About the only time most fans pay attention to Hickory Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes is when he takes an easy, often calm stroll from the dugout to the mound to give a mid-inning word of instruction to one of his pitchers. It comes usually in a moment of crisis during a game.
Now in his fourth season as the team’s pitching coach, Jaimes has become an invaluable member of the Texas Rangers’ player development staff.
Since joining the Crawdads in 2016, the native of Caracas, Venezuela, has had a hand in developing some of the Rangers’ best pitching prospects, many of which are now at the upper levels of the minor leagues.
The last two winners of the organization’s Nolan Ryan Award, which is given to the club’s minor league pitcher of the year, were under Jaimes’ tutelage. Kyle Cody, currently the Rangers’ No. 28 prospect, won the 2017 award. Tyler Phillips, the No. 13 prospect, took the 2018 award. The Rangers’ minor league reliever of the year last season, Demarcus Evans, also pitched for Hickory last season.
Other current top-30 prospect that have pitched for Jaimes at Hickory include current Crawdads pitchers Hans Crouse (No. 1) and Ronny Henriquez (30), as well as former students Joe Palumbo (7), Jonathan Hernandez (8), C.D. Pelham (15), AJ Alexy (20) and Evans (24).
The pitchers come to Hickory at an vital stage of their development stage. Coming from seasons that range anywhere from 22 games in high school (plus any summer ball) to 50-60 in college, the 140 games at the Low-A level is a big jump. Jaimes said that his work is an important part of helping young pitchers not only manage the workload, but also figure out what does and doesn’t work.
“I think it’s a really important year for these guys,” Jaimes said. “And I feel like I can help to get on track on what to expect in a full season and all that. I feel like it’s a good fit for me.”
Jaimes’ season starts in March at Arizona when he begins to get a look at the group that will travel to Hickory.
“I try to get to know them and what they like to do on the field,” Jaimes described. “And get to know their routines, know what works for them.”
As they come to Hickory, he consults with each of the 13-16 pitchers and lays out a plan for each one for the season.
“Sometimes I’ll give a suggestion,” Jaimes said. “But at the end of the day, they’re the ones making the decision. ‘That isn’t working for me,’ or other stuff they’re doing in their routines, things like that.”
Occasionally, Jaimes’ suggestions are heeded. Other times, they are ignored. Ever the patient teacher, Jaimes said that there are moments he will allow the player to fail.
“You’ll always get that guy that wants to do their own things,” he said with a chuckle. “Sometimes you’ve just got to let it go until they can’t handle that. Then, they realize that they need to listen a little more.”
There are those moments, however, that Jaimes sees more in the pitcher than the pitcher sees in himself. Evans, who currently pitches at High-A Down East, admits to being one of those players.
“He always told me for the last two years that my stuff was elite,” said Evans, who struck out 66 batters and walked six in 33 innings during the second half of 2018. “But I never really believed in myself until everything changed around last year.”
Jaimes has begun seeing some of the fruits of his labor as a couple of his former players have started to trickle into the majors. From the 2016 team, Erik Swanson made his debut with Seattle this season. Jeffrey Springs, also from that 2016 team, was called up to Texas a year ago.
But to this point, it is Pelham that has made Jaimes most proud. The left-hander struggled at the start of 2017, then became the team’s closer during a stretch run in the playoffs. A year later, Pelham got his first major league promotion.
“It kind of almost made me cry,” Jaimes recalled. “Because I know how hard he worked and I know how much patience he had with the process. Sometimes, he tried stuff and it didn’t work. But he gave his best effort.“
Like anyone else in baseball, Jaimes, who pitched for the Rangers at short-season levels for five seasons, also has major league aspirations. But for now, he’s happy helping others get there.
“I love teaching,” Jaimes said. “I would like to see myself at some point, in a few years, getting into the big leagues. That’s the ultimate goal, for sure. But as long as I have a job and (I’m) doing what I like, I’ll be okay.”
For more of Mark's interview with Jose, visit his site at www.crawdadsbeat.com.
Hickory opens an eight-game homestand Tuesday night with the first of four games against Lexington. Below is a preview of that homestand with daily promotions, top prospects and additional notes.
Tuesday: Lexington (Ky.) at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. (Dollar Dog Tuesday)
Wednesday: Lexington (Ky.) at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. (Kids Win Wednesday, Wine Wednesday)
Thursday: Lexington (Ky.) at Hickory, 7 p.m. (Thirsty Thursday, Thanksgiving in May)
Friday: Lexington (Ky.) at Hickory, 7 p.m. (Postgame Fireworks, British Invasion Night)
Saturday: Greensboro at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. (ZOOperstars! appearance, Salute to Troops)
Sunday: Greensboro at Hickory, 3 p.m. (BirdZerk! appearance, Church Bulletin Sunday)
Monday: Greensboro at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. (Make-a-Difference Monday, Memorial Day)
Tuesday: Greensboro at Hickory: 6:30 p.m. (Dollar Dog Tuesday)
Hickory Crawdads (MLB.com rankings) (Texas Rangers affiliate): RHP Hans Crouse (1), RHP Cole Winn (2), IF Jonathan Ornelas (18), 3B Sherten Apostel (22), RHP Ronny Henriquez (30)
Lexington Legends (Kansas City Royals affiliate): LHP Kris Bubic (9), CF Michael Gigliotti (13), LHP Austin Cox (22), SS Jeison Guzman (24), RHP Jonathan Bowlan (29)
Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate): RHP Steven Jennings (12), CF Lolo Sanchez (16)
Area Interest: RF Brett Kinneman (NC State)
NOTES OF INTEREST
The Crawdads picked up the Rangers’ second-overall prospect during the road trip. RHP Cole Winn, last year’s first-round pick (15th overall) out of Orange Lutheran High School in California, made his first pro start at Greenville (S.C.) last Thursday. He allowed two runs on three hits and two walks while fanning two over three innings...
Also joining the Crawdads was RHP Jesus Linarez. The 22-year-old from Bonao, D.R., struck out five and allowed two baserunners in his initial outing last Friday...
Lexington pitcher C.J. Eldred is the son of former major-league pitcher Cal Eldred, who last pitched in 2005...
Lexington catcher Chase Vallot was a South Atlantic League All-Star in 2016...
The Crawdads will see Greensboro for the first time at L.P. Frans this season as a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate. The Grasshoppers signed a new Player Development Contract soon after the previous contracts were up for renewal last September. They had been affiliated with Miami since 2005 before moving on to sign with the Pirates, who left a 10-year affiliation with West Virginia.