Former Crowder and current Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes (Colorado) slugger Sam Hilliard entered May having been on a late-April tear in the Pacific Coast League.
In one seven-game stretch, Hilliard homered in six games and drove in at least one run in all seven with 15 RBI overall.
On the season, after 26 games, Hilliard owns a .233 average (24 for 103) with 21 runs scored, eight doubles, eight homers, 28 RBI, 17 walks and 38 strikeouts, and two stolen bases in three attempts. He’s slugging at a .544 clip.
Entering the day Thursday, Hilliard sits in a tie for third with El Paso (San Diego) third baseman Ty France and Fresno (Washington) third baseman Jacob Wilson in RBI. Round Rock (Houston) left fielder Jordan Alvarez leads the PCL with 35 RBI.
Hilliard ranks in the top 10 in homers.
Hilliard leads the Isotopes in both statistical categories.
Hilliard’s next home run this season will match his total from 121 games played last season at Double-A Hartford.
At his current rate, Hilliard will likely make his fourth consecutive midseason all-star appearance, following on honors in the Eastern League (2018), the California (2017), and the South Atlantic (2016).
The Rockies selected Hilliard in the 15th round of the 2015 MLB Draft and he ascended to being ranked among the top 10 prospects in the rich Rockies farm system.
— As a relief pitcher, one bad inning can cause golfball-size hail damage to an ERA.
That’s what happened to former Crowder and current Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes (Miami) pitcher Mike Kickham to start the 2019 season.
In his first outing, against Round Rock, Kickham blew a save and surrendered three runs (all earned) in 1/3 inning, sending his ERA to 81.00.
Over his next six appearances in April, Kickham riddled his ERA down to 4.30 entering May.
Kickham’s last appearance in April was his best performance — no runs on two hits with five strikeouts and no walks over 2 1/3 innings.
Kickham combined with New Orleans starter Ben Meyer and fellow reliever R.J. Alvarez on a five-hit shutout and the trio sat down 12 Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis) on strikes.
On the season, Kickham stands at 1-0 with a 4.30 ERA and 12 strikeouts and five walks in 14 2/3 innings of work.
Kickham, originally selected in the sixth round of the 2010 MLB Draft by San Francisco, had been a starting pitcher for the vast majority of his professional career before New Orleans began utilizing Kickham in relief last season.
— As mentioned before in this space, there seems to be a correlation between success and former Crowder pitchers playing for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs (Boston).
Jalen Beeks, now pitching in the majors for Tampa Bay, first came through Portland a couple years ago.
This season, it’s reliever Andrew Schwaab, who finished April with a 1-0 record, one save, a 0.79 ERA, and 18 strikeouts and six walks over his first 11 1/3 innings.
Schwaab’s enjoying his most success since his early days in pro baseball, when he played in the New York Yankees system.
Schwaab had a rough 2018 season — released for the first time in his pro career. In mid-December, Triple-A Pawtucket picked Schwaab off waivers from Erie (Detroit).
Schwaab, an undrafted free agent originally signed by New York, began his pro career in 2015 and he owns a 16-11 career record with a 3.32 ERA and 37 saves in 46 opportunities. He’s struck out 217 and walked 84 over nearly 200 innings.
Schwaab earned midseason all-star honors playing in the Florida State League (2017) and the South Atlantic (2016).
At his current rate, Schwaab just might earn himself a third, his first in the Eastern League.
— Former Crowder and current Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore) pitcher Zach Matson has had a strong start to the 2019 season, despite his worst outing Wednesday.
Matson allowed three runs (all earned) on one hit but four walks in two innings against the Columbia Fireflies (New York Mets).
Delmarva’s offense, however, delivered 15 runs in a 10-run victory. Delmarva’s three pitchers combined for three hits allowed — one by each — and nine walks.
After four outings this season, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound southpaw owns a 1-0 record and a 3.24 ERA with 11 strikeouts and nine walks over his first 8 1/3 innings.
Matson has a 3-6 career record with a 2.97 Era and 101 strikeouts and 49 walks in 88 innings.
Baltimore selected Matson in the 24th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, not long after Matson wrapped up his playing career at Crowder.
Matson currently pitches in the South Atlantic League, where multiple Crowder players enjoyed success before him.
— Single-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee) pitcher Aaron Ashby has showed the form that made him the NJCAA Division I strikeouts leader in 2018.
He’s also struggled with walks, an issue that bothered him at times during his outstanding two-year career at Crowder.
Take, for example, Ashby’s most recent outing against the Burlington Bees (Los Angeles Angels).
Ashby struck out six and walked five in his 2 2/3 innings of work and gave up four runs, all earned, on three hits.
Ashby’s previous start had been very strong — five scoreless innings and 10 walks and three strikeouts. He lowered his ERA 2.50 after that contest to 4.50.
Milwaukee selected the 6-foot-2, 181-pound southpaw in the fourth round in 2018 and he’s logged a 3-4 record with a 4.12 ERA and 90 strikeouts and 29 walks over 74 1/3 innings so far as a pro.
MLB.com rates Ashby the ninth overall prospect in the Brewers system and his curveball a 65 — players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale and 65 means above average.