MadFriars’ Wrap-Up Series: Tri-City Dust Devils

Photo Credit: Mike Wilson

MadFriars kicks off its end of the year wrap-up series for Fox Sports San Diego with all of the Padres’ affiliates with the guys that know them the best — their play-by-play announcers. Today’s interview is with Chris King, the-play-by-voice of the Tri-City Dust Devils. Before we review the Dust Devils campaign, we have a quick rundown of the top players in the Arizona League and for the Dust Devils, who play in the Northwest League

Arizona League Padres: For the second straight season, the Padres fielded two teams in the Arizona League, creatively named AZL Padres-1 and AZL Padres-2. Both clubs posted losing records, finishing 27-29 and 26-30 respectively.

The AZL clubs featured a mix of recent draft picks and players making their stateside debuts after being signed as international free agents. Ryan Weathers, the Padres’ top draft pick in 2018 and Comp Round A pick Xavier Edwards were the headliners of a very intriguing group of teenage prospects who made their professional debut in the spring training home of the big league club.

Top Players: Despite a late-season promotion to Tri-City, infielder Tucupita Marcano won the Arizona League batting title with a .395 batting average in 151 plate appearances. The 18-year-old showed outstanding bat-to-ball skills and walked 26 times while striking out just ten times at the plate. Marcano stole ten bags and was leading the league in hits and walks at the time of his promotion.

LINK: 2018 AZL Padres Position Prospect of the Year

Top Pitchers: LHP Joey Cantillo pitched in the Arizona League for a second straight summer, before earning a late-season promotion to Fort Wayne. Cantillo utilized a low-90s fastball and excellent off-speed stuff and pitched to a sparkling 2.18 ERA in 45.1 innings.

LINK: 2018 AZL Padres Pitcher of the Year

John Conniff talked to Sam Geaney, the Padres’ Director of Player Development about players Cantillo and Marcano, as well as some of the 2018 draft picks, such as infielder Sean Guilbe and catcher/first baseman Nick Gatewood.

LINK: Q&A with Sam Geaney 

Tri-City Dust Devils: The Dust Devils had some standouts with individual performances in 2018 but the squad finished in last place with a 35-41 record. The Dust Devils finished near the bottom of the league offensively (Gesa Stadium, the Dust Devils’ home field is a notoriously difficult place to hit) but the pitching staff led the league in strikeouts for the second consecutive season.

Top Players: Shortstop Owen Miller, a third-round pick in this year’s draft, played at three different levels in his debut season, but did most of his damage for the Dust Devils.  Olivier Basabe, who played both in the infield and the outfield, also had a breakout campaign in the Northwest League.  Late season addition shortstop Xavier Edwards, the Padres’ second overall pick in the 2018 draft, showed plate discipline beyond his 18 years and will be one of San Diego’s top prospects going into next year.

LINK: 2018 Tri-City Dust Devils Player of the Year

Top Pitchers: The Dust Devils pitching staff was led by Ramon Perez and Angel Acevedo, both less heralded pitchers from the Padres’ big international free agent class of 2016.  Tri-City got big performances out of the bullpen from Dan Dallas and Jordan Guerrero.

LINK: 2018 Tri-City Dust Devils Pitcher of the Year

Sam Geaney talked about the Dust Devils prospects at Tri-City including what may be one of the better double-play combinations in the Midwest League next supper with Xavier Edwards and Tucupita Marcano.

LINK: Q&A with Sam Geaney on the 2018 Tri-City Dust Devils

MadFriars Minor League Announcer Series: Chris King

Chris King just finished his seventh season of calling Dust Devils baseball and has seen some of the finest talents in the Padres’ vaunted system in Pasco over the last few years. In addition to his responsibilities with the Dust Devils, King is also the radio voice of the Idaho Vandals men’s basketball team. The Washington State alumnus talked to us about the 2018 version of the Tri-City Dust Devils.

