Professional baseball swept Andrew Faulkner more than 2,000 miles from home last year when the South Aiken High School graduate was drafted by the Texas Rangers and sent to the Arizona Rookie League.
Faulkner’s career will come full circle this week when he returns to the area as a pitcher for the Hickory Crawdads. The South Atlantic League Northern Division squad will open a three-game series against the Augusta GreenJackets at Lake Olmstead Stadium on Friday.
“I’m hearing from friends and family and a lot of people telling me they’re coming,” the 19-year-old right-hander said. “I don’t know how many people it’ll be, but I’m looking forward to it. It should be fun.”
Though Faulkner said he always knew there was a chance he could play in the South Atlantic League and potentially in Augusta, he’s reached this point faster than most prospects. Big league teams often send college-age hitters and pitchers to the Single-A level for their first year or two of professional baseball and keep the guys fresh out of high school in rookie ball or at the short-season level.
But teams do send their elite high school pitching prospects to the Sally League, and Faulkner, who signed early enough last summer to join the Rangers’ Arizona Rookie League team, was deemed advanced enough for the early promotion after a strong spring training.
Faulkner posted a 2.16 ERA in 12 appearances last season. He made seven starts and came out of the bullpen five other times and has had the same mixed role this year.
Used primarily as a long reliever, Faulkner has made a few spots starts for Hickory this season and he said he’ll get the starting nod again today against Lakewood.
Faulkner’s occasional fill-in starts and additional role out of the bullpen make it difficult to predict which day he may end up pitching in Augusta.
GOOD INNING: With Minor League Baseball’s primary objective centering around developing prospects, minor league managers often take special precautions in long, extra-inning games to protect their pitchers’ arms from extended work. One position player took advantage of the strategy in a memorable night Wednesday at the Triple-A level.
The Tacoma Rainers and Sacramento River Cats played 17 innings before Tacoma shut down its pitchers and pushed first baseman Scott Savastano onto the mound. Savastano threw a perfect top of the 18th then delivered at the plate, launching a 3-2 pitch out of the park with one out in the bottom of the inning for a walk-off home run and his first career win as a pitcher.
The 5-hour, 32-minute game was the longest in River Cats history.
NO FLUKE: San Francisco Giants pitching prospect Taylor Rogers threw seven shutout innings in a start for the GreenJackets last summer and was named the South Atlantic League’s Pitcher of the Week. A year later, Rogers did the same thing at the Advanced-A level and was named California League Pitcher of the Week.
The right-handed San Jose Giants starter limited Modesto to three hits July 12 to pick up the league award. He struck out eight, walked none and got his seventh win of the season.