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Clint Hurdle dispenses wisdom and hope for the Colorado Rockies future

Patrick Lyons Avatar
October 12, 2023

Clint Hurdle will always be considered an integral part of Denver’s professional sports landscape.

As manager of the Colorado Rockies in 2007, he helmed one of the greatest single runs in the history of the game, winning 21 of 22 games en route to reaching the franchise’s only World Series.

On Friday, he took time before a local fundraiser to sit down with Suzie Hunter on the DNVR Rockies Podcast to discuss varied subjects. Hurdle was candid during the hour-long interview discussing everything from the 2007 postseason to his time reaching three consecutive postseasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates to Todd Helton’s chances for reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown before making a bold prediction for the 2023 World Series.

Here are six of the best takeaways from his conversations with Suzie Hunter:

The first 100-loss season in franchise history

“This year was unfortunate. We lost so many pitchers at the major league level, so we had to have an HOV lane to get people up… Look how far we had to go for starting pitching. If we ranked our guys and the guys here have been one through six or seven, and then you say okay, so eight through 14 are gonna be Triple-A and 15 through 22 are gonna be — we got to 22 at some point in time this year.”

Colorado used a franchise record 17 starting pitchers this season and 34 total pitchers, also most in a single season, en route to posting the second-worst earned run average (5.67) in their 31-year history. 

“I think the sweat equity that we’re able to gain this year with our position players and our starting pitching, young starting pitching, and young relievers is gonna pay us dividends going forward.”

Hurdle went on to add some insight on Nolan Jones, who emerged as a future All-Star candidate with a 20 home run and 20 stolen base season following his debut with the Colorado on May 26.

“He’s got leadership in him. He’s a guy that can do something and people follow him to do it. He did it with his legs. He did it with his arm, the glove. Learning a new position, stealing bases for the first time. Left-on-left at bats were impactful this year as well as the damage he did against right-handers.”

Improving the pitching situation

“That’s a hard part — to get people who want to be here from a pitching perspective. You can understand why a lot of free agents, the premium ones, we may not be able to get anyone, economically speaking. But a lot of the ones on the edges, we’re not their first choice. That’s just the reality of the situation.”

Coupled with the lack of interest from big league pitchers wanting to avoid Coors Field, the Rockies have largely avoided free agent starting pitchers since signing both Mike Hampton to an eight-year, $121 million deal and Denny Neagle to a five-year, $51 million deal in the 2000-01 offseason.

“History has told us there hasn’t been a lot of activity over the trade deadline in the past. But the focus on pitching is real.”

Colorado acquired seven pitchers at the Aug. 1 trade deadline this summer, including six prospects for five veterans: Mike Moustakas, C.J. Cron, Randal Grichuk, Pierce Johnson and Brad Hand.

“Our position player pool the last two drafts, we’ve taken less players than ever before and more pitching than ever before, you know, close to probably over 30 pitchers in the last two drafts out of the 42 or so draft opportunities we’ve had. However, the position players we’ve drafted have already started to show promise, but we are trying to improve our entire player development system.”

Solving baseball at elevation

“Well, we’ve solved it in the past with a few trips to the postseason, but you want to have a formula or process or product, a team, that has sustainable success. I was gone a long time. My last year here was ’09. So I was gone for over 12 years. And I’ve been back for two (years) and 90% of my focus has been in player development. We’re trying to flex up our player development program because some of the areas we haven’t probably done as well as we’d like to is developing starting pitching.” 

The 2013 National League Manager of the Year expressed excitement for the contributions made by such members of the front office as Chris Forbes (Director of Player Development) and Jesse Stender (Assistant Director of Player Development), Doug Linton (Pitching Coordinator) as well as Flint Wallace (Coordinator of Pitching Strategies). “He came from the (Texas Baseball Ranch). This guy knows the analytical movements and special delivery opportunities for pitchers, the motion, the movement. Flint Wallace is a good man.”

One of the most notable disclosures is about the new facility at the team’s Spring Training site at Salt River Fields. 

“We are building a lab in Scottsdale, a pitching and hitting lab onto our cages with the hopes of getting our guys more creatively involved with one another, spending more time there working together. Because a lot of them go out and go to these different places in the offseason. That’s fine, that’s good for them. But you really don’t know what’s going on sometimes. So that’s another step forward we’ve made in the research and development program to put that lab in what should be up and running by about next week training.”

Overlooked prospects and player development

“(Coco Montes) has been up. He just got Triple-A utility player of the year. There’s one guy that’s under the radar, Jimmy Herron, played in Albuquerque this year. (Warming) Bernabel had a tough year, but he was a guy we were talking about hot last year. He’s still there… he was Double-A. I think we’re looking for a winter ball opportunity for him.”

Hurdle also gave a lot of praise to the hitters in the 2023 draft class such as 1B Aidan Longwell, INF Kyle Karros and C/SS/CF Cole Carrigg before acknowledging Hunter Goodman and Ryan Ritter, California League Player of the Year .

“One of the nice things we’re also doing in the organization on the player development side, Bill Schmidt is using an incredible networking opportunity, we’re bringing back our guys. We brought back (Clint) Barmes. We’re bringing back (Yorvit) Torrealba. We brought back (Brad) Hawpe, we brought back (Aaron) Cook. There’s others that are coming back, we’re trying to get (Manny) Corpus back. (Jorge) De La Rosa has been back. Helton has worked with me in the minor leagues and making the trips to work with hitters. So we’re using those guys and all have found some success in their own ways to help out share those experiences.”

Getting back to Rocktober

“When our pitching gets put together and so we have the best strongest pitching stuff we can put together. The combination of some younger guys and our established guys. We need Germán, We need Senzatela. We need Freeland.”

With both Márquez and Senzatela on the shelf following Tommy John surgery this year, it will be hard for those three starters to contribute to such a resurgence in 2024.

“Next year is gonna be another year of growth and development up here in my eyes. Then after that, we can start turning the corner and we need to find our way to put a foot down somewhere after that.”

On his first coaching opportunity after the Rockies

With countless words of inspiration throughout the interview, Hurdle also showcased his self-deprecating sense of humor. After noting that he’s a part of a small group of players and coaches to reach three World Series, he added that he’s part of an even smaller group that’s lost all three.

He also shared the story of his son’s first taste of playing baseball. While playing tee ball in the Denver area at the age of four, the Little League coach kept asking Hurdle to join the staff. The pressure of having a former big leaguer with managerial experience in the Majors watching over his every move was too much. Hurdle rejected the coach in hopes of just sitting on the sidelines and enjoying being a spectator before he eventually relented and accepted a position on the tee ball coaching staff.

“I went from managing a team in the World Series to making sure the four year olds hit in their turn, and I pulled it off.”

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