We have a newfound respect for baseball managers who have to decide on a lineup every day.
The Pioneer League baseball season is scheduled to open on Friday, but all of baseball is on hiatus. It’s becoming more likely that Minor League Baseball will not be played this season, so in the meantime, a panel of Grand Junction Rockies “insiders” took a stab at putting together our own dream lineup from the eight-year history of the club.
I asked the two men who have called every game in franchise history, Adam Spolane and Kyle Kercheval, and the club’s original general manager and current public address announcer, Tim Ray, to put their skipper caps on, fill out a lineup and write a few words (with some fun behind-the-scenes stories) about their choices.
There was only one rule: You could only consider what the player did while he was playing for the GJ Rockies.
We chose one player at each infield position, three outfielders, a designated hitter, three starting pitchers and two relievers. After some consideration, I relaxed the configuration of the pitching staff, so you’ll see some lineups with more starters — and more pitchers. I added a utility player to my lineup. Like Rookie ball, this is an exercise in development.
It’s easy to say David Dahl and Eddie Butler will go down in GJ Rockies lore as being the best at what they did.
PATTI ARNOLD, DAILY SENTINEL SPORTS WRITER
C: Jose Briceno (2012-13) — Yes, Dom Nunez was terrific behind the plate and is worthy of a starting spot, but Briceno is one of my favorite GJ Rockies of all time. Solid catcher who hit .333 in 2013 and always had a smile on his face. He was just a guy you pulled for. The night he was promoted from Rookie ball, I wished him luck and told him he wouldn’t be back as he grinned from ear to ear.
1B: Grant Lavigne (2018) — The big high school kid from New Hampshire really impressed me on and off the field. He had all of New England pulling for him to make the big leagues from the second he was drafted, and he didn’t let that pressure get to him. Hit .350 with a half-dozen home runs and he’s got a great glove at first.
2B: Hunter Stovall (2018) — This is a tough position, because the Rockies rotate their infielders so much. Stovall and Coco Montes split much of 2018 at second, and both were really good. Stovall, though, was the epitome of a second baseman. He was proud to be a “dirt bag” — his uniform was always filthy from diving for balls. He made only five errors at second (.968) and hit a solid .296 with surprising power for a smaller guy.
3B: Ryan McMahon (2013) — I’ll never forget the day I met him. He arrived after the player photos were taken, so he came into the Rockies front office for a picture, walked up to me, extended his hand, smiled and said, “Hi, I’m Ryan. Nice to meet you.” First time I saw him on the field, I could tell he was special. The best word to describe the way he plays is “smooth,” both in the field and at the plate. Love his swing (especially if he cuts down the strikeouts). Colton Welker would be my backup — GJ’s had a lot of really good corner men in its short history.
SS: Jose Gomez (2016) — Fans might wonder why not Brendan Rodgers, and you can make a case for him and Cristopher Navarro at short, but Gomez was so good in 2016. He played in all but 10 games that season, hit .367, stole 23 bases, led the team with 51 RBI and fielded .931 at shortstop.
OF: David Dahl (2012) — GJ’s first first-rounder. Dahl was the Pioneer League Player of the Year and is still the best pure hitter to play for the GJ Rockies, with gap-to-gap power. What impressed me even more about Dahl was how he handled himself and the pressure to perform as a first-round pick at 18 years old. Nothing rattled him. Didn’t see a lot of fastballs after a few weeks and still raked. Prettiest swing I’ve ever seen at Suplizio.
OF: Raimel Tapia (2013) — The speedy outfielder could be a poster boy for player development. You could see the raw talent from Day 1, and he just got better every day, hitting in 29 straight games and became the Pioneer League Player of the Year. The unorthodox, crouched two-strike stance had you just waiting for him to uncoil.
OF: Nico Decolati (2018) — So many choices, but Decolati was the glue on the 2018 team. Hit .327 with 15 doubles, 11 home runs and 56 RBI, plus was a stellar outfielder. Was one of those guys you wanted at the plate in a key situation with runners on, because he was going to get you a hit. I liked watching Jordan Patterson play, too. Big, strong athlete who could cover a lot of ground. Brenton Doyle’s injury last season cost him a spot on my team, but he’s a player.
DH: Casey Golden (2017) — Was going to go with Roberto Ramos, but the season Golden had in Grand Junction was amazing. He hit 20 home runs in 54 games, with teammate Chad Spanberger hitting 19 in 60 games. They usually hit next to each other in the lineup, much to the chagrin of opposing pitchers. We had a lot of fun the summer of 2017 watching the Suplizio Sluggers’ two-man home run derby.
