Down on the farm: Grand Junction a key cog in developing Colorado Rockies’ talent

Grand Junction Rockies hitting coach Lee Stevens, left, and development supervisor Tony Diaz know player development is pivotal for the major league Colorado Rockies.

The future of the Colorado Rockies begins in Grand Junction.

That might be a little too simplistic of an explanation, but for an organization focused on building from the bottom up, the Grand Junction Rockies will play an integral part in the big club’s future.

“The key is developing young players,” said Zach Wilson, Colorado’s assistant director of player development. “Grand Junction is the first time that a lot of our players experience professional baseball.”

The Grand Junction Rockies, a Rookie Advanced team, will see a number of the organization’s coveted players, and some of these players will have a legitimate shot at making it to the major leagues someday.

“(Grand Junction) is the first step in hopefully a path to the major leagues,” Wilson said. “This will be the first development contact point to these newly drafted players or players who have been with the Rockies for a year or two.”

Last year Tony Diaz was the skipper of the Grand Junction Rockies. This year, he will play a vital part in the player development process.

Diaz’s role will be to focus on the individual development of each player.

“This is critical, that’s our main goal,” Diaz said about the importance of developing players throughout the Rockies’ farm system.

“The relationship with the player takes time,” he said. “Once that relationship is built, we can get to work and make him better in his individual skills and then identify what he needs to work on.”

Both Wilson and Diaz said playing at altitude will always be a challenge for the Colorado Rockies.

“You’re not going to bring in too many high-profile players,” Diaz said, making reference to Jeremy Guthrie, a recent veteran pitching acquisition who didn’t work out in Colorado. “That’s why it’s more important for us to develop our own players.”

Wilson agreed, but said they don’t make a big issue of playing at altitude with their players. The high-dollar free agent market is also a big factor in the decision-making process.

“With us being a mid-market team, we’re not the type of team to go out and spend a lot of money on multiple big-name players,” he said.

Building through the draft and finding players who will remain in the Rockies’ system and possibly have an impact at the major league level is the main philosophy, Wilson said.

Diaz, who has the title of development supervisor, will spend the entire summer in Grand Junction working with players, then he will move on to instructional leagues in Arizona. Player development is a year-round job.

Wilson and Diaz have been with the organization for 12 and 13 years, respectively. Diaz said another key to developing players is to have them embrace the organization and want to be part of it for the long haul.

“Being a Rockie is the most important thing,” he said. “To have pride on and off the field, we are a very high in character, we truly believe that, and we want players who are that way.”

Embracing the bottom-up philosophy is key to the future of the Colorado Rockies, Diaz said.

“We want to have players who have longevity and will help bring a World Series (title); that is the ultimate goal,” he said.

Developing players and preparing them to have an impact when and if they make it to Coors Field takes a total commitment, Wilson said.

“This is the lifeblood of what we’re trying to do,” he said.

For some players, it starts right here in Grand Junction.


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