Eric Gonzalez-Diaz, who will begin his third season with the Lake Erie Crushers in May, played in the World Baseball Classic for Spain this month. What makes his situation unique is he’s the only native Spaniard on the team.
Gonzalez-Diaz’s faced the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Yadier Molina, Pablo Sandoval and Elvis Andrus during his WBC appearances. Facing those MLB All-Stars should help him as he prepares for another season in Avon.
“It was an amazing experience for me,” Gonzalez-Diaz said in a statement released by the team. “I learned that if you make good pitches, you can get anybody out, but if you make mistakes, especially against the guys I faced, they’re going to make you pay. As I get ready for the 2013 season, knowing that I faced a bunch of big leaguers, including four All-Stars, I couldn’t think of a better way to prepare.”
Selected by San Diego in the 24th round of the 2008 MLB Draft, Gonzalez-Diaz spent three seasons in the Padres’ minor league system, eventually reaching Triple-A Portland in 2010. He had his finest season in the minors with the Arizona Padres in 2008, going 2-0 with a 1.19 ERA over 13 games.
The right-hander joined the Crushers in 2011, but missed more than half the season battling visa issues. He ended up going 4-1 with a 3.11 ERA in six starts, helping the Crushers earn their second playoff berth in their first three seasons.
Last season, Gonzalez-Diaz made 22 appearances, going 7-10 with a 4.56 ERA. He nearly pitched the franchise’s first perfect game and no-hitter against the Washington Wild Things on Aug. 5, retiring the first 22 batters through eight innings. The Crushers won the game, 1-0.
New Crushers manager Jeff Isom has retained many of the players who helped last season’s team go 53-42, falling one win short of their third postseason berth in four years.
But two players were released Monday — regular center fielder and leadoff hitter Adrian Ortiz and backup middle infielder and North Olmsted native Aaron Klinec.
Ortiz, 26, was a fifth-round draft choice by the Chicago Cubs in 2004 and the Kansas City Royals in 2007, and had an up-and-down season last year. Playing in 90 games, Ortiz batted .246 with four home runs, 31 RBIs, 21 stolen bases — out of 27 attempts — and 51 runs scored. His 21 steals led the team.
Klinec, 23, was a St. Ignatius star that played in 10 games last season, batting .125 (2-for-16) with two runs scored.
The Crushers signed right-hander Dave Dickerson — one of three new pitchers the team added recently — on Monday.
Dickerson, 26, was a 2009 16th-round draft choice by Cleveland out of Nicholls State, and spent the last four seasons in the Indians organization.
The Louisiana native advanced as high as Double-A Akron during his four years with the Tribe. He spent last season with the Class-A Carolina Mudcats, going 5-2 with a 4.38 ERA in 30 appearances (one start). He had one save, 29 strikeouts and 33 walks.
For his career, Dickerson is 10-6 with a 3.64 ERA and seven saves, striking out 123 and walking 104. He was most successful with the 2011 Lake County Captains, going 3-3 with three saves and a 2.45 ERA.
Making it Rein
Rookie left-hander Matt Rein made Crushers history without even throwing a pitch in 2011, becoming the first player in franchise history to have his contract purchased by an affiliated team.
Rein’s professional career came full circle last Tuesday, and he may again get the chance to pitch for the Crushers.
Rein, who spent the last two seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, signed with the Crushers and should compete for a spot on the pitching staff.
Rein, 24, was originally signed by Lake Erie in June 2011 after going undrafted out of Coastal Carolina. He compiled a 21-3 career record for the Chanticleers with a 3.00 ERA, 142 strikeouts and 58 walks. He was only with the Crushers a couple of days before the Cardinals inquired about his services.
The Houston native only made one appearance last season for the Class-A Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League, pitching only one inning. He is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA in 16 career professional appearances (all in relief), striking out 27 and walking 10.
The Crushers signed infielder Anderson Hidalgo, who spent the last seven seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization, and left-hander Del Howell, a former University of Alabama pitcher who was out of baseball last season after spending three years with the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Hidalgo, 24, originally signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as a 17-year-old, but quickly was traded to the Twins. The Venezuela native advanced as high as the Class-A Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League, where he played for the last two seasons.
Primarily a third baseman during his minor league career, Hidalgo is a career .290 hitter with 24 home runs, 224 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. Hidalgo had his worst year as a pro last season, hitting .236 with three home runs and 38 RBIs for the Miracle.
Howell, 25, was drafted out of high school in 2006 by the New York Yankees in the 18th round, but chose to go to Alabama. The Alabama native was drafted by the Brewers in the 15th round in 2009 and advanced as high as the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League.
Howell played for Isom in 2010 with the Timber Rattlers, where he went 3-7 with a 4.68 ERA, striking out 66 and walking 61.
For his career, Howell is 7-18 with a 4.56 ERA in 51 appearances (38 starts).
The Crushers roster stands at 29 players.
The Crushers announced that single-game tickets will go on sale April 22 at 10 a.m.
** Former closer Jonathan Kountis signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays on Feb. 17. Kountis exercised his right to become a free agent to attend some tryout camps a week before the signing.
** Former No. 1 starter Paul Fagan announced his retirement from baseball this week on Facebook after a 10-year professional career. Fagan spent three of the past four seasons with the Crushers.
** The team has not announced any changes to Isom’s coaching staff. The profiles of hitting coach Dave Schaub and pitching coach Chris Steinborn have been removed from the Crushers’ website and neither is listed on the team’s roster on FrontierLeague.com.
** The Crushers are seeking host families for the 2013 season. Any interested parties are encouraged to contact Kim Deanovic at 934-3636 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.