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Falling short of the dream

The Colorado Rockies parted ways with outfielder Josh Banda and catcher Jhaysson Agustin last Friday, giving them their unconditional release.

It’s always a sad day to see players go, but it’s usually not too much of a surprise when the names that come up.

The same was true Friday, as Banda and Agustin had a combined six years of service in the Rockies system, and neither had much of a shot to make much of a jump past short-season Class A.

“It’s a tough thing to tell them they’re no longer a part of the organization. They’re both good kids,” said Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio. “Banda understood it was a numbers situation. Jhaysson took it much harder.

“He was kind of speechless. Sometimes because the Latin players are so far from home, there’s really nowhere else to go.”

Both players had significant power potential, but both struggled mightily with strikeouts.

Agustin drove in 35 runs with five home runs with Asheville last season, but hit just .189 and struck out 73 times in 212 at bats — nearly 35 percent of the time. He was hitting .211 with 14 strikeouts in 11 games this season.

Banda, for the most part, was a player without a position. He was a catcher at California Baptist before being drafted by the Rockies in the 35th round. But the Dust Devils never used him as a catcher, much to his chagrin.

Instead, Tri-City tried turning him into an outfielder after a short stint at first base. The results were mixed at best. Banda didn’t quite have the experience in the outfield to get good jumps or good reads on flyballs.

But Banda’s frustration hit a high point this season. He has nothing against the Tri-Cities, but he wasn’t happy being assigned here for a third season.

“I played with Triple-A during spring training, and I thought I would break in with (Class A) Asheville,” said Banda, who hit .244 with nine homers and 41 RBIs in 2006-07. He was hitting .218 with three homers and 11 RBIs upon is release.

One of his biggest frustrations this season was watching the Rockies try to turn Jordan Pacheco — whom they drafted as an infielder — into a catcher, while Banda continued to get spot starts in left field. It hasn’t been easy for Banda to watch Pacheco fight to learn a position with which he is already familiar.

“I can still get down and block balls or throw a BB to second base,” he said. “NAIA baseball isn’t the pros, but you still have to have an arm to catch runners.”

The unfortunate part is that Banda improved his outfield play dramatically, spending three days a week taking fungos from a friend in the outfield. His reads and his routes to balls had improved significantly.

“I was glad to see they weren’t just DH-ing him,” said hitting and outfield coach Anthony Sanders. “He’s another guy who needs an opportunity. He’s been working hard.”

The Rockies organization will try to find another place for both players, maybe in another system or possibly one of the many independent leagues around the country.

Of course, those opportunities are there only there if they want it.

“I’ll quit the game before I play in an independent league,” said Banda, who runs his own car detailing business down in Lakewood, Calif., called Banda Autoworks.

But that’s the harsh side of minor league baseball. Every player comes here with a dream of playing major-league baseball, but very few get to achieve it.

“If it was up to me I’d keep them all,” Ocasio said. “For me to have to give them the news, that’s the part I don’t like. Everything else is easy.”

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