SP: Eddie Butler (2012) — The redhead mowed through Pioneer League hitters, going 7-1 with an unheard-of 2.13 ERA for a Rookie League starter, a club record. He started a dozen games and pitched 67.2 innings, something that just isn’t done anymore in the Rockies’ organization. His seven wins is also tied for the club record. Was the first GJ Rockies player to get the call to the majors, after only two years. Colorado’s cautionary tale for speeding pitchers through the system.
SP: Ryan Rolison (2018) — No, he didn’t win a game in Grand Junction, but his innings limit prevented that, not his performance. In nine games, he threw only 29 innings, an average of 3.2. He never complained, even though he would have loved to have been out there for five or six innings. He allowed only six earned runs, struck out 34 and walked only eight. Keep an eye on this lefty.
SP: Devin Burke (2013) — His story is the best. Overlooked in the draft, he brought a king-sized chip on his shoulder to Grand Junction, determined to prove Colorado made the right choice in signing him as a free agent and even more determined to prove every other team wrong. Went 5-2 with a 3.21 ERA in 13 games, splitting time as a starter and bullpen guy.
RP: Scott Oberg (2012) — Tony Diaz and pitching coach Ryan Kibler had some pretty easy late-game decisions in 2012. Game on the line? Gimme Oberg. All he did was take the ball and get guys out. Oberg had 13 saves in 25 games, struck out 29 and walked only six.
RP: Alexander Martinez (2017-18) — The only thing I didn’t like about Martinez was when I got soaked as part of the postgame celebration when he broke Oberg’s saves record. He finished with 19, a Pioneer League record, added two more in the playoffs, and thrived on big situations, especially on the road, and loved ending the game with a called third strike.
U: Colin Simpson (2019) — I had to find a spot for “Tank,” and since he played three very different positions (outfield, catcher, first), I added a utility player to my roster. Short, squatty but so strong with surprising speed. Terrific personality, and as the season progressed, he became one of the leaders of the 2019 GJ Rockies. Was Pioneer League MVP — and he can do a backflip.
ADAM SPOLANE, BROADCASTER (2012-2018)
C: Dom Nunez (2013-14) — The Rockies drafted him as an infielder even though he was a better catcher in high school and preferred to catch. He was terrible in 2013 as an infielder, and it impacted his hitting. Anyway, he’s our opening night catcher in Ogden the next season and we come from like 6-0 down in the sixth inning and win easily. The fans were really getting on the home plate umpire toward the end of the game and I asked him about it in the clubhouse afterwards. He looks at me, smiles, and says “I stole at least six strikes.”
1B: Grant Lavigne (2018) — I was skeptical of Lavigne. I became even more skeptical the first time I saw him. He was a big, big guy, but he didn’t really look the part, he was just kind of a pale big kid, but he just didn’t look like an athlete worth a $2 million signing bonus. Then I watch his first BP round and it was terrible, and I was almost out on him right there after five swings. His next round was incredible, and once he got into games he just showed a different level of understanding of the game that I didn’t expect to see from a New Hampshire high schooler.
2B Hunter Stovall (2018) — He put up big numbers and helped round out a really good team. We were 9-13 before he played his first game, and he homers in his first two at-bats and we were 34-20 in the regular season from that point on.
3B: Ryan McMahon (2013) — He got overshadowed a bit by Tapia and there was still the leftover Dahl memory that blunted the impact, but his season was just as good. You knew right away he was special. Underrated at third base because nobody gets to see him there anymore, but his throws were almost always right on target.
SS: Jose Gomez (2016) — To hit .367 playing every day with a strikeout rate below 8% as a 19-year old making the jump from the DSL is pretty unheard of, and if he were a half step faster he might’ve hit .400. I can’t tell you how many times he was thrown out at first base on bang-bang plays. He also played terrific defense, he moved well and possessed a plus arm.
OF: David Dahl (2012) — The most gifted hitter we had in 10 years. The guy could wake up from a coma and hit line drives. Possibly more impressive is that if you include playoffs, he played 70 of 79 games and that’s after sitting the first three, so he played 70 games in 81 days, mostly in CF. I thought what Arenado and Story did in that league was impressive and then Dahl shows up and blows them all away.
OF: Raimel Tapia (2013) — The numbers speak for themselves, but the ability to hit in 29 straight games as a 19-year old who can barely speak English was just as impressive. It’s easy to compare him to Dahl, but Tapia did it a lot differently. He wasn’t the line drive machine Dahl was, but he was a contact monster. His strikeout rate was a little over 10%, and he was so much fun to watch hit. He was never out of an at-bat, and it really didn’t start until he got to two strikes. Once that happened he got into that deep crouch and I always imagined the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” music playing in the background.
