Grand Junction providing a pipeline of big leaguers
Throughout the baseball season, photos of former Grand Junction Rockies who were called up to the parent Rockies were hung on the wall in the front office at Suplizio Field.
As the season progressed, more and more wall space had to be cleared.
Eight Grand Junction products reached the bigs this season, five for the first time.
“I think that’s the essence of coaching at this level, you have to dream big,” said Tony Diaz, Grand Junction’s development director. “It’s truly gratifying to see that what happened here four years ago, five years ago, is now paying off at the big-league level.
“They’re not only there, but they’re impacting at the major-league level. That’s what we envisioned back then, but to see it become reality, it definitely pumps us up and makes us dream even bigger with these kids we have here.”
Pitchers Eddie Butler, Jon Gray and Scott Oberg spent time with Colorado last season, and Gray this season has become a key cog in the Rockies’ starting rotation.
Butler bounced back and forth between Colorado and Triple-A Albuquerque as he tried to develop his consistency, and Oberg did the same for the bullpen until axillary artery thrombosis in his right arm shut him down late August. Matt Carasiti, who was on Grand Junction’s inaugural roster, was called up in mid-August.
Carlos Estevez shot up the organizational ladder after his season in Grand Junction in 2013, and for a time was Colorado’s closer.
In the meantime, David Dahl and Raimel Tapia were toiling away on the road — every day — with Double-A Hartford. The Yard Goats played every game on the road this season after delays in completing their new stadium.
Dahl was promoted to Albuquerque and tore up Triple A pitching, all but forcing the Rockies to call him up to the big leagues. And perhaps not as loudly, but just as impressively, as Trevor Story’s first foray into the big leagues, Dahl has shown why he was a first-round draft pick in 2012.
He and Tapia both played in the Futures Game on All-Star weekend, and Tapia soon took Dahl’s place with the Isotopes, then was part of the Rockies’ September call-ups. Jordan Patterson, a 2013 GJ Rockies outfielder/first baseman, made his big-league debut on Thursday, the same night Grand Junction’s season ended.
“At end of the day the players have to embrace the process. All those guys have done that,” Wilson said. “When your process is good it leads to very good things.That’s a do-good league and they’re up there doing good.”
Tapia’s unique two-strike approach that played well in Rookie ball, where he hit .357 to lead the Pioneer League in 2013, has drawn criticism from baseball minds, but it works.
“We’ve seen that,” Diaz said. “A lot of experts in the game because of the unorthodox approach with two strikes, there’s a lot of naysayers. You know what? This kid has hit .280 or better with two strikes throughout his whole minor-league career so there’s no reason to believe that won’t translate to the next level. That’s him.”
How Story, who Diaz coached in Casper, Dahl and Tapia handled their promotions doesn’t surprise the veteran coach. Their success, along with the way the pitchers have performed, gives the GJ coaches tangible examples for the young players just starting their careers.
“The thing with those three kids, the special quality they possess is they’re forward thinkers,” Diaz said. “We talk about turning the page, you see a Tapia, Dahl, they make an out, but everybody knows they’re coming to get you the next time. There’s no making an out and now I’m feeling sorry for myself. Those kids don’t have that.
“To me, that’s a quality great ballplayers have.”