LEARNING ON THE FLY

Vilade hopes time in GJ will aid his development as a player

Ryan Vilade hadn’t played a baseball game for close to one month when he joined the Grand Junction Rockies last Thursday at Suplizio Field. The Rockies’ top draft pick, however, won’t be rushed into the starting lineup because of the team’s depth in the middle infield, meaning manager Frank Gonzales can make sure Vilade is ready to play.



He learned the game of baseball at the elbow of his father. Now, Ryan Vilade is eager to learn from the likes of Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado … eventually.

“They’re the best of the best, Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado. Hopefully I’ll get to play alongside them one day and learn from them, but I’m going to continue to do everything down here and see what happens,” the Colorado Rockies’ second-round draft pick said after his first couple of rounds of batting practice as a pro ballplayer with Grand Junction.

“He’s been the big factor in my life from the game of baseball,” Vilade said of his father, James, an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, where Ryan had signed to play before being drafted. “He’s been with me through everything, so I give a lot of my development to him, for sure.”

It’s been a little more than a month since Vilade has played in a game, and, Grand Junction manager Frank Gonzales said, it’ll be a little while longer.

“I don’t think there’s a rush by any means. We’ve got (Nate) Coronado, we’ve got (Alan) Trejo (to play shortstop),” Gonzales said when asked when Vilade might make his professional debut. “We want to make sure this kid’s ready to go. We had a shortstop in here a couple years ago (Brendan Rodgers) who all of a sudden was tired and now he’s doing great things, I think he’s in Double-A.

“The last thing we want to do is have (Vilade) feeling tired or getting hurt, so we’re going to take our time.”

Rodgers had an up and down 2015 season in Grand Junction, hitting .273 in 37 games, but also had a couple of minor, yet nagging, injuries, and missed a couple of games with illness, so the Rockies are using the former prep standout as a cautionary tale with Vilade. This season, Rodgers’ second full season, he hit a scorching .400 in Class A Lancaster and after 48 games was promoted to Double-A Hartford.

The 18-year-old Vilade grew up around the game with his father, who was a coach in the Texas Rangers’ organization before going to Oklahoma State last year, moving his family and senior-to-be son Ryan from Frisco, Texas, to Stillwater. Gonzales said Vilade is likely a little more mentally ready for the rigors of minor league baseball than a lot of players his age, again, learning from his father.

“The Vilade kid comes from a really interesting background with his family, his dad’s a coach and played college baseball. We’ll see. He looks like he’s ready to play, but on the other hand there’s no reason to rush anybody.”

Although he’s eager to play — his final high school game was in mid-May — Vilade sees the big picture.

“It’s all up to them, I trust the coaching staff, they’re great,” he said. “Whenever they feel I’m ready, I’ll be ready.”

He arrived in Grand Junction last Thursday after spending a couple of days in Denver, signing his first pro contract, meeting the Rockies’ coaching staff and several players, including Arenado, then headed over the Rocky Mountains. Only a few hours after checking in, he donned his new practice gear and ran onto Suplizio Field.

His first round of batting practice was impressive, launching one drive over the left-field bleachers, albeit wind-aided, but he consistently hit line drives all over the field. He caught the eye of Gonzales.

“Vilade is a typical high school kid with a lot of tools. He was drafted with tools, he’s got ‘em. The bat played really nice in bp … it’s bp. But I think the first 12, 15 swings, I think he hit line drive after line drive with authority. For a young kid, that’s impressive.”

He moved well during infield practice, scooping up ground balls and making strong throws across the diamond, working on double plays with his new middle infield teammates.

Then he put on his uniform and watched from the dugout.

“I’ve seen a lot of great guys who love to play baseball; they all come out here to compete,” he said. “It’s fun to play at a high level like where we are right now. Hopefully I can bring some leadership to the team and to our thing and win some ballgames.

“With the older guys that have been here coming from college, I’m trying to soak up everything I can and learn from them. They’ve been away (from home), they’ve been against the best of the best in college. I’m just trying to learn from them and see what they have to say.”

Being the Rockies’ highest draft pick this season and signing a hefty contract (reported to be right at the slot value, $1,425,400), Vilade has the right attitude about not putting too much pressure on himself, especially in Rookie ball.

“You’ve got to come out here and have fun. It’s the game of baseball. They play baseball, not work baseball, right? Just come out here and have fun every day,” Vilade said with a laugh. “To do this for a job is pretty cool. … My first job ever.”


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