OF: Niko Decolati (2018) — There are guys who put up bigger numbers, but the level of consistency that he played with puts him above those guys. He played in 74 of 81 games and he did everything well. He got on base, he put the ball in play, he hit for average, he hit for power, and he played terrific defense when you consider he was an infielder in college and learning the outfield on the fly. No one in the league was surprised the MVP came off our team that year, but I know multiple managers thought it should’ve been Decolati and not Coco Montes.
DH: Casey Golden (2017) — 20 home runs in 54 games is pretty ridiculous. Really, the way that whole team hit home runs was pretty ridiculous. I never thought I’d see Julian Yan’s record broken by anyone, much less three guys, but that race between Golden and Spanberger was a lot of fun. They were pretty competitive about it, and Golden usually hit right above Spanberger, so when he’d hit one and cross home plate and get his high five from Spanberger he’d always say something to him.
SP: Eddie Butler (2012) — He should’ve been pitcher of the year that season. A 2.13 ERA in almost 70 innings is pretty remarkable for that league. You could pretty much write in six quality innings every start. In 2012 the Rockies allowed Butler to go 90 pitches every start and then in 2018 Ryan Rolison is pretty much limited to three innings every outing, so it’s safe to say you’ll never see a first-round pick throw 67.2 innings in the Pioneer League again. The Rockies allowed GJ to move around the rotation to maximize Butler’s use.
SP: Devin Burke (2013) — His signing bonus was a plane ticket to Grand Junction. He appeared in 13 regular-season games but made just five starts, and never made three straight starts. By the time playoffs rolled around, it was Burke who started Game 1 in Idaho Falls.
SP: Parker French (2015) — If you take out his first start in Idaho Falls when he got singled to death, French finished with a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings. He might be the smartest pitcher I’ve ever been around. His third start was in Orem and he was on a pitch limit like everyone is, but he was so good and so efficient that night he wound up pitching into the 7th inning and was still below the limit. He allowed three base runners in 6.2 shutout innings, but the Rockies weren’t pleased that he went that deep in the game. He never pitched more than five innings the rest of the season.
SP: Ryan Feltner (2018) — It was a joke how easy he made things look in 2018. Opponents hit .157 against him. He gave up three runs in 30.2 innings and had a strikeout/walk rate of close to 10-1. I think he had three straight starts without allowing a ball to leave the infield. He was always so prepared and very routine oriented. He has a routine for 4 days’ rest, 5 days’ rest, and 6 days’ rest.
RP: Scott Oberg (2012) — There was nothing flashy about him, he just took the ball in the ninth inning and got guys out.
RP: Alexander Martinez (2017-18) — He doesn’t blow you away with stuff, but he thrived on the pressure. He said he loved to shut a crowd up, which is why he loved pitching in Ogden. He would get himself in trouble sometimes trying to end a game with a strikeout, but he never got overwhelmed by a situation and seemingly always found a way to get the job done. 21 saves (including playoffs) in short season is absolutely unheard of.
RP: Yoely Bello (2014) — A 1.17 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. He’s easy to overlook because he wasn’t the closer, but he was the best reliever on that team. Lefties were 4 for 48 against him with 24 strikeouts and one walk. Cody Bellinger accounted for two of the four hits lefties had against him.
KYLE KERCHEVAL, BROADCASTER (2019-PRESENT)
C: Colin Simpson (2019) — Standing at 5-9, 228 pounds, “Tank” might very well be the only player in PBL history to have led the league in slugging percentage and win an MVP award all while able to perform a perfect backflip. The former 29th-round selection played all over the diamond in 2019 and, as the ultimate clean-up man, totaled 18 home runs and 49 RBI in just 56 games to go along with both mid-season and post-season all-star selections.
1B: Grant Lavigne (2018) — At just 18 years old, Lavigne terrorized the league as an on-base machine. With a .350 batting average and a league-high 45 walks to 40 strikeouts, the former 42nd overall pick led the PBL in on-base percentage by 38 points (.477) and earned both mid-season and post-season all- star honors in 2018.
2B: Coco Montes (2018) — During an MVP season, Montes finished the first half with an absurd .400/.467/.615 slash line that helped put the 15th-round pick on the map. While his regular season stats were memorable, his chapter in the GJ history books is unique thanks to his two-HR, six RBI performance in the 2018 PBL/NWL All-Star game in front of a Suplizio Field crowd.
