In 2015, their first season in the Padres organization, the Tri-City Dust Devils accomplished a lot, breaking an attendance record, posting the third-most wins in team history, and forcing a Game 3 against Hillsboro in the Northwest League Championship.
Now with a completely new coaching staff and a roster featuring many professional rookies, the Dust Devils will try to do it all over again in 2016, starting Friday at 7 p.m. against the Everett AquaSox at Gesa Stadium.
Managing the Padres’ short-season Class A affiliate is Ben Fritz, who was originally slotted to be the Dust Devils’ pitching coach, but some rearranging in the organization created a vacancy in the manager’s office, an opportunity Fritz jumped at.
Fritz was the pitching coach for the Arizona League Padres in 2015, one of the Padres’ rookie league teams, and as a result will get to continue working with several of the young players he helped devlop in the AZL last year. Fritz is joined on the coaching staff by hitting coach Oscar Bernard, pitching coach Shaun Cole and coach Jonathan Meyer.
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There are several notable players starting 2016 with the Dust Devils, including returners LHP Jose Castillo, RHP Aaron Cressley and LHP Will Headean, as well as exciting newcomer prospects like fourth-round draft pick Joey Lucchesi (LHP, SE Missouri State), Division III Player of the Year Taylor Kohlwey (OF, Wisconsin-La Crosse) and the University of Washington’s standout infielder Chris Baker.
Here is a full breakdown of the Dust Devils’ 28-man roster:
David Bednar, No. 24, RHP, Lafayette College (35th round)
Despite posting a 3-5 record his senior season at Lafayette, Bednar was far and away the Leopards’ ace. He led the team in ERA (3.92), innings pitched (59.2), complete games (5), strikeouts (70), and batting average against (.241). Bednar finished his collegiate career with the third most strikeouts in Lafayette history with 188 and was the first player to be drafted from the school since Ian Dickson in 2011. Bednar has a lively fastball — 88-92 as a starter, but he can ramp it up to 96 — with a four-pitch arsenal highlighted by his put-away slider, a big reason why he was up over 10 strikeouts per nine innings in both his junior and senior seasons, and was regarded as one of the top prospects in the Patriot League.
Jose Castillo, No. 22, LHP, Valencia, Venezuela
Acquired by the Padres from the Rays after the 2014 season, Castillo spent his third professional campaign bouncing back and forth between the Tri-Cities and Fort Wayne, San Diego’s full-season Class A affiliate. While he was with the Dust Devils, Castillo was a consistent force in the starting rotation, posting a 3-1 record and 3.61 ERA in 18 starts. Signed by the Rays straight out of Venezuela, the 20-year-old Castillo is a big (6-4, 200 pounds), hard-throwing lefty looking for a breakthrough season, and will likely anchor the Dust Devils rotation while he’s in the Tri-Cities.
Aaron Cressley, No. 33, RHP (26th round in 2014)
In his six-week cup of coffee with the Dust Devils in 2015, Cressley was — in a word — dominant. He only pitched in four games for a total of five innings, but didn’t allow a run, earned or otherwise, struck out four, and only gave up one hit and no walks. His play got noticed as he got a quick promotion to Fort Wayne and was a solid piece for the Tin Caps, posting a 4.21 ERA in 36 innings of relief work. Cressley started the 2016 season with the Lake Elsinore Storm, the Padres’ high-A affiliate, but only appeared twice. Control appeared to be an issue, though the small sample size has to be noted, as he walked three batters in 1.1 innings.
Dalton Erb, No. 59, RHP, Chico State (31st round)
If the Dust Devils were going to start a basketball team, it’s possible Dalton Erb would be the foundation of it. In his last start before being drafted, the 6-8, 240 pound right-hander tossed an absolute gem for his summer team, the Victoria HarbourCats, throwing eight scoreless innings against the Wenatchee AppleSox and striking out 13 while only allowing two baserunners. Erb had a nice junior season for Chico State, posting a 3.62 ERA in 82 innings over 15 starts.
Chasen Ford, No. 12, RHP, Yale (27th round)
With a degree in environmental engineering from Yale, Chasen Ford is one of those guys who has plenty going for him even if the whole baseball thing doesn’t work out. In splitting time between the Bulldogs’ 2016 starting rotation and bullpen, Ford was one of Yale’s top arms in his senior season. Ford was second on the team in innings pitched (62) and wins (5) and picked up the “W” in the Bulldogs’ most important game of the season, getting the final five outs against Dartmouth to give Yale the 5-4 win in the Ivy League’s one-game Rolfe Division Playoff.
