After growing up in state, Gilbreath, Biechler thrilled to join Rockies system
In 2014, then-Legacy High School pitcher Lucas Gilbreath was taken in the 36th round by the Colorado Rockies.
The Broomfield left-handed pitcher grew up a fan of the hometown team, but late-round high school draft picks have few opportunities in professional baseball, so he opted to hone his skills at the University of Minnesota.
Three years later, Gilbreath got another shot at his dream when the Rockies drafted him in the seventh round of this year’s Major League Baseball draft.
Being assigned to the Grand Junction Rockies was the cherry on top for Gilbreath, who gets to stay in his home state, in the city where his sister attends college and his family can easily watch him play.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity and great experience,” Gilbreath said. “Obviously, my family is very close, so it will be great to be able to see them. It’s definitely a blessing and a dream come true.
“It was amazing to get drafted by the Rockies again, especially with my family with me. It was a blessing. I don’t know how it worked out, but it found a way to, and I’m glad it did.”
Another former Colorado prep pitcher also is experiencing the same joy.
Left-hander Reagan Biechler attended Wichita State after graduation from Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs. He posted high strikeout totals and had a sub-3.00 ERA for two of his four years with the Shockers.
Biechler had his name called by the Rockies in the 31st round of this year’s draft and he reported to Grand Junction. He’s already appeared once for the Rookie-level club and said he’s excited for the opportunity.
“It’s a childhood dream come true,” Biechler said. “Growing up, I’ve been a Rockies fan my entire life, and being able to play in Grand Junction — I had an aunt and an uncle come out last night — family is close enough to where they can come out on weekends and watch. It’s just awesome.”
When Gilbreath was at Legacy, he led Class 5A in strikeouts as both a junior and a senior. Grand Junction Rockies manager Frank Gonzales got to see Gilbreath’s stuff up close as the baseball coach at Fort Collins High School.
“I think I coached against him,” Gonzales said. “He was a little bit smaller guy. He’s not a big guy by any means, but kinda your typical-bodied left-hander. I remember him and he was pretty good in high school.
“We were interested back then, obviously, then he went off to Minnesota, where he turned into a pretty good pitcher.”
Gilbreath was a first-team All-Big 10 selection for the Golden Gophers after his junior season this spring and was a semifinalist for College Baseball’s Hall of Fame Pitcher of the Year Award.
He had a 2.66 ERA and a 5-2 record with 92 strikeouts, tied for the eighth-most in school history for a single season.
Gilbreath, like many other highly touted college arms taken in this year’s draft, has yet to appear for his Rookie-level club. But Gilbreath said he’s excited to play and just adjusting to life in professional baseball.
Part of that adjustment is getting used to elevation again. Minneapolis sits only 840 feet above sea level and Gilbreath played summer baseball in the Cape Cod League on the East Coast.
“A big part of it is definitely the altitude,” Gilbreath said. “I grew up here, so I’m kinda used to it, but there’s still some adjustments. Along with that, I think the competition gets a little better so I have to be prepared for that. You have to be careful and work your butt off every day, so I’m going to try and do that.”
Biechler echoed his teammate, saying the elevation change from Wichita, Kansas, at roughly 1,300 feet makes conditioning drills a little bit harder.
“Getting used to the altitude again, for sure, that’s been interesting,” Biechler said. “Coming back here and doing agility stuff, conditioning in the heat of the day, that altitude’s been the biggest thing for me to get used to.”
Then he added with a smile: “But I don’t think it’s going to take to long for me to get used to being here.”