Dustin Brennan is in his first year covering the Dust Devils for the Tri-City Herald. He is a recent graduate of Washington State University where he covered sports for both the Moscow-Pullman Daily News as well as the WSU paper The Daily Evergreen .
Brennan is a native Washingtonian and has been covering sports in some capacity for the past decade. Dustin was nice enough to answer a few questions about the recently finished Dust Devils’ season.
MadFriars: In addition to covering the Dust Devils, what other sports/news do you cover with the Tri-City Herald?
Dustin Brennan: We’ve got a ton of high schools out in the Tri-Cities and surrounding communities and football tends to be the big draw for our readership. Right now I’m also covering some high school and junior college soccer.
This has been the second year that the Dust Devils have been affiliated with the Padres. As someone who covers the team, has there been a big difference between the team as a Padre verse Rockies affiliate?
Dustin Brennan: I wasn’t in the area while the team was with the Rockies, but from what I’ve gathered in conversations with management, the level of talent that the Dust Devils have gotten has skyrocketed since joining the Padres.
It sounded like the Rockies were splitting their college draft picks between the Dust Devils in the Northwest League and another team in the Pioneer League, so we rarely got rookies drafted in the first ten rounds sent out this way.
The Padres put their top pitching two draft picks in Tri-Cities. While neither threw a ton of innings with the team what was your impression of the two pitchers?
Dustin Brennan: I got to see a lot more of Eric Lauer than Cal Quantrill when they eventually made their ways up from the rookie leagues and both of them definitely have the talent to move up in the organization.
Lauer seemed to have this innate ability to get out of really bad situations; I think in each of his first three starts he got out of no-outs, bases loaded jams early, and ended up going three to four scoreless innings.
Speaking of pitchers, the Padres traded Melvin Upton, Jr. for one of the Jay’s better upside prospects in RHP Hansel Rodriguez. Unfortunately, he was roughed up in his time with the Dust Devils.
As someone who got to see him first hand, how did his numbers compare to the on field product?
Dustin Brennan: I saw some of Hansel’s worst outings, so my opinion of him might be a bit skewed. He really got washed out amidst all of the phenomenal bullpen, and at times starting, pitching the team had throughout the year.
Switch-hitter Buddy Reed joined the team late, started off slow, and then seemed to gain steam as the season was ending. When he was selected he was viewed as “one of the best athletes in the draft.”
Did Reed look the part? Do you think he can develop into an all-around player and not just a speed/defense guy?
Dustin Brennan: Especially when [Chris] Baker got called up, Reed filled a vital role for the team as the season wore on as a defensive/base stealing specialist.
I got out to more games early in the season and didn’t get to see much of his offensive renaissance; most of which happened on the road any ways, because Gesa Stadium could be the worst hitters park in America.
Light hitting was the only complaint you could have about the way this guy plays. But he hit well in the SEC, and most guys who played against similar competition say the pitching was better there than in the Northwest League, so its possible he was just in a little bit of a slump when he made the trek out west.
Chris Baker didn’t make too far of a trip from the University of Washington to Tri-Cities. After being named one of the best players in the Pac-12 he continued his dominance with the Dust Devils including being named an All-Star. How did he look at the plate, and do you think he has the ability to stay at shortstop?
Dustin Brennan: I’m by no means a professional talent evaluator, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt; but Baker looked like the most professional hitter in the Dust Devils’ lineup.
Manager Ben Fritz echoed that sentiment throughout the year. As far as I can remember, he was the only hitter who didn’t go through a major slump, and he actually had a little bit more power than his numbers at UW give him credit for, again, remember that nobody hits for power at Gesa Stadium, so his Northwest League numbers don’t support that claim either.
It came as no surprise to me when he got promoted to Fort Wayne, and I expect him to continue being an everyday shortstop at each stop. Judging by his numbers at the college level, he also plays a very capable second and third base, though he spent all of his time in the Tri-Cities at short.
LHP Joey Lucchesi led the NCAA in strikeouts, and continued his dominance with Tri-City. His numbers were almost unfair to hitters. Did he really look that dominating, or was it more of a smoke and mirrors stuff that had young hitters fooled?
Dustin Brennan: Even with the armory of really good bullpen pitchers and the high-draft pick starters, Joey Lucchesi seems like the most talented pitcher from the crop of prospects we had.
He started the season as sort of an eighth inning reliever, mostly because he was on a really tight inning count after throwing around 115 for his college team. He got promoted to a starting role, because, I don’t know, watching a setup man work that many one-two-three innings gets boring?
Fastball sits in the low 90’s, but it’s his put-away slider that made him pretty much un-hittable against Northwest Legue bats. Maybe you’re right, and it was a little bit of smoke-and-mirrors, but it wasn’t like veteran lefty-savvy that got him outs; he just has nasty stuff.
As he moves up through the organization, I’ll be curious to see if he has as much success as he did this summer, because he was impressive.
From your time covering the team who were the top pitcher/hitter in terms of talent? Did anyone stand out above the rest?
Dustin Brennan: From a five-tools perspective, Chris Baker was the top talent we had here. Third baseman Boomer White has a pretty good glove and some pop, but he had some really bad stretches at the plate and did that thing where he would make a diving stop or a barehanded play, and then kick a routine grounder the next inning.
Without looking at the team’s roster, I would say Nate Easley is about five-foot-eight and weighs 160 pounds soaking wet, but he was solid at second base and had a knack for hitting triples off the wall in straight-away centerfield. Homers anywhere other than Pasco, so maybe he’s a piece as his career goes on.
As far as pitchers, Quantrill seemed like the most complete guy, which was to be expected, but there’s always concern about career longevity after Tommy John surgery. For that reason, I’d put more into Lucchesi, who got a lot of use in college and managed to stay healthy throughout.
Among the best of those other guys I’ve referenced: Jesse Scholtens, had a perfect game in college, Aaron Cressley, David Bednar, Mark Zimmerman, who ended the season in Lake Elsinore, Emmanuel Ramirez and Evan Miller.
There were more that were really, really good, but these are just the first ones that come to mind.
You can follow Dustin on Twitter @Tweet_by_Dustin
Tomorrow we talk with Padres Director of Player Development Sam Geaney on San Diego's prospects in the Northwest League.