Jordan Guerrero, No. 49, RHP (6th round in 2015)
A highly-touted high school prospect in the 2015 draft, Guerrero is hoping to improve on the steady summer he turned in with the Arizona League Padres in 2015. The Florida-native dropped 30 pounds before his first season of pro baseball to get down to 250, and ended up with a 4.23 ERA over 27.2 and struck out 27 batters in the rookie league. Most of his 13 appearances for the AZL Padres were out of the ‘pen, but he started his final three games of 2015. Time will tell if that trend continues into Guerrero’s Dust Devils career.
Will Headean, No. 32, LHP (13th round in 2015)
Headen had a brief stint with the Dust Devils in 2015, he was promoted to the team from the AZL Padres at the end of August, but his contributions were nonetheless significant. Headen appeared in just one regular season game for Tri-City, striking out five in 2.2 innings to pick up the late season win against Vancouver. He then appeared three times in the playoffs, once against Everett and then twice in the championship series against Hillsboro. In just fewer than 10 innings of work for the Dust Devils, Headen hasn’t allowed a run while striking out 13 and only allowing three men to reach base against him.
Diomar Lopez, No. 20, RHP, Larreynaga, Nicaragua
After playing two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, 19-year-old Diomar Lopez is hoping his young and talented arm can contribute to the Dust Devils pitching staff. As a middle reliever, Lopez had two good years with the DSL Padres, posting a total ERA of 2.23 over 36 innings in his 23 appearances. In his rookie season, most of the Nicaraguan native’s outings were just an inning long, but the Padres coaching staff started to stretch out his arm a bit toward the end of 2015, with his appearances spanning anywhere from 6-9 outs. Even in his extended role out of the bullpen, Lopez was extremely effective as opposing batters hit just .157 against him last year.
Braxton Lorenzini, No. 17, RHP (33rd round in 2015)
Lorenzini struggled a bit in his rookie reason with the AZL Padres in 2015, allowing 11 runs in his 19 innings of work out of the bullpen, but he’ll start 2016 with the Dust Devils and try to find the spark of an effective professional pitcher. Command was an issue for Lorenzini last season as he walked 13 batters in his 12 appearances, but his sinker/slider combo was fairly effective when spotted well, as he produced more than twice as many ground ball outs as fly outs — a big plus for a situational reliever.
Joey Lucchesi, No. 23, LHP, SE Missouri State (4th round)
All eyes — from both Dust Devils fans and organization management — will be on the Padres’ fourth-round draft pick when the team begins play Friday. Saying Lucchesi had a nice college career would be the understatement of the season, as the Southeast Missouri State Redhawk rounded out his time in Cape Giradeau as a two-time Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year, the OVC tournament MVP, and a Louisville Slugger All-American. With a deceptive, low-90s fastball coming from the left side, Lucchesi recorded an NCAA Division-I leading 149 strikeouts, which broke all kinds of school and conference records, to go along with a 2.19 ERA and 10-5 record in 16 starts. The one concern for the 23-year-old Lucchesi this season is that he’s already thrown 111 innings, and the Padres plan to shut him down for the year once he hits 140.
Angel Mejia, No. 14, RHP, Peravia, DR
The Dominican-born Mejia was the definition of a middle of the rotation starter for the Dust Devils in 2015, throwing 67 innings in 15 starts and recording a 6-3 record with a 4.95 ERA. Until Tuesday, Mejia was in Fort Wayne’s bullpen, but with a ballooning 5.40 ERA in full-season ‘A’ ball, the Padres decided to send Mejia back to the Tri-Cities to work things out. In his fourth year as a professional, expect Mejia to return as a verteran arm in the Dust Devils’ starting rotation.
Evan Miller, No. 11, RHP, IPFW (22nd round)
Miller was the definition of effectively wild for Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne in his sophomore season, leading the team in strikeouts (71) and walks (61) by wide margins. Even though Miller only played two seasons for the Mastodons, he left the program with the third most strikeouts in school history with 165. The 6.35 ERA over 72.1 innings in 2016 means there is plenty of room for improvement, and the ceiling could be high on a guy with a mid-90s fastball and late-breaking slider, especially since he’s growing into his 6-2, 180-pound frame.