3B: Ryan McMahon (2013) — Despite remarkably not being a PBL all-star during his tenure in Grand Junction, McMahon was a force to be reckoned with as the Rockies’ near everyday third baseman. Two days removed from being the youngest player on the roster (Emerson Jimenez), the California native finished second in the PBL in on-base plus slugging percentage and drove in 52 runs in 59 games.
SS: Christian Koss (2019) — As perhaps the poster child of the 2019 season, Koss and his Star Wars tattoos showcased a plus glove at short, the league’s second-best on-base percentage (including a league best 27-game on-base streak through July-August), and some unexpected power. Oftentimes to the opposite field, he smacked eight home runs — two more than he hit in 146 careers games at UC Irvine — in his first 27 games as a Rockie.
OF: David Dahl (2012) — With a .379/.423/.625 slash line, post-season all-star honors, an MVP trophy, and eight years later remaining the franchise’s all-time leader in hits, doubles, triples, and runs, Dahl is arguably the greatest player in GJ Rockies’ history. The 18-year-old more than lived up to his first-round hype in 2012 and holds a special place in the Western Slope’s rich baseball history as one of its first Pioneer League stars.
OF: Brenton Doyle (2019) — After being the first Division II player drafted in 2019, Doyle missed a chunk of the first half due to injury, but an absurd second half lifted BD to a league-high 1.088 on-base plus slugging percentage and a franchise-best .383 batting average. The postseason and MiLB.com Organizational All-Star showcased all five tools including 17 stolen bases and the highest stolen base percentage in the league of players with 15 or more attempts.
OF: Raimel Tapia (2013) — Likely remembered by many as the “guy with the weird batting stance,” Tapia patrolled GJ’s center field and led the PBL in hitting at .357. Playing in a team-high 66 games, the fan favorite not only cranked out the third-most hits in club history, but also raked in the accolades, including postseason and Topps Rookie All-Star nods and Pioneer League Player of the Year.
DH: Casey Golden (2017) — After homering in his first professional at-bat, Golden launched a Short Season-A and Rookie Level-best 19 more throughout the 2017 season (including five in his last 10 games) en route to the current-day franchise record in home runs and RBI (59). On a team that whacked a franchise-high 115 longballs, the UNC Wilmington product led the PBL South in on-base plus slugging percentage (1.073) and earned post-season all-star honors.
SP: Eddie Butler (2012) — With a league-best 2.13 earned run average and 1.06 walks/hits per innings pitched, Butler set the bar incredibly high for future GJ Rockies hurlers and remains tied with 2012 teammate Alving Mejias for most wins in franchise history (7). Although not known for high strikeout totals, the right-hander allowed only one home run in 12 starts (67.2 innings pitched) to help claim a spot on the post-season all-star team.
SP: Ryan Feltner (2018) — Although his sample size consisted of only 30.2 innings with GJ, Feltner dominated the competition in a league known for offense. In nine starts, the flame throwing righty struck out 39 while walking only four and pitched to an unbelievable 0.88 ERA and a 0.65 walks/hits per innings pitched.
RP: Will Tribucher (2018) — As arguably the top lefty reliever on the best pitching staff in franchise history, Tribucher allowed opposing batters to hit just .164 during 2018. In 31 innings pitched, the former 14th round pick sported a 2.32 earned run average and a 0.90 walks/hits per innings pitched including a team-best 40 strikeouts and 5.2 hits per nine innings.
RP: Alexander Martinez (2018) — After recording a Pioneer League record 19 saves in 2018, Martinez cemented himself in Grand Junction Rockies history as the go-to ninth inning man. In his second season at Suplizio Field, the right-hander lead all PBL closers with 39 strikeouts to go along with just one walk in 29.1 innings pitched and was rightfully named both a mid-season and post-season all-star.
TIM RAY, GENERAL MANAGER (2012-’16), PA ANNOUNCER (2017-PRESENT)
C: Dom Nunez (2013-14) — In my opinion, Dom has become the best catcher in the Rockies organization. What’s more impressive is that he’s a converted catcher, originally drafted in 2013 as a middle infielder. He put up solid numbers in parts of two seasons for Grand Junction. He’s becoming known for his excellent defense.
1B: Grant Lavigne (2018) — Sometimes I forget how young some of these kids are. When Grant was with the Grand Junction Rockies, he was a bonus baby right out of high school and accomplished Pioneer League All-Star Team status with a .350 batting average all at the ripe age of 18. He didn’t turn 19 until late August when the season was all but ending.
2B: Coco Montes (2018) — Recipient of the 2018 Pioneer Baseball League MVP Award, Coco split time playing second, third and short. Coco was a workhorse, appearing in 69 of the 76 games, hit .333 and ranked in the top five in the league in most offensive categories. Playing most of the games at second, Coco put together a .957 fielding percentage, the highest percentage of the three positions he played. A slick fielder, smart base runner, high baseball IQ and a clubhouse favorite, Coco quickly became a Grand Junction fan favorite.
