BOISE — Fans of the Boise Hawks are no strangers to seeing future Major League players in home uniforms at Memorial Stadium.
From John Lackey to Dontrelle Willis to Josh Donaldson to Kris Bryant, several All-Stars have spent stints in Boise during their minor league carriers.
The past few years, Boise lacked in top prospects, as the Colorado Rockies kept many of their top draft picks away from Boise.
That’s all seemed to change this year, as three prospects drafted in the first five rounds in this year’s draft have began their professional careers in Boise, including Colorado’s top overall pick for the first time in the Rockies-Hawks affiliation.
“I think that brings a lot of excitement,” said first baseman Michael Toglia, the Rockies’ first round pick out of UCLA earlier this month. “Hopefully that draws a couple more fans to the game and brings a little more energy.”
In addition to Toglia, the Hawks also have second round pick Aaron Schunk from Georgia playing at third base and pitcher Jacob Wallace — a third round pick from UConn — and Will Ethridge — a fifth round pick from Ole Miss.
Schunk was the only one of the four high draft picks to play in Friday’s 7-6 10-inning win against Salem-Keizer. He was 3 for 5 in the opening game of a three-game series against the Volcanoes, driving in the game-tying run on a ninth-inning double .
“It’s always nice to have talented players, and talented players come in all areas of the draft, top 10, middle 20s and then the late rounds,” said Boise manager Steve Soliz. “So you never know what you’re going to get. But it is nice to see a first or second rounder here. That being said, it’s all part of the development, so whatever players we get, you’re going to see some talented players.”
Another third round pick, Karl Kauffmann, has yet to sign with the Rockies. Kauffmann, who pitched for Michigan in Game 3 of the College World Series final, was ineligible to sign a professional deal until the Wolverines’ season ended, and could also potentially begin his pro career in Boise.
It seems to be a shift in philosophy for the Rockies on where to send their top picks. From 2015 — the first year of Colorado’s affiliation with the Hawks — until 2018, the Rockies had 24 picks in the first five rounds of the draft. Only six of them made their pro debuts with the Hawks, with most of them starting with Rookie League Grand Junction (Colorado).
Fourteen of those picks never made it to Boise, partially because as a Short Season ‘A’ team, the Hawks don’t start their season until mid-June. As a result, many of the players who stay in Grand Junction for the entire season start the next year with the Full Season ‘A’ Asheville Tourists.
But of their six picks in the first five rounds, half of them are currently suited up for the Hawks. And they are all contributing early in the season.
In Thursday’s 3-1 win against the Eugene Emeralds, Toglia got the Hawks on the board with an RBI single in the first inning. Schunk’s two-run home run in the sixth gave Boise the lead and Wallace pitched a hitless ninth inning to earn his first-career save.
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“I think that’s exactly why they picked us where they did,” said Schunk. “It’s got to be satisfying to see that paying off. As players you just try to go out every day and have a successful day.”
For Schunk, his home run Thursday was his second of the season. He played infield and pitched at Georgia and was named the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year this past season by the College Baseball Foundation.
He was drafted by the Rockies to be a hitter, which is the role he said he had hoped to play as a pro player. After Friday’s game, he has a .280 batting average and nine RBIs.
“It’s so hard to do, and being successful at it is a lot of fun,” Schunk said of hitting. “For me, it’s just that competitive edge: You versus the pitcher every time. It’s one-on-one and you try to get the best of him every time.”
Toglia was drafted with the 23rd overall pick on June 3 after leading UCLA with 17 home runs. He had to wait until June 18 to sign, as the No. 1-overall seed Bruins advanced to the Super Regionals of the NCAA Tournament.
He made his debut with Boise on June 21 at Spokane and hit a home run in his first game. He’s hitting .273 through the first seven games of his pro career.
“There definitely have been a couple adjustments playing every day versus playing four days (a week) in college,” said Toglia. “But I feel like I’ve adjusted pretty nicely to that.”
Wallace has made three relief appearances, each lasting one inning. He’s allowed one earned run.
“He’s got a nice power crossbow with a nice power breaking ball,” Soliz said. “When you got a two-pitch mix like that, the number one goal coming out of the bullpen is to throw strikes. It’s not very often you see people string together two, three hits against a guy like that.”
Ethridge has yet to make his Minor League debut.
The Volcanoes tied up Friday’s game in the ninth thanks to five runs. Salem-Keizer’s Ricardo Genoves hit a three-run home run with two strikes and two outs to tie the game at five and on the next pitch, Tyler Flores took Will Tribaucher to right field to give the Volcanoes their first lead of the game.
Bladimir Restituyo opened the bottom of the ninth with a double, then moved to third on a Joe Aeilts single. Schunk drove Resitituyo home with his double, and Aeilts attempted to score on the play, but was thrown out at home.
Boise reliever Joel Condreay retired the side in the top of the 10th, and Vladimir Dilone hit a sacrifice fly to score Shael Mendoza for the walkoff run.