East Texas Pro Baseball Players Talk Lockdown & More While Working APEC | Sports
Two of the hot topics surrounding professional baseball right now are the MLB lockdown and the recent announcement of the Class of 2022 for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Nine professional baseball players — most with East Texas ties — were at APEC Monday in Tyler and briefly addressed those issues during their offseason practices.
At APEC on Monday were AJ Minter of Brook Hill (Atlanta Braves), Josh Tomlin of Whitehouse (free agent), Grayson Rodriguez of Central Heights (Baltimore Orioles), Duke Ellis of Central Heights (Chicago White Sox), Derek Craft of Hawkins (New York Yankees), Chuckie Robinson (Cincinnati Reds), Dakota Phillips of Nacogdoches (Evansville Otters, independent), Zak Jordan of Gilmer (Garden City, independent) and Michael Slaten of Nacogdoches (Sioux City, independent). Tyler’s Parker Bates (Kansas City Royals) and Hudson’s Riley Smith (Arizona Diamondbacks) are both training at APEC in the offseason but couldn’t be there Monday.
Regarding his thoughts on the lockout, Tomlin, a 12-year MLB veteran, had a quick response.
“I have several thoughts on the lockdown,” Tomlin said, “but right now it’s just one of those haste and wait like a rain delay. It stinks a bit from the fans point of view. It’s not an ideal situation for the fans and for the players either. It’s a negotiation tactic owners have been using for years. I hope they find a solution so that we can get out of this as soon as possible and get baseball going again.
While currently a free agent, Tomlin was a member of World Series champion Atlanta Braves last season. Also on the Braves was Minter, who made three World Series pitching appearances.
“As I keep telling everyone, the No. 1 goal is to get on the field, start the season on time, and get to spring training on time,” he said. said Minter. “At the same time, you have to stay ready.”
For minor leaguers like Craft, the lockout has no direct effect at this time.
“That’s one of the benefits of being a minor leaguer,” Craft said, “that there’s not a lot, is not having to worry about everything that’s going on with the MLB Players Union and the owners I have the advantage of being able to block that out and just work to get better every day.
Regarding the Hall of Fame, Craft and Minter made brief comments.
“To be honest, I missed it,” Craft said. “I worked with the high school basketball team in Hawkins (where his dad, Mike, is the head coach), and I didn’t even know the ad came out until some of the players from high school are starting to ask me what I was thinking.. Kudos to the guys who made it. I know there’s been a bit of controversy about the guys who didn’t make it, but I know they’ve all had great careers, regardless of the storylines surrounding some of them. But congratulations to these guys. I looked up to a lot of these players.
“David Ortiz, he means so much to baseball, on and off the field,” Minter said. “I guess there’s not much I can say. I feel like the voting system needs to change a bit, but at the same time, to be in the Hall of Fame, you have to earn it, you can’t give it away. I wish some of the guys had come in, but at the same time you have to accept the results of the Hall of Fame vote. I grew up watching these guys. They were your heroes. It’s heartbreaking because some of these guys don’t make it into the Hall of Fame, and you feel like they were Hall of Famers to you growing up. But like I said, it’s earned, and you have to earn it. It really is a special group of players.
Craft is coming off his fourth year in the minor leagues, finishing with a 3.68 ERA and 57 strikeouts in stops at Single-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley.
“I don’t know where I’m going to end up this year,” Craft said. “It’s one of those things where I really can’t control it. I just have to focus on what I can control, which is myself and getting better every day. Wherever they end up placing me this year, I’m just going to do my best and see how far I can go.
Another player who just completed his fourth year of professional baseball is Rodriguez, who is ranked as the top pitcher in MLB and 8th overall.
“It’s definitely a big accomplishment, but I’m trying not to focus on those awards or accolades or whatever you call them, but ultimately just on my way to the big leagues,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously the goal is to start the season in the big leagues, but if not, I’ll probably be in Triple-A.”
Rodriguez was 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA and 161 strikeouts in saves at High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie.
Ellis — Rodriguez’s former high school teammate and the son of Bullard head baseball coach Robert Ellis — just completed his first professional baseball season at High-A. He finished with a .200 ERA, four home runs, 18 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.
“For me, this year has been kind of a grind,” Ellis said. “I was injured for eight weeks at the end of the season. It was a big learning curve for me. I really had to take care of my body throughout the year. If I could do that , I would have a full year and that would be fine.
Las Vegas Raiders safety and Tyler Best Preps 2019 speaker Kavon Frazier were also there Monday as his company recently purchased a partnership with APEC.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Frazier said. “It’s special to be part of the APEC family.”