Drew Saylor wants to win a Northwest League championship, and he wants to get dirty while doing it.
Saylor, the second-year manager of the Tri-City Dust Devils, returns with high hopes and a positive outlook for 2014. It’s been three years since Tri-City reached the NWL championship series, and the youngest skipper in professional baseball wants to bring home the Dust Devils’ first championship.
“I think a lot of expectations are the same. We want to go out and compete. We’re going to be getting dirty,” Saylor said. “I think it’s going to be a successful season. We saw some of those traits in extended spring training.”
The Dust Devils will open their 14th season at 6:15 p.m. Friday in Boise, and after spending the last five months at the Colorado Rockies’ spring training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., Tri-City players are more than ready to take the field.
“For me, it’s another opportunity to play competitive ball,” said outfielder Mike Tauchman, a returning NWL all-star. “The past couple months we’ve been putting on the uniform and playing (exhibition) games, but now the games mean a little more. I’m looking forward to playing on opening day.”
Another returning Tri-City player, pitcher Marc Magliaro, learned a great deal as a rookie. Now, he sees himself in a different role.
“My plan is to help this team as much as I can when I’m here and to help show the younger kids what it’s like to play pro ball,” Magliaro said. “I want to be a leader in the bullpen and have a positive attitude about what’s happening.”
Pitcher Helmis Rodriguez, a 20-year-old left-hander in his fourth season in the Colorado Rockies’ system, earned his first opening day start and plans to make the most of it.
“When we looked at him last year, he was a little undersized, but he’s been up to 93 mph in extended. Coming from the left side, that’s tremendous,” Dust Devils pitching coach Frank Gonzales said. “He spins the curve pretty well, but the changeup is really his plus pitch.”
Rodriguez is looking forward to playing in the NWL, and especially at Gesa Stadium, where he can be a little more free with his fastball.
“If you throw it a little bit high (at Grand Junction), it’s a home run. You had to throw down in the zone,” he said. “The Latin guys told me now I can use my fastball, because it’s a big park.”
Overall, Saylor likes the makeup of this club from top to bottom. There are a lot of familiar faces, including former Gesa Stadium standouts Tauchman, Ryan Warner, Tyler Gagnon and Francisco Sosa. In all, 15 players who have previously worn the Tri-City blue and gold are on the opening day roster.
But Saylor also likes the new faces who could add some spice to the playoff race.
“I like our energy. The guys are bouncing around ready to go,” Saylor said. “A little cohesiveness has started, and it’s our job as coaches to keep that going.”
Starting rotation: Gonzales announced the starters through the five-game set in Boise, beginning with Rodriguez. Next will be Kennewick native Tony Bryant, whose role changes from reliever to starter. No. 3 will be Gagnon, who helped lead Tri-City to its last NWL East title in 2011. Next is Warner, a NWL all-star in 2013, followed by Blake Shouse, a fifth-round pick in 2013.
The closer will be Scott Firth, whom Gonzales describes as “aggresive, with a put-away slider.” Firth also mixes in a 90-plus mph sinker that should give the defense plenty of chances to help him out.
No Story-book ending in Tri-City: Trevor Story, the Rockies’ No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, is listed on the roster on a rehabilitation stint but won’t be here for long. Story, a 21-year-old infielder out of Irving, Texas, could be headed out of town before the bus leaves Boise.
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; email@example.com