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Trevor Story a testament to Colorado Rockies development, beginning of new era

Drew Creasman Avatar
April 12, 2016

 

Denver – Colorado Rockies rookie sensation Trevor Story is surprising a national audience because no one expects (or should expect) a ballplayer to be sending artifacts to Cooperstown after his first week-and-a-half in MLB. But that surprise is not mistaken, at least by those who know him best, as if Story “came out of nowhere” or is now displaying characteristics he hasn’t shown in the past.

As recently as just a few weeks ago, there were legitimate questions about whether or not Story would make the team and there have been debates raging in prospect circles over his potential for the duration of the five years he spent in the Rockies minor league system.

“Trevor Story is a guy who, two years ago in Modesto, some of the prospect world was ready to give up on,” Rockies Director of Player Development Zach Wilson told BSN Denver at spring training 2016. “But nobody here was ever feeling that way. What you’re seeing today is what we all foresaw, even when he was going through some of the difficulties he was going through. Some of the best development experiences are through challenges that you have to face and adversity. I would have it no other way for a guy like Trevor Story. He needed to go through those periods to be the guy he is now.”

Story’s detractors are quiet at the moment (Keith Law excluded) but they were in full swing just a few short weeks ago.

I mentioned the shock and awe coming from those who have never heard his name before the opening series in Arizona to GM Jeff Bridich who couldn’t fight back a laugh and an ear-to-ear smile.

“That’s the business we’re in. It’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “It’s one of the most rewarding things about the job if you truly care about the people you bring into your organization. It’s rewarding to see young men grow up in your organization and become professional young adults who are able to excel at what they’re good at, at the highest level.”

There are few people on the planet enjoying Story’s historic run right now more than his GM. He may be in second place after No. 27’s mom.

But the kind of success Story is experiencing now is made all the more sweet by remembering how long and winding his road was to get to this point. It hasn’t been all sunshine, rainbows, and 415 foot home runs. “It wasn’t always smooth,” continued Bridich. “There were times when Trevor struggled in the minor leagues. He started off repeating certain levels, and then he’d advance. But he was raised in a very good family and the seriousness with which he took his career, his behavior, and his choices as a young minor leaguer were always professional. He’s a good person along with a really good baseball player, and when you see the type of talent he has, it doesn’t get much more rewarding.”

DJ LeMahieu was able to put some of that shock into perspective: “To have a start like he did is surprising, but that he came out playing well? That doesn’t surprise any of us.” Nolan Arenado echoed those sentiments: “I’m surprised that all his hits are homers, yeah, but I’m not surprised by the start he’s had.”

After Story’s first home run at Coors Field — the fifth in his young career — LeMahieu says, “We were all just shaking our heads. Couldn’t believe what we saw. Then he hit the second one and we were like ‘OK, whatever'” he laughed. “I haven’t seen anything like it,” he continued, “maybe at any level. It’s a lot of fun to watch, that’s for sure.”

When asked what advice Carlos Gonzalez has given the young hitter, CarGo wryly and simply stated, “You just shut your mouth and watch like everybody else. That’s something that legends do. Hopefully, we’re seeing something special that we will get to see for a lot of years.”

LeMahieu, Arenado, and Gonzalez are spectators to history just like the rest of us and are clearly enjoying every moment of it, happy that the outside world is getting to know the kid they’ve been getting to know for years. Despite some legitimate hesitance on the part of the fans to put all their hopes in prospects of the future, it wasn’t that long ago that the Rockies leadership pack were highly-questioned prospects themselves. LeMahieu, who started the All-star game for the National League in 2015, was never supposed to be more than a roleplayer. Arenado had mounting questions about his defense, and Gonzalez used all of his options before finally sticking in the Bigs.

But things are a little different now than they were then. Over the last five years, since Story was first drafted, the Rockies have changed a lot about the way they develop players.

“There [have] definitely been some culture changes. Some of that has to do with the staff,” says Wilson, alluding to numerous coaching changes over the last half-decade. “But a lot of it has to do with our players having a belief and a trust in what it means to be a Colorado Rockie … and you’ve got to have the right coaches to be able to cultivate that atmosphere.”

Along with the coaches comes a new and unique position that the Rockies have created in order to streamline the prospect growing process: The Development Supervisor.

“There’s a greater sense of accountability to our process because of that position,” says Wilson. “But it also relieves some of the pressure of a manager. A manager needs to be able to wake up every morning and [focus on] ‘How am I going to get the team better?’ and ‘How am I going to win tonight’s game?’ because winning is a very important part of the development process. The Supervisor can focus on different things. Big picture. What does each of these players need today to make them the best that they can be four or five years from now? Whereas the Manager can [ask] ‘What are we going to do to win tonight’s game?”

