It’s easy to forget that Peter Tago is just 20 years old.
With two years as a minor-league baseball player already under his belt, the 6-foot-2 right-hander with a lean, muscular build looks like a professional athlete. He glided coolly and calmly between interviews during the Tri-City Dust Devils’ media day Wednesday at Gesa Stadium, fielding every question with an earnest answer.
For Tago, a first-round pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2010, acting like a professional is just as important as being one.
“I don’t come off as a 20-year-old. I like to think I have matured as a baseball player and as a person,” said Tago, a returning member of the Tri-City Dust Devils who has been tabbed as the Opening Day starter for Friday.
The Dust Devils will open with a three-game series against the two-time defending Northwest League champion Vancouver Canadians at 7:15 p.m. at Gesa Stadium.
In several instances, Tago showed Tri-City fans why the Rockies thought so highly of him in the 2010 draft. In his seventh start of the season last year, he tossed eight scoreless innings and allowed just three hits in a 2-1 home win over Salem-Keizer, perhaps the most impressive effort by a Dust Devils starter all season.
Tago also struggled in spots, too, finishing the year with a 2-7 record and a 5.47 ERA in 14 starts. But Tago is convinced that with every day comes another chance to learn and get better.
“I’m definitely more prepared this year than I was last year. I had a few things I kind of dialed into and really focused on every day. The offseason was basically just trying to get my body ready for the day-to-day grind,” Tago said. “For the most part, it was about overall strength and refining my delivery and my pitches. When I came to spring training, I was ready to go.”
His teammates — especially the catchers who have to reign in Tago’s mid-90s fastball and dynamic curve — aren’t about to disagree.
“He can go up to 96 (mph) and has a good curve. I think he has the best curve on the team,” catcher Wilfredo Rodriguez said.
So good in fact that it took some time before the backstops could keep the curve in their mitts.
“In the beginning, it was a little tough, but seeing the same curve every day I got used to it,” Rodriguez said.
Dust Devils pitching coach Frank Gonzales is convinced this could be the year Tago lives up to the hype of a first-round selection.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt there’s projection there,” Gonzales said. “He’s projected as a guy who we all want to go on and have a major league career, but at the end of the day, he holds the key. He’s the guy in charge. He has to be willing to stay within all the things he’s doing well now.”
Tago may not spend much time in the Tri-Cities, however. He’s scheduled for two starts with the Dust Devils before he’ll be shipped to Grand Junction to work with pitching coach Ryan Kibler.
“It doesn’t matter where (Tago) is at. He’s got a solid foundation right now. He’s going to go out and use it.”
After Tago’s Opening Day start, LHP Jayson Aquino will get his turn on the hill, followed by LHP Ryan Warner and RHP Johendi Jiminian. Aquino was rated by Baseball America as the Rockies’ ninth-best prospect. Warner, a third-round pick out of Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2012, went 3-0 with a 7.00 ERA in 14 games at Grand Junction last season.
Asked who will be the Dust Devils’ closer, manager Drew Saylor shrugged his shoulders. There are two players on the roster with closing experience — RHP Huascar Brazoban, who earned two saves in the Dominican Summer League last season, and RHP Bruce Kern, who had 10 saves at Asheville in 2011.
The big leagues is the ultimate destination, but for some players, the most significant growth takes place in their first few seasons of minor league ball. OF Carl Thomore was the Rockies’ second-round draft pick in 2011, but things didn’t go exactly as planned for the East Brunswick, N.J., native.
“I didn’t do too hot my first year. I wasn’t ready for the pro game hitting-wise,” Thomore said. “The big problem for a lot of high draft picks is they want to tear it up and get to the big leagues in the blink of an eye. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
After sitting out most of 2012 with a hamstring injury, Thomore — rated one of the top defensive outfield prospects in the nation by Baseball America in 2011 — is ready to let the game sink in this time around.
“You’ve got to trust the path in front of you,” Thomore said. “I’m really looking forward to this year, because in my eyes it’s my first year. I’m healthy, and I went through the whole spring training process. I’m really happy about it.”