Maybe it’s no accident that Anthony Aguilera’s locker is the first one you see when entering the players’ area in the Dave Lemak Clubhouse. Aguilera, a third-year catcher in the Colorado Rockies system, knows how important it is to make new players feel welcome. Nicknames are a good way to break the ice, and he’s got his nickname — Aggie — taped up over his locker for all to see.
As a catcher, the former free agent out of San Jose State is integral in finding the pulse of his team, especially that of the pitching staff.“They say catchers become coaches more than any other position,” Aguilera said. “We’re the quarterback of the baseball team. We’re involved in every play.
“I used to play quarterback in high school (at St. Paul HS in La Habra, Calif.). That helped me prepare for baseball.”
Over the next week, the Rockies will sign several of their recent selections from Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft and send them to Tri-City to begin their professional careers.
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Aguilera and fellow catcher Richard Pirkle, who both played for the Dust Devils last season, see it as one of their most important jobs to get to know them and the way they play.
“For everybody here, we’ve been in spring training for the last three months. We catch bullpens, we catch games. We need to just be throwing with (pitchers) all the time,” Aguilera said. “With the new guys, we have to catch bullpens as much as we can. We need to find out what these guys are like behind in the count or ahead in the count.”
Aguilera split his first pro season in 2010 between rookie-level Casper (Wyo.) and Class-A Asheville (N.C.), combining to hit .267 with a pair of home runs and score 13 runs in 27 games. In 2011, the 6-foot, 215-pound right-hander started the season in Tri-City, playing six games and batting .308 before moving on to Asheville to finish out the season.
He hit .182 in 19 games with the Tourists, mostly in a back-up role. But Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio saw enough to know his pitchers are in good hands with Aguilera.
“He’s a pretty good receiver. He knows how to call a game,” Ocasio said.
Aguilera didn’t get to celebrate the Dust Devils winning their third East Division championship, but he said the winning atmosphere still remains.
“It creates a positive environment. Last year we were winning a lot. It should be the same this year,” said Aguilera, who should get the bulk of the starts at catcher early on, as Pirkle is dealing with an injury to his arm.
“Our pitching staff has worked hard and definitely come a long way,” he said. “When you have a good pitching staff, it’s easy to call a game.”
Former first-rounder Tago joins starting rotation: Safe to say there’s some buzz about RHP Peter Tago, who was selected in the supplemental first round of the 2010 MLB draft with the 47th overall pick out of Dana Hills High School in Dana Point, Calif. He’s slated as one of the four Tri-City starters to open the season.
Tago, a 6-3 right-hander who turns 20 on July 5, has a fastball that tops out at 95 mph along with a sharp curve and a changeup. He started 19 games at Asheville last season, going 3-5 with a 7.07 ERA in 90 1/3 innings.
“He’s been pretty good in extended. He went at least six innings in his last two starts,” Ocasio said. “If he goes out there and can throw strikes with the type of stuff he’s got, he’ll be all right.”
Former Dust Devils named to SAL All-Star tearm: Asheville outfielder Tyler Massey and second baseman Sam Mende, who both played for the Dust Devils last season, have been named to the South Atlantic League All-Star team. The game is scheduled to be played June 19 in Charleston, S.C., and will be preceded by a home run derby on June 18 on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown.