In sports, nothing is quite like the sight of a home run. The precision, power and timing of a batter’s swing have to be just right on a ball moving around 90 mph and even that, sometimes, isn’t enough. Fans in the Tri-Cities have often been deprived of this exciting and sought after sports moment at Gesa Stadium in past seasons. With consistent winds often blowing in from the outfield and killing fly balls well before they get near the fence, the ballpark has earned a reputation for being a pitcher’s park where home run hitters suffer.
This season seems to be a little bit different. Although we are less than a month into the season, the Dust Devils are among the leaders in team home runs, with a good portion of those coming at home. Thus far Tri-City has his 14 home runs, seven of which coming at Gesa Stadium, and trail only the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (15) for the league lead. Those 14 round-trippers give them as many as division rivals Boise (6) and Spokane (8) combined. As a team last season the Dust Devils hit 42 total home runs over their 76 game season and, this season, are on pace to destroy that number and hit an impressive 56.
Leading the power surge for Tri-City is 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft pick Jordan Ribera. The first baseman from Fresno State was taken in the 21st round by the Colorado Rockies and is proving his power-hitting history is no joke. Ribera led the NCAA in home runs in his junior season, hitting 27 bombs while batting .343 and driving in 69 runs over 63 games. However, his senior season with the Bulldogs saw a statistical drop, as he hit just eight home runs and batted .240 in 56 games.
The drop in hitting corresponded with the NCAA changing its bat rules, where the “ping” sounding aluminum bats were no longer allowed. The new composite bats have been tested, at nearby Washington State University, and are said to be 5-6 percent less effective than their preceding counterparts.
This likely attributed to Ribera’s drop to the 21st round of the draft, but has seemed to work in the Rockies’, and Dust Devils’, favor. He currently leads the Northwest League (NWL) in home runs with four while driving in 16 runs, third most in the NWL. The solid numbers don’t stop there, as he’s also third in the NWL in slugging-percentage (.567), tied for first in total bases (38) and is hitting a very respectable .313.
Playing in 17 of the 19 Dust Devil games in 2011, it is safe to say Ribera has secured his spot as the clean-up hitter in the Tri-City lineup. Were he to play as many games as current Dust Devils single-season home run record holders Darin Holcomb (74, 2007) and Joe Koshansky (66, 2004), who each hit 12 home runs, Ribera is on pace to break the team record with ease, hitting 17 or 15 home runs respectively.
You can catch Ribera and the rest of the Dust Devils out at Gesa Stadium next week as they return for an eight game home stand in Pasco. They will first take on the Eugene Emeralds in a five game series. The short-season A affiliate of the Padres, the Emeralds are having an outstanding 2011 campaign and leading the Northwest League West Division with a 17-2 record and have won their last 14 consecutive games, a NWL record. Following Eugene the Yakima Bears will make their first trip to Pasco this season for a three game series against the Dust Devils. Tri-City took two of three in Yakima earlier this season against the Bears, who are last in the East Division with a 6-13 record.
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).
2011 Colorado Rockies Draft Picks
Tyler Anderson- LHP- Oregon (20th Overall)
6’4” and 215 lbs – 21 Years Old
Anderson, a Las Vegas native, finished his junior year with a school career-record 285 strikeouts, and his 114 strikeouts this past season also are a school record. He went 8-3 with a 2.17 ERA in 2011 and is tied for third all-time with 17 career wins. Anderson also pitched impressively for Team USA. Anderson has a fastball between 90 and 92 mph and a solid group of four pitches and has been compared to Jeff Francis, a lefty the Rockies selected ninth overall in 2002. The Twins originally selected Anderson in the 50th round in 2008 and he became the first Oregon player taken in the first round since the Padres selected right-handed pitcher Dave Roberts in 1972. Anderson was rated the 24th best prospect by Baseball America.
Trevor Story – SS – HS(TX) (45th Overall)
6’1” and 177 lbs – 18 Years Old
Rated the 40th best prospect by Baseball America, Story has signed his letter of intent to play at Louisiana State, but is expected to sign with the Rockies. The prep star has experts such as MLBTV’s Jonathan Mayo fawning over his defensive abilities. While high school pitching isn’t quite the same level as professional pitching, Story hit .484 with 10 doubles, three triples, eight home runs and 29 RBIs during the high school season. “It’s the best moment of my life so far right now,” Story said
Carl Thomore – OF – HS(NJ) (77th Overall)
6’2” and 212 lbs – 18 Years Old
Rated the 68th best prospect by Baseball America, Thomore has some power and projects as a right fielder at the next level. An advanced approach helps his cause. Thomore is a good athlete with a strong arm, though he’s not good enough for center and profiles best in right. His bat projects to be plenty good for the position though. He withdrew his commitment to Rutgers and plans on signing.
