Dating back to their first MLB Draft in 1992, the Colorado Rockies have made over 1,400 selections and have signed roughly 900 of those players with nearly 150 having made it to the Majors.
On Wednesday, the club welcomed a group of eight at Coors Field to sign their professional contracts, meet the Denver media and, ultimately, get a taste of what life could be like in their near future.
The draftees traveled from all across of the United States. Some from southeastern states like Florida (2B/OF Sterlin Thompson) and others from the opposite corner in the Pacific Northwest (RHP Gabriel Hughes).
None were taller than 6’4” (RHP Connor Staine) and none shorter than 6’1” (RHP Jackson Cox), ranging from 18 years old (Cox) all the way up to 22 years old (LHP Carson Palmquist).
Here’s a brief dossier on the people behind the picks, not to mention the best quotes and anecdotes from the morning with the youngsters.
RHP Gabriel Hughes, 1st Rd – 10th overall, Gonzaga
The 20-year-old Hughes has a dominating presence about him at all times.
When on the mound, it’s a constant look of intensity coupled with a few choice words spoken aloud to himself. Off the field, he’s much less intimidating, but the 6’4” frame is always imposing.
It’s for this reason that the player to which Hughes is most comfortable being compared is Max Scherzer.
“I always love the comparison to Mad Max just because I think we pitch with a lot of fire out there on the mound,” said the Bulldogs’ Friday night starter. “I think that’s a really good comp because he’s a Hall of Famer. I would like to be compared to him just with his competitive nature.”
A college graduate after only three years at Gonzaga, the biology major is an offspring of two doctors, not to mention a grandson of former first baseman Donald Hughes who played in the minors with the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers during the early 1960s.
“The big thing he passed on was just how much you have to love the game because, at a point, it becomes a grind. It becomes a job,” Hughes explained of his grandfather’s advice. “It’s a business. That was the big thing. Just try to keep hold of that love of the game for as long as possible.”
While growing up in Idaho, Hughes attended many Boise Hawks games and got close with several players as his grandparents were one the team’s host families. Getting to know prospects like Bret Boswell, who’s currently with the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate, was his first real taste of attaining his childhood dream.
The final piece to realizing his own capabilities came with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team in the summer of 2021.
“I’m sitting in this conference room,” he explained. “We’re watching the first round of the draft and there are 20-25 guys sitting there. As we’re watching all these guys get drafted, I’m looking around like, ‘Wow, these are all guys who are supposed to get drafted in the first or second round next year…. Wow, I’m in this room right now. Why not be in this room next year? I must be here for a reason.’ That was the turning point for me.”
2B/OF Sterlin Thompson, 1st Rd Competitive Pick – 31st overall, Florida
Originally born in Longmont, the Florida-raised Thompson maintained a strong connection with all-things Colorado growing up.
When the Rockies went to the 2007 World Series, he was just six-years-old.
Thompson was hooked. He had himself a favorite team and a favorite player. Troy Tulowitzki.
Thomas Harding of MLB.com wrote about Thompson’s appreciation of Tulo’s career and word traveled back to the former shortstop that now works an assistant coach at the University of Texas.
“Right after draft night, that morning after, I got a text from him,” Thompson shared. “It was just a surreal experience just to get a text from Troy Tulowitzki.”
If that wasn’t enough of a welcome for the 20-year-old infielder/outfielder, there was also a phone call from two other Rocktober greats.
“I talked to Mr. (Clint) Hurdle,” an excited Thompson recounted. “He called me and he’s like, ‘Me and Todd (Helton) were analyzing you and we’ve been thinking about drafting you. We broke down your swing. We’ve captured your swing ever since you were six years old.’ It was a joke, but that was awesome for them to actually just put in time on my swing.”
OF Jordan Beck, Competitive Balance Round A – 38th overall, Tennessee
Beck is the Sir Swagalot in the group of knights representing the Volunteers’ Round Table, so his reputation has preceded him just a bit.
As such, the 21-year-old pulled no punches when asked about why going to Knoxville was the better option out of high school when originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2019.
“At the end of the day, that all comes down to money. They just didn’t meet the requirements that I wanted. I went to college and I thought that I had a better opportunity to come out of college and here we are.”
Since the 6’3” outfielder from Hazel Green, AL played baseball in the Southeastern Conference, his travel experience – much like many of those at his age – has been limited.
“This is incredible,” Beck said of the baseball cathedral before him known as Coors Field. “I’m always a big, big fan of stadiums that go up instead of out and this is nice. It’s a big field and I heard the ball flies, so it should be fun. I’ve never been west of Omaha until now.”
Beck has also traveled to Houston and experienced Minute Maid Park. One might say he actually got quite comfortable with its confines earlier this year during a weekend in the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic.
During the three contests, he recorded a base hit in each, including a moon shot against Oklahoma that may have reached the train tracks high above left field.
“I don’t know,” Beck humbly responded. “I hit one during the game, but I think it hit the top of the foul pole. I don’t think it went on the tracks. In batting practice, I can’t recall if I did or not, but that was a cool experience hitting in a big league ballpark.”
RHP Jackson Cox, 2nd Rd – 50th overall, Toutle Lake High School (WA)
The Kid From Toutle, as Bud Black excitedly referred to him when first learning the draftees would be arriving in Denver soon, brings a lot of poise as the only high schooler in the bunch.
