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Deadline Do-Over: Colorado and GM Bill Schmidt make most of second-chance at trade deadline

Patrick Lyons Avatar
August 2, 2023

What a difference a year makes.

At the 2022 trade deadline, the Colorado Rockies were the only one of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams to not make a deal. As time expired, the club across the diamond at Petco Park, the San Diego Padres, were celebrating a series of deals that brought in multiple impact players, including arguably the greatest of his generation, Juan Soto.

This year at Coors Field, GM Bill Schmidt spoke to the media with a pleasant grin and jovial demeanor as his team made about as many trades as any in the sport while the Padres — again in the opposing dugout — ended up settling for more frugal additions.

The reason for Schmidt’s upbeat nature was the addition of six new pitching prospects acquired through four trades of five veterans, all of whom would be free agents at end of season. 

“We’re very happy with the young men that we were able to add,” Schmidt said. “The guys we moved, like I told them, they all played a major part here. We appreciate all their efforts… All the guys that we brought in — we talked about trying to add depth, improve the numbers — hopefully some quality emerges.”

Schmidt made a second deal with Atlanta on the final day, sending LHP Brad Hand back to the National League East in exchange for RHP Alec Barger. 

The Braves, (GM Alex Anthoupoulus) and myself, we’ve had some conversations,” Schmidt explained. “We’ve talked about numerous players on the Pierce Johnson (deal) so when he reached out today, we were able to move ahead.”

Altogether, Colorado added four pitchers at the Double-A level and two slated to pitch in Low-A as they had with their previous club. Following the loss of three top pitching prospects to Tommy John surgery — Gabriel Hughes, Jackson Cox and Jordy Vargas — the need for hurlers was apparent ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

“I think it was a goal to help replenish our farm system with what our scouts and our front office feel are good arms,” manager Bud Black said of the trade deadline activity. “Hopefully, a couple of these guys will work their way through our system and eventually pitch at Coors Field and help the Rockies win.”

The Rockies have had success of late churning out position players with upside. Current big league rookies Ezequiel Tovar, Nolan Jones, Brenton Doyle and Michael Toglia were all included in the starting lineup during the 8-5 loss to the Padres on Tuesday. 

Aug 1, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Brenton Doyle (9) gestures from second on a double in the second inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Even in the minors, players such as Zac Veen, Yanquiel Fernandez, Jordan Beck, Hunter Goodman, Warming Bernabel and Drew Romo made strides to reach Double-A in the past year while Adael Amador, Benny Montgomery and Sterlin Thompson found success at the A-level. Numerous others are making a push to appear on the top 30 lists for the organization’s best prospects.

Pitching, for some reason, has been extremely hard to come by.

“Really the focus was adding pitching because we think we do have some good position players,” Schmidt shared. “We saw what happened a couple of weeks ago with some injuries. So it’s purely about numbers here and trying to get better. That was the focus.”

In addition to the up-and-coming arms, Colorado also added a reliever with big league experience. LHP Justin Bruihl was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations after being designated for assignment last week. During his 65 games with L.A. over the past three season, he has a 3.65 ERA that comes with a low walk rate (7.6%) and strong ground ball percentage (44.7%).

“He’s going to Albuquerque,” Black said of Bruihl’s assignment. “He hasn’t pitched in about eight or nine days, but he’ll go to (Triple-A) to get his feet on the ground. We’ve seen him. He’s pitched against us in big league games. Fastball in the low 90s with a nice breaking ball. A left-handed strike-thrower.”

Improving the farm system without giving up any valuable assets to the club going forward was the obvious priority for the Rockies, but there was a secondary benefit to dealing away so many veterans: added playing time for their unproven players. 

“We’ve got two months to really evaluate where they’re at in their careers and what we’re gonna have to do in the offseason,” Schmidt said of Colorado’s next step. “So that’s the idea and I think you’ll see some other young players hopefully come up here in the next two months.”

Tovar, Jones, Doyle and Toglia are already benefiting. Elehuris Montero is looking to establish himself as a first baseman. Countless number of young relievers are waiting to become the next Jake Bird or Justin Lawrence for the team. Peter Lambert is trying to put his career back on track following interruptions by injuries. And two entire rosters of players in Albuquerque and Hartford would love a chance to show what they can do. 

A day after Brendan Rodgers played his first game of 2023 after recovering from right shoulder surgery during Monday’s 4-3 win in 10 innings, it was Tyler Kinley pitching his first frame since June 8, 2022 following surgery to repair a flexor tear in his throwing elbow. When you include Charlie Blackmon and Kris Bryant are expected to return from the injured list eventually, some of those newly created opportunities will dry up a bit. Regardless, Colorado feels something is brewing. 

“I think there’s some leaders within that group that are going to emerge, especially with some of the veteran guys stepping out, moving on,” Schmidt said of the team’s newfound youth. “The clubhouse, you’ll see a different dynamic.”

Diamond Details

RHP Alec Barger is the latest prospect acquired from Atlanta. Drafted out of North Carolina State University in the 17th round of the 2019 MLB Draft, the 25-year-old is 3-2 with a 3.29 ERA (38.1 IP, 14 ER), 48 strikeouts and five saves in 30 relief appearances with Mississippi this season. At the time of the trade, he ranked among Southern League leaders in both games (T-5th) and saves (T-8th).

When asked if any of the new arms from this trade deadline were catching their eye most, both Black and Schmidt mentioned Victor Vodnik, acquired in the Pierce Johnson deal. 

 “The one kid who’s at Double-A who’s got the big arm, Vodnik, from Atlanta. He’s interesting because of the velocity,” Black said on Tuesday.

Considering the Rockies have promoted a pitcher from Hartford the last two Septembers, Vodnik is the odds on favorite to get a big league opportunity during the final month of the season.

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