GJ Rockies have arrived
Brian Rike laughed about being the “old man of the team” Monday as he sat in the first-base dugout at Suplizio Field.
Then again, he is 26. Many of his new teammates on the Grand Junction Rockies are fresh out of high school or college.
Rike played for the Tulsa Drillers last season, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
Now, before you wonder why he’s been bounced back to baseball’s entry level, listen to his story:
“In Tulsa I was an outfielder, and they wanted to switch me to pitcher,” he said.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound left-hander was the Rockies’ second-round draft pick in 2007 out of Louisiana Tech and went to Tri-City in the Class A short-season Northwest League.
He progressed to Asheville (N.C.) in Class A in 2008, then to Modesto (Calif.) in Class A Advanced for two years, before moving up to Tulsa last season, all as an outfielder.
Rike hit .252 last season with 13 home runs and 37 RBI. In five seasons, he was a .243 hitter with 49 home runs, but 536 strikeouts.
The club decided to see if pitching was his ticket.
“I pitched in high school,” he said. “In college some guys went two ways, but I was an outfielder.”
He spent the past three months in Scottsdale, Ariz., in extended spring training, converting from a guy who hit pitches to a guy who throws pitches.
“I definitely needed to work on things I’ve never done before,” he said. “My mechanics, knowing how to pick everything up. Hitting, I knew what I was doing. I’ve got a little advantage when I pitch because I know what the hitter is doing, I can read swings because I’ve done it for so long. Hopefully I can take some of that and use it against them.”
He doesn’t see being assigned to Rookie ball in Grand Junction as a demotion from Double-A ball. Just the opposite — it’s a new start.
“I’m starting completely over,” he said. “The pitchers who just got drafted are in the same boat I am.
“Some of the guys were asking me what the transitions are like, what pitchers are trying to do as you get older. I can help with that, and I’m asking pitchers here, ‘What do I do?’ It works both ways. I’ll watch them and pick up something and ask them how they threw that.”
It had been awhile since Rike threw a curveball — “My curveball was Little League,” he said — and increasing his arm strength as a pitcher was a different process than as an outfielder.
“Your arm, you throw a lot more, and you learn how to take care of it,” Rike said.
Like lots of ice after practice?
“Yeah, the first couple of days I wasn’t a big fan of that. I never iced before,” he said. “I was like, ‘This hurts.’ I didn’t like it, but now it definitely helps.”
The Grand Junction Rockies were antsy to get on the field Monday for their first practice, and in one week, they’ll be playing for real, when they open the season June 18 at Ogden, Utah.
Grand Junction fans will get their first peek at the Rockies on the field at 6 p.m. Thursday when they play the Greeley Greys, a summer collegiate team, in an exhibition at Suplizio.
The club also has a “Meet and Greet” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Ale House that’s open to the public. The home opener is at 7:05 p.m. June 23 against Idaho Falls.
Rike will work out of the bullpen, like another Louisiana Tech product, Kyle Roliard.
Roliard was also an outfielder and now is on the pitching staff. Unlike Rike, though, Roliard was drafted as a pitcher.
“I’m converting to a pitcher and working on my mechanics,” said Roliard, who was a 13th-round draft pick in 2011 and spent last season in Casper, working in 21 games. The lefty was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA, striking out 36 and walking 13.
“I pitched a decent amount in college,” he said. “When I was drafted they told me I would be a pitcher only.”
Both miss hitting — although the Rockies are a National League team, the Pioneer League uses designated hitters.
If he makes it to the majors as a pitcher, “I’ll go from hitting six-hole to learning how to bunt,” Rike said. “But that’s OK.
“The everyday routine is different. As a position player, you know you’re playing that day, and you have your routine. I’m trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work on my pitching routine.
“For me, it’s training your body to go from sitting in the bullpen to getting warm and getting ready. As a position player, you take (batting practice), sit down, relax, stretch and throw again.”
A lot of that routine was worked on in Scottsdale.
“For me, that was huge being down there,” Rike said. “You’ve got plenty of time to practice and have four or five pitching coaches helping you work on stuff. It helped me get my feet wet before I came here and got thrown into the fire.”