MadFriars: The Dust Devils had a new manager in former big leaguer Mike McCoy. How was his managerial style and what did he bring to the team on a daily basis?

Chris King: I think Mike was great. He was great to work with. We’ve been really lucky. This has been the Dust Devils’ fourth year as a Padres’ affiliate and we’ve had really good luck with our managers to this point.

[Former Dust Devils manager and current rehab pitching coach] Ben Fritz was outstanding the previous two years. [Current TinCaps’ manager] Anthony Contreras was here in year one. Mike is a guy who has so much playing experience, and really all these guys really have a ton of playing experience but Mike has been up in the major leagues and Mike was a guy when you look at his career, he wasn’t the highest draft pick but he worked his way to make it up to the major leagues.

It’s funny at one point this season, [Dust Devils’] catcher Chandler Seagle had to pitch in a game because the team was low on pitching — it happens maybe once a year, twice a year — where a position player needs to pitch. And [McCoy] could talk about it — he pitched in the big leagues when he was a position player and he could give advice of what to do.

Mike was fantastic, the whole staff was great to work with and it was kind of another year of a lot of really good talent. We’ve been really fortunate — the four years that the Dust Devils have been with the Padres, I have been with the team for all four of those years and to have a front-row seat of all of the talent coming through and for that to continue into this year has really been a lot of fun.

Catcher Blake Hunt finished the year really strong after scuffling through the first part of the season. Do you think that was a byproduct of a major adjustment or did he just seem to get better with more at-bats? 

Chris King: Yeah, I think it was just more of him getting really hot and maybe more of the latter part of what you suggested. I know [Dust Devils’ hitting coach] Pat O’Sullivan had been working with him throughout the year, and boy, it really was an impressive tear. And I know for Blake Hunt he didn’t necessarily play a ton, especially catching-wise last year, in his first year down in the Arizona League.

For anyone, I think it takes a little bit of an adjustment to get used to the grind of catching every day and he caught more than any other player in the Northwest League. A lot of times in the past there maybe has been a split, like last year, it was almost 50/50 with Chandler Seagle and Jalen Washington, but Blake got the majority of the playing time as the team’s catcher this year. We kind of saw flashes from him before, throughout the season, but boy did he put together an impressive stretch at the end of the season.

We saw his defense improve too along that period as well. His numbers really jumped up, when you look over the last two or three weeks of the season and they really shot up and he became, with some guys moved up [to Fort Wayne] at the end of the season, he became the most dangerous hitter in the middle part of the order.

Third round pick, SS Owen Miller had a monster season in Pasco, before earning a promotion to Fort Wayne. What kind of hitter can you see him becoming going forward?

Chris King: Not only did [Miller] tear up short-season pitching, but he ended up having a better batting average in Fort Wayne. [Miller hit .336 in Fort Wayne and .335 with Tri-City]. When you see him, there’s not a lot that necessarily flashy about him and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. He just flat-out hits.

He’s hit at every level he’s been at, he hit for two cycles in three days in the Northwoods League, the summer collegiate league last summer. He set the single-season hits record this year at Illinois State and he just continued to do the same thing.

I was trying to think of a guy that we have had since the Dust Devils became a Padres’ affiliate, who was exactly comparable to [Miller] — we’ve had some good hitters — but he just goes to plate and knows how to put the ball in play, and to have a batting average above .300.

There’s not one thing that stands out about him, where you say this tool is super-flashy, it’s really he knows how to hit and it’s been fun to watch him in Fort Wayne and what he was able to do with the Dust Devils.

Big Luis Asuncion finished his third straight year with the Dust Devils. What did you see from him and were there any noticeable improvements in 2018, as he transitioned to first base? 

Chris King: Yeah, it was interesting. I talked about it on the air. He played in over 180 games with the Dust Devils. We aren’t used to having a guy around like that so much. He is a great guy and boy when he connects, it looks really, really good.

