After enjoying a long minor league career with the Rockies, rookie manager Warren Schaeffer's takes the helm for the Asheville Tourists and set aside time to talk with me during the Tourists media day on Wednesday. Schaeffer spent six years as a player on the Rockies farm and during that time he played nearly every infield position for the club, including pitcher. The skipper enjoyed his time in Asheville so much in 2008 that he didn't hesitate to mention how great it was to be back.
"This place, this town, this ballpark and mountains. It's a perfect fit for me and my family and a great place to come back to."
Managing Asheville isn't just about enjoying the view however, the skipper has a philosophy where he wants this club to play aggressive, smart without fear, and to trust in their abilities. Schaeffer also opened up about about the difference he noticed in spring training with Rockies new General Manager Jeff Bridich at the helm and the noticeable difference in attitude within the organization.
"There was a big time positive vibe going on in spring training and it was a noticeably good feeling. There wasn't a focus on specifics like keeping the ball down, like in the past, it was more about developing talent and to win."
This change in focus may signal a shift in philosophy away from the focus of the previous Rockies regime where pitchers were encouraged to specifically throw down in the zone, and develop a sinker. This could represent an opportunity for managers to develop the natural abilities of their players instead of forcing a specific style onto them, only time will tell.
Schaeffer will have his own group of talented players making their full-season debuts for the Tourists this year. Guys like Forrest Wall, Kevin Padlo and Dom Nunez had standout seasons in Grand Junction last year, but the player who stood out most for the manager in Spring training was Drew Weeks.
Drafted in the seventh round out of Orange Park, Florida, Weeks batted .281 in short-season Tri-City with 15 doubles. The 6-foot-1 outfielder impressed his manager with his approach in the Cactus League.
"Drew Weeks will be in the middle of the lineup a lot. He stands out because he's a little older, he had a great spring, even hitting for the cycle in one of the spring games."
This team isn't stacked with starting pitching like Tulsa was last year, but it will have some under-the-radar type of guys in the rotation including Zach Jemiola, who will be taking the mound for Asheville's opener on Thursday. The right-hander is returning to Asheville where he experienced struggles in the first half of last season only to finish out strong, posting a 3.55 second half ERA.
After Jemiola, Ryan Castellani takes his turn and the second round draft pick had a strong debut in Tri City last year, producing a 3.55 ERA and a 25:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Helmis Rodriguez and Carlos Polanco are also in the rotation as Dominican League representatives who have graduated from Short-season ball. Last but not least, is third round pick Sam Howard rounding out the rotation. Howard is a big lefty, who throws on a downward plane and has pinpoint accuracy when he stays within himself.
Manager Warren Schaeffer had one last shoutout to add when our interview was done.
"I love Purple Row, by-the-way, it's phenomenal!"
Watch for more info and interviews with Asheville players to be posted on Purple Row in the coming days.