The life of a minor leaguer can be full of adaptations. Extended travel on a bus, moving to a new city on short notice, 100-plus games of unpredictability—all requiring adaptations.
“I have been forced to create my own little gym in the basement with bands, a few dumbbells and my own makeshift barbell—a broom handle and 5-gallon buckets with rice. It is not ideal by any means but it definitely gets the job done for the time being.”
2020: those kind of adaptations.
Alex Achtermann, a Rockies minor leaguer from Aurora, Colorado, appears poised to handle COVID-19 postponements with the same adaptive prowess that got him drafted after a well-travelled collegiate career. Achtermann graduated from Cherokee Trail High School in 2014. He subsequently attended Garden City Community College, a two-year junior college, and would later transfer to another two-year school, Western Nebraska Community College. He then signed with four-year University of Nebraska-Kearney and was named 2018 MIAA Conference Player of the Year—only to see Kearney discontinue their baseball program after his only season there.
It then led him to Pittsburg State University in Kansas, where he finished his collegiate eligibility as an MIAA first-team selection. Colorado called his name as a 30th round pick last June.
2020 postponements have called for unrivaled adaptations, but Achtermann has adapted well to new norms in the past. If you include his collegiate summer ball experience with the Gameday Saints (Parker, Colorado) and Western Nebraska Pioneers, he played for six different programs while in college.
Achtermann looks to further his preparedness in the professional ranks despite the halt in play: he compares this time off “almost like being in high school and getting to view the answers to the test before you take it.” He’ll anticipate a return to pro ball, whenever that may be, with an enhanced perspective and comfort that comes with a second time around.
Even Achtermann was excited about the return of Ubaldo Jiménez; he shared a lunch table with his favorite childhood player on his first day at camp. Longtime Rockies fans were able to see the distinguishable delivery of Jiménez they had grown accustomed to in years past. The greatest Rockies pitcher ever (by bWAR) returned, and his performances in the spring would show us just how forceful of a return he might have going forward.
The Athletic discusses possible motives behind Colorado inviting Jiménez to spring camp, whether it was the legit pursuit of an arm or just a mere stunt. He had three outings on the mound in the abbreviated spring training we did see, a 5.1 inning body of work with an 8.44 ERA. There can understandably be an acclimation period associated with returning from a two-year hiatus, but we can now only wonder what his back half of spring training would have looked like.
For now, it’s back to wondering what could be next for one of the greatest in franchise history, the clock continuing its’ unfortunate tick on his MLB absence nearing year three.
Another Rockies spring invitee, Daniel Bard, last appeared in a big league game in 2013. The former Arizona Diamondbacks mental skills coach had an MLB hiatus far different than Jiménez, who last appeared in the MLB ranks in 2017 and spent time this winter in the Dominican Republic winter league. A suspended season stands as another halt for both of them, calling for further perseverance in their push toward an MLB return.
If a shortened MLB season features expanded rosters, additional pitching spots at the major league level will be made available. Guys like Jiménez, Bard and Zac Rosscup may have a better chance to crack the big league roster if play indeed resumes.
“Two items are becoming more and more probable if there is going to be a major league season this year: 1. It is going to begin without crowds. 2. It is going to begin without a standard minor league feeder system.”
The city of Toronto has canceled city-led and permitted events through June 30, suggesting the Blue Jays may not play at home until at least July. If they do, it may have to occur without fans. Empty-stadium games, or even changing the site of home games, had been discussed prior to MLB suspending the season. We could easily be paying witness to some clever ways to get some games in this year, possibly even neutral-site games in the near future.
The minor league implications remain, and if the season is to indeed begin without standard minor league operations, entire teams in the minor league ranks will be forced to adapt to circumstances unlike ever before.