Juan Ciriaco a hit for GJ Rockies

You notice Juan Ciriaco more at second base than you do at the plate, but the slick-fielding second baseman for the Grand Junction Rockies is the top hitter among all of the Rockies’ minor leaguers.

Ciriaco’s 3-for-4 day Sunday raised his batting average from .387 to .409, with David Dahl third among Rockies prospects at .348. Colorado Springs catcher Matt McBride is second at .349.

Ciriaco moved ahead of Dahl in on-base percentage Sunday at .451, with Dahl second at .425 and Ryan Garvey third at .421. Garvey is second (.587) and Dahl third (.580) in slugging percentage.

Dahl went 1 for 4 Sunday with a first-inning double; Garvey had the day off.

Granted, the Rookie hitters haven’t had as many at-bats as the higher levels, but those three have been consistent at the plate since the season began three weeks ago.

Ciriaco, who is second in the Pioneer League in hitting, concentrates on hitting line drives and using his speed to get on base at the bottom of the Rockies’ lineup.

Sunday, his first hit was a high chopper over third base to extend his hitting streak to five straight games. He added an infield single to short in the eighth and a sharp single to left in the ninth inning to boost his average to .409. He’s stolen eight bases in 10 attempts.

His success is particularly satisfying to manager Tony Diaz, who watched him struggle last year in Casper trying to become a switch hitter.

“I’m very proud of the kid. Last year was a very tough year for him,” Diaz said Sunday. “He was a switch-hitter and he had only been switch-hitting a year and a half. He was never completley comfortable. But to get him back on the right side where he is comfortable and confident was a big decision we made. I’m glad it’s paying off. He gives you quality at-bats consistently. I’m very proud of the way he’s performed. He works as hard as anybody.”

His speed would have been an asset from the left side of the plate, but he’s a much more confident hitter this year, and it shows.

Ciriaco said he didn’t want to fight the organization’s decision to try switch-hitting, but he’s happy to be back home on the right side of the batter’s box. Hitting in the No. 9 spot is also a benefit, he said.

“He’s really observing the pitcher a little bit more,” Ciriaco said through Diaz. The native of San Pedro de Marcoris in the Dominican Republic is still learning English.

“He’s hitting in the 9-hole so he gets to see how he pitches against the other guys. But the main thing is, he’s thinking middle of the field and not trying to do too much. He’s just thinking middle and if he happens to pull it, he pulls it by accident.”

But with his speed, accidents turn into singles and doubles.

Off the roster: Third baseman Kyle Newton, who broke his nose when he took a ground ball in the face just before the Rockies’ exhibition game, has left the team.

Newton played one game, June 24 against Idaho Falls, going 0 for 4 and committing two errors. He quit the next day, said Adam Spolane, the Rockies’ radio announcer/media relations coordinator. Spolane said the club generally does not release information when a player quits.

Newton was a 19th-round pick out of Florida Atlantic University.

A day off?: The Rockies leave tonight for Missoula, Mont., one of two trips they’ll make to play teams from the North Division.

Tuesday is the first “off” day of the season, so by traveling overnight, the club expects to arrive in Missoula early Tuesday afternoon, giving the players some semblance of a day away from the park. The only off days during the Pioneer League season are used for travel.

Former Rookie Rockies: Drew Beuerlein, who played only two games for the GJ club before moving up to Class A Asheville, seems to be the organization’s designated catcher.

After only one game with the Tourists, Beuerlein was bumped up again, this time to Advanced A Modesto. Both moves were because of injury.

In Modesto, Beuerlein is 3 for 8 in two games, has scored four runs, driven in two and hit a home run in his first game with the Nuts.

Miguel De Leon, a first baseman/designated hitter, was promoted to Tri-City in short-season Class A after five games. He’s played a dozen games for the Dust Devils, hitting .211 with six RBI and a pair of doubles.

Jarod Berggren, an outfielder out of Northern Colorado who was promoted just before the Rookie season began, has struggled at the plate. In 10 games, he’s hitting .161 with five hits and seven strikeouts in 31 at-bats.


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