Emmanuel Ramirez, No. 40, RHP, Puerto Plata, DR
Another returner to the Dust Devils pitching staff, Ramirez was a valuable late-season addition to the 2015 Tri-City starting rotation. Ramirez posted a 3.00 ERA in his five regular season starts for the Dust Devils and allowed just two earned runs in his final 16 innings of the year. He also struck out 25 —including a 10-K performance against Spokane on Sept. 6 — in his 24 innings of work while walking just eight batters. Now in his fourth season as a pro, Ramirez started the season with Fort Wayne, the highest level of ball he’s competed in, but will likely be a key starting arm for the Dust Devils as the season gets under way.
Jesse Scholtens, 51, RHP, Wright State (9th round)
If you’re looking for a water cooler stat on Jesse Scholtens, he threw the only NCAA Division I perfect game in 2016, a 1-0 victory over Dayton on March 11. But his résumé out of college is much more than just that. The Wright State ace pitched to the tune of a 2.17 ERA and 10-1 record in 2016 to earn himself an All-Horizon League first team nod. The right-hander’s fastball and curveball are already where they need to be — expect Scholtens to be in the low-90s — but his change-up will need to develop if he hopes to continue as an inning-eater. Speaking of innings, Scholtens threw a lot of them this year, a Horizon League-leading 109, and is no doubt on pace to have his first professional season shortened.
Will Stillman, No. 19, RHP, Wofford (6th round)
Typically in college baseball, a team’s closer is its No. 4 pitcher, behind the three starters. That hasn’t been the case at Wofford the last two seasons because Will Stillman is a legitimate back-end bullpen pitching prospect. As a junior in 2015, he set the program record for saves in a single season with 15, and fell just one save short of the team’s career record this season by adding another nine. That being said, he wasn’t un-hittable against Southern Conference opponents this season; he had an ERA of 3.93 and opponent’s hit .250 against him. But his low-90s heater and 3 useful pitches were at times baffling as he struck out 58 in his 34 innings of work (15.35 K/9), and his control improved greatly, allowing two fewer free passes (19) in 2016 than in 2015 despite pitching five more innings.
Mark Zimmerman, No. 16, RHP, Baldwin-Wallace (33rd round)
The Division III Mideast Region Player of the Year and D-III All-American, Zimmerman was Baldwin-Wallace’s top pitching and hitting prospect. On the mound, he collected a 7-4 record his senior year to go along with a 2.50 ERA and a 10.82 K/9 ratio. At the plate, he slashed .368/.472/.540, all team-highs among guys with 60-plus at bats. The staggering numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, considering Zimmerman played in the Division III Ohio Athletic Conference, but there’s no denying the right-hander is a gifted athlete, who could be on his way to advancement through the Padres organization if the skill set translates to pro ball.
Kyle Overstreet, No. 6 (14th round in 2015)
Overstreet was drafted out of Alabama in 2015 as a play-making glove in the middle infield. Light hitting prevented him from moving up in the organization as an infielder, but his leadership abilities enticed the Padres management to give him a look behind the plate. With pitcher/catcher speciailist Ben Fritz at the helm for the Dust Devils this season, Overstreet could flourish into a team leader at the catcher position. In his early season stint with Fort Wayne, his hitting improved from his time in rookie ball as he comes to the Tri-Cities with a .267 average on the year in his 30 at bats for the Tin Caps.
Hunter Redman, No. 5, Texas Tech (8th round in 2014)
Coming out of Texas Tech, the Los Angeles Dodgers looked like they had a fast-tracked superstar in their 2014 eighth-round draft pick Hunter Redman. It took less than 13 months for Redman to wind up with the Oklahoma City Dodgers, L.A.’s AAA affiliate, but two stints on the disabled list in 2015 quickly ended his time in that organization. The Padres acquired Redman’s contract in January and he spent the first part of the season with high-A Lake Elsinore, where he didn’t have a hit in his eight at bats and struck out four times.
Chris Baker, No. 29, Washington (17th round)
Baker has generated some buzz in the last week because he’s from the UW, and he has a chance to make an impact on this Tri-City squad. Baker had a nice three-year career at Washington, rounding it out with All-Pac-12 and All-Pac-12 defensive team nods his senior year for his .315 batting average and .954 fielding percentage. However, perhaps the most valuable attribute about Baker is his durability because he started the final 116 games of his career with the Huskies, and got to display his versatility his senior year by splitting time between second, third and short. Though his primary position at Washington was the hot corner, he was spending most of his time at shortstop during the team’s first workout on Wednesday.