He’s still a young guy at 21. He took a real step forward last year. Last year, he played in the Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game. He ended up being the MVP of the game. He was back this year and I think a lot of it had to be so much talent around and there just wasn’t a lot of room for him to go up.

They had him play first base and he kind of platooned with Justin Paulsen. I would say at times he could put together stretches as impressive as any hitter we saw this year. There were also times where he would have some cold spells at the plate. But when he is on, boy watch out. He ended up tied for fifth in the Northwest League in doubles this year and August 2nd was his last double. He went nearly the whole last month of the season without a double and you would like to some more extra-base hits in there. He also finished the season as the team leader in home runs but that just goes to show you that when he is on, he has stretches where he is spraying extra-base hits all over the ballpark.

Henry Henry returned for his second season in the Northwest League after struggling in the Midwest League to start the year. Is he a guy that should be someone to watch next year? 

Chris King: You know, I would say with Henry Henry, and I mean this in a positive way, we saw a lot of the same. He performed really well last year with the Dust Devils. He had a 3.48 ERA and made the same number of starts as he did this year. His ERA was a little bit lower [3.32 ERA this year].

He’s still such a young guy, at just 19, but I would say the spot that you would see improvement from him is that sometimes [last year] when things weren’t going well, then he might have a hard time getting out of that jam or if things were kind of going south, then they would keep going south. But you have to learn how to deal with traffic and adversity and he did a better job of dealing with that this year.

It’s interesting, I never got a great answer as far as his issues in Fort Wayne because, at the start of the year, those numbers really weren’t good. But everything he did with the Dust Devils back before getting promoted to Fort Wayne at the end of the year, just kind of building upon what he did last year and more of the same and again I mean that in a good way because he was really strong with the Dust Devils last season.

RHP Cole Bellinger is an interesting guy because of his family ties and the fact that he is incredibly young. He had stretches of success this year in Tri-City. What did you see from Bellinger this year?

Chris King: [Bellinger] had some good stretches this year. There was a game in Spokane, specifically, that stands out; he had nine strikeouts in that game. There was never a point of the season where the velocity was overwhelming but he’s also a guy who considers his curveball his best pitch and his curveball is really an effective pitch.

Still, for him, he’s a second-year player and he has the bloodlines. You just get excited by seeing that name from what his brother has done and what his dad did but he’s super-young and he won’t turn 19 until October and it definitely seems like there is room to grow there.

Infielder Tucupita Marcano burst on to the scene this year, impressing with his eye and the plate and his ability to make contact. What stood out to you about Marcano this year? 

Chris King: With Marcano, you can see why he hit .393 in the Arizona League. He did have a tough spell and from my understanding, he wasn’t 100% — it didn’t seem like anything huge but he didn’t play in the last few games of the season. He went through a dry spell but then you would see him up at the plate and you would see why this all made sense and how it looked a lot like a certain guy who played for the Dust Devils back in 2015 at the start of the year and is now in the big leagues.

Comp Round A pick Xavier Edwards played in Pasco at the end of the season and looked impressive. What can you tell us about him?

Chris King: Edwards had a little bit of a wrist injury, so he’s a switch-hitter and only hit from the left side throughout the year. But Edwards’ speed is real — I mean really impressive speed. He ended up 10-for-10 on stolen base attempts in 24 games. The only other guy in the four years that the Dust Devils have been a Padres’ affiliate that has played for the Dust Devils after being taken out of high school in their first year was Hudson Potts.

Those guys aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison. Potts’ numbers weren’t overwhelming with the Dust Devils — you saw the flashes when he played with the Dust Devils, while Xavier Edwards finished his time with the Dust Devils hitting .314. He had four doubles and can lay down a bunt. He had nine multi-hit games and can get infield singles and his defense was strong as well.

Kevin Charity is a writer for MadFriars.com, where you can find in-depth wrap-ups of all the San Diego Padres’ minor league affiliates. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_charity.