With the college baseball season ending in early June and the Major League Baseball amateur draft still a month away, college seniors were in limbo.
Take a month off, play a few weeks in a collegiate league, or make a few bucks and sign with an independent club?
The latter seemed like a good option.
The ever-changing rosters in the Pioneer League, now a Major League Baseball “Partner League,” not only feature players who have been released from affiliated clubs, but recent college graduates.
The Grand Junction Rockies have taken that route, with roughly a dozen players on the current roster eligible for the MLB amateur draft, which is July 11-13.
Luke Roskam wrapped up his college career at the University of Nebraska in the NCAA regionals in early June, losing to Arkansas, at the time ranked No. 1 in the nation, in the regional title game. He had decided to go home to Minnesota and work out until the draft until he was offered a contract by the Rockies.
“I was like, why not come make some money and play for a month, especially with an MLB Partner League, where they get all the stats and everything sent to them,” Roskam said before a recent home game. “It’s not a bad opportunity for me to keep playing, see live pitching and stay in shape for the draft. That was kind of a no-brainer, especially with Chance (Hroch) coming out here, being familiar with someone and we can go through it together. It was a pretty easy decision.”
Hroch pitched for the Cornhuskers as a graduate transfer this past season after four years at New Mexico State. Like Roskam, he arrived in Grand Junction the second week of June. After making three starts, going 2-0 with a 3.50 ERA, Hroch was released on Friday.
“I was planning to go to the Northwoods (Collegiate League) and then I got the call and they said Luke (Roskam, his teammate at Nebraska) was going to get the call,” Hroch said of an offer to play for the Rockies. “I talked to the coaches and talked to Luke and my family and it just kind of seemed to be the best fit. I told Luke that I was going and the next thing you know, he was like, ‘You know, that seems like a good idea.’ ’’
With Major League Baseball scuttling some 40 affiliated teams, including the Rookie Advanced and Short-season Class A leagues, the draft has been cut in half, down to 20 rounds. The Rookie Appalachian League has become a collegiate league for highly regarded underclassmen, with the Pioneer League becoming a professional independent league.
The partnership with MLB gives players a chance to be seen by scouts, and all clubs get statistics and reports on prospects. Several have been offered pro contracts in the first month of the season, including GJ relief pitcher Nate Sweeney, who signed with Colorado.
With no short-season clubs, there was no need to fill those rosters in June, so the draft was pushed back until after the College World Series and added to the All-Star weekend festivities.
The Rockies have made plenty of transactions the first two months of the season, with several players being released to make room for new signees since the team’s home debut. Some of those players might be gone by mid-July, depending on the draft and free-agent signings by the MLB clubs, but that’s part of independent baseball.
Two players from the RMAC, pitcher Brett Matthews from CSU-Pueblo, and infielder Jake Anderson from CU-Colorado Springs, are with the GJ Rockies and playing well. Matthews has made four appearances, two starts, and is 1-0 with a 2.87 ERA, striking out 20 batters in 15⅔ innings.
Anderson has been playing third base and entering Saturday’s game was hitting .296 with one home run, seven doubles and 17 RBI.
Roskam, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound first baseman, arrived in Grand Junction on June 11, made his pro debut three days later and has been in the lineup nearly every game. He hit a pair of home runs in his first game and entered Saturday hitting .360 with four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBI.
“Obviously, you see really good arms, and then you see the guys who are only throwing low 80s and stuff like that, but it definitely keeps you on your toes,” Roskam said of his early impressions of the league.
“And you know, playing every day is different because the Big 10 this year, we only played weekend series, so I haven’t been used to playing every day for a while, honestly. It kind of took me a couple days to get used to it and figure that part out and just getting a solid routine, because I’m really routine-oriented.”
Most of the draft-eligible players aren’t sure where they stand on anyone’s draft board, but they’re not fretting about that. Right now, it’s all about getting used to the daily grind and getting better.
“I tend to not focus on that,” Roskam said. “You know, whatever happens, happens, but I’m ready to sign wherever, you know? It was weird for the seniors because we have to wait until the draft before we can sign, so the last day of the draft is July 13 and I’m here until then, for sure.
“I just keep playing, keep playing well and working on my craft. That’s all you can honestly do, day to day, is keep grinding and stay true to yourself and learn more about yourself and get better at everything.”