Nate Easley, No. 3, Yavapai Community College (23rd round)
Son of big league journeyman Damion Easley, Nate was a hero at the plate for Yavapai Community College this season. He slashed .403/.485/.655 for Yavapai and was either the team leader or runner-up in all those categories and had an Arizona Community College Athletic Conference-leading 104 hits in his 69 games. Pro ball is going to be an adjustment for Easley coming straight out of junior college, but the hitting talent is undeniable. Though he played mostly outfield in college, Easley has been working at second base for the Dust Devils.
Westhers Magdaleno, No. 15, Santo Domingo, DR
After two years on the Padres’ rookie league teams, the 19-year-old Dominican-native Magdaleno is hoping for his pro-ball breakout season. After struggling at the plate in the DSL in 2014, Magdaleno got above the Mendoza line in the AZL in 2015 by hitting .216. While he improved at the plate in 2015, his fielding regressed a bit, posting an .857 fielding percentage at third and .829 at short. Primarily a left-side infielder, Magdaleno will likely be at third when the Dust Devils open.
Jose Savinon, No. 1, Bani, DR
Another young Dominican player getting his first shot at class-A ball in his third professional season, Savinon has had some success against pro pitching in the Dominican and Arizona summer leagues. Savinon enters 2016 with a .281 career batting average and is hoping to get back into his 2014 form when he hit .300 in the Dominican League. Savinon is a true utility player, with time spent at every position in the last two years except catcher and right field, but his best positions seem to be second and third, where he’ll likely spend most of his time as a Dust Devil.
Carlos Sosa, No. 13, Santo Domingo Centro, DR
Sosa continues a trend of young, Dominican-born players who played with the DSL Padres in 2014 and AZL Padres in 2015. Back with teammates Savinon and Magdaleno for the third consecutive year, Sosa is hoping to rebound from a rough 2015 where he hit .195 with the AZL Padres. He has a little bit more power than the other veteran infielders with four homeruns in his 274 professional at bats and 14 doubles. Sosa spent his first two years of pro baseball at third, but it looks like he’ll at least start the season at first.
Luis Asuncion, No. 27, Santo Domingo Centro, DR
Asuncion spent his last two seasons playing for the DSL Padres, along with pitcher Diomar Lopez. While his 2015 batting average wasn’t staggering (.236), it was a 100-point improvement from his 2014 campaign, suggesting the 19-year-old could be on track for steady improvement this year. Asuncion’s calling card has been his glove, and arm, in the outfield as he has a career fielding percentage of .949.
Aldemar Burgos, No. 31, Carlos Beltran baseball Academy (8th round in 2015)
Considered one of the top Puerto Rican high school products in the 2015 draft, last season was an adjustment period as Burgos tried figuring out professional pitching. The numbers slumped a bit as he hit .225 for the AZL Padres, but Burgos should add some speed in the outfield and on the base paths for Tri-City.
Alan Garcia, No. 10, Mountain Pointe high School (19th round in 2015)
Garcia verbally committed to play at Arizona State during his junior year of high school, but decided to sign with the Padres when they drafted him in the 19th round a year later. He spent most of his high school career recovering from a broken hand sustained during baseball season and a knee injury received playing football, so it was nice to see him play a full season with the AZL Padres in 2015. His numbers in the rookie league were solid as he hit .264 and had seven doubles in 106 at bats. Plate discipline is going to be key for Garcia this year as he had 32 strikeouts last season and walked only nine times.
Taylor Kohlwey, No. 21, Wiconsin-La Crosse (21st round)
Assuming he adapts to professional pitching in a timely manner, Kohlwey looks like a lock to be a middle of the order bat for the Dust Devils. In his senior season at Wisconsin-La Crosse, Kohlwey was the Division III leader in hits (96), runs (76) and total bases (163), and put together the second-longest hitting streak in D-III history at 51 games. Kohlwey was named the 2016 player of the year by D3baseball.com and helped the Eagles win a game in the Division III championship tournament.
Josh Magee, No. 7, Franklinton High School (5th round in 2015)
Magee is a prized prospect in the Padres organization that will look to have a breakout year after adapting to the professional game in the Arizona league last season. Magee hit just over .200 in his 172 at bats with the AZL Padres in 2015 and had some trouble putting the ball in play, striking out 57 times. That’s not what you want from a guy with plus-speed who still managed to swipe 14 bags last season and stole 21 bases in his senior season at Franklinton High School in Louisiana.
Dust Devils facts
All home games begin at 7:15 p.m. (subject to change)
For ticket prices and full season schedule, go to DustDevilsBaseball.com