Scottsdale, Ariz. -- To say the Colorado Rockies have had some lean times over the last five summers is, uh, putting it kindly. Since the club made the playoffs in 2009, and then finished four games above .500—even with a late-season meltdown—in 2010, two managers, two general managers, two fourth-place finishes and three fifth-place finishes have left the organization reeling.
As frustrated as fans may be, though, I found something interesting talking to young players in the Rockies' organization at spring training this month: they aren't just going through the development paces to get to the big leagues themselves; rather, they take it personally that the club hasn't won recently.
"We talk about that in the meetings all the time, like, we're going to win," Rockies prospect Matt Carasiti told me in the Rockies' clubhouse last week. "It's going to happen. When I first signed, it seemed so far away, and now I'm probably going to be in Double-A and with my first big league camp. I feel like I can almost reach out and grab it, and get to the big leagues."
"But honestly," Carasiti added, "around the organization, there's a different feel right now that there's going to be a wave of winning soon."
That wave of winning would be more than welcome for fans, of course, and if (or as Carasiti suggests, when) it comes, it's going to be here on the backs of a much-ballyhooed class of prospects that would grow up at Coors Field and put it all together as a tight unit.
"We've got a lot of young talent, drafted a lot of great guys, and we've signed a lot of great guys like [Jason] Motte, [Jake] McGee, and [Chad] Qualls," Carasiti mused. "Guys who can really teach us younger guys how to go about our business and how to pitch like big leaguers. That's a huge nod to the Rockies in how they've drafted and how they've signed."
"Jeff Bridich has done a great job," he added, "and sooner rather than later we're going to win. It's going to be a cool experience once we all get up there."
Carasiti is far from the only minor leaguer in the organization who wants to win, of course—but at levels where development is more the focus than winning, now even newcomers are voicing their desire to be competitive above everything else and let the chips fall where they may.
"If you just focus on one thing, and that's winning, development will come," minor league catcher/infielder Tony Wolters told Purple Row. "I've been in the game for a little bit and that's what I've kind of noticed. ‘OK I'm going to work on my swing here.' No, no way. I'm going to go up and compete. There's a man on second, I'm going to hit him over, there's a man on third, and I'm going to hit him in. I want to win."
"The main thing in this game is to get runs, right?" Wolters continued, asking rhetorically. "I want twenty guys to hit home plate every game, that's what I want. That's the main goal, and I think if everyone has the main goal that's the only thing that matters. That's the goal."
Wolters isn't wrong. Carasiti—who acclimated himself to high-stakes baseball playing NCAA Division I college ball at St. John's University—is using that same intensity as he climbs the minor league ladder.
"Coming from St. John's and college baseball, every weekend is do or die," Carasiti said. "When I first got drafted it was more development, and now you get closer and closer to the big leagues, and you just want to win. Once you get to the big leagues it's all about winning no matter what, so I think no matter when we get there, that's the main goal."
For Carasiti, that idea is more than a nebulous desire to win, too; the Connecticut native wants to be part of the next team that recreates Rocktober and brought up the subject when discussing the organization.
"Let's get back to winning like they did in 2007, 2009, going to the World Series," Carasiti said. "I remember in 2007 watching it when I was in high school, and just never thinking that I'd be with the Rockies. You know, you don't think that. But it's a great group of guys coming up, and it's a great group of guys in the big leagues right now, and we could do a lot of damage."
Doing damage is a process, though, and it ultimately comes down to more than just desire, no matter how noble or righteous the competitive fire may be. It's Wolters, then, who can uniquely play us out on this, since he's seen another organization and has a good point of comparison for the Rockies' spring desire for damage.
"Since I've been here I've seen so many guys that work tremendously hard, and I love that, it makes me work even harder," Wolters said, adding that he's been specifically impressed with how hard the pitchers are working as he catches them in side sessions and games.
"That shows a lot when we're behind the plate and we see that, that gives us confidence to freakin'... let's go, you know?" Wolters added, getting visibly fired up. "All right, now it's compete mode. And that's what these guys have, they are competitors. They want to win. I have nothing but great things to say about them."
As more prospects begin to actualize their own version of Wolters' fire, the organization may soon turn over from one with a very well-respected farm system to one with deep and legitimate talent taking the big leagues by storm. Call it blind optimism from wide-eyed minor leaguers, or call it young men who can see the next wave of winning much sooner than we can.
Whatever it is, that fire will serve this organization well over the next few summers.