Hickory is still in the Sally, so we are going to have to get used to Hickory being the level that Down East has been in previous years, and vice versa.

I’m not going to go over everyone on the preliminary roster — for the full list, you can check it out here.

Looking at the list of pitchers the name that jumps at as the guy we are going to be watching most closely is Ronny Henriquez. Henriquez, a 5’10” righthander who doesn’t turn 21 until June, ranked 15th in this offseason’s Baseball America top 30 rankings for the Rangers. He throws in the mid-90s with a quality slider and a changeup that is making progress, and made his stateside debut with the Crawdads in 2019 as an 18 year old. Henriquez struck out a lot of guys and didn’t walk a ton, but did have a tendency to be a bit hittable. He there been a 2020 minor league season he might have been back at low-A to start the year, but Henriquez did spend some time at the Alternate Training Site last year, and he’s shown enough, it appears, to start this year high-A. Henriquez is, I believe, Rule 5 eligible after the season, so its a big year for him, and it wouldn’t be shocking him to see him get a few starts in Frisco to end the year.

2019 6th round draft pick Cody Bradford will be making his professional debut with Hickory. The Aledo native had a strong sophomore campaign for Baylor in 2018, putting up a 2.51 ERA in 14 starts, but pitched only 7.1 innings in 2019 due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, resulting in him dropping in the draft. Pre-injury he was a nice college starting pitching prospect for the draft, a guy without huge upside but with the possibility of being a back end rotation piece if things fall into place. Bradford’s workload will be monitored, I’m sure, but he’s someone else who, due to his age and relative polish, could get to Frisco this year.

Former first rounder Cole Ragans is also going to be at Hickory. He’s missed essentially three seasons due to two Tommy John surgeries — he was almost ready to start a rehab stint after his first one when his elbow blew up again and he needed the second — and I have no idea what to expect from him.

Justin Slaten is a righthanded pitcher who was the Rangers 3rd round pick out of the University of New Mexico in 2019. He didn’t impress in Spokane in 2019, but he’s generated some nice reviews from Instructionals, and he’ll presumably be in the Hickory rotation with a chance to move quickly if he performs well.

Daniel Robert is a 26 year old righthanded reliever who was drafted as a senior out of Auburn in 2017 by the Rangers in the 21st round. He was a position player who pitched very occasionally for Auburn, but was selected as a pitcher by Texas — however, when they did a physical after agreeing to a deal, they determined his UCL was damaged and he needed Tommy John surgery. Robert did not sign, had surgery, and ended up signing as an amateur free agent with the Rangers in May, 2018. He’s another one of those big, hard-throwing righthanded relievers the Rangers seem to have been collecting in recent years, and he’s worth keeping an eye on.

Avery Weems came over in the Lance Lynn deal. He’s a lefty who turns 24 in June and has reportedly gained some velocity.

Moving on to the position players...

Catcher David Garcia makes his full season debut with Hickory this year. The 21 year old switch hitter was added to the 40 man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, despite his never having played full season ball before. Garcia is considered an advanced defensive catcher, though his bat has been seen as not as advanced. 2019 was a breakout year of sorts for Garcia offensively, though, as he slashed .277/.351/.435 in 208 plate appearances for Spokane. He should have four options, rather than the normal three, due to his lack of full season ball before 2021.

The Hickory infield is interesting and fascinating. 2020 first rounder Justin Foscue will make his professional debut with the Crawdads, presumably manning second base, though he could also see time at third. The 22 year old showed an impressive bat at Mississippi State and earned raves for his makeup, though there were questions about his power and whether he could stick at second, and if that synopsis sounds a lot like Nick Solak, well, it does to me too.

Chris Seise, the Rangers second first round pick in 2017, will try again to get a full season in after missing 2018 and most of 2019 due to shoulder surgery, and 2020 due to COVID-19. The 22 year old has been said for a couple of years now to potentially be the Rangers’ best position prospect, if he can just get on the field and stay on the field. He’ll get a chance to show that the hype is warranted at high-A in 2021. Like Henriquez, he’s Rule 5 eligible after this season.

Finally there is Jonathan Ornelas, the Rangers’ 3rd rounder out of high school in Glendale, Arizona, in 2018. He impressed in his pro debut in 2018, then held his own in 2019 with Hickory. He played all three “real” infield positions in 2019, as well as some outfield, and I am curious to see how he is deployed in 2021. My guess is that Seise will get the bulk of the starts at shortstop, but will also get some time at the other two infield spots, while Ornelas will play primarily third base, but also get time elsewhere.

The outfield has several “oh, yeah, him” guys, players who generated some buzz at one point but who have largely fallen off the radar. Kole Enright was a third rounder drafted as an infielder with a good hit tool, but he’s moved to the outfield now. He slashed .258/.333/.475 for Hickory in 2019.

Pedro Gonzalez came from Colorado in the Jonathan Lucroy trade in 2017. He’s a guy who was advertised as having lots of tools but not having figured out how to put them together, and that’s what we have seen with Texas. He is spending his third year in Hickory, having played for the Crawdads in 2018 and repeated the level in 2019. He’s still just 23, so things could still click, or he could end up with another season of low average, low walks, lots of Ks, flashes of power.

Miguel Aparicio is another guy who has tools but who hasn’t had results. The 22 year old is a lefthanded bat who is a quality defender in center field, but he has never hit as a pro. He spent much of 2018 with Hickory but ended up getting demoted to Spokane late in the year, then slashed .251/.297/.431 in 112 games in 2019 for the Crawdads. There’s still time for him to put it together, but he really needs to show something this season.

And that is the Crawdads. This took longer than I planned — I expected to have this up at 10:00 a.m. We shall do Down East in the near future.