The Dust Devils have their first batch of 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft picks in Pasco working out with the rest of the initial squad, which was released last week. Now that we know some of the rookies that will for sure be donning the blue and gold of the Dust Devils during the summer, let’s take a deeper look into their college careers.
The highest of the Rockies’ draft picks that has signed and made it into Pasco is Virginia Tech shortstop Timothy Smalling. Smalling was taken in the 15th round, 468th overall, by Colorado and was the third shortstop they selected in the draft. The 6-foot-3 and 207 pound 23-year-old was drafted in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft as well by the Washington Nationals.
The Clifton, New Jersey, native originally went to University of Arkansas but transferred after two seasons. His statistics improved after his transfer where he batted .331 in 105 starts for the Hokies in 2010 and 2011. He ended his collegiate career at Virginia Tech with 16 home runs, 79 runs batted in, 90 runs scored and an on-base percentage of .388.
In the 17th round with the 528th pick overall the Rockies took right-hander William Rankin out of Southern Polytechnic State in Marietta, Georgia. At 6-foot and 192 pounds Rankin dominated for SPSU. In 14 games he had a stellar 1.94 earned run average with a 9-2 record in 83.2 total innings pitched.
In the following round with the 558th pick Colorado drafted righty pitcher Ben Alsup out of Louisiana State. As a regular member of the LSU rotation Alsup went 6-5 last season in 12 starts. In his 65.2 total innings pitched he had an earned run average of 4.66 with a .278 batting average against. Alsup was the first of the Rockies’ draft picks to sign and join the Dust Devils this season.
A few rounds later, in the 21st, the Rockies picked big first base bat Jordan Ribera out of Fresno State. At 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, Ribera offers a lot of potential power at a traditionally powerful position. In 2010 he led the nation in home runs with 27 while hitting .343 with a team-high 20 doubles and 69 runs batted in. But, with the new bat rule introduced into college baseball in 2011, Ribera’s numbers slumped. In 56 games last season he batted just .240 with eight home runs and 45 runs batted in. The Rockies, and Dust Devils, are hoping that the Ribera that torched the WAC in 2010 and led the NCAA in home runs will arrive in Pasco this summer.
Adding a tinge of “local” flavor to the Tri-City roster will be right-handed pitcher Chris Dennis. Dennis attended the University of Portland after growing up in Bothell, Wash., about three hours from Pasco. Taken in the 34th round, Dennis led the Pilots relievers in appearances with 28 last season and had an earned run average of 2.29. Going 3-2, Dennis recorded a team-high 10 saves in 39.1 innings and had a solid .173 batting average against.
The latest pick to join the Dust Devils thus far is catcher Richard Pirkle, who was taken in the 35th round, 1068th Overall. Pirkle played at Georgia College and State in the Division-2 Peach Belt Conference. There he provided the power in the Bobcats lineup, hitting a team-high 12 home runs in his 52 starts. He also batted .301 with 37 runs batted in and drew a team-high 45 walks. Pirkle also showed his versatility, stealing 13 bases and having a .985 fielding percentage.
With less than a week until the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the mock draft blogs are hot with their predictions on who they think will go where and when. With much of the Dust Devils’ roster filled with draftees taken during the three day, 50-round adventure, who the Rockies decide to take will largely decide what type of team the 2011 Dust Devils end up being. Here’s a brief look at a few of the projected first-round (20th overall) picks of the Colorado Rockies.
Levi Michael – SS: Michael, a shortstop playing at the University of North Carolina, jumped into the first-round pick debate after a very impressive sophomore season in 2010. He has then followed it up in 2011 well by batting .313 in 57 starts. He also drew 46 walks compared to striking out just 37 times while leading the team in on-base percentage at .459. Reports are saying that if the Rockies’ take Michael, it will be to groom him as a second baseman and potential future partner for franchise shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Matt Barnes – RHP: A righty from the University of Connecticut, Barnes has put together a spectacular 2011 campaign. Going 11-3 in 15 starts, Barnes threw three complete games and recorded a microscopic 1.12 earned run average. The 6-foot-4-inch starter threw for over 100 innings last season, striking out 105 while walking 28. You can never have enough good pitching and grabbing a guy like Barnes could give the team a solid future Major League starter.
Kolten Wong – 2B: Not related to former Dust Devil second baseman Joey Wong, Kolten hails from the University of Hawaii where he has torn apart the rest of the Western Athletic Conference pitching staffs. Wong batted .378, fourth highest in the WAC, in 57 starts this season. While only striking out 20 times on the year, Wong earned a .492 on-base percentage and stole 23 bases in 30 attempts. Similar to UNC shortstop Levi Michael, picking Wong in the first-round would likely signal the Rockies looking for a middle-infield partner to Tulowitzki for the future.
Alex Meyer – RHP: Standing tall at 6-foot-9-inches, Meyer is a big right hander with great velocity and an above-average breaking ball, according to various scouts. He was drafted with the 20th overall pick, the same pick the Rockies own this season, in the 2008 MLB draft by the Boston Red Sox, but decided to go to Kentucky instead. Last season with the Wildcats Meyer went 7-5 with a 2.94 earned run average in 14 starts.
Since the Dust Devils have been the single-season short “A” affiliate of the Rockies, a handful of first-round picks have made their way to the Columbia Basin.
MLB veteran lefty starting pitcher Jeff Francis made an impressive stop in Tri-City in 2002, not allowing a run in his four appearances. Other, more recent, first-round picks to feature for the Dust Devils’ include pitchers Rex Brothers (2009) and Christian Friedrich (2008). Both have gone on to more success and are the seventh and third rated prospects in the Rockies’ organization, respectively, according to MLB.com. Lastly, former Dust Devil outfielder Tim Wheeler (2009), who was the 32nd pick of the ’09 draft, played his first professional season in the Tri-Cities. He is now playing for the Rockies’ “AA” affiliate in Tulsa, where he is second on the team in batting with a .337 batting average.
You can catch the first round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft on Monday June 6th at 4 p.m. PT on MLB.com, with rounds 2-30 on June 7th and rounds 31-50 on June 8th. You can also follow the Dust Devils’ website, facebook and twitter accounts for all the latest team related MLB Draft information.