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With apologies to Rookie level teams Boise and Grand Junction who begin their season after the MLB Draft in June, Thursday marks the first game of the season for four of the Rockies’ minor league affiliates on what Minor League Baseball calls Opening Night.
Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA)
The most interesting team in the organization is easily the Triple-A club as all of the remaining players on the 40-man roster will be situated in New Mexico. Of those players not protected by the 40-man, several more on Albuquerque’s roster have major league experience and have shown capable of producing in the majors.
40-Man Roster: RP Yency Almonte, SP Ryan Castellani, SP Jeff Hoffman, RP Justin Lawrence, RP Jesus Tinoco, 3B/1B Josh Fuentes, INF Pat Valaika, OF Noel Cuevas, OF Yonathan Daza, OF Sam Hilliard
Keep your eyes on: INF Brendan Rodgers
Certainly any number of hitters will log time with Colorado before the 22-year-old infielder, but without the ability to acquire players via trade in August, Rodgers could provide the biggest boost to the club down the stretch. Though he struggled in 19 games at Triple-A before injuring his shoulder, the 2015 3rd overall pick should deliver on his promise in 2019.
Who’s A Hitter: OF Sam Hilliard
At 6’5”, the word “speedy” would seem to be the last one to describe a man of his stature, but in his three full seasons as a professional, Hilliard has stolen 90 bases. After a down year numbers-wise, Hilliard is looking to get back to his 30-30 potential in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Pitch Me A Hurler: Yency Almonte and Justin Lawrence
With all due respect to 21-year-old starting pitcher Peter Lambert, the relievers in Albuquerque will log many more frequent flyer miles and play a much larger role in Colorado’s success in 2019 than their 8th best starter. With Almonte now completely converted to relieving and Lawrence having skipped Double-A altogether, this duo could literally and figuratively be all the relief and more the Rockies bullpen needs this year.
Hartford Yard Goats (AA)
Many of the incoming players at the Double-A level had fantastic seasons in 2018, including several in the bullpen. Depending on the needs of Colorado, some of these names could play their way onto the 40-man big league roster during the season.
Keep your eyes on: 1B/3B Tyler Nevin
The 21-year-old first rounder missed all of 2016 with a hamstring injury and since then, he’s done nothing but deliver at the plate. An opportunity to play against more advanced players in the Arizona Fall League at the end of last season showed that Nevin is more than ready to blossom at the next step, batting .426 and finishing 2nd in MVP voting.
Who’s A Hitter: 3B Colton Welker
Another 21-year-old with ability to play both corners of the infield, Welker was both a mid-season and post-season California League All-Star. The 2016 4th rounder finished in the top 10 of most offensive categories last season and should continue to rise after spending time in his first major league camp this spring.
Pitch Me A Hurler: Rico Garcia
Honolulu-born Garcia came out of nowhere in 2018 where he was the JetHawks’ ace, eating up innings and striking out a hair more than a batter per inning as a starter. Not to be satisfied with his growth in Lancaster, the 25-year-old went to Double-A and lowered his ERA and WHIP against the more experienced hitters of the Eastern League.
Lancaster JetHawks (Advanced A)
Playing in a stadium called The Hangar known to have conditions with winds blowing out on a nightly basis means the offensive numbers are going to be solid year-in, year-out. With only eight teams in the California League, including the entirety of the NL West, this is always a fun level for wishing on the dream when it comes to prospects.
Keep your eyes on: OF Casey Golden
The 2018 South Atlantic League MVP smacked 34 home runs with 94 RBI and 92 runs. He also swiped 24 stolen bases, good for 9th most in the SAL. His power has played at every level and with the favorable gulfstream that tend to frequent over Lancaster, he’s set to put up even more monster numbers as a 24-year-old.
Who’s A Hitter: SS Ryan Vilade
The 48th overall pick in the 2017 draft is coming off his first full-season as a professional, showing a balance between the bat and an ability to pick it at shortstop. Vilade hopes to continue his 2018 assault on pitching, where he hit .310 in the second half with Asheville.
Pitch Me A Hurler: RP Tommy Doyle
Taken out of the University of Virginia as the 70th overall selection in the 2017 MLB Draft, Doyle racked up 18 saves in his 52 appearances. With a 2.31 ERA and a 10.18 strikeouts-per-9, the 6’6” reliever will look to improve upon abilities to miss bats while avoiding the walk (5.50 strikeouts-per-walk).
Asheville Tourists (Low A)
As the first full-season league these prospects get a chance to play, much more will be learned about these players when the season drags into the dog days of summer.
Keep your eyes on: 1B Grant Lavigne
Taken at the end of the first round in 2018, the 19-year-old tore up the Pioneer League earning a nod a mid-season and post-season All-Star. Most impressively, he struck out less than he walked against players two-and-a-half years older than him on average, leading the league in on-base percentage.
Who’s A Hitter: SS Terrin Vavra
The youngest of three professional ballplayers, Vavra was selected in the third round in 2018 and performed admirably in short-season Boise. The former Golden Gopher batted .302 and earned a place on the Northwest League All-Star Team.
Pitch Me A Hurler: Ryan Rolison
The Rockies first draft pick in 2018 didn’t disappoint, throwing a 1.86 ERA in nine starts thanks in part to only giving up more than a run in an outing once. Only 21-year-old, the former Ole Miss starter will look to continue his impressive string of starts during his taste of first full season ball as a professional.