I’ve been keeping an eye on the newsmakers coming out of Colorado Rockies spring camp in Tucson, Ariz., and I’m noticing quite a few familiar names included in the daily capsules.
Several former Tri-City Dust Devils have been making their mark during Cactus League games, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see at least a few of them get their first taste of the majors this season.
One of the biggest suprises has been catcher Jordan Pacheco, who just three seasons ago began learning the position right here in Tri-Cities.
Pacheco has always been hell on wheels with a bat, but he’s improved his defense by leaps and bounds. One thing that always impressed me about him was that, even in the worst of times, he was always humble about the position and wise enough to know that he would get there someday.
He’ll be there pretty soon, I’m guessing.
Another catcher, Michael McKenry, spent his rookie season (2006) with the Dust Devils and it looks like he’ll be getting another shot at the bigs this year. After hitting .265 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs at Triple-A, McKenry got a small taste last season — just eight at bats — but he’s still looking for his first major league hit.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy is sure he’s going to get it eventually, especially after watching McKenry hit .250 this spring with a .438 on base percentage and .833 slugging percentage.
"I told (McKenry) that I don't think there's any question in my mind that eventually he's going to be a big league catcher, but right now where we're at we feel there are some other people that may be ahead of him, but not be discouraged by that," Tracy told MLB.com. "Because I don't know if that's right."
Two others who nearly made the big league club this season were 1B Ben Paulsen, who played in Tri-City out of Clemson in 2009, and Rex Brothers, a Lipscomb University product who spent part of his rookie season with the Dust Devils last year.
Brothers may be only a year or two away from the Rockies’ bullpen, but he didn’t make Tracy’s decision any easier this spring. The numbers don’t lie — 11 strikeouts in eight innings, a .250 batting average against and a 2.25 ERA.
Paulsen is doing incredibly well in his first Cactus League experience, hitting a blistering .458 with four triples, a homer and 11 RBIs in just 24 at bats. He is the focus of this article but Brothers and Charlie Blackmon, a rookie with the Dust Devils in 2008, also get some love.
In Cactus League games this year, Blackmon is hitting .314 with nine runs, six RBIs and one homer.
The Rockies aren’t the only team to have former Dust Devils in the farm system. The Chicago White Sox signed Shane Lindsay, the NWL’s top prospect in 2006, with the hopes that he could find a spot in their bullpen. But Lindsay has pitched just three innings so far this spring, giving up three hits and two earned runs before being sent to the Sox’ minor league camp.
Aneury Rodriguez, who was just 18 when he joined the Dust Devils rotation in 2006. This year, the Houston Astros were considering him among contenders for the No. 5 spot in their starting rotation. Rodriguez didn’t win the spot, giving up 7 earned runs in 12 innings while walking 7 this spring. But he did get his feet wet in a big-league setting, which should help him win a spot next year.
For the last two seasons, Everth Cabrera has been gaining fans in San Diego after the Padres nabbed him up as a Rule 5 pick before the 2009 season. But he made the roster and has been their starting shortstop for much of the last two seasons. Unfortunately, San Diego signed Jason Bartlett and it looks like Cabrera will start the season in Triple A Tucson.
In case you’re wondering about all the other former Dust Devils who have played in a Cactus League game this year (or over the last three years for that matter), just click on a name and it should take you right there: P Craig Baker, OF Scott Beerer, P Bruce Billings, OF Charlie Blackmon, P Rex Brothers, SS Thomas Field, P Christian Freidrich, SS Hector Gomez, P Andy Graham, P Sean Jarrett, 3B Matt Macri, OF Michael Marbry, C Michael McKenry, 3B Radames Nazario, P Juan Nicasio, C Jordan Pacheco, 1B Michael Paulk, 1B Ben Paulsen, OF Brian Rike, P Cory Riordan, 1B Warren Schaefer, OF Seth Smith, OF Ryan Spilborghs, 1B Mark Tracy, P Casey Weathers, P Keith Weiser, 2B Erik Wetzel, OF Tim Wheeler and, last but not least, SS Joey Wong.