Published: July 17, 2013
Shortstop Charlie Culberson knows what he and other Sky Sox players are playing for: a coveted spot on the Colorado Rockies' expanded roster Sept. 1.
The team's playoff push, while not a concern of the big club's management, will play a factor.
"That (a call-up) is what we are all playing for," he said recently. "It's important to come out every night playing hard. If we roll over in late August, they will think twice."
Several Colorado Springs players have reason to hope when MLB rosters expand from 25 to 40. Culberson, Corey Dickerson and Ryan Wheeler are three who have made strides, according to Sky Sox manager Glenallen Hill.
"Charlie Culberson has come a long way," Hill said. "He is putting himself in a position to help the major league team. His ability to play shortstop is a big plus for him."
Dickerson's hitting has the Rockies' attention but he has room for improvement to become a major league-caliber base runner. The Pacific Coast League-leading hitter (.383) can be overly aggressive, Hill said.
Ryan Wheeler, a two-time PCL All-Star, is working to improve his first step defensively and has benefited from extended time at third base. He is playing with intensity each game, a step forward in Hill's book.
A lot of attention is focused on first baseman Ben Paulsen, who Hill said has shown he can compete at a higher level.
"I do feel pretty good about my progress this year," Paulsen said.
Catcher Lars Davis is learning how to attack opposing hitters and make adjustments during the game. Tim Wheeler and Tyler Colvin are both working on their hitting, Hill said.
Others such as infielders Hernan Iribarren and Drew Garcia are performing well in limited roles while new catcher Jose Gonzalez is working to improve his hitting.
The steadiest on the pitching staff is closer Logan Kensing with 11 saves in 11 appearances. He is on a nine-inning scoreless streak. Starter Jeff Francis threw well in two recent home wins while others continue to work on consistency. The staff is last in the PCL with a 5.44 ERA and has the fewest strikeouts (638).
The franchise is benefitting from a winning record and rehabilitation assignments for Troy Tulowitzki and Dexter Fowler, fireworks and performances by the Famous San Diego Chicken. The average attendance is 5,011, above the record 4,915 set last season.
The last three times Colorado Springs (51-45) had at least 50 wins by the All-Star break, the team made the PCL playoffs in 1989 and 1997. It missed on a tiebreaker in 2009.
While winning the PCL is not Hill's goal, being in a playoff race can help develop young players by seeing how they handle competitive situations.
"Playing in competitive, one-run, close games are part of it," Hill said. "It forces the players to focus more. It gets them ready for another level. I will make sure they know they need to come back playing hard after their little break."