Reno Aces catcher Tyler Heineman, who dabbles as an illusionist, has disappeared from Greater Nevada Field.
The Arizona Diamondbacks traded Heineman to the Miami Marlins on Tuesday for cash considerations.
The Aces took Game 1 of the three-game series on Tuesday in walk-off fashion in a 12-11 victory over the Nashville Sounds.
Dbacks catcher John Ryan Murphy cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Reno on June 2. Murphy’s arrival to the Aces placed four catchers on the active roster, which prompted the big-league club to deal Heineman as a result.
A switch-hitter, Heineman batted.325 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 25 games with the Aces. But it wasn’t his ambidextrous bat that left teammates in amazement and wonder.
The 27-year-old backstop was quite the magician during the Dbacks’ spring training. He displayed 20 different card tricks for players in the clubhouse. Word spread all the way to manager Torey Lovullo’s office, who later asked for a private performance.
Heineman had a few more tricks up his sleeve for his teammates in Reno.
“They’re a pretty good testing audience for me,” he said. “We haven’t done too much of it but I’ll pull it out every once in a while and have a little fun. … It’s basically all card tricks, but there’s some mentalism stuff thrown in as well.”
Outfielder Tim Locastro was one of the participants in Heineman’s performance.
“He had some of us, like myself, just saying, Wow!” Locastro said. “You usually don’t see that kind of stuff in the clubhouse. It’s really cool to watch when he brings (the cards) out.”
Heineman’s passion for enchantment began in 2015 playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Card tricks helped him break the language barrier with some of the players in the clubhouse.
“It all really started back in Dominican Republic play,” he said. “I always liked it when someone would do it and I just found it fascinating. But I didn’t really start until I played in the Dominican Republic, which helped me learn some Spanish along the way.”
Heineman donned the blue and white as a member of the Tigres del Licey, winners of a league-high 22 Dominican Professional Baseball League titles to go along with 10 Caribbean World Series championships.
He hit .190 (11-for-66) with two doubles in 19 games. While Heineman was behind the dish, former Aces outfielder Andrew Aplin joined him in the outfield.
Tigres del Licey of Santo Domingo finished the year 29-21, but it’s the electric atmosphere that Heineman remembers most compared The Biggest Little City.
“It’s a big-time difference,” he said. “You get a sense of how different it is. … It’s a different kind of baseball. Every fan zones in on every single pitch and there’s a lot of energy. It’s definitely a cool experience.”
Behind the plate, Heineman has the ability to make a called ball disappear with precise framing. His sturdy 5-foot-10 frame helps him get a clear view of the plate. Once the ball reaches his glove, his left elbow bends close to his body to hide the pitch from the umpire to adjust accordingly for a called strike.
Members of Dbacks’ organization emphasized framing in spring training, something Heineman took note of with the Aces .
“That’s the main things the Diamondbacks are looking for,” he said. “They’re all about pitching framing and calling a game. It went all the way down from the top from Robby Hammock (catching coach), Torey Lovullo and even Mike Hazen (general manager). Everybody wants pitch framing and it is the main thing I’ve been focusing at all parts of my game.”
Heineman’s defensive prowess doesn’t bode well against opposing baserunners. His improved pop time and strong arm helps him receive the pitch and fire it back to the infield in one fluid motion, gunning down a base runner attempting to steal.
Defense has remained Heineman’s specialty since he was drafted in the eighth round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. Over his eight-year career, Heineman sports a .993 fielding percentage with a 8.80 range factor. He caught a team-high seven runners stealing on 23 attempts this season.
Heineman sees baserunners as a challenge to his countless tricks behind the plate.
“I’ve always enjoyed the defensive part of catching and that’s just one part of it,” he said. “It’s one of the main things that keeps me motivated. I like to be quick and I like to be accurate, so I enjoy when people try to steal, it’s a challenge for me. If they get a great jump, it’s even better.”
Aces hitting coach Jason Camilli has tapped into Heineman’s ability to hit to all sides of the field. The slugging catcher had a tendency to get himself into poor counts, whiffing at off-speed pitches on the corners of the plate. Camilli’s preachings translated to success for Heineman offensively. He hit .464 (13-for-28) with one homer and seven RBIs over his last 12 games with the Aces.
