The Rockies' lowest-level stateside team has produced a ton of talent over the last few seasons. Tony Diaz, the man partially responsible for that, talked to us about that talent -- and more -- earlier this week in Grand Junction.
Without further ado ...
DC: There is a lot of talent on this team and it's kind of hard to know where to begin. Is it the most talent you've seen, position player-wise, since you've been here?
TD: Position player-wise, probably, because we can almost put two teams of talented young kids out there every night. So yeah, the depth, the youth, and the talent has been phenomenal
DC: What has impressed you most about the teenagers -- specifically, Forrest Wall and Kevin Padlo?
TD: For me, the thing that has been really impressive with those kids is the fact that they have no fear. They have a high opinion of themselves, which is great. They compete, they like to be in the spotlight, they embrace it, they don't shy away from it. And when you couple that with talent, regardless of age, usually [this kind of production] is what you get.
DC: Who on this team have you seen the biggest strides from in terms of getting better on the field?
TD: Luis Jean has made a tremendous stride this season. He didn't play much in extended -- he was dealing with a groin injury -- but as the season has rolled along, this kid has done a phenomenal job of improving with two strikes -- he doesn't strike out much -- and then the range on the arm that he has displayed at short has been fun to watch.
Luis Castro has had a nice year, Yonathan Daza, [Omar] Carrizales, [Hamlet] Marte, I mean all these kids came up as first year players in the U.S. and have competed extremely well. Even Henry Garcia, who has been hurt ... they've all contributed and done a better job than what people might have expected.
DC: Part of the challenge has to be getting all these guys playing time, especially at catcher. I know when Troy Stein got hurt it upset the balance a bit and now you've had Nate Causey filling in a bit there, which must have been tough for Marte and Dom Nunez. But still, through all that, they've been having excellent seasons.
TD: Yes. Both of them. Dom Nunez. ... we're very proud of him, too. He struggled here last year and we made him a catcher in instructional league. For a kid who has been catching for less than a year, the job that he has done has been off the charts. He's very poised and mature behind the plate, receives the ball extremely well and he can throw with the best of them. Then offensively, we've always liked the bat and this year it came into fruition.
DC: On the pitching side of things, I've been most impressed with Carlos Polanco and Javier Palacios. What's been the key for those guys and the pitching staff in general?
TD: Like you just alluded to, Palacios has pitched I think six quality outings in a row. Polanco has a big arm, up to 97, and he's been doing much better lately. With Polanco, the difference has been that he has a plus change-up and is commanding his fastball on the inside more consistently. And now he is throwing a slider instead of a curve-ball which has made a big difference for this kid.
But again, this is the first year under the lights for those kids and it's been awesome that they've responded the way they have.
DC: I know you guys are pretty busy around here, but do you ever check in on that Asheville team, which is essentially last year's GJ team? Also do you think it's beneficial for so many of these guys -- some even going back to the Dominican Academy -- to be moving up together?
TD: No doubt. The chemistry is awesome. We even took several of our American players to the Dominican in the offseason. It's all designed to create chemistry.
DC: I didn't know that. That has to be good for everyone involved.
TD: Yeah, it's good for everyone and gaining the familiarity with each other. But yeah, we root for Asheville. Those are our boys. The year that Ryan McMahon has had, Raimel Tapia, Correlle Prime, Jordan Patterson, I mean you just go down the list.
DC: Emerson Jimenez is having a nice season.
TD: Yeah, he's competed very well there. So yeah, we are proud of those kids and hopefully they are all just a part of this new wave that two or three years down the road will be in Denver.
DC: To that end, I feel a palpable sense of belief, especially at the lower levels, in the farm system. Does that emanate through the organization; do you guys feel like you are in the midst of a boom of talent?
TD: We do. That's what is thrilling, that's what fuels us. I mean, c'mon; if you don't get excited with the talent that we have, there is something wrong with you. At the lower levels, especially, we are stacked with young, talented players and our job is to make sure we lay the right foundation for those kids so that they can develop properly and help us win in Denver. We are extremely excited and my hat's off to our scouting department, who signed those players.