The Dust Devils came within one win of capturing the Northwest League title, but ultimately fell to Hillsboro in the decisive game five of the Northwest League Championship Series. The team didn’t feature a lot of high draft picks or big names but managed to record a 22-16 second half after struggling out of the gate.
Tri-City rode a collection of college pitchers making their pro debuts to a playoff spot, with contributions at the plate from players like Jordy Barley, Sean Guilbe and Kelvin Melean, who played for Tri-City in 2018.
Minor League Announcer Series: Chris King, Part One.
Chris King just completed his eighth season behind the microphone in Tri-City, where he has had a first-hand look at players such as Fernando Tatis Jr., Adrian Morejon and, Joey Lucchesi among many others. The Pacific Northwest native and Washington State grad gave us his insight into the 2019 version of the Dust Devils. Today, we will focus on some of the hitters who saw action in Pasco, followed by some of King’s thoughts on the pitching staff tomorrow.
MadFriars: It seemed like a tale of two halves, as the Dust Devils struggled out of the gate but played really well down the stretch. What was the big difference in the second half?
Chris King: That’s a good question. The team just came together. It felt like there was always good chemistry and a good group of guys. I think a lot of times when you have a run deep in the playoffs like [the Dust Devils had] you have a group of guys that look forward to coming to the ballpark every day and enjoy playing baseball. Not that guys don’t, but it can be tough, especially for some guys that are straight out of college at our level, who have been going at it for so long; guys straight from the draft who gave it their all during their college season and in a whirlwind, their professional careers get started.
Some guys kicked it into gear. Logan Driscoll missed a decent chunk of time; he only played in a handful of games to start the season and then had a nagging injury that kept him out. Getting Driscoll healthy and in the swing of things made a big difference. He was a really impressive player to see throughout the course of the season when he was healthy. [Driscoll] was the highest draft pick from this year’s draft to play with the Dust Devils this season and he certainly impressed.
A guy like [former Helix High star] Jack Stronach really turned it on after the all-star break and that helped out quite a bit. The team got [infielder] Luke Becker back after the break. Even though Becker had been with the Dust Devils last year and at the start of the season, he was really a glue guy. He played almost everywhere in the field and even pitched in a game. He was just one of those guys that had a steady presence. He really did a nice job at the plate. It was just guys gelling together and playing their best baseball at the right time.
You mentioned Logan Driscoll, who was arguably the highest-profile player that saw time with the Dust Devils this year. As you watched him down the stretch, what were your overall impressions of him at the plate and behind the plate? Is he a guy that can stick at catcher or would he be better suited to be a multi-position player of sorts?
Chris King: I would say he definitely impressed as a catcher. He looked sharp as a catcher. I would say overall — of the five years that the Dust Devils have been a Padres’ [affiliate] — those two combined might be the best catching [tandem]. We’ve had some really good catchers come through, but I’d say, as far as a one-two punch, that you really feel confident with them behind the plate and what they do defensively.
Driscoll looked strong out in right field. He definitely looked solid behind the plate. I don’t know where his long-term future is but having the ability to catch and catch at the level that he does is really a great thing to have. I’m assuming he’s more valuable to the Padres as a catcher long-term. You got a feeling of confidence in both spots when he was out there.
You spoke about Driscoll’s ability behind the plate but how did he look offensively? Especially when you take into consideration that Gesa Stadium is not a hitter-friendly ballpark?
Chris King: He looked strong. He had some timely hits this year. He ended up with three home runs during the regular season. There were some times as a left-handed hitter that the shift would be in on him and he would find that opening through the infield. When you look at the Dust Devils during the regular season, he had the second-highest batting average [Driscoll hit .260/.340/.458 during the regular season].
You mentioned Jonny Homza, who to me, is one of the most interesting guys on the roster, purely due to the fact that he is from Alaska. He never really played catcher before he was drafted by the Padres but you said that he looked good behind the dish. What made him so impressive?
Chris King: The team had a lot of confidence in him behind the plate. That’s really saying something, considering he didn’t start catching until he started his pro career. In high school in Alaska, he never caught at all.
This was his third year professionally and he was catching at a high level. He was managing the staff well and it seemed like the coaches had a lot of confidence in him. Where ever you put Homza, people felt good about having him out there. It didn’t matter if it was at catcher or third base, he was just kind of a glue guy and you just knew he was going to do a good job out there.
When the initial Dust Devils roster was announced in June, for me shortstop Jordy Barley was one of the headliners and when you look at the power numbers, he ended up hitting eight, which was the most by a Dust Devils player in ten years. Overall, how impressive was he to watch every day?
Chris King: I would say that when he was on, he was impressive. I would say of any player on the Dust Devils and maybe more so of the position players but he may have been the guy with the biggest ceiling. There’s certainly lots of raw talent with Barley. His defense improved from the first half of the season to the second half. He cut down on his errors in the second half but he ended up making 23 errors in 62 games, so probably not [what you want] ideally.
He put together some [good] stretches. He had a stretch in Everett where he went 10-for-15, with four homers. There were times where he could be a little hot-or-cold at the plate but when he was hot, he seemed to have a pretty effortless swing and a lot of raw power. He’s one of those guys that is physically gifted and he’s still quite young; it’s just whether the consistency will be there. You would see that at times but there is still room to grow, as far as the consistency goes.
[Barley] was an everyday guy. He definitely got a chance to go in and get his feet wet. He got plenty of playing time, so it was a good season for him. He ended second on the team in games played; he played 66 out of 76.
Infielder Sean Guilbe was my choice for the Dust Devils player of the year, just based on what he did in the power department, especially after a slow start. Plus his versatility makes him interesting. As someone who saw him every day, what were your thoughts?
Chris King: No doubt. He has a lot of raw power. It’s impressive when he can barrel up on the ball. Like Barley, consistency [is key]. It will be interesting to see where his long-term home is. Is he able to be a third baseman or will he end up in the outfield? For him, looking at the numbers, he ended up at .233 with six homers. 23 of his 44 hits [went for extra bases], so more times than not when he got a hit, it went for extra bases.
But again a guy drafted out of high school trying to get into the swing of things, consistency is the big key for Guilbe.
Matthew Acosta, the 12th-round pick out of USC got off to a really fast start but faded a little bit late, perhaps with the grind of a really long season. When he was on, what type of player was he?
Chris King: He came in and hit the ground running. He had the longest hitting streak for the team this season with an 11-game streak. He did cool off a bit in August but at the same point, he heated back up at the end of the season. That’s when the Dust Devils were playing their best baseball and he was a big part of that. He had 15 hits over his last 12 games and found that stride from the beginning of the year. He was someone who came from a high-level school from USC and was a three-year college player. That experience was something you liked to see, even though it wasn’t experience at the professional level, it was experience playing at a high-level college program, where they can come in right away and make an impact in the Northwest League and that’s what he was able to do.
Jack Stronach was an interesting guy for Padres’ fans since he attended UCLA and went to Helix High. He got off to a really slow start but turned in on down the stretch. What was the big reason for his turnaround?
Chris King: Stronach was really impressive and he was another one of those guys who was a big part of things down the stretch. He was a big reason why the team was able to make a run. He didn’t get a ton of playing time early on, but between guys getting called up and some [injuries down the stretch], there weren’t as many position players down the stretch and Stronach benefitted from that.
He was a guy kind of like Driscoll and Homza, who just had a knack to get that clutch base hit at the right time. He was pretty versatile in the outfield and made some nice hustle plays. For Stronach, if you just look at his numbers and saw that he hit .236, it wouldn’t tell the whole story for the quality season that he had and the contributions that he made to the team.