Ask Tri-City Dust Devils outfielder Marcos Derkes how he broke his back in 2012, and he’ll give you the most honest answer he can.
“Good question. I don’t know. It just happened,” Derkes said of the routine sprint down the first baseline during a Dominican Summer League game. “I stepped on the bag and it just popped.”
Doctors diagnosed a stress fracture of the C4 and C5 vertebrae. After two months of rehab to begin the 2013 season, Derkes continued his recovery in the Tri-Cities, hitting .184 in 37 games. But he was far from 100 percent, and the pain was noticeable.
“People looked at me walking and said it was painful to look at me,” he said. “I couldn’t even bend over to grab my shoes.”
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But as unusual as the injury was, there’s nothing mysterious about how the Puerto Rican native made it back.
“You’ve got to give that guy all the credit in the world. He’s using the tools he has to be the best he can,” Dust Devils hitting coach Warren Schaeffer said. “He struggled all last year with his aggressiveness because of his back. This year in extended (spring training) he was a different guy. He had the confidence, the want-to. It’s all there.”
He’s been one of the top hitters and base stealers in the Northwest League for most of the season. Derkes, who played two years at El Paso (Texas) Community College, is 15th in the NWL with a .294 average and tied for third with eight stolen bases. He’s also second on the Dust Devils with 10 runs scored and leads the team with eight walks.
“We’re all very excited for him. It’s always a challenge to be sitting on six outfielders and trying to find them at-bats, but it’s a pleasure to keep penciling his name in the lineup,” Tri-City manager Drew Saylor said. “I think it was more us taking the reins off of him. Instead of coaches say, speak and do every single move, now (he) just needed to go out there and find his game.”
After each season, the Colorado Rockies send each player into the offseason with a list of skills to work on. Derkes put his energy into his bunting game and taking advantage of his speed on the basepaths.
“I just wanted to make a good impression and work harder than everyone. My attitude and focus had to be there,” Derkes said. “I really put a lot of work in, and now we’re seeing the results.”
Nobody is happier than Schaeffer, who worked with Derkes through the rough stretches of 2013 and now gets to enjoy watching his on-field success.
“It’s so much fun for me to watch. He’s such a good kid. He always wants to work and always wants to do the right thing,” Schaeffer said. “You can’t help (rooting for him). Certain guys just give off that light.”
Notes: A pair of Rockies draft choices were sent to Tri-City to begin their professional careers but have yet to see their first action.
That may change next week for RHP Ryan Castellani, the Rockies’ second-round draft pick out of Brophy Jesuit Prep in Phoenix, Ariz. Castellani, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, will throw a two-inning simulated start today against Tri-City hitters, according to Dust Devils pitching coach Frank Gonzales. On July 10, the 18-year-old is slated to make his pro debut in Spokane, likely in a relief role.
Andrew Rohrbach, the Rockies’ ninth-round draft pick out of Long Beach State, may take a bit longer to make his debut. But there’s no guarantee he’ll see the field this season, either.
“Right now it’s a lot of strengthening. He’s out to 120 feet long toss, but he’s on a longer process to get him feeling more 100 percent every day,” Gonzales said. “We’re hoping to see him on the mound before the end of the year, but there’s no date.”
Jerry Vasto, a 24th-rounder out of Felician College (N.J.), already made his pro debut, pitching a scoreless inning in Tri-City’s home opener against Everett. But the 6-2 left-hander experienced some soreness, which the Rockies’ won’t take any chances with.
“Until he’s pain free, he’s not touching a baseball. When he’s pain free, they’ll determine what his next step will be,” Gonzales said.