No team was hotter in June than the Hickory Crawdads. The Northern Division team went 24-3 during the month, including a stretch in which it won 20 of 21, and opened July with three straight triumphs. Combine that performance with a win over Greenville to conclude May and the 'Dads had a remarkable 28-3 stretch.
The rest of July has not been as kind. Hickory lost six straight games during a home stand against Savannah and Lexington and then split a four-game series at Rome that concluded July 13. Part of those difficulties can be attributed to some promotions, the most recent involving outfielder Lewis Brinson, who overcame a quadriceps injury during the first half to hit .335/.405/.579 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs. The pitching has at times been inconsistent, no one more so than Akeem Bostick, who was 2-0 with a 1.27 ERA in four June starts but has allowed a combined 15 earned runs and 15 hits over his last two outings, covering six innings.
"We opened the season with a lot of young guys who were back from last year," said Hickory manager Corey Ragsdale. "Some of our hitters got off to a slow start at the plate, but we received some assistance from some college guys in May and that really helped us turn some things around. In June, we hit our stride as a team and guys came through just about every time we needed them to."
In 2013, the Crawdads established the South Atlantic League record by hitting 178 home runs but also struck out 1,403 times, the most for any team in professional baseball. This season Hickory has made more consistent contact but still has the second-most whiffs on the circuit with 789. On the positive side, the Crawdads are first once again in the SAL with 93 homers and ranked third in runs (520), RBIs (441) and walks (341) through July 14.
Several players are putting together solid seasons. Outfielder Ryan Cordell tops the team, hitting .349/.412/.523 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 86 at-bats. Catcher Joe Jackson, a product of The Citadel, is batting at a .312/.389/.439 clip since he arrived in May and provided some much-needed offense. Evan Van Hoosier from the College of Southern Nevada has also given the lineup a boost while hitting .278/.365/.459 with seven homers and 38 RBIs.
"Our swings have been relatively good as a team and their mechanics have been good," said hitting coach Bobby Rose. "Now we're getting to the time of year when guys start battling some mental and physical fatigue. For many of them, this is their first full season of pro ball. Fighting through the fatigue is a contributing factor to making consistent contact."
The team's top prospect, shortstop Travis Demeritte, has struggled with his consistency by hitting .235 in 277 at-bats but is providing outstanding power. Ranked No. 11 in the Rangers system, he leads the SAL with 19 home runs, five more than the four players tied for second, and is second on the team with 138 total bases.
"Travis is a young kid in his first full year who has a good idea of what he's doing at the plate," Ragsdale said. "He's shown good patience and he does an excellent job using the entire field. He's learning and gaining experience and doing what he can to get better every time he comes out here."
Tourists bring trouble: Asheville won its 12th straight road game July 13 with an 8-2 victory at Kannapolis. Pitcher Johendi Jiminian notched his 11th victory, tying for the South Atlantic League lead with Hagerstown's Nick Pivetta.
Meadows arrives: The Power expected to have Austin Meadows in the lineup in April, but a hamstring injury suffered in Spring Training and a subsequent setback with the ailment delayed his arrival in West Virginia until July 12. The Pittsburgh organization is looking for Meadows to make things happen with the bat. "He needs to be a little bit more aggressive at the plate," Power manager Michael Ryan told the Charleston Gazette. "He's been taking a lot of pitches. We want to try to get him more aggressive at the plate."
Shorebirds look for leaders: The midseason promotions of such college products as Mike Yastrzemski (Vanderbilt) and Trey Mancini (Notre Dame) has Delmarva manager Ryan Minor looking for new players to step up their games. "We can't rely on Yastrzemski and Mancini to come up with three or four hits a night," Minor told Delmarva Now. "[Chance] Sisco and [Drew] Dosch and [Creede] Simpson, those guys are going to have to continue doing what they're doing. They're all swinging the bats well. We've got to get some guys on [base] ahead of them and have guys drive in runs." It was announced Wendesday, however, that Yastrzemski has already been promoted to Bowie.
Drive back on right road: Greenville beat Augusta, 8-5, on July 13 to post their third straight victory and notched their first series win since taking three of four at Hagerstown on June 13-15. The Drive suffered a 16-game losing streak that finally came to a close July 9.