Turns out, it’s not just Hughes who holds a college degree from this crop of prospects.
“I actually graduated with my Associates Degree this summer, as well as my high school diploma,” Cox offered up proudly. “So, I’ve had to mature sooner than others. It doesn’t really feel like there’s too much of a difference (in age) between us.”
Toutle, an unincorporated community in Cowlitz County (WA), does not have a stop light. It does, however, have a few yield signs, according to the teenager.
“You could probably fit the whole town of Toutle in here,” he said, referring to the size of the Rockies’ dugout. “We’re actually a village because we’re that small. We have like 800 or 900 people in the whole town of Toutle. I think I had 30 kids in my graduating class.”
It might also stand to reason that the competition in that area of the state isn’t the most robust. But the advice from everyone was clear to Cox, his family and advisor: if you’re good, they’ll find you.
Even if you have teammates that are only 13-years-old.
“We had to pull up eighth-graders because our school is so small,” Cox said of his varsity team at Toutle Lake High School. “So, we were eighth-grade to seniors, and we still only had 17 kids.”
LHP Carson Palmquist, 3rd Rd – 88th overall, Miami
Two years after selecting RHP Chris McMahon from the Hurricanes in the second round, they went back for his teammate.
If you get to see Palmquist in action, there’s a moment when he resembles Kyle Freeland. When the ball comes out of his hand, it’s more reminiscent of Chris Sale and his three-quarter to side arm slot.
In the offseason, tons of MLB players – current and former – head down to Miami to train with the college students at the university and pass on some advice and life experiences. Palmquist ran down the list.
“I’ve trained with Manny Machado. I’ve had breakfast with David Ortiz,” the southpaw detailed.
The meal with Coooperstown’s latest Hall of Famer included a plate of steak and eggs to go along with the side of wisdom.
Naturally, Big Papi was the one who picked up the tab for a group that included Machado and his $32 million annual contract.
SS Ryan Ritter, 4th Rd – 116th overall, Kentucky
Despite being a glove-first shortstop who was awarded a 2022 ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove, scouting director Danny Montgomery said Ritter is a player who could really be something for the big league club.
During his whirlwind 24-hours at the ballpark, Ritter enjoyed rubbing elbows with players from the Rockies’ clubhouse.
“I shook José Iglesias’ hand. It was crazy,” Ritter bragged. “He’s nasty with the glove, so it was cool to see him right in front of me.”
Most players were guarded with their goals for the season when asked, partially because some aren’t sure if they’ll be shut down for the remainder of the year, if they’ll start in the Arizona Complex League or if they’ll be challenged by an assignment at Low-A Fresno.
As the oldest of seven kids, the Illinois-born Ritter is looking forward to not having to share quite as much since getting enough calories to increase in size will be important for his development.
“I just want to take advantage of the nutrition and the resources here,” Ritter shared. “I think the next big step for me is to gain a lot of weight, get stronger, and then look like a big leaguer. That’s what my next goal is.”
RHP Connor Staine, 5th Rd – 146th overall, Central Florida
Though the blister on his pitching hand is some worth monitoring by Colorado, it’s the tattoo of the Rockies’ logo on Staine’s left wrist that attracted more attention during the media availability.
“It’s given me time to really work on some other aspects of the game,” he said of the down time. “There’s still a little bit of a blister, but it’s at a point where I think we can really start working with it again and then if anything comes up, I know the Rockies will be able to handle that.”
As for the tattoos up and down his non-pitching arm, many provide reminders of the journey he’s experienced through his 21-years on his planet and others serve as inspiration for what could lie ahead.
Staine grew up in New Jersey, traveled south to the University of Maryland for two seasons and landed deeper in the south at the University of Central Florida where Colorado really took notice.
Though the Terrapins simply weren’t a fit, his time in the Cape Cod League last summer offered him an opportunity to get a feel for what other coaching staffs could offer him.
Even before he landed in Orlando, Staine had an affinity for baseball in the state. While everyone loved the Yankees at West Morris Central High School, he was became somewhat of a contrarian that opted to root for the Tampa Bay Rays.
“As I got older, I started to see there was younger talent with the Rays,” he professed. “They have Tyler Glasnow, Shane Baz and Shane McClanahan from (University of South Florida). All those guys are kind of the prodigies you want to look up to as you get into a situation (like this) in life.”
LHP Michael Prosecky, 6th Rd – 176th overall, Louisville
The second-best high schooler out of Illinois in 2019 was the absolute best closer for the Cardinals in 2022.
Colorado hasn’t determined if he’ll go back to starting games like during his freshman and sophomore seasons, but the potential is there should his curveball and changeup develop into more consistent pitches.
To be fair to Prosecky, who was the eighth and final draftee at Coors Field that day, time ran out for talking with him one-on-one.
If Prosecky wants some bulletin board material or needs motivation from the fact that seven other players were prioritized over him, then that would be appropriate.
Some day, maybe at Coors Field, when he’s just been promoted from Albuquerque, a hand will extend as a gesture of congratulations on the Major League debut.
Prosecky can look me right in the eyes and say, “Oh, now you want to talk to me?”
We’ll laugh. It’ll be a great moment. And the Rockies will have developed yet another big leaguer.