This past Saturday night, I was on hand in Hickory to take on my first Crawdads game of the season. The Crawdads are the reigning 2015 South Atlantic League Champions and their current roster is filled with quite a few of the Texas Rangers Top 25 prospects. None are hotter than second baseman Andy Ibanez.
Ibanez was signed out of Cuba after being one of their premier players for the latter years of his teens. Having not played on a professional level since 2014, the Rangers were able to nab him on the cheap at a mere $1.6-million. He came to the states known for a great bat and sound defense.
Ibanez entered the evening as the leading hitter in the South Atlantic League batting a gaudy .392. Thus far he has shown that he has been everything advertised, but it is important to keep in mind that Ibanez — despite the nearly two-year layoff — is 23-years old playing in a league full of 19-year olds with little if any professional experience.
He has a fluid batting stance that is fun to watch. Ibanez -- a right-handed hitter -- stands closer to the back of the box than the front. His hands are close to his body and up near his head, twirling the bat until the pitcher sets and delivers. He plants his toe in the dirt and exhibits little kick when he steps into his swing. This seems to have changed a bit as there is a little more leg in his kick than in earlier footage, but it is still hardly noticeable. His swing is quick, as are his hands, but standing at just 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, most of his power will go to the gaps as opposed to leaving the stadium.
His first at bat was rather impressive, and showed exactly what Ibanez was made of. He stood in the box and reached for one and drove it down the right field line. His bat seemed like it uncorked and simply exploded on the ball. He was all out hustle and turned it into a double. The runner on third was held up, but Ibanez could have had his first RBI of the game.
Ibanez’s second at bat would see him get a single after being almost jammed. He barley got through with his swing and the ball trickled to the pitcher, however, Ibanez would leg out the infield single and advance to second on a throwing error. Tyler Sanchez would sacrifice bunt him home a few plays later.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much action to evaluate the second baseman in the field. Ibanez was once a Gold Glove winning second baseman in the Serie Nacional, so I was hoping to see him flash some of his glove, but there was little, uneventful opportunity in the rain shortened game. It is safe to assume that Ibanez won’t be going anywhere position wise, as it has been reported that his arm strength is somewhat limited for a move any further across the diamond. With fellow Crawdad Yeyson Yrizarri at short and a few options at third, it doesn't make much sense to tinker with what Ibanez knows best. He has shown decent range and has thus far committed just two errors in 76 total chances while turning nine double plays.
What stands out most about Ibanez is his advanced plate discipline, however this could be expected as, again, he is older than most of the competition he is facing. He currently has walked 12 times in his first 82 minor league at bats while striking out a mere 14 times. That kind of eye is certainly going to contribute to a batting average north of .400 early on in a season.
His stat line now stands at .402/.479/.659 with 13 doubles, two home runs and 16 RBI on the short season. He could certainly use some work on the base paths — an unimpressive 5-for-11 in stolen base attempts — but he seems like his stay in Low-A will be short lived. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Rangers advance their young star, and it will be even more interesting to see how he handles playing competition closer to his age and past experience.
What I saw Saturday was a dangerous hitter who made consistent, solid contact in all three plate appearances. At less than $2-million, the Rangers may have gotten quite a deal on a future second baseman.