Development is the name of the game in Rookie ball

Alving Mejias, a starting pitcher for the Grand Junction Rockies, will have to learn more than how to command his pitches. Part of his learning curve in Rookie ball is absorbing the Rockies’ organizational culture and understanding that his immediate playing time may be limited as a safeguard for his long-term development.


Minor Leagues – The rockies farm system

Rookie — This is where most players begin their pro careers after they are drafted. There are six leagues, most Major League Baseball organizations have three rookie teams. Most players start in the Arizona, Gulf Coast, Dominican or Venzuelean League. A few start in an advanced rookie league (Pioneer).

Class A Short-season — This level is mostly for second-year players or top draft picks. There are 22 teams in the two leagues. Colorado’s Tri-City (Wash.) Dust Devils play in the Northwest League.

Class A — Players who have succeeded in rookie ball or the Class A short-season will get a call up from the Rockies player-development group to this level. There are two leagues: Colorado’s Asheville (N.C.) Tourists play in the South Atlantic League.

Class A Advanced — Generally players are in their second or third year. Colorado’s Modesto (Calif.) Nuts play in the California League.

Double A — Most players in this league are in their third or fourth year, but some make it in two. Colorado’s Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers play in the Texas League.

Triple A — These players are on the cusp of making the big leagues and are often an injury away from being called up. The Rockies Triple A team is the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in the Pacific Coast League.

The foundation of the Colorado Rockies is established at the rookie level.

That used to take place in Casper, Wyo. Now, it will be Grand Junction.

The future players of the Colorado Rockies have begun their quest to reach the majors this week, and what they learn with the Grand Junction Rockies will shape their professional development.

“Specifically with the organization is: What do we believe in? How do we go about our business?” Rockies Senior Director of Player Development Jeff Bridich said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Sentinel. “What are the important things to us? We start to develop those personal relationships and baseball relationships with those players (at the rookie level).

“The second piece is the foundation from a development aspect. We are we trying to impart on these kids as they start: What do we expect them to do as new professionals? The type of responsibilities they have, being away from home in a brand new, small city.”

The players come from all over the nation and world, be it the Dominican Republic, Canada and even Australia.

“You have a true blend, at least (that’s) what it is for us,” Bridich said. “You have a certain amount of high school kids, a certain amount of college kids and a certain amount of Latin American kids. You’re throwing these kids together. They’re all coming from different backgrounds and very different baseball experiences into a small city away from home.”

In many ways, Bridich said, starting a professional baseball career is tougher than adjusting as players move through the minor-league system.

“I think that is a fair assessment,” Bridich said. “In a lot of ways, it’s a whirlwind, especially for the newly drafted players. They’ve already been playing baseball for a long time (this season). They’ve already had some sort of fatigue that has set in, and now they have the excitement of being a professional for the first time. They’ve been at their high school for four years. They’ve been at their college or JC (junior college) at least one or two years. All of a sudden, it’s a brand new experience. It’s baseball, but it’s a job now. What does that mean?”

Each team has an extended spring-training program. The Rockies had 40 to 45 players there this spring. Many of them will play for the Rockies Class A Short-Season Tri-City (Wash.) Dust Devils. Some will play in Grand Junction.

The players in extended spring training generally have been in professional baseball for one year or less, had injuries or signed their initial professional contract late.

Bridich would love to see all of the Rockies minor-league affiliates win on the field, but the focus at the rookie level is more on developing the players into professional people and players.

“We’re in professional baseball. It’s always nice to win, but at the rookie level, we need to see young men coming together under the leadership staff we have and play team baseball,” Bridich said. “Hopefully the wins come from that as the players get to know each other and the staff.

“We talk about each year a wave of new players that will at some point impact us at the big-league level. If these guys are going to grow up together in this organization, they need to start creating those bonds and accountability amongst themselves.”

There are several philosophies regarding playing time for players, especially at the rookie level, but Bridich said the top concern is not to play them too much. With the players just starting their professional careers, there isn’t a rush at the rookie level to push them through the minor leagues.

“One, we need to take into account, especially when it comes to pitching, overall usage,” he said. “A lot of these guys have already played a lot. There’s a sense of usage and fatigue that is inevitably there already. We have to be mindful of that, so we don’t break guys at the outset of their professional career. That is very much at the top of the list. Otherwise, we’re trying to learn (about) these guys.

“As a development staff, you’re kind of blind, especially with the brand-new players. We don’t know them like the scouts do. We take as much information from them as we can, but there are all sorts of different elements you have to piece together. There is no set formula for any of that. It’s trusting the staff in each city.”

Bridich says the organization doesn’t generally move a player up from rookie ball during the season, but the Rockies have, on occasion, sent a first-round pick, like Troy Tulowitzski, to its Class A affiliate, Asheville (N.C.).

“If you look at the history of how we handled things, it’s mostly level to level,” Bridich said. “As a player, you have to do certain things to move out of that level. Those things can be different for each player. We’re looking for mastery of certain things, and it’s very subjective.”

Most MLB teams have four full-season minor league teams, two rookie teams and one or two Dominican League teams.

The Rookie League teams tend to have about 10 more players than the full-season minor-league teams, but not all of the 10 additional players are active.

“It’s done to protect the health of your young players,” Bridich said. “It really gives us the ability to try and play as many guys as we possibly can over a series or week’s worth of games.”

The limit for the advanced rookie team roster is 35 players, with 25 active. Class A through Class AAA is 25 total and active.

The manager can submit his 25 active players each day available for the game.


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