Peter O’Brien – C – Bethune-Cookman (107th Overall)
6’5” and 225 lbs – 20 Years Old
Though of as a first or second round pick, the Rockies may have drafted a solid value pick with their third round selection. He was seen as possibly the first catcher off of the board on draft day and had a solid summer with Team USA last year. Big power guy with a long swing. Has the potential to be an everyday Major League catcher with middle of the order power and solid arm strength. Batted .304 in 61 starts for B-C this season while also hitting 14 homeruns and driving in 69 runs.
Dillon Thomas – OF – HS(TX) (138th Overall)
6’1” and 195 lbs – 18 Years Old
Committed to Texas A&M University, Thomas batted .464 with 8 homeruns and 35 runs batted in in 33 games in his senior season for Westbury Christian High School in Texas.
Taylor Featherston – SS – TCU (168th Overall)
6’1” and 185 lbs – 21 Years Old
Featherston never batted less than .322 in his three seasons with the Horned Frogs and had a tremendous junior year, batting .335 in 62 games. He hit three homeruns and drove in 42 while earning an on base percentage of .410. In 2010 he was named to the 1st-Team All-Mountain West Conference team at shortstop and also made the 2010 College World Series All-Tournament team.
Chris Jensen- RHP – University of San Diego (198th Overall)
6’4” and 200 lbs – 20 Years Old
Jensen, a Gilbert, Arizona native, went 3-7 with a 3.95 earned run average in 12 starts and 18 appearances for the Toreros in 2011.
Harold Riggins – 1B – North Carolina State (228th Overall)
6’3” and 234 lbs – 21 Years Old
Riggins batted .314 with 4 homeruns and 35 runs batted in for the Wolfpack in 2011. He was also named the 2010 ACC Tournament MVP after batting .562 in the team’s four games.
Roberto Padilla – LHP – San Jose State (258th Overall)
6’3” and 200 lbs – 20 Years Old
Padilla, who played just one season at San Jose State after transferring from junior college, had a pitching staff best 3.19 earned run average while going 9-6 on the season in 14 starts and 16 appearances. He also threw a staff high 98.2 innings.
Thomas “Ross” Stripling – RHP – Texas A&M (288th Overall)
6’3” and 190 lbs – 21 Years Old
Thomas, who goes by “Ross”, Stripling was a weekend rotation pitcher for the Aggies, a spot reserved for the best starters on the team’s staff, the last two seasons for Texas A&M. This season Stripling put up some very impressive numbers. He went 13-2 with a 2.30 earned run average in 14 starts and 21 appearances. He pitched a staff high 109.2 innings while allowing just 77 hits and 16 walks.
Benjamin Hughes – RHP – St. Olaf College (318th Overall)
6’5” and 215 lbs – 21 Years Old
Hughes was named the MIAC’s Pitcher of the Year, becoming the ninth player to earn league MVP honors since 1999. Was 7-1 with a 2.50 ERA and struck out 83 against 19 walks in 57.2 innings. Went 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA in MIAC play and had three complete games, two shutouts and at least 10 strikeouts in five of his 10 appearances. Hughes also led the team in wins (7), innings (57.2), and strikeouts (83) while holding left-hand hitters to a .185 average (10-for-54).
Alex Gillingham – RHP – Loyola Marymount University (348th Overall)
6’3” and 200 lbs – 21 Years Old
Gillingham was the ace of the LMU staff, leading the team in most major pitching categories. The righty had a 2.49 earned run average while going 8-4 on the season. He started 14 games and had four complete games and tallied 112 total innings pitched. He also had a superb strikeout-to-walk ratio at 78-24.
13. David Schuknecht – Catcher – HS(CA) (378th Overall)
6’2” and 195 lbs – 17 Years Old
Schuknecht led his team in hitting, batting an impressive .411 in 31 games for Palm Desert High School. He also hit three homeruns and drove home 25 runs while earning an on base percentage of .504.
Kyle Roliard – LHP/OF – Louisiana Tech (408th Overall)
6’5” and 190 lbs – 21 Years Old
The multi-tooled Roliard did it all for Louisiana Tech last season. As an outfielder and starting pitcher, Roliard offers the Rockies options with his pick. As the leadoff hitter and outfielder, Roliard batted .330 in 58 games and had an on base percentage of .394. On the mound he started four games while appearing in 13. Roliard had an earned run average of 5.35 with a record of 1-3.
Brian Humphries – OF – Pepperdine University (438th Overall)
6’3” and 195 lbs – 21 Years Old
Humphries started 51 games for Pepperdine, batting .288 and driving home 28 runs. He stole 11 bases in 12 attempts and hit three homeruns. He’s had an eleven game hitting streak and has had four hits in a game three times in his collegiate career.
Timothy Smalling – SS – Virginia Tech (468th Overall)
6’3” and 207 lbs – 23 Years Old
Smalling, who was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 14th round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player draft, has done well for the Hokies the last two seasons after transferring from Arkansas. His average over those two seasons is .331 with 16 homeruns and 79 runs batted in.
