The Tri-City Dust Devils got good news when they heard the Colorado Rockies were sending outfielder Mike Tauchman back to Pasco to rehabilitate a hamstring injury.
Here’s some even better news for Dust Devils fans: The 2013 Northwest League All-Star worked hard in hopes of putting up an even better season than the last.
“I had a couple buddies back home in the same situation,” said Tauchman, a 10th-round draft pick by the Rockies out of Bradley University last year. “It was all about getting ready for this year.”
Dust Devils manager Drew Saylor was very pleased with the work Tauchman put in over the winter and noticed right away in spring training.
“He looked great. I think the swing and hittability we saw last season was still there, and he came back in great shape," Saylor said. "He did everything he needed to do."
Tauchman's numbers last summer were impressive by any standard, but even more remarkable when you consider he played at Gesa Stadium, a noted pitcher's park.
The 6-foot-2 left-hander led Tri-City in batting average (.297), runs scored (38), hits (70), stolen bases (20) and on-base percentage (.388), and ranked among the NWL's top five in each of those categories.
He also led the Dust Devils in total bases (89) and walks (33) while finishing second with 23 RBIs and three triples.
The only thing lacking was power (he had no home runs), but he doesn't think what he calls "the light tower power" will be a big part of his future.
"All the guys I grew up watching (in Peoria, Ill.) hit a lot of home runs, but that's not my game," Tauchman said. "I"ve always been a gap-to-gap guy and able to go the other way."
He said spending the summer at Gesa Stadium helped him solidify the hitting skills he already possessed.
"What I like is it really makes you focus on your at-bats. You really have to earn your hits here," Tauchman said. "It's definitely one of the toughest parks to hit in, but it allows you to find an approach that's going to make you a good hitter. I'm better off for it."
But as much as Saylor likes Tauchman's approach to hitting, he appreciates the former second-team All-American's approach to the game in general, even going as far as calling him a "throwback type of player."
"He embodies all the necessities of a great player and a great person," said Saylor, a former All-American himself at Kent State. "There's a presence about him, even more than when he came in. I think it's his values of family and self together. He holds himself to a higher standard."
That standard carried him through William Fremd High School, where he was an all-state baseball and football player, to Bradley University, where he won the 2013 NCAA batting crown with a .425 average.
Tauchman said he learned a great deal in his rookie season.
He spent much of the second half of the year battling for the NWL batting crown, but he handled it with grace and poise, not losing sight of the bigger picture of making the team better and learning the good habits that can lead to a major league career.
"You definitely learn to carry yourself as a professional and to prepare your body for playing every day," he said. "You go from playing 3-5 games a week (in college) to playing 75 games in 2 1/2 months. You have to eat right, get your work in and make sure there's enough in the tank for (the next) game."
Saylor, a fellow Midwesterner, believes he shares some of those successful traits with Tauchman, a business management and administration major who spent seven semesters on Bradley's athletic director's honor roll.
"There's kind of a Midwest chip on his shoulder. He's a blue-collar guy, a gritty, tough kind of individual," Saylor said. "He's always been that way."He's got a bright future in this game."