With the Major League Baseball draft starting Monday, a few days later than usual, fans around the Northwest League will get an extended look at some young(er) prospects to start the season.
The Tri-City Dust Devils held their first media session and practice Monday, featuring an opening-day roster that will likely look very different in a few weeks.
“It’s a different dynamic this year for sure, and all the teams are in the same boat,” second-year Dust Devils manager Ben Fritz said. “There might be some guys performing that aren’t here in two weeks, and that’s just the reality of it.
“Their job is to make us have to make difficult decisions.”
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The Dust Devils — who went 34-42 last season but just missed winning the first-half NWL North championship — open their season with a five-game road series against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, beginning at 6:35 p.m. Thursday.
On the opening-day roster is one of the San Diego Padres’ most prized prospects, 18-year-old left-handed pitcher Adrian Morejon. The Cuban native is the No. 91 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com and signed an $11 million contract with the Padres in 2016, though this will be his first professional season.
“Electric arm, good stuff, great poise on the mound for an 18-year-old,” Fritz said. “I think he’ll be exciting to watch.”
It’s tough to tell where Morejon will end up when the dust (rim shot) settles after the draft — the Padres lean toward sending their teenage prospects to the Arizona League — but for the time being, he’s looking forward to playing in front of fans and taking in the atmosphere of true professional ball.
“I’m really happy to be here because I spent a lot of time in extended spring training after getting hurt,” said Morejon, with fielding coach Oscar Salazar translating. “Finally I’m here, I’m fine, and I’m looking forward to proving to the team what I’ve got and do what’s best for the team to win.”
That sentiment is shared by several of the Dust Devils, many of whom spent the past couple months in Peoria, Ariz., playing in Extended Spring Training.
“I love the city, I love the fans here,” said outfielder Luis Asuncion, who hit .241 and drove in 21 runs in 58 games for the Dust Devils last season. “I miss that, because in extended, we don’t have fans. We play in the mornings, so it’s really hot there.
“Now we get to play with the lights on — it’s that kind of stuff that I miss, so I’m really happy to be back here.”
Asuncion is one of three Dust Devils outfielders returning from last season, with Aldemar Burgos and Josh Magee also joining the fold.
The one addition thus far to the outfield is speedy Tre Carter, the Padres’ 11th-round pick in the 2016 draft. The Padres organization is known for its aggressiveness on the base paths, which suits Carter just fine.
“I like playing fast,” he said. “Sometimes the coaches say I play too fast, but that’s something we’re working on. I like to steal bases, coaches like to let me steal. Playing fast in the outfield, getting balls back in as quickly as possible, just doing everything as fast as I possibly can.
“I love it, they’re always pushing me. If I get on base, they want me to steal at least one bag.”
The Padres have spent nearly $80 million on international players in the past year, and the Dust Devils’ roster features a lot of the organization’s up-and-coming talent from Latin America.
Players born outside the U.S. make up exactly half of Tri-City’s 30-man roster for opening day — and represent some of its top talent.
Fritz said he was excited about 18-year-old right-hander Henry Henry (San Cristobal, Domican Republic), and 17-year-old shortstop Luis Almanzar (Santo Domingo, DR) was ranked No. 3 on MLB.com’s International Top 30 Prospects List when he signed a $4 million deal with the Padres last year.
Henry pitched in 11 games between his time in the Dominican and Arizona rookie leagues last year, compiling a 1-4 record and 4.89 ERA over 35 innings.
MINOR-LEAGUE BALL RETURNS TO GESA
The Dust Devils face the Spokane Indians in their home-opener June 20 to kick off a three-game series. They’ll follow that up with three games over the weekend against the Everett AquaSox.
All of Tri-City’s home games have scheduled 7:15 p.m. start times.
PADRES TAKE GORE WITH NO. 3 PICK
San Diego followed suit with the top two picks in the draft Monday when it chose a prominent high school prospect with the third overall pick.
MacKenzie Gore (Whiteville (N.C.) High School) is a left-handed pitcher with a 92-96 mph fastball and an above average slider and curve. He apparently can hit, too. However, if last season is any indication, Gore likely won’t wind up in the Tri-Cities, at least this summer, as the Padres tend to stash their high school picks in the rookie leagues for a year.
San Diego selected high school catchers with its two other first-day picks, taking Luis Campusano-Cracero (Cross Creek (Ga.)) with the 39th, and Blake Hunt (Mater Dei (Calif.)) with the 69th.