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Gustafson plays big part in building strong farm system

If you’re a baseball fan like me, I’m sure you tuned in to watch the Colorado Rockies fight their way to the 2007 National League pennant.

Even though the Rockies beat my hometown San Diego Padres in a one-game playoff to reach the Divisional Series, I was still very happy to see such a deserving group of players move on to the World Series.

What people don’t always see on a successful team, however, is the decades of experience, the years of scouting and the countless hours of preparation it takes to build up an organization to get to that point.

The Rockies in 2007 were named “Organization of the Year” by Baseball America for its rise to prominence not only at the big league level, but also for the work it had done at the lower levels to get there. During the past five years, experts have consistently ranked the Rockies’ farm system among the top 10 in the league in terms of developing talent.

A big part of that structure is Marc Gustafson, the Rockies Director of Player Development since January 2006. His job is to oversee operation of the club’s player development system, including six minor league affiliates and the Latin American programs in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Gustafson, affectionately known as ‘Gus’ around the organization, was in the Tri-Cities for the Dust Devils’ five-game series with Salem-Keizer and had a chance to share his take on the Rockies’ recent success.

“It’s nice to receive that stuff, but a lot of the credit has to go to the scouts,” said Gustafson, who began as a trainer in the Rockies system at rookie-level Chandler (Ariz.) in 1993. “You have to continue to build depth at the lower levels.”

The draft is an important part of that building process, but it can also involve signing the right free agent at the right time. Currently, 12 of the 35 players on the the Dust Devils roster are free agents.

But the largest percentage of major league talent is likely to come from the draft.

“Bill Schmidt is the scouting director, so he makes the calls on draft day,” he said. “We try to find the best player available at the time. There’s a lot of work done before the draft in terms of scouting players. Character is as much a part of the decision as anything.”

When a player is finally signed, the next decision is where to place that player within the organization, a decision that isn’t taken lightly by the Rockies.

“You have to look at where he played, the level of competition, was it a smaller school or bigger college,” Gustafson said. “Then you look at who you have in place and where the best fit is.”

Tri-Cities could be home to at least one of several of the Rockies’ remaining draft picks from last month, including Fresno State second baseman Erik Wetzel, a 13th-round selection who helped the Bulldogs win the College World Series.

“You always wait until they’re finished playing. We understand there are loose ends to tie up,” said Gustafson, who lives in Westminster, Colo., with his wife and two sons. “You obviously want to see them out there playing, but you don’t want to have to rush them into it.”

As far as the current Tri-City squad, Gus was pleased to be on hand for the pair of come-from-behind 6-5 victories over Salem-Keizer on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

“It’s a good start,” he said. “It’s a wonderful sign of character building that really helps bring a team together.”