Rockies’ road

Several former GJ Rox have hand in Colorado Rockies returning to playoffs

Rocktober returned Wednesday.

In no small way, Rockies who began their professional baseball careers in Grand Junction played key roles in Colorado reaching the National League wild-card game.

Front and center was Wednesday’s starting pitcher Jon Gray, who wasn’t in Grand Junction long, only four starts and 13 1/3 innings, but the build-up to his debut created the biggest buzz in the low minors in 2013 as the future staff ace.

Scott Oberg and Carlos Estevez were in the bullpen Wednesday. Outfielder Raimel Tapia was on the bench.

Prominent in the Rockies’ playoff season was left-hander Kyle Freeland, their first-round draft pick in 2014, who went 11-11 with a 4.18 ERA in his first big-league season, striking out 107 in 156 innings.

Ryan McMahon, the Rockies’ No. 3-rated prospect, was a September call-up as a utility infielder. He didn’t make the 25-man wild-card game roster, but got some valuable at-bats down the stretch as the big club gauged his readiness for the big leagues.

The corner infielder has a legitimate chance to break spring training with the club next season.

Jordan Patterson is another versatile outfielder/first baseman waiting in the wings.

Several prominent big-leaguers, starting with Gold Glove All-Stars Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu, are near the end of their contracts, and fans are already nervous about whether the front office will pony up to keep the band together.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Rockies will let Carlos Gonzalez go the free-agent route this offseason — they’re overstocked with young outfielders, starting with Tapia, who racked up plenty of frequent flier miles between Denver and Albuquerque this season. He’ll likely start at one of the corner spots next season, with Gerardo Parra in the other.

David Dahl remains one of the biggest mysteries in the organization. There’s no question he’s a big-league talent. The question is, can he stay healthy?

He’s always bounced back from injuries, mainly because after his summer in Grand Junction, he stopped eating junk food, learned how to cook, and worked out like a maniac in the offseason.

Called up in July of last season, he tore it up in Denver, going on a 17-game hitting streak to start his career. A stress reaction in a rib during spring training kept him out until July, then he aggravated the injury and was shut down.

If healthy, Dahl is a can’t-miss outfielder.

A few other former GJ Rockies who spent this past season in the minors are oh, so close to big-league consideration.

Zach Jemiola, one of the original GJ Rockies, has quietly moved up the organization, going 5-5 this season in Triple-A Albuquerque. The 23-year-old right-hander is probably one more year away from joining the young pitching staff in Denver.

Big lefty Harrison Musgrave was close to winning a roster spot out of spring training this season, then was injured when he collided with his catcher chasing a foul ball for Albuquerque in June. He pitched only 54 1/3 innings this season.

Three more top prospects started out in GJ. Right now, they’re just that, prospects.

Middle infielder Brendan Rodgers is the guy fans want to see in Denver ASAP. Problem is, the Rockies have Trevor Story and LeMahieu, plus Pat Valaika has more than proven his worth this season.

Look for Rodgers to start in Albuquerque next season and be a September call-up. He hit .387 in 51 games in high A, .260 in Double-A in 38 games. He was injured off and on, but hit 18 home runs in first full season.

Right-handed power pitcher Riley Pint is listed as the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect. His velocity, from high-90s to 102, makes him a top prospect, but he’s still learning how to control all of his pitches — he walked 59 and struck out 79 in low-A Asheville in 93 innings.

I see Pint continuing to move up the ladder, starting at high-A Lancaster or possibly Double-A Hartford depending on his offseason and spring training results.

The elephant in the room in the offseason and into next season, is Arenado’s future with Colorado. Make no mistake, he’s going to get a huge payday when his contract expires. His final year of arbitration is 2019 and he’ll become an unrestricted free agent in 2020, giving the Rockies a couple of years to develop a plan.

Meanwhile, Colton Welker had a solid first full season in Asheville, hitting .350 with a half-dozen home runs. If the Monforts risk losing Arenado to free agency, will Welker be ready to take over?

From Day 1 in the Rockies’ organization, he drew comparisons to Arenado, from the build to the arm strength and how he handles the bat.

Next season will be crucial for Welker’s development and movement up the ladder. Should the Rockies sign the All-Star to a long-term deal, Welker could end up being a front-line player in trade talks.

A few others to keep an eye on, most of whom are likely to be in the higher levels of the minors next season: left-hander Sam Howard, right-hander Peter Lambert, infielder Forrest Wall (who moved from outfield to second base in Lancaster, but missed most of the season with a dislocated shoulder), catcher Dom Nunez and outfielder Wes Rodgers.

Year by year, the big-league roster will develop into a who’s-who of players who started out wearing purple pinstripes at Suplizio Field.


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