Dillon Thomas already was a huge fan of Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
But for several weeks during the Rockies’ spring training session in Scottsdale, Ariz., the 19-year-old outfielder was a student of the two-time Nationial League All-Star.
Thomas, who will begin his second professional season Friday with the Tri-City Dust Devils, was taking batting practice with fellow farmhand Trevor Story when Tulowitzki called them over to give them some advice.
“When he first pulled us over, I didn’t know what was going on. I thought, ‘Are you talking to me?’ ” Thomas said. “It’s Troy Tulowitzki, so I was a little timid.”
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But Thomas also had his ears open when the man they call ‘Tulo’ started sharing some tools of the trade.
“Me, I like to take the ball to the opposite field. He told me instead of trying to pull the ball, to try to hit it up the middle and it will get some nice backspin to it,” Thomas said. “That stuck with me through extended (spring training).”
Now, Thomas is eager to put Tulowitzki’s advice to the test in his first game since an injury cut short his 2011 season in Casper, Wyo.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander, a fourth-round pick by the Rockies out of Westbury Christian High School in Texas, got off to a strong start as a rookie, homering in his first professional game. He hit safely in 13 of 15 games with the Ghosts, batting .328 with 12 runs scored and seven RBIs.
But a broken hand in late August stopped his momentum.
“It put things in perspective,” he said. “I’m looking at this as my first full season in pro ball.”
During a team workout Wednesday at Gesa Stadium, the ball was jumping off Thomas’ bat as he laced line drives to every part of the field. He even flashed some leather, making a nice running catch while shagging balls in left field.
Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio looks for a potential breakout year from the Houston native.
“He’s a mature kid and a hard worker. He hit over .300 in extended,” Ocasio said. “He’s a gap-to-gap hitter. Hopefully he can start developing some power.”
Padilla named Opening Day starter: LHP Roberto Padilla will get the start Friday for the Dust Devils against the AquaSox. Padilla, an eighth-round selection in 2011 out of San Jose State, made two appearances in Tri-City last season before being shut down with a shoulder injury.
Fourth-rounder arrives in Pasco: Seth Willoughby likely will become the Tri-City closer after he clears his physical and starts building up some reps in the bullpen.
“They said I could throw a bullpen tomorrow. I asked if I could throw today, but they said no,” said Willoughby, the Rockies’ fourth-round pick out of Xavier University.
Willoughby, a 6-2 right-hander, pitched and played infield for Xavier before breaking a bone in his left hand during an at-bat in the Musketeers’ third game. As a testament to his toughness, he finished the at-bat and singled — “the most painful swing I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said.
The injury forced him out of the everyday lineup, but it opened the door for more reps as a pitcher. Xavier’s former cleanup hitter went 2-1 with a 1.26 ERA and 12 saves to earn all-Atlantic-10 Conference honors. His 28 saves in three seasons set a career mark at the Cincinnati, Ohio, school.
“I love the adrenaline rush and being able to channel it into a good pitching performance,” he said. “I like being in there with the game on the line.”
More players assigned to Tri-City: The Rockies sent another selection from the 2012 Major League Baseball draft to the Dust Devils. RHP T.J. Oakes, an 11th-rounder out of the University of Minnesota, took a physical Wednesday and should be ready to practice today. The Rockies also assigned middle infielder Zach Osborne — an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee — to the Dust Devils. Baseball fans might remember Osborne as the MVP of the 2002 Little League World Series, when Osborne led Louisville’s Valley Sports team to the title against Japan.