Major commitment: Local baseball stars making their way through minor leagues
Today is opening day in Major League Baseball.
Four Western Slope baseball players are still working their way through the minor leagues, but so far, Kiel Roling, Chris Wilson, Shaver Hansen and Geoff Baldwin are right on track with their respective clubs.
All four just completed spring training, with three getting their assignments. Roling and Wilson, in their third years of pro ball, were promoted, and Hansen and Baldwin, who was injured during spring training, are learning the ropes in Class A and rookie ball in their second seasons.
One year ago, Roling’s second season of professional baseball got off to a slow start.
He was plagued by injuries and spent several weeks in extended spring training.
Once his hamstring healed, he made up ground fast.
The Class A Asheville Tourist first baseman led the South Atlantic League in batting average (.331), slugging percentage (.593) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.994). He had 20 home runs and 66 RBI. He was selected the Colorado Rockies’ minor league hitter of the year by MLB.com.
“Spring training has gone well,” Roling said. “It was a good experience playing with some of the big-league guys like (Todd) Helton and (Jason) Giambi and picking their brains.”
Roling, 23, is taking a big step toward a major league career, joining the Class AA Tulsa Drillers this week. The Drillers begin their season Thursday against Corpus Christi at their new ballpark, ONEOK Field.
“You always want to get in an organization and move up,” Roling said. “I definitely caught a break skipping a level (Advanced Class A). I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to this year.”
Roling graduated from Central High School and played one year at Central Arizona College before transferring to Arizona State University. He was a sixth-round draft choice by the Rockies as a catcher in 2008, but was moved to first base and designated hitter.
After injuries and illness the past year, Wilson will remain in spring training with the San Francisco Giants’ organization.
The right-handed closer will likely join the San Jose Giants in advanced Class A once his arm is healthy.
“It’s a step up from last year,” the Delta High School product said. “Moving up is all I can ask for. Everything is coming together well. I’m looking forward to it.”
The right-handed closer was 5-5 with a 3.83 ERA and nine saves in 40 appearances with an impressive 67-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year with the Class A Augusta GreenJackets. Wilson had a 2.45 ERA with eight saves and a 42-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half.
That was all after missing the first few weeks of the season to have his appendix removed.
“The season started rough for me, getting my feet underneath me,” Wilson said. “After I had my appendix out, things turned out good for me.”
The 23-year-old had limited outings in spring training this year because of muscle soreness, he said.
“The organization is taking good care of me,” he said. “I’m getting strong and starting to throw. My rotator cuff wasn’t as strong as they liked. I’m doing some exercises.”
Wilson played two years at Trinidad State Junior College after graduating from Delta in 2005. He was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006, but did not sign. He was selected by the Giants in the 38th round in 2008.
“Getting to play pro ball out of Delta was a distant dream,” Wilson said. “I was raised there all my life. I worked hard and was lucky enough to get drafted.
“I want to make it to the big leagues. That’s off in the distance a ways. I take it day by day, one pitch at a time and let everyone else do their thing. If I work hard and do my job, I’m not going worry about the timing of things. I may not make it, but at least I got this far.”
Hansen was a sixth-round pick of the Seattle Mariners. After signing his contract in August, he spent time in Class A ball in Clinton, Iowa.
In 36 games, Hansen played well with the LumberKings. The shortstop finished with a .205 batting average and scored 17 runs. The Fruita Monument graduate said he expects to be back in Clinton this season and looks forward to getting into an everyday routine.
“It’s such a long season that I’m not trying to set my goals as far as the season,” Hansen said. “It’s going to be more of a daily thing, where I go about it one day at a time, and have the same approach every day.”
Hansen learned something about an everyday approach during his first spring training in Peoria, Ariz. He spent most of his time in the minor league camp, but his play earned him an appearance in a big-league game.
“I got into one game, didn’t get any at-bats, but sitting talking with (Ken) Griffey (Jr.) and Ichiro (Suzuki) was like ‘wow,’ ” Hansen said.
“They play with no pressure on them, and they have the same approach, and that’s what I learned from watching the way they handle themselves.”
Hansen, 23, left Baylor after his junior season, and said he’s grateful for the experience he earned with the Bears, which helped prepare him for pro baseball.
“Being at Baylor, I got to see a lot of other kids get drafted,” Hansen said. “It’s an honor to be here, but I’m going to go out there to win my spot every day. I’m excited to take care of business.”
Baldwin was a 10th-round pick of the Kansas City Royals out of Grand Junction High School. Baldwin signed almost immediately and spent last summer with the Surprise Royals of the Arizona Summer League. Baldwin played well before his statistics took a hit late in the season because of an ankle injury. He played through the injury and finished with a .251 average and 21 RBI.
This season began like last season ended, with Baldwin battling an injury. The 6-foot-4 first baseman broke his left pinkie finger before spring training started and wasn’t able to hit until late March.
“I’ve done everything except for the hitting,” Baldwin said. “I’ve done all the fundamentals, taking ground balls, and staying in shape.”
The finger injury has limited the spring training experience for Baldwin, who’s excited to jump into the season. Baldwin said he’ll stay in extended spring training and expects to play another short season of rookie ball with either the Burlington (N.C.) Royals of the Appalachian League or the Idaho Falls (Idaho) Chukars of the Pioneer League.
“It’s almost certain I’ll be with one of our short-season teams with the late start I’ve had,” Baldwin said. “My number one thing is to get my bat under me and get comfortable and ready to go by the time the short season comes around.”
Like Hansen, Baldwin’s first spring training was an opportunity to see how established players handle their day-to-day approach.
“It’s humbling because you watch them, and they’ve done the right things to get where they are,” Baldwin said. “It’s all been a learning experience, and that’s the thing one of my coaches has told me, is everything you watch, watch with a purpose, because you can see how these older guys go about their business.”
At only 19, Baldwin chose signing with the Royals over the University of Nebraska. Looking back, the first baseman knows he made the right decision.
“I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made,” Baldwin said. “I love every minute of what I’m doing, and it was right for my family and right for me.”