Preston Tucker – 1B- Florida University (498th Overall)
6’0” and 217 lbs – 20 Years Old
Playing for one of the top teams in the nation, Tucker was one of eight Gators who had started a game that had a batting average over .300, with a .319 average. His major contribution to the team was with his power, where he hammered 13 homeruns, 20 doubles and drove in 65 runs batted in during the team’s 64 games he started. Also, playing both first base and outfield, Tucker committed just one error and had a .994 fielding percentage.
William Rankin – RHP- Southern Polytechnic State (528th Overall)
6’0” and 192 lbs – 22 Years Old
Rankin, playing for a smaller NAIA school, dominated for SPSU in Marietta, Georgia. In 14 games Rankin had a 1.94 earned run average with a 9-2 record over 83.2 innings.
Benjamin Alsup – RHP – Louisiana State University (558th Overall)
6’3” and ___ lbs – 22 Years Old
Alsup was a regular member of the LSU starting rotation and was 6-5 on the year. In 12 starts and 65.2 innings pitched he had a 4.66 earned run average and had a .278 batting average against him during the 2011 season.
Jesse Meaux – RHP – UC-Santa Barbara (588th Overall)
6’4” and 210 lbs – 21 Years Old
Meaux was third on the Gauchos staff in starts with 10 in 2011, going 3-5 with a 3.70 earned run average. In his 65.2 innings pitched Meaux allowed 72 hits, walked 14 and struck out 34.
Daniel Winkler – RHP – Central Florida (618th Overall)
6’1” and 190 lbs – 21 Years Old
In 2011 Winkler tied for the team-high with 14 starts and made 18 appearances overall, going 3-4 with a 4.70 earned run average. He struck out 92 batters in 82.1 innings on the mound to average 10.06 strikeouts per nine innings and only walked 24 to have a 3.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Jordan Ribera – 1B – Fresno State(648th Overall)
5’11” and 230 lbs – 22 Years Old
Ribera is a powerful bat at first base and in 2010 lead the nation in homeruns with 27. He also hit .343 with team-high 20 doubles and 69 runs batted in and was named WAC Player of the Year, first-team All-WAC and earned All-American honors from four publications. But, in 2011 with the new bat rule in college baseball, Ribera struggled. In his 56 games Ribera batted just .240 with eight homeruns and 45 runs batted in.
Logan Mohan – LHP – SE Missouri State(678th Overall)
6’2” and 195 lbs – 22 Years Old
Mohan, in 21 appearances, had a 2.54 earned run average and 5-4 record while recording eight saves. Opponents batted .208 against the lefty and he struck out 53 batters in his 46 innings pitched.
Brook Hart – LHP – Yale University (708th Overall)
6’5” and 220 lbs – 22 Years Old
The two sport star for the Yale Bulldogs (he’s also the team quarterback) started nine games and appeared in 11 in 2011. In those games he went 4-5 with four complete games and had an impressive 2.23 earned run average. He also struck out 47 players in his 64.2 innings pitched while walking just 13.
Connor McKay – OF – Regis Jesuit HS(CO)(738th Overall)
6’4” and 195 lbs – 18 Years Old
Selected as preseason All-American
Patrick Johnson – RHP – University of North Carolina (768th Overall)
6’1” and 180 lbs – 22 Years Old
Johnson, as the ace of the Tar Heels staff, started 15 games and going 12-1 with a 2.36 earned run average. He lead the team in starts (15), wins (12), innings pitched (99.1) and strikeouts (113). He also allowed just 29 walks, giving him an astounding 3.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Michael Wolford – RHP – UC-Riverside (798th Overall)
6’3” and 200 lbs – 22 Years Old
Wolford led the Highlanders in appearances as the main reliever on the staff. In his 22 appearances Wolford was 2-0 with a 2.35 earned run average and two saves in 30.2 innings of work. He also struck out 26 while walking just five batters all season.
Matt Argyropoulos – 3B – Washington State University (828th Overall)
6’2” and 193 lbs – 22 Years Old
The Cougar’s third baseman batted .283 in 48 starts in 2011 while hitting 5 homeruns and driving in 28. He played at Gesa Stadium for the Cougs as a part of the Cougar Diamond Classic against the University of Washington in late May of 2011.
Joshua Correa – OF – Eliosa Pascal HS (858th Overall)
6’2” and 180 lbs – 18 Years Old
Matthew Dermody – LHP – Iowa University (888th Overall)
6’5” and 190 lbs – 20 Years Old
Dermody started all 14 games he appeared and finished with a record of 4-6 while registering a 4.15 earned run average and allowing 39 earned runs in 84.2 innings pitched. He also recorded 75 strikeouts, which ties for tenth-most in a season in Iowa history and the led the conference.
John Curtiss – RHP – Carroll HS (TX) (918th Overall)
6’4” and 200 lbs – 18 Years Old