One year after a second-place finish in the Pioneer League, the Grand Junction Rockies are ready to take the field in 2019 to improve on that finish.
The Rockies hosted their unofficial beginning of the season Wednesday at Suplizio Field, allowing season ticket holders to meet the team's coaches, returning players and many, many new faces.
There could be more new faces on the way, too, as the Colorado Rockies organization hasn't reached deals with every player taken in the Major League Baseball draft, including the team's first-round pick, UCLA's Michael Toglia.
All of the team's new players only signed deals at the beginning of the week.
Many of the remaining players will either join Grand Junction or the Boise Hawks. Second-year manager Jake Opitz isn't sure how the decisions will go, but he will take whoever he can get.
"I just get the guys that show up," Opitz said. "Our front office divvies them out to where they want them to go. As they show up, I'll get a travel itinerary and get them going in our lineup."
Much of the Rockies' staff is the same as last year, but a notable change is at pitching coach, where Blaine Beatty steps in after 12 years working in the Baltimore Orioles' organization.
Beatty spent nine of his 11 years in professional baseball in the minors, pitching in seven games in two years with the New York Mets.
"There's some turnover in the Orioles organization," Beatty said. "They're going through some changes right now. I was not in their plans. So I was picked up by these guys with the ability to speak a little Spanish and work with the younger kids and they saw the benefit of me being a part of that."
This will be his first time coaching in a part of the country in which altitude can make a pitching coach's life harder.
He isn't worried about it, though.
"This is just one of the places they play," Beatty said. "It's a factor, but the approach and the results, throwing strikes at the bottom of the zone and utilizing your pitches never change. The altitude will come into effect a little more mentally than anything else, but only half the games are here.
"They need to learn how to overcome obstacles other than a bad game dealing with higher altitude. It's a good challenge for them and I'm excited to be a part of it."
While Beatty brings a new voice and mentality to the role, the team's returning players don't see his approach as drastically different. The main difference they've noticed is that he's more capable of communication.
"It's really not different, there aren't really changes on that," Aneudy Duarte said. "We still have to work on the things we have to work on. One thing that's going to help is that he can speak Spanish a bit better, so the communication will be better, but you have to work on the things you have to work on."
The Rockies return seven players from last season's team, which Opitz considers lower than average for the club.
For one new player, however, joining the Rockies is a homecoming.
Owen Taylor, a Grand Junction High School graduate, was drafted by Toronto in the 27th round of the 2014 draft, but he opted to play college ball at the University of Kansas, starting 42 games as a senior.
"I kept working out and an opportunity arose with the Rockies," Taylor said. "I'm stoked to be here. My family's excited. It's a dream come true."
Although Taylor knows Grand Junction and Suplizio Field by heart, many of his fellow signees are not in the same boat. The Dominican Republic produced its fair share of prospects for the Rockies to sign, and some of the team's draft picks aren't used to this region of the country, either.
Take pitchers Gavin Hollowell and Jared Horn, pitchers drafted from St. John's and California in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively.
"It's been a lot of fun," Hollowell said. "It's a lot different from back home, seeing the Rocky Mountains and everything, it's much different. It's an open country where I'm from out in Jersey."
The landscape is far from the only changes to these young athletes' lives lately.
"There's a lot of new faces and a lot of new guys to meet," Horn said. "So far, I've met a few guys and remembered a few names. That'll get easier with time."
Colorado's highest draft pick from its 2019 class to report to Grand Junction so far is outfielder Brenton Doyle. Doyle was taken in the fourth round from Shepherd University after being selected as Mountain East Conference player of the year this season.
For Doyle, who has always lived on the East Coast, this past week has been as hectic as any.
"I spent the past couple of days in Denver getting my physical done and all that good stuff that gets me ready to play," Doyle said. "I was able to meet a lot of the front-office guys and talk to the coaching staff. That was amazing. I was able to catch a few Rockies games with some of the other players being signed. Denver's a great city."
The Grand Junction Rockies open the season Friday night at Ogden.