3B: Ryan McMahon (2013) — Grand Junction has been fortunate in a relatively short period of time to have some very good third basemen. It’s hard to say there have been any better than Ryan McMahon. Ryan batted .321 with 11 HRs and 52 RBI and led Grand Junction in six different offensive categories: (HR, RBI, BB, OBP, SLG, OPS.) Unfortunately, Ryan also tied for the team lead in strikeouts that season.
SS: Jose Gomez (2016) — A quiet force who went about his daily business, day after day. Playing a total 66 games of the 76-game season, Jose’s offensive numbers were impressive, but perhaps the most impressive number was on defense, taking 196 attempts at short and committing only 22 errors for an .891 fielding percentage. Not bad.
OF: David Dahl (2012) — To put it simply, David Dahl is the best offensive player to wear a Grand Junction Rockies uniform to date. At 18 years of age, he could hit any pitch at any time to any field any time he wanted. Dahl hit .379, was the 2012 Pioneer League Player of the Year and was the National Minor League “Rookie” of the Year by Baseball America. David became the first Grand Junction player to play in the MLB All-Star Game (2019). If Dahl can stay healthy, he can be one of the best outfielders in baseball.
OF: Raimel Tapia (2013) — In 2013, Raimel enjoyed one of the best overall seasons by any Grand Junction Rockies player in franchise history. Raimel led the league in hitting (.357) and hits (92) and led the Rockies in seven different offensive categories on his way to being the Pioneer League Player of the Year. I always considered Raimel Tapia as one of the toughest outs, a pesky player that opponents despise.
OF: Colin Simpson (2019) — Talk about a fun player to watch. Colin became the third Grand Junction Rockies player to win the Pioneer League MVP award. Built like a Mack truck but can run like a deer, Colin showed his athleticism by playing three positions, outfield, catcher and first base. Colin batted .309, led the league in slugging percentage and was second in the league with 18 home runs.
DH: Roberto Ramos (2014-16) — Ramos became very familiar with Grand Junction, popping in and out of GJ over the course of three seasons, totaling 167 at-bats, appearing in 46 games, hitting .293 over the span of three seasons. In 2016, Ramos was off the chart with a 1.213 OPS, a slugging percentage of .789, hitting five HRs with 23 RBI. Roberto ended his torrid pace with a .404 batting average with 57 plate appearances. At 6-foot-4, 253 pounds with power and attitude, Ramos goes down as one of the most intimidating left-handed hitters in franchise history.
SP: Eddie Butler (2012) — It all started with Eddie. He was dominant that season. An ERA of 2.13 (67.2 innings pitched) and a 7-1 record. Even more impressive, Eddie gave up just one home run all season and that was at Suplizio Field during his professional debut. He did not allow another home run the rest of the season. Although Eddie did not enjoy a long or illustrious MLB career, he will always hold the distinction of being the first Grand Junction Rockies player to play in the majors (June 6, 2014).
SP: Jayson Aquino (2012) — This young man was mature beyond his years. He signed as an international free agent with the Colorado Rockies at 17 years old. At age 19, he finds himself in Grand Junction on the 2012 inaugural season roster. In seven appearances, the left-hander pitches 43.1 innings, strikes out 36, with an ERA of 1.87 and goes 4-0. Before joining Grand Junction that season, Jayson had already enjoyed a tremendous Dominican Summer League season, going 6-1 with a 1.52 ERA. He made his MLB debut for Baltimore in 2017.
RP: Carlos Estevez (2013) — This guy is one of my all-time favorites. He went 5-1, coming out of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 35 innings. One of my favorite stories is told by his host family (Stephanie & Bruce). Their son Josh had begged them throughout the 2012 season to become a host family, even offering up his own bedroom for the player to stay. So, in 2013, Josh got his wish. Carlos Estevez was the player; thus, a relationship was born among the four. When Carlos made his Major League debut with the Colorado Rockies in April of 2016, he invited his host family to the game. After the game, the family met Carlos outside the Rockies clubhouse. Carlos reached into his pocket and gave Josh the game ball and autographed it for him, thanking him for his bed in GJ.
RP: Heath Holder (2016) — Heath went 2-0 out of the bullpen, pitching 35 innings with 46 strikeouts and a 2.83 ERA. In my opinion Heath is a great value pick for the Colorado Rockies organization. He was taken in the 25th round out of Georgia. The right-hander is still putting up impressive numbers in the system as high up as Albuquerque.