“With Tyler, it was all about confidence,” Camilli said. “He’s shown he can spray the ball to all sides and we really wanted to zone in on that element of his game. He has really come into his own and finding that rhythm.”
With the help of Camilli, Heineman’s swing came back to life during his final games with Reno.
“I’ve worked a lot with Camilli,” Heineman said. “We talk a lot about mechanics. It’s less mechanical, but more about getting a good pitch to hit and being on time and trying to hit the ball as hard as I can. I’m just swinging at good pitches I can hit and he’s helped a lot.”
Heineman may have a better chance of making his MLB debut with the Marlins. Arizona’s three-man catcher rotation forced Heineman to wait it out in Reno. Miami has two catchers on its active roster to potentially clear a path for the switch-hitting backstop.
No matter where Heineman ends up, his rangy defense behind the plate and sturdy bat in the lineup remains a sure thing.
“It doesn’t matter how you hit at times,” he said. “If you catch well you can have a great day because you have an impact on every single pitch.”
Szczur’s walk-off homer caps-off ninth inning comeback
Matt Szczur’s solo blast capped-off a five-run ninth inning in walk-off fashion.
Trailing 11-7 heading into ninth, the Aces launched four home runs en route to quite the Pacific Coast League comeback.
Abraham Almonte started the ninth inning rally with a solo blast to right-center. Yasmany Tomás drilled his second homer of the game — a two-run shot — to left field, cutting Reno’s deficit to one run. Two at-bats later, Wyatt Mathisen tied the game with a towering home run to left field. Szczur topped-off the comeback with a walk-off homer to send the 3,106 fans in attendance home happy.
Szczur, 29, was named PCL Player of the Week from May 27 to June 2. A member of the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, Szczur batted .545 (12-for-22) with three homers, 11 RBIs and eight runs during that span.
This is the third-straight week an Aces player has been named PCL Player of the Week. Tomás and Kevin Cron both received the reward the past two weeks.
Reno had 14 hits. Tomás went 3-for-5 with four RBIs. Both of his home runs went over the scoreboard in left field. His 19 round-trippers and 49 RBIs rank third and fourth in the Pacific Coast League.
Almonte was 1-for-2 with a solo home run and three walks. Wyatt Mathisen went 3-for-5 with three RBIs. Domingo Leyba recorded his 35th RBI of the season.
Aces catcher Alberto Rosario exited the game in the second inning after he collided with El Paso center fielder Carlos Tocci. Rosario laid on the ground at home plate before he was able to walk back slowly to the home dugout. Caleb Joseph was subbed in as a replacement.
A first round pick by the Dbacks out of the University of Nevada, Braden Shipley surrendered six earned runs on nine hits and two walks in three innings pitched. Lucas Luetge picked up his first win of the season.
The Aces held a 2-1 lead after the first inning. Both teams scored one run apiece in the second Nashville took the lead with a four-run third. Reno responded with one in the third and three more in the fifth.
Salt Lake clinched the lead with one run in the seventh and two more runs in the eighth. Nashville poured it on with two more in the ninth. Homers from Almonte, Tomás, Mathisen and Szczur fueled the Aces’ ninth inning comeback.
Transactions: Right-handed reliever Stefan Crichton was optioned back to Triple-A Reno on June 3. First baseman Kevin Cron optioned back to Triple-A Reno on May 31. He was recalled back to the Dbacks on June 1. Jon Duplantier was called-up to Arizona on May 31. Jimmie Sherfy was optioned back to Triple-A on May 28.
Notes: Juniel Querecuto notched his fifth three-hit game of the year against the Albuquerque Isotopes on May 31. … The Aces rank second in the PCL with 101 home runs. They have three pinch-hit homers this season. … There was a paid attendance of 3,106. … Former Aces outfielder Cesar Puello is hitting .429 with two homers and six RBIs in 17 games with the Los Angeles Angels this season. He started the year in Triple-A Salt Lake.
On Deck: Reno, 24-34, faces Nashville for the second game of the three-game at 7:05 p.m. Alex Young is expected to make his fifth start for the Aces this season. Right-hander Pedro Payano is the probable starter for the Sounds.