Happy Opening Day to all! For those of you confused by that, Minor League Baseball officially starts today. With that, the new alignments and team affiliations (including those for the Colorado Rockies) finally truly go into effect.
If you don’t know what I mean by that, or just don’t care to Google it, MLB underwent a huge restructuring of the Minor Leagues during the offseason. Teams were contracted and affiliations were ended. Teams could actually select their affiliates instead of the traditional negotiation style, so this created a draft-like atmosphere around the teams and who would be chosen. So as we look at the now-upon-us Minor League season, let’s see how things have changed for the Colorado Rockies farm system.
The Colorado Rockies were lucky as they could keep their affiliations with both their Triple-A and Double-A Clubs (though, in the next article, we will go into why the Rockies staying with the Hartford Yard Goats might be a more interesting decision).
Let’s take a look at the Triple-A farm team for the Colorado Rockies, the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
One thing I want to do in this series is throw out ideas of what-could-have-been cities that the Colorado Rockies passed on that would have been better than the current affiliate. Fortunately, with the most important club in the farm system from an immediate return standpoint, they knocked it out of the park.
The Albuquerque Isotopes are the perfect team for the Rockies, and if they had changed it, the team would have honestly been worse off. The only alternatives would have been to be affiliated with the Salt Lake Bees or the Oklahoma City Dodgers, neither of which are as closely connected to Denver as Albuquerque. The only other team with a legitimate claim to the team would be the Diamondbacks, their affiliation with the Reno Aces is less than ideal. Instead of Albuquerque, though, I would suggest they switch affiliates with the Oakland Athletics so they could have the Las Vegas Aviators.
Another important detail about the location is influence. We will go into this more in future installments, but the Isotopes are the perfect example of a team expanding their territory. The Isotopes create a Rockies’ home in Albuquerque, who are excited to see their players make the big leagues. This happens in every city, but the difference is made in these non-baseball states. Usually, Albuquerque is split between the Rockies and Diamondbacks, but because of the Colorado Rockies affiliation, the team territory has created a natural advantage over the Diamondbacks to help court new fans.
League: Triple-A West
Formerly the Pacific Coast League, because of shenanigans by the MLB, the traditional names for these leagues are no longer used. Expect all of Colorado’s teams to move to the West eventually, though. MLB has stated interest in having Minor League teams be closer to their parent team, hence why the Washington Nationals no longer have a team in Fresno, California.
Former MLB players to watch: Jairo Diaz, Chris Rusin, Jesus Tinoco, Greg Bird
Many of you will recognize a lot of these names. The Rockies resigned part of the Tulo trade alum Jesus Tinoco, who bounced between the Marlins and Rockies last season. Chris Rusin was a well-tenured Rockies pitcher and has been re-signed to a minor league deal after some time in Atlanta. Former closer for the team Jairo Diaz signed a new deal after being DFA’d last year. Finally, there was a lot of talk about Greg Bird in the past week, as the Rockies surprised some that they did not call him up instead of Matt Adams last week.
Let’s forget the old blood, though. What exciting new blood do we have on this team?
Prospects to watch: Ryan Vilade (4), Colton Welker (11), Antonio Santos (27), Ryan Castellani, Connor Joe
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Ryan Castellani made his way to the big show last year, but still finds himself on the prospect list due to service time. He showed some promise but, like a lot of the Rockies starting pitchers right now, walks held him back from being able to break out past his debut ten games. Connor Joe is another notable name on this list because of his phenomenal time at spring training. If he’s able to keep the crazy numbers up in Triple-A, he may get a call up sooner than later to try to breathe life into the offense. Antonio Santos is the only pitcher on the Isotopes to break into the MLB Pipeline rankings at 27th. He made his debut in 2020 but was unfortunately nowhere near the level of Castellani, Santos still needs more control, and similar to Castellani, to bring the walks down. Colton Welker is a borderline top 10 Rockies prospect, some lists being listed as high as seventh (FanGraphs and Baseball America) though his Pipeline Ranking puts him at 11th. This is Welker’s first year in Triple-A, bolstered by a strong spring training showing. MLB Pipeline currently projects his debut to occur this year. Ryan Vilade is the top prospect on the Albuquerque Isotopes and is also expected to make it to the show this year. The Rockies need all the help they can get, and these young players might just be the jolt of energy the team needs.
First, though, you gotta watch out for them in Albuquerque.
Note: Data from this article was found using Baseball Reference and MLB.com.