Popick, Mejia, Osborne ready to contribute as GJ Rockies begin second season
Jeff Popick’s goal for this season is simple: Get healthy and stay healthy.
He’s been through enough injuries, including his latest, a slightly pulled hamstring that will keep him out of the Grand Junction Rockies’ lineup for the time being.
Popick, after dealing with a broken finger during extended spring training, was assigned to Class A (short season) Tri-City in Pasco, Wash., to start this season. He played in the Dust Devils’ second game, going 1 for 2, but he pulled his hamstring.
A couple of days later, he was assigned to Grand Junction, not because he wasn’t playing well or was hurt, but because the Rookie club needed outfielders.
The Rockies, who open their second season at 7:05 tonight against Ogden at Suplizio Field, only had three outfielders available in Tuesday night’s exhibition game against the Greeley Grays: Ryan Garvey, Cole Norton and Raimel Tapia.
Recent draftees Jordan Patterson and Terry McClure were expected to report Wednesday, but they won’t be ready to play right away. Popick said he hopes to start running in a few days and will be out a week or two.
And moving back to Grand Junction isn’t such a bad thing for the Colorado Mesa University graduate who grew up in Lakewood. Popick was a Pioneer League All-Star last season, hitting .350 with 12 doubles and six home runs, and he still has a house in town from his college days. He missed time at the end of the season with Achilles tendinitis.
“It’s close to home and most of all, it’s the same type of league,” said Popick, who flew into Grand Junction late Monday night along with pitcher Jordan Mejia and infielder Zach Osborne, both of whom suited up and played Tuesday. “It’s not that big a deal. It’s the same for everybody.”
In Rookie ball, players coming straight out of the draft have to get a certain amount of work in before they’re ready to play, especially pitchers. Most of the players who will see the field the first few games are ones who were in extended spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., and are game-tested.
Mejia, who went 1-2 last season in 21 innings, hopes to get more work this summer in his second Rookie season.
“That’s the plan, that’s what they’re telling me,” he said.
Like Popick, he didn’t have a problem returning to Rookie baseball.
“That’s what I thought coming down here, they needed me,” he said. “It wasn’t so much a demotion. They needed me for something, and I just want to help my team.”
Osborne, a shortstop, played in only six games last season as a free agent signee after the Rockies were hit hard by injuries. He impressed the club enough to stay on the roster.
Entering the season, the GJ Rockies have six infielders, including Dom Nunez, who also was expected to report Wednesday.
New manager Anthony Sanders liked what he saw Tuesday night, despite having a short training camp. Last season, the Rockies had a 10-day camp before the season opened. This year, with the Major League Baseball draft starting three days later, everything was pushed back, so the Rockies had only four workouts before the exhibition and one more Wednesday.
Now begins the grind of playing 76 games in 81 days, traveling from Grand Junction to Utah, Idaho and Montana.
“Overall I’m happy with the energy the guys had,” Sanders said. “A lot of good things happened (in the exhibition). I’m pretty excited with what I saw; I think we’ll be all right.”
Zach Jemiola, who threw only 7 2/3 innings in an injury- and illness-filled 2012 season, will start tonight for the Rockies, and he said earlier this week he’s more than ready to take the mound.
If the exhibition is any indication, he should get some run support — the Rockies appear to be a team that can hit from top to bottom in the lineup. Grand Junction had 17 hits over the final five innings in the seven-inning game, which they won 11-10 on a walk-off base hit by Tapia.
“We had some good situational hitting, guys ran the bases well, we got a sac bunt down,” Sanders said. “These guys will be ready.”