Now that the initial roster has been released, getting a feel for the 2011 Tri-City Dust Devils can begin. With a large mixture of returners from the 2010 Dust Devils and promoted players from the Rockies’ Rookie League affiliate Casper Ghosts, it looks as though the Dust Devils will have an experienced team (or at least as experienced as a short-season “A” team can be).
The first thing that jumps out when looking at the initial squad is the returners. While each season some guys return for another year (or two) in short-season ball, some of the guys coming back to Tri-City were a bit of a surprise.
The Dust Devils single-season record-holder for wins (8 in 2009), Craig Bennigson is making his third stint with the Dust Devils after starting 2011 in Single-A Asheville. Last season Bennigson had good numbers, a 2.51 earned run average and team-high seven saves in 15 appearances, but had a 0-2 record. Thus far in 2011, with Asheville, Bennigson is struggling, with an 8.16 earned run average in nine appearances with a .323 batting average against. Hopefully some time in a place he’s comfortable pitching and has shown some promise will get him back on track.
Infielder Dominic Altobelli will start his third professional season with the Dust Devils, his second straight with Tri-City. Last season the versatile infielder batted .244 in 39 games and stole eight bases. He, like last season, will likely be battling for the starting spot at third with second-year pro Jayson Langfels. The Rockies drafted Langfels in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Eastern Kentucky in the 16th round. He played in 44 games for Tri-City in his rookie campaign and hit four home runs.
Outfielders Leonardo Reyes and Jared Simon also return to the Mid-Columbia as starters who featured often for the 2010 Dust Devils. Reyes played in a team-high 70 games in 2010 and 2011 will mark his fourth season as a Dust Devil. Last year was his best as a professional, batting .268 with three home runs and 29 runs batted in.
Simon, a second-year pro who was drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Tampa, will likely be the team’s starting left fielder. He played in 62 games in the outfield for the Dust Devils last season and committed just two errors while batting .226 and driving in 19 runs.
Players from Casper, 13 in all, will join these returners as Dust Devils this season. Eight of those 13 are pitchers including Ghosts 2010 starter Tyler Gagnon. Gagnon started 15 times for Casper last season and went 5-3 with a 3.89 earned run average. He threw 76.1 total innings and struck out 63 opponents while walking just 17.
Also coming from Casper is lefty Kenneth Roberts. Roberts made 16 appearances, two of which starts, last season and had a 3-1 record. Pitching 36.1 innings, he had an earned run average of 3.22 and a WHIP (Walks-Hit per Inning Pitched) of 1.24.
Position players that jump off of the roster who featured for Casper last season and will be in Tri-City this season include first baseman Blake McDade, catcher Ryan Casteel and outfielder Juan Crousset. McDade had the highest batting average of former Ghosts who are joining the Dust Devils this season, batting .327 last season. He also hit three home runs and drove in 40 runs while earning an on-base percentage of .391.
Casteel, a 17th round pick in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft, batted a solid .305 in 43 games in his rookie season last year. He also hit three home runs, eight doubles and drove home 22 runs in his first year as a professional.
Crousset, who played for Casper in 2009 and 2010, provided some left-handed pop for the Ghosts last season. The outfielder from the Dominican Republic hit a personal single-season high five home runs and drove in 28 runs, both fifth highest on the Ghosts last season.
The first 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft pick of the Rockies to sign and be assigned to the Dust Devils was right-handed pitcher Ben Alsup. The Louisiana State alum started 12 games and had 14 appearances for the Tigers last season and went 6-5. He had an earned run average of 4.66 in 65.2 innings pitched and a .278 batting average against.
Also new to the Dust Devils is pitching coach Dave Burba. Burba spent 19 seasons in professional baseball, including 15 seasons in the Major Leagues with Seattle (1990-91), San Francisco (1992-95, 2004), Cincinnati (1995-97), Cleveland (1998-2001, 2002), Texas (2002) and Milwaukee (2003-04). Burba compiled a career record of 115-87 with a 4.49 ERA, 762 walks and 1,398 strikeouts in 511 Major League games. He replaces Joey Eischen, who was promoted to Asheville (low-A), while Eischen replaces Dave Schuler, the Dust Devils’ pitching coach in 2009, who was promoted to double-A Tulsa (double-A).
The Dust Devlis have a solid and versatile roster thus far that will hopefully improve as rookies who were drafted in the 2011 MLB-First Year Player Draft sign and the season starts. Here’s hoping to the addition of another odd-numbered year title to the Northwest League East Division title haul the Dust Devils have from the past few seasons (2007, 2009).