GJ Rockies are making strides
The thrill — and disappointment — of the first-half Pioneer League title chase is behind them, and now comes the second-half grind for the Grand Junction Rockies.
From the opening series of the season, when the youngest club in the league showed flashes, but was oh, so inconsistent, to the club that won eight of the final 10 games of the first half, the Rockies are doing everything the front office hoped after moving the franchise from Casper, Wyo., to the Western Slope.
Zach Wilson, the assistant director of player development for the Colorado Rockies, spent part of last week in Grand Junction checking the progress of the Rookie Rockies, and likes what he’s seeing.
“We got so close there of making the playoffs and I give credit to our guys,” he said before Thursday’s game. “They did everything within their power to make that happen. When you talk about progress, that’s something that stands out for you.
“The fact that the boys fought, they fought as a group and played as a team and they put themselves in a position to make a playoff run. I know they’re going to do the same thing in the second half.”
Wilson covered several topics in our conversation, ranging from that first-half run to the construction of the GJ Rockies roster to the recent changes in Colorado’s front office.
The Grand Junction club has eight of the organization’s top 11 picks from this June’s draft, including the top four.
“For a lot of guys, this was the right place for them in terms of their development,” he said. “They’re young and we don’t have a team in Arizona. It’s a Rookie league, but it’s an Advanced Rookie league, where you see a lot of college-aged players.
“When we take those high school kids, especially early in the draft, this is the best place for them to have their first exposure in professional baseball.”
Three of the first four picks, David Dahl, Max White and Ryan Warner, just graduated from high school.
As for the balance between developing individual players and a winning team, Wilson believes they go hand-in-hand.
“The fine line in the development game, you want to give guys a chance to win as a team, be able to teach them how to win together and play for each other, and at the same time developing each individual player,” he said.
“Without the ability of each individual player to get to their potential, they aren’t going to be a good big-leaguer. At the same time, if they don’t have the ability to be a winning player and fight tooth and nail for their teammates, they’re not going to be a good big-league player.”
On newly acquired pitcher Jayson Aquino, who tore up the Dominican Summer League and was impressive in his Pioneer League debut:
“Jayson has a very special arm, as so many of these kids do,” Wilson said. “There were things to take into consideration besides (if) he’s ready to compete here. He has to be ready from a cultural standpoint, a maturity standpoint, from a comfort level standpoint for him.”
Although players such as Dahl and Eddie Butler, the top two picks in this year’s draft, are turning heads, Wilson said progress is being made throughout the club.
“Honestly, up and down the roster, everybody has made progress. Sometimes that does not show up on the stat sheet. At this level, even bad games, bad performances, everyone is OK with that. We don’t have expectations,” Wilson said.
“So many of them have done what we’ve asked them to do on a day-in, day-out basis, and for them to do that is all we can ask right now.”
General Manager Dan O’Dowd will be more involved with the minor league clubs and Bill Geivett becoming the senior vice president for Major League operations.
“Are things going to be a whole lot different? Some of it is yet to be seen, but in terms of a lot of people’s daily responsibilities, no,” Wilson said. “In terms of other people’s involvement in other areas, sure. But all we’re doing is trying to put people in the right place and our organization in the right place to have success.
“We are doing things a little bit differently, but sometimes different is good, and a lot of good things can come out of change.”