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Dust Devils making a difference in Rockies' system

Just under three weeks into the minor league season, several former Tri-City Dust Devils have made significant impacts within the Colorado Rockies’ system.

I counted 52 Dust Devils alumni among the Rockies’ four minor-league teams currently in action — the Asheville Tourists of the low single-A Carolina League, the Modesto Nuts of the high single-A California League, the Tulsa Drillers of the double-A Texas League and the Colorado Sky Sox of the triple-A Pacific Coast League. By the way, that number does not include the dozen or so former Tri-City players still hard at work at the Rockies’ extended spring training site in Tucson, Ariz.

Of course, we can’t forget the Dust Devils alumni who have already reached the major leagues. They are: Aaron Cook (2006), Seth Smith (2004) and Ryan Spilborghs (2002). Don’t forget Jeff Francis (2002), who is currently on the disabled list.

Warren Schaeffer was only with the Dust Devils a short time in 2007, but he is just one step away from the big leagues at Colorado Springs, hitting .344 with the Sky Sox with 10 RBIs in 11 games. He’s joined there by pitcher Shane Lindsay (2005-07), outfielder Chris Frey (2005), catcher Michael McKenry (2006) and first baseman Mike Paulk (2005). Any or all of them could get their first taste of the big leagues this season.

Among the 15 former Dust Devils at Asheville, Mike Zuanich (2009) has made the biggest splash so far. In just nine games, the 6-foot-4 first baseman leads all Tourists hitters with a .382 average and is tied for fourth on the team with 10 RBIs. Helder Velazquez (2007), a shortstop who missed all of 2009 with a broken femur, is back and has two homers in his first 11 games. Outfielder Orlando Sandoval (2009) is second on the team with six doubles, and Joseph Sanders (2009) has started all but one game at third base and is second with three homers and tied for fourth with 10 RBIs.Wes Musick (2009) is 2-2 with a 6.41 ERA in four starts at Asheville and is tied for the team lead with 19 strikeouts. Charlie Ruiz, a Northwest League all-star closer in 2009, leads the team with four saves.

At Modesto, 16 former Tri-City players are making a difference, including 2009 Carolina League MVP Jordan Pacheco (2007-08). The converted infielder turned catcher ranks among California League leaders in RBIs (18, first), doubles (6, tied for third) and batting (.365, seventh). If he can continue to hit like that, he could become one of the hottest catching prospects in the minors. Not far behind him is shortstop Thomas Field (2008) with a .327 average (third on the Nuts) and four stolen bases (tied for first on the team). First baseman Ben Paulsen (2009) is hitting .284 (fourth) with 10 RBIs (tied for second), while outfielder Brian Rike (2007) has 10 RBIs (t-second) and three stolen bases. Outfielder Tim Wheeler (2009), a first-round pick last season, is hitting .263 with two homers, two stolen bases, eight RBIs and 13 runs (second).Pitcher Juan Nicasio (2008), who made the Rockies 40-man roster this season, is 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA in four starts with 23 strikeouts. Reliever Stephen Dodson (2008) has a 0.93 ERA and 10 strikeouts in six games. Kenneth Durst (2007-08) and Rob Scahill (2009) are also part of the starting rotation.

Sixteen more Dust Devils alumni are on the Tulsa roster, led by outfielder Scott Beerer (2009), who leads the team with a .321 average and seven RBIs in 15 games. He’s joined by outfielder Jeff Kindel (2006), who is hitting .309 with seven RBIs and two home runs (tied for second). Middle infielder Jason Van Kooten (2005) continues to produce with seven runs (third), four doubles (first), two triples (first) and three stolen bases (second), while outfielder Anthony Jackson (2006) leads the team with eight runs and seven stolen bases.Pitcher Christian Friedrich (2008), a first-rounder who made his pro debut in Tri-City, continues to impress Rockies scouts. He has started strong in the Texas League despite an 0-1 record, wheeling and dealing for a 2.81 ERA and 16 strikeouts in three starts. He is one of four former Dust Devils in the starting rotation along with Cory Riordan (2007), Bruce Billings (2007) and Keith Weiser (2006). Craig Baker (2006) has locked up the team’s closer job, going 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA and four saves.

Stay tuned for more Dust Devils updates.