Trevor Story is one of the few players on the farm who (just barely) predates this new system and non-first-rounders like Jordan Patterson, Harrison Musgrave, and even Raimel Tapia and Antonio Senzatela have arguably benefited greatly from this addition to each team’s staff. Story’s turnaround after a very rough year in Modesto also speaks well to the changes. And so does the general offseason consensus that the Rockies now have a Top 5 farm. Interestingly enough, according to that consensus Story was not even a Top 5 player in that Top 5 farm.

It isn’t really the goal, but Wilson couldn’t help but admit it’s starting to feel nice to have all the work get noticed: “It’s great to be recognized by all these [prospect ranking] lists,” he says, “That’s a huge feather in the cap for our staff and our players and the efforts that both of those groups put in. But one of the things that makes our system special is that it has tremendous depth. It’s easy to get lost in this system and that’s what’s great about our system.”

What all of this amounts to is a system that very much feels like a cohesive unit. They all track each other’s progress and most of them treat each other like family. The Rockies have notably kept teams together in the minor leagues, giving players years to develop relationships and regularly experiencing MiLB playoffs as a consistent unit. The steady roster and winning have bred countless close friendships that I’ve been privileged enough to witness firsthand for three years.

“[We] have guys that connect with each other,” says Wilson. “We can set the tone, but our players have to breathe life into it. And they are breathing life into it to the point where you’ve got Trevor Story and Ryan McMahon and David Dahl coming out here this offseason and living together. And they pushed each other and they held each other accountable and they made each other better. When you have talent like that doing that for each other, that’s when you’re taking it to the next level.”

Story is what amounts to a year ahead of those guys in school. They’ve rarely been teammates in the Minors, but they have still developed camaraderie.

 

“Our job is to make sure that all of our guys have the chance to become the best version of them,” says Wilson. “And they do that in the context of becoming great teammates and winning players. Being part of a winning atmosphere.” That all started at spring training, he says. “All the [minor league players] showed up to camp professionally. The way they go about their work, the way they are fitting in the clubhouse, the way they are walking around like Major League players. A lot of that is maturity, a lot of that is experience going through the grind of the last five years, or six, years, however long it’s been for some of these guys. And all that is starting to show up now.”

That all started at spring training, he says. “All the [minor league players] showed up to camp professionally. The way they go about their work, the way they are fitting in the clubhouse, the way they are walking around like Major League players. A lot of that is maturity, a lot of that is experience going through the grind of the last five years, or six, years, however long it’s been for some of these guys. And all that is starting to show up now.”

Story will come back to Earth but however you interpret his hot start, it’s worth remembering that he is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Rockies farm system. There is no debate that since the trade of Troy Tulowitzki and the space of an offseason, 2016 marks a new era for the Colorado Rockies and they couldn’t have asked for a better symbol for the beginning of that era than Story’s first week of professional baseball.

But that iceberg analogy goes both ways, meaning there is much more work to be done.

“Our hope organizationally is that we are having the same conversation 10 years from now because we are able to continue the sustainability of this depth,” says Wilson. “I always want to say that our 30th guy could be in the Top 10 in another organization. When we can do that, we know we are doing pretty good. The game evolves and it revolves. Our goal as a department is to turn out impact winning player after impact winning player. That is going to help the Major League team win for years and years.”

The early results are good. At least on the offensive side. Story, along with Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, represent the first of the “new wave” that the team is hoping can anchor the future. Butler has been disappointing and Gray has shown a ton of promise but also a few reasons for concern. Neither is old enough to declare much of anything about but this still has fans clamoring for Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland, and Antonio Senzatela.

Story, along with Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, represent the first of the “new wave” that the team is hoping can anchor the future. Butler has been disappointing and Gray has shown a ton of promise but also a few reasons for concern. Neither is old enough to declare much of anything about but this still has fans clamoring for Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland, and Antonio Senzatela.

But GM Jeff Bridich isn’t growing complacent, offering BSN Denver this sobering proclamation, and perhaps a challenge to his young players:

“We are excited about the prospect depth we have in our system but I think it’s important to stay grounded and stay humble. Baseball is a ruthless game at times. As excited as you can be, whether you believe in the Baseball Gods or not, baseball can turn on you pretty quickly. Part of how you have to operate is that you never truly have enough good baseball players. Ever. And for us, especially, you never have enough impactful pitchers. Ever. Literally, you never have enough. Even if some of these talented guys do end up graduating over the next season or two, we have to stay grounded to the fact that those decisions have to remain individualized decisions. We have to make sure we are paying attention to all the little details. We can’t get sidetracked by timeframe or ‘waves’… When they are ready, they are ready. And, you know, there’s a pretty good chance that some of them don’t pan out like we hoped. There’s natural attrition in this game. We always have to be looking to add to the talent pool that we have.”

And we will be watching very closely.

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