Unlike a couple of ballparks to the immediate east and west of Hickory, L.P. Frans Stadium has never been known as a home run haven. The ballpark's reputation could be on the verge of changing, however, thanks to a powerful Crawdads lineup that cleared the fences at a remarkable pace in April.
Hickory moved into first place in the South Atlantic League's Northern Division with a 14-10 record, despite hitting a modest .237 as a club, good for 10th on the 14-team circuit. The Crawdads have made the most of their hits, with a league-best 39 clearing the fences, 15 more than second-ranked Asheville. Leading the charge has been third baseman Joey Gallo, who is tied with West Virginia's Stetson Allie for the league lead with eight round-trippers, while left fielder Nick Williams joins Greensboro's Viosergy Rosa in third place with seven big flies.
"I don't know if it's a power surge so much as the guys doing what they're supposed to do," said Hickory hitting coach Justin Mashore. "Obviously we have a really exceptional group as far as size and a young age. If they get in position and swing at strikes, when they do it right, they're something special to watch."
Joining the list of Hickory's home run hitters are Joe Maloney and Ryan Rua with five apiece. Jorge Alfaro and Lewis Brinson have each gone deep on four occasions, followed by Nomar Mazara (three), Jordan Akins (two) and Luis Marte (one).
"I just think guys are starting to feel comfortable," said manager Corey Ragsdale. "Once it starts to roll a little bit and they get a little confidence, they think they can do anything when they go up there."
The left-handed-hitting Williams has always had a knack for barreling pitches with his bat. He attracted attention in high school while growing up near the Gulf Coast of Texas and was drafted by the Rangers in the second round in 2012. In addition to seeing activity in left field after playing primarily in center throughout high school and last year in the Arizona League, Williams has made the adjustments by discovering how to use his immense gifts to his greatest advantage.
"I've learned that I probably have some of the fastest hands in the game at the plate and I'm just learning how to use them more," said Williams, who is hitting at a .303 clip despite striking out 23 times in his first 76 at-bats.
Gallo's name has been synonymous with home runs in the recent past. He established the Nevada high school career mark with 65 homers before rewriting the Arizona League's record book with 18 last summer after being the 39th overall pick in the 2012 Draft. Gallo also has quick hands with tremendous raw power but tends to swing and miss. He whiffed 35 times in his initial 86 at-bats this season, resulting in a .221 batting average.
"I haven't been performing as well as I've wanted to," Gallo said. "I always want to do better. Even if I'm hitting .400, I want to hit better than .400. I always want to be doing something better."
Rain can't stop Tourists: After game postponements Saturday and Sunday due to rain, the Asheville Tourists resumed their torrid ways by sweeping a doubleheader against Lakewood on April 29 and extending their winning streak to nine games. David Dahl, Colorado's 2012 first-round pick who was demoted due to missing the team flight from Arizona to North Carolina at the end of Spring Training, returned to the Tourists and went 2-for-7 with three runs scored in the twinbill.
Power-ful attack: West Virginia's Josh Bell and Stetson Allie did more at the plate in the month of April than some players produce in an entire season. Bell concluded the month with a league-best 28 RBIs while ranking second with 15 extra-base hits and tying for second with 12 doubles. In addition to tying for the SAL lead in homers and ranking first with 64 total bases, Allie was second with 26 RBIs and a .660 slugging percentage, tied for second with 34 hits, third with 14 extra-base hits and fifth with a .351 batting average.
McCann can: Catcher Brian McCann joined Rome during a four-game series at Greensboro while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. McCann debuted with the R-Braves on April 26 and went 2-for-3 with four RBIs and three runs scored in a 10-6 victory, then doubled in the tying run in the ninth inning in a 2-1 triumph on April 27.